Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
The interpretation that heretics are sham doctors and charlatans, who cannot cure people but even make them ill, shows why they were condemned by the Church. It was not done out of malice, hatred and fanaticism, but in the same manner as scientific doctors are distinguished from charlatans. The Church’s aim was to cure people, whereas the heretical charlatans not only fail to cure people but contribute to their eternal death.
“What is heresy? In the patristic tradition, heresy is fake medicine. Why is heresy condemned? Is it because they do not agree on dogma? Is that the problem? It is condemned because there is no therapeutic treatment in heresy. And as there is no treatment, it is dangerous for people. The Fathers saw heresy as a form of charlatanism, which offers no cure.”
“I think that we can understand the basic difference if we take medical science as an example. There we have doctors who belong to the Medical Association. If a doctor is not a member of the Medical Association, he cannot practise in the medical profession. For a doctor to be legal, he not only has to be a graduate of a recognised medical school, but also a member of the Medical Association. The same applies to lawyers. In these disciplines there is continuous testing, because if someone behaves improperly with regard to the correct practice of his profession, he is condemned by the appropriate organ of the professional association to which he belongs, and is expelled from the professional body.
The same, however, happens in the Church. The corresponding procedure within the Body of the Church, the expulsion or cutting-off of one of its members, is called excommunication; or deprivation of clerical orders, if it is a matter of ecclesiastical rank. Thus heretics are excommunicated from the Body of the Church. Just as in the medical world it impossible for a charlatan (a sham doctor) to be permitted to treat people, so in the Church it is not possible for a heretic to be allowed to treat people’s souls. Because, being a heretic, he does not know how to cure and is unable to cure.”
“When we examine the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, we see that every heresy that was condemned by the Church automatically abolished the Church’s teaching on glorification and illumination. In this way the opportunity to be cured is lost. Heresy is heresy because it destroys the possibility of people being cured. That is why it is heresy.”
By condemning heretics the Church safeguarded the spiritual therapeutic method that leads to glorification.
“Apart from anything else, there may be unrest, so for that reason they reach a decision that what ‘Father Demetrios’ says is drivel. It is the result of identifying the theological method with philosophy. They condemn him, so that no one will take any notice of what he says. Because anyone who follows that route will never advance from purification to illumination, and from illumination to glorification. Because someone in the state of illumination cannot say such senseless things.”
It is very important to safeguard the true criteria by which man is cured. If the criteria for illness and cure are not set, the difference between Orthodox Christians and heretics cannot be recognised.
“So how is anyone going to understand, as the Orthodox themselves are charlatans, why we should condemn heretics? Are the results not the same? Because whether you go the Evangelical Church in Athens, or to the Papal Church, or to the Jewish Synagogue, or to the Orthodox Church, the people are all in the same state. None of the Orthodox Christians and none of the Jews are illuminated. From this point of view, our own charlatans are no different from other charlatans. Who is going to condemn?
Because if we make this distinction today, the first people we shall chase away will be our own spiritual fathers. What criteria shall we use for applying the historical criteria? So we leave things as they are and say, Turn to monasticism to see what the monks are doing. Nowadays there are charlatans there too, even in monasteries. The most important problem is that of criteria. If we have these criteria and judge what they did in past times with heretics, it is what they do nowadays with fake doctors. They are forbidden to practise the profession of doctor. You cannot have a doctor who is a charlatan, nor can you have bogus medicines on the market.”
Heretics were condemned by the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils because they taught false doctrines that did away with the therapeutic method. For the first time, the Franks at the Council of Frankfurt in 794 condemned an entire nation, not specific individuals, by calling the Greeks heretics.
“At the Council of Frankfurt in 794 for the first time in history a whole nation was condemned as heretical. Previously heretics were individuals: Arios, Nestorios and so on. Either the leader of a heresy would be condemned or the heresy itself, but not a nation. For the first time the Franks condemned a nation, because they condemned the Greeks as heretics.”
“Then we have the issue of how the politics of an era influences dogma. When we look at the appearance of heresies from a historical viewpoint, from the apostolic era until the Middle Ages heresies are usually called after their founder. They are described by the name of the heresiarch; or, in other cases, by the name of the heresy itself, such as ‘Monophysitism’. We also have Gnosticism, which is also a foreign religion, and so on.
In the Middle Ages, in the middle of the 8th century, writings appear that are preserved in Latin, by their titles, and are summarised in Contra Errores Graecorum (Against the Errors of the Greeks). As far as I know, this is the first time that, instead of a heresiarch or a heresy, a nation is reviled. Something is wrong, because this is a new tradition in the fight against heresies.
Next, one turns to the Acts of the Council of Frankfurt in 794, to see where this tradition of Contra Errores Graecorum comes from. And there one finds the decision of the Council that the Greeks are condemned as heretics. As what sort of heretics are they condemned? Because, strangely enough, at this Council both the iconoclasts and the supporters of icons were condemned. Both are condemned. Well, were the Franks so intelligent that they could discern that both sides, who were contending with each other in the Roman world, were heretics? How can both be heretics? They ought to have taken up a position either for or against the supporters of icons. They do not take a view in favour of one side or the other. They condemn both.
To condemn both they must be hiding something. There is something wrong, because the Franks were barbarians, but strangely enough at the Council the Greeks were condemned. Even before the Council the Libri Carolini were in existence. Tradition says that these books were written by Charlemagne himself, but the theories are that they were written by his theological entourage. The Libri Carolini are characterised by hatred for the Romans, not for the Greeks. The Roman nation and everything Roman is reviled in them. Their contents are the conventional point of departure for the Franks’ views on the Romans.”
Consequently, heresy is a deviation from revealed truth, but also from the methodology that leads to glorification. The Councils, in which at least the majority of those taking part were glorified Fathers, defined the revelation so that the revelation and the way leading to the vision of God would not be altered.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics, Volume 2
The non-quoted text above is Met. Hierotheos.
The “quoted” text above is Protopresbyter John Romanides