Did the Church Fathers distinguish between heretics?

It is obvious that the Church Fathers have little positive to say of those major heretics who propagate in writing or in preaching beliefs contrary to their own. However, what do they have to say about the poor laity who unwittingly fall under the heretical errors of their pastors? Do the Cappadocian Fathers or other Fathers have anything to say about those laity who do not know much about theology and who easily led astray by Arian, Nestorian or Monophysite bishops? What do the Fathers have to say, if anything, about the salvation of those who, by no fault of their own, are in a heretical church and who have little to none contact with the true Church?

Thanks! :slight_smile:

Good question.
From the little reading I have done, I notice that a lot of the time they judge according to a persons actions. eg “those who do evil will be thrown in hell, those who do good will be in heaven”

I know that St Justin who lived around the year 150 said that he believed there was hope for some of the ancient greek philosophers who even though they didnt know of the true God, preached a standard of virtue.

Also there is a famous quote by St Ignatius of Antioch teaching that people must remain in the Church that goes something like:
Let only that Eucharist be regarded as legitimate, which is celebrated under [the presidency of] the bishop or him to whom he has entrusted it.

[quote=Catholic Dude]Good question.
From the little reading I have done, I notice that a lot of the time they judge according to a persons actions. eg “those who do evil will be thrown in hell, those who do good will be in heaven”

I know that St Justin who lived around the year 150 said that he believed there was hope for some of the ancient greek philosophers who even though they didnt know of the true God, preached a standard of virtue.

Also there is a famous quote by St Ignatius of Antioch teaching that people must remain in the Church that goes something like: Let only that Eucharist be regarded as legitimate, which is celebrated under [the presidency of] the bishop or him to whom he has entrusted it.

[/quote]

That is, of course, a very good summary of Catholic doctrine:

The Apostolic succession, the divinity of Christ and the Real Presence are all rolled up in that one sentence.

[quote=Goblin_Taters]… what do they have to say about the poor laity who unwittingly fall under the heretical errors of their pastors? Do the Cappadocian Fathers or other Fathers have anything to say about those laity who do not know much about theology …
[/quote]

From St. Paul:

For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:14-16).

From St. Justin (ca AD 150):

Christ is the Logos Divine Word of whom the whole race of men partake. Those who lived according to Logos are Christians, even if they were considered atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, and Heraclitus (cited by Fr. William Most, The Holy Spirit and the Church, Notre Dame Institute Press, 1991, p. 75).

From St. Irenaeus (ca AD 189):

Christ came not only for those who believed from the time of Tiberius Caesar, nor did the Father provide only for those who are now, but for absolutely all men from the beginning, who, according to their ability, feared and loved God and lived justly. . . and desired to see Christ and to hear His voice (ibid., pg. 76)

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, on the occasion of his father’s death in A.D. 374:

He was ours even before he was of our fold. His manner of life made him one of us. Just as there are many of our own who are not with us, whose lives alienate them from the common body, so too there are many of those outside who belong really to us, men whose devout conduct anticipates their faith. They lack only the name of that which in fact they possess. My father was one of these, an alien shoot but inclined to us in his manner of life (William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 2, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979, p. 29).

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