Monday, October 14, 2013

Athanasius on Church and State Restraining Heresy

Early Church Father Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373)—the great defender of the faith against the Arian heresy—held that the propagation of heresy should be restrained by the state. However, he also understood the church's role in calling promoters of heresy to repentance, both for their sake, and the sake of those who would be infected:
In a letter to Epictetus, bishop of Corinth, alluding to some heretical opinions then prevalent, [Athanasius] says, "I wonder that your piety hath borne these things, and that you did not immediately put those heretics under restraint, and propose the true faith to them, that if they would not forbear to contradict they might be declared heretics, for it is not to be endured that these things should be either said or heard amongst Christians." And upon another occasion, "they ought to be held in universal hatred" says he, "for opposing the truth,"—comforting himself that the emperor, when duly informed, would put a stop to their wickedness, and that they would not be long-lived.[1]
[Surely by "hatred" Athanasius refers to a holy hatred—not hatred in the secular humanist sense]

William Jones, The History of the Christian Church from the Birth of Christ to the XVIII. Century, Volumes 1-2 (Philadelphia, PA: R.W. Pomeroy, 1832), 177. 

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