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Dialogue with a Heretic

May 4, AD 2012 11 Comments

Have you ever sent a tweet only to have someone criticize you for it?  That’s what happened the other day. I found a message in my feed that made me ponder:


In truth, I didn’t know a lot about Joyce Meyer when I retweeted her message, a quotation from Scripture: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” -Proverbs 3:5. I knew she is not Catholic; she is a professed Christian. Questions swirled around in my head, the words “heretic” and “oneHolyCatholicApostolic” bouncing back and forth in an odd game of ping-pong.

Is a non-Catholic Christian a heretic? What should be our attitude toward those who believe in Christ, yet who remain outside the loving arms of our mother, the Church?

One definition of a heretic: “a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth; one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.”

So, can one be a dissenter (heretic) if one was never a part of the established religion to begin with? The use of the word sounds so archaic in an age where dialogue between Christian churches and their people is commonplace. It gives the sense that Catholics have no business socializing with non-Catholics, as though they have nothing to offer us.

The pro-life movement gives us a different view: it is one great example of how Christians have united for the protection of the unborn. Common ground is a great place to start when there are differences.  Does that mean we, as Catholics, are to lay down our Rosary beads for the sake of ecumenical dialogue (there, I said it!)? Absolutely not. We must not shy away from our Christian brothers and sisters by hiding our faith like a frightened ostrich with its head in the sand. Rather, we must know our faith and be willing to share it when others ask, and to affirm our brothers and sisters when we are on common ground. Blessed John Paul II gave us a great teaching in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint:

Ut unum sint! The call for Christian unity made by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council with such impassioned commitment is finding an ever greater echo in the hearts of believers, especially as the Year 2000 approaches, a year which Christians will celebrate as a sacred Jubilee, the commemoration of the Incarnation of the Son of God, who became man in order to save humanity.

The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigour to the Council’s call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters of ours, united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.

Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world’s tendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross. The Cross! (#1).

This led me to respond back to Mr Posh the following way:

Let us boldly hold on to our faith, and ask the Lord to give us courage, that we will not avoid our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, but be reminded by Blessed John Paul II, and look to the common ground of the Cross, by which to build bridges towards a true unity. Charity does demand it.






[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women in the Sacramento Diocese, and on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is also the local vocational director for her religious family. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, playing with new media, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.[/author_info] [/author]





About the Author:

Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women, and providing on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is a director of youth and young adults at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the national director of the Association of Lay Canossians, and regional coordinator of vocations for her religious family. She also gives retreats and talks on various religious topics. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, learning guitar, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.

  • Abigail C. Reimel

    Thank you for this post, Sister. For two years I went to a “non-denominational” school, and after being there for a little while I learned that “non-denominational” is really a Protestant term, and that there are many churches that go by the same name. Hence, the majority of my classmates were Protestant. But, I was very well respected for my faith; I made some incredible friends while I was there. Though we had different beliefs, I learned some valuable things and truly believe that all of the people attending there had a real love for God and desire to be faithful Christians. Being around people who started to ask me questions about my faith also helped me learn and grow in my knowledge of Catholicism, and I was able to give my fellow classmates a better impression of what Catholics are like. They are also our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they have not yet discovered the one, true Church. Like you “tweeted”, we have to “build bridges” for them- not by being hostile and avoiding them- but by extending Christ’s love to them. God bless!

  • Thank you, Abigail, for sharing your experience. It is true. Talking about our faith is a great vehicle to help us grow in it, and, it tells the other that it is something important to us. There are so many awesome Catholics who were formed in the Protestant tradition of a love for Scripture, which led them to understand in a deep way the presence of God in the Sacraments. That would not have always been possible had Catholics around them had a closed attitude toward them. May the Holy Spirit continue to help you, Abigail, to build bridges 🙂 God bless!

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  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    I very much appreciate your thoughts and responses to the well-meaning-but-ill-directed Catholic who would club Joyce Meyer over the head for not knowing what she does not know. As a former Evangelical, I can tell you that even the smallest bridge is worth its weight in gold and the smallest insult can slow ones progress towards Rome for quite a while. We must be doers of the Word and not prideful in being keepers of the Faith.

    • Thank you, PL Nurse, for your insight as a convert to the Catholicism. You mention the key in the right attitude for dialogue with non-Catholics: “…not knowing what she does not know.” In other words, her ignorance of the truth. May we continue to pray for her and others who share a belief in Christ to have the fullness of the truth opened to them. God bless you!

  • Sarah

    Gosh, I sure am glad my once-evangelical, now Catholic husband didn’t encounter Mr. Charity during his days of searching. One exchange with someone like that and maybe he would have thought twice about hanging out with us Catholics!

    Your response tweet was perfect, Sr.

    • Thank you, Sarah, for sharing about your husband’s conversion. We must continue to love our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, and pray that they may have their minds and hearts open to the truth. God bless you and your husband!

  • Bill

    a non catholic christian is a heretic. period. You cannot say no to Jesus and get into heaven. A “non denominational” says NO to one or more teachings of the Catholic Church so he says NO to Jesus. All need to hear the truth that is a double edged sword. Never treat anyone disrespectfully because all are made in the image & likeness of God but never treat any denomination as if they were equals to the Bride Of Christ

    • Bill, thank you for your fervor, and for your response. I would like to offer a clarification.

      The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines heresy: “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” (2089). In moral theology, a person who holds something contrary to the Catholic faith is materially a heretic (you score your point on that ground). Before the Second Vatican Council the term ‘heretic’ was quite commonly used in speaking of non-Catholic Christians in general. This theological distinction remains unchanged, but let us look to the pastoral charity the Council calls us to today, and ask ourselves, does the non-Catholic Christian ‘willingly embrace what they know to be contrary to revealed truth’? If so, they are formally (willfully, and in full conscience before God) guilty of heresy. The general definition for a heretic in my post above speaks of ‘dissent’, a conscience rejection of a truth that has been revealed to them. The Second Vatican Council makes a distinction, that one may be objectively in heresy but not formally guilty of it if: due to upbringing were not exposed to the truth; and they have no way to inform their conscience of the truth (invincible ignorance).

      The point is this. How can we be sure that is the case with every non-Catholic Christian? We cannot. God alone knows the heart. We, however, do have a responsibility – as you well point out – a need to ‘never treat anyone disrespectfully because all are made in the image and likeness of God’.

      You may find this article quite interesting, an explanation of ‘Extra ecclesiam nulla salus‘.
      May our dear Lord continue to bless you!

  • Dear Sr. Lisa,

    Very well expressed. I am 100% in agreement with your sentiment. As someone who continuously strives for understanding, conciliation and building bridges between all faiths (including non-Christian), I find my biggest challenges come not from the unbelieving, but from those who believe all too strongly in their own righteousness.

    Proverbs 3:5 is very appropriate for your encounter with @Mr_Posh, as is Mathew 7:1: “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

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