- My object in writing this work is to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true one among so many other Churches, and to show how carefully the Almighty guarded her, and brought her victoriously through all the persecutions of her enemies. Hence, as St. Iræneus says (Lib. 3, cap. 3, n. 2), all should depend on the Roman Church as on their fountain and head. This is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and propagated by the Apostles; and although in the commencement persecuted and contradicted by all, as the Jews said to St. Paul in Rome : ” For as concerning this sect (thus they called the Church), we know that it is gainsayed every where” (Acts, xxviii, 22); still she always remained firm, not like the other false Churches, which in the beginning numbered many followers, but perished in the end, as we shall see in the course of this history, when we speak of the Arians, Nestorians, Eutychians, and Pelagians; and if any sect still reckons many followers, as the Mahometans, Lutherans, or Calvinists, it is easy to see that they are upheld, not by the love of truth, but either by popular ignorance, or relaxation of morals. St. Augustine says that heresies are only embraced by those who had they persevered in the faith, would be lost by the irregularity of their lives (St. Aug. de Va. Rel. c. 8.)
- Our Church, on the contrary, notwithstanding that she teaches her children a law opposed to the corrupt inclinations of human nature, not only never failed in the midst of persecutions, but even gained strength from them; as Tertullian (Apol. cap. ult.) says, the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians, and the more we are mown down the more numerous we become; and in the 20th chapter of the same work he says, the kingdom of Christ and his reign is believed and he is worshipped by all nations. Pliny the Younger confirms this in his celebrated Letter to Trajan, in which he says that in Asia the temples of the gods were deserted, because the Christian Religion had overrun not only the cities but even the villages.
- This, certainly, never could have taken place without the power of the Almighty, who intended to establish in the midst of idolatry, a new religion, to destroy all the superstitions of the false religion, and the ancient belief in a multitude of false gods adored by the Gentiles, by their ancestors, by the magistrates, and by the emperors themselves, who made use of all their power to protect it, and still the Christian faith was embraced by many nations who forsook a relaxed law for a hard and difficult one, forbidding them to pamper their sensual appetites. What but the power of God could accomplish this?
- Great as the persecutions were which the Church suffered from idolatry, still greater were those she had to endure from the heretics which sprang from her own bosom, by means of wicked men, who, either through pride or ambition, or the desire of sensual license, endeavoured to rend the bowels of their parent. Heresy has been called a canker : ” It spreadeth like a canker” (II. Tim. ii, 17); for as a canker infects the whole body, so heresy infects the whole soul, the mind, the heart, the intellect, and the will. It is also called a plague, for it not only infects the person contaminated with it, but those who associate with him, and the fact is, that the spread of this plague in the world has injured the Church more than idolatry, and this good mother has suffered more from her own children than from her enemies. Still she has never perished in any of the tempests which the heretics raised against her; she appeared about to perish at one time through the heresy of Arius, when the faith of the Council of Nice, through the intrigues of the wicked Bishops, Valens and Ursacius, was condemned, and, as St. Jerome says, the world
groaned at finding itself Arian (1); and the Eastern Church appeared in the same danger during the time of the heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches. But it is wonderful, and at the same time consoling, to read the end of all those heresies, and behold the bark of the Church, which appeared completely wrecked and sunk through the force of those persecutions, in a little while floating more gloriously and triumphantly than before.
- St. Paul says: ” There must be heresies, that they also who are reproved may be made manifest among you” (I. Cor. ii, 19). St. Augustine, explaining this text, says that as fire is necessary to purify silver, and separate it from the dross, so heresies are necessary to prove the good Christians among the bad, and to separate the true from the false doctrine. The pride of the heretics makes them presume that they know the true faith, and that the Catholic Church is in error, but here is the mistake : our reason is not sufficient to tell us the true faith, since the truths of Divine Faith are above reason; we should, therefore, hold by that faith which God has revealed to his Church, and which the Church teaches, which is, as the Apostle says, ” the pillar and the ground of truth” (I. Tim. iii, 15). (1) St. Hieron. Dial, adversus Lucifer.
Hence, as St. Iræneus says, “It is necessary that all should depend on the Roman Church as their head and fountain; all Churches should agree with this Church on account of her priority of principality, for there the traditions delivered by the Apostles have always been preserved” (St. Iran, lib. 3, c. 3); and by the tradition derived from the Apostles which the Church founded at Rome preserves, and the Faith preserved by the succession of the Bishops, we confound those who through blindness or an evil conscience draw false conclusions (Ibid). ” Do you wish to know,” says St. Augustine, ” which is the true Church of Christ? Count those priests who, in a regular succession have succeeded St. Peter, who is the Rock, against which the gates of hell will not prevail” (St. Aug. in Ps. contra part Donat.) : and the holy Doctor alleges as one of the reasons which detain him in the Catholic Church, the succession of Bishops to the present time in the See of St. Peter” (Epis. fund, c. 4, n. 5); for in truth the uninterrupted succession from the Apostles and disciples is characteristic of the Catholic Church, and of no other.
- It was the will of the Almighty that the Church in which the true faith was preserved should be one, that all the faithful might profess the one faith, but the devil, St. Cyprian says (2), invented heresies to destroy faith, and divide unity. The enemy has caused mankind to establish many different churches, so that each, following the faith of his own particular one, in opposition to that of others, the true faith might be confused, and as many false faiths formed as there are different churches, or rather different individuals. This is especially the case in England, where we see as many religions as families, and even families themselves divided in faith, each individual following his own. St. Cyprian, then, justly says that God has disposed that the true faith should be preserved in the Roman Church alone, so that there being but one Church there should be but one faith and one doctrine for all the faithful. St. Optatus Milevitanus, writing to Parmenianus, says, also : ” You cannot be ignorant that the Episcopal Chair of St. Peter was first placed in the city of Rome, in which one chair unity is observed by all” (St. Opt. I 2, cont. Parmen.) (2) St. Cyprian de Unitate Ecclesiæ.
- The heretics, too, boast of the unity of their Churches, but St. Augustine says that it is unity against unity. ” What unity,” says the Saint, ” can all those churches have which are divided from the Catholic Church, which is the only true one; they are but as so many useless branches cut off from the Vine, the Catholic Church, which is always firmly rooted. This is the One Holy, True, and Catholic Church, opposing all heresies; it may be opposed, but cannot be conquered. All heresies come forth from it, like useless shoots cut off from the vine, but it still remains firmly rooted in charity, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (St. Aug. lib. 1, de Symbol ad Cath. c. 6). St. Jerome says that the very fact of the heretics forming a church apart from the Roman Church, is a proof, of itself, that they are followers of error, and disciples of the devil, described by the Apostle, as ” giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils” (I. Tim. iv, 1).
- The Lutherans and Calvinists say, just as the Donatists did before them, that the Catholic Church preserved the true faith down to a certain period some say to the third, some to the fourth, some to the fifth century but that after that the true doctrine was corrupted, and the spouse of Christ became an adulteress. This supposition, however, refutes itself; for, granting that the Roman Catholic Church was the Church first founded by Christ, it could never fail, for our Saviour himself promised that the gates of hell never should prevail against it : “I say unto you that you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt, xviii, 18). It being certain, then, that the Roman Catholic Church was the true one, as Gerard, one of the first ministers of Luther, admits (Gerard de Eccles. cap. 11, sec. 6) it to have been for the first five hundred years, and to have preserved the Apostolic doctrine during that period, it follows that it must always have remained so, for the spouse of Christ as St. Cyprian says, could never become an adulteress.
- The heretics, however, who, instead of learning from the Church the dogmas they should believe, wish to teach her false and perverse dogmas of their own, say that they have the Scriptures on their side, which are the fountain of truth, not considering, as a learned author (3) justly remarks, that it is not by reading, but by understanding, them, that the truth can be found. Heretics of every sort avail themselves of the Scriptures to prove their errors, but we should not interpret the Scripture according to our own private opinions, which frequently lead us astray, but according to the teaching of the Holy Church which is appointed the Mistress of true doctrine, and to whom God has manifested the true sense of the Divine books. This is the Church, as the Apostle tells us, which has been appointed the pillar and the ground of truth: ” that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth” (I. Tim. iii, 15.) Hence St. Leo says that the Catholic faith despises the errors of heretics barking against the Church, who deceived by the vanity of worldly wisdom, have departed from the truth of the Gospel (St. Leo, Ser. 8, de Nat Dim.)
- I think the History of Heresies is a most useful study, for it shows the truth of our Faith more pure and resplendent, by showing how it has never changed; and if, at all times, this is useful, it must be particularly so at present, when the most holy maxims and the principal dogmas of Religion are put in doubt: it shows, besides, the care God always took to sustain the Church in the midst of the tempests which were unceasingly raised against it, and the admirable manner in which all the enemies who attacked it were confounded. The History of Heresies is also useful to preserve in us the spirit of humility and subjection to the Church, and to make us grateful to God for giving us the grace of being born in Christian countries; and it shows how the most learned men have fallen into the most grievous errors, by not subjecting themselves to the Church’s teaching. (3) Danes, Gen. Temp. Nat. in Epil.
- I will now state my reasons for writing this Work; some may think this labour of mine superfluous, especially as so many learned authors have written expressly and extensively the history of various heresies, as Tertullian, St. Iræneus, St. Epiphanius, St. Augustine, St. Vincent of Lerins, Socrates, Sozymen, St. Philastrius, Theodoret, Nicephorus, and many others, both in ancient and modern times. This, however, is the very reason which prompted me to write this Work; for as so many authors have written, and so extensively, and as it is impossible for many persons either to procure so many and such expensive works, or to find time to read them, if they had them, I, therefore, judged it better to collect in a small compass the commencement and the progress of all heresies, so that in a little time, and at little expense, any one may have a sufficient knowledge of the heresies and schisms which infected the Church. I have said in a small compass, but still, not with such brevity as some others have done, who barely give an outline of the facts, and leave the reader dissatisfied, and ignorant of many of the most important circumstances. I, therefore, have studied brevity; but I wish, at the same time, that my readers may be fully informed of every notable fact connected with the rise and progress of, at all events, the principal heresies that disturbed the Church.
- Another reason I had for publishing this Work was, that as modern authors, who have paid most attention to historical facts, have spoken of heresies only as a component part of Ecclesiastical History, as Baronius, Fleury, Noel Alexander, Tillemont, Orsi, Spondanus, Raynaldus, Graveson, and others, and so have spoken of each heresy chronologically, either in its beginning, progress, or decay, and, therefore, the reader must turn over to different parts of the works to find out the rise, progress, and disappearance of each heresy; I, on the contrary, give all at once the facts connected with each heresy in particular.
- Besides, these writers have not given the Refutation of Heresies, and I give this in the second part of the Work; I do not mean the refutation of every heresy, but only of the principal ones, as those of Sabellius, Arius, Pelagius, Macedonius, Nestorius, Eutyches, the Monothelites, the Iconoclasts, the Greeks, and the like. I will merely speak of the authors of other heresies of less note, and their falsity will be apparent, either from their evident weakness, or from the proofs I bring forward against the more celebrated heresies I have mentioned.
- We ought, then, dear reader, unceasingly to thank our Lord for giving us the grace of being born and brought up in the bosom of the Catholic Church. St. Francis de Sales exclaims: “O good God! many and great are the benefits thou hast heaped on me, and I thank thee for them; but how shall I be ever able to thank thee for enlightening me with thy holy Faith?” And writing to one of his friends, he says: ” God! the beauty of thy holy Faith appears to me so enchanting, that I am dying with love of it, and I imagine I ought to enshrine this precious gift in a heart all perfumed with devotion.” St. Teresa never ceased to thank God for having made her a daughter of the Holy Church: her consolation at the hour of death was to cry out : ” I die a child of the Holy Church! I die a child of the Holy Church.” We, likewise, should never cease praising Jesus Christ for this grace bestowed on us one of the greatest conferred on us one distinguishing us from so many millions of mankind, who are born and die among infidels and heretics: “He has not done in like manner to every nation” (Psalm cxlvii, 9). With our minds filled with gratitude for so great a favour, we shall now see the triumph the Church has obtained through so many ages, over so many heresies opposed to her. I wish to remark, however, before I begin, that I have written this Work amidst the cares of my Bishoprick, so that I could not give a critical examination, many times, to the facts I state, and, in such case, I give the various opinions of different authors, without deciding myself on one side or the other. I have endeavoured, however, to collect all that could be found in the most correct and notable writers on the subject; but it is not impossible that some learned persons may be better acquainted with some facts than I am.