Category Archives: Heresy

Neopaganism


-by Jimmy Akin

“Neopaganism is a movement that has been around for a little more than a century, but it really got rolling in the U.S. only in the last 30 or so years. As the name suggests, a neopagan is a “new pagan.” Hindus and Shintoists would be plain, old, regular pagans since they come from cultures (Indian and Japanese, respectively) that are historically polytheistic. Neopagans come from a historically monotheistic culture (Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) to embrace the worship of more than one god.

Meet the Neopagans

The most common forms of American neopaganism include Wicca, Druidism, Asatru, and Goddess Worship.

Wicca is an alleged revival of a British nature religion involving witchcraft (wicca means magic), though it actually was invented less than a century ago and is not substantively based on any historic British paganism.

Druidism is an alleged revival of another (this time historically real) British paganism, though modern Druidism has very little in common with the historic form. For instance, modern Druids do not generally perform human sacrifice by burning people inside wicker structures or by ritually cutting victims’ throats and leaving their bodies in bogs.

Asatru (sometimes called Odinism, though really Odinism is a subset of Asatru) is an alleged revival of ancient Norse religion. Actually, it has more of a connection with historic Norse religion than the previous two neo paganisms, because we know more about Norse religion. It didn’t die out until Christianity made literacy widespread in northern Europe.

Finally, Goddess Worship is an alleged revival of an ancient goddess-centered religion. It tends to be syncretistic, picking up bits pertaining to the worship of female deities from multiple ancient religions.

There are additional neo-pagan groups as well as many self-styled neopagans who don’t belong to any defined group. Though the actual number of neo-pagans is still quite small, they have achieved a disproportionate status. Wiccans have managed to get approval for Wiccan military chaplains. Even before 9/11, Asatruers got themselves on the FBI’s terrorist watch list because of the militancy of some Odinists. And all you have to do is stroll through the New Age section of any major bookstore to find all kinds of books devoted to Goddess Worship.

Basic Apologetic Strategies

Because neopaganism is a recent phenomenon, apologetics has not yet had the time to prove by experience what strategies are the most effective for reclaiming souls from neopaganism. This problem is exacerbated by the individualistic nature of neopaganism, which requires that very particular evangelization strategies be tailored to the individuals in question. While only those best acquainted with an individual will be able to judge what strategies would be most effective, a number of general approaches may be noted.

    “Wait and See” Strategy.

Because of the “shock value” aspect of neo-paganism, for many—especially those going through or emerging from teenage rebellion—it is essentially a juvenile fascination.

After the novelty of the shock value wears off, or after the individual matures, his attachment to neo-paganism may fade and he may return to monotheism on his own. For this reason, it may be advisable not to evangelize the neopagan overtly, especially if he is youthful and disinclined to listen to you.

One might wish to make gentle suggestions about the benefits of monotheism or the problems of polytheism. In many cases, it may be necessary simply to pray for the individual and set an example of Christian virtue, charity, and kindness.

    “Here Are the Positives” Strategy.

If a neopagan proves receptive to monotheism, one might gently, politely, but firmly point out the problems of paganism and the benefits of monotheism.

Such an approach might in some circumstances begin, as did Paul’s speech to the Areopagus (Acts 17), with an acknowledgement of the.aspects of truth reflected in the neopagan’s beliefs. But it must proceed (as did Paul) to a gentle but firm proclamation of the truth of Christianity and the value of monotheism.

This strategy is most likely useful with those neopagans who are already in the process of coming back to Christianity. A few years from now, when there might be more neopagan children than there are now, it may be useful with children leaving the neopaganism of their families and desiring to become part of the Christian ethos around them.

    “Here Are the Negatives” Strategy.

If the neopagan is hardened and hostile to monotheism, one might forcefully and bluntly point out the problems of paganism.

Though this is a risky strategy and is not likely to bear immediate fruit, it may be the best available option. It is especially risky with neopagans to whom one is related (cf. Matt 13:57).

One way of pointing out the defects of the neopagan position is by pointing out that Europe and surrounding areas were so thoroughly converted to Christianity that no surviving pagan liturgies remain. The deities of European paganism were not able to ensure the survival of their own worship. They lost and lost so badly that neopagans must make up their own liturgies and theologies.

“Why,” one might ask, “should you worship such impotent deities? If they couldn’t protect their former worshipers at the heights of their powers, then how can they be trusted to protect you now?”

One might also pose the question, “Why was it that the followers of the ancient paganisms became Christian in the first place? What was it that they found deficient in paganism that led them to reject it and trust in Christ instead?”

The Nature of the Gods

Many neo-pagans advance the claim that there should not be a single world religion with a single deity or set of deities to be worshiped by all mankind, but rather each group should worship the gods of their ancestors or of their preference.

This claim creates a problem for the neopagan understanding of the gods, and it is fair for the Catholic apologist to point it out. Consider the implications that arise, depending on how the gods were interpreted.

There would seem to be four basic ways of making sense of the claim that different people should worship different pagan pantheons: 1. The gods of different peoples really aren’t different but should be identified with each other (e.g., Zeus = Jupiter = Odin). 2. There are a great many individual gods governing different peoples. 3. The gods are projections created in some sense by the peoples that worship them. 4. The gods are merely symbols or.aspects of something else.

1. If the gods of different religions are to be identified with each other, then it would not seem that there are meant to be different religions among peoples but only different rites used to worship the same set of gods.

This would be especially problematic for Asatruers, who often wish to view their gods as distinct from the gods of other people. A problem for all neo-pagans would be that it is highly implausible that the deities of many pantheons can be identified with each other.

For example, in Greek and Roman paganism, the kings of the gods (Zeus and Jupiter) are in control of thunder, but the thunder god in Germanic paganism is Thor, who is not the king of the gods (that would be Odin). Similarly, in Indo-European paganisms, the sky god tends to be masculine and the earth goddess feminine, but this is reversed in Egyptian mythology. It seems impossible to establish a universal paganism treating each individual pantheon as merely a different expression of the same set of independently real, non-symbolic beings.

2. If the gods of each paganism aren’t to be identified, then there would seem to be multiple deities for every.aspect of nature. Each people will have its own thunder god, its own vegetation god, et cetera. This leads to an implausible situation in a many cases. If Thor controls the thunder in Scandinavia, why should neopagans of Norse descent in America pray to him? Why shouldn’t they pray to an American Indian thunder deity who controls the local thunder? Further, our solar system has only one sun. Just how many sun gods can there be?

3. A theory advanced by some is that the gods are in some sense projections of or creations of their worshipers. If the gods were projections, then today of all days the gods would seem to have only tiny power because of tiny number of their followers. It would be difficult to imagine such beings as worthy of worship.

It also should also be noted that no historic pagans seem to have held this view of their deities. It would seem to be a modern idea—some might even say an intellectually desperate, last-ditch idea—introduced to insulate polytheism from the intellectual problems that otherwise arise for it.

4. Finally, some suppose that the gods do not have independent, objective reality but are just symbols. The question is: symbols of what?

On the one hand, if they are symbols of nature and natural forces, then it is difficult to see why they should be worshiped. Electricity is part of nature, but if one does not worship it when it comes from a light socket, it is difficult to see why one should worship it when one imagines and names a symbolic thunder god to represent it.

Further, the empirical evidence seems to show that the universe itself does not have a mind or a personality. Only by looking beyond nature—to the God who designed nature—can one find transcendent value worthy of worship.

On the other hand, if the answer is given that the gods are symbols of a fundamental spiritual reality that transcends the physical world, then it would seem (since all independent status already has been denied to the gods by rejecting the three alternatives just considered) that one is left with a form of fundamental monotheism that is only cloaked with polytheistic symbols.

That being the case, why should one use the symbols? Why not worship the Creator directly and explore the question of whether he cares for and has spoken to man, as monotheism has historically claimed?”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Donatism

-“Augustine arguing with Donatists”, 18th century, Charles-André van Loo, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Patrick Madrid

Dates
311-411

Founder
Donatus of Carthage (d. 355)

Background to Controversy

Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). This grim edict is a fitting epitaph for the short-lived but intense heresy of Donatism. Its hundred-year life-span–a rather brief one, as heresies go–was marked from beginning to end with violence and death.

North Africa was roiling in political, social, ethnic, and religious controversies when, in 311, Donatus, schismatic bishop of Carthage, replaced Majorinus, rival of the validly elected bishop Caecilianus. Donatus was a shrewd leader with impressive intellectual and rhetorical abilities. He had a skill for exploiting to his own advantage the ethnic unrest that simmered among the Berbers and Punics. These rustic people chafed under the rule of the Latin-speaking Roman Empire, and Donatus skillfully harnessed their discontent as the engine of growth for his heresy.

The schism had gotten under way before Donatus came to power, but it became identified with him thereafter. His predecessor, Majorinus, was elected as a rival bishop in Carthage because the bishops who had elected Caecilianus had dealt leniently with the traditores, men and women whose faith was compromised during Diocletian’s brief but bloody persecution, initiated in February, 303. The Catholic Church was outlawed, and professing the Catholic faith was a crime punishable by death. Those who refused to offer incense to Roman idols were executed. Churches were razed, relics and sacred vessels were seized, and any copy of Scripture that could be found was burned.

The traditores were those who renounced Christ to avoid martyrdom or who, when their churches and houses were searched by the Roman authorities, handed over sacred artifacts rather than face death. In light of the many who endured martyrdom rather than renounce Christ, those who survived the persecution (which ended in 305) were outraged that priests and deacons who were traditores were allowed to resume their ministry after being reconciled to the Church through confession. This perceived injustice provoked a popular backlash with grave theological implications.

Principal Errors

Majorinus and other leaders of this faction asserted that the sacraments were invalid, even wicked in the eyes of God, if dispensed by a traditor bishop, priest, or deacon. This view expanded to include clergy who were in a state of mortal sin of whatever sort.

By denying the intrinsic efficacy of the sacraments the Donatists claimed the sacraments could be celebrated validly only by those in the state of grace. They required the re-baptism of any Catholic who came over to their sect.

Donatists had the outward forms of Catholicism, including bishops, priests, and deacons, Mass, and the veneration of the relics of martyrs. The heresy of Donatism lay not primarily in the denial of particular Catholic doctrines but in the assertion that only “sinless” men could administer the sacraments validly. The schism was effected by the rejection of the lawful authority of validly-elected Catholic bishops and culminated in illicit but valid ordinations of schismatic bishops, priests, and deacons.

Growth of the Heresy

Donatus advanced his theology with vigor, drawing over many of the common folk who were fed up with Roman imperial rule and who began to equate Catholicism with foreign domination. His organizational skills and charismatic personality attracted huge numbers to his cause. He ordained hundreds, who fanned out across Numidia to establish schismatic churches.

Church historian Frederick van der Meer describes Donatism’s proliferation:

“It was the strangest mixture of African and Numidian particularism, early Christian idealism, and personal resentment, but the Church which it created rose up in every town and locality as a rival to the Church Catholic, altar set against altar in every neighborhood where a Catholic church was to be found. Everywhere at the edges of the ancient towns two great basilicas towered over the houses, one Catholic, one non-Catholic. . . . Donatism was from its inception a popular movement, poor in original ideas, but nevertheless full of people who were easily inflamed and drawing from these its principal strength. Indeed, once the leaders had got the Punic-speaking masses on to their side, no power on earth could heal the schism” (Augustine the Bishop [London: Sheed and Ward, 1961], 80-81).

Donatists adopted “Deo laudes” (“God be praised”) as their slogan to counter the ancient Catholic “Deo gratias” (“Thanks be to God”). This was the rallying cry with which they harangued Catholics. One distinctive characteristic of the Donatists was their desire for martyrdom. Donatus taught that death for the “cause,” even death by suicide, was holy and merited a martyr’s crown and eternal life. They did their best to incite Catholics and pagans to kill them. When their provocations failed, they sometimes took their own lives, a favored method being to leap from high cliffs with the cry “Deo laudes!”

A humorous if bizarre incident is recounted by Augustine. He tells of a Catholic man who was accosted by a group of zealous Donatists. They threatened to kill him if he refused to “martyr” them. Thinking quickly, he agreed to kill them, but only if they first allowed him to bind them with rope to make his work easier. They consented, and when he had them secured he took a large stick, beat them soundly, and walked away.

In keeping with their penchant for violence there arose among the Donatists a vile faction known as the Circumcellions. These ruffians’ main goal was to harass, despoil, and even kill Catholics. They preyed on the cellae (farms, rural chapels, and country estates). Although Donatus himself was not a Circumcellion, he gave tacit approval to the depredations of these gangs and wielded influence through them to force Catholics to convert to his religion. Those who refused were relieved of their property or their lives.

In a letter to Victorinius, a Spanish priest, Augustine lamented, “We too have nothing but misery here, for instead of the barbarians we have the Circumcellions, and it is an open question which is the worse of the two. They murder and burn everywhere, throw lime and vinegar into the eyes of our priests; only yesterday I heard of forty-eight helpless persons who were compelled to submit to [Donatist] rebaptism in this place” (Letter 111:1-2).

While killing Catholics was a favored pastime, the principal aim of the Circumcellions was the destruction of Catholic churches, Bible manuscripts, and sacred objects. This aroused the ire of the government, which enacted anti-Donatist laws which confiscated their property and forced their re-entry into the Catholic Church. The North African Catholic bishops welcomed the first intervention, but not the second.

Orthodox Response

Originally Augustine opposed the eradication of heresy by force (cf. Letter 23), preferring argumentation to physical coercion. He believed that heresy must never be tolerated, but that heretics themselves must never be forced to join the Church. As time wore on, Augustine’s view changed as he warmed to the idea of the state having a role in the suppression of heresy after the theological persuasions failed. He is regarded by some historians as being the “Father of the Inquisition” since he became a supporter of the state’s right to suppress heresy (cf. Letter 185).

Although Optatus of Milevis was the first notable bishop to write against the Donatists in The Schism of the Donatists, it was the indefatigable Augustine who, in numerous works almost single-handedly demolished the Donatist challenge. He gave a biblical and theological explanation of the sacraments (especially baptism, the Eucharist, and holy orders), of the unity of the Church, and of the evils of schism.

This energetic bishop was not content to rely solely on the pen. He engaged Donatist apologists in public debates, knowing that public disputations would draw crowds of Catholics and Donatists; the Catholics would be strengthened and the Donatists converted. Augustine was as forceful and brilliant an orator (he had received excellent training in rhetoric during his youth) as he was an author, and even the most skilled Donatist spokesmen were no match for him.

He even composed apologetics songs designed to inculcate Catholic doctrine and refute Donatism, notes van der Meer. “Augustine did not neglect to protect his people from the insidious effect of Donatist catchwords, and sometimes to the detriment of good artistic taste. It was probably as early as 393 that he composed an alphabetical psalm against the Donatist party for the more unlettered among his followers. This tells in very simple verses the story of the origin and development of the schism, its malice, and the only possible cure for it. . . . He wanted the nature of the Donatist issue brought to the knowledge of the simplest person and thus to stamp it into the memory of even the most uneducated” (van der Meer, 104-105).

This hymn was long (293 verses) and employed a melody and poetic meter that was popular among the common people who were accustomed to singing similar songs (with profane lyrics, of course) in taverns and theaters. Catholics learned the hymn enthusiastically and sang it in public as a rebuke to the Donatists. Under Augustine’s aggressive leadership the Catholic Church in North Africa gradually overpowered the Donatists by force of argument. In time entire Donatist congregations and even dioceses came back to the Catholic Church.

By 411 the Donatists were still quite numerous in Numidia and the rest of Northern Africa, but, with their theological errors so thoroughly refuted by Augustine, Optatus, and other Catholic apologists, their vigor waned quickly, though it would take two centuries more before they finally disappeared. In keeping with its violent past, the last vestiges of Donatism vanished in the seventh century as its adherents were mowed down by the sword of Islam, the cry of “Deo laudes” being replaced by “Alahu Akbar,” which heralded the Muslim subjugation of North Africa.

Modern Parallels

In its retention of the liturgical externals of Catholicism and most of its doctrines, while rejecting a single doctrine or practice, Donatism is mirrored by groups that might be characterized as rigorist. Among similar groups have been the Jansenists of Port Royal (seventeenth through nineteenth centuries) and certain “Traditionalist Catholic” factions of our own time.

The Donatist heresy of rebaptism is alive in the Baptistic churches of Protestantism, although Baptists do not regard baptism as a means of grace and regeneration as the Donatists did. The Donatist tactic of forcing Catholics to “convert” to their heresy was adopted by the Calvinists (especially under John Calvin in Geneva) and most notoriously by the Anglicans (under King Henry VIII, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and Queen Elizabeth I).”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Heresy by any other name


-stained glass of a heretic, in the Cathedral of Saint Rumbold in Mechelen, Belgium.


-by Kenneth D. Whitehead

“Virtually as soon as the revelation brought by Christ was delivered to the Church he had established, some of those within the Church got it very wrong about what it meant and entailed. Even some of the bishops, successors of the apostles, got it wrong. The history of the first four or five centuries of Christianity, especially as reflected in the first four ecumenical councils, is largely a history of how the Church developed, formulated, and explained its Creed—beliefs based on the teachings of Christ.

In the process of developing and formulating that Creed—the same Nicene Creed that we profess today at Mass—the Church was obliged to identify and to eliminate various false and mistaken ideas about Christ’s original revelation. These false and mistaken ideas about the Church and the faith came to be called heresies. The word heresy comes from the Latin haeresis, meaning “act of choosing.” Those adhering to these false and mistaken ideas, i.e., heretics, were understood to have chosen a different interpretation of the faith than the one the Church proclaimed.

Once they were identified as false doctrines, there was no question in the minds of the Fathers of the Church but that these heresies needed to be condemned. Today, of course, the idea of condemning anybody for holding any belief is not very popular. Indeed, the idea that heresy is something necessarily false and harmful is not very popular. In the modern mind heresy is often thought to be something to be proud of; “heretics” are as likely as not to be considered cultural heroes. But if all ideas are accorded equal status regardless of whether or not they are true, then very soon truth itself inevitably goes by the board.

To a great extent, this is what has happened in our world today: Toleration is valued more than truth. Pope Benedict XVI just prior to his election called it a “dictatorship of relativism.” It is a situation that the Fathers of the Church, who believed in the primacy of truth, would not have understood at all.

Today’s failure to identify and affirm truth doesn’t mean that there are no harmful consequences. On the contrary, the harm to souls in need of sanctification and salvation becomes all the greater to the extent that people believe it doesn’t matter whether or not they adhere to true belief and practice. For heresy is necessarily harmful—and even fatal—to souls.

Moreover, heresies abound today every bit as much as they did in the days when the Creed was being hammered out at the first great ecumenical councils. Indeed, some of the heresies that are commonly encountered today are virtually the same as those condemned in ancient times—they just go by different names. Let us look at a few examples.

“A Great Moral Teacher”

Arianism was perhaps the most typical and persistent of the ancient heresies. Basically it involved a denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was first effectively advanced by Arius (256–336), a priest of Alexandria in Egypt, who denied that there were three distinct divine Persons in the Holy Trinity. For Arius, there was only one Person in the Godhead, the Father. According to Arian theory, the Son was a created being. The Arians liked to say that “there was a time when he was not.” For them, Christ was “the Son of God” only in a figurative sense, or by “adoption” (just as we are children of God by adoption), not in his essential being or nature.

Arianism was formally condemned by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Indeed, it was the spread of Arianism and Arian ideas among the faithful, and the disputes and disorders that resulted, that prompted Emperor Constantine to call the Council of Nicaea in the first place. What the Council decided—against Arius and his adherents—was that the Son was homoousios (“one in being” or “consubstantial”) with the Father. In other words, that the Son of God was himself God, was therefore eternal, and hence that there never was a time when he was not.

The fathers of Nicaea issued their Creed precisely to insist on the three Persons in one substance in the Trinity and on the divinity of Christ. If Christ was not divine, then the world was not redeemed by his sacrifice on the cross. Eventually the faith itself dissolves if Christ is not understood to be divine; after all, he very plainly insisted in the Gospels that he was (cf. John 10:30, 38; 14:10, 11).

Yet today nothing is more common, even among some who consider themselves Christians, than to hold that Christ was not really divine: He was just a good man, a great moral teacher, a model to follow; perhaps he even represented the highest ideal of a man for mankind. But, as an all-too-common human skepticism asserts, he was surely not God for the simple reason that no human being could be God. Common sense revolts against it. Indeed, the Church teaches that it is only by divine grace infused in our souls that we can believe in the divinity of Christ.

Thus, there is a human temptation to believe the doctrine of Arianism. Today’s Arians, though, do not call themselves Arians; for the most part they are not aware that they are Arians. Yet a religion such as Unitarianism is nothing else but Arian in its denial of the divinity of Christ and of the Trinity. Similarly, a modern American religion such as Mormonism is wholly Arian in its account of a divine being, even if it is ignorant of Arianism historically.

Because it is so easy to doubt that any human being could possibly be divine, though, Arianism was not only the most basic and persistent of all the ancient heresies; it also assumed a number of variant forms. Adoptionism is the belief that Jesus was just a man to whom special graces were given when he was “adopted” by God. Modalism held that there is only one Person in God who manifests himself in various ways or modes, including in Jesus. Semi-Arianism held that the Son was of like substance with God (homo-i-ousios), though not of identical in substance with Him. All of these variants of Arianism were sometimes classified under the name Subordinationism (i.e., Christ as “subordinate” to the Father). Even today, poorly instructed Christians can be found espousing one or more of these variants when they are examined closely concerning Who and What they think Jesus Christ was and is.

What Is a Person?

Growing out of the long-running Arian controversies were the two opposed heresies of Nestorianism and Monophysitism. Nestorianism was a heresy promoted by a bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius (d. c. 451), who held that there were two distinct persons in Christ, one human and one divine. Thus, the Nestorians claimed that it could not be said that God was born, was crucified, or died. Mary merely gave birth to a man whose human person was conjoined to that of God. The Nestorians saw Christ’s divinity as superimposed on his humanity.

Nestorianism was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431, where the argument raged over the question of whether Mary was Theotokos (“God-bearer” or “Mother of God”) or was merely the “mother of Christ,” a man conjoined to God. From the words of the Hail Mary we can figure out what the Church decided at Ephesus, but even today poorly instructed Christians can be found opining that Christ was a “human person.” (The same characterization is sometimes even to be encountered today in defective catechetical texts.)

But Christ was not a “human person.” He was a divine person who assumed a human nature. The whole question of what a person is was a key question in the Trinitarian and christological definitions formulated by the ancient councils. The ancients were not clear in their minds about what constituted a “person”; it was not apparent to them that there was a “somebody” in each human individual. It was as a direct result of the Church’s definitions concerning the three distinct divine Persons in the Trinity that the very concept of what we understand as personhood today was achieved and that the Roman philosopher Boethius (480–524) was able to formulate his famous definition of a person as “an individual substance of a rational nature.”

Once this concept of personhood became clear, the Church was able to promulgate the truth that remains valid and operative to this day, namely, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, is a divine person but possesses both a divine and a human nature.

“I’m a Very Spiritual Person”

Monophysitism, the heresy opposed to Nestorianism, arose as a corrective to the latter, but it went too far in the other direction, holding that in Christ there is only one nature (Greek: mono, “single,” physis, “nature”), a divine nature. This position entailed a denial of Christ’s true human nature. Monophysitism was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. This great Council taught that Christ was true God and true man, a divine person possessing both a divine and a human nature, thus rounding out the Church’s permanent understanding of Christology.

Yet even today some ill-instructed Christians will tell you that Christ, being the Son of God and hence divine, must also necessarily have a divine nature, without understanding that Christ had a fully human nature as well. Professing some form of Monophysitism is rather common among self-consciously “spiritual” people, as a matter of fact—people who, meanwhile, are not always prepared to affirm and follow Christian moral teaching as the Church defines it.

Entire churches or communities broke away from the Church as a result of the christological definitions of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Some of these breakaway communions still exist today in the ancient churches of the East, such as the Assyrian, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian (Jacobite), etc. Today many of these ancient communions, in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church, are rethinking their positions and are close to agreement with the Catholic Church on doctrinal essentials, stating that their ancient disagreements stemmed at least in part from misunderstandings of exactly what Ephesus or Chalcedon had taught or affirmed—for these ancient councils also had condemned by name certain individuals (such as Nestorius) who commanded personal followings. In ancient times, some of these communities were unwilling to accept the judgments of the councils regarding their then-leaders.

Holier Than Thou

Donatism was a fourth- and fifth-century African heresy that held that the validity of the sacraments depended upon the moral character of the person administering the sacraments. Donatists also denied that serious sinners could be true members of the Church. Donatism began as a schism when rigorists claimed that a bishop of Carthage, Caecilian (c. 313), could not be a true bishop because he had been ordained by a bishop who had caved in under pressure and apostatized during the Diocletian persecutions around 303.

The Donatists ended up as a widespread sect that ordained its own bishops, one of whom was Donatus, who gave his name to the movement. Vigorously opposed by the great St. Augustine (354–430), the Donatist movement persisted in northern Africa until the Muslim conquest in the seventh century.

Today the continuing temptation to a modern kind of Donatism can be seen in such phenomena as the Lefebrvist schism after Vatican II, when some people who objected to certain teachings and acts of the Council decided to found their own little church, the Society of St. Pius X. The SSPX has its own bishops, validly but illicitly ordained by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The group is thus not just a group of disgruntled traditionalists who want to retain the old Latin Mass; rather, the SSPX has serious doctrinal and pastoral disagreements with the Church. They consider the pope and the bishops who have governed the Church since the Council to be unworthy to carry on what they hold to be the true “tradition” of the Church. Basically their reasoning is that the leaders of the Church were wrong at and after Vatican II; hence their acts since then have been invalid. This kind of reasoning is similar to that by which the ancient Donatists decided that the ordination of the bishop of Carthage was invalid because of the unworthiness of his ordaining bishop.

But the truth is, of course, that sacraments correctly administered with the proper intention by a validly ordained minister are valid regardless of the moral character or condition of the minister. Thus, even if mistakes were made in the implementation of the Council, the pope and the bishops nevertheless remain the Church’s legitimate rulers, in accordance with the Church’s constant teaching going back at least to the condemnation of Donatism. The powers and authority conferred by Christ on the apostles and their successors are not dependent upon the worthiness of those on whom they are conferred—think of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ!

We also see a revival of Donatist-type thinking in those who have recently left the Church because of the much-publicized sins of priests guilty of sex abuse and bishops guilty of enabling and covering up for them. The idea that the wrongs or sins of the clergy invalidate their acts or status has frequently recurred in the history of the Church. As early as the second century, for example, a morally rigorous priest named Novatian set himself up as an anti-pope in 251 because the followers of the true pope, St. Cornelius, were allegedly too lenient toward Christians who had lapsed during the Decian persecutions in 249–251. The Novatianists rejected the Church’s authentic belief and practice that the lapsed and other serious sinners could be readmitted to Communion after doing penance.

“If It Feels Good, Do It”

A recurring phenomenon in the history of the Church is that heresies often arose because of either moral rigorism or moral laxity. An example of the latter was the heresy of Pelagianism, championed by a monk from the British Isles named Pelagius (355–425). Pelagius denied that divine grace in the soul is necessary to do good; his doctrine included a number of heretical tenets such as that Adam would have died even if he had not sinned and that Adam’s fall injured only himself. Essentially, Pelagianism amounted to a denial of the doctrine of original sin, and it also entailed a denial of the supernatural order and of the necessity of divine grace for salvation. Augustine, who had discovered from bitter personal experience that he could not be chaste without the help of grace, strongly and persistently contested Pelagius and his teaching.

In modern times, Pelagianism has sometimes been called “the British heresy” because of its resemblance to a certain species of modern British-style liberalism (which, the suggestion is, goes all the way back to Pelagius!). But nothing is more common in modern thinking than the denial of original sin. Outside the Catholic Church, it is nearly universal, and it persists in the face of all the evidence against it.

Probably the whole range of behavior related to the contemporary sexual revolution, for example, as well as to the theological dissent that is still rife in the Church—particularly on matters of sexual morality—can be ascribed to a basic Pelagian impulse. People today, including too many Catholics, simply do not recognize or take seriously that there are or could be any harmful consequences stemming from what is erroneously thought to be sexual liberation, as evidenced, for example, by the widespread rejection by Catholics of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The harmful consequences have long since been obvious to anyone who cares to look at today’s multiple plagues of divorce, pre- and extramarital sex, cohabitation, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion, not to speak of the contemporary acceptance of homosexuality as a normal condition.

In an important sense, even the clerical sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church goes back to the explosion of sexual immorality that began in the 1960s and both helped cause and was in part caused by the rejection of Humanae Vitae. Modern opinion nevertheless generally goes on stoutly and obstinately maintaining that the so-called sexual liberation ushered in by the sexual revolution, along with the moral acceptance of contraception, is a good and necessary thing. All this is Pelagianism with a vengeance.

“I’m in with the In Crowd”

Gnosticism is the idea that salvation comes through knowledge—usually some special kind of knowledge claimed by an elite. Think of the New Age, for example. Think of Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code, which, along with other falsehoods, exhibits a good deal of Gnostic-style thinking that the book’s millions of readers seem to have embraced wholly and uncritically. Most varieties of Gnosticism also hold that matter and the body are evil while only “spirit” is good. Some forms of Gnosticism even see human beings as trapped in our bodies. The theory thus denies the truth of the biblical teaching that “God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). For the true Gnostic, the Incarnation is a scandal—God would not contaminate his spirit by taking on a body.

Gnosticism existed before Christianity and attached itself to it as a convenient vehicle for its own very unChristian ideas about reality and God’s creation. The surprising thing, perhaps, is that it ever attempted to use Christianity for its purposes. The historical fact of the matter, though, is that Gnosticism has been a persistent element in practically every major Christian heresy. Probably one of the reasons for this is that, in some ways, our bodiliness is a burden to us. As Paul remarked, “the whole creation has been groaning in travail” (Rom. 8:22) until we can realize the fullness of our salvation in Christ—thus the temptation to look for salvation in some kind of escape from our bodiliness and creatureliness as God has created us in this world.

But true salvation lies elsewhere; it comes uniquely from Jesus Christ: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This revelation of salvation in Christ is essentially what Gnosticism denies. Like all heresies to which we might be tempted, any form of Gnostic thinking is therefore to be avoided as we cleave to the truths revealed by and in Jesus Christ and unerringly taught by the magisterium of the Catholic Church.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Deepak Chopra Peddles a “New” Jesus

wisdomofchopra.com, parody Deepak Chopra quote generator.

Olson_Carl
-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

“Deepak Chopra, a former medical doctor turned New Age sage (he was once described by Time magazine as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine”) has written some 50 books. His most recent, The Third Jesus (2008), is subtitled, “The Christ We Cannot Ignore.”

If only we could ignore this book and the false Christ it presents. But Chopra, who has earned millions of dollars from his particular brand of neo-Hindu monism for the masses (he studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation), is quite popular. And The Third Jesus, published in February 2008, has sold well, having spent several weeks on The New York Times top-ten bestsellers list for “Hardcover Advice” books.

Worse, The Third Jesus features blurbs by Catholics, including Fr. Paul Keenan, the host of “As You Think,” a program on The Catholic Channel/Sirius 159. Fr. Keenan states, “In The Third Jesus, Deepak Chopra unfolds for us the spirit of Jesus and with a reverence that is at once simple and profound makes his spirit accessible to us in our everyday lives.” And Sr. Judian Breitenbach, a longtime adherent to Chopra’s teachings, gushes, “In this intriguing study of the sayings of Jesus, Deepak Chopra gently releases this highly evolved spiritual teacher, light of the world and Son of God from the limitations of dogmatic theology.” But, far from gentle, Chopra’s approach to Jesus is heavy-handed, arrogant, shoddy, and often downright nonsensical.

The Third Jesus Is a (New Age) Charm

The Third Jesus consists of three main parts. The first, “The Third Jesus,” presents Chopra’s Christ and urges readers to abandon the Jesus found in the Bible and Church teaching. The second, “The Gospel of Enlightenment,” interprets various sayings of Jesus, including some from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, and concludes with a section titled, “Who Is The ‘Real’ Jesus?” The final part, “Taking Jesus as Your Teacher: A Guide for Seekers,” offers 15 steps to “God-consciousness” and concludes with a withering attack on orthodox Christians—”fundamentalists,” in Chopra’s simplistic estimation.

Chopra begins by saying that Jesus left a “riddle” that “2,000 years of worship haven’t solved.” The riddle: “Why are Jesus’ teachings impossible to live by?” For Chopra, traditional, orthodox Christianity has not only failed to help people follow Christ, it has created a false Christ who keeps Jesus’ true intentions hidden. What Jesus really intended, we are told, was “a completely new view of human nature, and unless you transform yourself, you misunderstand what he had to say. . . He wanted to inspire a world reborn in God” (2).

There is a sense, of course, in which Jesus did indeed intend a new understanding of human nature, but it does not flow from man’s self-transformation, but from a transformation wrought by God through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But Chopra insists man can save himself if only he recognizes what made Jesus stand out in the crowd: “What made Jesus the Son of God was the fact that he had achieved God-consciousness” (3-4). And, a few pages later, in what is clearly a thesis statement (emphasized by italics): ” Jesus intended to save the world by showing others the path to God-consciousness ” (10). This is a variation on the general New Age belief that man is meant for a “higher” or “cosmic” consciousness, in which the material realm and morality disappears.

The New Know-Nothings

Chopra flatly states that the first Jesus “is historical and we know next to nothing about him” (8). Chopra employs contradictions in striving to do away with this Jesus. “The first Jesus was a rabbi who wandered the shores of northern Galilee many centuries ago. This Jesus still feels close enough to touch.” And yet, while he seems so close and knowable, he is completely unknowable. Why? “This historical Jesus has been lost, however, swept away by history” (8). While this is apparently intended to be pithy and devastating, it actually sounds like something a high school freshman might write in a 1,000-word essay titled, “What I Learned from The Da Vinci Code This Summer.” Granted, Chopra’s remark about history is absurd, but it is also significant: absurd, since it makes no sense; significant, because it sets the tone for the entire book, which revels in contradictory and illogical statements.

This is in keeping with much of Eastern mysticism, which revels in being “supra-rational” and unhindered by traditional reason and basic logic. Thus, 200 pages later, readers are informed, “History may blur Jesus’ biography, but it can’t put out the light” (217). So, which is it: swept away or merely blurred?

Not only is Chopra consistently inconsistent with his “arguments” and observations, he demonstrates a lack of interest in actual Christian doctrine and theology. This is readily apparent in his dismissal of the “second Jesus,” who is “the Jesus built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars.” This Jesus “never existed” and “doesn’t even lay claim to the fleeting substance of the first Jesus” (9). As if to underscore his complete lack of theological knowledge, Chopra writes that the supposedly nonexistent Jesus created by the Church “is the Holy Ghost, the Three-in-One Christ, the source of sacraments and prayers that were unknown to the rabbi Jesus when he walked the earth” (9). But if the historical Jesus has been “swept away by history” (just three paragraphs earlier!), how do we know what was known or unknown to him? Where does the Catholic Church teach that Jesus is the Holy Spirit? Is Chopra familiar with any Christian theology? Considering that the only post-apostolic Christian thinkers named in The Third Jesus are Dante (in passing) and Kierkegaard (a brief mention of Either/Or), the obvious answer is, “No, he’s not.”

Chopra, in fact, contemptuously tosses aside theology and metaphysics: “Theology shifts with the tide of human affairs. Metaphysics itself is so complex that it contradicts the simplicity of Jesus’ words” (9). In his world, mind-baffling theology and complex metaphysics are, oddly enough, used by Christian “fundamentalists.” For example, Chopra later assures readers, “Trying to find ‘the real Jesus’ is basically a fundamentalist effort” (139). His pronouncement must be amusing to the many highly educated New Testament scholars who are also orthodox Christians.

Scripture Could Mean Anything at All?

Despite praising “the simplicity of Jesus’ words,” Chopra later complains, “Anyone can devise a new interpretation of the New Testament. Unfortunately, this great text is ambiguous and confusing enough to support almost any thesis about its meaning” (139). The reason for Chopra’s disdain for theology—from the Greek words theos (God) and logia (discourse or discussion)—seems simple enough: He doesn’t like thinking logically about God (at least the personal God of the Jews and the Christians). And when Chopra encounters an argument or position he disagrees with, he simply dismisses it: “Theology is arbitrary; it can tell any story it wants, find any hidden meaning” (136). Chopra’s own arbitrary methods and findings are apparently exempt from any such criticism.

Then there is Chopra’s open disdain for the Catholic Church and Church authority. (Chopra, it should be noted, spent some of his childhood attending a Catholic school, and he dedicates the book “to the Irish Christian Brothers in India who introduced me to Jesus . . . “) So the second Jesus—described as “the abstract theological creation”—”leads us into the wilderness without a clear path out” (9). Christianity is marked by division and sectarianism, endless argument, and an unhealthy appeal to authority: “But can any authority, however exalted, really inform us about what Jesus would have thought?” And yet this remark comes right before 200 pages that declare, in an authoritative and sometimes exalted tone, what Jesus did think, would have thought, and must have thought about a host of topics. So, yes, some self-exalted authority by the name of Deepak Chopra does attempt to do the unthinkable.

Jesus and “God-consciousness”

The Third Jesus, according to Chopra, “taught his followers how to reach God-consciousness.” This Jesus was “a savior,” but “not the Savior, not the one and only Son of God. Rather, Jesus embodied the highest level of enlightenment . . . Jesus intended to save the world by showing others the path to God-consciousness ” (10). Then, having already claimed that the historical Jesus cannot be known and that the second Jesus is a nasty lie, Chopra offers an unconvincing olive branch: “Such a reading of the New Testament doesn’t diminish the first two Jesuses. Rather, they are brought into sharper focus. In place of lost history and complex history, the third Jesus offers a direct relationship that is personal and present” (10). But if the historical Jesus cannot be known and Jesus of doctrine and theology is a fabrication, how can they be “brought into sharper focus”?

Upon what evidence does Chopra construct his portrait of Jesus? Chopra doesn’t reveal much about the sources he used (there are no footnotes, nor a bibliography). They are most likely a combination of Jesus Seminar-like works, radical feminist texts, neo-Gnostic tomes, and standard New Age tomes. Whatever the sources, they apparently aren’t interested in the first-century context in which the Gospels are written, especially the Jewish context. Apart from mentioning Jesus’ conflicts with various religious leaders and some comments about Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, the explicitly Jewish character of the Gospels is given short shrift. Chopra simply assumes that most of the New Testament is historically inaccurate, written by followers of Jesus who manipulated their Master’s words for their own ends. No evidence or arguments are provided, no scholars are quoted, no effort is made to show how and why Chopra accepts one verse as authentic while dismissing or ignoring others. Call it a low-level variety of the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” Or call it convenient, self-serving, and dishonest. Either works.

Chopra makes errors that could have been avoided with a modest amount of study. He writes: “Jesus calls himself the New Adam” (15). No, he didn’t; the only use of “Adam” in the Gospels is in Luke’s genealogy. The term “new Adam” doesn’t appear in the New Testament; rather, Paul compares the “last Adam” (Jesus) to the “first man, Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Yes, Jesus is understood to be the New Adam (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 504, 505, 539), but the Gospels don’t record Jesus referring to himself in such a way.

Having quoted from John 8 (“I am the light of the world . . . “), Chopra gives this context: “Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the last time. Within hours he would be arrested by the Romans . . . ” (Third Jesus, 22). Wrong. That was still some time away, as the Feast of Dedication had yet to take place (John 10:22), as well as raising Lazarus, (John 11), the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19), and the Last Supper discourse (John 13-17).

Chopra claims that “Jesus railed against the law . . . ” (Third Jesus, 23). Woefully incorrect. Jesus praised the Law—it was the misuse and abuse of the Law that angered him. He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18). And Jesus, insists Chopra, “didn’t dramatize the End of Days,” which will come as a surprise to those familiar with Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. He describes the pre-Christian Paul as “a worldly skeptic,” which directly contradicts Paul’s clear testimony about his zealous adherence to Judaism (Acts 26:4ff; Phil. 3:4ff).

Chopra Ignores Core Christian Beliefs

More importantly, Chopra has little interest in what Christians have always understood to be the heart of the Gospels: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He makes the strange remark that “with the Resurrection a flesh-and-blood man was transformed into completely divine substance—the Holy Spirit” (136), and implies that the early Christians, desperate to have Jesus back with them, created the belief in the Resurrection (179). Other than that remark, he is silent on these core Christian beliefs.

Of course, there is much talk of Jesus pointing man toward “God-consciousness,” but it is invariably ephemeral and vague. Reading Chopra trying to explain the nature of his Jesus’ life and work is like watching a madman shooting fog with a shotgun. He claims to have hit the target every time, but the fog remains and nothing has really happened, even while the shooter’s cockiness grows with every blast.

Chopra’s Christ disregards the material world. He has nothing to do with Christianity or the Church, or with the God of the Jews and the Christians. He has no interest in faith, concerned only with enlightenment and a higher state of consciousness: “Once we see Jesus as a teacher of enlightenment, faith changes its focus. You don’t need to have faith in the Messiah or his mission. Instead, you have faith in the vision of higher consciousness” (62). This Jesus does not ask us to believe in him, but to seek out “his essence, which is the light of pure consciousness” (63). Divine intelligence, the mad shooter opines, “manifests whatever we can imagine” (65).

This is self-help monism for the masses, which promises spiritual and physical wholeness if only readers will look inside themselves for the answers. To focus on Jesus and our response to him, says Chopra, is to miss the point. When one achieves God-consciousness “wholeness prevails. There is no more going in and going out of God, coming to God and moving away. The experience of God turns into a constant for one reason alone: ‘I’ and ‘God” become one and the same ” (212, emphasis added). Jesus may be a good example, but he is not the goal: “But Jesus is the very thing you and I won’t be like once we arrive at God-consciousness” (213).

The New-Age (Anti)christ

Despite his many contradictory remarks, Chopra clearly presents his Jesus as the real Jesus: unique, fresh, and newly recovered after centuries of dark oppression on the part of the Church. Yet this Jesus is hardly unique; he is essentially identical with a host of New Age Christs who have been created, recreated, and reincarnated over the past century by authors such as Levi Dowling, José Silva, Edgar Cayce, Richard Bach, Matthew Fox, and many others.

Evangelical apologist and philosopher Dr. Douglas Groothuis has written several excellent books on the New Age movement. In Jesus in an Age of Controversy, he outlines common traits of the New Age Jesus, all of which are found in Chopra’s book:

  • Jesus is a spiritually advanced being who provides an example for us to achieve our own “spiritual evolution.” He is often compared to, or paired with, Buddha. Thus, Chopra insists, “the Christian seeker who wants to reach God is no different from the Buddhist. Both are directed into their own consciousness” (Third Jesus, 87).
  • The historical Jesus is distinct from the universal and impersonal “Christ consciousness” or “God-consciousness,” which he embodies but does not monopolize. Orthodox Christian understandings of Jesus are considered narrow-minded, provincial, and limiting. Or, in Chopra’s words: “Clearly Jesus did not have a provincial view of himself. Although a Jew and a rabbi (or teacher), he saw himself in universal terms” (Third Jesus, 20).
  • Jesus death on the cross and his Resurrection are of little or no importance. Thus, a significant part of the Gospels (roughly a quarter of those texts) is simply ignored or dismissed as unimportant.
  • Jesus’ Second Coming is not a literal, visible event at the end of the age, but a stage in the evolutionary advancement of humanity. As Chopra states, “the Second Coming will be a shift in consciousness that renews human nature by raising it to the level of the divine” (Third Jesus, 40).
  • Extra-biblical documents, especially Gnostic texts, are used and regarded as authentic sources for the life of Jesus. Meanwhile, the Gospels are quoted selectively and often “corrected” by other sources. “Other documents may be as old as the four Gospels,” Chopra writes, “and therefore make their own claim to authenticity” (Third Jesus, 133).
  • Bible passages are given esoteric interpretations that contradict orthodox understandings, as well as historical facts. Chopra especially enjoys reinterpreting texts about “light,” ignoring (as in the Gospel of John) the context of the Feast of Lights, and the connection being made in John’s Gospel to the Shekinah glory of God.

Like so many before him, Chopra does not appeal to history, facts, or logic in presenting his version of Jesus. He is completely derivative and unoriginal, despite his attempts to appear otherwise. His assumption that his “Third Jesus” should be accepted simply because he, Deepak Chopra, believes in him, reveals a belief system that is not just illogical but makes no real attempt at engaging the difficult, challenging questions—historical, philosophical, theological—that should be taken seriously.

The Road to Spiritual Narcissism

An essential message of The Third Jesus is the tired-but-popular mantra: Spirituality is good; religion is bad. We need, Chopra exhorts readers, to discard “the model of religion. To gather together on the path isn’t the same as forming a sect. There is no need for dogma, prayer, ritual, priests, or official Scripture. No one is to be elevated above the rest” (171). But if The Third Jesus (and many of Chopra’s other books) is anything, it is a dogmatic work, a scripture that provides rituals and meditation. Chopra is a sort of priest, the spiritual leader who provides teaching and guidance.

James A. Herrick, in his excellent study, The Making of the New Spirituality, writes about how the New Religious Synthesis (his term for New Age movements and related belief systems) does away with history in order to open the way “to universal religious insights.” Religious belief is detached from historical events and the focus becomes inward. In this context, the gate is opened to

[T]he self-styled mystic, the spiritual charlatan, the religious expert or just the self-deceived neighbor, each operating in a realm of private interpretation of elusive evidences largely inaccessible to their followers or any would-be critic . . . Shamans, gurus, scholars of religion and even laboratory scientists now intervene between the public and the divine as a new class of priests. (256)

Chopra is one such guru, and his elevated status is not based on reason but on a system of subjective interpretation he describes as “secular spirituality.” It is, in reality, a religion: the worship and divinization of self. Herrick, further pondering the tension between those who believe in a personal God and Jesus Christ, and those who espouse an impersonal oneness and the need to achieve a higher form of “consciousness,” writes of this spirituality of self-obsession:

The New Religious Synthesis calls us to self-adoration as spirituality, to the exaltation of our own rational self-awareness—”the divinity operating within us” . . . —as an act of worship. The Other Spirituality’s journey away from submission to a personal and sovereign deity, away from moral responsibility before a Creator God, away from community built on worship of the Wholly Other, arrives at no more interesting destination than spiritual narcissism. (New Spirituality, 259)

“Spiritual narcissism” is a perfect description of The Third Jesus. Chopra’s book is only superficially about Jesus; in fact, he hardly makes any effort to find the real Jesus, having dismissed—without providing compelling reasons—the “historical” Jesus and the Jesus of doctrine and theology. On the contrary, this book is a self-absorbed exercise in pseudo-mystical navel-gazing, the sort of book whose beautiful cover disguises a hollow, empty work that is intellectually confused and spiritually toxic.”

SIDEBAR

Suggested Reading

  • Catholics and the New Age (Charis, 1992), by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.
  • An excellent Catholic examination of the New Age movement is the Vatican document, “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age,’” released in 2003 by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Available at www.vatican.va.
  • Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Harvest House, 1996), and Confronting the New Age (InterVarsity Press, 1988), by Douglas Groothuis.
  • The Making of the New Spirituality (InterVarsity Press, 2003), by James A. Herrick is an excellent overview, with a wealth of historical background.
  • A fine popular introduction to Eastern pantheism and New Age beliefs can be found in The Universe Next Door (InterVarsity Press, 1988; 2nd ed., especially pages 136-208), by James W. Sire.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 10 – Heresy of Monophysitism


-Deesis mosaic Hagia Sophia, Constantinople.


– “humine” better shown as a uniform light blue/purple, an even mixture of white (divine) and dark blue/purple (human); both natures diluted/diminished. Catholic teaching: there is a fully human Jesus and a fully God Jesus, but one Jesus. Two natures in one (B)being. Neither is diminished/diluted.

Monophysitism originated as a reaction to Nestorianism. The Monophysites (led by a man named Eutyches) were horrified by Nestorius’s implication that Christ was two people with two different natures (human and divine). They went to the other extreme, claiming that Christ was one person with only one nature (a fusion of human and divine elements). They are thus known as Monophysites because of their claim that Christ had only one nature (Greek: mono = one; physis = nature).

Catholic theologians recognized that Monophysitism was as bad as Nestorianism because it denied Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. If Christ did not have a fully human nature, then he would not be fully human (and the Incarnation did not happen), and if he did not have a fully divine nature then he was not fully divine (and we are not saved by God, Himself).


-by Br Nicodemus Thomas, OP

“Today’s patron, Saint Leo (the Great) is indeed great. The fifth-century bishop of Rome reigned as Pope during the last years of the Western Roman empire. His list of accomplishments is impressive. He heroically met with Attila the Hun to save the Italian peninsula from invasion, and he was a father to the Roman people whom the emperors abandoned. However, the Church does not call St. Leo “great” merely because of his patrician birth or his political savvy. After all, the empire was falling apart and would end officially a decade after his death. So it might seem, if we only examine his secular accomplishments, that St. Leo is called “great” for reasons that do not merit the title.

During the fifth century, St. Leo preached against a group called the Monophysites who argued that there is a single nature in Christ. In other words, they claimed that Jesus Christ is not both really God and really man. Saint Leo, both in his famous Letter to Flavian and in his preaching, refuted their heresy and elucidated the mystery of the Incarnation for his brother bishops. Leo’s theology is not written in inaccessible language or specialized jargon. Rather, this Doctor of the Church explains to his universal flock the beauty and fittingness of the Incarnation. In Leo’s Christmas homily, he explains: “[Jesus] came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he [the devil] had overthrown mankind.”

The profundity of Leo’s reflection shines forth in the closing lines of his homily when he exhorts Christians to recall their dignity because they become “partners in the Divine nature.” The Pope is not claiming that Christians are now the divine essence; we have not become part of God, in a pantheistic sense. Rather, since God assumed our nature in the person of Jesus, Leo is arguing that we should “throw off our old nature and all its ways and as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.” In other words, we are able to be radically changed because “through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

 How are we changed into temples of the Holy Spirit? Leo reminds us in a homily from today’s Office of Readings, “[Jesus] overflowed with abundant riches from the very source of all grace, yet though he alone received much, nothing was given over to him without his sharing it.” This means that we are capable of receiving grace in Christ because he assumed our nature, a grace with transformative power. Through grace we are able to receive the theological virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and ultimately eternal life itself.

So why is Leo Great? Leo is not only great because he was a follower and imitator of Christ like all of the saints, but also because he preached Who Jesus is to all people. Therefore, the Church calls Leo “Saint” on account of his holiness and she has called him “great” on account of his teachings which not only make us wiser but also help us to know Jesus Christ. So let us celebrate St Leo, because as he reminds us Who Christ is, he also reminds us who we are. Although we are not all called to be great theologians and teachers like St Leo, through Christ we are called to be saints.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Bible is NEVER sola


Oral Torah = Tradition


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Most Protestants have no problem with God’s Revelation taking more than one form

It must be recognized that most Protestants do not have a problem with the idea that God’s revelation can take more than one form.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:19–20).

Paul seems to be echoing the Old Testament book of Wisdom, which says, “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (13:5). All of this agrees with the psalmist, who declared that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

Natural and Supernatural Revelation

Catholics and Protestants agree that God makes Himself known in ways outside of Scripture

So we see in Scripture itself that God reveals Himself (clearly and to all people) through his creation, apart from Scripture. Theologians call this kind of revelation natural (because it comes through nature) or general (because it is given to all people).

In contrast, revelation that is given by prophetic utterances or recorded in inspired writings is called supernatural (because it is direct communication from God) or special (because it is not available to all people without qualification).

Catholics and Protestants agree that these two modes of revelation are both legitimate and authoritative—at least in theory. In its two millennia on earth, the Catholic Church has developed many careful distinctions, one of them being to subdivide supernatural, public revelations into those originally written (Sacred Scripture) and unwritten (Sacred Tradition).

Catholics emphasize that all truth is “God’s truth” and therefore that no revelation can truly contradict another, whereas Protestants elevate the written form above the others. But Protestants will agree that God can and does reveal himself in ways outside the pages of the Bible.

In Principle Protestants Agree: God’s revelation comes to us in more than the written form.

The Importance of Interpretation

Language is a set of signs pointing to things in reality

An important thing to note here is that regardless of their source, written words need to be interpreted. Language is a set of signs (whether oral or written) pointing to things in reality. Therefore, our knowledge of reality will determine our interpretation of words.

When I say or write the word dog, English speakers will know what I mean because we have agreed that this word refers to the animal we all recognize as a dog.

That’s pretty straightforward, but language is not always that easy to understand. Dog can also refer to a person (usually, but not always, in a negative way) or it can be a word to modify a type of day in summer or express how tired I am. Aside from the challenge of words having multiple definitions, sometimes the same meaning is applied to distinct things in very specific ways.

For example, if I say, “My wife is a peach,” no one would suspect that I had married a fruit! Instinctively, they would compare what they know about peaches and women to what I had said and infer my actual meaning (“My wife is sweet”).

This is as true of the Bible as anything else. For example, the words of Scripture describe our planet as being circular (Isa. 40:22) and as having corners (Rev. 7:1). Because something cannot be both circular and cornered, it seems clear that one of these verses was meant to be taken metaphorically. But which one? One could argue from genre types or try to dig into the original Hebrew and Greek, but in our age it is much easier to consult natural revelation (simply look at the planet!).

Catholicism Affirms: God’s public, special revelation has come to us in written and unwritten form.

Love & His will, which is perfect,
Matthew

Christian accord, Acts 1:14 – Salvation

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Is “Faith Alone” enough?

The Protestant Reformation was launched when a Catholic priest named Martin Luther thought he’d discovered something in the Bible that the Church had been missing for centuries. That discovery was salvation by faith alone—that is, apart from doing good works. This core Reformation doctrine of sola fide is a major dividing line between Catholics and Protestants.

Just like sola scriptura, this doctrine ends up dividing Protestants from each other just as much (and sometimes even more) as it divides them from Catholics. Over the years, “faith alone” has come to mean different things to different Protestants.

There are some (known as Free Grace Protestants) who have taken the principle so far that they believe even apostates can be completely confident in their salvation. At the other end of the spectrum are legalistic or Fundamentalist groups that, while giving lip service to salvation by faith alone, nevertheless demand a severe lifestyle from their members.

Nor is the debate over salvation by faith alone limited to extreme fringe groups. In fact, it began in the sixteenth century and shows no signs of letting up in the twenty-first. A recent book from one of the most popular Evangelical publishers devoted over 300 pages to an academic debate between five scholars on the nature of justification (one was a Catholic)

And justification is only the beginning. Similar debate books have been written about sanctification, pluralism, eternal security, law and gospel, and other related topics. And so as we seek accord, we will look to see if the principles that allow Protestants who disagree over salvation nonetheless to identify with one another and to worship together might call for the embrace of Catholics as well.

Are You Saved?

Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification

Although Christians sometimes think of salvation in fairly simple terms (going to heaven instead of hell), anyone who spends much time thinking or talking about the subject will quickly discover that there are numerous shades of meaning.

Nearly all Christians, even those who speak of salvation as if it occurred whole and entire at a single point in time, with no potential to ever be lost, recognize that God’s work in people typically involves a process that is extended over time.

In the Evangelical tradition that I came from, we thought of salvation in three basic stages: 1) justification, which was the point at which someone received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and thus was guaranteed heaven, 2) sanctification, which was the process by which God transformed the individual’s life from one of sin to sainthood, and 3) glorification, which was the final, complete transformation into perfection that occurred once someone entered eternal life in heaven.

Stages of Salvation

Where we differ, where we agree

Although this threefold process is described differently among Protestant traditions, most affirm something like it. A critical feature of this theology is that during each stage, the causes of and effects on one’s salvation can differ. For example, whereas the initial stage of salvation (“ justification”) might be considered a one-way act of God based on faith alone, resulting in heaven or hell, the second stage (“sanctification”) may rely heavily on the actions of the individual and only affect one’s degree of reward or punishment.

The importance of these salvation “stages” is that although Protestants will often speak of salvation as a single moment in time with everlasting effects, most agree that there is more to the story. Sola fide, in most Protestant minds, refers only to one’s initial justification. This happens to coincide nicely with the Catholic view of baptism—it is entirely faith-based, distinct from a person’s works, and instantly brings us into a saving relationship with God.

For many Protestants, the parallels break down after that because the Church teaches that saving grace can be lost or increased via works (“faith working through love” per Galatians 5:6)—but there are Protestants who teach something similar to this as well. In the end, the differences some- times come down more to terminology and fine-grained distinctions than to entirely different salvation plans as is often believed.

Finding Common Ground

We often are not as far apart as we think

In Principle Protestants Agree: Salvation is in some sense a process involving various stages, each with different requirements and effects.

In Particular Catholicism Affirms: Salvation is an ongoing process with different requirements at different stages that can increase, decrease, eradicate, or regain God’s saving grace in our lives.”

Love, and Christian accord, harmony, peace, love, and deep, true affection,
Matthew

Sep 16 – Will the real St Cyprian (~200-258AD), Bishop & Martyr, please stand up!


-by Fr Ray Ryland (1921-2014), for Catholic Answers, was an Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism in 1963. Married and a father of five, he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983 under the pastoral provision granted by the Vatican for the admittance of married Anglican priests to the Catholic priesthood.

“For centuries, Eastern Orthodox theologians have tried to put their brand on Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred in 258. They have hailed him as chief exponent of the Eastern theory of national churches totally independent of Roman control. From the twelfth century onward, Byzantine writers opposing Catholic ecclesiology “found their strongest argument in the ecclesiology of Cyprian.”

Cyprian is also a favorite of Anglican apologists in their arguments against the papacy. One of them has said that defenders of the Church of England’s break with Rome can base their entire case on the writings of Cyprian. To a Catholic it seems risky, at best, for Anglicans to base their whole apologetic on one interpretation of a few passages from the writings of one saint—especially since, as we shall see, Cyprian always submitted to papal authority.

Both Orthodox and Anglicans contend that Cyprian was a non-papal Catholic, a third-century “episcopalian.” Cyprian held that each bishop is completely in charge of his own diocese and with all other bishops shares responsibility for the unity of the Church. Thus far he was on solid Catholic ground. But then he entered on less solid ground. Cyprian claimed that the unity of the Church is to be preserved by all the bishops unanimously holding the true faith. He never told us what is to be done when bishops disagree over doctrine. He did say that when bishops disagree in matters not involving doctrine, they must simply agree to disagree.

Where did Cyprian fit the pope into the picture? He laid great emphasis on Matthew 16: the naming of Peter as “rock,” the promise to build the Church on Peter, the gift to Peter of the keys of the kingdom. He taught that the Church was founded on Peter and also on the other apostles, insofar as they constitute a body under the headship of Peter. Scholars (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are divided over the connection Cyprian saw between the Church’s episcopate and the successors of Peter.

Cyprian was headstrong. He apparently did not see the anarchical consequences of his theory of the independence of bishops. His favorite and almost only teacher was Tertullian, who died a heretic. The lack of clarity in Cyprian’s writings may also be due to his having been rushed from baptism into the episcopate in only two years, with little theological preparation.

Cyprian’s position has offered scope for the arguments of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who argue that the authority of the pope did not exist in the early centuries, but was a later development not based on any divine authority.

Nicolas Afanassieff assures us that the first Christians had no idea “that there could be a power over the local churches” and certainly no idea that such power might belong to an individual (the bishop of Rome). He solemnly recalls as “historical fact” that at least in the first three centuries every local church (diocese) was totally independent of any other church or any other bishop. In earlier articles I have shown this claim to be erroneous. In the first century, Pope Clement exercised authority in the name of Jesus Christ to settle a schism in the church at Corinth. No one questioned the Pope’s exercise of authority. Indeed, the Corinthians welcomed it. For many decades in their liturgy the Corinthians read from Clement’s letter to them. In the second century Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate large sections of the Church in the East if they did not observe Easter according to the practice of Rome. Though some decried the wisdom of his declared intention, no one questioned his authority. Eventually his will prevailed throughout the Church.

Now we turn to Cyprian himself—mainstay, we are told, of the anti-papal ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodoxy. To determine what Cyprian really believed about universal papal jurisdiction, we have to move beyond the ambiguities of his writings and examine his dealings with the papacy. His actions not only speak more loudly than his words; they also speak much more clearly.

MARTYR’S CERTIFICATES

In his own diocese Cyprian had to deal with a widespread threat to the Church’s discipline. Confessors (those being punished by the state for not renouncing the faith) and martyrs awaiting execution were usurping the authority of the bishop.

Under intense persecution by the Roman government, many Christians had lapsed or apostatized, thereby coming under the Church’s ban. After the persecution abated, the lapsed who repented would obtain from the martyrs and confessors certificates requesting the bishop to reduce or cancel the punishment due them. It was the bishop’s responsibility to evaluate the sincerity of the penitents. The bishop also had to decide what effect the confessors’ and martyrs’ certificates should have on the penance of the lapsed.

(Note this fact. What the Catholic Church teaches today about “indulgences” she was teaching and practicing in Cyprian’s time. The granting of indulgences is made possible by the solidarity of the Mystical Body of Christ. By virtue of that solidarity, the sufferings of some members of the Body have the power to lessen the punishment of other members of the Body. This is precisely what the martyrs’ and confessors’ certificates were intended to do.)

Imprudent confessors were ignoring the bishop and, on their own authority, freeing the lapsed from the prescribed penance. Cyprian believed, rightly, that this irregular procedure threatened the whole of the Church’s discipline. He wrote letters to several persons about this problem and sent copies of all the letters to Rome, asking the Roman clergy to consider what he had written.

He addressed the Roman clergy rather than the pope because there had been no incumbent in the see of Peter for a couple of years: After the martyrdom of Pope Fabian (250), active government persecution had prevented the election of his successor. Yet Cyprian showed deference to the see of Peter even when it was vacant. He would take no final action with regard to reconciling the lapsed and apostates without consulting with Rome.

During the persecution, Cyprian himself had gone into hiding. Some of his people criticized his action and sent their complaint to the Roman clergy. (Why would Carthaginians take this matter to Rome, if the local churches were absolutely independent, as Eastern apologists assert?) The Roman clergy wrote to Cyprian and asked for an explanation. Did Cyprian indignantly reject their request and assert his complete independence as a bishop? No. On the contrary, he sent the Roman clergy a defense of his conduct.

Still another action on the part of the Roman clergy, when the see of Peter was vacant, reflects the primacy of Rome. In a letter to Cyprian’s archdeacon (bypassing Cyprian, bishop of the diocese), the Roman clergy told the Carthaginian clergy how they should deal with the lapsed. Did Cyprian condemn this action as interference infringing on his autonomous jurisdiction? Not at all. He wrote the Roman clergy that he had read their letter and in practice would uphold their opinion.

Schismatics from Carthage went to Rome to join the schism of Novatian there. Cyprian denounced the wickedness of the Novatians in Rome and spoke scornfully of the Carthaginian schismatics who had gone to Rome, “the chair of Peter and to the principal [or ruling] church, whence episcopal unity has taken its rise.”

Obviously Cyprian did not regard his own see, Carthage, as “the” or “a” chair of Peter. He said the schismatics who went to Rome were going to “the chair of Peter.”

“SOVEREIGN RULING”

This “chair of Peter,” said Cyprian, is “the principal Church.” Irenaeus had used these same words about Rome. Tertullian had defined the phrase to mean “that which is over anything, as the soul presides over and rules the body.” Cyprian called Tertullian his “master” and read his writings every day. We can assume that he followed his master in using “principal” to mean “sovereign ruling.”

Speaking of the schismatics who had gone to Rome, Cyprian said, in effect, “They are wasting their time!” Not only is Rome the source of the Church’s unity (“whence episcopal unity has taken its rise”), the schismatics are wasting their time because the Romans—the “chair of Peter,” the pope—are “they to whom faithlessness can have no access.” This is an astonishing statement—astonishing, that is, outside the context of papal infallibility. But we must assume that Cyprian meant what he said.

In practice Cyprian contradicted his own teaching about the independence of each bishop. When Marcion, bishop of Arles, left the Church’s communion and joined the schismatic Novatians, the bishops of the province wrote to the pope asking him to take action. (If they were independent of Rome, why did they not take action themselves?) The action required was for the pope to excommunicate Marcion and appoint a replacement. For unknown reasons, the pope delayed his response. Faustinus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to Cyprian about the matter, seeking his advice.

Cyprian thereupon wrote to the pope, urging him to take action. His letter implies that the pope was the one—the only one—to set matters straight in Arles. He urged the pope to write “letters of plenary authority [literally ‘most full letters’] by means of which, Marcion being excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place.”

Regardless of what Cyprian may have written about the independence of each bishop, here he clearly recognized the authority of the pope to remove and install bishops (for good cause) anywhere in the world.

BAPTISM BY HERETICS

It was Cyprian’s struggle with Pope Stephen over the subject of baptism by heretics which has most endeared Cyprian to Eastern Orthodox and Anglican apologists. It is also that.aspect of Cyprian’s career that caused the Donatists (fourth-century heretics) to claim him as patron saint of their position. Repeatedly to their chief opponent, Augustine, the Donatists quoted Cyprian. Augustine acknowledged Cyprian’s error, but emphasized Cyprian’s refusal to break with Rome.

In his conflict with the schismatic Novatians, Cyprian drew the erroneous conclusion that baptism by heretics is invalid, contrary to the Church’s teaching. By the force of his personality and of at least three African councils that he dominated, Cyprian lined up the bishops of Africa behind his position. Rejection of heretical baptism was an innovation that found wide support in the East.

On this issue, as on others, Cyprian’s thinking was confused. On the one hand he insisted that each bishop was perfectly free to decide whether to accept or reject baptism by heretics, since the issue was not doctrinal. At the same time, in vehemently expounding his position he invoked weighty dogmatic considerations. Cyprian sent Pope Stephen a report of the African synods, explaining that he and the synods had not laid down any law binding all the African bishops. He sent the report because he believed that the Pope should be consulted, even though this was not a doctrinal issue

The issue was whether persons outside the Church’s unity could baptize validly. Stephen ruled that they could, if they used the proper form. Persons who were baptized by heretics and who repented and returned to the Church were to be received by the laying-on of hands. Stephen’s answer to Cyprian makes it plain that his ruling is not a definition of faith, yet Stephen forbade rebaptism of those who had received heretical baptism and decreed excommunication for those who performed rebaptisms.

In his reply to Cyprian’s report, Stephen reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) was successor of Peter, whom Cyprian had extolled in his writing on unity and on whom Jesus Christ had founded his Church. Stephen further reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) held the chair of Peter, about which Cyprian had written enthusiastically. Finally, Stephen called for Cyprian’s obedience.

Immediately upon receiving Stephen’s reply, Cyprian dispatched legates to Rome to try to persuade the Pope to change his ruling. It was a most inopportune time for Cyprian to do this. The Pope was then contending with schismatic Novatians who were rebaptizing Catholics who joined them. The African legates would probably have been identified in people’s minds with the Novatians. This would have lent the eminent name of Cyprian to a heretical group.

So, for the good of the Church and of Cyprian, Stephen refused to receive the legates, ordering them not to spend a single night in Rome. When the legates returned to Carthage, Cyprian sent messengers to the East to enlist support for his cause of rebaptism. He wrote to Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia and partisan of Cyprian’s cause. Firmilian responded to Cyprian’s letter, and Stephen’s ruling, in a letter filled with indignation and bitterness. Yet Firmilian’s letter itself implicitly recognized the Pope’s authority. Firmilian expressed no indignation over Stephen’s emphasizing his role as Peter’s successor and his claim to what we call universal jurisdiction.

If Stephen’s claim had not been universally accepted, Firmilian’s ultimate weapon against the despised ruling would have been to deny and reject papal authority. That weapon was not available to him, so all he could do was fulminate in bitterest terms.

There is no evidence that either Cyprian or Firmilian was excommunicated. Did Cyprian accept Stephen’s decision and stop rebaptizing those who had received baptism from heretical hands? Jerome says the African bishops corrected their decision to rebaptize and “issued a new decree.” Augustine says the Easterners followed the Pope’s directive: “they rescinded their judgment, by which they had decided that it was right to agree with Cyprian and that African council.” In another place he writes that the Easterners “corrected” their judgment about rebaptism.

Anti-papal apologist John Meyendorff asserts that this event was simply a regional reaction against incipient Roman centralization. There was nothing “incipient” about what Meyendorff calls Roman centralization, but which Catholics call papal universal jurisdiction. That jurisdiction had been exercised since the first century, as has been shown. Furthermore, the controversy was not about centralization at all, but about sacramental and ecclesiological issues of the deepest import.

Eastern and Anglican apologists who rely on Cyprian’s controversy with Pope Stephen to support their case for independent national churches forget or ignore the key fact: Cyprian never even questioned, much less denied, the Pope’s authority to make his ruling and its penalty for non-observance. He only opposed the content of the ruling. Cyprian’s insistence on rebaptism was attractive to many minds. It seemed to safeguard Catholic truth by drawing a sharp line between orthodoxy and heresy. But papal universal jurisdiction and papal teaching authority made all the difference.

In this controversy, “it needs only a few lines from the pen of the Pope to overthrow all that scaffolding of texts and syllogisms. The partisans of innovation may resist as they please, write letter after letter, assemble councils; five lines from the sovereign Pontiff will become the rule of conduct for the universal Church. Eastern and African bishops, all those who at first had rallied round the contrary opinion, will retrace their steps, and the whole Catholic world will follow the decision of the Bishop of Rome.”

Eastern opponents of the papacy are mistaken in their reliance on Cyprian as the mainstay of their apologetic. Cyprian repeatedly deferred to the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome. In at least one instance he begged for the exercise of that authority. With regard to heretical baptism, he opposed a pope’s ruling but never questioned papal authority. The Eastern churches today recognize that Cyprian’s teaching was wrong and that the pope—as usual—was right.”

Love,
Matthew

1. John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), 12.

2. St. Cyprian, The Lapsed: The Unity of the Catholic Church (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957), chapters 4 and 5.

3. Nicolas Afanassieff, “The Church Which Presides in Love” in John Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter (Leighton Buzzad, Bedfordshire: Faith Press, 1973), 83, 73.

4. Quoted by Luke Rivington, The Primitive Church and the See of Peter (London: Longmans, Green, 1894), 58.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 71.

7. John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 221.

8. Rivington, 115f.

Sep 16 – Sts Cornelius (d. 253 AD), Pope & Cyprian (~200-258 AD), Father of the Church, Bishops & Martyrs – The Difficult Way of Mercy



(inset)
-SS. Cornelius and Cyprian from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves; on Pierpont Morgan Library. The Netherlands, Utrecht, ca. 1440, 7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm). Cornelius, holding a horn (cornus in Latin—a pun on his name), and Cyprian, with the sword of his martyrdom, share a feast. Birdcages, executed in silver and gold, comprise the delightful border. They may allude to Cornelius as patron saint of pets or to an interest of Catherine.

Suffrages

Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for intercession with the Lord for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help.  Please click on the images for greater detail.


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“Sacrifice or I’ll make you sacrifice.” Such was the choice that the Emperor Decius enjoined upon third century Christians. In response, some Christians refused, suffering torture or martyrdom. Others fled, losing their property. Far more, however, offered sacrifice to Roman idols or bought documents that said they did. These Christians “lapsed” (lapsi, the lapsi): their actions broke the first commandment and denied Christ, who said, “whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33).

After 18 months, the Decian persecution ended, and many of the lapsed wanted to return to the Church. Today’s martyrs, Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, responded to them with compassion. St. Cyprian preached, “My heart bleeds with each one of you, I share the weight of your sorrow and distress … when my brethren fell, my heart was struck and I fell at their side” (The Lapsed). He saw the persecution as a trial for the Church. The lapsed had failed this trial, and they needed healing in order to regain communion with God. Cornelius and Cyprian desired the reconciliation of the lapsed, but two different forces impeded that goal.

The laxist party raised the first obstacle. They immediately permitted all the lapsed to receive the Eucharist. This admittance, however, achieved no reconciliation. Jesus gives us a remedy—penance—for the festering wound of mortal sin, and the Eucharist cannot help those with that wound. Cyprian comments that laxist indulgence “does not mean the granting of reconciliation but its frustration, it does not restore men to communion but bars them from it and from salvation.” As Saint Paul teaches, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor 10:21). “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

The laxists substituted their own standards of mercy for God’s standard of mercy, revealed to us through scripture. Despite their well-meaning intention, their approach nonetheless exalted their judgment over God’s judgment. Cyprian knew that the Eucharist is neither a mere reward for good behavior nor a mark of elite status. It is communion with Jesus. Grave sin in the soul thwarts this communion, and Cyprian saw the reason for the necessity of penance: it provides an opportunity for glory. “He who has made such satisfaction to God, he who by his repentance and shame for his sin, draws from the bitterness of his fall a fresh fund of valor and loyalty, shall by the help he has won from the Lord, rejoice the heart of the Church whom he has so lately pained; he will earn not merely God’s forgiveness, but His crown.”

The other threat to reconciliation arose from Novatian, who set himself up as anti-Pope against Cornelius and led many into schism. Novatian and his followers also replaced God’s standards of mercy for their own. They were rigorists and refused to absolve the lapsed. Novatian “did what the Lord did not even grant to the apostles”: he endeavored “to separate the chaff from the wheat” (St. Cyprian, Letter 51). Even Saint Peter lapsed when he denied Christ three times, yet he made a threefold reparation and Jesus forgave him. God is a merciful Father. He desires all to be saved and reconciled to himself, and all who stand in the way of that reconciliation betray him.

In these conflicts, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were faithful to their call to be merciful shepherds. They testify to true mercy, mercy which neither ignores the damage sin causes nor despairs of its healing. By reconciling people to the Eucharist, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian cultivated communion in the Church. By their life and martyrdom, they now live in the fullest communion with God. We share that communion with them at every Mass.

God our Father,
in Saints Cornelius and Cyprian
you have given your people an inspiring example
of dedication to the pastoral ministry
and constant witness to Christ in their suffering.
May their prayers and faith give us courage
to work for the unity of your Church.
Amen.”

Love, Lord have mercy on me, for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

The Heresy of Jansenism & Cancel-Culture


-Abbess Angelique Arnauld, S.O.Cist., (1591-1661), a champion of the heresy of Jansenism.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Shaun Blanchard, PhD


-plan of Port-Royal-des-Champs, after an engraving by Louise-Magdeleine Horthemels, c. 1710, please click on the image for greater detail.

“…The epicenter of Jansenism was the convent of Port-Royal des Champs (outside Paris), a formally lax establishment, which had been overhauled by the formidable abbess Angélique Arnauld (1591–1661).[1] Mére Angélique was serious about reform, because she had imbibed the rigorist Christocentric renewal currents coming from the circles of Pierre de Bérulle (1575–1629), and two men she knew personally: François de Sales (1567–1622) and the Abbé Saint-Cyran (1581–1643). The latter, a very close friend of Jansen, eventually became the spiritual godfather of the nuns of Port-Royal… [Ed. The scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a convert to the early Jansenist cause.]

…Closely connected with the Jansenist desire to defend the “truth” about grace and predestination in the face of Jesuit “novelty” was their concern for protecting the Eucharist from profanation. It was this debate that gained a great deal of popular attention and thrust Pascal into the spotlight. The pastoral (or lax) opinion championed by many Jesuits was that attrition was sufficient for absolution in the confessional—that is, one needed only to seek forgiveness because one feared divine wrath.

The rigorist position, which Jansenists argued was the practice of the Early Church and sufficiently clear in patristic sources, was that only contrition—that is, love of God and sorrow for having offended him—sufficed for absolution. This debate sparked Pascal’s famous Provincial Letters, which ridiculed the lengths to which Jesuitical “casuistry” would go to lessen the weight of sin or excuse it entirely. Pascal’s brilliantly entertaining satirical letters might have been unfair to the many good and devoted Jesuit pastors, but they certainly described some real problems in French society…

…King Louis XIV [decided]to act decisively. The divine-right monarch had never liked Jansenists. They stank of a stubborn individualism, a spirit of inquiry, and a questioning of his absolutism. It was especially irksome that a group of women (the indomitable nuns of Port-Royal) continued to defy not only successive archbishops in Paris and popes in Rome, but even the Sun King in Versailles.

Louis XIV had had enough of this, and he finally demolished Port-Royal (literally) in 1711, and scattered the surviving sisters into different houses…Nevertheless, the women of Port-Royal were exemplars of female Catholic bravery and scholarship; these learned and devout women tenaciously asserted their right to read scripture and the Church Fathers and participate in theological debates.[5]”


-nuns being forcibly removed from Port-Royal des Champs abbey, please click on the image for greater detail.


-a solitary surviving chapel from Port-Royal des Champs abbey, and Mere Angelique’s tomb, amid the ruins of Porty-Royal des Champs abbey.


-by Fr Christopher Pietraszko, is a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario, Canada

“There is a close connection between cancel-culture and the heresy of Jansenism. Jansenism’s error was to myopically assess the work of grace, and perhaps over-simplify it.  As a result grace was seen as to not abound, or to be extended to all people sufficiently. As a result, a Puritan-like attitude arose, where if something was corrupt, the whole thing would be thrown out. Any slight imperfection meant the whole thing was abject and worthy of condemnation.

Looking upon the past with a cavalier attitude will only come back to haunt ourselves as the next generation sees our own blindness, and throws us into the same gutter.

Recognizing that the world is corrupted is honest. Throwing it away is reckless. Why? Because of a very sound doctrine that teaches us that evil is always adhering to something good, and by uprooting the evil, we also uproot the good. Christ Himself taught us this with the parable of the weeds and the grain. The middle way is to seek to redeem what is broken, to heal what is wounded, to distinguish carefully and diligently between what is unjust and what is just.

This tendency towards Jansenism is not only seen in secular society, but I’ve observed it as well within attitudes towards canceling the Novus Ordo, or the TLM, or the Pope, or the Bishops, or adhering to sacred obedience. It’s a sneaky trap that transcends all political categories and seeks to uproot the good with the bad. It doesn’t enjoy the hard work of discernment, and flippantly and in an often fraudulent (fallacious) way, doesn’t distinguish between the good and the evil. It reacts and throws the whole thing out.

If there was ever a heresy so close to Calvin’s “total depravity” this is it. God teaches to do something different. He wants what is dysfunctional and imperfect to enter a process of sanctification. He builds off what is already good, to undermine the ravages of what is already evil. He does not flip a switch of grace and make one perfect in an instant, but rather slowly unfolds a path before us that saved, is saving, and will save us.”

Love, His grace, His transformation, His sanctification of us, was, is, will be,
Matthew

[1] F. Ellen Weaver, The Evolution of the Reform of Port Royal: From the Rule of Cîteaux to Jansenism (Paris: Beauchesne, 1978); Louis Cognet, La Réforme de Port Royal (Paris: Sulliver, 1950).

[5] Among many excellent studies see Daniella Kostroun, Feminism, Absolutism, and Jansenism: Louis XIV and the Port-Royal Nuns (Cambridge: CUP, 2011); John J. Conley, SJ, The Other Pascals: The Philosophy of Jacqueline Pascal, Gilberte Pascal Périer, and Marguerite Périer (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame, 2019).