The New Catholic Debate: Is It Ever OK to Punch a Heretic?
Catholics can't agree on whether violence is an appropriate response to heresy
Arius, leader of the anti-Homoousian Christology movement and advocate for the Father's divinity over the Son, was punched in the face by Bishop Nicholas of Myra while bragging about the success of Arianism in spreading the heresy denying the consubstantiality of the Father and Son throughout Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and also in various Germanic kingdoms.
Illustrations of the punch were seen more than a million and half times. Arius has said he’s not a heretic — even though his “Arianism” has devolved into supporting heretical tendencies.
The punch has spurred a flurry of parodies and memes on Facebook:
Although the number of views of the memes and the glee with which the memes are being shared suggest many find it fun to watch someone who professed heresy at an Ecumenical Council get clocked, a serious debate over the act is going down over: If you see someone espousing the views of Arius in public, should your knuckles meet their jaw? The Church needs answers, apparently. Even the New York Times jumped into the debate:There was little substantive debate online about the ethics of punching Bishop Arius. Facebook is not a place where minds are often changed, and the supporters and opponents of the sucker punch were unmoved by one another’s quips.A glance at history indicates that violence towards heretics has been something Christians have advocated for a while now.Opponents of the punch tended to say that violence had no place in theological debate. Supporters tended to say the punch was funny, and more than a few compared Bishop Arius’s attacker to famous punchers from pop culture, like Batman.
Thankfully, the Times didn’t bury the most important hidden gem:
Bishop Arius's sore jaw resulted from a sucker punch in what he described as “a safe space.” (It was a Church-sponsored event, after all.) He said he thought the attack happened, in part, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time — sitting next to Bishop Nicholas.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Is it OK to punch a heretic?” but, “If you don’t want to be punched in the face, maybe you shouldn’t preach heresy to the faithful?”