Category Archives: Apologetics

Two Objectors to the Catholic faith: Mr. Certainty & Mr. Robot

Devin Rose

Two Protestants You Will Meet

Honestly, being a Catholic apologist has its downsides. One is that people feel they can email you out of the blue with a list of arguments against the Catholic Church and then demand you respond. Over the years I’ve received many such emails, some rudely written, others genuinely seeking answers. One upside to these messages, though, is that they give me insight into a broad swath of Protestant Christians and the varied obstacles that they face. I have noticed that many of those Protestants resemble one of two types: the Certain Guy and the Robot

The Holy Spirit Certainty Guy

Charles was a Protestant who emailed me, describing something of his history as a Christian: going from one denomination to another many times over the years as his beliefs changed and he decided his current church was in error.

His meanderings had finally made him wonder if, perhaps, Catholicism was what it claimed to be. “Maybe there is a true Church?” he asked. When a Protestant comes to this question on his own, it is a wonderful thing. It indicates an openness to the possibility that the whole Protestant paradigm may be mistaken; instead maybe God did preserve the Church from error.

In the second half of his email, however, Charles listed his chief objections to Catholicism, notably the Church’s beliefs about Mary. Charles ended by saying:

“I am a Christian struggling with the dilemma of where to gather among other Christians to worship God—but the issue of praying to Mary is a stumbling block, or should I rather say, heresy in my opinion, which I regard as equal to idolatry and which will keep me very far away from the Roman Catholic Church.”

Charles’s candor was refreshing. He said very directly that he could not imagine becoming Catholic due to what he saw as heresy. In my response, I gently nudged him with questions about how he knew what Christ and the apostles taught and how he knew that his interpretation of Scripture was accurate. I also gave evidence for the perpetual virginity of Mary and the intercession of the saints. I kept it to a few paragraphs and waited for his response.

Charles opened his reply thanking me for my email, but then he said “However, I am still completely unconvinced by your reasoning—and I know that I indeed do have the Holy Spirit who leads me into all truth and he is not leading me to believe what you have suggested.”

Ah, there it was! He believed that he had the Holy Spirit and read John 16:13 to mean that the Spirit will lead him individually into all truth. He was sure that the Holy Spirit was showing him that I was in error and that he was not.

Striking At the Root

When you encounter the Certainty Guy, you could respond to his impregnable certainty with an equally confident assertion, as I did: “I also have the Holy Spirit and am unconvinced by your reasoning, so we are at an impasse. Further, Martin Luther and John Calvin believed they had the Holy Spirit, and they rebutted other Protestants who held the same interpretation that you did about Mary’s perpetual virginity. So our impasse deepens.”

In this brief exchange we exposed the fundamental problem of Protestantism. He claims he’s right because he has the Holy Spirit. I claim that I’m right for the same reason.   And according to Protestantism, no person or church or institution can adjudicate our competing claims. In any dialogue with a Protestant it is important to reach this point, so that your friend can realize the unresolvable dilemma that his beliefs create.

Charles emailed back telling me that he “does not arrogantly pick and choose” his beliefs as I suggested. Of course, I never claimed that his choosing was done in arrogance, only that he was indeed picking and choosing: picking which issues were essential versus non-essential, and choosing what to believe on each of those issues. Even if he did not do it arrogantly, the fact remained that he was doing it, and that under Protestantism’s paradigm he had no choice but come up with an individual belief on every issue he came across.

It is instructive that even though I said nothing about him acting arrogantly or capriciously in choosing his beliefs, Charles inferred that I made such an accusation. Misunderstandings like this occur often in any discussion about beliefs. Faith abides deeply within us, and any perceived challenge to our beliefs can result in a defensive reaction, even if our discussion partner acts in a completely amiable way.

Our email exchange continued for a bit longer and wended toward the question of whether sola scriptura was true, but for our purposes here the main point has been shown. When you face Certainty Guy, who is absolutely confident in his interpretation of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, simply push back, without any rancor, that you can claim the same thing, and so reveal a conundrum.

The One-Way Street

About six months after my book The Protestant’s Dilemma was published, I received an email from a Protestant man (whom I’ll call Louis) directing me to his website where he was making a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal of my book. He was brief but respectful enough, so I went and checked it out. His was the first substantive attempt to rebut my arguments, so I was interested in what he had to say.

Unfortunately, his site had the look-and-feel of a Web 1.0, circa 1998 site hand-coded in basic html. Even though as a computer programmer I winced, I was able to ignore that, but since he was attempting a rebuttal one chapter at a time, I also had no way of knowing when he posted more updates for me to read.

I kindly emailed Louis and suggested he go with a standard blogging website, which would allow him to publish each of his rebuttal attempts as blog posts that I and others could subscribe to. He paid no attention to my suggestions and instead just kept sending me short emails, about once a day, that had a link in them to his argument web pages.

I figured that I would give him another chance to interact in a constructive way, so I went to one of his links, read his argument, then sent him an email rebutting the argument. In this particular case, he was denying that Mary was the mother of God. I explained why this title is valid, but he ignored my argument and sent me yet another link to his web page.

At that point I realized I was dealing with someone uninterested in interacting like a human being. Rather, like a machine he wanted to blast his arguments at me—whether they were sensible or not—and didn’t want to have a discussion. It was a one-way street. I called him out on this and said I would automatically filter his emails into the trash if he continued this robotic behavior. He immediately continued it, and I filtered his emails. The next day he emailed me from a different address!

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Most Protestants, thankfully, are not robots like Louis. But some are, and possibly you will encounter one, whether virtually or in person. Keep in mind that you are not obligated to respond to them or to play by their (lopsided) rules. In my experience, interacting with such people goes nowhere, as they are not truly open to discussion and honest analysis of the arguments.

Instead, they are locked into existing beliefs that see Catholicism as apostate or heretical, and have one goal: to disseminate attacks against the Church in rapid-fire fashion.

And remember, even when people act in such exasperating ways, seek to forgive them. Pray for them—the best thing and often the only thing that you can do—and leave them in our Lord’s hands. You hope to see them and be with them in heaven one day, in spite of their errors and your own faults and weaknesses.”

Love, and the love of neighbor it takes to explain, without being defensive, patiently, calmly, kindly, lovingly, which comes only from His grace,
Matthew

Baptism

Introducing the Church Fathers

Your Protestant friend has may have never heard of the Church Fathers (I certainly hadn’t when I was a Protestant). These were faithful and influential Christians teachers, pastors, and leaders who taught and defended the Faith from the late first century through the sixth. Many, though not all, are considered saints by the Catholic Church.

Given the impasse some Protestants face about how to interpret the Bible on baptism, it makes sense to start with that topic and bring in other evidence. And though your friend may not know much about the Fathers, he will likely be favorably disposed to hearing what the early Christians believed, since (especially with the Fathers of the first couple of centuries) there wouldn’t have been much time for the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to have been corrupted. So, what did these early Christians have to say about baptism?

The Church Fathers on Baptism

Start by sharing with your friend what St. Justin Martyr wrote about baptismal regeneration in the middle of the second century:

“I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them.

They then are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water….The reason for this we have received from the apostles.

And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

Notice how Justin explains that baptismal regeneration remits our sins but also reveals that this teaching was received from the apostles. Justin was born around the time of the St. John’s death, so many Christians of his era still had living memories of the apostles themselves.

Another great Church Father from the second century who witnessed to the truth of baptismal regeneration was St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, a disciple of St. Polycarp who himself was a disciple of St. John. Irenaeus pulls no punches in pointing out that to deny baptism’s regenerating effects is to renounce the entire Christian faith.

“And when we come to refute them [i.e. those heretics], we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.”

This is only a small selection. Both of these saints wrote even more about baptismal regeneration, as did other Church Fathers and early Christians in the second century. Once we get to the third century, the writings that support baptismal regeneration multiply. This early Christian witness to baptismal regeneration is unanimous. If this teaching were heretical and contradicted the apostles, you would expect at least a few leaders in the early Church to have stood up in protest of it, but not a single one does—or even offers an alternative interpretation for the relevant verses.

Present this historical evidence to your friend and give him time to respond. But be careful: the Church Fathers are Catholic to the core, and their writings contain many teachings that simply aren’t reconcilable with Protestant doctrine. You’ll want to introduce them to your friend gently and give him time to absorb the evidence they provide for the Catholic Church.

Some Protestants put little stock into what ancient Christians wrote, unless it is explicitly contained in the New Testament itself, so your friend may simply dismiss these writings. He may propose that they’re forgeries or that they represent a misleading sample of what the early Christians. You can patiently explain that even Protestant historians accept these works as genuine and as representative of what was being taught in the early Church. It’s not totally impossible that they represent a minority view, that other early Christians were teaching doctrines in agreement with modern Protestantism, but the simple fact is there’s no existing evidence that there were.”

Love, and new life & joy through baptism,
Matthew

Are alternate theories to the Resurrection plausible?

The Bible says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then the Christian faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17). However, if Jesus did rise from the dead then we know Jesus can keep His promise to give everyone who follows Him eternal life (1 John 2:25).

But how can we know that Jesus really rose from the dead and that the Bible’s description of this miracle wasn’t just a story someone made up?

One way is by showing that the Resurrection is the only explanation for the events surrounding Jesus’ death, events that almost everyone, including skeptics, agrees are historical.

As we examine some of the various theories put forward to explain these facts, you will see that only one theory explains 1) Jesus’ death by Crucifixion; 2) his empty tomb; 3) the post-Crucifixion appearances to the disciples; and 4) the disciples’ willingness to die for their faith: the theory that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

The Swoon Theory

One way to explain these facts would be to posit that Jesus never really died. Maybe he just passed out on the cross and woke up in a tomb. Jesus then met up with the disciples who mistakenly thought he’d risen from the dead. But even if Jesus somehow survived the Crucifixion, the apostles would never have thought he’d miraculously risen from the dead. Upon seeing his bloody, mutilated body, they would have thought Jesus had cheated death, not beaten it, and quickly gotten him medical treatment.

The Trash Theory

How do we know Jesus wasn’t just thrown into an anonymous grave and was forgotten until the disciples imagined they saw him alive again?

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 prohibited the Jewish people from leaving a criminal hanging on a tree, so Jesus would have to have been buried immediately after he died on the cross.

The Gospels say Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council that condemned Jesus to death, buried him (though John 3:1-2 tells us Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but in secret, out of fear of the other Jewish leaders). If the Gospel writers had invented the story of Jesus being buried in a tomb, they would have given their leader an honorable burial at the hands of his friends and family.

This means we have good historical evidence that after the Crucifixion Jesus’ body was placed in an identifiable tomb and simply didn’t vanish in a common graveyard.

The Hallucination Theory

Most historians agree the disciples thought they saw the risen Jesus. The story of Jesus appearing to them was not a legend that developed centuries later but was recorded by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:3-7). It is almost universally recognized among historians that Paul existed, we have the letters he wrote, and Paul knew the people who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (Gal. 1:18-19). But could those experiences have just been hallucinations brought on by the terrible grief these men endured after Jesus was executed?

First, it is individuals, not groups, who almost always experience hallucinations. Multiple biblical authors confirm that groups of Jesus’ disciples claimed to see him after his death (Luke 24:36-49, 1 Cor. 15:5-6). As psychologist Gary Collins writes, “By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”

Second, the theory that Jesus’ depressed disciples hallucinated his Resurrection doesn’t explain why enemies of the Church came to believe in the Resurrection. The most famous example would be St. Paul, who was a Jewish leader who persecuted the Church until an encounter with the risen Christ moved him to join the “Jewish heresy” he had been persecuting. The best explanation for such a sudden conversion is that Paul had a real encounter with the risen Christ.

The Empty Tomb

We’ve already seen that it is historically certain Jesus was buried in a locatable tomb. The Gospels tell us that on the Sunday after the Resurrection a group of women discovered the tomb was empty. But why should we believe Jesus’ tomb was empty and that the authors of the Gospels didn’t make this up?

First, the disciples preached the empty tomb in the city of Jerusalem. If the tomb were not empty, enemies of the early Church could easily have taken the body out of the tomb and proven Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Second, the earliest enemies of the Church agreed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Matthew’s Gospel says the Jewish leaders of his day (about forty to fifty years after the Crucifixion) believed Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb (Matt. 28:11-15). The second-century Christian writer St. Justin Martyr also says that the Jews of his time believed Jesus’ body was stolen.

Finally, the Gospels include the testimony of women discovering the tomb. In Jesus’ time a woman’s testimony was considered to be as reliable as that of a child or a criminal. If the Gospel authors had invented the story about Jesus’ tomb being found empty, they would have used trustworthy characters like Peter or John. The embarrassing detail about women discovering the empty tomb was included in the story simply because that’s what really happened.

The Fraud Theory

Is it possible the disciples stole Jesus’ body and then told people their Messiah had risen from the dead? It’s not impossible, but this theory seems extremely unlikely.

Moreover, fraud is normally committed for personal gain; the only thing the disciples had to gain from their fraud was persecution and death. Since people don’t knowingly die for a lie, we can be confident Jesus’ disciples really believed in the Resurrection they preached to others.

There is no chance they were all deceived or that they all chose to die painful deaths in order to deceive others. What’s more likely is that Jesus’ Resurrection really happened and gave them the courage to share this good news in the face of persecution. They knew that even if they were to die through Christ they would live forever. We too can have eternal life if we trust in God’s promises and choose to be baptized into the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3-5).

Why We Believe: The Resurrection

Even skeptics admit that Jesus was crucified, buried, his tomb was found empty, his disciples saw him after his death, and they were willing to die for that truth.
Other explanations, like hallucination or fraud, only explain some of these facts. The most plausible explanation for all these facts is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Love & Easter joy,
Matthew

The “Savage Forest” – Dante’ Alighieri, the Divine Comedy, & the disordered soul


-by Br Irenaeus Dunlevy, OP

“A windswept forest on a cloud-covered night creaks, cracks, and moans, sending chills up and down the spine. Trees waving and wagging on their upward path have elbowed for the brightest spot in the sun. They’re intertwined. When the wind blows, they rub, and a humanlike agony echos through the woods.

The 13th-century poet Dante Alighieri begins his famed supernatural epic, The Divine Comedy, with such an eerie scene. Yet, how did he end up in this ‘savage forest’? He writes,

“I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.”

Before Dante’s journey spirals into the depths of hell, climbs the steep slope of purgatory, and soars into the luminous heights of heaven, he stands confused, lost, and alone. He questions, “How did I get here?” Unsure of the answer, he is sure of one thing: he’s on the wrong path.

It’s familiar, becoming lost, making a wrong turn, missing an exit, or simply gawking at a strange setting. Depicting this familiar irritation, Dante probes a deeper tragedy, something more problematic than being in the wrong locale. Dante is on the wrong path of life. Abandoning the true way, he has abandoned the road to happiness.

The ‘savage forest’ describes Dante’s disordered soul. The gnarly branches are his own vices chafing in the wind of vain pursuits. Pride, vanity, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth, and lust compete for their own desired objects: praise, honor, vengeance, pleasure, money, and material possessions. All of these drag him down and pull him off the path to true happiness.

What’s more, Dante perceptively connects slumber with veering off the true way. Following our passions and disordered desires resembles sleeping; we’re not really thinking. Our wounded souls struggle to know the truth, to desire what is truly good, to overcome what is difficult, and to resist that quick fix of pleasure. These wounds invert our humanity in such a way that the lower parts of ourselves influence the higher parts. Reason can become like a distracted ticket agent, admitting any action without a discerning judgment. Put another way, letting the passions rule our lives is like letting a toddler rule the household.

The true path that Dante longs for is anything but the result of slumber. Christ rose from the sleep of death to new life. You might say, “One has to be awake to be saved.” (ed. #WOKE) This salvation is living with vitality, while living according to vice is not living at all.

The vices are usually called the seven deadly sins, which lead to slumberous folly. In contrast, the life of salvation and grace manifests itself in the seven lively virtues. Faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance seek their own desired objects: truth, eternal happiness, the good, the right course of action, equity, self-mastery, and the balanced enjoyment of pleasure. Far from the gray and gloom of the “savage forest,’ the new life of grace and virtue resembles a garden of various flowers and fruits.

At the beginning of his journey, a lost and dull Dante rambles into a gray, shadowy scene. Yet, at the end of his journey, a found and illuminated Dante beholds a vision of variegated color he struggles to express. Beholding God, he writes,

“Here vigor failed the lofty fantasy:

But now was turning my desire and will

Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Passing from vice to virtue, Dante’s journey begins in an enclosed, shadowy forest and ends with the unfathomable vision of God, the source of all light, love, beauty, and reality. Far from a slumberous vision, Dante becomes fully awake and fully alive.”

Love & His joy, only He can provide,
Matthew

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: No Salvation Outside the Church – Reply to Pastor Bill Keller


-by Dave Armstrong
originally 4/23/08

“Catholics think that Protestants are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ by virtue of baptism.

[Pastor Keller’s words will be in bold, hereafter. I was responding to his article, so he wasn’t “there” personally, to respond]

***

I have rebuked and rejected the extremists who made the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church and that you are not even saved unless you are part of that church.

Every Christian group believes that it has the truest theology, or else it would hardly have a reason for existence. The Catholic claim that there is only one true Church is simply hearkening back to the views of the Church fathers and, indeed, of the Bible itself, that knows nothing of denominations.

There is a lot of misunderstanding, however, about our claim that no one is saved apart from the Catholic Church. We do not believe that every person has to necessarily be a formal member of the Catholic Church to be saved. We think that if a person fully understands what the Catholic Church teaches, and rejects it, then they cannot be saved, but many do not understand our teachings, and we believe that God takes that into consideration.

The Catholic Church thinks that Protestants are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ by virtue of baptism, and that many graces are available within Protestantism, leading possibly even to salvation, if a person is unacquainted with Catholic teachings.

The Bible teaches that the church (ekklesia) is a body of Believers. The true church according to Scriptures is made up of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and hold the Bible to be God’s inspired, inerrant Word, representing Absolute Truth and our final authority in all matters.

This is not true. The Bible is a supreme authority, yes, but it has to be interpreted in line with the Church. That is seen in many biblical examples; most notably the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15. The Church also includes sinners in its ranks, and has visible elements by which it can be identified.

It was nearly 400 years AD before what we know of today as the Roman Catholic Church emerged.

Hardly. We see clear signs of Catholic doctrines such as the Real presence in the Eucharist, bishops, a centralized hierarchy centered in Rome, baptismal regeneration, the communion of saints, Mariology, and so forth, from a very early period. Doctrines had to develop more fully, sure, but that is true of all Christian doctrines, so that the Trinity was more fully developed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ).

What makes a true Christian church is faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Bible as God’s Word.

And what does that Bible teach? That is the question. What does one do when two or more of these churches disagree with each other on doctrine? The NT knows nothing of doctrinal relativism. There was one truth, period. So the trick is to determine where that lies. The Church Fathers always appealed to history and apostolic succession tracing back the true Catholic doctrine and opposing those who could not trace their doctrines back to the apostles: like the Arians (precursors of today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny that Jesus is God). The Arians appealed to Bible alone because they couldn’t follow their heresy back to the beginning. It began in the 4th century.

So for Pope Benedict to state that all non-Roman Catholic churches are not true churches is a lie and not what the Bible teaches.

All we are doing is saying that the Bible teaches that there is but one “Church” and that we claim to be that Church. If someone wishes to argue that denominationalism and more than one Church can be found in the Bible, then let them make that argument. I contend that it cannot be done. Nor can a solely invisible Church be found in the Bible. The first thing to determine, then, is the nature of the Church. Then one has to figure out if this entity “The Church” exists and how to identify it.

Most troubling, however, is the Pope’s claim that salvation is only achieved through the Roman Catholic Church. I hate to give the Pope a Theology 101 lesson, but there is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Period!

We agree with Protestants that salvation comes through Christ alone through grace alone. God uses the Church and human instruments to convey that salvation to men. The two are not mutually exclusive.

NO CHURCH CAN SAVE YOU!

We do not claim that the Catholic Church is the ultimate cause or origin of salvation. That is God alone. We are saying that God uses His own Church: that He set up by His own will, as His instrument in salvation, because human beings are not isolated individuals, with no connection to each other.

This notion that being part of a church can save you is not only anti-Biblical, it is pure blasphemy! In essence, what Pope Benedict is saying is that anyone outside of the Roman Catholic Church is not saved! That is not what the Bible teaches and is the type of statement I would expect out of a cult leader, not the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics!

Nor is it what we teach. It is the Calvinist view that consigns people to hell solely because of an accident of birth, or never having heard the gospel message of Jesus Christ. We say only that whoever is saved is so in part because of the aid of the Catholic Church, whether they are aware of it or not, not that they will be damned if they are not formally a member of the Catholic Church.

It appears now that the Pope doesn’t even know how to be saved and I wonder if he is trusting Jesus by faith or his church for his own salvation?

No Catholic trusts the “Church” for his or her salvation. We simply believe that there is such a thing as a visible, historical Church, with apostolic succession, that has authority, and which can bind its members to believe certain things, and require them to reject heretical, false doctrines, and that this is clearly taught in the Bible.

I find it very troubling that the Pope would seek to placate those who are following the false religion of Islam to the depths of hell, yet has no problem telling Bible-believing Christians who have put their faith in Jesus Christ that unless they are part of the Roman Catholic Church they are not saved!

Ecumenism, apologetics and evangelism are all distinct and important tasks, but they are not mutually exclusive. We live in a world with others who do not believe as we do. This conflict causes wars and much misery. So, while not watering down our own beliefs, it is good and worthwhile to build bridges with others insofar as we can do so without forsaking our own beliefs and principles. The pope, as a hugely important world figure, does all these things.

The very reaction of Catholic critics proves this, because we get misery no matter what we do. If we claim there is one Church through which we can be saved, we’re accused of being narrow and dogmatic. But if we are ecumenical and reach out to Muslims as much as we can, then we are accused of forsaking the same gospel that we assert in connection with the one true Church and One True Doctrine. We can’t win for losing. In effect, unless we are Protestants, we’ll always be roundly condemned.

Nothing is more divisive than the unbiblical doctrine of denominationalism. True unity will only come through doctrinal unity, not a touchy-feely, “least common denominator” brand of low-church Protestantism. That has never brought about an end of division; only a weakening of orthodox Christian doctrine.

No Protestant denomination can be traced in historical continuity all the way back to the apostles. The Methodists derived from the Anglicans, who derived from the lustfulness of Henry VIII and his desire to break off of the Catholic Church for the reason of wanting to divorce his wife. Hardly a biblical origin . . . The Assemblies of God are only a little more than a century old, derived from the holiness movement of the 19th century, that was an offshoot of Methodism. The Baptists began with the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The Catholic Church began with Jesus commissioning Peter as the first pope in Matthew 16, and the infallible Church Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

There is no comparison. No Protestant denomination can demonstrate that it is in line with the consensus of the Fathers and the Bible. Eastern Orthodox is the only viable alternative to Catholicism, and we consider the Orthodox very close to us, and indeed, a “sister” Church.

The critical point is that while each group of churches or denominations have their own unique differences in regard to different doctrinal issues, what makes them Christian churches are the foundational element of the Christian faith.

The Bible nowhere sanctions doctrinal contradictions. There is “one Lord, one baptism, one faith” (-Eph 4:5).”

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Arianism – “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.”


-Emporer Constantine burning Arian books, illustration from a compendium of canon law, c. 825. Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in northern Italy ca. 825.

“The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.” – St Jerome

-by Hillaire Belloc, Chapter 3, The Great Heresies

“Arianism was the first of the great heresies.

There had been from the foundation of the Church at Pentecost A.D. 29[1] to 33 a mass of heretical movements filling the first three centuries. They had turned, nearly all of them, upon the nature of Christ.

The effect of our Lord’s predication, and Personality, and miracles, but most of all His resurrection, had been to move every one who had any faith at all in the wonder presented, to a conception of divine power running through the whole affair.

Now the central tradition of the Church here, as in every other case of disputed doctrine, was strong and clear from the beginning. Our Lord was undoubtedly a man. He had been born as men are born, He died as men die. He lived as a man and had been known as a man by a group of close companions and a very large number of men and women who had followed Him, and heard Him and witnessed His actions.

But_said the Church_He was also God. God had come down to earth and become Incarnate as a Man. He was not merely a man influenced by the Divinity, nor was He a manifestation of the Divinity under the appearance of a man. He was at the same time fully God and fully Man. On that the central tradition of the Church never wavered. It is taken for granted from the beginning by those who have authority to speak.

But a mystery is necessarily, because it is a mystery, incomprehensible; therefore man, being a reasonable being, is perpetually attempting to rationalize it. So it was with this mystery. One set would say Christ was only a man, though a man endowed with special powers.  Another set, at the opposite extreme, would say He was a manifestation of  the Divine. His human nature was a thing of illusion. They played the changes between those two extremes indefinitely.

Well, the Arian heresy was, as it were, the summing up and conclusion of all these movements on the unorthodox side_that is, of all those movements which did not accept the full mystery of two natures.

Since it is very difficult to rationalize the union of the Infinite with the finite, since there is an apparent contradiction between the two terms, this final form into which the confusion of heresies settled down was a declaration that our Lord was as much of the Divine Essence as it was possible for a creature to be, but that He was none the less a creature. He was not the Infinite and Omnipotent God who must be of His nature one and indivisible, and could not (so they said) be at the same time a limited human moving and having his being in the temporal sphere.

Arianism (I will later describe the origin of the name) was willing to grant our Lord every kind of honour and majesty short of the full nature of the Godhead. He was created (or, if people did not like the word “created” then “he came forth”) from the Godhead before all other effects thereof. Through Him the world was created. He was granted one might (say paradoxically) all the divine attributes_except divinity.

Essentially this movement sprang from exactly the same source as any other rationalistic movement from the beginning to our own time. It sprang from the desire to visualize clearly and simply something which is beyond the grasp of human vision and comprehension. Therefore, although it began by giving to our Lord every possible honor and glory short of the actual Godhead, it would inevitably have led in the long run into mere unitarianism and the treating of our Lord at last as a prophet and, however exalted, no more than a prophet.

As all heresies necessarily breathe the air of the time in which they arise, and are necessarily a reflection of the philosophy of whatever non-Catholic ideas are prevalent at that moment they arise, Arianism spoke in the terms of its day. It did not begin as a similar movement would begin today by making our Lord a mere man and nothing else. Still less did it deny the supernatural as a whole. The time in which it arose (the years round about A.D. 300) was a time in which all society took the supernatural for granted. But it spoke of our Lord as a Supreme Agent of God_a Demiurge_and regarded him as the first and greatest of those emanations of the Central Godhead through which emanations the fashionable philosophy of the day got over the difficulty of reconciling the Infinite and simple Creator with a complex and finite universe.

So much for the doctrine and for what its rationalistic tendencies would have ended in had it conquered. It would have rendered the new religion something like Mohammedanism or perhaps, seeing the nature of Greek and Roman society, something like an Oriental Calvinism.

At any rate, what I have just set down was the state of this doctrine so long as it flourished: a denial of Our Lord’s full Godhead combined with an admission of all His other attributes.

Now when we are talking of the older dead heresies we have to consider the spiritual and therefore social effects of them much more than their mere doctrinal error, although that doctrinal error was the ultimate cause of all their spiritual and social effects. We have to do this because, when a heresy has been long dead, its savour is forgotten. The particular tone and unmistakable impress which it stamped upon society being no longer experienced is non-existent for us, and it had to be resurrected, as it were, by anyone who wants to talk true history. It would be impossible, short of an explanation of this kind, to make a Catholic from Bearn today, a peasant from the neighborhood of Lourdes where Calvinism, once prevalent there, is now dead, understand the savor and individual character of Calvinism as it still survives in Scotland and in sections of the United States. But we must try to realize this now forgotten Arian atmosphere, because, until we understand its spiritual and therefore social savor, we cannot be said to know it really at all.

Further, one must understand this savour or intimate personal character of the movement, and its individual effect on society, in order to understand its importance. There is no greater error in the whole range of bad history than imagining that doctrinal differences, because they are abstract and apparently remote from the practical things of life, are not therefore of intense social effect. Describe to a Chinaman today the doctrinal quarrel of the Reformation, tell him that it was above all a denial of the doctrine of the visible church, and a denial of the special authority of its officers. That would be true. He would so far understand what happened at this Reformation as he might understand a mathematical statement. But would that make him understand the French Huguenots of today, the Prussian manner in war and politics, the nature of England and her past since Puritanism arose in this country? Would it make him understand the Orange Lodges or the moral and political systems of, say, Mr. H. G. Wells or Mr. Bernard Shaw? Of course it would not! To give a man the history of tobacco, to give him the chemical formula (if there be such a thing) for nicotine, is not to make him understand what is meant by the smell of tobacco and the effects of smoking it. So it is with Arianism. Merely to say that Arianism was what it was doctrinally is to enunciate a formula, but not to give the thing itself.

When Arianism arose it came upon a society which was already, and had long been, the one Universal Polity of which all civilized men were citizens. There were no separate nations. The Roman empire was one state from the Euphrates to the Atlantic and from the Sahara to the Scottish Highlands. It was ruled in monarchic fashion by the Commander-in-Chief, or Commanders-in-Chief, of the armies. The title for the Commander-in-Chief was “Imperator” whence we get our word Emperor and therefore we talk of that State as the “Roman Empire.” What the emperor or associated emperors (there had been two of them according to the latest scheme, each with a coadjutor, making four, but these soon coalesced into one supreme head and unique emperor) declared themselves to be, that was the attitude of the empire officially as a whole.

The emperors and therefore the whole official scheme dependent on them had been anti-Christian during the growth of the Catholic Church in the midst of Roman and Greek pagan society. For nearly 300 years they and the official scheme of that society had regarded the increasingly powerful Catholic Church as an alien and very dangerous menace to the traditions and therefore to the strength of the old Greek and Roman pagan world. The Church was, as it were, a state within a state, possessing her own supreme officials, the bishops, and her own organization, which was of a highly developed and powerful kind. She was ubiquitous. She stood in strong contrast with the old world into which she had thrust herself. What would
be the life of the one would be the death of the other. The old world defended itself through the action of the last pagan emperors. They launched many persecutions against the Church, ending in one final and very drastic persecution which failed.

The Catholic cause was at first supported by, and at last openly joined by, a man who conquered all other rivals and established himself as supreme monarch over the whole State: the Emperor Constantine the Great ruling from Constantinople, the city which he had founded and called “New Rome.” After this the central office of the Empire was Christian. By the critical date A.D. 325, not quite three centuries after Pentecost, the Catholic Church had become the official, or at any rate the Palace, Religion of the Empire, and so remained (with one very brief exceptional interval) as long as the empire stood.[2]

But it must not be imagined that the majority of men as yet adhered to the Christian religion, even in the Greek speaking East. They certainly were not of that religion by anything like a majority in the Latin speaking West.

As in all great changes throughout history the parties at issue were minorities inspired with different degrees of enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm. These minorities had various motives and were struggling each to impose its mental attitude upon the wavering and undecided mass. Of these minorities the Christians were the largest and (what was more important) the most eager, the most convinced, and the only fully and strictly organized.

The conversion of the Emperor brought over to them large and increasing numbers of the undecided majority. These, perhaps, for the greater part hardly understood the new thing to which they were rallying, and certainly for the most part were not attached to it. But it had finally won politically and that was enough for them. Many regretted the old gods, but thought it not worth while to risk anything in their defense. Very many more cared nothing for what was left of the old gods and not much more for the new Christian fashions.

Meanwhile there was a strong minority remaining of highly intelligent and determined pagans. They had on their side not only the traditions of a wealthy governing class but they had also the great bulk of the best writers and, of course, they also had to strengthen them the recent memories of their long dominance over society.

There was yet another element of that world, separate from all the rest, and one which it is extremely important for us to understand: the Army. Why it is so important for us to understand the position of the Army will be described in a moment.

When the power of Arianism was manifested in those first years of the official Christian Empire and its universal government throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Arianism became the nucleus or centre of many forces which would be, of themselves, indifferent to its doctrine. It became the rallying point for many strongly surviving traditions from the older world: traditions not religious, but intellectual, social, moral, literary and all the rest of it.

We might put it vividly enough in modern slang by saying that Arianism, thus vigorously present in the new great discussions within the body of the Christian Church when first that Church achieved official support and became the official religion of the Empire, attracted all the “high-brows,” at least half the snobs and nearly all the sincere idealistic tories_the “die-hards”_whether nominally Christian or not. It attracted, as we know, great numbers of those who <were> definitely Christian. But it was also the rallying point of these non-Christian forces which were of such great importance in the society of the day.

A great number of the old noble families were reluctant to accept the social revolution implied by the triumph of the Christian Church. They naturally sided with a movement which they instinctively felt to be spiritually opposed to the life and survival of that Church and which carried with it an atmosphere of social superiority over the populace. The Church relied upon and was supported at the end by the masses. Men of old family tradition and wealth found the Arian more sympathetic than the ordinary Catholic and a better ally for gentlemen.

Many intellectuals were in the same position. These had not pride of family and old social traditions from the past, but they had pride of culture. They remembered with regret the former prestige of the pagan philosophers. They thought that this great revolution from paganism to Catholicism would destroy the old cultural traditions and their own cultural position.

The mere snobs, who are always a vast body in any society_that is, the people who have no opinions of their own but who follow what they believe to be the honorific thing of the moment_would be divided. Perhaps the majority of them would follow the official court movement and attach themselves openly to the new religion. But there would always be a certain number who would think it more “chic,” more “the thing” to profess sympathy with the old pagan traditions, the great old pagan families, the long inherited and venerable pagan culture and literature and all the rest of it. All these reinforced the Arian movement because it was destructive of Catholicism.

Arianism had yet another ally and the nature of that alliance is so subtle that it requires very careful examination. It had for ally the tendency of government in an absolute monarchy to be half afraid of emotions present in the minds of the people and especially in the poorer people: emotions which if they spread and became enthusiastic and captured the mass of the people might become too strong to be ruled and would have to be bowed to. There is here a difficult paradox but one important to be recognized.

Absolute government, especially in the hands of one man, would seem, on the surface, to be opposed to popular government. The two sound contradictory to those who have not seen absolute monarchy at work. To those who have, it is just the other way. Absolute government is the support of the masses against the power of wealth in the hands of a few, or the power of armies in the hands of a few. Therefore one might imagine that the imperial power of Constantinople would have had sympathy with the popular Catholic masses rather than with the intellectuals and the rest who followed Arianism. But we must remember that while absolute government has for its very cause of existence the defence of the masses against the
powerful few, yet it likes to rule. It does not like to feel that there is in the State a rival to its own power. It does not like to feel that great decisions may be imposed by organizations other than its own official organization. That is why even the most Christian emperors and their officials always had at the back of their minds, during the first lifetime of the Arian movement, a potential sympathy with Arianism, and that is why this potential sympathy in some cases appears as actual sympathy and as a public declaration of Arianism on their part.

There was yet one more ally to Arianism through which it almost triumphed the Army.

In order to understand how powerful such an ally was we must appreciate what the Roman Army meant in those days and of what it was composed.

The Army was, of course, in mere numbers, only a fraction of society. We are not certain what those numbers were; at the most they may have come to half a million_they were probably a good deal less. But to judge by numbers in the matter would be ridiculous. The Army was normally half, or more than half, the State. The Army was the true cement, to use one metaphor, the framework to use another metaphor, the binding force and the support and the very material self of the Roman Empire in that fourth century; it had been so for centuries before and was to remain so for further generations.

It is absolutely essential to understand this point, for it explains three-fourths of what happened, not only in the case of the Arian heresy but of everything else between the days of Marius (under whose administration the Roman Army first became professional), and the Mohammedan attack upon Europe, that is, from more than a century before the Christian era to the early seventh century. The social and political position of the Army explains all those seven hundred years and more.

The Roman Empire was a military state. It was not a civilian state. Promotion to power was through the Army. The conception of glory and success, the attainment of wealth in many cases, in nearly all cases the attainment of political power, depended on the Army in those days, just as it depends upon money-lending, speculation, caucuses, manipulation of votes, bosses and newspapers nowadays.

The Army had originally consisted of Roman citizens, all of whom were Italians. Then as the power of the Roman State spread it took in auxiliary troops, people following local chieftains, and affiliated to the Roman military system and even recruited its regular ranks from up and down the Empire in every province. There were many Gauls that is Frenchmen in the Army, many Spaniards, and so forth, before the first one hundred years of the Empire had run out. In the next two hundred years that is, in the two hundred years A.D. 100-300, leading up to the Arian heresy_the Army had become more and more recruited from what we call “Barbarians,” a term which meant not savages but people outside the strict limits of the Roman Empire. They were easier to discipline, they were much cheaper to hire than citizens were. They were also less used to the arts and comforts of civilization than the citizens within the frontiers. Great numbers of them were German, but there were many Slavs and a good many Moors and Arabs and Saracens and not a few Mongols even, drifting in from the East.

This great body of the Roman Army was strictly bound together by its discipline, but still more by its professional pride. It was a long service army. A man belonged to it from his adolescence to his middle age. No one else except the Army had any physical power. There could be no question of resisting it by force, and it was in a sense the government. Its commander-in-chief was the absolute monarch of the whole state. Now the army went solidly Arian.

That is the capital mark of the whole affair. But for the Army, Arianism would never have meant what it did. With the Army_and the Army wholeheartedly on its side_Arianism all but triumphed and managed to survive even when it represented a little more than the troops and their chief officers.

It was true that a certain number of German troops from outside the Empire had been converted by Arian missionaries at a moment when high society was Arian. But that was not the main reason that the Army as a whole went Arian. The Army went Arian because it felt Arianism to be the distinctive thing which made it superior to the civilian masses, just as Arianism was a distinctive thing which made the intellectual feel superior to the popular masses. The soldiers, whether of barbaric or civilian recruitment, felt sympathy with Arianism for the same reason that the old pagan families felt sympathy with Arianism. The army then, and especially the Army chiefs, backed the new heresy for all they were worth, and it became a sort of test of whether you were somebody_a soldier as against the despised civilians_or no. One might say that there had arisen a feud between the Army chiefs on the one hand and the Catholic bishops on the other. Certainly there was a division_an official severence between the Catholic populace in towns, the Catholic peasantry in the country and the almost universally Arian soldier; and the enormous effect of this junction between the new heresy and the Army we shall see at work in all that follows.

Now that we have seen what the spirit of Arianism was and what forces were in its favor, let us see how it got its name.

The movement for denying the full Godhead of Christ and making Him a creature took its title from one Areios (in the Latin form Arius), a Greek-speaking African cleric rather older than Constantine, and already famous as a religious force some years before Constantine’s victories and first imperial power.

Remember that Arius was only a climax to a long movement. What was the cause of his success? Two things combined. First, the momentum of all that came before him. Second, the sudden release of the Church by Constantine. To this should be added undoubtedly something in Arius’ own personality. Men of this kind who become leaders do so because they have some personal momentum from their own past impelling them. They would not so become unless there were something in themselves.

I think we may take it that Arius had the effect he had through a convergence of forces. There was a great deal of ambition in him, such as you will find in all heresiarchs. There was a strong element of rationalism. There was also in him enthusiasm for what he believed to be the truth.

His theory was certainly not his own original discovery, but he made it his own; he identified it with his name. Further, he was moved to a dogged resistance against people whom he thought to be persecuting him. He suffered from much vanity, as do nearly all reformers. On the top of all this a rather thin simplicity, “commonsense,” which at once appeals to multitudes. But he would never have had his success but for something eloquent about him and a driving power.

He was already a man of position, probably from the Cyrenaica (now an Italian colony in North Africa, east of Tripoli), though he was talked of as being Alexandrian, because it was in Alexandria that he lived. He had been a disciple of the greatest critic of his time, the martyr Lucian of Antioch. In the year 318 he was presiding over the Church of Bucalis in Alexandria, and enjoyed the high favor of the Bishop of the City, Alexander.

Arius went over from Egypt to Caesarea in Palestine, spreading his already well-known set of rationalizing, Unitarian ideas with zeal. Some of the eastern Bishops began to agree with him. It is true that the two main Syrian Bishoprics, Antioch and Jerusalem, stood out; but apparently most of the Syrian hierarchy inclined to listen to Arius.

When Constantine became the master of the whole Empire in 325, Arius appealed to the new master of the world. The great Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, had excommunicated him, but reluctantly. The old heathen Emperor Licinius had protected the new movement.

A battle of vast importance was joined. Men did not know of what importance it was, violently though their emotions were excited. Had this movement for rejecting the full divinity of Our Lord gained the victory, all our civilization would have been other than what it has been from that day to this. We all know what happens when an attempt to simplify and rationalize the mysteries of the Faith succeeds in any society. We have before us now the ending experiment of the Reformation, and the aged but still very vigorous Mohammedan heresy, which may perhaps appear with renewed vigor in the future. Such rationalistic efforts against the creed produce a gradual social degradation following on the loss of that direct link between human nature and God which is provided by the Incarnation. Human dignity is lessened. The authority of Our Lord is weakened. He appears more and more as a man_perhaps a myth. The substance of Christian life is diluted. It wanes. What began as Unitarianism ends as Paganism.

To settle the quarrel by which all Christian society was divided, a council was ordered by the Emperor to meet, in A.D. 325, at the town of Nicaea, fifty miles from the capital, on the Asiatic side of the Straits. The Bishops were summoned to convene there from the whole Empire, even from districts outside the Empire where Christian missionaries had planted the Faith. The great bulk of those who came were from the Eastern Empire, but the West was represented, and, what was of the first importance, delegates arrived from the Primatial See of Rome; but for their adherence the decrees of the Council would not have held. As it was their presence gave full validity to these Decrees. The reaction against the innovation of Arius was so strong that at this Council of Nicaea he was overwhelmed.

In that first great defeat, when the strong vital tradition of Catholicism had asserted itself and Arius was condemned, the creed which his followers had drawn up was trampled under-foot as a blasphemy, but thespirit behind that creed and behind that revolt was to re-arise.

It re-arose at once, and it can be said that Arianism was actually strengthened by its first superficial defeat. This paradox was due to a cause you will find at work in many forms of conflict. The defeated adversary learns from his first rebuff the character of the thing he has attacked; he discovers its weak points; he learns how his opponent may be confused and into what compromises that opponent may be led. He is therefore better prepared after his check than he was at the first onslaught. So it was with Arianism.

In order to understand the situation we must appreciate the point that Arianism, founded like all heresies on an error in doctrine_that is on something which can be expressed in a dead formula of mere words soon began to live, like all heresies at their beginning, with a vigorous new life and character and savor of its own. The quarrel which filled the third century from 325 onwards for a lifetime was not after its first years a quarrel between opposing forms of words the difference between which may appear slight; it became very early in the struggle a quarrel between opposing spirits and characters: a quarrel between two opposing personalities, such as human personalities are: on the one side the Catholic temper and tradition, on the other a soured, proud temper, which would have destroyed the Faith.

Arianism learned from its first heavy defeat at Nicaea to compromise on forms, on the wording of doctrine, so that it might preserve, and spread with less opposition, its heretical spirit. The first conflict had turned on the use of a Greek word which means “of the same substance with.” The Catholics, affirming the full Godhead of Our Lord, insisted on the use of this word, which implied that the Son was of the same Divine substance as the Father; that He was of the same Being: i.e., Godship. It was thought sufficient to present this word as a test. The Arians_it was thought_would always refuse to accept the word and could thus be distinguished from the Orthodox and rejected.

But many Arians were prepared to compromise by accepting the mere word and denying the spirit in which it should be read. They were willing to admit that Christ was of the Divine essence, but not fully God; not uncreated. When the Arians began this new policy of verbal compromise, the

Emperor Constantine and his successors regarded that policy as an honest opportunity for reconciliation and reunion. The refusal of the Catholics to be deceived became, in the eyes of those who thought thus, mere obstinacy; and in the eyes of the Emperor, factious rebellion and inexcusable disobedience. “Here are you people, who call yourself the only real Catholics, prolonging and needlessly embittering a mere faction-fight. Because you have the popular names behind you, you feel yourselves the masters of your fellows. Such arrogance is intolerable.

“The other side have accepted your main point; why cannot you now settle the quarrel and come together again? By holding out you split society into two camps; you disturb the peace of the Empire, and are as criminal as you are fanatical.”

That is what the official world tended to put forward and honestly believed.

The Catholics answered: “The heretics have not accepted our main point. They have subscribed to an Orthodox phrase, but they interpret that phrase in an heretical fashion. They will repeat that Our Lord is of Divine nature, but not that he is fully God, for they still say He was created. Therefore we will not allow them to enter our communion. To do so would be to endanger the vital principle by which the Church exists, the principle of the Incarnation, and the Church is essential to the Empire and Mankind.”

At this point, there entered the battle that personal force which ultimately won the victory for Catholicism: St. Athanasius. It was the tenacity and single aim of St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, the great Metropolitan See of Egypt, which decided the issue. He enjoyed a position of advantage, for Alexandria was the second most important town in the Eastern Empire and, as a Bishopric, one of the first four in the world. He further enjoyed popular backing, which never failed him, and which made his enemies hesitate to take extreme measures against him. But all this would not have sufficed had not the man himself been what he was.

At the time when he sat at the Council of Nicaea in 325 he was still a young man_probably not quite thirty; and he only sat there as Deacon, although already his strength and eloquence were remarkable. He lived to be seventy-six or seventy-seven years of age, dying in A.D. 373, and during nearly the whole of that long life he maintained with inflexible energy the full Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.

When the first compromise of Arianism was suggested, Athanasius was already Archbishop of Alexandria. Constantine ordered him to re-admit Arius to Communion. He refused.

It was a step most perilous because all men admitted the full power of the Monarch over Life and Death, and regarded rebellion as the worst of crimes. Athanasius was also felt to be outrageous and extravagant, because opinion in the official world, among men of social influence, and throughout the Army, upon which everything then reposed, was strong that the compromise ought to be accepted. Athanasius was exiled to Gaul, but Athanasius in exile was even more formidable than Athanasius at Alexandria. His presence in the West had the effect of reinforcing the strong Catholic feeling of all that part of the Empire.

He was recalled. The sons of Constantine, who succeeded one after the other to the Empire, vacillated between the policy of securing popular support which was Catholic_and of securing the support of the Army which was Arian. Most of all did the Court lean towards Arianism because it disliked the growing power of the organized Catholic Clergy, rival to the lay power of the State. The last and longest lived of Constantine’s sons and successors, Constantius, became very definitely Arian. Athanasius was exiled over and over again but the Cause of which he was champion was growing in strength.

When Constantius died in 361, he was succeeded by a nephew of Constantine’s, Julian the Apostate. This Emperor went over to the large surviving Pagan body and came near to reestablishing Paganism; for the power of an individual Emperor was in that day overwhelming. But he was killed in battle against the Persians and his successor, Jovian, was definitely Catholic.

However, the see-saw still went on. In 367, St. Athanasius, being then an old man of at least seventy years of age, the Emperor Valens exiled him for the fifth time. Finding that the Catholic forces were now too strong he later recalled him. By this time Athanasius had won his battle. He died as the greatest man of the Roman world. Of such value are sincerity and tenacity, combined with genius.

But the Army remained Arian, and what we have to follow in the next generations is the lingering death of Arianism in the Latin-speaking Western part of the Empire; lingering because it was supported by the Chief Generals in command of the Western districts, but doomed because the people as a whole had abandoned it. How it thus died out I shall now describe.

It is often said that all heresies die. This may be true in the very long run but it is not necessarily true within any given period of time. It is not even true that the vital principle of a heresy necessarily loses strength with time. The fate of the various heresies has been most various; and the greatest of them, Mohammedanism, is not only still vigorous but is more vigorous over the districts which it originally occupied than is its Christian rival, and much more vigorous and much more co-extensive with its own society than is the Catholic Church with our Western civilization which is the product of Catholicism.

Arianism, however, was one of those heresies which did die. The same fate has overtaken Calvinism in our own day. This does not mean that the general moral effect or atmosphere of the heresy disappears from among men, but that its creative doctrines are no longer believed in, so that its vitality is lost and must ultimately disappear.

Geneva today, for instance, is morally a Calvinist city, although it has a Catholic minority sometimes very nearly equal to half its total numbers, sometimes actually becoming (I believe) a slight majority. But there is not one man of a hundred in Geneva today who accepts Calvin’s highly defined theology. The doctrine is dead; its effects on society
survive.

Arianism died in two fashions, corresponding to the two halves into which the Roman Empire_which was in those days, for its citizens, the whole civilized world fell.

The Eastern half had Greek for its official language and it was governed from Constantinople, which was also called Byzantium.

It included Egypt, North Africa, as far as Cyrene, the East Coast of the Adriatic, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Syria as far (roughly) as the Euphrates. It was in this part of the Empire that Arianism had sprung up and proved so powerful that between A.D. 300 and A.D. 400 it very nearly conquered.

The Imperial Court had wavered between Arianism and Catholicism with one momentary lapse back into paganism. But before the century was over, that is well before the year A.D. 400, the Court was definitely Catholic and seemed certain to remain so. As I explained above, although the Emperor and his surrounding officials (which I have called “the Court”) were theoretically all powerful (for the constitution was an absolute monarchy and men could not think in any other terms in those days), yet, at least as powerful, and less subject to change, was the army on which the whole of that society reposed. And the army meant the generals; the generals of the army were for the most part, and permanently, Arian.

When the central power, the Emperor and his officials, had becomevpermanently Catholic the spirit of the military was still in the mainvArian, and that is why the underlying ideas of Arianism that is, the doubt whether Our Lord was or could be really Godvsurvived after formal Arianism had ceased to be preached and accepted among the populace.

On this account, because the spirit which had underlain Arianism (the doubt on the full divinity of Christ) went on, there arose a number of what may be called “derivatives” from Arianism; or “secondary forms” of Arianism.

Men continued to suggest that there was only one nature in Christ, the end of which suggestion would necessarily have been a popular idea that Christ was only a man. When that failed to capture the official machine, though it continued to affect millions of people, there was another suggestion made that there was only one Will in Christ, not a human will and a divine will, but a single will.

Before these there had been a revival of the old idea, previous to Arianism and upheld by early heretics in Syria, that the divinity only came into Our Lord during His lifetime. He was born no more than a man, and Our Lady was the mother of no more than a man_and so on. In all their various forms and under all their technical names (Monophysites, Monothelites, Nestorians, the names of the principal three_and there were any number of others) these movements throughout the Eastern or Greek half of the Empire were efforts at escaping from, or rationalizing, the full mystery of the Incarnation; and their survival depended on the jealousy felt by the army for the civilian society round it, and on the lingering remains of pagan hostility to the Christian mysteries as a whole. Of course they depended also on the eternal human tendency to rationalize and to reject what is beyond the reach of reason.

But there was another factor in the survival of the secondary effects of Arianism in the East. It was the factor which is called today in European politics “Particularism,” that is, the tendency of a part of the state to separate itself from the rest and to live its own life. When this feeling becomes so strong that men are willing to suffer and die for it, it takes the form of a Nationalist revolution. An example of such was the feeling of the southern Slavs against the Austrian Empire which feeling gave rise to the Great War. Now this discontent of provinces and districts with the Central Power by which they had been governed increased as time went on in the Eastern Empire; and a convenient way of expressing it was to favor any kind of criticism against the official religion of the Empire. That is why great bodies in the East (and notably a large proportion of the people in the Egyptian province) favored the Monophysite heresy. It expressed their dissatisfaction with the despotic rule of Constantinople and with the taxes imposed upon them and with the promotion given to those near the court at the expense of the provincials and all the rest of their grievances.

Thus the various derivatives from Arianism survived in the Greek Eastern half of the Empire, although the official world had long gone back to Catholicism. This also explains why you find all over the East today large numbers of schismatic Christians, mainly Monophysite, sometimes Nestorian, sometimes of lesser communities, whom not all these centuries of Mohammedan oppression have been able to unite with the main Christian body.

What put an end, not to these sects, for they still exist, but to their importance, was the sudden rise of that enormous force, antagonistic to the whole Greek world_Islam: the new Mohammedan heresy out of the desert, which rapidly became a counter-religion; the implacable enemy of all the older Christian bodies. The death of Arianism in the East was the swamping of the mass of the Christian Eastern Empire by Arabian conquerors. In the face of that disaster the Christians who remained independent reacted towards orthodoxy as their one chance for survival, and that is how even the secondary effects of Arianism died out in the countries free from subjugation to the Mohammedans in the East.

In the West the fortunes of Arianism are quite different. In the West Arianism died altogether. It ceased to be. It left no derivatives tocarry on a lingering life.

The story of this death of Arianism in the West is commonly misunderstood because most of our history has been written hitherto on a misconception of what European Christian society was like in Western Europe during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, that is, between the time when Constantine left Rome and set up the new capital of the Empire, Byzantium, and the date when, in the early seventh century (from A.D. 633 onwards), the Mohammedan invasion burst upon the world.

What we are commonly told is that the Western Empire was overrun by savage tribes called “Goths” and “Visigoths” and “Vandals” and “Suevi” and “Franks” who “conquered” the Western Roman Empire that is, Britain and Gaul and the civilized part of Germany on the Rhine and the upper Danube, Italy, North Africa, and Spain.

The official language of all this part was the Latin language. The Mass was said in Latin, whereas in most of the Eastern Empire it was said in Greek. The laws were in Latin, and all the acts of administration were in Latin. There was no barbarian conquest, but there was a continuation of what had been going on for centuries, an infiltration of people from outside the Empire into the Empire because within the Empire they could get the advantages of civilization. There was also the fact that the army on which everything depended was at last almost entirely recruited from barbarians. As society gradually got old and it was found difficult to administer distant places, to gather the taxes from far away into the central treasury, or to impose an edict over remote regions, the government of those regions tended to be taken over more and more by the leading officers of the barbarian tribes, who were now Roman soldiers; that is, their chieftains and leaders.

In this way were formed local governments in France and Spain and even Italy itself which, while they still felt themselves to be a part of the Empire, were practically independent.

For instance, when it became difficult to govern Italy from so far off as Constantinople, the Emperor sent a general to govern in his place and when this general became too strong he sent another general to supersede him. This second general (Theodoric) was also, like all the others, a barbarian chief by birth, though he was the son of one who had been taken into the Roman service and had himself been brought up at the Court of the Emperor.

This second general became in his turn practically independent.

The same thing happened in southern France and in Spain. The local generals took over power. They were barbarian chiefs who handed over this power, that is, the nominating to official posts and the collecting of taxes, to their descendants.

Then there was the case of North Africa_what we call today Morocco, Algiers and Tunis. Here the quarrelling factions, all of which were disconnected with direct government from Byzantium, called in a group of Slav soldiers who had migrated into the Roman Empire and had been taken over as a military force. They were called the Vandals; and they took over the government of the province which worked from Carthage.

Now all these local governments of the West (the Frankish general and his group of soldiers in northern France, the Visi-gothic one in southern France and Spain, the Burgundian one in southeastern France, the other Gothic one in Italy, the Vandal one in North Africa) were at issue with the official government of the Empire on the point of religion. The Frankish one in north-eastern France and what we call today, Belgium, was still pagan. All the others were Arian.

I have explained above what this meant. It was not so much a doctrinal feeling as a social one. The Gothic general and the Vandal general who were chiefs over their own soldiers felt it was grander to be Arians than to be Catholics like the mass of the populace. They were the army; and the army was too grand to accept the general popular religion. It was a feeling very much like that which you may see surviving in Ireland still, in places, and which was universal there until quite lately: a feeling that “ascendency” went properly with anti-Catholicism.

Since there is no stronger force in politics than this force of social superiority, it took a very long time for the little local courts to drop their Arianism. I call them little because, although they collected taxes from very wide areas, it was merely as administrators. The actual numbers were small compared with the mass of the Catholic population.

While the governors and their courts in Italy and Spain and Gaul and Africa still clung with pride to their ancient Arian name and character, two things, one sudden, the other gradual, militated against both their local power and their Arianism.

The first, sudden, thing was the fact that the general of the Franks who had ruled in Belgium conquered with his very small force another local general in northern France_a man who governed a district lying to the west of him. Both armies were absurdly small, each of about 4,000 men; and it is a very good example of what the times were like that the beaten army, after the battle, at once joined the victors. It also shows what times were like that it seemed perfectly natural for a Roman general commanding no more than 4,000 men to begin with, and only 8,000 men after the first success, to take over the administration_taxes, courts of law and all the imperial forms_over a very wide district. He took over the great mass of northern France just as his colleagues, with similar forces, took over official action in Spain and Italy and elsewhere.

Now it so happened that this Frankish general (whose real name we hardly know, because it has come down to us in various distorted forms, but best known as “Clovis”) was a pagan: something exceptional and even scandalous in the military forces of the day when nearly all important people had become Christians.

But this scandal proved a blessing in disguise to the Church, for the man Clovis being a pagan and never having been Arian, it was possible to convert him directly to Catholicism, the popular religion; and when he had accepted Catholicism he at once had behind him the whole force of the millions of citizens and the organized priesthood and Bishoprics of the Church. He was the one popular general; all the others were at issue with their subjects. He found it easy to levy great bodies of armed men because he had popular feeling with them. He took over the government of the Arian generals in the South, easily defeating them, and his levies became the biggest of the military forces in the Western Latin-speaking Empire. He was not strong enough to take over Italy and Spain, still less Africa, but he shifted the centre of gravity away from the decaying Arian tradition of the Roman army now no more than small dwindling groups.

So much for the sudden blow which was struck against Arianism in the West. The gradual process which hastened the decay of Arianism was of a different kind. With every year that passed it was becoming, in the decay of society, more and more difficult to collect taxes, to keep up a revenue, and therefore to repair roads and harbors and public buildings and keep order and do all the rest of public work.

With this financial decay of government and the social disintegration accompanying it the little groups who were nominally the local governments, lost their prestige. In, say, the year 450 it was a fine thing to be an Arian in Paris or Toledo or Carthage or Arles or Toulouse or Ravenna; but 100 years later, by say, 550, the social prestige of Arianism had gone. It paid everybody who wanted to “get on” to be a Catholic; and the dwindling little official Arian groups were despised even when they acted savagely in their disappointment, as they did in Africa. They lost ground.

The consequence was that after a certain delay all the Arian governments in the West either became Catholic (as in the case of Spain) or, as happened in much of Italy and the whole of North Africa, they were taken over again by the direct rule of the Roman Empire from Byzantium.

This last experiment did not continue long. There was another body of barbarian soldiers, still Arian, who came in from the north-eastern provinces and took over the government in northern and central Italy and shortly afterwards the Mohammedan invasion swept over North Africa and ultimately over Spain and even penetrated into Gaul. Direct Roman administration, so far from surviving Western Europe, died out. Its last effective existence in the South was swamped by Islam. But long before this happened Arianism in the West was dead.

This is the fashion in which the first of the great heresies which threatened at one moment to undermine and destroy the whole of Catholic society disappeared. The process had taken almost 300 years and it is interesting to note that so far as doctrines are concerned, about that space of time, or a little more, sufficed to take the substance out of the various main heresies of the Protestant Reformers.

They, too, had almost triumphed in the middle of the sixteenth century, when Calvin, their chief figure, all but upset the French monarchy. They also had wholly lost their vitality by the middle of the nineteenth, 300 years.

ENDNOTES

1. For the discussion on the date of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Pentecost I must refer my readers to Dr. Arendzen’s clear and learned work, “Men and Manners in the time of Christ” (Sheed and Ward). From the evidence, which has been fully examined, it is clear that the date is not earlier than 29 A.D., and may possibly be a few years later, while the most widely accepted traditional date is 33 A. D.

2. It is not easy to establish the exact point after which the Official Religion of the Roman State, or even of the Empire, is Christian. Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge was in the autumn of 312. The Edict of Milan, issued by himself and Licinius, which gave toleration to the practice of the Christian religion throughout the Empire, was issued early in the following year, 313. When Constantine had become the sole Emperor he soon lived as a Catechumen of the Christian Church, yet he remained head of the old Pagan religious organization as Pontifex Maximus. He was not baptized until the eve of his death, in 337. And though he summoned and presided over gatherings of Christian Bishops, they were still but a separate body in a society mainly Pagan. Constantine’s own son and successor had sympathies with the old dying Paganism. The Senate did not change for a lifetime. For active official destruction of the lingering Pagan worship men had to wait till Theodosius at the very end of the century. The whole affair covers one long human life: over eighty years.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Why convert? – secretum meum mihi


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“When Blessed John Henry Newman sat down to write a defense of his decision to enter the Catholic Church, he said, “the words, ‘Secretum meum mihi,’ keep ringing in my ears.” “Secretum meum mihi”—“My secret is my own.” Who was he to share the details of his long, confusing, and often painful path to Rome? His account of the quiet prompts, of the reasoning and intuitions that he eventually knew to be God’s work in his life would necessarily fall short of the reality. Thankfully, despite these concerns Newman decided it prudent to publish the defense, though not without a certain trepidation.

“My secret is my own.” The quotation comes from Isaiah 24:16 in the Vulgate and has been repeated by a number of saints. Newman’s patron, St. Philip Neri, according to his early biographer, “constantly repeated to himself the phrase, “my secret is my own, my secret is my own.”  St. Philip “was well aware in himself of the gifts that God had given him, but wanted to keep them hidden from anyone else, for he remembered what St Gregory said, that anyone who carries his treasure about openly in the streets is asking to be robbed.” Those who flaunt spiritual treasures are like the Pharisee praying on the street corner—in most cases they are seeking worldly glory in place of true, heavenly treasure. St. Philip knew at least a portion of what God was sharing with him in his soul. But the saint knew not to attempt to express many of the spiritual delights and trials he received.

Edith Stein repeated the same words. When a friend asked why she converted to Catholicism, the future saint reportedly gave the answer: “Secretum meum mihi.” Reluctant to share her innermost thoughts, she allowed the inexpressible to remain unexpressed.

To say and mean these words, to pray them, we must know two things—that we have a secret, and that it’s ours, uniquely ours. What is the secret? Simply by existing, we fulfill a part of God’s plan that no one else can take. More technically, this is referred to as the incommunicability of the human person. Each person is unique and distinct from everything else that is. God does not make mistakes in creation—each of us has an irreplaceable role in his plan.

For those raised to friendship with God in grace, each of us has a relationship with Him that is unlike anyone else’s friendship with God. While close friends might list attributes that they appreciate in each other, the core of their friendship can only be experienced, not expressed. Their relationship is uniquely theirs.

When we live in grace, rely on the sacraments, and respond to God’s requests that we abandon ourselves to His plans, we receive “grace upon grace.” These graces form us and elevate us to be more like Jesus and bring us into union with God in a way that only we can be. We can each say, “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name” (Lk. 1:49). This is friendship with God. This friendship—its shape, its contours, its times of joy and trial—is the secret God gives to each of us, and it is uniquely ours. Our secrets are our own, and together we praise the God who shares with us the inexpressible sweetness of his life.”

Love, secretum meum mihi,
Matthew

“Those Catholic Men”…Reflections on Christmas from a convert to Catholicism


-by Mr. Jason Craig

“G.K. Chesterton once said, “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes… It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.”

As a convert to The One True Faith from American Consumerism and American Protestantism, I am yearly amazed at the wisdom of the Catholic liturgical calendar.  When entered in to, it purifies and constantly prepares us to meet God by helping us meet God in sacred time and in sacramental reality.  When the spirit of the liturgy is alive, so is the festive heart.  True feast days, after all, are only really still kept by Catholics.  All other attempts at celebrating something come and go as they are “proclaimed” into existence by some so-called authority, only later to morph into a bargaining chips in public school and bank calendars (do we get MLK day off or Presidents Day?).  Along with bargaining chips, of course, they are also bones tossed to various groups, but are forgotten unless candy and card companies see a penny worth picking up – Mother’s Day was a winner in this regard, although I wish national dairy month would be more popular.

Catholics keep feasts because we are by nature festive people.  We have not only reason to celebrate, but the sacramental and mystical connection to the thing itself, meaning we don’t try to conjure up feelings of festivity but reflect reality in the form of festivity, living with open eyes in a good world made and redeemed by a good God.  True festivity, in other words, only belongs to those connected to the Divine.  Holidays “proclaimed” by secular authorities for secular ends will always fail to be truly festive and will slip into meaninglessness that is grotesquely rescued only by consumerism or the brute force of special interest.  As Josef Pieper said, man “can make the celebration, but he cannot make what is to be celebrated, cannot make the festive occasion and the cause for celebration.”  Which is why “we encounter artificial holidays” which ultimately leads a man to hopelessly hope he “is able to bring about his own salvation as well as that of the whole world.”[1]  God saves us from our futile attempts at manufacturing meaning, and those living in the gift of salvation are festive in it.

When speaking of true festivity Pieper is, of course, presuming the living of the True Faith, not like men that keep superficial piety.  “They will preserve all the outward form of religion, although they have long been strangers to its meaning (2 Tim 3:5, Knox).

So, as Chesterton said, we don’t celebrate Christmas before it happens, whipping ourselves into sentimental and consuming frenzies that conjure “Christmas spirit” by brute force and endless ditties, but celebrate it after it “happens” liturgically, at the true Christ-Mass.  Our festivity is a response to a reality we encounter in the Christ-mass.  In fact, to see how serious we take this “moment” when Christmas “happens”, we start the party at the precise moment it becomes liturgically possible – at midnight Mass.  Then (and only then) do we begin both the octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical “time-stop” when we rest for 8 days in the 1 day of Christmas, but then we have the “season” up to Epiphany generally, although the spirit of it has been over the years extended all the way to Candlemas on February 2nd.

Consider how different this is from the world’s “celebration” of Christmas, and Protestants as well who, like the malls, “do” Christmas before Christmas.  The local Protestant radio channel where I live starts Christmas music as close to Thanksgiving as possible, singing songs and offering commentary as if it were already Christmas.  It’s awkward.  It hasn’t happened.  Anyone that has had a baby knows that the lead up is preparation, and only after the fact of birth do you live in a way proper to, well, after the fact of birth.  It can feel nice to act like its Christmas before Christmasbut nicety is far from festivity.  Of course the stores love this because each year they can just “extend” the “season” earlier and earlier so as to get us to spend more.  I think with each “extension” backwards it makes it harder to rest in the peace of Christmas afterwards.

This whole charade has the effect of a cheap bottle rocket.  It feels like its going to be big, but it really just shoots into the air with some sparks and noise (this is the “season” before Christmas that is actually Advent), and then it #pops# with some bigger sparks and a bang, but then is over quickly, in a flash, with an air of disappointment.  Before Catholicism December 26th always felt like a metaphysical hangover – like I was supposed to still be excited, but it’s all just sort of over.

Compare this to the truer celebration of Christmas, the reflection of and response to the encounter with Christ.  Prior to the arrival of the King there is a season of preparation and reckoning where one must deal with the fact that his heart is attached to this world and not well prepared for the coming salvation.  Done well this will temper the consumerism that rises so incessantly from early November through Christmas.  Then the day comes and we burst forth into a series of Masses and feasts that draw our minds to the paradox – the sign of contradiction –the King that has arrived to rule in ways man does not understand.  We get the baby Jesus, then St. Stephen’s stoning, Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket, the Epiphany – and more!  It’s a whirlwind of the reality of faith.  Then we are allowed to rest in this through a season, as it slowly recedes from us.

This type of celebration is more like a large wave on a hot day.  You may see it coming and brace for it, desiring its refreshment but knowing it could be more than you’re ready to handle, but then it hits you with the immensity of what it is, and then it slowly recedes back from where it came – the ocean of God’s mercy –drawing you a little closer to the Source each time it hits.  Or so it should.  (My wife said she didn’t like the analogy because she’s scared of waves, but I think a little fear could help us avoid artificiality in Christmastide.)

The bottle rocket just ends.  It’s over when it’s over.  Nothing shows from it, except maybe some paper trash left on the ground, and an occasional burnt finger.  This is the “artificial” festivity Piper warns us of and the “danger” Chesterton mentions.  The wave of Catholic Christmas, however, hits us hard, but then pulls us back to the place it came from.  It’s not easy, but it’s good.  Christmas, celebrated in the proper context of Catholicism, can knock us over.  For a sinner like me, I need that liturgical weight to hit me and draw me in.

Remember, we’re not done yet.  Keep the party going.”

Love, & Merry Christmas, still,
Matthew

Gender?

“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God Who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.

Structure

The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, His will is perfect,
Matthew

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

Does God exist?

“Traditionally, Catholic theology makes use of a fair amount of philosophy when thinking about what God is…biblical revelation is not irrational and…it does not do violence to natural human reason…biblical revelation not only respects natural human reason. It also invites us to make use of natural human reason in the service of the revealed (Ed. biblical) truth.

…we might immediately ask a series of good philosophical questions, based on our ordinary experience of reality. Do we see signs, for example, in the ordinary realities around us (including ourselves) that things as we know them really are dependent for their existence upon another? Does the order of the world, as far as we can make it out, tend to suggest at least the possibility of an origin in divine wisdom? Does the physical world seem self-explanatory or could there be good reasons to think that the existence of the material world implies the necessary existence of something transcending matter?…the claim that revelation is compatible with natural reason requires at least that there is some kind of possible rational harmony between what we think about the world philosophically based on ordinary experience of the world and what we find being taught in the revelation of the Catholic faith.

…the traditional Catholic insistence on the “proofs for the existence of God” are not first and foremost about trying to gain universal consensus regarding the philosophical question of the existence of God. They are not even first and foremost about trying to show that it is rational to believe that God exists (though this is true and sometimes the arguments help agnostic people see this). The central aim of them, instead, is to show that there is a way of human thinking about God that can reach up toward God even as (or after!) the revelation of God reaches down to human reason, so that the two cooperate “under grace” or in grace. The point is that grace does not destroy human nature but heals and elevates it to work within faith in a more integral way. Thinking about the one God philosophically is meant, in Catholic theology, to be a form of humble acceptance of biblical revelation…This Catholic approach eschews then two contrary extremes: a fideism that would seek to know God only by means of Christian revelation (with no contribution of natural human reasoning about God), and a rationalism that would seek to know God only or primarily by philosophical argument, to the exclusion of the mystery of the revelation of God.5 Faith and reason are meant to work together in this domain, not stand opposed.

The Illative Sense

…The traditional Catholic arguments for the existence of God are not geometrical proofs derived from self-evident axioms, but are something more elevated and deal with a subject matter that is more elusive. They function primarily as intellectual discernments about the nature of reality as we perceive it all the time. They begin from things around us so as to perceive the necessity of a transcendent origin, God the creator, Who remains hidden and hence not immediately subject to the constraints of our “clear and distinct ideas.” That is to say, thinking about God is realistic and philosophical, but it also seeks to acknowledge the numinous character of our existence and the ways that our limited, finite being points toward something transcendent, necessary, and eternal, which is the cause of our existence. Thinking about God in this sense is difficult for the human mind, not because theology is soft-headed, but simply because the subject matter is so elevated and not intrinsically capturable in the way mathematical or empirical topics are.

There are many ways of approaching the question of God philosophically, and the Catholic tradition has given rise (and continues to give rise) to a multitude of rational arguments, some of which are incompatible with one another (such that intense philosophical dispute occurs continually within the Catholic faith, a sign of its respect for the autonomous development of philosophical reason). There are arguments from the metaphysical structure of reality (the being of the world), arguments from beauty, from the very idea of God as perfect (Anselm’s famous ontological argument), from the order of the world, from the moral drama of human existence, from the desire of man for an infinite good, and others as well. Aquinas is often said to have given five demonstrations of the existence of God, but in fact he gives between fifteen and twenty arguments in various locations in his work.6 Many of these have their roots in previous thinkers, particularly Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, and a host of patristic authors.

It is important to note that more than one argument or philosophical way of thinking about God can be true simultaneously. There are various routes up the mountain, so to speak. This is because the world around us is complex and so the complexity of the world can “bespeak” or indicate God in different ways. It is one thing, for example, to note that the existence of interdependent physical realities requires a transcendent, non-physical cause. It is another thing to note that the human being is marked inwardly by a dramatic struggle between moral good and moral evil. These two truths can be indirect indications of the mystery of God distinctly, but also in a simultaneous and convergent fashion. Various truths we come to about the world converge to suggest a larger overarching truth.

This is the case not only for arguments for the existence of God, but also for our larger perspective on religious and cosmic questions more generally. Atheists, for example, often inhabit intellectual traditions of argument that attempt to explain a variety of truths from within a diverse but convergent set of unified theories: “The Bible is a purely human book.” “There are no good philosophical arguments for the existence of God.” “The problem of evil mitigates against claims to the contrary.” “All that exists is in some way purely material.” “Human origins are explicable by recourse to a materialist account of the theory of evolution.” “Whatever moral or aesthetic truths there are within human existence are best safeguarded by secular political systems.” These are all very different claims but they are held by many people as a set of convergent, interrelated ideas about reality, and the more one holds to a greater number of them, the more the others may seem plausible or reasonable. This is something like what John Henry Newman referred to as the “illative sense” of rational assent to the truth.7 We tend to see things in sets or groups of collected truths. Meanwhile, such complex deliberations touch upon the cords of our heart. We are affected by what we want to be true, or what we want not to be true, by our unconditional desire to find the truth or our fears of inconvenient truths. Otherwise said, the heart is both affected by and affects our thinking about major questions like atheism or the existence of God, because there are implications for other aspects of our life and our overall take on reality in a broad sweep of domains.

This is why thinking about the one God is often, for each of us, deeply interrelated to (even if logically distinguishable from) a whole host of other issues…

…Straightforward philosophical reflection about God, then, has its own integrity as a form of argument, or reasoning, but it is also embedded within a web of existential concerns and reflection on a wide array of issues pertaining to reality. The plausibility of believing one thing, especially a truth about God, is connected to the plausibility of believing a great deal of other things.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 1223-1247, 1251-1285, 1288-1291). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.”

Faith has implications.  Belief is consequential, in SO MANY ways!!!  But, so too, atheism.  Like it, or not.  Eternally??  🙂  Not choosing is a choice.  Jesus compels a choice.  Which do you choose?

Aut Deus, aut malus homo.

Love,
Matthew

5. See here the classic Catholic statement on faith and reason in the document of the First Vatican Council, Dei Filius, April 24, 1870, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pars. 27–43.
6. On Aquinas’s varied arguments for the existence of God, see John Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought.
7. John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, chap. 9.