“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. Continue reading
His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.
Saint Athansius stood for the Trinity at a time when the Emperor, Constantius, was Arian, and much of the Church in the East had embraced some form of Arianism. Exiled five times by Constantius and his successors, Athanasius was a pillar of iron who never bended and tirelessly proclaimed the Truth, no matter the forces arrayed against the Truth. His relevance for our day needs no elaboration from me. Here is Pope Benedict on Saint Athanasius: Continue reading
Continuing on with my series on the seven notes, I would call them tests, which Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman developed for determining whether some aspect of Church teaching is a development of doctrine or a corruption of doctrine. We began with Note Six-Conservative Action Upon Its Past, and I would highly recommend that any one who has not read the first post in the series read it here before proceeding with this post. We will now take the remaining notes in numerical order. This post will deal with the First Note-Preservation of Type.
In regard to Preservation of Type, Cardinal Newman takes pains to point out that the idea underlying the doctrine remains of the same type while the external manifestations of the idea may change greatly. His illustration from Roman history conveys his point well:
On the other hand, real perversions and corruptions are often not so unlike externally to the doctrine from which they come, as are changes which are consistent with it and true developments. When Rome changed from a Republic to an Empire, it was a real alteration of polity, or what may be called a corruption; yet in appearance the change was small. The old offices or functions of government remained: it was only that the Imperator, or Commander in Chief, concentrated them in his own person. Augustus was Consul and Tribune, Supreme Pontiff and Censor, and the Imperial rule was, in the words of Gibbon, “an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth.” On the other hand, when the dissimulation of Augustus was exchanged for the ostentation of Dioclesian, the real alteration of constitution was trivial, but the appearance of change was great. Instead of plain Consul, Censor, and Tribune, Dioclesian became Dominus or King, assumed the diadem, and threw around him the forms of a court.
In other words in determining whether there has been the preservation of type in a development of doctrine we must look at the substance and ignore the form. For example, in the Middle Ages laymen would often receive communion once a year out of great reverence for the body of Christ. Now we are encouraged to be frequent communicants. However, the underlying reverence that the Church commands for the body and blood of Christ remains the same.
Cardinal Newman concludes:
An idea then does not always bear about it the same external image; this circumstance, however, has no force to weaken the argument for its substantial identity, as drawn from its external sameness, when such sameness remains. On the contrary, for that very reason, unity of type becomes so much the surer guarantee of the healthiness and soundness of developments, when it is persistently preserved in spite of their number or importance.
Newman on the First Note:
Saint Athanasius, a Doctor of the Church, and the foremost defender of the divinity of Christ, is one of the key figures in the history of the Faith. His era, the Fourth Century, was a time period of turbulent change, not unlike our own in that respect. With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christ, the Church was suddenly transformed from a proscribed cult into the religion of the Empire. Instead of being executed for their faith in Christ, bishops found themselves important players in what was rapidly becoming a Christian Empire. To many Christians, it seemed as if they had reached a golden period in human history when the Church could rapidly reach its goal of bringing all men to Christ. History, however, never ceases to twist and turn as it charts the affairs of Man.
One of the more dangerous twists of History in the Fourth Century for the Church, was the meteoric rise of the Arian heresy. A priest of Alexandria, Egypt, Arius propounded the doctrine that the Son, since he was begotten of the Father, was a creation of God, and not God. He was the greatest of God’s creations, and next to God, but he was not God. Of course, Arius thus destroyed the doctrine of the Trinity, and reduced Jesus from being God to being a creature serving God. This doctrine, if it had prevailed, would have transformed Christianity into a Unitarian faith and inevitably downplayed the centrality of Christ. The doctrine of Arius began to spread, until it was necessary for it to be addressed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the first of the ecumenical councils. Called specifically to address Arianism, the Council was unequivocal in its condemnation of Arianism as indicated by the Nicene Creed written at the Council:
We Believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, Consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things in earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit, and those who say “There was when he was not” and “Before his generation he was not” and “He came to be from nothing” or those who pretend that the Son of God is “Of other hypostasis or substance; or “created” or alterable” or “mutable”; the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.
Prior to his conversion to Catholicism, John Henry Cardinal Newman, soon to be Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, preached in 1835 a series of Advent Sermons on the Anti-Christ. I have always found them extremely intriguing, and I am going to present them on each of the Sundays in Advent this year.
In this first sermon Newman gives us an overview of the Anti-Christ and the time of his appearance. We see in this sermon Newman’s total command of history and how he uses this knowledge to draw out the implications of the few mentions of the Anti-Christ in Scripture. Newman intellectually was always first and foremost a historian of the highest order and he puts this talent to good and instructive use in this sermon. When Newman converted the Church gained one of the finest intellects of the Nineteenth Century or any century for that matter. Much of Newman’s work concerned the working out of God’s plan for salvation through human history, and his examination of the Anti-Christ places that mysterious part of revelation into that plan.
“Let no man deceive you by any means:
for that Day shall not come,
except there come a falling away first,
and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”