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How To Deal with a Heretic
In an epoch when Popes and Bishops protect the heresiarchs of the past
and tell us to consider heretics as "brethren," it seems opportune to remind our readers of how a great saint, St. Bernard, advised a French Prelate to withdraw any support from Arnold of Brescia, a known heretic of his time. Below are excerpts from his letter.
Arnold of Brescia is all honey and sweetness in his words, but mortally venomous in his doctrine. On his face he shows the simplicity of the dove, but he has the poisoned tail of the scorpion. His homeland [Brescia] expelled him as a man ejects his vomit; Rome had horror to host him; France was indisposed to receive him, Germany could not but abominate him, and to this date Italy refuses to receive him back.
Despite all this, it has been said that you received him. Take care that you do not play his game and, with your authority, give him wings to fly in order to continue to do harm. He has both a great skill and the firm purpose to do evil. If to these two things, you add your favor, we will have the triple-braided rope that is difficult to break, and you cannot imagine the evil he is capable of doing.
If it is true that you hosted him, I believe it is because either you do not know him well, or what is more probable, knowing who he is, you hope to change and convert him. I hope this will be so! God grant that you change this hard rock into a son of Abraham! What a pleasing gift you would offer to the Church if you could present to her as a vase of honor the one who until now has been a vase of ignominy!
You could try to do this. However, any prudent man would be careful not to surpass the number of such attempts of conversion that the Apostle recommended when he said: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." (Titus 3:10-11)
On the other hand, treating him in a familiar way, admitting him to your friendship, and even seating him at your table would be a sure sign of your protection, showing that you cover the enemy with strong armor. With this, he will achieve his goal and, disguised as your close friend, he will easily convince souls [to adopt his bad position] … Even if he removes his mask and publicly propagates his pernicious errors, who will dare to contradict him, since he is your friend? …
Once you have read everything in this letter, I expect from your uprightness and prudence that you will do that which is in the interest of the Church.
With great esteem and friendship, I am, with all devotion,
Bernard of Clairvaux
(Letter 169 in Obras completas del Doctor Melifluo,
San Bernardo, Abad de Claraval,
Barcelona: Rafael Casulleras, 1929, vol. V, p. 408).
Posted June 9, 2007
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