Faith is the road to heaven. Unhappily there are very many who are wanderers and strangers to the Christian faith.
1. Those who do not possess Christian faith are either: (1) heretics or (2) infidels.
1.Heretics are those who reject some one or more of the truths revealed by God.
Heretics are those who hold to some of the doctrines revealed by God, and reject others. Those who induce others to a false belief are called leaders of heresy, or arch-heretics. It is always pride that leads them away from the truth. Among these arch-heretics was Arius, a priest of Alexandria, who denied the divinity of Christ, and was condemned at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325; Macedonius, who denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and was condemned in the Council of Constantinople A.D. 381; Martin Luther, who assailed the divine institution of the Papacy and the right of the Church to teach; Henry VIIL, King of England, who threw off the authority of the Pope and proclaimed himself the Head of the Church in England, because the Pope refused to declare invalid his valid marriage with Queen Catherine; Dollinger, who was a professor in the University of Munich, and was celebrated for his literary labors, but on the definition of the infallibility of the Pope refused to accept the dogma, and was excommunicated. He died in 1890 without being reconciled or giving any sign of repentance. Dollinger was the chief mover in the establishment of the sect of “Old Catholics.” Most of the founders of heresy were either bishops or priests. They are like the coiners of false money who put into circulation worthless metal in the place of the pure gold of truth. Or like dishonest traders, who mix the pure wine of the Gospel with some injurious compound. They are murderers of souls, for they take men away from the road that leads to eternal life, and tempt them into that which leads to eternal death. It is of them that Our Lord says “Woe to them by whom scandals come,” and again, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves “ (Matt. vii. 5). Their object is not to spread the faith in its purity, but to satisfy their own evil inclinations, their pride, their sensual desires, or their love of money. Their religious teaching is only a cloak for these. They look out for the weak side of human nature, as Satan does. Thus Luther tempted princes with the spoil of churches and monasteries, and priests with the bait of marriage. To the class of heretics belong also those schismatics who accept, or profess to accept, all Catholic doctrine, but will not acknowledge the supremacy of the Holy See. Thus the Greek Church is a schismatical Church, though its denial of Papal infallibility constitutes it, since the Vatican Council, heretical also. Heresy is one of the greatest of all sins, when it is not the result of invincible ignorance. St. Paul writes to the Galatians that if an angel from heaven preached to them any Gospel different from that they had received, he was to be anathema or accursed (Gal. i. 8). St. Jerome says that there is no one so far removed from God as a wilful heretic.
At the same time, he who lives in heresy through ignorance for which he is not himself to blame, is not a heretic in the sight of God.
Thus those who are brought up in Protestantism, and have no opportunity of obtaining a sufficient instruction in the Catholic religion, are not heretics in the sight of God, for in them there is no obstinate denial or doubt of the truth. They are no more heretics than the man who takes the property of another unwittingly is a thief.
2. Rationalists or unbelievers are those who will not believe anything unless they can either perceive it with their senses, or comprehend it with their understanding.
Thus St. Thomas was an unbeliever when he refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, unless he should put his finger into the sacred wounds of Our Lord’s hands and feet, and put his hand into His side (John xx. 24). There are many in the present day like St. Thomas; they will believe nothing except what they can see with their eyes, or grasp with their reason; all else, e.g., all the mysteries of the faith, they reject. “Unbelief,” says St. John Chrysostom, “is like a sandy soil, that produces no fruit however much rain falls upon it.” The unbeliever does God the same injustice that a subject would do to his king, if he refused to acknowledge his authority in spite of the clearest proofs of it.
Unbelief springs for the most part from a bad life.
The sun is clearly reflected in pure and clear water, but not in dirty water. So it is with men; a man of blameless life easily finds his way to the truth, but the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. ii. 14). A mirror that is dim reflects badly, or not at all. So the soul, which is a mirror on which the light falls from God, cannot receive the truths of faith if it is dimmed by vice.
2. Faith is for the most part lost either: (1), By indifference to the doctrines of faith; (2), By wilful doubt respecting the truths of faith; (3), By reading books or other literature that is hostile to the faith; (4), By frequenting the assemblies of those who are hostile to the faith; (5), By neglecting the practice of one’s religion.
He who through culpable indifference does not trouble himself about the doctrines of faith, gradually loses the gift of faith. He is like the plant that is not watered, or the lamp that is not filled with oil. Such men know that they are very ignorant of their religion, and yet they take no pains to get instructed; they are engrossed with this world; they never pray or hear a sermon, and if they are parents, they take no pains to get their children properly instructed. Perhaps they fancy themselves men of enlightenment, and look with pitying contempt on those who are conscientious and earnest in the practice of their religion. The body must be nourished, else it will perish from hunger; the soul must be nourished, else it, too, will perish. Its nourishment is the teaching of Christ. He Himself says, in His conversation with the woman of Samaria, that the water that He would give her, i.e., His divine doctrine, should be to her a well of water, springing up unto life everlasting (John iv. 14). And in the synagogue of Capharnaum “I am the Bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst” (John vi. 35). This is why the careful instruction of children and of converts is so all-important. When converts fall away, the cause very often is that they have not been well instructed before their reception into the Church. The Catholic must not suppose that he is freed from the study of the doctrines of faith, because he has been duly instructed in his youth. The plant must be watered even when it is grown up; the soul of the adult needs to renew its acquaintance with the truths of faith by hearing sermons, reading pious books, etc., else it will soon lose the vigor of its faith. He who allows himself willfully to doubt of any of the doctrines of the Church, commits a serious sin against faith, and is sure, little by little, to lose his faith altogether. That house is sure to fall of which the foundations are loosened. He who doubts any revealed truth seriously offends God. Sara doubted God’s promise that she should bear a son in her old age and was reproved by God for her in credulity (Gen. xviii. 10 seq.). Zacharias doubted the announcement of the angel that John Baptist should be born to him, and as a punishment lost for a time the power of speech (Luke i. 18 seq.). Yet doubts that come into our mind involve no sin, if we do not willfully consent to them. If doubts come into our mind we should not argue with them, but should make an act of faith and pray for more faith. Those however, who are outside the Church, and have not the faith, are bound, if they doubt, to search and inquire, until they have found the truth; with them doubt is no sin, so long as their search after truth is made in a spirit of humility, and with a sincere desire to arrive at truth. Faith is also destroyed by the reading of books hostile to the faith. In this way John Huss, who disseminated false doctrine over Bohemia, is said to have been corrupted by the works of the English heretic, Wyclif. It was the writings of Luther that chiefly contributed to the apostasy of Calvin and Zwingli. Julian the Apostate (A.D. 363) is said to have lost his faith by reading the writings of the heretic Libanius during his expedition to Nicomedia. In the present day the books against the faith are countless. Among the most mischievous are the works of Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola, Renan, Gibbon, Ingersoll, Huxley, etc. The Church, like a good mother, seeing how books dangerous to faith were on the increase, established in 1571 the Congregation of the Index, through which the Apostolic See forbids to Catholics a number of books, which are judged to be a source of danger to faith or morals. Any one who reads such books, prints them, or even has them in his possession without permission from his ecclesiastical superiors incurs the penalty of excommunication reserved to the Pope. The penalty, however, is not incurred by any one who reads such a book without knowing that it was forbidden. At one time all books had to be sanctioned by the bishop of the diocese, but this was afterwards limited to books touching on religion. By these means the Church sought to preserve the purity of Christian doctrine. Many, too, have lost their faith by habitually reading newspapers hostile to the faith. As the body cannot remain in health if it is fed with unwholesome food, so the mind becomes diseased -and corrupt if a man feeds it with unwholesome and pernicious literature. The process may be a slow one, but it is like the solid rock which wears away little by little as the drops of water fall upon it. Bad reading is like unwholesome food, which ere long induces sickness and even death. Among the enemies of faith are the Freemasons. In Protestant countries they seem harmless enough, and many converts who have be longed to the Masonic order have borne witness that they have never encountered anything in it which was opposed either to throne or altar, but the real object aimed at by the leaders of Free masonry is to destroy all authority that comes from God, and all revealed religion. Their secret oath of obedience, taken as it is with out any reserve, is absolutely unlawful, and the symbolism of many of its lodges is grossly blasphemous and insulting to Christianity. The idea of Freemasonry is taken from the Masonic guilds of the Middle Ages, the members of which employed themselves in the construction of cathedrals and churches. It professes to have for its object the construction of a spiritual temple to humanity and enlightenment, but Freemasons are invariably the bitter foes of Christianity and of the Catholic Church. Every one joining them is ipso facto excommunicate, and the Pope alone can restore him to the member ship of the Church, except at the hour of death, when any priest has power to do so.
3. All men who through their own fault die without Christian faith are, by the just judgment of God, sentenced to eternal perdition.
Unhappy indeed are those who have not faith; “they sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke i. 79). Our Lord says, “He who believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 16), and again “He who believeth not is condemned already 7 (John iii. 18). Of heretics St. Paul says that they are condemned by their own judgment (Tit. iii. 11). We ought to pray often for heretics and un believers, that God may in His mercy bring them to the true faith.
This article, VII. ON THE ABSENCE AND LOSS OF FAITH is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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