Aside from still being the Easter Season (happy still-Easter!), today is also the memorial of Saint Athanasius, fourth century Bishop and Doctor of the Church. Saint Athanasius is best remembered as a hero in the fight against the Arian Heresy. But the words “heresy” and “heretic” get thrown around these days with a disregard for exactitude that Saint Athanasius surely couldn’t condone. Let's look deeper into what these terms are and what they mean for our faith life.
Today’s Gospel is the one in which Jesus tells us, “I am the bread of life.” For many people, this is difficult teaching to accept. It’s not something we can see or touch, it’s something we must believe on Faith. Our Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit which we can choose to accept and nurture, or which we can choose to compromise and reject. The Catholic Church recognizes five sins against Faith: apostasy, heresy, schism, incredulity and voluntary doubt. (CCC 2088-2089)
Apostasy is when a baptized Christian abandons not just the Catholic Church, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, but all faith in Jesus Christ.
Heresy is when a validly baptized Christian maintains belief in Jesus, but refuses to believe one or more of the major tenets of the Catholic Church (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Real Presence, papal infallibility, etc.), is aware that those beliefs are contrary to the teachings of the Church, encourages others to share those beliefs, and refuses to be corrected. A person formally found guilty of heresy can be excommunicated.
In schism, a person separates from the Catholic Church, and defies the authority of the Pope, but without repudiating a defined doctrine. The Society of Saint Pius X is a current example of schism.
Finally, incredulity is when a person maintains her Catholic identity, but refuses to believe in or submit to a particular teaching of the Catholic Church. Incredulity is the sin of doubt plus disobedience, not to be confused with “difficulty” which is when we have trouble understanding or submitting to a teaching, but don’t actively disobey. Difficulty isn’t a sin. It’s a process.
So, how do we avoid the sins against Faith? Well, we don’t leave the Catholic Church, and that avoids a lot of them right there! And we follow the example of the people in today’s Gospel and say to Jesus, "Sir, give us this bread always." We ask for Faith, especially when we find teachings difficult to accept, and we trust that it will come.
Study the Faith; join a Bible study; ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes of Faith to see clearly where you may have doubt. Bring up doubts you have in the confessional.
Kendra Tierney is wife to a good man and mother to eight pretty good kids. Together they are fixing up a tumbledown hundred year old house. She's a writer, and a blogger, and a graphic designer, and a homeschooler, and a regular schooler. Her word art is available here. Her book, A Little Book About Confession for Children, is available here. Find out more about her here.