Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”
CCC § 2089 “Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. ‘Heresy is 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; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.’”
The Greek word hairesis, means “choice,” or “something chosen.” From it the Catholic Church takes the English word heretic. A heretic is one who chooses his own God-based beliefs Tit 3:10. The Greek word orthos, by contrast, means “correct” or “straight.” An orthodox Catholic receives his beliefs about Rabbi Yeshua and the Catholic Church through the Magisterium from Scripture, Tradition, and Ecumenical Councils (§ 884).
St. Thomas Aquinas told us, “Every sin consists formally in aversion from God.… Hence the more a sin severs man from God, the graver it is. Now man is more than ever separated from God by unbelief…. Therefore it is clear that the sin of unbelief is greater than any sin that occurs in the perversion of morals.” ST SS Q. 10, A. 3.
We distinguish between material and formal heresy. Material heresy objectively contradicts Catholic teaching, but the speaker does not necessarily know that it does. Formal heresy, defined in Canon 751 above, is limited to cases in which a baptized person obstinately insists on his contradiction of Catholic faith.
Also, the strict definition of heresy requires that the heresiarch be a baptized Christian. Here we use its wider sense, any doctrine that specifically contradicts Catholic teaching, because Rabbi Yeshua allowed both baptized and unbaptized persons to invigorate his Church through opposition.
For Catholics who would like to dive in a little deeper, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, covers five related areas:
ST-II-II, 10 unbelief in general
ST II-II, 11 heresy
ST II-II, 12 apostasy
ST-II-II, 13 blasphemy in general
ST-II-II, 14 blasphemy against the Holy Ghost
Also see EWTN
Also see Fr. Hardon
Also see New Advent Encyclopedia
How Heresies Arise
Most heresies arise because someone read, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” 2 Pet 1:20–21 and imagined that he had heard from the Holy Spirit, when in fact it came from his pious imagination. Protestant Christianity, because it lacks an authoritative interpreter, has produced a theological bedlam of such interpretations.
The Holy Eucharist Holds us Together
The Holy Eucharist makes all the difference. After Rabbi Yeshua died, the shlikhim cowered in the locked upper room. He was spiritually present to them, as he is spiritually present to all Christian congregations. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” Mt 18:20. But when he entered and told them, “Peace be with you,” Jn 20:19, his substantial presence transformed them. Rabbi Kefa, who had betrayed Christ, was now ready to be commissioned Vicar of C0hrist. Jn 21:15. The shlikhim were ready to receive Rabbi Yeshua’s power to forgive sins Jn 20:23. They prepared for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
After Rabbis Kefa, Teom, Nathanael, Yaakov ben Zevdi, Yokhanan ben Zevdi, and two more of Rabbi Yeshua’s shlikhim saw him at the Sea of Tiberias, Jn 21:1 they went fishing. They fished all night, but caught nothing Jn 21:3. “… apart from me you can do nothing” Jn 15:5. Then, just as day was breaking, the seven shlikhim saw Rabbi Yeshua, “the light of the world” Jn 8:12, who told them to fish from the other side of the boat. To lifelong working fishermen like Rabbis Kefa, Yaakov and Yokhanan and perhaps the others, Mk 1:16 his instruction made no sense. But when they followed the risen Rabbi Yeshua anyway, even before recognizing him, they brought 153 fish Jn 21:11 up from the dark waters to light in his presence. At that time there were 153 known species of fish, indicating that the Church would no longer be only for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Mt 10:6 but would fish for “devout men from every nation under heaven” Acts 2:5. Then they understood his first call, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Mt 4:16.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches have been separated from the Catholic Church for a thousand years. Yet, even after separating from the authentic Magisterium in 1054, Eastern Orthodox Churches have remained closer to authentic Catholic teaching than any other non-Catholic faith community. The difference is the Holy Eucharist. Orthodox Christians have retained the apostolic succession and therefore consecrate the true Holy Eucharist. He made all the difference on the Sea of Tiberias and in the locked upper room, and he makes all the difference holding the few Eastern Orthodox Churches together.
The Holy Eucharist opened the Scriptures to the travelers on the road to Emmaus, and to all who authentically, “Do this in remembrance of me” Lk 22:19. Even after a thousand years, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have fractured only slightly into a few national churches. Their mostly authentic teaching and near-unity testify to the power of the Holy Eucharist. The comparison with Protestant Christianity is astonishing.
The Protestant denominations have been separated from the Catholic Church only half as long as the Orthodox Churches. Yet they have splintered into a bedlam of conflicting doctrines even on such crucial issues as baptism and Holy Communion which Rabbi Yeshua said are necessary to our salvation Jn 3:5; 6:53. The difference is the Holy Eucharist. All of the Protestant denominations have abandoned the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession and belief in transubstantiation. They deliberately protested against the Catholic Church‘s intentions in celebrating these sacraments, making it impossible for them to transubstantiate bread and wine into Rabbi Yeshua’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The comparison with the complete unity of the Catholic Church in the authentic Magisterium, and even with the Orthodox Churches, is astonishing.
And there is more. Holy Mother Church is at her best when under attack. The capital sins, particularly sloth, eventually seduce undisturbed churchmen, as they did Pope Alexander VI. Rabbi Yeshua allowed Luther to betray her and lead millions astray to strengthen his faithful. But her very betrayers stirred her to convene the Council of Trent.
God Uses the Heresies to Make Good
When our first parents fell from original justice into original sin, our Father knew that we would need radical transformation to recover our darkened intellects and strengthen our weakened wills. His Son’s sacrifice redeemed us from the original sin that deprived us of sanctifying grace, and all the personal sins committed by each one of us, but not from the stain of the original sin that darkened our intellects and weakened our wills (Pope Paul VI, Credo of the People of God § 17). Only the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved also from the stain.
It is fascinating to watch God’s infinite intelligence against the backdrop of our own insignificant intelligence. What human mind intent on strengthening a Church would have thought to do it by allowing the formation of heresies?
He created oysters to show us how it works. When a parasitic intruder drills through a pearl oyster’s shell, the oyster becomes irritated. Its mantle coats the intruder, producing a natural pearl.
God wills all men to be in the Church, but if some will not he uses their very resistance to strengthen Holy Mother Church. She responds to an irritating heresy by refuting it and teaching the Faith more brilliantly and beautifully than ever before. Most of the major Catholic teaching documents were written in response to a heresy. We need always to thank God for the irritations he sends us.
Anyone who has ever worked out in a gym recognizes the principle. Resistance builds strength.
Our Father always looks far ahead. After driving our first parents from Eden Gen 3:24 he purified them through constant striving against pride. During the Old Testament days he kept his Israelite children apart from the pagan tribes, but their presence strengthened the Israelite tribes. When the Israelites conformed to God they conquered the pagans, and when they departed from conformity the pagans conquered them Ex 17:11. The new Israel too would be the light of the world Mt 5:14, revealing God to man, surrounded by adversaries who would strengthen them.
The sins of some churchmen during the fifteenth century made the Church a near occasion of blasphemy. The Protestant movement forced Holy Mother Church at the Council of Trent to try harder to live as she taught. The Protestant movement is the heresy of Christ without Mary. Islam is the heresy of Mary without Christ. The Jews, Muslims, Protestants and all the rest who remain outside Holy Mother Church strengthen her by their resistance, forcing her to articulate Rabbi Yeshua‘s public revelation more brilliantly and beautifully than ever before through the development of doctrine.
They Went Out From Us
It did not take long. Rabbi Yokhanan wrote, “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” 1 Jn 2:18–22. Rabbi Yokhanan did not refer to people who had never come to know Rabbi Yeshua, but who “went out from us” 1 Jn 2:19.
Rabbi Yeshua, the torat khayim, Torah made flesh, instituted the Catholic Church Mt 16:18 as a body of faithful servants who would protect his sacramental presence and teaching. And he told us, “This is my body” Mt 26:26, and, “I am with you always” Mt 28:20. Rabbi Yeshua has allowed the great divisions within his flock. He did not will them. He prayed “ … that they may be one” Jn 17:22, and lamented, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Mt 23:37. But, as with the Crucifixion, He used Satan’s bitter attacks to calmly teach his Church that his living presence among us today is both real and powerful.
The Early Lost Sheep
§ 464 “The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.”
Judaizers (1st Century)
The first Christian heretics were the Judaizers. Most of the earliest Christians were Jews, who were accustomed all their lives to the practice of circumcision and other Torah provisions. Our Father had required since the time of Abraham that his covenant children be circumcised, so the Judaizers assumed that it was still required.
The Judaizers spread a heresy that a person must become Jewish and follow the Mosaic law as a condition for baptism. At the Council of Jerusalem the heretics said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” Acts 15:1, and, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses” Acts 15:5. But the Council’s decision letter said these things were not necessary Acts 15:28.
Rabbi Paul told us about them. “… false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” Gal 2:4–5.
Rabbi Paul was crystal clear: “If justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose” Gal 2:21.
In fact, God had made it clear that Gentiles as well as Jews were welcome. During Rabbi Yeshua’s mortal life, he had told his shlikhim, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Mt 10:5. But after rising from the dead, Rabbi Yeshua told the same shlikhim, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations Mt 28:19, and “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8.
It took Rabbi Yeshua a while to make his vicar and the other shlikhim understand. While Rabbi Kefa was en route to Joppa, he had a vision in which God gave all kinds of animals to Rabbi Kefa and told him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” Acts 10:13. Rabbi Yeshua had earlier said, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him” Mk 7:14, but Rabbi Kefa protested that he had never in his life eaten anything unkosher. “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” Acts 10:14. The voice from God answered, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common” Acts 10:15.
Rabbi Yeshua then sent Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to Rabbi Kefa. Finally, Rabbi Kefa understood. “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” Acts 10:34–35. He taught authoritatively as the Vicar of Christ at the Council of Jerusalem, “God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith” Acts 15:8.
A few persons born Jewish and later baptized into Rabbi Yeshua’s redemptive sacrifice Rom 6:3–4 imagine that God requires them to observe the mitzvot. They read that the Council of Jerusalem was convened in response to a challenge from the Judaizers: “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Acts 15:1 They see the Council’s conclusion: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” Acts 15:19 They see Gentiles, and conclude that the Church never dispensed Hebrew Catholics from observing the mitzvot, for example by wearing the kippa (prayer hat) and tallit (prayer shawl). They commit the Protestant error of reading only Scripture.
The three greatest voices of Sacred Tradition, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas Aquinas agree that Hebrew Catholics are not required to observe the mitzvot. Belief that God still commands us to perform the mitzvot denies Rabbi Yeshua‘s fulfillment. From the moment of our baptism into Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice, we come under Churchauthority, and no other.
However, we may perform the mitzvot provided we understand that they are not salvific.
The Catholic Church corrected the Judaizer heresy at the Council of Jerusalem Acts 15. The Judaizers continued to argue the point, which led to the Antioch Incident. Some arguments continued until AD 70 when, on the Ninth of Av, the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem disappeared. The question of Hebrew Catholics and the Mitzvot continues to this day, but only as a voluntary action for Hebrew Catholics who wish to retain their Jewish identity and understand that they are not salvific. Catholics, including Catholics of Jewish origin, are not required by God’s law to perform the mitzvot.
Gnostics (1st Century)
§ 465 “The first heresies denied not so much Christ’s divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism). From apostolic times the Christian faith has insisted on the true incarnation of God’s Son come in the flesh. But already in the third century, the Church in a council at Antioch had to affirm against Paul of Samosata that Jesus Christ is Son of God by nature and not by adoption. The first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 confessed in its Creed that the Son of God is begotten, not made, of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father, and condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son of God ‘came to be from things that were not’ and that he was ‘from another substance’ than that of the Father.”
Gnosticism is the doctrine of salvation by knowledge. Gnostics were “people who knew.” They believed that what they knew made them superior to everyone else. In fact, the Gnostic movement consisted of a wide variety of sects that had all sorts of pantheistic and idealistic ideas, particularly that spirit was good but flesh was evil. The Gnostics thought they should overcome the grossness of matter and return to the Parent-Spirit through some sort of God-sent Savior. It was Satan who enticed our first parents with the gnostic temptation, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” Gen 3:5.
As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, Gnosticism spread with it, pretending to be an esoteric revelation of Rabbi Yeshua‘s, fit for the aristocracy rather than the vulgar crowd who could not understand. It acknowledged Rabbi Yeshua as Savior, imitated the valid sacraments but without ordination, and flooded the world with apocryphal gospels, acts, and apocalypses, including the so-called gospels of Thomas, Judas, and Mary Magdalene.
The Catholic Church has always taught salvation by grace. Rabbi Yeshua through his Church offers to all men the truth we need to attain heaven, and gives us grace that helps us conform to that truth. If we freely will to cooperate with his grace we can attain heaven. Our understanding of that truth combines faith and reason, “…two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” St. Anselm of Canterbury called it fides quaerens intellectum, confident faith seeking intellectual understanding of itself.
If knowledge saves us the man who has never been given this knowledge has no way to be saved. The Catholic Church has always taught that God wills the salvation of all men, and therefore, at least implicitly, that even those ignorant of the Church can be saved. The Church’s understanding is this:
§ 1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery. Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”
Rabbi Paul was the first authentic Christian to refute the Gnostic heresy. “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge [Greek: gnosis], for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” 1 Tim 6:20.
Several of the Church Fathers refuted Gnosticism, but certainly St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies was the most important. Tertullian also devoted his life to opposing Gnosticism.
By the fourth century Gnosticism declined rapidly, but is reappearing in our own time.
Docetists (1st Century)
Docetism comes from the Greek dokesis, “appearance.” It was not a formal heresy in that it arose outside the Church, not as the misunderstanding of a dogma by the faithful. The Gnostics saw spirit as good but flesh as evil. This antagonism between spirit and flesh made them unable to resolve, “The Word was made flesh” Jn 1:14, which means the entire doctrine of Rabbi Yeshua as “true God and true man” would not be valid. To resolve it, the Docetists decided that Rabbi Yeshua’s human nature was only an illusion. In some versions, miraculously substituted someone else to bear the pain of the Cross.
Simon Magus was a Docetist. His name appears in Acts 8:9, 13, 18, 24. He practiced magic, which was movement of objects and so on by demons giving the illusion that Simon Magus had God’s power Acts 8:10. A group of Docetae later repented and burned their evil books Acts 19:19.
Docetism always accompanies Gnosticism and Manichaeism.
Marcionists (2nd Century)
Marcion rejected the writings of the Old Testament. He taught that Christ was not the Son of the God of the Old Covenant, but the Son of a different God, the good God.
Marcion wanted the New Covenant to be undefiled by association with Judaism. He accounted for the existence of the Old Testament by imagining a second deity, a god in a sense but not God. He also rejected the Gospels of Rabbi Matityahu, Rabbi Marcus and Rabbi Yokhanan because they were Jews, and produced his own mutilated New Testament. It had only one Gospel, Rabbi Lucas, without the first two chapters, and ten epistles of Rabbi Paul. Marcion saw the Catholics of his day as the Judaizers of the preceding century.
Marcionism soon drifted away from this simple fiction. Its shortcomings were too visible. Marcion admitted that the Old Testament was true, but sought to discard it. He admitted that his lesser god created the world and all humanity, and had done men no evil, but insisted that they need not worship him. His followers tried to be more logical, but ended up taking Marcionism more or less back to Gnosticism.
Several of the Church Fathers wrote against Marcionism, but the most important was Tertullian, in his Against Marcion.
Montanists (2nd Century)
Montanism began in Asia Minor, in Phrygia. At the outset there were extravagances but no false doctrines. The Montanists claimed that the Holy Spirit had ordered some fasts and abstinences, and strongly promoted virginity. Martyrdom was so highly recommended that flight from persecution was disapproved. Over time, they became more extravagant, forbidding second marriage and observing three Lents, as though three Saviors had suffered.
The Montanists began to draw considerable crowds of Christians eager to believe that they were hearing Rabbi Yeshua directly, which of course led them away from the Church. Evidence accumulated that the prophecies were not of supernatural origin, and Church authorities excommunicated the Montanists.
In the west, there were arguments within the Church over the authenticity of Montanism. Tertullian’s own extravagant nature led him to embrace Montanism as soon as he heard about it. After that, his writings grew bitter against the Catholic Church, and he finally abandoned it. His following was small, but a sect of followers survived and were reconciled to the Church by St. Augustine.
Manichaeans (3rd Century)
Mani was a title of respect, not a personal name, probably from the Aramaic mânâ, light-spirit or illustrious one. The founder used this title as if it were his name.
Mani, a Gnostic; believed in salvation by knowledge. He proposed a religion of pure reason as opposed to the Christian principle of faith. The Manichaeist heresy claimed to explain the origin, composition and future of the universe. It had an answer for everything, and so it stood against Christianity which was built on mystery. Again we hear, “You will be like God …” Gen 3:5.
In Mani’s cosmogony, before the existence of heaven and earth there were two principles. The good principle, called the Father of Majesty, dwelled in the realm of light. Within the Father were the four persons of time, light, force and goodness. Outside the Father were five tabernacles, intelligence, reason, thought, reflection and will. There was also an evil principle, the Prince of Darkness, its exact opposite.
These two powers lived in peace until the Prince of Darkness decided to invade the realm of light. The Father of Majesty, in response, emanated the Mother of Life, which in turn emanated the first man. The story goes on and on, and has come to us in different versions.
Manichaeism had a lax moral code. During St. Augustine’s early years he had been a Manichaean. In his Confessions he gives an example. “God, give me chastity and continence, but not yet,” disregarding Rabbi Yeshua‘s clear warning, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” Mt 24:36, which applies to both the particular judgment and the general judgment.
Manichaeanism was so complete and consistent, its followers never noticed that there was no authority at all for its beliefs. It reminds us in that sense of Wagner’s great pagan tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelungs or Tolkien’s great Catholic trilogy Lord of the Rings, in which we get so wrapped up mastering the details that we forget it is all fantasy.
In this Manichaeanism marked a transition. In the Old Testament days the demons’ heresy against the Canaanite pagans was simple. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” Mt 4:9. But after Rabbi Yeshua taught us how to answer them, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” Mt 4:10, the heresies began to get much more complicated.
The key to all heresies is pride: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” Gen 3:5. Many persons who have spent years becoming adept at a false religion, upon hearing Catholic truth, refuse to accept it because they would have to humble themselves by admitting they had been wrong. And so, finding Protestants and Muslims who hear our words but remain intransigent, we hear Rabbi Yeshua, “…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” Mt 23:12.
Arians (4th century)
Arianism. The Catholic Church was born in a Jewish and Greek world. The Jews proclaimed one God, supreme in the universe. The Greeks, however, could not see how an infinite and unchanging God could create a finite and changing world. They envisioned a mediator to reduce the distance between God and man. Arius taught that Rabbi Yeshua was not consubstantial with the Father but a second god, created and inferior, midway between the Father and man. In some variants Rabbi Yeshua was not even that but simply a prophet or great moral teacher.
After the first Council of Nicaea, AD 325, condemned the Arian heresy, Arius disguised it by using orthodox or near-orthodox terminology. In Greek, homo (same), homoi (similar) and hetero (different) all match up to ousios, nature. St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, proclaimed the true Faith, homoousios, that the Father and the Son are the same divine spiritual substance. “I and the Father are one” Jn 10:30. Instead of heteroousios, different natures, he called it homoiousios, similar natures, which still denied the entire doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Homoousios and homoiousios sounded so similar that confusion rampaged through the Church.
Arius also quoted passages from the Gospels out of context to make his heresy appear orthodox. “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” Mk 13:32. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” Lk 2:52. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” Acts 2:36. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Phil 2:9–11. “… having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs” Heb 1:4. “Jesus, … was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God’s house” Heb 3:1–2. St. Athanasius devoted vast sections of his Discourses against the Arians to showing that their use of these and many other verses was inconsistent with the overall context of these books, which the Church later recognized as Holy Scripture.
During that conflict Constantine’s sons divided the Roman Empire. Constantius, a devoted Arian, became Emperor of the East. He soon forced more than 80 Eastern bishops, all of the Eastern Church except for St. Athanasius, to proclaim Arianism. Constantine’s other son, Constans, an orthodox Christian, became Emperor of the West. There Emperor Constans, PopeJulius, and later PopeLiberius, protested strenuously against Constantius’ action. When Constans was killed in battle Constantius inherited the entire Empire. He immediately imposed Arianism on the Western bishops, forcing Pope Liberius into exile.
After Constantius died the conflict continued until Emperor Theodosius I called a new Ecumenical Council in AD 381. By that time virtually all the world’s bishops were Arians. Rabbi Yeshua protected St. Athanasius, a handful of other bishops, and a great majority of the laity. At one point even Pope Liberius appeared to falter but it was later proven that he had always been faithful. St. Athanasius and the Council of Nicaea finally prevailed when the Council of Constantinople firmly condemned Arianism and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed. The Council of Constantinople also composed a longer creed, known as the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which is recited at the Sunday Eucharist in both the Orthodox East and the Latin West. Pope St. Damasus I in AD 382 ratified Constantinople and in that same year published his Decree of Damasus, which approved St. Athanasius’ list of canonical books, a crucial step toward the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture.
Rabbi Yeshua always uses adversity to call the Church to her greatest work. St. Athanasius was exiled more than once for holding fast to authoritative Catholic teaching. As a result, he compiled the list of holy books that would eventually become the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture. The Church survived because Rabbi Yeshua sent excellent Vicars to set the Barque of Peter back on course. The only three early Popes who are called “the Great,” Leo I (440-461), Gregory I (590-604) and Nicholas I (858-867), together with great bishops including St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Cyril and St. Patrick, defeated the entrenched Arians and restored true teaching to Rome. St. John Paul II, with the voice of an Old Testament prophet, did the same in the confusion after Vatican II.
The Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 provided the necessary correction:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.
Pelagians (5th century)
Pelagius denied Rabbi Paul‘s clear teaching on original sin. “… sin came into the world through one man and death through sin” Rom 5:12. He taught from a pagan, especially Stoic, perspective, claiming that man is born morally neutral and becomes sinful through the bad example of the sinful community into which he is born, and that the moral strength of our will, steeled by ascetic living, on its own could attain high virtue.
Pelagius therefore denied that we inherit righteousness as a result of Rabbi Yeshua‘s death on the cross. Instead, he said, we become personally righteous by instruction and imitation in the Christian community, following Rabbi Yeshua‘s example. In his view, grace is not truly necessary but merely makes easier what would otherwise be difficult.
A series of local councils in North Africa, culminating in the Council of Carthage, in AD 419, corrected the Pelagian heresy, declaring that death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity but through sin, that newborn children must be baptized to erase the stain of original sin, that justifying grace forgives past sins but also helps us to avoid future sins, that Rabbi Yeshua‘s grace helps us to know God‘s commands for us but also gives us the strength and will to obey them, that without Rabbi Yeshua‘s grace it is not more difficult but absolutely impossible to do good works, that we confess ourselves sinners not from humility but from truth, that the saints pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” not only for others but for themselves, and that they do so not from humility but from truthfulness. Pope St. Boniface I in AD 419 affirmed all these conciliar teachings, and the seventh ecumenical council, Nicaea II in AD 787, reaffirmed them.
Semi-Pelagians (5th century)
After St. Augustine firmly refuted Pelagius’ teachings, some of his followers tried to evade St. Augustine’s objections with a modified version which claimed that we can reach out to God under our own power, without God’s grace, and that once we enter the state of grace we can retain it through our own efforts without further grace from God.
Nestorians (5th Century)
§ 466 “The Nestorian heresy regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son. Opposing this heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the third ecumenical council, at Ephesus in 431, confessed ‘that the Word, uniting to himself in his person the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man.’ Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: ‘Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.’”
Nestorius denied Mary the title of Theotokos (Greek: “God-bearer” or, less literally, “Mother of God”), claiming that she bore only Christ’s human nature in her womb. He proposed instead the title Christotokos (“Christ-bearer” or “Mother of Christ”).
This made Christ two separate persons, a divine person and a human person, only one of which was in Mary’s womb. St. Cyril of Alexandria defended true Catholic teaching. The third ecumenical council, at Ephesus in AD 431, supported him, declaring, “… that the Word, uniting to himself in his person the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man.”
The Council of Ephesus also defined the Blessed Virgin as Theotokos, declaring that she carried in her womb God incarnate. This did not mean that she was older than God or the source of God, but only that God had chosen to become incarnate and dwell for nine months in Mary’s womb. (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion 250, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church § 466.)
Father John A. Hardon, S.J. summarized on the Nestorian heresy in Mariology: Mary as Mother of God: “This is the perfect description of Mohammedanism: Mohammedanism is Nestorian Christianity. It is Christianity minus Mary as the Mother of God. She is only the Mother of Jesus, the man, as Nestorius claimed and as Mohammed after him preached.” But he said much more in his Homily on the Feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, June 27, 1991:
The whole question was whether she merely conceived and gave birth to a human person, or whether the Child that she conceived and gave birth to was human indeed, but not a human person. A person is an individual. The individual, the person whom Mary conceived and gave birth to was man, but He was a divine Person, a divine Person who had assumed a true humanity. That was the Nestorian heresy, and – I make bold to say – the single (I do not hesitate) the single most devastating, underlying, subverting, destructive heresy among nominal Christians today is Nestorianism. The very error against which today’s saint battled. Why? For three reasons:
- If Mary is not the Theotokos, the Mother of God and not merely Christotokos, the Mother of the man Christ, so that the divinity merely dwells in Jesus, while Christ is intimately united with God, or Christ always did the will of God. He was always very pleased to do what God wanted Him to do. That’s not enough. Either we use the word “is” or we are Nestorians. Jesus is God. And without Christ’s divinity, Christianity collapses.
- Secondly, if Mary’s Child is not the living God in human form, then we’ve not been redeemed. The redemption had to be accomplished by God. Very well, either we believe that God assumed a human nature — it was God Who allowed Himself to be crucified. Either it was God Who allowed Himself to die so that His human body and soul were divided, either it was God Who had a human will – God had a human will — with His human will, then He voluntarily sacrificed His human life on the Cross, or we are not redeemed. It is not by something that some man did for God that we were redeemed. It is that God as man suffered and died on the Cross and by His human will, Christ – this is it – Christ had two wills, a divine will because He was God, and a human will that He assumed. And by that human will, He voluntarily, freely allowed Himself to have a human body and soul divided, which caused His death and had a human will with which He allowed Himself to be killed.
- And finally – and most practically — if Mary’s Son is not our God, then the whole Christian spiritual life goes down the drain because our Faith tells us the virtues that Christ practiced as man, of course — humility, patience, charity, forbearance – all of those virtues that Jesus practiced that we are to follow and imitate — they were indeed the virtues, the virtues of a man, but this man was united with the divinity. And we believe that this man who is God lived a human life on earth, and by His human life, showed us how we are to imitate Christ. But the key factor is that God did indeed become man. And by imitating His human virtues, we are becoming more and more like the God Who redeemed us.
Lord Jesus, give us the grace to believe that we are to imitate you as man in order to become more and more like you who are our God. Amen.
Monophysites (5th Century)
§ 467 “The Monophysites affirmed that the human nature had ceased to exist as such in Christ when the divine person of God’s Son assumed it. Faced with this heresy, the fourth ecumenical council, at Chalcedon in 451, confessed:
Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: The same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; “like us in all things but sin.” He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation. the distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”
The Monophysites, appalled by Nestorius’ implication that Rabbi Yeshua was two people with two different natures went to the other extreme, claiming that Rabbi Yeshua was one person with only one nature mixing human and divine elements. Holy Mother Church calls them Monophysites (Greek: mono, one; physis, nature).
Orthodox Catholic theologians recognized that Monophysitism was as bad as Nestorianism because it denied Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. If Christ did not have a fully human nature, then he would not be fully human, and if he did not have a fully divine nature then he was not fully divine.
The fourth ecumenical council, at Chalcedon in AD 451, replied, “Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity.”
Pope Vigilius’ heroic stand against Monophysitism highlighted the infallible nature of a pope’s teaching as shepherd of the whole Church.
Monothelites (7th Century)
The Catholic Church teaches not Monothelitism but Dyothelitism. All three divine persons of the Holy Trinity share one will because they are all the same spiritual substance, but Rabbi Yeshua’s human nature had its own will. “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” Lk 22:42. “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” Jn 5:30. Rabbi Yeshua‘s human will was always obedient to his divine will in the hypostatic union.
The Monothelites confused the existence with the actions of Rabbi Yeshua‘s separate will, arguing that separate wills must have different objectives. Since he followed the divine will rather than his own human will, the Monothelites assumed that there was really only one will.
What looked like a theological discussion of angels dancing on the head of a pin had immense consequences. If Rabbi Yeshua did not have an independent will, if his decision to be the Final Sacrifice had been that of a puppet, then there was no free will sacrifice, and therefore no redemption.
The matter was settled by the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople lII, in AD 680 and confirmed by Pope St. Leo II (AD 682-683). Interference from secular authorities kept monothelitism alive a little longer, but by about AD 715 it had disappeared.
Iconoclasts (8th and 9th Centuries)
The Eastern Churches had always emphasized images of Rabbi Yeshua and the Blessed Virgin called icons. But during the eighth century a movement arose that saw all matter, especially the human body, as inherently evil. These iconoclasts (image breakers) saw sacraments, rites, and especially veneration of the Cross as reprehensible, and destroyed whole monasteries to get as many images and relics as possible.
The Iconoclasts of the eighth and ninth centuries were Christian heretics opposed to Christian holy pictures. They especially disliked images of the Cross because they believed that Rabbi Yeshua had not really been crucified. Muslims also opposed all image-making. However, here we will address Jewish objections.
Rabbi Yeshua did not change the Torah. Our Father had never prohibited all images, only the worship of images. His First Commandment included “You shall have no other gods before me” Ex 20:3. “You shall not make for yourself a graven image…” Ex 20:4. His words immediately following it were, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them” Ex 20:5. He told us not to make graven images to worship. He had told Moses, “You shall make two cherubim of gold” Ex 25:18 and, “Make a fiery serpent” Num 21:8. But when King Hezekiah saw the Israelites burning incense to it, “… he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made” 2 Kings 18:4.
Some Jews quote, “Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure …” Deut 4:15. This too refers to worship, as we see a few verses later, “…you be drawn away and worship them” Deut 4:19. We saw no form at Horeb but we did at Calvary, so we can now venerate images of Rabbi Yeshua, as well as images of Mary, the angels, and all the saints.
Rambam’s mitzvah 313 says, “Do not make figures for ornament, even if they are not worshiped.” But the Torah passage he cites says only, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin’” Ex 20:20. Maimonides often framed Jewish law in ways designed to exclude Rabbi Yeshua as God’s Mashiakh, as in his shloshah-asar ikkarim, Thirteen Principles of Faith. In this case he used it in a way not supported by the Written Torah or Oral Law. Divine law never prohibited images not worshiped.
The seventh ecumenical council, Nicaea II, in AD 787, asserted that it was appropriate to venerate icons of Rabbi Yeshua, the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and all the saints, declaring that “… the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “… whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it” (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion 601, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2132.)
Catharism (11th Century)
Catharism presented non-Christian ideas in Christian words. The Cathari taught that the world was created by an evil deity, and therefore matter must be evil, and that we must worship the good deity instead.
The Albigensians, a large Cathar sect, taught that the spirit was created by God and was good, while the body was created by an evil god and so the spirit must be freed from the body. They saw having children as one of the greatest evils, since it entailed imprisoning another “spirit” in flesh, so they forbade marriage but allowed fornication. The Albigensians practiced tremendous fasts and severe mortifications, and their leaders went about in voluntary poverty.
Other Cathari held that fornication was evil because children could still result. Overall, the triumph of Catharism would have meant the extinction of the human race.
Let’s start with “Jehovah.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses say, “While many scholars prefer the spelling “Yahweh,” Jehovah is the form of the name that is most widely recognized.”
First, let’s see what The Most Holy Name actually is. Nothing about “Jehovah” in it. Jehovah is a made-up name. The Tetragrammaton, written in the original Hebrew, is spelled Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay. The Masoretes replaced the vowels of the name YHWH (the vav is usually pronounced W) with the vowel signs from the Hebrew words Adonai or Elohim. It came out YeHoWaH.
Anyone who has ever seen the Hebrew alphabet knows that Hebrew has no “J” sound. But German does. Ja in German, pronounced yah, means “yes.” So German picked it up as JeHoVaH, and some Americans picked it up from the German.
Almighty God gives us his name at Ex 3:14. Jews today, in awe of his sacred name YHWH, never use it. In ordinary prayer they substitute Adonai (the Lord) or Elohim (God). In ordinary conversation Jews go even further to protect any of the names of God from profanation by simply using HaShem (the Name). The excellent Stone Edition (ArtScroll) Tanakh always uses HaShem.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses know that their Bible translation, the New World Translation (NWT), is translated to conform with their beliefs. Most religions conform their beliefs to the Holy Scriptures, so they go to great effort to make the NWT appear accurate. Let’s look for ourselves:
NWT translates the opening words of St. John’s Gospel, “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” NWT Jn 1:1, using the lowercase g and the indefinite article an to indicate that Christ was merely a creature.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but a force, more or less as “the force” appears in Star Wars, and so their NWT always puts him in lowercase and translates accordingly. For instance, St. Stephen, “being full of holy spirit” NWT–Acts 7:55. Another case in point, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit” NWT–Mt 28:19.
The Bible Gateway has more than fifty English-language Scripture translations. They can be selected just below the log-in button, near the upper right corner of each page. On the right side, Just select the preferred Scripture translation, such as Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. On the left, enter the Scripture verse, for instance John 1:1, or Mt 28:19, to be checked, and it will immediately print out the verse in that translation. Prove-it-to-me readers can count the number of translations that agree with the NWT. For I-believe-you readers, 0 out of 50 English translations agrees with the NWT on either point. Not one.
Catholics who need to drill down further can refer to the NWT- Study Edition.
Their Understanding of God
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ, before he came to earth and since he ascended to the Father, was and remains Michael the Archangel. They defend this by quoting, from their Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation (NWT), “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet” NWT–1 Thes 4:16. They conclude this from the words, “an archangel’s voice.” The DRA says “with the voice of an archangel,” 1 Thes 4:16, but all Catholics and Protestants read it as “heralded by an archangel.” Obviously God could speak in an archangel’s voice, or be accompanied by an archangel. Nothing says that the Lord in that verse was an archangel!
They identify the archangel as Michael from, “But when Michael the archangel had a difference with the devil and was disputing about Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a judgment against him in abusive terms, but said: ‘May Jehovah rebuke you.’” NWT– Jude 9. Their logic is that Scripture never uses the expression “archangel” in the plural. But their own NWT– 1 Thes 4:16 uses the indefinite article “an archangel” implying more than one. They counter that the definite article appears in Jude 9, “Michael the archangel,” but that usage only indicates that it refers to the Michael who is an archangel, and not, an ordinary man such as Michael the son of Beriah NWT–1 Chron 8:16.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own NWT Bible says, “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him” NWT–Heb 1:6. Scripture identifies the three great ranks of angels. Michael the archangel belonged to the bottom rank. During the War in Heaven the higher ranking angels had to display humility by following God’s chosen leader, but they worshiped only the Holy Trinity, never a fellow creature. The RSV2CE, referring to the Son of God, says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Pre-1970 editions of the NWT translated that verse as, “Let all God’s angels worship him” NWT–Heb 1:6. Around 1970 Jehovah’s Witnesses noticed that this accurate translation, which had been around for a half-century, disproved their idea that Rabbi Yeshua was a creature. They had covered that little detail in St. John’s Gospel, which they translate, “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” NWT– Jn 1:1, using the lowercase g and the indefinite article an to indicate that Christ was merely a creature. However, when Thomas probes Rabbi Yeshua‘s wounds he exclaims, “My Lord and my God” NWT–Jn 20:28. Rabbi Yeshua didn’t correct Thomas’ exclamation that he was God incarnate because Thomas, who had traveled with him for three years, knew perfectly well that he was God. We may suppose the NWT translators realized that it would be impossible to handle this with a discreet alteration and simply hoped no one would notice.
More detail: The God of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witness Distinctive Beliefs
JW Heresy: Christ is God’s Son and is inferior to him.
We approach this belief by remembering that Christ is both true God and true man in the hypostatic union.
St. Paul describes the supremacy of Christ:
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent Col 1:15–18.
To support their belief that Rabbi Yeshua is God’s Son but inferior to him, Jehovah’s Witnesses quote “The Father is greater than I” NWT–Jn 14:28; “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” NWT–Jn 20:17. These and similar verses refer to Christ in his human nature. A man is always inferior to God.
Others, not often quoted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, suggest that the Father and Christ are equal, including, “I and the Father are one” NWT–Jn 10:30, and, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” NWT–Jn 14:9, refer to Christ in his divine nature.
Taken together, these verses support Catholic teaching on the hypostatic union, that Christ is a divine person with both a divine nature and a human nature.
JW Heresy: Christ is a creature
Every Sunday morning, Catholics recite the Creed that Christ is “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” This word, begotten, means proceeding from the Father outside of time. It is a mystery for us to contemplate. This is how the Church Fathers understood Christ as the Eternally Begotten Son. The Creed makes clear that Christ was “not made.” Made means created within time, in this world.
Easier for us to grasp, St. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. Jn 1:1–3. “The Word was with God” distinguishes the Word from the Father. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jn 1:14, further shows that the Word was Christ.” “Glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father” Jn 1:14 continues showing that Christ was the Father’s only begotten Son.
Where is the Holy Spirit in all this? Let’s hurry back to the Creed. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” St. Augustine says so at CCC § 264: The love between the Father and the Son proceeds from them as the Holy Spirit.
More Detail: History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
More Detail: Distinctive Beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses
The Watch Tower Society is an immense publishing house for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses are prohibited from reading anything but Watch Tower material, they become much more expert on their own teachings than anyone whose doorbell they are likely to ring.
Further, when Jehovah’s Witnesses ring our doorbell there will generally be two of them. When a conversation is two-against-one, the two have a psychological advantage. Within the boundaries of that conversation, they become “most people.”
Their presentation skills are also highly developed. The Watch Tower Society uses psychologists to develop the overall presentation strategy as well as its details. If the pair who rang your doorbell go out every Saturday and give their presentations to only five people each Saturday, after a year they have made their presentation 250 times. Most of us may only encounter it once in our lives.
However, their rehearsed presentation depends on our allowing them to continue it. They rang our doorbell and are in our home. We’re in control of the conversation. We can easily neutralize their advantage.
When the doorbell rings and we open it to find a pair of attractively dressed Jehovah’s Witnesses introducing themselves, we can say no by smiling, “Thank you, but I’m already happy to be in my present church. God bless you, and have a wonderful day.” It’s important to be graceful and charitable. Jehovah’s Witnesses are trained to believe that most Christians are sour angry people. Too many Christians respond angrily to people ringing their doorbell for a religious sales pitch, confirming what the Watch Tower has taught them. Rabbi Yeshua told us, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” Jn 13:35.
However, Second Exodus recommends that well-catechized Catholics accept the conversation. Rabbi Yeshua told us, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8. Why should they be the only witnesses in this conversation? We can also witness to them by responding this way: “Thank you for coming, but you didn’t call us to make an appointment. Let’s re-schedule for when we’ll have time to hear what you’ve come to tell us.” And we set up an appointment. That gives us time to open Second Exodus, go to The Old Heresy Trail, scroll down to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and prepare for the conversation.
When the Jehovah’s Witnesses return, we warmly welcome them into our home, invite them to be seated and, if it’s our custom, offer a snack or drink. Rabbi Yeshua taught us to be fishermen. As we get comfortable, we can set forth our conditions for proceeding. “To begin, we must use our own Bible. You’ve graciously come to our home. Our Bible lives in our home.” We can add that we were looking at their Bible, and we will have a few questions on it.
From the Witness’s perspective, the Watch Tower is God’s “sole channel of communication” on earth. We’re immovable on the Catholic Church‘s authority because Rabbi Yeshua personally instituted it, and we can expect our guests to similarly immovable on the Watch Tower Society.
Then we don’t debate doctrines that the Witnesses propose for the conversation. We want to keep them off their rehearsed presentations. Instead, we can tell them that while we were waiting we were reading their web site, including their New World Translation Bible.
More Detail: Talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses
More Detail: Five Don’ts for Dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses
Stumpers for Jehovah’s Witnesses
Before our Jehovah’s Witnesses arrive, I recommend downloading the Catholic Answers tracts, Stumpers for Jehovah’s Witnesses 1 and Stumpers for Jehovah’s Witnesses 2, and making a copy for each person who will be in the meeting.
Your Jehovah’s Witness guests will try strenuously to change the subject, and may even believe that they have been led into a trap. Not at all. “We simply understand that the Watch Tower presents itself as God’s ‘sole channel of communication’ on earth. If that’s true, we want to be Jehovah’s Witnesses! But we can only accept it as true if, with all their training, our visitors can offer a clear and convincing answer to each one. If not, we’d like to invite them to study the Catholic faith.”
(Be prepared for them to ask whether it would be okay for them to check with somebody (probably the Watch Tower) to see if they can get answers to their questions. No, that offer is good only here and now. If the Holy Spirit had wanted us to become Jehovah’s Witnesses he would have provided our visitors with the answers we needed instantly.)
We then go through the Stumpers one by one.
More Detail: Stumpers for Jehovah’s Witnesses 1
More Detail: Stumpers for Jehovah’s Witnesses 2
When we’re finished, we thank them for coming to visit with us and hope that they have a nice day.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Their formal name is the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Most people are unaccustomed to a nine-word worship community name, so “Mormon” is still their most common name.
The Gods of the Mormon Church
Joseph Smith founded Mormonism, his words are Mormonism’s “holy scripture.” He wrote in the Book of Mormon, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in him there is no variableness, neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles” (Mormon 9:9-10).
But fourteen years later Joseph Smith wrote, in his King Follett Discourse, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image, and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.”
Both of these contradicting explanations of God himself remain part of Mormon authority. Mormonism is an esoteric religion, to be understood by the specially initiated alone. When Mormons come to our front door they don’t tell us that they believe Jesus and Lucifer were “spirit brothers,” that they believe in many gods, and that dark skin (blacks, Indians, Hispanics, etc.) is a curse from God in punishment for wickedness.
(By contrast, Jehovah’s Witness beliefs are exoteric, suitable to be imparted to the public. A Jehovah’s Witness is happy to tell you exactly what he believes. We Catholics are exoteric: “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly'” Jn 18:20.)
The Mormons call themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which begins, “The Church of Jesus Christ” They want to be identified with Christ because they recruit mainly Christians. If they can say, “We’re Christians, just like you,” recruiting will be much easier. So they show Christians “God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in him there is no variableness, neither shadow of changing?” Mormon 9:9. The Christian can compare it with, “For I the Lord do not change” Mal 3:6 and conclude that he is speaking with fellow Christians.
However, if the same Christian reads the King Follett Discourse online he finds only an abbreviated version which can supposedly be explained away as Christ incarnate. Only it can’t. Christ’s incarnate life is not a “great secret” at all, it’s known to a billion Catholics worldwide. This is the esoteric part, the part held back until an experienced Mormon believes that the recruit is sufficiently enchanted by Mormonism.
Islam has a similar esoteric approach, which it calls abrogations, as if Allah changed his mind on something. It’s actually in the Quran: ““None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar” 2:106 (2:106). The classic example, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” 2:256 (2:256), is quoted to neophytes as being “in the Quran.” They show us the actual passage in the Quran but don’t mention that is actually abrogated by all of the Quran’s fighting verses.
More detail: The Gods of the Mormon Church
Mormon Basic Ecclesiology
There are two Mormon priesthoods. The lower priesthood is called the Aaronic (no relation to the Jewish Aaronic priesthood) It is concerned with the temporal affairs of the church. Its ranks are deacon, teacher, and priest. Most Mormon boys at age 12 enter the Aaronic priesthood.
The higher Melchizedek priesthood is acquired at age 18 by every practicing Mormon man who conforms to their church standards, and is concerned mainly with spiritual affairs. Their ranks are elder, seventy, and high priest. Of course, a Melchizedek priest can do anything normally handled by an Aaronic priest. Melchizedek priests are the ones who go about neighborhoods ringing doorbells to recruit for the church. These young fellows introduce themselves as Elders. “Hi, I’m Elder Smith, and this is Elder Jones.”
The Mormon basic ecclesiastical unit, similar to a very small parish, is the ward. The head of each ward is a bishop. Several wards near one another form a stake, similar to a large parish. A Mormon bishop can officiate at a civil marriage, but a “temple marriage” can only be performed by a “sealer” at a Mormon temple.
The term bishop has a very different level of responsibility in Mormon life as compared with Catholic life. The Mormon bishop is in charge of maybe 100 members, more or less. The United States has about 200 diocesan bishops to serve about 60 million Catholics, an average of 300,000 Catholics per diocesan bishop.
More Detail: Distinctive Beliefs of the Mormon Church
Mormons’ Distinctive Beliefs
Mormons attract new members by projecting an illusion of wholesome family life. In fact, Mormon Utah has higher than average rates for suicide, divorce, drugs, and similar problems.
During the early Mormon years polygamy was considered highly desirable for men who were able to support more than one family. During the late 1880s Congress passed measures prohibiting polygamy. In 1890, when the Supreme Court declared these laws constitutional, the Mormon church “received a revelation” that Mormons could no longer practice polygamy.
However, anyone who drives along Utah’s rural country roads notices a few homes that are large enough for several families. In most of the United States, a larger-than-average home displays signs of wealth such as a more attractive outward appearance. However, in rural Utah we can find unusually large homes that are otherwise similar to nearby homes.
Abstinence From Alcohol
Believing Mormons do not use alcohol, or tobacco, tea and caffeine, as they believe these substance injure or dissipate our health.
However, these views are not Biblical. The ancient Jews drank light wine 1 Tim 3:8. Rabbi Yeshua clearly approved of drinking wine, since at Cana he made wine from water Jn 2:1–10. Wine is said to have medicinal uses Lk 10:34. Paul advised Timothy to take wine to ease stomach pains 1 Tim 5:23.
The Bible does condemn excessive drinking 1 Cor 5:11; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; 1 Pet 4:3. So alcohol is not evil, but its excessive use is.
More Detail: Distinctive Beliefs of the Mormon Church
The Book of Mormon
Absence of Old Testament Confirmation
The Book of Mormon describes three major civilizations in the Americas. Two are Israelite tribes, the good “Nephites” and the evil “Lamanites,” who are said to have migrated to the Americas and lived here from 600 BC to AD 400. The third is the “Jaredite nation,” which the Book of Mormon says came to the Americas after the Tower of Babel.
To be taken seriously, a book that so differs from traditional history would need confirmation by non-Mormon theologians, archaeologists, and other specialists.
For instance, the Israelites kept meticulous genealogical and historical records. The Israelites were still writing the Old Testament books in 600 BC. For example, the widely respected Faithlife timeline dates the reign of Josiah in Judah 2 Kings 22:1 at 639-609 BC, Ezekiel’s call to prophecy Ezek 1:3 at 597 BC, the First Jewish Temple destruction 2 Kings 25:9 at 587 BC, and so on.
Jewish scholars completed the Septuagint around 200 BC. All the Septuagint books were in the original Christian Bible, in all editions of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, and in the original editions of Gutenberg Bible, and the King James Bible, the one King James personally authorized.
The Old Testament refers to a place called Nephi 2 Macc 1:36, but there is no record at all in the Old Testament or the Septuagint of a man called Nephi or a community of men called Nephites. There is no record of a man called Laman or a community called Lamanites. There is no record of a migration across the Atlantic Ocean, or to the Americas, and no record of a ship from that time that could sail several thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean. There was a Jared Gen 5:19 who lived before Noah’s Flood, but there is no record that he was part of Noah’s family Gen 7:7, and so he and his line would not have survived to the time of Tower of Babel Gen 11:9.
Absence of Church History Confirmation
The Mormons tell us that Jesus’ Apostles taught true Christian doctrine, and told Peter, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” Mt 16:18. Yet, Mormons tell us that, within a few generations, a great apostasy destroyed Christ’s Church. A few generations might be 100 to 200 years. From that time forward, Mormons tell us, God withdrew his keys of authority Mt 16:19; Jn 21:15–17.
This is a fatal error. Christ, the Son of God, was divine, and therefore had the fullness of truth. He said the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church. If, as the Mormons believe, there was an apostasy, either Jesus was wrong or Joseph Smith was wrong.
Jesus is backed up by the remarkable consistency of Catholic history. The Gospels all appear from recent evidence to have been written before AD 70, while the Apostles were still alive, so there could have been no apostasy then. The earliest Church Fathers were the first three first-century bishops, St. Clement, St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp, who personally were close to the Apostles, so there could have been no apostasy then. The Gospels and the Apostolic Fathers were followed by a continuous stream to the last of the Fathers, St. John Damascene (d. ca. AD 754-787), all of whom were essentially consistent with the Gospels and the Apostolic Fathers. No apostasy there.
Then there are the Doctors of the Church, who are particularly noted for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. From the first, St. Athanasius (296-373) to the most recent, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), they are consistent with one another and with the Church Fathers. No apostasy there either.
Finally, there is the Nicene Creed, completed at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381. The identical Creed has been recited as the summary of Catholic faith at every Sunday Mass worldwide from AD 381 to the present day. Certainly no apostasy there either.
In short, Catholic teaching has been rock steady from the Apostles to the present day with not a single mention of an apostasy.
Joseph Smith, meanwhile, is backed up by no external evidence at all.
Absence of Archaeological Confirmation
The Book of Mormon ends with a series of long, dull, repetitive wars between the “Nephites” and the “Lamanites,” with a final battle around AD 400 at Hill Cumorah in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Several hundred thousand Nephite warriors are said to have been slaughtered by an even larger horde of “dark and filthy” Lamanites. However, archaeological digs in the Hill Cumorah area have never unearthed the slightest evidence that such a battle ever occurred. Some Mormon leaders now say that most of the fighting took place in Central America. But no artifacts from those battles have been found there either.
The Book of Mormon also says that the Indians of North and South America are descended from these Israelite tribes. However, DNA evidence indicates that the American Indians have Polynesian, not Israelite, ancestry. Mormon leaders reply that is because the Israelite tribes colonized only a very small part of Central America and that their DNA was overwhelmed by Indians who were already there. Of course, that means most or all American Indians were descended from Polynesians, not Israelites.
Comparing the Evidence
Mormonism’s entire foundation is built on the idea that the Catholic Church went into apostasy, so it became necessary for God to rebuild it in the latter days, starting in 1830. If there was no apostasy God did not call Joseph Smith to restore it, and the whole Mormon faith collapses.
Against the weight of all this combined evidence, the Mormons offer the unsupported testimony of one man, Joseph Smith. The Mormons know Joseph Smith had the authority to write the Book of Mormon because the Book of Mormon says he had such authority. Circular reasoning is a fallacy of formal logic.
The Mormons back it up by telling us that, by reading the Book of Mormon and praying we will receive a “burning in the bosom,” a warm fuzzy feeling, a sign of the Holy Ghost. However, Protestants constantly tell us that they receive all sorts of inspirations from the Holy Spirit, but are careful not to compare them with one another as inspirations because they know they conflict with one another. The power of suggestion is simply not ecclesial evidence.
More detail: Mormons
More detail: Problems with the Book of Mormon
More detail: Is Mormonism polytheistic?
More detail: Mormonism’s Baptism for the Dead
More detail: Mormon Stumpers
The Da Vinci Myth
This world is full of conspiracy theories: The Apollo 11 astronauts staged their moon landing in a television studio. No airplane hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Jews run the world. America causes Islam’s problems. Conspiracy theories address subjects of historical or emotional impact, are supported by minimal evidence, personify complex phenomena as powerful conspirators, and have no credibility in expert communities.
Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, a fast-paced murder mystery overflowing with intrigue, sexual rites, secret societies, subterfuge, and cover-ups in high places, all with familiar characters behaving as the reader has never seen them before, is a recent example.
The wildly fictional story line is that that members of a “Priory of Sion” hold two secrets. First, that Rabbi Yeshua was a human man married to Mary Magdalene, who, after the Crucifixion, bore his daughter, and their line continued through the Merovingian Dynasty to the present time. The second secret was that the Church, realizing the consequences if the marriage and child should become known, protected the secret by declaring Rabbi Yeshua the Son of God at the Council of Nicaea.
Brown calls his book a novel based on facts. When challenged, he says the book is only a novel. But the book insinuates that it is all fact.
Believers in Brown’s theory that Rabbi Yeshua was a human person, not the Son of God, must also believe that the human race was not redeemed on the Cross, that heaven remains closed, and that our eternal fate is sheol or annihilation. Good thing it’s fiction. Hold fast to Rabbi Yeshua.
Belief in God
There was enough prophecy and fulfillment, some of it startlingly precise, to identify Rabbi Yeshua as God’s Messiah. To believe Brown, one must entirely abandon belief in God, which means explaining how a secret society managed to forge a thousand years of Scriptures from Moses to Maccabees and persuade the rabbis with their intensive exegesis that looks at every letter, and even at the crowns on top of each letter, that they were authentic.
Rabbi Yeshua in Recorded History
CCC 469 “The Church thus confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother.” A divine Person with a divine nature and a human nature.
The Gospels of Rabbi Matityahu, Rabbi Marcus, Rabbi Lucas, and Rabbi Yokhanan said that he rose from the dead. Their testimony of Rabbi Yeshua‘s incarnate life, death and resurrection was written down soon after these events occurred and were accepted by all Christians from the beginning. Later non-Christian writings are consistent with Christian accounts.
Ten of the original shlikhim willingly died for their beliefs. By tradition, Rabbi Kefa was crucified upside down and Rabbi Paul was beheaded, both in Rome in 66 AD. Rabbi Andreas was martyred in 70 AD bound to a cross. Rabbi Bar Talmay was flayed alive in 44 AD. Rabbi Yaakov Ben Zevdi (Zebedee’s son) was beheaded in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yaakov Ben Halfai (Alphaeus’ son) was stoned to death. Rabbi Teom was martyred in south India. Rabbi Yehuda Ben Yaakov and Rabbi Shimeon HaQana were shot to death with arrows in Persia. They, who knew what had actually occurred, willingly gave their lives for spreading the good news of Rabbi Yeshua. They would have done that only if they truly believed that Rabbi Yeshua had conquered death, which only God can do. Rabbi Yokhanan was boiled in oil but miraculously survived; he was exiled to Patmos but finally died at a great age in Ephesus.
No other event in recorded history two thousand years ago was written down so close to its own time, when memories were still fresh and everyone knew what had occurred. Herodotus and Thucydides among the Greeks, and Pliny, Caesar and Livy among the Romans wrote of events that took place much farther back in time. No one can consistently disbelieve the Gospel accounts without also disbelieving the secular recorded history from that era. By accepted standards of historical evidence, the Gospel accounts are of the highest reliability.
The Church and Women
The Da Vinci myth that the Church wanted to suppress women, particularly Mary Magdalene, also doesn’t fit the readily verifiable facts. The Church recognizes her as St. Mary Magdalene with her own feast day, July 22. The four Biblical Gospels mention her a total of twelve times, more than twice as often as the Gnostic gospels do. This Church that “wanted to suppress women” reveres a woman as queen of heaven, higher even than the angels which are above man in the order of creation. And, of course, the Catholic Church for more than 1,300 years has encouraged strong self-governing orders of religious women who built and ran hospitals, universities, and refectories to feed the poor. p. 329
Compare that with the Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas.” Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Can anyone imagine Rabbi Yeshua saying this about the mother He loved so much that he spent thirty of his 33 incarnate years living in her home?
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Da Vinci myth imagines that the Dead Sea Scrolls were Christian texts. Of course, they were Jewish texts. Qumran was situated on a barren terrace between the limestone cliffs of the Judean desert and the maritime bed along the Dead Sea, about thirty miles across the mountains from Jerusalem. It would have been a difficult journey on foot. And the Essenes were a monastic community that did not engage the outside world. There is no record that they ever saw Rabbi Yeshua.
Open Theism reverses Christian theology Gen 1:27 by creating God in the image of man.
If an Open Theist wonders why God, who is said to be all-good and all-powerful, allows evil, he decides that perhaps God is not all-knowing after all, that he deliberately created a future that even he does not know.
We read that, “The Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth” Gen 6:6. Read literally, it suggests that God did not know what men would do. The New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) translation gives an example in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. “I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out” NABRE Gen 18:21.
Read literally, it suggests that God did not know what was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Catholic Church teaches, and most Protestant denominations agree, that God knew exactly what was going on, but that he used an anthropomorphic image to help the primitive people of Abraham’s day understand what was happening.
Open Theists argue as well that prayer is efficacious because, if we plead enough, God might actually change his mind. God had said, “I the Lord do not change” Mal 3:6, but Open Theists decide which passages to read literally based on which interpretation will make God seem smallest and most human. The Open Theist then takes a godlike role by “explaining” this small and fallible God.
Overall, Open Theism is the converse of Satan’s ancient lure, “… you will be like God, knowing good and evil” Gen 3:5. In Open Theism, God will be like you, not always knowing good and evil.
Theological liberals always look for an angle that will let them undercut Church authority and make it into theological silly-putty that they can mold into any shape they wish. It began in 1994 with a book by five Evangelical theologians called The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. It is just starting to build up steam.
When we encounter an Open Theist, we may remind him that a limited and fallible God who does not know the future could not securely sustain heaven for all eternity. How can he know nothing will happen to break the bubble and send all the souls in it careening into frozen darkness? We Catholics stand our ground, telling him that we will worship the living and eternal God, with us under the appearance of bread and wine until the end of time.
Keepers of Secrets
About 100 BC a Gnostic sect called the Notzrim arose in Mesopotamia and Babylonia. Notzrim means in Hebrew “keepers of secrets.” Today their numbers are small, but they are important because they try to infiltrate the Catholic Church, Judaism, Islam, and particularly Hebrew Catholic and Messianic Jewish groups, to recruit new members and sow confusion.
Its founder is described in the Talmud as YSHU, an acronym of yemakh shemo zikhro, an ancient Jewish curse, may his name be blotted out of memory. Note the similarity to zakhor.
The Catholic Church teaches that God allows evil to accomplish good from it. For example, he allows demons to tempt us so that our decision to remain with him for all eternity is purely free and voluntary. That is not what the notzrim believe. They imagine that God is half good and half evil, that he sometimes actively wills harm. When notzrim infiltrate a faith community they subtly try to insinuate this belief, thereby eroding confidence in God.
The notzrim also take advantage of the confusion arising from their name. In Rabbi Yeshua’s Jerusalem, Christians were called netzarim, from the Hebrew netzar, offshoot, descendants of King David, from Isaiah’s prophecy, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse …” Is 11:1. Rabbi Yeshua taught, “For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light” Mk 4:17. They would not have called themselves notzrim, keepers of secrets. Both words come from the same Hebrew root, nun-tzadik-raish, so without vowels it is easy to confuse them. To further confuse the situation, a notzri is also “one who watches.” Rabbi Yeshua did warn, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” Mt 25:13 so notzri might seem a plausible name for Christians.
And still more confusion comes because in Israel today the common term for Christians is notzrim, perhaps because those who have considered it at all have not wanted to admit that King David was Rabbi Yeshua’s ancestor. So, when the notzrim come and say they are merely Christians it is easy to imagine that they are some sort of old Christian sect.