Category Archives: Heresy

The Heresy of Nestorianism


-1688 AD, Nestorius as envisioned by the 17th century dutch printmaker Romeyn de Hooghe, in the book “History of the church and heretics”

Nestorius (386-450 AD) rejected the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation by implicitly denying the hypostatic union of human and divine natures in the one divine person of Jesus. This denial was characterized notably by the rejection of the title “Theotokos” (“God bearer” or “Mother of God”) for the mother of Jesus. He claimed that Mary was the mother of Christ’s human nature but not the mother of God and concluded that only Jesus the man suffered and died on the cross.

History

From the definitions and condemnations of the Arian heresy of the fourth century several things resulted. The divinity of Christ and the reality of his Incarnation were clearly established in the minds of the faithful. Consequently, the exaltation and veneration of Mary by the faithful became more widespread. Since Jesus was truly God and Mary was his mother, she was venerated with the title of Theotokos. This veneration was especially popular in the East.

Controversy erupted in 428 when Nestorius, the newly installed bishop of Constantinople, attacked the title Theotokos from the pulpit in the cathedral on Christmas day, claiming that Mary was the mother of Christ but not the mother of God. He stated that to call Mary the Mother of God implied that the divine nature was born of a woman, thus making her a goddess.

Immediately his teaching was attacked by the laity and the clergy of Constantinople. When word spread of this new doctrine, neighboring bishops condemned him outright. Chief among his critics was bishop Cyril of Alexandria who responded, “I am astonished that the question should ever have been raised as to whether the Holy Virgin should be called Mother of God, for it really amounts to asking, is her Son God or is he not?” He wrote to Nestorius condemning the heretical.aspects of his doctrine and asking him to explain and defend himself. The reply betrayed even further the depth of his heresy.

Cyril sent his personal correspondence with Nestorius as well his own five-book response titled Against Nestorius to Pope Celestine in Rome for the pontiff’s decision. The Holy Father gave a general condemnation of the teaching of Nestorius regarding Mary’s divine maternity and commanded him to recant within ten days. Cyril was to receive the recantation or depose Nestorius. Far from submitting, Nestorius demanded an ecumenical council and proclaimed his beliefs more loudly than ever.

While claiming to believe in one Christ in two natures, his explanation described the union of two distinct persons: “He who was formed in the womb of Mary was not God himself, but God assumed him. Through him that bears I worship him who is born.” A mother cannot bear a son older than herself, he contended. Therefore, Mary did not give birth to the incarnate Word of God, only to Jesus, the temple or vessel of God. Rejecting the orthodox sense of Theotokos, he opted instead for Christokos (“Mother of Christ”), saying that he could never bring himself to call the Christ-child God. Nestorius concluded that it was not God who suffered and died on the cross, but only the man Jesus.

The Problem

The main problem with Nestorius is that free acts originate from persons and not from natures. What Nestorius called “natures” should have been called “persons.” His error was to divide Christ into two persons – human and divine. Christ is only one Person and Mary is the mother of that Person. Mothers give birth to persons and not natures.

Orthodox Response

Besides St. Cyril, many other clergy and laymen rose to defend the divine maternity of Mary against the attack of Nestorius. Among these were Philip of Side, Proclus, Leo of Rome, and the layman Eusebius, later to become a bishop. Eusebius, while still a lawyer, is said to have risen from the congregation after Nestorius’ initial Christmas homily and to have indignantly responded, “The eternal Word begotten before the ages had submitted also to be born a second time.”

With Nestorius holding firm to his position, the emperor proposed to have a council meet in Ephesus to decide the matter once and for all. The council opened in the name of Pope Celestine I on June 22, 431.

Nestorius, who refused to attend, had his teachings anathematized, along with all who held communion with him, and he was deposed as bishop of Constantinople. Mary was officially proclaimed Mother of God to the delight of the faithful of Ephesus.

The controversy created by Nestorius made it obvious that a clearer terminology was needed to define the doctrine of the Incarnation which protected the divinity as well as the humanity of Christ. The solution, arrived at by Pope St. Leo the Great, was the use of the word “person,” for which there was no well-defined concept before that time. Leo summed it up in his Tome 20 years after the Council of Ephesus: Each nature performs the actions proper to it, but every action is performed by the one person, Jesus the Word of God.

Modern Parallels

Today most Protestant denominations display an element of Nestorianism. Protestants typically reject the title “Mother of God” while echoing Nestorius’ contention that a son cannot be older than his mother. They find it difficult to say that God was born in Bethlehem, that God suffered and died on the cross at Calvary. Many Protestant theologians, on the other hand, recognize this element of Nestorianism and assent to the title “Mother of God,” though they use it only infrequently.

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Eutychianism

-by Justin Holcomb

“Eutyches (378-454 AD) was in charge of the monastery at Constantinople and was second in command, only lower than the Bishop, in terms of authority there.

Is Jesus a Blend of God & Man?

The early church taught that Jesus Christ was one person with two natures—a divine nature and a human nature.

Eutyches was guilty of over-emphasizing the fact that Jesus Christ was one person and blurred the distinction between his divine and human natures. This was opposite of Nestorius’ heresy.

About Eutyches, church historian Stephen Nichols writes: “To him Christ was a third thing (the Latin expression is tertium quid)….One new and different person fashioned out of two natures is how he liked to put it. That is a theological way of saying yellow and blue makes green.”

When asked by Florentius if he believed there were two natures in Christ, Eutyches argued that there was only one nature in Christ after the incarnation:

Florentius

: “Do you or do you not admit that our Lord who is of the Virgin is consubstantial [with us] and of two natures after the incarnation?”

Eutyches

: “I admit that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but after the union one nature.”

Orthodox Response: Jesus Is Fully God & Fully Man

In his Tome, Leo the Great offers a beautiful response to the thought of Eutyches: “For just as the God [deity] is not changed by his compassion, so the man [manhood] is not swallowed up by the dignity [of the Godhead].” The human nature and the divine nature in Christ remain distinct and unmixed in the incarnation so that Jesus is truly God and truly man.

Flavian, who was the Bishop of Constantinople, called a synod that met at Constantinople in 448 at which the teachings of Eutyches were deemed heretical. In the Chalcedonian Creed there are phrases directed toward Eutyches: Christ is “to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided in two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Is Our Representative

Stephen Nichols clearly describes the problem with Eutyches’ teachings: “The problem with stressing the unity without the counterbalance of the two intact natures, as Eutyches does, is that Christ loses his human and divine identity. As such, he is not truly our representative. The Christ of Eutyches falls short of Paul’s teaching of Christ as the last Adam (Rom. 5:12-21Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); 1 Cor. 15:42-49Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).”

The orthodox theologians of the first several centuries saw an intimate connection between the incarnation and the atoning work of Christ.

This is why Leo the Great writes:

“Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality; and for the paying off of the debt belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with passible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suits the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.”

Love,
Matthew

2 different OTs?

“One evening I had the sad duty of attending my neighbor’s funeral.

My neighbors were not religious, but apparently a local “mega-church” offered to conduct the eulogy for them. The assistant pastor from the church stood up and after a few short remarks about the deceased began to give a lengthy sermon. The first ten minutes was dedicated to how he knew that my neighbor believed in Jesus and was in heaven, so there was no need to pray for her or offer Masses or anything like that.

The next thirty minutes or so (it’s difficult to tell since it seemed like eternity) was dedicated to explaining why it doesn’t matter which church one attends—Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran—they are all the same! None of them are more correct than any other. “We all believe in the same fundamental biblical truths about Jesus,” he said, “such as the need to put our faith in Jesus…” and so on.

Speaking at a funeral must not be an easy thing to do, so I walked up to the assistant pastor to thank him. After dispensing with niceties and explaining that I am a Catholic, I said to him: “Pastor, I just want to share with you a biblical verse that has always given me comfort in times like these, the book of Wisdom, chapter 3 says, ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.’”

The pastor gave me an odd look. “Book of Wisdom?” he said. “That’s not in the Bible!” To which I responded, “Well, I guess there are important differences between us.”

The assistant pastor seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Catholic and Orthodox bibles contain seven books in their Old Testament that Protestant bibles omit.

Catholics call these books the deuterocanon. Protestants, however, had rejected these books as inspired texts and call the Apocrypha.

Despite the assistant pastor’s best efforts to be non-denominational and dispel the importance of religious dogmas, he and his church actually held a very dogmatic view on which books belonged to the Bible. Going by the generic name of “Christian” didn’t release him from dogmatically committing himself to a particular doctrine on which books the Bible comprises. This position is undeniably important. Which collection or canon one adopts, whether Catholic or Protestant, will determine whether the first ten minutes of his sermon was “biblical” or a flight of fancy.

The question of which books belong to the Bible (especially the Old Testament, since Catholics and Protestant share the same New Testament books) is more fundamental of a question than anything in anyone’s theology, because theology is to be based upon divine revelation. What makes up God’s revelation, therefore, has a direct impact on one’s theology.

This is especially true for Protestants who believe in sola scriptura, which says that the Bible is the only source of Christian doctrine. It is, for nearly all Protestants, the norm that sets all norms and the standard that sets all standards: the highest court of appeal for judging all doctrine. But as we have painfully learned over the last few decades, those who are allowed to sit on the Supreme Court will affect how the court rules. This assistant pastor’s “Supreme Court” (i.e., the Bible) informed him that we should not pray for the dead, but Catholic and Orthodox bibles affirm that we should.

Each position is “biblical” given its respective Bible, but which Bible has the correct books? Which books are inspired by the Holy Spirit and which ones are mere human apocrypha? This question needs to be settled first.

How did Protestants and Catholics end up with two different Old Testaments?

Protestants claim that the Catholic Church added the seven books of the “Apocrypha” to the canon of Scripture in order to refute Protestantism. This is generally said to have occurred at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent (April 8, 1546).

Catholics make the opposite claim; they claim that these same books were always considered inspired Scripture, but they were rejected by Protestantism because their teaching contradicts certain areas of Protestant theology.

Which is correct? Did the Catholic Church add books to the Old Testament or did Protestantism remove these books from the canon of Scripture?”

Love,
Matthew

Myth: the Catholic Church forbid the reading of Scripture

[Ed. “This is a time when literacy rates were around 1 percent for the population at large,” says Becker…”, Becker, Sascha, professor of economics at the University of Warwick and deputy director of the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, 2013, Oct 31, -https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-10-31/did-martin-luthers-reformation-500-years-ago-leave-its-mark-todays-eurozone]

Myth: Luther and other Reformers were the first to translate Scripture into vernacular languages, which the Church had previously forbidden.

“A main tenet of the false narrative about the origins of Protestantism is that the Catholic Church prevented people from reading the Bible. Enter John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and others to translate Scripture into vernacular languages so that the people could be free of Roman tyranny.

From its beginnings, the Church recognized the crucial role of the written portion of divine revelation in fulfilling its mission of evangelization. Once the Church finalized the canon of Scripture in the fourth century, efforts began to make it more accessible to the laity.

Perhaps the most famous translation of Scripture is known as the Vulgate. The name comes from the fact that the translation, by St. Jerome (342-420), was from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, the “vulgar” (meaning everyday) language of the time.

The Church was not against vernacular translations of the Bible (indeed it actively fostered such translations), but was only against bad vernacular translations, which could easily lead to heresy and even violence.

The Church also dealt with the issue of “private interpretation” of Scripture during the fourth century, when a pernicious new heresy that denied the divinity of Christ arose in North Africa and quickly attracted millions of adherents. Arianism would plague the Church for centuries, proving extremely difficult to eradicate. One reason it spread so rapidly and endured so long was that, with the Roman Empire at peace, people had the time to debate theological matters.

Many used Scripture to justify heretical positions. Jerome lamented this when he wrote, “Builders, carpenters, workers in metal and wood, websters and fullers, makers of anything, cannot become an expert without a teacher; physicians are trained by physicians. The art of the Scripture is the only art which is claimed by all.”

Martin Luther is most often credited with freeing Scripture from its suppression by Rome by making it accessible to the people. An Augustinian monk, Luther earned a doctorate in theology with an emphasis on Scripture in 1512. He was sent to teach at the University of Wittenberg, and on October 31, 1517, he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. [Ed. Luther did this as it was a common means of inviting & engaging in scholarly debate. Luther, at the time had no intention of sparking the Reformation, but rather, a scholarly debate. The situation got out of hand and was handled poorly by Rome, taking the easier route of demanding of Luther fulfillment of his vow of obedience as an Augustinian monk.]. His document’s attack on papal authority led to a summons to Rome (which he ignored) [Ed. No one has ever accused Luther of being stupid, too many examples ending badly for that] and his eventual condemnation by Pope Leo X in the 1520 bull Exsurge Domine. Heresy was an ecclesiastical and civil crime at the time, so in 1521 Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1558) invited Luther to the Diet of Worms to give him an opportunity to repudiate his condemned works. Luther refused to go, prompting Charles to issue the Edict of Worms in which Luther was “regarded as a convicted heretic.”

Heresy was a capital crime in the temporal order, so Luther went into hiding in the Wartburg castle for almost a year. It was in his self-imposed exile that Luther began work on a new German translation of Scripture, which was published in its entirety in 1534. Luther was scornful of the Vulgate; For instance, he sneeringly dismissed St. Jerome’s translation of the angel Gabriel’s name for Mary as gratia plena (“full of grace”). “What German would understand that if translated literally?” Luther wrote. “He knows the meaning of a purse full of gold or a keg full of beer, but what is he to make of a girl full of grace? I would prefer to say simply, Liebe Maria (Mary, full of love).” Concerning translation of the Old Testament, Luther hoped to “make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew.” Contrary to popular belief, Luther’s German translation was not the first in that language, as there were thirty-six previous translations.

The Real Story: The Church has always supported the translation of Scripture into the vernacular, because it is charged by Christ to spread the Gospel throughout the world. It has opposed only faulty vernacular translations by heretics who used them to spread their errors.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Myth: John Calvin & Martin Luther were holy & pious men

[Ed. Certainly the selling of indulgences, and more importantly, the crass, scandalous, profit driven way it was done was a grievous offense, and needed to be reformed. In addition, the Catholic Church needed to unify and systematize the catechism, and better educate both clergy and laity.

The Catholic Church of the Catholic Counter-Reformation era grew more spiritual, more literate and more educated. Orders, including Capuchins, Discalced Carmelites, Discalced Augustinians, Augustinian Recollects, Cistercian Feuillants, Ursulines, Theatines, Barnabites, Congregation of the Oratory, and the Jesuits, especially founded to combat the heresy of Protestantism, blossomed.

The Church self-imposed an ecclesiastical/structural discipline, reconfiguration dealing with corrupt and politically appointed clerics, and other financial abuses. Efforts to end “triumphalism, clericalism, and legalism” (Sounds like Vatican II? It might take a few millennia. Watch out for Catholic fascists, they bite! In SO MANY WAYS!!!) that had typified the Church in the previous centuries.

It is a truism times of crisis (Greek: decision) spawn the greatest concentrations of saints in those periods of history, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation is no exception. Teresa of Avila (1582), Ignatius of Loyola (1556), Charles Borromeo (1584), Peter Canisius (1597), Francis Borgia (1572), Edmund Campion (1581), John Duckett (1644), Ralph Corby (1644), Francis Xavier (1552), Peter Wright (1651), Robert Southwell (1595), Henry Walpole (1595), Nicholas Owen (1606), Claude de la Colombiere (1682). David Lewis, John Almond, Edmund Arrowsmith (1628), Ambrose Barlow, John Boste, Alexander Briant, Margaret Clitherow (1586), Philip Evans, Thomas Garnet, Edmund Gennings (1591), Richard Gwyn (1584), John Houghton, Philip Howard, John Jones, John Kemble, Luke Kirby, Robert Lawrence, Anne Line (1601), Thomas Greene (1642), Peter Faber (1546), John Lloyd, John Mason (1591), Cuthbert Mayne, Henry Morse, John Payne, Polydore Plasden (1591), John Plessington, Charles Mahoney, Richard Reynolds, John Rigby (1600), John Roberts, Alban Roe, Oliver Plunkett (1681), Ralph Sherwin, John Southworth, John Stone, John Wall, Margaret Pole, Margaret Ward, Augustine Webster, George Haydock, Thomas More (1535), John Fisher, William Richardson, Swithun Wells (1591), Eustace White, John Ogilvie, Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, John of the Cross, William Carter (1584), Hugh Grant (1585), Marmaduke Bowes (1585), Alexander Crow (1586 or 1587), Nicholas Woodfen (1586), William Pichard (1587), Edmund Duke and Companions (1590), Roger Thorpe (1591), Thomas Watkinson (1591), George Errington (1596), William Gibson (1596), Peter Snow (1598), Ralph Grimstow (1598), Christopher Wharton (1600), Francis Ingleby (1586), John Fingley (1586), Robert Bickerdike (1586), William Thomson (1586), John Sandys (1586), Richard Sargeant (1586), John Lowe (1586), Robert Dibdale (1586), John Adams (1586), Edmund Sykes (1587), Stephen Rowsham (1587), John Hambley (1587), George Douglas (1587), Richard Simpson (1588), Edward Burden (1588), Henry Webley (1588), Sidney Hodges (1591), William Lampley (1588), Nicholas Garlick (1588), Robert Ludlam (1588), Robert Sutton (1588), Richard (Lloyd) Flower (1588), William Spenser (1589), Robert Hardesty (1589), Thomas Belson (1589), Richard Yaxley (1589), George Nichols (1589), Humphrey Pritchard (1589), Nicholas Horner (1590), Alexander Blake (1590), George Beesley (1591), William Pike (1591), Brian Lacey (1591), Mountford Scott (1591), Joseph Lambton (1592), Thomas Pormort (1592), William Davies (1593),Anthony Page (1593), Christopher Robinson (1597), John Bretton (1598), Edward Thwing (1600), Thomas Palaser (1600), John Talbot (1600), Robert Nutter (1600), John Norton (1600), Roger Filcock (1600), Thomas Hunt (1600), Thomas Sprott (1600), Robert Middleton (1601), Thurston Hunt (1601), Robert Grissold (1604), John Sugar (1604), Robert Drury (1607), Matthew Flathers (1608), Roger Cadwallador (1610), Thomas Atkinson (1616),Roger Wrenno (1616), John Thules (1616), William Southerne (1618), Edward Oldcorne (1606), Thomas Bullaker (1642), Henry Heath (1643), Arthur Bell (1643), Edward Bamber (1646), John Woodcock (1646), Ralph Milner (1591), Lawrence Humphrey (1591), Thomas Whittaker (1646), Roger Dickenson (1591), Nicholas Postage (1679), Charles Meeham (1679) …compare Franciscan Reform.]

Myth: The Reformers were holy men who struggled heroically to free the true Christian faith from the superstitions of Rome.

Martin Luther (1480-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) are generally regarded as holy and upright men appalled at the impiety, superstition, and corruption in the Catholic Church, and dedicated to returning the Christian faith to its pristine original form. But a closer look at their lives reveals that, in truth, they were arrogant men bent on refashioning the Christian faith to their own liking.

Luther suffered throughout his life from various physical and spiritual problems. He was desperate for certain knowledge of his own salvation, and came to believe that it is through faith alone that one is saved. He adopted the heresy that Scripture alone is the authoritative source of divine revelation. Luther’s image of God, which may have reflected that of his abusive father, was extremely negative and influenced his theology and his conflicts with authority. To Luther, God was not a loving father, as revealed by Christ, but rather was a tyrannical and wrathful judge who delights in tormenting sinners. As he later wrote, this belief drove him to “the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”

Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Although many of the theses dealt with ecclesiastical abuses, Luther’s contention that the pope had no authority to grant indulgences was outright heresy, and in 1520 Pope Leo X condemned it and forty other erroneous teachings. Luther’s response in the form of three treatises published late that year laid the foundations for his revolution against the Catholic Church. In these treatises he appealed to the German nobility to nationalize the Church in Germany and free it from Roman control. He also attacked the sacraments, denying that they are channels of efficacious grace when faith is absent. In the treatise he addressed specifically to Pope Leo, he denied free will; and he later called for the suppression and eradication of the Mass.

Luther’s revolutionary writings led to outbreaks of violence throughout Germany. By 1525, mobs had destroyed churches, burned sacred art, and profaned the Eucharist. Nobles sympathetic to Luther’s teachings appealed to him for help ending the violence.

In response, Luther wrote a pamphlet titled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he called on the nobility to suppress the rebellion with all necessary violence, which they did with ferocious efficiency, killing 130,000 peasants. That same year Luther married a former nun whom he helped “escape” from the convent. Several years later Luther’s break with Christian teaching on marriage was made complete when he advised Philip, landgrave of Hesse, that he could enter into a bigamous marriage so long as he kept it secret. When word of it leaked out, Luther advised Philip to deny it, writing, “What harm is there in telling a good bold lie for the sake of making things better and for the good of the Christian Church?”

Toward the end of his life Luther wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, a treatise in which he put forth an eight-point plan to rid Germany of its Jews. “If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt,” Luther wrote, “we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country. We must drive them out like mad dogs.” In Luther’s last treatise before his death in February 1546, Against the Pontificate at Rome, Founded by the Devil, he called for the torture and murder of the pope and cardinals.

John Calvin was of a different temperament than Luther. Whereas Luther was bombastic, rude, and vulgar, Calvin was studious, quiet, and refined. Despite their differences, though, Calvin was just as much a revolutionary, and it was he who began the “war against joy” in Geneva. Hilaire Belloc pointed out that “it was the French spirit, but the northern French, the less generous, the people that have no vineyards, which produced Jean Calvin.”

By 1545 Calvin had created a theocracy in Geneva which enforced its own version of Christian morality upon the citizenry. Citizens were sometimes required to confess their sins in front of a civil magistrate, and were subject to biannual visitation by a commission of elders and ministers who investigated whether they attended church services regularly and lived moral lives in accord with Calvin’s creed, and classified them as “pious,” “lukewarm,” or “corrupt” in their faith. The death penalty was prescribed for adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, pregnancy out of wedlock, and striking a parent. It was also against the law in Calvinist Geneva to dance, sing (outside of church services), stage or attend theatrical plays, wear jewelry, or play cards or dice.

Calvin also railed against fellow Protestants when their theology did not agree with his. The most famous case involved Michael Servetus (1511-1553), whose 1531 work Seven Books on Errors About the Trinity landed him in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition. He fled Spain for France, where he began writing letters to Calvin asking his opinion on various points of theology. Servetus disputed Calvin’s answers, as well as many of Calvin’s teachings in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. When a marked-up copy of the Institutes arrived from Servetus, Calvin became incensed and vowed, “If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I will never let him depart alive.” When in 1553 Servetus did come to Geneva he was spotted by Calvin, arrested, tried for heresy, convicted, and burned.

The Real Story: Martin Luther and John Calvin were complex men who were anything but the pious reformers of modern myth. They viciously attacked their critics. Luther’s writings spurred an armed rebellion in Germany that had to be forcibly put down by the nobility. Calvin created a theocracy in Geneva that interfered in the private lives of all citizens. Both men rebelled against the Catholic Church and contributed to the fracturing of Christendom, which persists to this day.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Augustine & the heretics


-St Augustine icon, by Joseph Brown, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, ~2009

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“A heresy is never totally wrong. Its just that it is never totally right. A heresy is a half truth or a truth twisted. The reason a heresy is attractive is that it always seems to make perfect sense. A heresy is a religious truth you would make up if you were making up a religion. However, Catholic truth is stranger and subtler than that, and it takes sound teaching to expose and battle the heresy.

Heresies are persistent because they are attractive, and they are persistent because they usually console the heretic in some way. In other words, it is easier to believe the heresy than the fullness of the Catholic truth. The fullness of the Catholic truth is either difficult to believe or difficult to obey or both. The heresy always offers an easy way out–either an easier way of believing or an easier way of behaving.

The first heresy Augustine battled was Donatism. The Donatists were a schism in the North African Church that were sort of like Puritanical Protestant or Jansenists. They thought the church should be pure, and should be a church of saints, not sinners. They were unwilling to accept back those Christians who, out of weakness, compromised their faith during the persecutions and they insisted that for sacraments to be valid the priest had to be faultless.

While this sort of rigorism is understandable, it doesn’t take much to see where it leads. It leads to unbearable self righteousness. “We few, we holy few. We are the remnant, the true church, the only real Christians…” Nonsense. If you think the core error of Donatism does not exist today, look a little harder. Although the name “Donatism” is now a footnote of church history there are plenty of rigorist schisms and sects and plenty of the attitude within individuals and groups in many different churches.

The fact is, most heresies, while seeming attractive, can be countered very easily with a passage from the gospel. Donatists should read the parable of the wheat and tares. The sinners and the saints grow together and God will sort it out.

The second heresy Augustine battled was Manicheanism. This false religion was started by a Persian prophet named Mani (274 AD). He blended elements of occult Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity and came up with a complicated New Age kind of religion. His core heresy was dualism. He taught that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world was good. Manicheanism had a huge influence in the 3-4 centuries. We can see it in the harsh asceticism of the early monks for example.

Augustine’s teachings on the nature of evil countered this. He taught that the created world is good because God does not make evil. Instead evil is good twisted, distorted or destroyed.

While Manicheanism is also a footnote in church history, the idea that the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good continues today. It is present in some New Age teachings and in Eastern religions and philosophies. It also lingers like an echo in elements of Christianity. It is tempting to look down on physical pleasures, and the right embrace of holy poverty can be twisted into a hatred or disgust or guilt about the goodness of the physical world.

The third heresy is Pelagianism. This is named for the British monk Pelagius (d. 420) His teaching was probably misunderstood, but if so, the misunderstanding was that he taught that the human will was not so tainted by original sin that it lost its power to do good. In other words, you can do good without God’s help. This led to the conclusion that you can get into heaven through good works.

Augustine corrected this heresy with his teachings on grace. It is God’s grace, continually working in and through creation and in and through our own lives that empowers our faith, empowers our good works and empowers the supernatural transformation of our lives.

These three heresies do us the service of bringing to light the true Catholic teaching. The created world is beautiful, good and true. If this is true, then we also, created in God’s image are good. However, that goodness is wounded by original sin. While we don’t have to be perfect at once, that is our destiny, our calling and the hard adventure on which we must embark. God’s good grace gives us the power to do this. Without his grace we are paralyzed by sin and locked in darkness. With his grace we can be free.”

Love, & His grace,
Matthew

Soli Deo gloria


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“Goodness is praised as beauty,” wrote a man long honored by the Church, East and West, though nobody is exactly sure who he is.

“Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,” wrote the apostle John.

“Soli Deo gloria”—“Glory to God alone,” cried the Reformers. And they were right, or sort of. In their desire to exalt the glory of God above all else, they were right. In their yearning to defend God’s glory from all dilution or fracture, they were right. But they were not right to forbid God from sharing His glory with His creation. Of course, I do not mean to say that this is exactly what they intended to do. But in understanding this last of the five Solae we should ask a broader question: “what is glory, and where do we find it?”

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Let’s build the image from the ground up. When someone is good, then that person is worthy of praise. For him or her to receive praise, however, someone has to know this goodness and recognize it as good. For instance, before I praise the bravery of a soldier and the patience of a mother, I have to see them in action or at least hear about them. And if these people are especially good, beyond common experience, then probably a great many people will hear about them, and probably a great many people will see how good they are, and hopefully these people will say so. Imagine a news story about a local hero or praising a great teacher, for instance.

That loudness that belongs especially to good things, the splendor and renown that belongs to something praiseworthy, is called glory. The greater the good, the louder it is, and the louder it is, the more praiseworthy. The greater the good, the more glorious it is. This is how the Church has thought about glory. This is how the Scriptures speak, though with the nuances and poetry appropriate to each place.

So there are different kinds of glory just as there are different kinds of good. This is what the Reformers forgot in their zeal. In wanting to single out God for worship, we should never forget God’s love in sharing his goodness. God is infinite in His goodness. Creatures have a limited share. God is infinite in His glory. Creatures have a limited share in that, too. The Holy Trinity is glorified by worship and adoration, and long before the Protestant Reformation, the Church gave this worship the name latria. God can never be given too much glory. The highest of created persons, Mary and all the other saints, are glorified with a lesser honor, which the Church has named dulia. And traditionally, some saints are seen to be higher than others. Mary, the Mother of God, is the very highest. After her come the apostles, who were sent forth by Christ as the seeds of the Church.

These saints are honored, or given glory, because of a good that they have, the great good of grace, which is a share in God Himself! And lesser, simply human goods, like a great leader, can be glorious in their own small ways. All these goods, however small, are shares in God’s goodness. And all these goods, from the bottom to the top, are given by God. Jesus says to the Father, “The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them” (John 17:22). Paul encourages us to seek this glory, speaking of God’s judgment: “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life” (Rom 2:6-7). So what is the vision of the world that we are left with?

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The world is filled with the glory of God! This is because He chose to fill the world with His goodness. All of it is traced back to God, the source and the giver, as the finite is compared to the infinite. Glory belongs to God alone, but He chooses to share it with us. To declare that only God has glory, or to understand those three Latin words (Soli Deo gloria) in this way, is to make God more separate from His creatures than God Himself wishes to be.

How beautiful is the sun, how splendorous, how good! It is too bright even to look upon. But it does not keep its light to itself. The sun shares its light with the moon. It is imitated by every twinkle of the stars. And the sun gives life to all below it. From the bottom to the top, the heavens and the earth shine with the light of the sun: truly, though not equally.  [Ed.  How much more the Divine?]

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory,” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:41).”

Praise Him!!!  Give Him GLORY!!!!!  Clap your hands!!!  Shout for joy!!!!  Let the seas and all within it thunder praise!!!

Love,
Matthew

Sola Fide & false idols


-by Br Ephrem Reese, OP

“When people speak of “faith alone,” it’s often taken for granted that faith is opposed to works. But the Council of Trent has dealt with this false dichotomy:

“Faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity. (From the Decree concerning Justification, chapter VII).”

So that opposition, faith versus works, is false. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:21-22).

How about a new conception of sola fide? Think, instead, this way: faith is opposed to idolatry. If we want to speak about “faith alone,” I suggest that we look to Abraham, the “father of faith.” While not directly addressing the “traditional” dispute about faith versus works, I think this may in fact reveal a deeper understanding in Scripture and the tradition.

Abraham’s father Terah, says a Jewish commentary on Genesis, made idols for a living. Sometimes he had to leave the boy Abraham in charge of the shop. Abraham would embarrass old men who came in to buy idols: “You are fifty years old and worship a one-day-old statue!”

Even better, though: when a woman came in to make an offering to the idols, Abraham took a club and smashed all of the idols but the biggest one, then put the club in its hands. He told Terah that they were fighting over who would eat the offering, and that the biggest one destroyed the rest. The real point, the rabbinic telling implies, is that Terah would have to admit that the idols were stupid and powerless, if he wanted to blame the iconoclasm on Abraham.

Idolatry is not just a Jewish concern—in the New Testament, “idol” and related words occur at least 33 times. Although this continues the Old Testament tradition, some new aspects appear. For example, idolatry is not just foolish and immoral, it also conceals demonic powers. This helps to explain some of the sexual immorality that was very clearly connected with, even institutionalized in, traditional cults.

Faithlessness in the invisible God leads directly to worship of what is more available, what is right in front of us, even if it’s a powerless piece of wood. Falling for the one who is there, rather than the One we truly love—you can see why the Bible compares idolatry to adultery (see Wisdom 14:12).

We believe in, even testify to, a God we do not see. It is necessary to turn away from what we see all around us (ahem, screens). “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”—this is the basic description of conversion of which St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul went to Athens, the great scientific seedbed of geometry, philosophy, and democracy, “he was distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). His speech to the Athenians puts him squarely in the prophetic tradition of Israel: God made everything, and left His traces; He wants you to seek Him; do not be distracted by the shiny things that people put before you. Finally, there will be a judgment for those who live not by faith in what is unseen but by settling for what is “made by human design and skill” (cf. 17:24-31).

The great literary critic Northrop Frye noticed that the Jewish and Christian idea of revelation as something heard but not seen has a destructive dynamic. It crushes the tyranny of the visible. “The Word not only causes all images of gods to shrivel into nothingness, but continues to operate in society as an iconoclastic force…demolishing everything to which man is tempted to offer false homage.” Abraham knew about that. As Jesus says mysteriously, Abraham saw His(Jesus’) day, and rejoiced (Jn 8:56).

We don’t see many actual idols now. But if we look around, it’s not hard to see that people are sunk, bowed down, brought to their knees, in worship of what is seen. Abraham, dutiful son, was considerate enough to discreetly destroy the local idols. Faith cast out of him any fear of the powers of this world. For his faith, God made a promise to Abraham, freeing him “to worship Him without fear all the days of his life” (Luke 1:73-75).”

Love, faith, & hope,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura


-by Br Peter Gautsch, OP

“There’s a friar I’ve known for some time now who prays frequently for the unity of the Church, a matter which is clearly very close to his heart. I’ve often been moved by this. After all, St. Augustine says in his Rule that we are to be “of one heart and one mind, in God.” He was speaking about peaceableness among religious, but it’s also true in the broader realm of faith: our many hearts and minds, in all their happy diversity, should be as one in God, one in faith.

Which brings us to sola Scriptura.

What is it? In its strictest form, it’s the Protestant doctrine that Scripture is the only source and norm of Christian faith: “Scripture alone” has authority in matters of faith. In another form, both less fideistic and less true to its name, it’s the doctrine that Scripture is the final source and norm of Christian faith: there are other valid authorities, sure, but Scripture, and nothing else, tests and judges them.

But sola Scriptura has many problems, to put it mildly. One of them is that at least one of its inescapable consequences is directly opposed to what Scripture—and in this case, Jesus himself—exhorts: “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one” (Jn 17:22–23).

This prayer of our Lord, of course, has little to do with revelation itself and still less with where authority in matters of faith comes from. But it’s important to consider, because ultimately the doctrine of sola Scriptura necessarily excludes this unity that our Lord prayed for. This is because Scripture often doesn’t tell us how it ought to be interpreted, and, human nature being what it is, different people tend to arrive at incompatible interpretations which can’t all be true. The first form of sola Scriptura I mentioned above doesn’t appear to have anything like an adequate answer for this problem of multiple, personal interpretations. And the second form says that when there’s a conflict, we can consult other authorities, so long as Scripture has the final word. But even this only goes so far: some persons may accept the guidance of certain authorities, but other persons may reject them “on scriptural grounds.” So the problem persists, and sola Scriptura offers no real solution.

Now Sacred Scripture is the word of God in written form—on this all Christians agree. But as Catholics, we have a yet broader notion of revelation: in addition to revealing himself in the inspired books of Scripture, God also revealed Himself in his word of truth entrusted to the apostles and handed on by them to their successors throughout history, even to the present day—this is what we call Tradition (which is itself described in Scripture: e.g., Mt 28:18–20, Mk 3:13–19, Mk 16:15, Acts 2:42, Acts 10:34–43, 1 Cor 15:1–11, 2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim 2:1–2, 2 Pt 1:19–21). Hence we always read Sacred Scripture in light of Tradition, and we read Tradition in light of Scripture. Scripture and Tradition, together, are the supreme rule of the Church’s faith—not just Scripture alone, in isolation—because they’re two modes of the one sacred deposit of the word of God that has been entrusted to the Church. Not only that, but Scripture and Tradition both show us that Christ, in instituting the apostles as the foundation stones of the Church (Eph 2:19–20, Rev 21:14) and giving them authority to teach in His name, instituted an authoritative interpreter of divine revelation. This is what we call the Magisterium, the living teaching office of the Church.

So what about that problem of interpretation? How do we deal with incompatible individual interpretations of Scripture? If it’s true that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), then sola Scriptura can’t be true, because it doesn’t give us the tools to arrive—together, in unity—at that knowledge of the truth. Simply put, the Catholic Church’s more robust doctrine of divine revelation is the only way. Sometimes the full meaning of a passage of Sacred Scripture just isn’t apparent to us. Thankfully, God reveals Himself also in Tradition and has given the Magisterium authority to authentically interpret divine revelation, whether in written form (Scripture) or handed on verbally (Tradition). Of course, the idea here isn’t that we should approach the Bible like automatons, mindlessly complying with arbitrary directives from a distant, unseen authority—we should read Scripture and interpret it and hear God speaking to us through it! But we don’t have to go it alone: instead, keeping in mind the unity and coherence of the whole of Scripture and the unity and coherence of the truths of the faith, we look to Tradition (e.g., what the Fathers of the Church or the liturgy teach us about a passage of Scripture) and to the Magisterium (e.g., whether the Church has given an authoritative, authentic interpretation of a passage of Scripture), and we shape our reading accordingly. We can know what Scripture means because God Himself tells us—but He tells us not only in Scripture itself but also in Tradition and through the Magisterium. Each of the three needs the other two.

But sola Scriptura protests. When Tradition and the Magisterium are invited to the discussion to help our understanding, sola Scriptura stands in the door, blocking their entrance. As a result, individual interpretation carries the day. And individual interpreters, with no authoritative guide other than Scripture itself, remain at odds with one another. And unity of belief is still not realized.

Ecumenical dialogue often points out the important affirmations of faith that Catholics and Protestants share, and rightly so: we should rejoice that we believe together that Jesus Christ truly is the Lord, the incarnate Son of God; that by baptism we truly do become adopted children of God; that Sacred Scripture truly is the inspired word of God, set down in writing for the sake of our salvation; and so on. But we simply must recognize the disunity in our beliefs as well, because unless we recognize our disunity, we can’t pray for the unity that Christ Himself prayed for.

This real disunity that sadly exists between Catholics and our Protestant brothers and sisters (not to mention the disunity that exists between the various Protestant denominations) is in large part the fruit of sola Scriptura. We simply can’t be of one heart and one mind in God, truly, if we don’t believe the same things about God and His revelation of Himself to us. In revealing Himself and His plan for our salvation, “the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum 2). Christ’s prayer that we may be perfectly one shows us that He also wants us to have fellowship, unity, with one another—one heart and one mind, in God—as Scripture elsewhere instructs: “all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind” (1 Pt 3:8).”

Love & unity,
Matthew

Solus Christus


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“Salvation is found in Christ alone,” asserts the final Sola of the Protestant Reformation, Solus Christus. Of course, salvation is found in Christ, and the Catholic Church has unceasingly taught just that. You need to look no farther than the Council of Trent and its Decree on Justification, the Church’s response to Protestantism, which includes this succinct and forceful affirmation:

If any one saith that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified;… let him be anathema. (Canon X)

So what is the Protestant claim of Solus Christus? Like the other Solae, it affirms something true and important, but at the same time it denies an important truth of Catholic doctrine. It denies the efficacy of the human mediation of Christ’s grace and salvation, especially the mediation of a priest in the sacraments. “Christ is the true and only mediator between God and man,” it insists, and thus it asserts that any human claim to mediation can only be superstitious or idolatrous.

Solus Christus is not without scriptural support. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). St. Paul wrote that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Throughout the New Testament, it is clear that salvation comes from Christ, Who became man in order to bring us to God; He is the one true mediator. The Protestant teaching of Solus Christus strongly affirms this by denying the possibility of any human action that can bring grace or salvation.

However, a more thorough exploration of Sacred Scripture reveals an image of mediation that is richer and more complex than the simple Solus Christus. For instance, preaching and giving testimony are themselves kinds of mediation by which salvation is brought to men: “For, ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:13-15). St. Paul describes preaching as the link connecting and mediating between the God who sends preachers and those who will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.

Likewise, prayer is a mediation, as we stand as intercessors before God on the behalf of other men and women. “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life” (1 Jn 5:16). And again: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jam 5:16).

Most notably, Christ Himself appointed men to be mediators of His salvation and grace in a particular and special way through the sacraments. “He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me’” (Luke 22:19). Christ gave His apostles a command and a power: to celebrate the Eucharist established at the Last Supper. On another occasion, He gave His apostles a different command and power, saying to them, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). And finally, he gave them the Great Commission, to go and bring all peoples to Him in the sacrament of Baptism (see Matt 28:18-20).

And even in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, in which he writes that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” we find evidence of other mediation in the same chapter. St. Paul commands “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1). So, some men are acting as intercessors and mediators in prayer for “all men.” Moreover, Paul identifies himself as “appointed a preacher and apostle,” as one who mediates the word of God in proclamation and testimony, and as one who mediates the salvation and forgiveness of God in the sacraments.

Thus it becomes evident that the interpretation of Solus Christus as denying the possibility of human mediation isn’t in accord with the whole of Scripture. Yet how are we to make sense of the claim that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”? It is without doubt true that no merely human work could ever hope to reach God and thus mediate between the human and the divine. But how is it possible to resolve this apparent tension found within Sacred Scripture, which seems to simultaneously appoint men as mediators and to assert the absolute uniqueness of Christ as mediator?

What is necessary is a more robust understanding of the Body of Christ. Christians are not members of the Body in the same way that citizens are members of the body politic, which is extrinsic and legal. No, Christians are members of the Body of Christ in a much deeper and more intimate manner. Grace is a participation in the divine life; it is deeply transformative of the soul as Christians are configured to Christ. Recall the parable of the vine and the branches; it is not simply a pious metaphor. We are truly grafted onto Christ and the sap of the true vine flows through every aspect of our lives. Our life becomes His, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). And therefore the fruit that we the branches bear is, in a real sense, the fruit that Christ the vine bears.

An appreciation for the depth and intimacy of participation in the Body of Christ resolves the apparent tension within Sacred Scripture between the many examples of mediation and the truth that there is “one mediator.” When a Christian preaches the Gospel, it is Christ’s preaching, for the individual participates in Christ’s mediation of the Good News to the world. When a Christian prays, it is Christ’s prayer to the Father, for the individual participates in the mediation of grace to the world. When a priest offers the Mass or absolves in confession, he is acting in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – making present the one sacrifice and mediation of Christ our high priest.

By preaching, by prayer, by his appointed priests and sacraments, Christ acts through the members of His body, whose participation in His life has configured them to Him at the deepest levels of their being. Yes, Christ is the one true mediator. As St. John Paul II wrote, “No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s one, universal mediation, far from being an obstacle on the journey toward God, is the way established by God Himself” (Redemptoris Missio 5). At the same time, all the baptized, and in a particularly profound way priests, are members of His body, and by virtue of their participation in the divine life of Christ, they participate in His mediation as mediators themselves. Through their actions, may the whole world be brought to the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ.”

Love,
Matthew