A Handy Listing of Major Heresies Past and Present

" Dissent from the Creed:
Heresies Past and Present "

By Fr. Richard M. Hogan
Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (336pp. 2001)


In this handy volume, Fr. Richard M. Hogan gives a popular and easy-to-read account of the major heresies which have beset the Catholic Church across the centuries. Relying on the specialized works of church historians, he accomplishes on the whole his task to bring "the stories of all the prominent heresies together in one place in English." The average reader will certainly benefit from the author's analysis of ancient heresies, some of which key errors can be seen to have been revived in our own day, as for example, the denial of Christ's divinity and the infallibility of Christ's Church built on the Rock of Peter.

It is fascinating to read how the architects of weird Gnostic sects, and the leaders of such heretical movements as Arianism, Manicheanism, Donatism, Nestorianism, Protestantism, Jansenism, Quietism, Modernism, and the dissenters of today, have all pretended to understand the teachings of Divine Revelation better than the Teaching Authority of the Church to which has been confided the safeguarding of the "deposit of faith". It is also astonishing to see how the texts of Holy Scripture can be so tragically misunderstood by the relentless intellectual probing of heresiarchs. The reader will benefit from the author's exposition of the relation between Scripture and Tradition:

"Tradition is the Word of God in its entirety; Scripture which is also the Word of God, is the fruit of Tradition."

Fr. Hogan also explains well the role of heresies (false teachings) in the life of the Church as contributing to a positive "development of doctrine" under the guidance of the Magisterium of Pope and Bishops. Heresy, he points out, is simply "the corruption of God's Word" as transmitted in Scripture and Tradition. He quotes and comments aptly on the definition of heresy as found in the "The Catechism of the Catholic Church":

"Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is an obstinate doubt concerning the same."
CCC, no. 2089, and CIC, canon 751

He also treats of Schism, and states that:

"..the most famous schism was the so-called Great Schism between 1378 and 1415 when there was a rival Pope in Avignon (France) to the Pope in Rome, and then 2 rival Popes (one in Pisa and one in Avignon)."
page 26

It is questionable, however, that this "Great Schism" was schism in the ordinary sense of the term since there remained unity of faith nor was there any explicit denial of the supremacy of the Successor of Peter. There was indeed a period of great confusion in the Western Church as to who was the legitimate Pope and Saints were to be found supporting the different claimants but there were probably very few formal schismatics. In his standard treatment of the subject of "schism", St. Thomas Aquinas had already clearly noted that schismatics in the real sense of that term were:

"those who willingly and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church."
S.T. IIa. IIa. Q. 39, art. 1

Unfortunately, Fr. Hogan does not deal with what deserves to be called "the most famous schism" in the history of the Church, namely, the Byzantine Greco-Slav Schism which so occupies the mind and efforts of Pope John Paul II. That schism also cannot be understood without taking into account the controversy over the Procession of the Holy Spirit, which involves the false accusation of heresy against Catholics.

Fr. Hogan follows other authors in stating too unequivocally that in St. Cyprian's time (3rd c.):

"There was no universal understanding (as there would be later) that the successor of Peter exercised a certain authority over all the other Sees... There was no universally held belief in the primacy of the Pope."
page 74

This conclusion does not follow from a careful examination of St. Cyprian's tract "Liber de Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate" which certainly deals with the indivisible unity of the Episcopate and the terrible evil of schism but does not directly focus on the question of Papal supremacy at all. It was not a tract "De Cathedra Petri". Moreover, the future martyr St. Cyprian could hardly have promoted the view of "the autonomy of each bishop answering only to God" when he himself requested of Pope Stephen to depose bishops in Gaul and Spain.

Fr. Hogan is to be commended for one of the best, easily grasped expositions of the heresies of Modernism as grounded in the religious experience of the individual. He provides some interesting reflections on Pope John Paul II's Personalism which promises to be the philosophico-theological synthesis of the future. He is aware that today's dissenters who spread false teachings (and who may not be formal heretics) can not be regarded as being in "full communion with the Church". Readers would have profited from a clarification as to whether dissenters who have not left the Church as formal heretics are, in fact, still Catholics.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage