Category Archives: Heresy

What is Moral Therapeutic Deism?

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-The Dominican Order Overcoming Heresy, 1750 (oil on canvas), by Mattia Bortoloni, 1750, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France

R_Albert_Mohler
-by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

“When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

(Sound familiar? Sounds nice, its just…its not Christianity! Certainly NOT Catholicism!))

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both.”

As the researchers explained, “For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. ‘Whatever’ is just fine, if that’s what a person wants.”

The casual “whatever” that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes–adolescent and otherwise–is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, “most religious teenager’s opinions and views–one can hardly call them worldviews–are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.”

The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, “I believe there is a God and stuff,” this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.

Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.” The obvious conclusion: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”

One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?

In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism.

The researchers note that many responses fall along very moralistic lines–but they reserve their most non-judgmental attitudes for matters of theological conviction and belief. Some go so far as to suggest that there are no “right” answers in matters of doctrine and theological conviction.

The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation–a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”–a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”

Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, “Knowledge is power.”

Love, rejecting MTD,
Matthew

Moral Therapeutic Deism Heresy: the Kingdom of God is within you

st dominic
-our blessed father Dominic, scourge & hammer of heretics.

It is said there are no new heresies. I tend to agree. They are just recycled and repackaged. This one smells like Gnosticism, that old canard.

“My Kingdom is not of this world.” -Jn 18:36

“…Heaven is not a place and cannot be found on a map; rather it is where God’s will is done…”
– Pope Benedict XVI

This heresy results as too loose a translation of Luke 17:20-21.  See why doing your homework and knowing a thing or two about Scripture, languages, ancient & modern, Scripture’s variety in translation, etc., all those gruesome details is important!!!

Carelessness in translation, let alone reading or interpretation changes the WHOLE meaning, often in error!!!  CAUTION:  picking up any old thing and reading it literally is dangerous, kind readers!!!   Maybe that is why the Church was cautious about the untrained having any old thing without training in hand?  Ya think?  Maybe that is why it was why the Church determined the canon of Scripture?  Ya think?  Instead of the other way around?  Ya think? It is dangerous.  

Consult orthodox experts, please, at least for the sake of intellectual integrity, if not orthodox faith, before walking off the theological or doctrinal cliff!! IFF…you want anyone to take you seriously.

Attorneys are trained to argue both sides. Wise advice for anyone holding opinions, imho.

Scot-McKnight
-by Dr. Scott McKnight, PhD

“In the end, the God Within heresy is a kindly apocalypse: it overwhelms with niceness, tolerance, and is a make-up-your-own religion that is safe as long as you and I leave one another alone to make up our own religion for ourselves. Ross Douthat, in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, takes direct aim at the following: Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Karen Armstrong, and some others like Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coehlho, James Redfield, Neale Donald Walsch, and Marianne Williamson. My read of American religion is that the God Within heresy is far more pervasive and far more threatening to Christianity than the prosperity gospel (…another heresy, no thank you Joel Osteen). These are the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, Douthat says.

How pervasive is this God Within theology/religion/spirituality? Where are you seeing it in the church? Why is it so appealing?

Douthat goes after Gilbert, famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love, a journey from a marriage, to divorce, to seeking God in the Far East at an ashram recommended by her (ex-)lover, and then finally finding love in Bali with a Brazilian man … she had arrived, and her secret is what Douthat calls the God Within. She found a voice within, a voice within her own self, it was God’s voice, it was God, it was herself. God and Self, more or less the same.

For Gilbert, all religions offer the path to the divine — and all religious teachings are “transporting metaphors” leading to the infinite — you can cherry pick your own religion, make it all up, bricolage spirituality. Here’s her creed: “God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are” (214). We are to “honor the divinity that resides within” us (215).

What does this God Within stuff believe? Four points:
1. Organized religions offer only a glimpse of God.
2. God is everywhere and within everything; it is a form of pantheism ultimately.
3. All will eventually be reconciled with God — pantheistic universalism.
4. The good life, peace, etc, is available now.

They think they are truer to Christianity and Christ than most of Christianity. Here is where it becomes not only the God Within, but even more: the Me in the God Within. The person finds his or her own voice, or God, or the Soul.

It depersonalizes God — not the Father, Son and Spirit; not Yahweh; instead it is Being, Soul of the World, Highest Thought, Supreme Love (Ed. sounds more like eastern spirituality than Christianity, methinks). He gives Karen Armstrong a good sketch too: not about propositions but about encounter. The problem is that the theologians who are colonized into this new bricolaged religion of God Within, seen in #1 above, were all fiercely dogmatic — Gregory of Nyssa, Aquinas, et al. They knew their limits, but what they knew they really knew — and held out for. The faith exists because of the Flannery O’Connors, not the Paulo Coelhos.

He gets after a point that I have found so often among this crowd, and I see it at times in some in the spiritual formation movement: baptizing egomania and divinizing selfishness (his terms). That is, it becomes about Me and what God is doing in Me and my Soul and my Own Inner Self. It’s a kind of solipsism, he says. Religion for such people is the great Self-Enabler!

Critics or prophets were Philip Rieff and Les Kolakowski and Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. Moral therapeutic deism is where this stuff leads. God is out there for Me. So just be nice.”

Love, realizing the Kingdom of God is at hand! -Mk 1:15,
Matthew

The Heresy of Deism, the Enlightenment, & the Trinity

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

-“Thomas Jefferson”, by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, official Presidential portrait, my favorite image of the sage of Monticello

“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs… In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.”
-letter to James Smith discussing Jefferson’s hate of the doctrine of the Christian trinity, December 8 1822

As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I am torn as a Catholic when it comes to its founder’s theology.  I really do not like Mr. Jefferson’s, as he is called on grounds, theology.  It does not ring true for me, nor many others, I confidently suspect, but it is a bellwether of Enlightenment thinking in which the USA was founded, for woe or weal, and does serve as an excellent example of Deism.

Deism/Theism

Deism combines the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge with the conclusion that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe.  The Trinity is only known through Scriptural revelation, hence the Deist’s denial of this divinely revealed truth.

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world but rather allows it to function according to the laws of nature.

Fides et Ratio

Catholic “Fides et Ratio”, Faith and Reason, holds that both faith, natural and revealed, should not contradict reason.  If there is an apparent contradiction, there is a requirement to go deeper in our theology or our science to more profoundly understand, and that the two systems of thought will come into alignment and congruity once again, for a time, until another apparent contradiction offers us the opportunity to go further still.

Truth is known through a combination of faith and reason. The absence of either one will diminish man’s ability to know himself, the world and God. Human reason seeks the truth, but the ultimate truth about the meaning of life cannot be found by reason alone.

To the Deist/Theist, only reason may or need be applied, the over-emphasis of reason over every other consideration.  The motivation was to move beyond the perceived “superstitious” Middle Ages.  Revelation is not a primary font, nor is historical Christianity, hence, heresy.

Trinity

“God is love.” (Jn 3:16)  It is antithetical, we know, that (the Father’s) love should remain unreciprocated.  So we know there must be a beloved (the Son).  Because there is this great love between the divine lover and the divine beloved, it is so great, it is so intense, another person is “generated” (the Holy Spirit), hence the Trinity, known from Revelation, not from reason.  Sounds like a family to me.

“My Venerable Brother Bishops, Health and the Apostolic Blessing. Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).” –JPII, Fides et Ratio

Pope St John Paul II
Crossing the Threshold of Hope

“In prayer, then, the true protagonist is God. The protagonist is Christ, who constantly frees creation from slavery to corruption and leads it toward liberty, for the glory of the children of God. The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness.” We begin to pray, believing that it is our own initiative that compels us to do so. Instead, we learn that it is always God’s initiative within us, just as Saint Paul has written. This initiative restores in us our true humanity; it restores in us our unique dignity. Yes, we are brought into the higher dignity of the children of God, the children of God who are the hope of all creation.

One can and must pray in many different ways, as the Bible teaches through a multitude of examples. The Book of Psalms is irreplaceable. We must pray with “inexpressible groanings” in order to enter into rhythm with the Spirit’s own entreaties. To obtain forgiveness one must implore, becoming part of the loud cries of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Heb 5:7). Through all of this one must proclaim glory. Prayer is always an opus gloriae (a work, a labor, of glory). Man is the priest of all creation. Christ conferred upon him this dignity and vocation. Creation completes its opus gloriae both by being what it is and by its duty to become what should be.”

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Albigensianism – Ecclesia Semper Reformanda

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-please click on the image for a larger one and more detail

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-by Steve Weidenkopf

“So really the beginnings of this movement, or this event, start in the latter part of the 12th Century. What happens in 1184, Pope Lucius III sends a list of heresies to Bishops throughout Christendom. And he orders them, these Bishops, to take an active role in determining the guilt of heretics. So the Pope sends a list out to all the Bishops in Christendom, saying you the Bishop must take an active role of determining the guilt of heretics within your particular diocese.

Now why that was somewhat radical or different or why that’s kind of the beginning of this movement of the Inquisition is because before that time, really the Church relied on secular rulers to be the ones who combated heresy in their regions. It wasn’t necessarily something the Church had an active role in, it was something that they just looked towards the secular lord.

Because think about it, this is a time of feudalism. There’s no real nation-states, as we understand them. There’s no police force, there’s no standing army, that kind of thing. Really the police, the army was the lord and those who were aligned to him through vassalage and the feudal system. So it was the lord’s job to protect and to govern and to police the area. But the Church soon realized this became a problem here as we moved towards the end of the 12th Century, as I’ll tell you in a minute why.

But it became a problem because you had secular rulers trying to determine whether someone was guilty of heresy. The secular ruler had no training in theology, was not a theologian, had no real understanding of whether or not what the person was saying to him was contrary to the faith or not.

So the Pope realized this and said, “We need to put a stop to that, let’s actually start to institute something.” So at least in the beginning, Lucius III said, “Okay, Bishops, it’s your responsibility to discern whether someone is guilty of heresy in your area, in your diocese or not.” Later on, in 1231, Pope Gregory IX will come along and he will formally institute procedures for what are known as the medieval inquisitors, or we can call them Papal inquisitors during this period of time. And these Papal inquisitors were charged with determining orthodox belief, whether someone was embracing heresy and whether one was a heretic or not.

And he stipulated the qualifications that these Papally appointed inquisitors had to have. They had to be over the age of 40, they had to be trained in the arts of theology and law, and they had to be distinguished in their personal life by a life of good morals, insight and respectability. And they also needed to have a basic understanding, a good understating rather, as I mentioned, of theology and Canon Law. So he places qualifications on who now can judge whether someone has actually embraced heresy or not.

So in this 13th Century and leading up until about the 15th Century, what’s important to realize is that there is no such thing as the “Inquisition” as an institution in Christendom, okay. From the 13th Century to the 15th Century, you don’t have any institutional tribunals.

What you have instead are these Papally appointed inquisitors, who would go around – they were itinerant, so they went around to different regions, and they would just kind of set up shop in a town or a major village, and they’d be there for a period of time and they would ascertain whether or not there was heresy and then they’d move on to some other place. There was no institutional Inquisition, that comes much later in the 15th Century and we’ll talk about that in more detail.

So on the timeline, as I mentioned, the 15th-16th Century through the 19th Century, we have the creation of these institutional tribunals who were usually set up in cities. They were permanent in these different cities; they were staffed and manned by trained inquisitors. And then heretics were brought to those areas, or it was centered in an urban area and it was in that city where the inquisitors worked.

And some of the more famous ones of these Inquisitions, these actual tribunals, institutional tribunals were the one in Portugal, there was one in Rome, one in Venice, some of the major Italian city-states, and then the most famous one is the Spanish Inquisition. We’ll talk more about that in detail. So the Spanish Inquisition was an institutional tribunal set up here in the 15th Century. Different, but similar in some ways, as I’ll tell you, to these medieval inquisitors that operated in the 13th Century.

Now all of these institutional tribunals that I mentioned in Portugal, in Spain, in Venice and other Italian city-states, they all are abolished by the time we get to the 19th Century. It was only one that remains and that’s the one in Rome, the Roman Inquisition. and it was known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1966.

The name of that office was changed to Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. So it’s an office that still exists today in the Vatican. The previous kind of more famous well-known prefect, or head of the congregation, was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Benedict XVI.

So that office still exists and it still is charged, among other things, with looking at the doctrine of faith and maintaining orthodoxy throughout the Church, looking at theological writings and determining whether they are or are not orthodox or heterodox. So that’s kind of the brief timeline of these Papally appointed inquisitors and then what’s known as the Inquisitions.

So now what happens here? We saw that in 1231, Gregory IX institutes the procedures for these Papally appointed inquisitors. Why does that happen? Why Gregory IX, and the 13th Century? What is going on historically which brings that to the front?

And what’s going on is there’s a major heresy that erupts in the south of France during this time, and it’s called the Albigensian Heresy or sometimes known as Catharism, or the Cathar heresy.   (Ed. Ultimately, following Cathar dualism, inspires the “Perfecti” to starve themselves to death, so ideas have consequences, and sometimes deadly ones:  Fascism, Communism, Breathariansim, etc.  What are the consequences of American ideology?  Discuss.)

And so Catharism ravaged, it was going all throughout the south of France and it was very, very pernicious, it spread widely and I’ll tell you why in a minute here.   It was simple, and deadly/destructive.  And so, the church had to react, had to do something to prevent this spread of this heresy from wiping out society.

Now I mentioned it’s Albigensian or Catharism, Cathar actually comes from the Greek Katharos, which means clean or pure. Because those who practiced the higher end of Catharism believed that they were clean and pure and perfect in all that they were doing and how they lived and in the doctrine that they taught and that they believed.

It appears, in France, at the end of the early part of the 11th Century, it actually comes over, migrates from the east from Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire. It first kind of centered in Bulgaria and Macedonia, those areas and then it transfers over into the southern part of France. And it becomes especially numerous; it grows really around the town of Albi, in the south of France. This is where we get the word, Albigensian, from that town. The town Albi is about 45 miles east of Toulouse, so that’s the major city in the south of France.

Now it spreads for a lot of different reasons, but some of the major reasons why Catharism and Albigensian become such a huge problem is because of its rapid spread. And it spreads primarily because of the state of the clergy in the south of France. The clergy in the south of France at this time were not good, to put it succinctly.

Catholic Priests did not live their vocations. Many of them were corrupt, worldly, concerned more with riches and power and mistresses and other things. One historian has remarked that pretty much every priest in certain major areas of southern France had a mistress at this time. So it was a very bad situation for the Church as a whole. Many priests were functionally illiterate. Most of them or many of them barely knew Latin; they knew just enough Latin to say the mass, that’s it. It was a really sorry state of affairs.

And a lot of that was brought about because of the Bishops living in the south of France at the time. These were men who engaged in ecclesiastical abuses of such things as absenteeism. Meaning the bishop didn’t actually reside in his diocese, he lived someplace else. There was nepotism that was rampant in church offices in that area as well. There was also what’s called pluralism, and pluralism is basically one man being the Bishop of many different dioceses. So you could imagine if you’re the Bishop of diocese X and diocese Y, you can’t live in two places at once, so then that leads to the ecclesiastical abuses I mentioned earlier of absenteeism.

There is no Bishop, resident Bishop in this area. So things were really, really, really difficult. So difficult that Pope Innocent III, at one point remarked this about the bishops in the south of France. He said, “They were blind men, dumb dogs who could no longer bark. Men who will do anything for money. They say the good is bad and the bad is good. They turn light into darkness and darkness into light, sweet to bitter and bitter to sweet. They do not fear God nor respect man. They give Church offices to illiterate boys whose behavior is often scandalous.” And that’s the Pope writing about his own episcopacy here in the south of France. Things were really, really bad.

So it’s a ripe opportunity and a ripe environment for heresy to take root and to spread. Because one of the reasons why it spread so much was that some of the members of the Cathari I’ll talk about in a moment, called the Perfecti, they lived outwardly, very moral lives or what seemed to be very moral lives.

They seemed like they were people of charity, people of virtue and so, you know, your unsuspecting peasants can see these two examples. They see a Perfecti or somebody who’s a member of the Albigensian heresy living a virtuous life and they see their parish priest running around with a mistress, corrupt and worldly and their Bishop not even in their own diocese. And you could see why they might be attracted to one over the other because virtue, holiness attracts. So if you’re not living a holy life, then people will not be attracted to that at all.

So what is it that these Albigensians and the Cathari believed? They had some very, very interesting beliefs. They were really Gnostic in origin and what Gnosticism is, Gnosticism was of heresy in the early Church, the Church that was early on in her existence that had to do with basically this understanding of – that Gnostics had a view of the world that was dualist.  (Ed. Dualism denies Creation is good and calls God and Scripture liars, Gen 1:31, that is why dualism, or whatever it calls itself du jour, is a heresy.  Mt 7:16)

Meaning that they believed there was material properties to the world and there were spiritual properties to the world, which do exist. But they believed that the spiritual things were good and were created and made by a good God, but all the material things of the world were created by a bad God.

So you’re spirit, your soul in this Gnostic Cathari belief is a good thing, is good. But our bodies are bad, so anything that our body does is also bad. This is what the Cathari and the Gnostics believed. Then Gnosticism morphs later on in Church history into what’s called Manicheanism, something that even Saint Augustine himself was member of for a period of time before his conversion. And then it morphs later on from Gnosticism to Manicheanism to here, to Albigensianism.

So one thing when study the history of heresies throughout the Church, they never really kind of ever go away, they just morph into something different or something new. (Ed. “There are no new heresies”, so the saying goes.)  And even in our own day in age, we’re still dealing with certain teachings or certain groups that have these kind of Gnostic or dualistic tendencies, the spirit is good, matter is bad.

A few years ago, I think it was in 1998 or around there, the late ‘90s, there was a group called Heaven’s Gate, in California. They made news all throughout the world because they all committed suicide, the members of this community committed suicide en masse one night because their belief was that there was this comet coming and that the comet was real. But then behind the comet was some space ship and that what they needed to do was at a certain moment, a period of time, they had to kill themselves to free their good souls from their body to meet up with the space ship so they could go on to whatever paradise or heaven that they believed in.

So that’s Gnosticism, pure and simple. It’s Manicheanism, it’s Albigensianism again, it just continues to morph itself. So there’s nothing new that the Church has dealt with, she’s dealt with these things in the past.

So matter is bad, spirit is good, so if you turn to Jesus then, what are the Albigensians and Cathari think about Jesus? Well, they didn’t believe that He was God and they didn’t believe He was man either.

They believed that he was this phantom-like creature, some kind of spirit, pure spirit type of creature, not God Himself but definitely not inhabiting – He didn’t have a physical body, He was just a phantom or a spirit. So because of that, because He didn’t have a real body then they also believed and taught that He didn’t really suffer on the cross. There was no reason for Him to bodily suffer on the cross because He didn’t have a body in the first place.

They rejected, obviously, the Eucharist. How could a spiritual being, like Jesus, as they believed, kind of come to be in this material properties of bread and wine, although transubstantiated, but how could that happen, we don’t understand that, that’s not real. So anything that smacks of matter was bad for the Albigensians, anything that’s spiritual is good. They also believed that during His life what Jesus taught was a spiritual perfection and a spiritual release. That life was really – the purpose of life was to be free of our bodies, it was to grow deeper in our souls, grow deeper in our spirits so we could free ourselves from these horrible, evil bodies. And that’s what Jesus taught; this is what the Albigensians believed.

Jesus taught that, but after his ascension into heaven the Church then was founded and the Church garbled his message, the Church changed Jesus’ message. And we still deal with people that believe that kind of stuff today. Church changes his message and so it’s these Cathari, these Albigensians that have his authentic message. And so join us and we will give the original message of Jesus. Don’t believe what the Church is telling you, that’s biased, that’s created, that’s self-constructed. Come to us and we will give you the real liberated teachings of Jesus.

They actually believed that the Church was the creation of Satan, you know, fallen bad angel. Saint Dominic was one who actually went through the south of France and actually was given the idea by the Holy Spirit to found is order, the Order of Preachers, while he was in the south of France and fighting the Albigensian heretics really. But he came across an Albigensian who said this about the Church, he said, this Albigensian said, “The Roman Church is the Devil’s Church and her doctrines are those of demons. She is the Babylon whom Saint John called the mother of fornication and abomination. Drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs. Neither Christ, nor the apostles has established the existing order of the mass.”

So if you’re Saint Dominic, right, and you run into somebody who teaches this or believes this, obviously this is a problem for the Church. You can immediately say this is a significant issue. Not only was their teaching a problem for the Church, but what made them even more pernicious and more of a threat was the fact that the Albigensians established themselves as kind of a counter-church to the Catholic Church. They organized themselves hierarchically, so they actually had dioceses and they had Bishops along with two assistants who were the head of these kind of Albigensians diocese throughout the south of France.

So they set up again like this mirror kind of counter-church. “Come to us, we’re the true Church, the Catholic Church is this creation of Satan.” So it’s obviously a significant issue. They also had Deacons, which assisted the community and then they had what they called their priests or what I refered to before as these Perfecti, these people who took a special solemn oath to live lives really devoid of any kind of material attachment.

The Perfecti, these priests of the Albigensian Church, would participate in extreme fasting. They would not eat any form of meat, for example, either. If they were married they would abstain from marital relations because in their mind what comes from the marital act is potentially new life and that would be bad, because you would be taking a good soul and you’d be entrapping it into this bad material human body.  (Ed.  Life is bad?  Preventing birth?  Nazis said, “Unworthy of life!”  Hmmm.  Seems I’ve heard these before?  Methinks.)

So they practiced celibacy, but they also practiced other forms of sexual activity, which does not result in possible procreation. (Ed. Albigensians considered procreation was considered worse than fornication or adultery.) I won’t get into details, but that’s what they believed in. And they also believed in practice, The Perfecti, that suicide was their highest form of worship.

So I mentioned to you this Heaven’s Gate group, what they were doing, again, was nothing new, that happened before. The Perfecti eventually would kill themselves in order to free their good soul form their bad body, which you would think would not be a nice and good and effective tool for recruitment, nor would the lack of sex. But they did grow nonetheless from virtue, so virtue attracts.  (Ed. I would substitute the term “radical commitment” instead of virtue here, something to believe in, something to live or die for, I would however caution to be extremely discriminating in what you adhere towards.  ISIS recruits, so does Evil.) If you’re living a virtuous life, it’s a holy life or should be, then that will attract people to you and it did in this form as well.

Now most Cathari and most Albigensians were what we call believers. So they weren’t members of the Perfecti, they didn’t participate in the pact, the suicide worship or the extreme fasting or the extreme celibacy or other sexual activity, they were just believers. These who participated in the liturgy that the Albigensians had and were focused on helping the community, but didn’t follow the higher teachings. So how did the Church respond to this Albigensians heresy? We’ve kind of gone through what a significant threat to was to the Church and to society as a whole, so how did the Church respond?

Well initially, the Church responds through a series of local councils. So, Bishops in the area getting together and addressing this heresy. So at the council of Toulouse in 1119, the heresy was condemned, the Council of Tours in 1163 was also condemned. You had the great Saint Bernard came to the area and he preached in 1154 as well, trying to bring people back to the faith and to reject Albigensianism. But by the latter part of the 12th Century, the heresy was very widespread, was extremely widespread and very popular and so something different, something more aggressive had to occur.

And that’s where we get Pope Innocent III, probably one of the greatest Popes in medieval history, comes to the pontificate and he realizes that this is a serious issue in the south of France, we need to address it. So for four years, from 1203 to 1207, he sends a series of missionaries to the south of France again, to preach, to teach the authentic faith and to try to bring the Albigensians back, just like Saint Bernard before that.

He also reformed the Church. I mentioned to you earlier how one of the reasons why the heresy spread so much was because of the state of the clergy, the corrupt and worldly Bishops and absent Bishops. And so, he reformed the Church by deposing seven Bishops, putting in new, different men, more men who lived their vocation more appropriately.

And so he tried to work also with the local ruler, the major ruler, secular ruler in the area, Raymond of Toulouse, and tried to work with him to get him to try to step up his combat the heresy as well.

Eventually though, Raymond kind of pushed back on that. Some historians believe that his wife was actually a member of the Albigensians, might have been a Perfecti herself, so Raymond didn’t really engage in combating the heresy as much and he just kind of let it spread.

So eventually he got into trouble with the Papal legate that Pope Innocent III had sent down to talk with him, and eventually it was believed on the orders of Raymond of Toulouse that this Papal legate was murdered after a meeting. They had a meeting and the legate leaves and then the next morning he’s killed. So this really obviously upsets Innocent, and so Innocent decides to do something more radical and instead he calls a Crusade.

And this is the time of the Crusading movement, the height of the Crusading movement really. Pope Innocent the Third called more Crusades than any other Pope in the history of the Church. And so he calls a Crusade here at the south of France to try to eradicate the Albigensian heresy. And it’s a 20-year war, from 1209 to 1229, and it’s a bloody, bloody civil war, really. And I wish we had time to get into the details of the Albigensian Crusade, but I don’t. So just know that it was a very bloody civil war, it was a difficult time, and ultimately the end of the civil war was brought about through a political situation, solutions from the King of France, and it didn’t end the heresy.

When the whole purpose of the Crusade was to root out the heresy, but at the end of it, the end of these 20 years, it still was around, it still was pretty well spread and popular and so there was something else that needed to be done. So what else needed to be done was what I mentioned to you earlier, was Gregory the Ninth steps in and he establishes the procedures for those Medieval inquisitors, those Papally appointed inquisitors to go to the south of France and to deal with the situation. And so that’s what happens.

Now, before I get into telling you what goes on here in the south of France, what the Papal inquisitors and the procedures that they went though and how they tried to root out heresy, we have to take a step back and just answer the question, why is heresy bad? I mean, many of us living in the 21st Century here in the United States, you know, the land of religious freedom, religious liberty and religious toleration, and we think, well okay, so somebody believes differently than we do, why is that a bad thing? Why is this an issue? Why is the Church spending so much energy and resources on trying to deal with this and combat this?”

The Heresy/Schism of Montanism

Tertullian
-Tertullian, (155-240 AD), a famous Montanist, and early Christian writer

It has nothing to do with the state of Montana. It is a heresy or, better yet, a schism caused by the prophet, Montanus, and two prophetesses, Maximilla and Prisca (Priscilla) in Phrygia during the late second century.

As witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles, the exterior gifts of the Holy Spirit (e.g. praying in tongues & prophecy) were common in the infant Church. But St. Paul already in his First Epistle to the Corinthians warns Christians that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit are not as important as the interior gifts of sanctity. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,… And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries… but have not love, I am nothing”. [1 Cor. 13:1-2]Such exterior gifts need to be tempered by humility and obedience to the Church, since Satan can more easily counterfeit them.

Montanus became a convert to Christianity around A.D. 170. He lived in Asia Minor, and, prior to his conversion, he was a priest in an Asiatic cult called Cybele. He claimed that he had the gift of prophecy, prophesying in an ecstatic state. Eusebius, a church historian born around A.D. 260-270, wrote the following of Montanus: “In his lust for leadership, he became obsessed and would suddenly fall into frenzy and convulsions. He began to be ecstatic and speak and talk strangely, and prophesied contrary to that which was the custom from the beginning of the church. Those who heard him were convinced that he was possessed. They rebuked him and forbade him to speak, remembering the warning of the Lord Jesus to be watchful because false prophets would come” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.16.1). Montanus was joined by two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, who also claimed to have the gift of prophecy and also prophesied in an ecstatic state.

It was not the idea of prophecy that caused a great disturbance in the church. It was the manner in which they prophesied. They had departed from the biblical norms of prophecy, both in content and in the manner in which they expressed their prophesies. They as a trio believed that they had received revelation from the Lord while being in an ecstatic state. This style of prophesying was likened to the same irrational, ecstatic prophetic style that was a part of Montanus’ life prior to his conversion when he was a priest of Cybele.

Unfortunately Montanus and his followers, called Montanists, did not remain loyal to the Church but broke away. At first, their prophecies were not heretical but simply extravagant. The early prophecies called for penance and strict fasts on certain days. But unlike the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke as messengers of God: “Thus says the Lord”, Montanus claimed to be possessed by God and spoke as God: “I am the Lord God omnipotent, who has descended into man.”

These prophecies also occurred during mad ecstasies. This concerned certain holy Churchmen, who tried to exorcise them. Later Montanus claimed that Christ’s redemption was still not complete; therefore, God possessed him in order to fulfill the salvation for all men. The Montanists highly valued chastity, virginity and martyrdom. They also disapproved of second marriages. Due to their emotional and rigorous nature, they attracted Christians, who thought that the Church was too secular and lax. Due to his extreme personality, the famous Tertullian also joined them and defended their cause. The sect survived the death of Montanus for a few centuries, but eventually became small and secret before disappearing altogether.

Montanists did not believe those who had denied the faith during persecution should be readmitted, in contrast to the Catholic position that through contrition and sincere penance, unity with the Church for the apostate could be restored.

brianjohnzuelke

-by Br Brian John Zuelke, OP

“…Montanism was an early Church heresy that sought to live a more pure Christian life in opposition to what was perceived as the “worldliness” of the mainstream Church.

Montanus and his followers were disturbed by what they perceived to be a lack of charismatic gifts within the Church, from gifts of healing to ecstatic prophecy to speaking-in-tongues. They blamed this lack of “charismata” on the moral laxity of the Church, a moral laxity which tends to arise as a natural consequence of the Church’s “settling down” in the world.

They sought to recapture the zeal and moral purity of the Apostolic Church, an era when the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit flourished. They believed a new age was upon them which would see the flourishing of the charismatic gifts… but only for the “pure.”

In turn, the “institutional Church” was viewed with suspicion and derided for having sold out to the world. As Montanism matured, its radicalism gave rise to heretical doctrines concerning the Trinity — a sort of modalism, (Ed. Modalism/Sabellianism is a type of heresy which denies the Nicene Trinity.  It rather proposes only one God who acts in three modes, but does not recognize those modes as three distinct Persons) in the end — and schismatic attitudes towards the Church. It was not violently suppressed: it simply fizzled-out.

…In our own new age of “new evangelization,” do we sometimes look at the “institutional Church” of episcopacy and Pope as a hindrance rather than a gift in spreading the gospel? Are we keen for miraculous events and new prophecy which will lead us out of the doldrums we find ourselves in?

Are we over-zealous at times for an exciting, “Spirit-filled” Church which has little time for the slow, patient work of conversion that Pope Francis seems to favor in Evangelii Gaudium (see n. 222ff)?

In fact, this age of new evangelization calls us to a new unity within the Church, that all may work together to mission ad extra and renewal ad intra.”

Love,
Matthew

Oct 17 – The Heresy of Gnosticism

ignatius2

Even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” ~2 Peter 2:1

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between ‘material’ (Ed: “in reality, as a ‘matter’ of real fact”) and ‘formal’ heresy. Material heresy means in effect “holding erroneous doctrines through no fault of one´s own” as occurs with people brought up in non-Catholic communities, i.e. through ignorance, or accident of birth, and “is neither a crime nor a sin”.

The material heretic is ready and willing to be corrected, and assent, were the truth made plain to them.  BIG EXAMPLE:  ignorant, or less than perfectly trained, catechists, i.e. yours truly.  There are many scholarly types on the distribution for this blog for just this reason!  🙂 I rely on them to keep me, a) humble, and b) on the straight and narrow! We ignorants mean well, but we just don’t know better when the Internet is feeding us nonsense.  🙂  Thank goodness for copy/paste, or is it the work of the devil?  🙂  Thank you, auditors!!!!

Formal (Ed: knowing the truth, that it is held to be the truth by the Church, as a formal matter of dogma, and willfully rejecting it) heresy is “the willful and persistent adherence to an error in matters of faith”.   The formal heretic refuses to be corrected.  One must be baptized in order to be a heretic.  Those unbaptized are under the category “other”.

The Church holds that since God created Creation and deemed it “good” (Gen 1:31), it cannot, intrinsically, be evil, as some heresies have held.  For Catholics, the “glass is half-full”.  Heresies go by many names, through many ages.  They persist even into our modern world under guise.  It is said, “there are no new heresies”.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  Some have suggested  modern forms of Gnosticism are Scientology and Freemasonry.

-by Br Isaac Augustine Morales, OP (Br Isaac received a doctorate in New Testament from Duke University and taught in the Department of Theology at Marquette University for four years before joining the Order.)

“From the earliest days, the Church has faced the perennial temptation to deny the goodness of material creation in general and of the human body in particular. The Platonic notion of the body as a “prison” from which the soul must escape has cropped up repeatedly throughout the Church’s history, only to be condemned every time someone proposed it.

We see one particular form of this error, the denial that Jesus really took on flesh and blood, reflected in the New Testament, and it is condemned in no uncertain terms: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7). What is it that drives this temptation? And what makes the idea derived from it so pernicious that St. John calls those who embrace it “antichrist”?

The answer to the first question stems from two factors: the majesty of God and the messiness of creation. In the early centuries, God was seen as totally other than creation, in the words of 1 Timothy, “immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17). God transcends the world and, unlike us, is not subject to change, to corruption, to pain and suffering, to anything that belongs to this world. Contrast this picture of an ineffable God with creation, particularly after the fall: we are born, we grow old, we suffer, we die. To many it seemed unfitting for God to experience birth and to have His diapers changed, much less to endure the shame and torture of one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised by men. This is one aspect of the scandal of the Incarnation: that the God who transcends creation has joined Himself so fully to it that he knows first-hand our challenges and our trials.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, whom the Church commemorates today, meditated on this mystery as he was being led to Rome for his own execution, and he condemns the denial of Christ’s real flesh and blood as forcefully as the Second Letter of John. In one of his letters Ignatius explains the importance of Christ’s actual flesh and blood:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?

There are at least two dangers in this denial of Christ’s real humanity and suffering: it empties Christian suffering of its purpose, and it implies deception on God’s part. To take the latter point first, if Jesus only appeared to be human and to suffer – if his looks are deceiving – then the Gospels lie to us. Jesus has nothing in common with us, and His life was a mere show – and a fraudulent One at that.

Closer to home for Ignatius, Jesus’ actual suffering in the flesh was closely bound up with his own impending martyrdom. In some mysterious way, Christ’s suffering takes up and incorporates the suffering of the members of his body:

By [the cross] He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Savior] Himself, having promised their union.

In His suffering and death, Christ manifests His solidarity with the human race, showing Himself to be a God who knows our trials not in some distant, indifferent way, but personally and experientially.

If the sole purpose of the Incarnation were Christ’s solidarity with us in our suffering, then Christianity would be little more than divinely sanctioned masochism. But for Ignatius, suffering – both Christ’s and ours – is not an end in itself, but rather a bridge to eternal life. It is by our suffering that we participate in Christ’s own sacrifice and through it come to the glory of His Resurrection. This is why one can rightly call a death at the jaws of lions a happy and peaceful one. The peace comes from the sure hope that death does not have the final victory – Christ has conquered it through the Resurrection.

Most of us are probably not ready to offer our bodies to the lions as Ignatius did, but we must remember that it was not on the basis of his own strength that he faced his death. He drew strength from feeding on Christ’s own Eucharistic flesh and blood, which he called the “medicine of immortality.” By feeding on this medicine we too can be strengthened to face our own trials and, God willing, pass through a happy death to the glory of the Resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord & The Heresy of Adoptionism

Baptism-of-Christ-xx-Francesco-Alban
-“Baptism of Christ”, by Francesco Albani, oil on canvas, (1630-1635), State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russian Federation, the heresy of Adoptionism declares this may have been one event where God “adopted” Jesus as His Son.

athanasius murphy

-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” The words of John the Baptist to Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are worth pondering. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? Being the Son of God, why be troubled at all about the ritual of baptism, especially by a man like John the Baptist?

It is easy to fall into error over this question. Some people have concluded that since Jesus underwent baptism, he must have been in need of something, and so Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father made Jesus divine. This heresy has been called Adoptionism, since it contends that Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father ‘adopted’ Jesus and he ‘really’ became divine.

But what, then, are the real reasons that Jesus desired to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan? One reason is that Jesus was not baptized to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse others. Though he was not a sinner himself, Christ took on our sinful nature and the likeness of sinful flesh when he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Now, during his baptism, the old man of our sinful nature was plunged below the waters so that we might grow into the full stature of adopted sons of God. In Christ’s descent into the Jordan River, the waters are given the virtue of baptism, and our frail nature is restored.

Another reason is so that Christ could lay a path that all his disciples could imitate. In response to John the Baptist’s question, Christ replies that his own baptism is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness.” In commenting on this verse, St. Ambrose states that true righteousness is to “do first yourself what you wish another to do, and so encourage others by your example.” By entering into the waters of the Jordan, Christ gives an example to us in humility and obedience to his Father in heaven. This obedience, which is fulfilled completely in Christ’s passion, is the example which every Christian is called to follow.

The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judah, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to save mankind. But it is fitting that Christ’s ministry should begin immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River. As St. Ambrose noted, where Elijah divided the river of the Jordan with his mantle of old, so now Christ, in these same waters, will make all things new by separating the plague of sin from our human nature. May we thank God for our own baptism, and encourage others to be cleansed from sin in the water that was first cleansed by the pure, spotless, and saving flesh of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Heresy, Truth, and the Order of Preachers

-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP  (Br. Bonaventure Chapman entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“If you ask a Dominican to compare the success of the Order of Preachers to that of the Society of Jesus, you may be treated to the following jocular comment: “Well, the Dominicans were founded to defeat the Albigensian heresy and the Jesuits were founded to defeat the Protestant Reformation. How many Albigensians do you see running around today?”

As a convert and student of the Reformation I have always found this comment a bit ironic. And not because of the obvious historical fact that, at least according to Luther, we Dominicans got the whole “late unpleasantness” started with the preaching of Johann Teztel, O.P., and his famous ditty: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / a soul from purgatory springs.” This fact alone should incline any Jesuit enthusiast to retort to the Dominican heckler, “You started it! Clean up your own mess!”

But, and I always fear giving Jesuits anti-Dominican ammunition, it is a lesser known although more crucial figure of the Reformation that proves the joke’s irony. For if there were a Time magazine of the Reformation, and if it were in the habit of recognizing a “Man of the Reformation,” it’s almost certain that this honor would go to an ex-Dominican friar named Martin Bucer.

Bucer was a Reformation force; he had his hand in almost every strand of Protestant development. Born in Schlettstadt, Germany, in 1491, he joined the Order of Preachers at age sixteen and was ordained to the priesthood in 1516. He taught at the Dominican studium until 1521, when he left the Order to begin his career as a reformer. He moved to Strasbourg, leading the reformation in that city. Bucer was a theological polymath. He was conditioned, according to Ian Hazlett, “by an extraordinary coalescence of humanist, Erasmian, Aristotelian, Thomist, Neoplatonist, Augustinian, Lutheran, and biblical influences.” This vast learning, owed to his Dominican education and formation, allowed him to be the “Elder Statesman” for the major branches of the Reformation: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican.

Bucer was with Luther from the beginning, encountering him at the Disputation of Heidelberg in 1518 and undergoing a religious conversion based upon this encounter. He continued to play a key role in Lutheran theological development through his work with Philip Melanchthon and his various failed attempts at union between Luther and Zwingli. In Strasbourg, Bucer mentored the young John Calvin during a time when, as Bernard Cottret writes, “Calvin became ‘Calvin.’” This young French Reformer took what he learned from Bucer and went back to Geneva to found the center of Reformed Protestantism, one of the most famous—or infamous—cities in Western civilization.

Just in case the Continent wasn’t enough, Bucer moved to England during the trials and travails of the Reformation there in the 1550s. He was a key advisor to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and the English Reformer happily looked to the man of Strasbourg for theological and political counsel. While Strasbourg itself did not live up to its aspirations as the Rome of the Reformation, Bucer asserted a quasi-papal influence around the globe during the Reformation, and a significant reason for his power was, without a doubt, his training as a Friar Preacher.

So what can we learn from this less-edifying episode in the history of the Dominican Order? Two things, I think. First, while Dominican involvement in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation was by no means all negative (think of Cardinal Cajetan and Pope Pius V, as well as all those delightfully Thomistic decrees from Trent!), Martin Bucer is a reminder that the greater the climb, the greater the potential fall. St. Thomas argues that, because of his greater excellence and thus greater temptation to pride, it is understandable that it was the highest of the angels—not some pipsqueak angel!—who fell from grace (see ST Ia. q. 63, a. 7). The devil is no idiot, but expansive erudition is no infallible guard against sin, or even against heresy or schism.

Secondly, and more positively for poor Bucer, while his great learning allowed him to be so influential during those years, his campaign was always one of reunion with the Church, not absolute separation. Before Trent he was at the forefront of all dialogues and colloquies between the Catholic Church and the Protestant traditions; he urged troubled Catholics not to leave the Church but to attempt reform within, and he even accorded a primacy of honor to the pope. His was not the radical withdrawal of Zwingli, of the older Luther, or of Calvin, and, when members of these more separatist groups challenged his commitment to the Reformation, he chided them by saying: “It is all very well for those supping wine and beer in cozy bars to rubbish those who slave away at these controversies and struggles.” Perhaps his residual Romanism and drive for reunion was due to his solid scholastic theology in the Dominican studium.

There may not be any Albigensians running around these days, but there are still plenty of separated brethren of the various Protestant communities, and in large part due to this former Dominican. And if Bucer’s Dominican heritage allowed him to influence all the strands of Protestantism, so too can this same Dominican tradition allow us not just to engage with his ecclesial heirs, but to achieve the reunion of all Christians in Christ’s Church.”

(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

-oil on panel, The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection, circa 1650-1689

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4)

Love,
Matthew

Jan 13 – St Hilary of Poitiers, (315?-368 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Christ’s Divinity, Hammer of the Arians

St.-Hilary-of-Poitiers1

I love Pilate’s question.  “What is Truth?” (Jn 18:38), asked by so many in our own day, or not.  I have spent a VERY LONG TIME praying on THAT ONE!!!!  I still do.  I will until breath or thought are no longer mine.

Rather than seek out and admit to Truth, the burden of Which is tremendous in its implications and responsibilities for us, many shrink/cower in fear or laziness and become their own truth, their own god, saying falsely, “There is no God.” Or, “God is Whom I wish Him to be.”  In Gen 3:5, the effects of the deception of the serpent persist.  Not only did Adam & Eve not become like God, we still believe we know, inherently, as a matter of fact, of and from our own reference of ourselves, our own whims, preferences, fashions and passions, a self-idolatry, the difference between Good & Evil.  Untrue.  An intellectual idol if ever there was one, not of silver or gold, but of self-satisfaction and reassurance.  Safe, warm, self-satisfied, self-established, self-proclaimed, self-determined, self-assured, and false.  Heresy.  Psalm 135:15-18.

No.  One of the defining qualities of the True God is He is utterly transcendent.  We do not define Him, in any way, form, or iota, nor, be forewarned and wary, should we ever be tempted to try.  He defines us.  He does not need us.  We need Him, desperately.  Classical catechesis teaches us if God ever stopped thinking about us, we would vanish into nothingness.  All Creation exists because of and holds/remains because of the mindfulness of God.  He loves us, surely, but voluntarily loves us; the only true love, and utterly not out of some necessity.  That would be some sort of co-dependency.  And I am unaware God is co-dependent.

After the Resurrection, and even with the compilation, eventually, of the canon of Scripture, i.e., Council of Carthage, 397 AD, there were still many practical questions those wishing to live the Christian faith reasonably had.  Details, details, details.  Details are important.  If, as the conventional wisdom goes, it is all about relationships, then details matter.  How would your most important relationships fare without the intimate details/”history” those relationships are based upon?  Not so well, I confidently posit.

And so, it goes with God, in that most important Relationship, upon which all depends, details matter.  Don’t get the details right and the Relationship is askew, misdirected, misinformed, misshapen, misunderstood, ineffective, failing or failed.  You don’t “get It!”  The very definition of sin is being out of right Relationship with God, of not “getting it”, not rendering, as justice demands, as a creature of the Creator, just worship and love for the fact of even just being.

While the Church certainly faces its challenges in our own day, the first thousand years of Christianity were plagued by, among others, Arianism.  Arianism was a belief created by Arius, Bishop of Alexandria AD 250–336, in Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, essentially denying the equality in divinity of Jesus to His Father. Arius asserted that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. Arius was condemned as a heretic.

The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by, and is therefore a creature/creation of God the Father. This belief is grounded in the misinterpretation of the Gospel of John passage “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28)  Although condemned, the damage was done. The heresy spread rapidly. St. Jerome said “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.”

Hilary was a gentle and courteous man, devoted to writing some of the greatest theology on the Trinity, and was like his Master in being labeled a “disturber of the peace.” In a very troubled period in the Church, his holiness was lived out in both scholarship and controversy.  Hilary was born in Poitiers, France, at the beginning of the fourth century. In the early centuries of Christianity, paganism, of course, was prevalent.  Hilary’s family was pagan, as was Hilary, by birth.  He married and raised a family.  His daughter’s name was Apra.

Receiving an excellent education, Hilary, though, was drawn to the study of Scripture.  Hilary learned that, from studying Scripture, a person should practice patience, kindness, justice and as many good habits as possible. These good acts would be rewarded in the life after death. Hilary’s studies also convinced him that there could only be One God Who is eternal, all-powerful and good. He read the Bible continuously.

When he came to the story of Moses and the burning bush, Hilary was very impressed by the name God gave himself: I AM WHO AM. Hilary read the writings of the prophets, too. Then he read the whole New Testament. By the time he finished, Hilary was completely converted to Christianity, and he asked to be baptized.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was appointed bishop, against his personal wishes. This did not make his life easy because the Roman Emperor was interfering in Church matters. When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of St Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey). Eventually Hilary was called the “Athanasius of the West.” It was then when Hilary’s great virtues of patience and courage stood out. He accepted exile calmly and used the time to write books explaining the Catholic faith.

While writing in exile, he was invited by some semi-Arians (hoping for reconciliation) to a council the emperor called to counteract the Council of Nicea, where the true Catholic doctrine of the Trinity was affirmed and defined. Hilary predictably defended the Church, and when he sought public debate with the heretical bishop who had exiled him, the Arians, dreading the meeting and its outcome, pleaded with the emperor to send this troublemaker back home, where they hoped he would receive less notoriety.

Since he was becoming famous, Hilary’s enemies asked the emperor to send him back to his home in France. They hoped that people would pay less attention to him there. So Hilary was sent back to Poitiers in 360.  He was received at home with great joy by the people of Poitiers. He continued writing and teaching about the Faith. Hilary died eight years later, at the age of fifty-two. His books have influenced the Church right to our own day.

“To those who wish to stand in God’s grace, neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting.” – Saint Hilary, Commentary on the Psalms

Prayer of St Hilary of Poitiers

“I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of You.

In fact, You have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at Your service. It is for making You known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows You not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in You.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of Your help and Your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before You, fill them with the breath of Your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming Your Truth. We have been promised, and He who made the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But Yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek You and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate Your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to Your teaching and by obedience to the Faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in You to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that You are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of You from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in Truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that He is begotten of You Who are the One God; nor must we assert that He is other than the true God, born of You, who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its Truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about You, the One God the Father, and the One Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny You, to honor You as God, Who is not alone, and to proclaim this as Truth.”  -from a sermon On the Trinity (Lib 1, 37-38: PL 10, 48-49) by Saint Hilary of Poitiers.  This prayer is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers.

Old English liturgical books have the following Preface for the Liturgy on the feast day of St. Hilary: “… that we should always and in all places give thanks, pay our vows, and consecrate our gifts to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God. Who of old didst choose Thy blessed confessor Hilary for Thyself to be a prelate of sanctified confession, shining brightly with radiance vast, mighty in the meekness of his ways, burning with the fervour of his faith, flowing with the fountain of his speech. For the One in Whom his glory lay, is revealed by the multitudes thronging his sepulchre, the purification of those that hasten to it, the healing of the diseased there, the signs of astonishing miracles…”
-from the complete Old Sarum Rite Missal, (c) 1998 St. Hilarion Press

Prayer

O Lord our God, Who raised up Your servant Hilary to be a champion of the Catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having You for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sola fides? Are you Saved? I’m working on it. I hope so.

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Phil 2:12

-by Patricia May, Arkansas Catholic, 3/26/11

“Many Catholics, especially those living in the South, have heard the question posed by Protestants. Unprepared by the Church to properly answer, they often shrug off the question or walk away.

But Catholics should not only respond, they ought to engage their questioners in discussion. That’s the position of Dr. C. Colt Anderson, dean of Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., and the featured speaker March 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish’s third annual theology lecture.

Originally from Georgia, Anderson said he’s faced the question. He asked the audience of mostly college students to answer, “Are you saved?” “Working on it,” responded one listener. A pretty good answer, Anderson acknowledged. Better, he said, is the response: “I hope so.”

Catholic doctrine supplies the proper foundation for response, Anderson said, and Catholics should be confident answering. “We can say we have hope, strong hope (that we’re saved), but we can’t know for sure.”

To believe one is saved is to risk a potentially dangerous smugness. “If we knew for sure (that we’re saved), it could lead to spiritual self-satisfaction … the equivalent of spiritual death,” Anderson explained. That’s because God expects us to continually grow. “We’re called to grow into being like Christ.”

He continued, “Ask yourself: Am I more faithful now than I was a year ago? Do I have more hope? Am I more loving now than I was?” Catholics must constantly be increasing in faith, hope and love, Anderson said.

“It’s not enough to think kind thoughts about hungry people. We must do something for them,” he explained.

Anderson cited references from the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation, in his explanations. “Why don’t we make the effort to engage people about what we consider (to be) important?” He challenged listeners that, if they really believe in the possibility of eternal damnation as well as Christ’s admonition to love your neighbor, “You can’t just walk away from the question.”

To show they really care, Catholics “should try to help them.” They should explain that each person is given a gift of grace from God along with the freedom to accept it (and to love and grow in that grace), or to reject it. But, “How often do we fail to share our faith?”

And what about loving all people?

“We have to love the worst people. … We should love racists … violent people … greedy people because Christ came and loved all of us,” Anderson continued.

Just as individuals have different talents and gifts, so may the graces they receive differ, Anderson said. As an example, he noted that St. Francis of Assisi called himself the worst sinner in the world. A follower disagreed, pointing out the good Francis had done. The Italian saint demurred, saying that if the worst sinner got the grace I’ve got, he would have done a better job with it.

“Good things come from God. Sins are ours, but we don’t want to give them up,” Anderson continued.

Faith alone is not enough to save us, Anderson said. The gifts of faith, hope and love reflect the triad of the Trinity, he said, and “The Scriptures are on our side.” St. James said “Faith without works is dead.”

Asked for his thoughts on purgatory, Anderson said he doesn’t know what purgatory is, but it may be a place where “unfinished business has to be dealt with.” Sins are forgiven but there may still be lasting damage from those sins that must be addressed.

“You’re given absolution from your sins but you’ve done damage. … Some effort has to be made … Unfinished business has to be dealt with before you get into heaven,” he said.

Traditionally, Catholics have been taught to pray for the dead in purgatory — until now. “We haven’t taught this generation to pray for us,” he said.

But, Anderson said he’ll pray for people he thinks may be in purgatory. After all, “It doesn’t do any harm to pray.”

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-Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, Sistine Chapel

Love,
Matthew