At all times civilization has its enemies, though they are constantly changing their guise and their weapons. The great defensive art is to detect and unmask them before the damage they inflict becomes fatal.
– Paul Johnson, Enemies of Society
I. The word heretic is derived from the Greek word hairetikos, basically meaning someone that chooses or selects. In the matter of Roman Catholicism, then, a heretic is one that extricates a particular idea from its traditional system, or a suite of them, and subsequently utilizes them to develop, explicate and disseminate his own variant of religion, theology or church. Resultantly, a "new” or “alternative” cornerstone is erected so as to induct another spiritual movement, or to misdirect others for whatever reason, or simply to challenge the orthodox establishment either by academic argumentation or public pronouncement.
II. Now there are some unfailing rules which permit for the identification of the modern heretic. One is that, when he commences to formally speak or write about his new system, he will, upon observation or tonality in speech, have the semblance of self–assuredness in extremis. He will emanate an affected sense of possessing the truth. His mannerisms and writing style will exhibit a strong measure of confidence which, in most instances, is indicative of excessive pride. He will even candidly declare to be unorthodox, being elated with his courage as it were, gloating along the way, while feigning a concern for the believing population who have, in his view, been deluded for too many centuries as to the real meanings and attending subtleties of Roman Catholicism. In actuality, however, a little mining into the subsurface of his personal psychology will demonstrate that such a condition is merely expressive of an unvoiced and internalized contempt for the longsuffering Catholic tradition – that has endured and defended itself from false accusations, onslaughts, chaos, corruptions and intrigues for over two millennia. But even more so, it is an arrogation against the ardently faithful in the lay community who have not, in the heretics mind, the testicular fortitude nor the intellectual aptitude to dispute, defeat and finally eradicate the “impositions” of dogma set down by rightful ecclesiastical authority… and it is this very self–appeasing defiance that magnetizes people to him. “Who is this fellow?”, they ask; “I have never considered that view before”, they muse; “He has something there”, they conclude – and so the contagion actuates. His personal enigmatics, the astonishing alternative that is proposed, the definiteness in writing style, the certitude in enunciation, and his condescension against all those who counter or query him as to his motives and justifications – these are some of the traits by which one can fingerprint the heretic. Moreover, if the heretic comes under increased scrutiny from the defenders of orthodoxy, if he begins to feel greater pressures from the counterpositionings of Catholic authorities, and if he deems these as plausibly ruinous to his objectives, the heretic will respond – and this is one of his greatest tricks – by arguing that those very things he has been accused of, or considered to be, are part and parcel of that condition which sustains Roman Catholic tradition and authority. He will declare that ecclesiastical authorities exude a false sense of inner knowingness and conviction, that they are too self–assured, that they make it as if the truth in their possession, that they have continuously – and for “too long!” – been disingenuous to the faithful. It may appear this way to the heretic or disinterested external observer – and it is obviously a trait of orthodoxy (sure, there are sporadic internal thoughts of doubt); nevertheless, it originates from a factor altogether different from what the heretic presumes. The heretic will cry that no man can really represent the Word of God on earth. He will call such claims and beliefs to be proof of “self–righteousness”, “idolatry”, “pride”, “mass deception”, and so on.
III. But is it really?
IV. We must be very careful at this line of distinction since it is here where the mystery dwells – and problems, enormous problems, manifest. Not only in regard to religious certitude, but also in matters metaphysical. Nonetheless, the heretic has made his challenge. For now let us just say that “something happens”, which might be generically translated as crisis, dissension, counteraction, confrontation, eventuality or encounter. As shall be seen, the convictions of traditional Catholicism (what the heretic sees as an “exclusivity” which separates from “outsiders”, incorrectly taking this separation in the sense of necessity rather than contingency), will always prevail because the Roman Catholic Church itself, and not the heretic, is the more radical of the two. Indeed, the tenacity of the Holy Church is astonishing, unprecedented, She is a formidable superforce, and Her survival amongst seemingly insuperable meta–historical obstacles is an ongoing echo originating from the principal disturbance in human affairs: the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. The unbroken temporal and spatial continuity of the Roman Catholic Church validates that it is possessed by the Truth (not the possession of truth). To be sure, it is the heretic who is a bore; it is he who is the somnambulist.
V. Forgetting that a truth must be assumed, revealed or discovered (not enforced or artificially produced), neglectful and ignorant of the past (attentive only to the signs of the times), focusing on and condemning only those isolated incidents when Catholics acted much less virtuously than what Christ and His Church taught (presuming they are entirely representative of all the faithful), and discounting the overall good that Roman Catholicism has effectuated through the long course of history (recall: the heretic is one that selects) – armed with these presumptions the modern heretic builds a semi–sturdy platform upon which to launch his medley of recalcitrances… and even more so are others attracted to him. For it is that abscission from normalcy that intrigues and draws forth, that enchanting and mesmerizing anomaly. By normalcy is meant the routine, the permanent, the traditional – regular Mass attendance, daily prayer, compliance to authority and moral codes which, not easily followed and not always wanted to be followed, are nevertheless abided to because of the faith involved which engenders hope, of willingness which produces discipline and character, of reason which enlightens the intellect as to the logic of the subscription, the influx of grace which washes anew, and the general good which is concomitant of these. But, of course, these are heretical to the modern heretic. This normalcy – which in this context can be translated into dogma – is loathsome to him. He must, therefore, refashion this normalcy to suit his own religious predilections. By doing so he effectively creates his own dogmatic precepts. He will call the Mass a modernized expression of some ritualized pagan animal sacrifice. He will refer to religious objects and ornamentations as needless accoutrements that distract persons from a “truer” or “purer” worship of God. Sacraments, liturgy, vestments, ceremonies, feast days, creeds, special prayers, the saints, and so forth, are considered banal, man–made accretions without any correlation to the motivating spiritual principles from which they were educed. Moral and theological canons are figured to be embellishments which constrict freedom in social interaction and philosophic inquiry (yet when historically considered, they would have and should have arisen through time). There are a plethora of stratagems employed by the heretic that cannot here be given adequate treatment. “It is a complex and multiform task”, said the Prince of the Heresy Hunters, “to detect and convict all the heretics".
VI. By effectively calling for the overthrow of the Catholic tradition, including its beneficial offshoots (known and unrealized) that have been essential for the birth and maintenance of civilization (as opposed to cultures, which have always existed), the modern heretic inadvertently betrays his malevolent intentions. This is because you will always notice the following: he works by two modes, viz. [i] negation by elimination and [ii] substitution with the “new”. By negation is meant the directing of all error and blame outwardly – to the Catholic belief system itself, and against those who concede to its various creeds and formulas. All else and everyone else are counterfeit, excepting the heretic and his dictates. He will presuppose his own sanctity, thinking himself a specially inspirited reformer chosen to accomplish the glorious task of emancipating humanity from the shackles of unjust moral prescriptions, to “set things right”, to advocate the true nature and purpose of religion in general, and Catholicism particular. He will sometimes be shielded under the guise of a “well–meaning man” or the “brave spirit”. Though his real identity is soon exposed because after the negation comes the substitution.
VII. By substitution is meant the replacement of the “old system” with a new one of his contrivance, a proxy. Not so much a replacement of the system in totality. Instead, more so an extraction of the first principles upon which the entire system is constructed. If you remove the foundation of a building, it will collapse to the ground. By reinserting modernistic first principles, so to speak, so as to devise another variation on religion (or secular worldview), the heretic is not starting afresh, and he is not doing this for the betterment of believers. This is because, based on the cold blue facts of history, those principles are notions that already enucleated, developed and disappeared through the ages, or they are concepts that have already been proven inimical to faith and right reason. So it can be argued that the heretic is, in a way, shooting himself in the head. If he is a real reformer, not a heretic, he operates not by negation and substitution. Rather, he works by affirmation and assimilation. The former process allows a gateway or connection to “the Other”. The latter is additive and organic, where change and advancement for the better occur by continual reference to an inner core of tenets upon which growth and life can only eventuate. Contrarily, by displacing this inner core itself, the heretic thus functions in an eliminative and mechanical manner. By substituting in his own ideas, by looking with derision upon Catholic tradition in general and, most importantly, by undervaluing or being ignorant of the past (of how Catholic doctrine developed through history), he is oblivious in the reiteration of old errors. For that very history and tradition explicitly convey that such and such a heresy is antecedent, perhaps emergent many centuries ago, and afterwards its impression on the public at large dissipated as rapidly as it arose. So when he insists on a revision of “outdated” principles in his latest publication, and when he propounds that his neoteric perspective should be accredited since it is harmonious with the modern era, his propositions are still untenable. Sure – new terminologies might be employed, different circumstances there may be. However, some dredging into the underside of the heretics system or idea will display itself for what it truly is: an old heresy dressed up in modern language.
VIII. Moreover, if you reveal this past error to the heretic and interrelate it with his “new” concepts or redactions, thereby evidencing the commonality between the two (head–on as it were, not in a triumphalist or abrasive fashion, but calmly and rationally); and if his various falsities and inconsistencies are logically demonstrated – then, and only then, will his cloak fall. Surprisingly, and even mysteriously, when challenged as such, he will become harshly dogmatic in his own defense and convictions. He will assail the questioner with threats and blasphemy, transforming into that very rigid dogmatic of which the orthodoxy was originally inculpated. G.K. Chesterton is pertinent here: “What the denouncer of dogma really means is not that dogma is bad; but rather that dogma is too good to be true. That is, he means that dogma is too liberal to be likely. Dogma gives man too much freedom when it permits him to fall".  This is correct. A man may fall, he may sink deep, very deep, into the abyss, seemingly doomed to perpetual misery. Yet the Catholic Church, in its very saving qualities, in its very history, tradition and life experience, has unmistakably distinguished itself from all other systems of explanation, religious or otherwise. This is due mainly to its one changeless condition: unconditionality. People often forget that Christianity, out of all the world’s religions (including any secular worldview), will take a person as he or she is – as a sinner, irrespective of trespasses committed, thoughtless to that person’s state in life. With the modern heretic’s religion, however, you will not find this leniency. Indeed, it is soon fathomed that it is fraught with incredibly strict prerequisites. Infringe upon his rules, even just a little, and you are in trouble – big time!
IX. There are other indicators, associated with those above, which can be used to fingerprint the modern heretic. Firstly, there are the contradictions – and they are legion. His phraseology will incessantly be ambiguous, prolix and mercurial; he will expound this thing in one place and its obverse in another; he will refuse, unless compelled, to be specific on whatever topic under examination. Once again, if his real aspirations are succinctly made known after the confrontation, tension will markedly augment. He becomes defensive and paranoid, his language is replete with insults and calumny for the purpose of diversion from the topic at hand. Where once he was composed and seemingly cogent, he now turns histrionic and aggressive. He will not so much rationally defend his outlook as to pick away at, allude to, and/or attack the sporadic, namely those few unadmirable actions and persons affiliated with the Catholic Church in the past. Before where he charged the orthodoxy with demanding perfection from man (which Catholicism does not, as there is always the provision and freedom for failure – after all, man is a sinner says Our Lord), the heretic himself will call for perfect conformity to his own system of the world.
X. Secondly, the chain reaction will actuate if the he gains any measure of success. Splinter groups will form as other dissenters inevitably materialize into the foreground. Each will plant his own flag into the ground and proclaim the truth is emplaced within his own territory, and so forth. Eventually, the popularity of the heretic and his “new” perspective will fade to black. Time, the greatest of heresy hunters, will stalk him out, it will hunt him down, relegating his system into that voluminous inventory of heresies that can be found in any number of books at the library. The equations of the Lord of History still and always will apply: "He that gathers not with me, scatters"; "By their fruits you shall know them".
XI. Most importantly, it must be remembered constantly that the heretic works firstly by allurement. He teases and titillates. He sets his bait and waits just on the outskirts of the region delineated by Roman Catholic tradition. This irresistible bait is placed just at the borderline, at that mysterious line of distinction which separates the working structure of traditionalism, and the yet to be instituted heterodox system. When an innocent one perambulates into the hinterlands, his eyes notice that delicious bait. Suddenly, after a closer inspection, that line of distinction between the real and unreal starts to blur. “There is”, the prey ponders, “no real difference between this inner region and that outer region.” The curious one walks further into the unknown and more so does the distinction between the sky above and the land below coalesce into an omnipresent fuzzy panorama. He looks towards that distant horizon but the black and white colors swirl themselves into a greyshade. The sky is now leaden. The prey can no longer distinguish. But it is too late, much too late. Just as he is to grab the bait, the heretic pounces and drags him out into the wilderness. St. Irenaeus again: “Just as those who, in order to lure and capture any kind of animals, place their accustomed food before them... until at length they seize it, but, when they have taken them captive, they subject them to the bitterest of bondage, and drag them along with violence whithersoever they please, so also do these men gradually and gently persuading [others], by means of their plausible speeches... bring forward things which are not consistent... which are not such as might have been expected".
XII. Use of word heretic nowadays is, of course, meaningless to the cultural relativist or the debonair nihilist. To be sure, the term is considered ridiculous and archaic; though, certainly not if one is a orthodox Roman Catholic, like your friendly neighborhood Heresy Hunter (aka TH2). Accordingly, the following posts will be an exercise in heresy hunting, in whatever manner. TH2 sometimes wonders if the apologetics mode of a G.K. Chesterton (wit, paradox, gallantry) or a C.S. Lewis (serene, unargumentive observation) are sufficiently capable of handling the contemporary situation. Not that these approaches were ineffectual. Rather, because both men lived at a time when their views were given fair and common ground. Clearly, this is not the case today.  In a post–Christian culture, where the Roman Catholic worldview is so unwelcome and flagrantly mocked, some measure of cunning is necessitated. Not so much to convert, but to defend it by direct engagement with, and by systematically dissecting the ideas of, a particular disinformer or vilifier of Catholicism. If shots are to be fired at the Catholic Church – and there has been a continual bombardment against it in the last four decades (with much silent response), then the opposing side, if they are properly instructed by their tacticians, should expect a counteroffensive and be prepared to be similarly assaulted. Silence does not equal inertia and it should not be underestimated. Thus TH2 takes the dictum of Francis Bacon (1561–1626) from his essay Of Cunning as constituting the spirit of this exercise: "A sudden, bold, and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man, and lay him open". Regardless – if you are a by–stander looking in from the outside, or if you are a fence–sitter, TH2 hopes that you will enjoy the fray.
So, let us begin our descent...
NOTES / REFERENCES
1. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies in Anti-Nicene Fathers (English trans.), bk. I, ch. XXII, para. 2 (vol. 1, p. 347).
2. The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 243.
3. Matthew 12:30, 7:16. Consideration of John Henry Cardinal Newman's theory of doctrinal development is also instructive. He wrote of the "chronic rigor" in doctrine operating under the "Divine economy" of providence, and of how "corruptions" (i.e. heresies) soon disappear with time: "duration is another test of faithful development." See An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989 ), pt. II, sec. 7, p. 203.4. Op. cit., bk. II, ch. XIV, para. 8 (vol. 1, p. 378).
5. Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953) is probably an exception to this rule.
6. Francis Bacon, A Selection of His Works, ed. S. Warhaft (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1967), p. 106.