16 Common Errors That Catholics Should Avoid Like the Plague

Pierre Legros the Younger (1695-1699), “Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred” — Church of the Gesù in Rome.
Pierre Legros the Younger (1695-1699), “Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred” — Church of the Gesù in Rome. (photo: Register Files)

We can be honest: Catholic theology is more complex than the physics you took in school. At least in physics, one can ask for a physical demonstration of some principle to help the learning process. In Catholic theology, we don't have that option.

This is not to say that Christian principles aren't immediately apparent in a real world situation. The Golden Rule makes immediate and obvious sense and forgiveness is axiomatically better than revenge. But what we know about the nature of Christ or Heaven or the Sacraments is a little more difficult to ascertain. We know what we know about them as a result of logic, deductive/abductive/inductive reasoning, reliance upon the authority of Scriptures, the prudential application of the Spirit-given gift of wisdom, faith in Christ and the authority of the Magisterium rather than empirical evidence in its strictest sense.

As a catechist, I find myself battling wild heresies or, should I say, "hearsay." Oddly, in this world in which the sum of all human knowledge is literally in the palm of our hands, a concept that would have been laughed at 20 years ago, there seems to be an entire segment of the population which is content with presuming themselves correct without the ennui of actually checking their facts. Compounding this, is a very permissive society in which everyone who has an opinion is convinced that everything is relative except their own opinion which is absolutely, objectively true and, indeed, sacrosanct. Some people believe they have the "right to be right" which is nonsense on the face of it.

The following list is a few of the heresies or errors I've come across that are presumed to be true which are probably the result of poor catechesis or possibly selfishness and pride, but aren't:

1. When you die, you become an angel. Absolutely not. If anything, the angels are jealous of us! Paul assures us that we will sit in judgement upon the angels. (1 Cor 6:3) If anything, angels are fascinated by our lives and our part in salvific history. (1 Peter 1:12) Technically, Lucifer's hatred of us is a result of our superior status to the angels.

2. Christ is insufficient. To be clear, there are no new revelations. Our canon is closed. There are too many people who hope to "augment" Christ's teachings with some bunch of balderdash such as when communists tried to foist "liberation theology" on us. Militant feminists try to graft on a lot of stuff by saying that the Bible was "written a long time ago" and needs to be "updated." Psychic and occult charlatans peddle nonsense about their supposed "prophetic skills" that are, apparently, contrary to what we know of God, for sale. The list goes on and on and on. Nothing could be further from the Truth. If these people are all correct, why don't they agree with each other? Why is the Holy Spirit giving each of these self-proclaimed prophets different messages? Christ and His Church need nothing from mere humans. Christ's message is valid and authentic yesterday, today and forever sans accoutrements. (Hebrews 13:8)

3. Vatican II can be undone and ignored. Nope. Impossible. All ecumenical councils, all 21 of them over the course of 1700 years, are important, irrevocable and ineluctable. Why? Because the Holy Spirit supervises all of them. He makes no errors nor does He mumble. It should be noted that doctrine can develop or unfold and there may or may not have been some interpretations that may or may not have sat well with some, but that means less than nothing. Just as a Catholic may not choose which rules he wishes to follow, no Catholic is allowed to choose her favorite council to the exclusion of all others even if one of those councils is Trent.

4. God puts us into situations in order to test us. This error is, for lack of a better word, understandable. It’s difficult to create a model whereby God is in complete control yet we are totally free, thus, in our unguarded moments, fall back on the assertion that if everything comes from God, so must trials and failing to keep God’s commandments.

God is omniscient and knows what we are going to do already. He isn't testing anyone. He loved us into existence and doesn't treat us as if we are lab rats running a cosmic maze. He is Love Itself (1 John 4:8, 16) and thus would never act cruelly towards us. Instead God tests us in the sense that one tests gold. (Sirach 2:1.5) Scriptures teach us: “You O God have tested us, You have tried us as silver is tried.” (Ps 66:11) One can make precious metal stronger by heating it, folding it and hammering it. Perhaps the metaphor is a bit rough but this is the only way in which God "tests" us. He loves us too much to torture us to see "what we would do." Temptation lies within ourselves---in our decisions to follow God’s law or to avoid it. (Deut 30:19) It’s not God’s fault.

5. Everyone's going to Heaven. Hell certainly exists, as Jesus assures us multiple times throughout the Gospels. (Mat 7:13-14, Mat 8:12, Mark 9:43, Mat 13:41-42, 49-50, 48-49, Mat 22:13, Mat 25:46, Luke 12:5, John 3:18) John devotes an enormous passage in his Revelations describing it. (Rev 14:9-11; 19:3) If everyone's going to Heaven, then that would mean Jesus was confused or ignorant and this is unacceptable especially when those who support this particular heresy (Universal Salvationism) are at a loss for explaining how it is that they come to this new "doctrine" that contradicts everything we ever knew about Christ. If we ignore this part of Christ's teaching, why should we give credence to any of it? It's a slippery slope.

6. There are private revelations. There will always be new revelations. There are no, and can never be any, new public revelations that add to the economy of salvation. Some private revelations are approved for popular devotion (e.g., Sacred Heart, Lourdes, Divine Mercy) and some not. The cutoff point is whether they agree with Christ’s original revelations in Scriptures.

People place themselves in a precarious position when they dare judge not only Scriptures but God Himself and His Church thus denying tradition and the Magisterium.

7. Jesus never says He's God in the Bible.

I always bet people a dollar for each time I can point an instance in which Jesus refers to Himself as God. The threat of losing money is usually sufficient for the ignorant to withdraw their claim. Christ refers to Himself as God approximately fifty times in Scriptures. Also the Gospels show opponents responding to Him as though something He has said is a claim to be God or equal to God (e.g., Mark 14:61-62). Frankly, if Jesus never claimed to God, why were some people so upset at Him 2000 years ago to the point they wanted to off Him? It wasn't because He was a wackado—they didn't kill people back then simply because they were off-kilter. Christ was sentenced to death because He was perceived as being blasphemous for referring to Himself as God.

8. It's easy to determine who is going to Hell. The Church's competence is in determining who is in Heaven. However, no one knows who's in Hell. Those who die in a state of mortal sin have very few options available to them however, this is no reason why we should be dismissive or triumphalistic towards them. Rather, it's important to pray for all sinners, even our worst enemies, that they might repent and turn to God. (Wisdom 1:13-15) Forgive and you shall be forgiven. (Mat 6:14, Luke 6:37) Judgment belongs to God. God, and no one else, sees the heart. We simply can’t know the interior makeup of another soul and the true nature of his relationship to God.

9. Anyone who dies in a state of grace goes directly to Heaven. Let's all leave this one in God's very omnicompetent hands. It might be fashionable in some strange climes to forget about Purgatory but Scriptures are very clear about this. (II Macc 12:39-46, Mat 5:24-25, Hab. 1:13, I Cor 3:11-15, Rev. 21:27).  Purgatory exists as part of the salvific economy. Other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, who among us is pure enough to stand before God? (Rom 3:10, 14:4, Deu 7:24, Joshua 23:9, 1 Sam 6:20, Ezra 10:13, Prov 27:4, Ps 76:7, 130:3, Nahum 1:6) Even the saints have sins that need to be expiated and Purgatory is a part of God's infinite mercy as He doesn't want any of us to die but to live and come to repentance! (2 Peter 3:9)

10. The Eucharist is merely a symbol. This is a pernicious heresy that crops up all too often. Why is the bread and wine offered upon the altar by a Catholic priest the Body and Blood of Christ? Because Jesus says so. (Luke 16) In fact, when He laid this bombshell upon the people around Him at the synagogue at Capernaum, a good number left in a huff. Jesus then asked the remaining disciples as to how they felt about accepting the fact that they must eat and drink His Body and Blood to be saved. Peter replies, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life." (John 6:68)

Apart from what Jesus said, let’s consider how the earliest Christians treats the Eucharist. For Paul, it’s a celebration of the night of Jesus’s betrayal that empowers all who partake of it to proclaim the Gospel (1 Cor 11:26), so that “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1 Cor 11:27-29). The Didache mirrors this sentiment: “Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, except those baptized in the name of the Lord, for the Lord has spoken concerning this: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs.’” (Didache 9:5)

11. Bad things happen only to bad people. Christ assures us personally that this is nonsense. (Luke 13:1-5) He questions those who bring up the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices to God. Jesus answered them saying, "Because those Galileans were killed in that way, do you think it proves that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No indeed! And I tell you that if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did."

Jesus also reminds us that the very best of people will, indeed, suffer immeasurably but He asks us to buck up. (John 16:33) He Himself died an ignoble death after bearing otherwise unbearable torture. His mother suffered many trials throughout her life that brought her great sorrow and she was the Blessed Virgin Mary—the only sinless human being that had ever or will ever exist. Why would the rest of us sinners be spared the suffering that Paul tells us, "complete what still remains of Christ's sufferings on behalf of His body, the Church." (Col 1:24)

12. The Devil is merely a symbol. If this were true, then Jesus must have been mistaken every time He said differently in Scriptures. The Devil is real and prowls about roaring like a lion looking for souls to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) And, frankly, if it's possible for a human to reject God, why is it so inconceivable for an angel to do the same? Why would everything be so sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for them? Angels and humans alike can align themselves with God or not. (Deu 30:19)

13. We're all God's children and therefore He must love all that we are. Yes. God made us all. God loves us all. We're all His children. However, He calls us to Himself in a spirit of love and repentance and not everyone is ready, willing and able to make such a commitment. In such a situation, these people often put themselves at selfish, counter-purposes with God. It can't be said that we are His children and actively refuse to recognize our relationship with our Heavenly Father. (1 John 3:10, Rom 8:15, Eph 2:1–16). God is very forgiving but not all of us want to be forgiven and some of us think we've done nothing which needs to be forgiven. (1 John 1:8)

14. We can pick and choose the rules we want to obey. We have the right to question anything and everything but the goal is to accept orthodox teaching completely. If not, then we put ourselves above the Church and, indeed, God's will. He established the Church and set Peter, and his successors, as His Vicar on earth. The Church's teachings have brought countless millions to holiness. Who is anyone to say that God was somehow wrong in His decisions? (Job 15:8) How exactly does the average doubter come to this incredible authority to judge God's law? Such an extraordinary claim demands extraordinary proof. In addition, it's been my experience that people who pick and choose the rules they wish to follow, will inevitably ignore even the rules they like. Rationalizing isn't the same thing as rational thinking.

15. We all worship the same God. There is only one God. How do we know this? God said so. (Deu 4:39, Isaiah 43:11, 45:5) (It should also be pointed out that no pagan deity has ever made the same claim.) To be clear, St Anselm’s ontological argument applies here—if one god is greater than another, then the lesser god is not God.

However, not everyone recognizes this One True God. This doesn't mean He doesn't love all of His children, even those who we find particularly unlovable. Though presuming all people worship the same God might be politically correct, it is theologically, historically and anthropologically incorrect. Outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, deities are inevitably fumbling, impotent, jealous, capricious, mealy-mouthed, hedonistic, selfish, wildly emotional and largely unconcerned with human affairs. The Judeo-Christian God is Love Itself. No other religion describes their deity thusly.

16. All religions are equal. This problematic belief is connected to the above statement and just as incorrect. Some religions are violently antithetical to all other religious expressions. Some require human sacrifice. Some reinvent thoroughly immoral behavior making it into a virtue. Some purport sacred tests that are illogical and self-contradictory. It's impossible to suggest that all religions are equal.

Christ tells us He is the Way, the Truth and Life. (John 14:6) The Judeo-Christian God introduced Himself to His people and teaches them because He loves them. (Acts 4:12). No other religion makes such bold claims. The same can't be said of pagan religions. Salvation only comes from Christ not from Muhammad, Buddha, Joseph Smith or Sigmund Freud for that matter. And worship belongs by right only to Yahweh Who is the Great I Am. (Rev 4:11)

There are irreducible differences between Christianity and Judaism such as the Incarnation, the Passion and Resurrection. We can extend this list of incompatibilities by considering pagan religions. However, many ethical claims across religions may be equal or at least compatible. This isn’t an odd coincidence or so easily passed off as anthropological cultural “universal.” Rather, if the one God is calling out to all of mankind, then His stamp will be left on various responses to the call.

This is hardly a complete list of misconceptions believed by the churched and unchurched alike. But like the rest, they're all furtive and pernicious. Like all other forms of sin, they are saccharinely attractive, "make sense" and spread like weeds when unchecked. It's important to remain upon the right path. (Prov 22:6) It's important to give God His due. (Ps 29:2, Mark 12:17) It's important to distinguish between what our Faith teaches and fanciful nonsense (Gal 1:6-9) armed only with a patina of respectability but without any of the substance.