“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
H. Richard Nieburh
One of the more distressing aspects of the times in which we live is a widespread and fundamentally incorrect response to the eternal question first asked by Christ to His Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” The question of course contained the answer: Christ is forever “I AM”, the creator of all that was, is and will ever be, our eternal Master and the source of all love and hope.
This Christ has been transformed into Pal Jesus, an instant forgiveness buddy, who wouldn’t dream of imposing commands on anyone, and who loves us just the way we are. Pal Jesus always forgives us, whether we ask for it or not, whether we seek to amend our lives or not. He never tells us to go and sin no more. This Christ, who, to paraphrase Chesterton, wears a new face of goofiness, is in stark contrast to the Christ presented to us in the Gospels who bids us all each to take up our Cross and follow Him. Father Richard Heilman at One Peter Five gets at the heart of this modern variant of a very old heresy:
And yet isn’t that exactly what has become of us? Consider this sobering analysis of our present condition from columnist Jeffrey Kuhner at the Washington Times:
For the past 50 years, every major institution has been captured by the radical secular left. The media, Hollywood, TV, universities, public schools, theater, the arts, literature — they relentlessly promote the false gods of sexual hedonism and radical individualism. Conservatives have ceded the culture to the enemy. Tens of millions of unborn babies have been slaughtered; illegitimacy rates have soared; divorce has skyrocketed; pornography is rampant; drug use has exploded; sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS have killed millions; birth control is a way of life; sex outside of wedlock has become the norm; countless children have been permanently damaged — their innocence lost forever — because of the proliferation of broken homes; and sodomy and homosexuality are celebrated openly. America has become the new Babylon.
This cultural assessment is bleak. And I believe that underlying it all is a deeper evil, a more ancient and intractable error which gives rise to all the rest. Many have pointed to “Modernism” as the heresy of our times. Modernism, while it takes many forms, is basically a break or rejection of our past in favor of all things new. And, while it seems evident that our Church is fully infected with the heresy of Modernism, I believe that it, too, is a symptom of this more fundamental threat.
What am I referring to? Something that impacts the very nature of human existence and the opportunity for our salvation. Lacking an official name, I call this monster, “Stealth Arianism.” Students of history know that the Arian heresy – the worst crisis in the Church before our present age – was rooted in the belief that Jesus Christ was merely a created being, not equal to God the Father. Stealth Arianism follows the same fatal error, but with a twist: while the Arians of the fourth century openly denied Christ’s divinity, today‘s Arians will profess Jesus as God, and yet through their actions deny it. In other words, they don’t even know they are heretics. Many even believe that they are doing God’s work in their attempts to elevate Christ’s humanity at the cost of His divinity.
You see, once we diminish the identity of Christ as the Son of God, we are left to view Him as simply a historical figure that was a nice guy, a respectable teacher and a good example for how we are to live. Religion is then reduced to a nice organization that does nice things for people as we seek a kind of psychotherapy for self-actualization. And this is not only not what He came to give us, but it’s something He made sure to leave no room for.
In his Christological examination, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes the case plain:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Over the past 50 years, the Stealth Arians have done everything within their power to remove from our lived experience of Catholicism anything that would point to the divinity of Christ, and the supernatural quality of our faith. Everything has been stripped from our churches – sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music, and the sacred elements of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – and we are left in the barren desert of the banal. It is no wonder many Catholics think nothing of approaching the Most Holy Eucharist dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, and grabbing the host like they’re reaching into a bag of chips. As Flannery O’Connor said, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” It’s more surprising that these individuals even bother to attend Mass at all.