Our deepest identity as Catholics is missionary (for more on that, pick up this great book). That being said, as we bring the clear and simple message of the Gospel to others, we want to be communicating the fullness of truth, and not our own variation of it. “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John the Baptist remarked (John 3:30), and we would be well to adopt that attitude – but that’s easier said than done sometimes. Throughout history some crazy ideas have been hatched and presented, and only by the grace of God, working through the Church, have we weathered those storms.
Imagine this line of thinking, which runs completely contrary to the clear message of the Gospel: Maybe the snake in Eden was actually working for God, trying to help us gain knowledge! Or, maybe the snake is actually the hero in the story, while God is the villain? Sound crazy? Well there’s people who have believed this throughout history.
When we are inviting others to enter into a relationship with the Father through Jesus, we want them to truly encounter Jesus and not some counterfeit. True, Jesus can work with the most messed up situations, working all things for good (cf. Rom. 8:28), but we don’t want to be presuming upon that hope and setting up unnecessary roadblocks along the way. For some references that give the true teaching of Jesus and His Church and not our own versions of the faith, check out the last Five article (Is the Pope Really God Incarnate?) – This may help us “decrease”.
There are times when our resolve to present the pure Gospel may weaken. We may think that the Bible’s pretty clear, or that my version is more accessible for people than the Church’s. Lest we think that beliefs can’t go that far astray, here’s today’s Five – heresies that reveal humanity’s weakness and limitation at its… oddest:
1. The Ophites – as mentioned above, these guys believed that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was somewhat of a hero! God was actually the nemesis, holding back mankind from the knowledge that would make them god-like. (This is early too, dating around the 2nd or 3rd century).
2. The Sethians – similar to the Ophites, they got the idea that the snake was actually working for God, helping mankind to discover their full potential and the fullness of truth. There were also some that identified this serpent as a manifestation of the Word!! (This is also early, around the same time as the Ophites).
3. Free Spirits – I just get a kick out of the title, which has a somewhat different connotation in our day and age. Here, like an earlier group, they believed that they could reach perfection on earth by poverty, chastity, obedience, but on their own power. They figured they could commune with God through their own personal prayer, that they did not need to pray through Jesus or His Church. (some may be thinking now, that’s not necessarily so far-fetched… good thing it was to the Church).
4. The Luciferians – Now this one is amazing! Didn’t the name give this heresy away? In truth, it’s not Satan that is being referred to, but a bishop named Lucifer (if that makes things any better…) The heresy, appropriately, is ‘unforgiveness’. Bishop Lucifer fought against heretics fiercely, only to fall under excommunication because he wouldn’t forgive or associate with people who recanted of their heresy and professed the true faith. (This is around the time of the Arians, 4th century).
5. Reincarnationism – A perfect one to finish off with because it is listed as a modern heresy and has followers in Canada… They believe that individuals can be reincarnated as Old Testament personalities. Enough said.
The Five by Scott Roy
*Follow-up note – The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2089 defines heresy as “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same”.