Thursday, February 6, 2014

Should Heretics be Tolerated? (Part 5 of ∞): Wazo of Liège

Some Christians, like Wazo of Liège, use the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds/Tares to argue against executing heretics.

Wazo (c. 985-1048) became head of the cathedral school, provost, and then bishop in Liège (in modern Belgium, near the border with Germany). Even Wazo’s biographer and admirer, Anselm of Liège (ca. 1050-56), notes that his opponents called Wazo an obstinate troublemaker and hothead, and Anselm’s biography does portray Wazo as stubborn, contentious, and confrontational—as “a supremely bold defender of the pure truth.” In addition, Wazo had a deep distrust of power, not only of others but also for himself. He repeatedly resisted being appointed to various offices, including numerous posts as bishop (Jaeger 1994: 205-208).

Wazo opposed capital punishment for heretics, a position not unique in this era. Anselm reports that Wazo’s arguments against the execution of heretics was contained in his response to a letter of Roger II, bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne (renamed Châlons-en-Champagne). Roger had written to Wazo for advice concerning some “countryfolk” in his diocese “who eagerly followed the evil teachings of the Manichaeans and frequented their secret conventicles.” They also, Roger wrote, had committed the unforgiveable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, by asserting that the spirit came through the laying on of hands through Mani (see Matt. 12:31-32). These heretics abhorred marriage, were vegetarians against the killing of any animal, and, worst of all, were converting others to this heresy.

Roger asks Wazo whether he should turn these heretics over to the secular authorities for execution. His reasoning is similar to that of Aquinas (see the previous posts), but he uses the parable (similitude) of the leaven (Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:20-21): If these heretics were not “exterminated,” their (evil) leaven would corrupt the whole loaf. Wazo agrees that these heretics are in error. They mistakenly, for example, misinterpret the commandment not to kill (the reason why the “heretics” were vegetarians). That commandment, Wazo says, is about homicide, not slaughtering animals for food. Ironically, he argues, even a vegetarian diet depends upon “death.” Seeds even have to die (cf. 1 Cor. 15:36) for plants such as wheat to grow. So vegetarians were not avoiding causing “death” by their diets.

Wazo says that Christians should despise heresy but also should also emulate the example of Jesus, who was “mild and humble of heart” and who suffered abuse, torture, and even death. Christians likewise should bear with such things as this heresy, and he uses the Wheat and Tares parable as an illustration:

Moreover, to be prepared for doing what the merciful and compassionate Lord, who does not judge sinners straightway but waits patiently for repentance, desires to be done about such persons, let us hearken to what he deemed fitting to teach his disciples—nay, rather us—when in his Gospel he expounded the parable of the wheat and the cockle. He said, “The man that soweth the good seed in his field is the Son of Man. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the field is the world. And the man, the enemy, that sowed the cockle is the devil. And the cockle are the children of the wicked one. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels.” What, moreover, but the role of preachers is signified by the servants who wish to gather up the cockle when it first appears? Do not preachers, as they separate good from evil in Holy Church, attempt as it were to root out the cockle from the good seed of the field? (Wakefield and Evans 1991: 91-92)

Wazo then notes that Jesus himself restrained his followers from attempting to gather up the cockle, because some of the wheat might be uprooted as well:

What does the Lord reveal by these words but his patience, which he wishes his preachers to display to their erring fellow men, particularly since it may be possible for those who today are cockle, tomorrow to be converted and be wheat? (Wakefield and Evans 1991: 92)

Wazo commends Roger for his spiritual zeal for those people who are being led astray by these heretics. That fact alone demonstrates that Roger is a servant of Christ, but Wazo urges him to demonstrate his piety by obeying what Christ commanded:

Out of this zeal you strive with the hoe of judicial decision to rid the grainfield of cockle, that the good not be corrupted by evil. But lest you do this hastily, lest it be done before its time, the holy text is rather to be obeyed, so that although we think we are practicing righteousness by punishing transgressors, whose impiety is veiled under semblance of strict life, we do no disservice to him, who desires not the death of sinners nor rejoices in the damnation of the dying, but rather knows how to bring sinners back to repentance through his patience and long-suffering. Therefore, heeding the words of the Maker, let the decision of the area wait; let us not seek to remove from this life by the sword of secular authority those whom God himself, Creator and Redeemer, wishes to spare, as he has revealed, to the end that they may turn again to his will from the snares of the devil in which they were entrapped (Wakefield and Evans 1991: 92). 

Wazo hopes that perhaps some of what appears to be “cockles” will be revealed as “wheat” at the great harvest at the end of time, just as Paul turned from persecutor to apostle.

Wazo concludes by saying that bishops of the church do not receive the “sword which belongs to secular power” when they are ordained. The job of a bishop is to bring people to life eternal not hasten their earthly deaths. What the bishop should do, however, is to deprive the heretics and all who associate with them of “Catholic communion”: “Let it be officially and publicly announced to all others, so that, heeding the warning of the prophet, they may leave their midst and eschew their most unclean sect” (Wakefield and Evans 1991: 93).

In Memoriam
Cedric M. Gowler, Sr.
July 31, 1929 - February 7, 2008


The greatest compliments people have ever given me have all started with the words, "You remind of your dad . . . ."

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