The Heresy Hunters

I came across  a great point recently which spoke of the “heresy hunting” permeating some traditionalist Catholic circles. I often see it when I try to discuss more speculative or esoteric topics. It’s like running up against a wall, where if it was not uttered by St. Thomas Aquinas then it is heresy or error. And I believe this is completely unfair to the other orthodox theological stances within the Catholic Church.

There is an issue that many take within traditionalism with the study of comparative religions. Namely, the search for vestiges of Catholicity within the philosophies and theosophies of non-Christian religions. I think it stems from this misconception that acceptance of a truth in another belief system is an acceptance of their error as well. As soon as one brings up the Trinitarian images within Vedic tradition, then immediately the fingers go in the ears and the cries of error or heresy burst forth.

St. Dominic by Bl. Fra. Angelico

Yet how can an understanding of God develop if we do not take into account the vestiges of God in the man-made religions? How is the mystical interpretation of creation from a Lutheran, like Jacob Boehme, something that must be cast away whole? Did not St. Augustine draw upon neo-Platonism to develop his theology and metaphysics?

Even St. Thomas Aquinas had immense respect for Jewish theologian Maimonides, Islamic philosopher Avicenna, and of course the works of pagan Aristotle. The majority of the Church Fathers drew from the font of Greek wisdom and came out with an even better understanding of God, the Trinity, and Christ. How is it that looking into the perspective of another religion, philosophy, or even a material heretic something we must close ourselves to? Rather than seek out knowledge of God, these individuals instead proclaim “heresy!” at the first unorthodox idea before any discussion of its Catholicity can get off the ground.

I am not trying to rail on the dogmatic teachings of the Church. Obviously what Her Magisterium has defined over two millennia is Truth, and I can never deny that. But to say that the whole of the Truth has already been uncovered and we should not look any further into the matter is to shun Wisdom Itself. God is infinite, He is eternal, there is an everlasting font of Wisdom to draw upon which we will never empty. To drink from the chalice of Wisdom, expanding one’s understanding of the Nature of God is to draw nearer to That which one loves. If God invites me, then what harm can come from exploring avenues unseen? As long as I remain upon the narrow path, how can the forces of Hell prevail?

It’s funny, modern Catholics (not to say modernists), draw solely upon the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa as if it were the end-all of Theology. When in reality, it is simply the beginning. He wrote the Summa Theologica as an introduction to Theology, not the Alpha and the Omega of all understanding of God. From it, we can determine concrete beliefs of the Church about God, but we are also not limited to just one means of knowledge.

There are many other orthodox theological positions that one can adhere to without committing heresy. The theology of Augustine still stands as one of the monoliths of Catholic understanding, there’s that of the Franciscan tradition, the mystical tradition, even St. Thomas himself sought to destroy his work after receiving a vision of the infinitude of God. I believe it’s rash to simply cast off an idea because it doesn’t have Aquinas’s signature on it. There is only one road to God, but there’s an infinitude of understanding awaiting us if we do not simply put God in a Thomistic box.

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

That is not to say that I hate Thomism. I love the writings of Aquinas and the insights he provides are breathtaking. But I see his work as a springboard into the depths of the Trinity. A foundation that firmly establishes one in Catholicism, providing them ground to expand further their love and knowledge of God.

End rant.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Phillip says:

    “It’s like running up against a wall, where if it was not uttered by St. Thomas Aquinas then it is heresy or error. And I believe this is completely unfair to the other orthodox theological stances within the Catholic Church.”

    I internally chuckle when I see the reaction when I say, “I think Augustine, or Bonaventure, is right here not Aquinas. One topic that I’ve discussed is the idea that Christ’s sacrifice was fitting to redeem us. The problem I’ve run into with Aquinas’ atonement theology, which the Church seems to have raised up as the definitive answer, is that it appears contradictory to St. Athanasius’ point that it ignores Divine Justice because God decreed that God sentenced us to death and God cannot go back on his word. So, if Aquinas says that it’s possible that God could just save us, wouldn’t that contradict the nature of God via Thomistic theology of pure actuality. If God has decreed a sentence and is pure actuality then to not follow through with a sentence of death would violate Aristotle’s first principle of non-contradiction.

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    1. My main issue with the Thomistic view of atonement is the legalism that results from it. St. Athanasius speaks of the subjection of the soul to death once it has sinned, therefore needing a remedy to its ailment. And of course that remedy is Christ’s triumph over sin and death, not just some treasury of grace to pull from. Yet the view that is now commonplace in the Church is that of a laundry list of sins, literally interpreting Our Lord’s words of “until you have paid the last farthing.” And then the further distinction between mortal and venial sins which stems from Aquinas’s atonement theology. I often feel incredulous when I examine my conscience and have to figure out the number of a sin that I may have committed. “Well, I don’t know, I just know that I did it and I am sorry for it.” To be honest, I once more feel the scrutinizing eyes of the heretic hunters in saying that maybe legalism is not the route to take for sin.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Phillip says:

        Interesting, when it comes to confession. I never understood the whole number and kind type of legalism. Yes. Yes. The really vile Mortal Sins you can probably remember the number, but after that, I’m thinking these other sins “all the time” because I’m a sinner, that’s why I’m here.
        My issue is that the Thomistic view of the atonement seems to contradict the Thomistic view of God’s nature, as stated above.
        What is your understanding of Catholic Atonement? I hear things like Christ’s sacrifice is “fitting”, “sufficient”, and/or “satisfactory.” The reason that it cannot be substitutionary is that Christ is innocent and would be against divine justice to pay a penalty for a crime one did not commit. Okay, Okay that part seems logical.
        Another key claim, It wasn’t necessary. Well, what does that mean exactly? It seems that Athanasius says that after the sentence is passed that something executing justice needs to happen because God said it would come to pass, doesn’t this equate into a form of necessity?
        Again, Thomas does speak about necessity, but I think he equivocates on the whole matter and doesn’t seem to address Athanasius on the topic of the Incarnation, which off the top of my head indicates two things, either the work wasn’t available or he ignored it for some reason.

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      2. Based on my understanding, so I could be wrong, the reason Christ’s sacrifice is “fitting” is because the infinitude of His Being is the only thing that can fulfill the infinitude of the offense that results from sin. And in Athanasius’s view, sin is the death of the soul. The way that this sacrifice of the Son fulfills the Divine Justice end of things has much to do with His role as the sacrificial lamb. The sins of mankind are, let’s say “transferred,” to the sacrifice of the lamb, Christ, and he becomes sin. And since now the essence of Christ is infused with the weight of man’s sin, and sin is synonymous with death, it is only through the triumph over death that he can redeem this infinite offense and appease the Father.

        As for necessity, in theory God could just pour His grace out upon mankind and redeemed them that way. But that doesn’t fix the effects of sin on the human soul, which is still caught in a cycle of death. Whereas the Resurrection reestablishes the life of the soul after sin, which is something only God can do. No act from any creature can suffice for an infinite offense against God except an infinite being. Therefore necessitating the death of Christ in order to bring about the triumph over sin and death. If that makes sense.

        When it comes to Aquinas addressing Athanasius, I honestly don’t know. He was limited by to what resources he had at the time or maybe he doesn’t see any conflict regarding Athanasius’s view.

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      3. Phillip says:

        “As for necessity, in theory God could just pour His grace out upon mankind and redeemed them that way. But that doesn’t fix the effects of sin on the human soul, which is still caught in a cycle of death. Whereas the Resurrection reestablishes the life of the soul after sin, which is something only God can do. “

        I have asked as many people as I can think including theologians and this is probably the best answer I’ve heard. There is a distiguishment between the effects of the crucifixion and resurrection. It makes sense from Athanasius that sin is death of the soul and so the resurrection restores life.

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