Monday, June 1, 2015

Difference between Sinners and Heretics

Personally, I do not like the word heretic or heresy. It is a very strong word, which has been used by the Church since its beginning, in order to distinguish itself from the false teachers and beliefs. This word is not widely used today, due mainly to the establishment of dialogue and relations between the difference Christian denominations. Nevertheless, there is an interesting difference between being a sinner and being a heretic. Nicolas Zernov, in his book The Reintegration of the Church (pp.35-36), explains:

‘Eastern Christians tell a story about an Egyptian monk called Agathon, a man o such humility and patience that nothing could disturb his peace of mind. In order to test his forbearance, some monks once accused him of various transgressions, all of which the old ascetic acknowledged, confessing himself guilty of gluttony, slovenliness, and vainglory. But he firmly repudiated heresy. Asked afterwards to explain the difference in his reaction, he said that it was good for his soul to accept moral sins, but heresy was the cause of final separation from God and he could not admit it.  This story illustrates the attitude of mind which not only ascribes supreme importance to right interpretation of revealed truth, but also differentiates between those who violate moral precepts, and those who err in doctrine. Sinners according to this view remains within the Christian community; heretics exclude themselves from its sacred fold and this cease to be helped by its saving and regenerating grace.

This difference, it is asserted, depends partly on the internal dispositions of carnal sinners and heretics. The former are often prepared to acknowledge in humility their guilt, and to ask the Church to assist them; the latter, on the contrary, proudly believe themselves to be more enlightened than the rest of the community, and claim the position of leadership. Thus sinners can find their way to repentance, but heretics remain obdurate and conceited, and contact with them can only contaminate the less experienced brethren.’ 

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