No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Month: August, 2013

Catholicity and Orthodoxy

The recent launch of Faithful Answers as an apologetics resource made me think about the split between the Orthodox and Catholics back in 1050.  The Orthodox, as their name implies, put adherence to what they saw as truth first.  Catholics, as their name implies, put adherence to the universality of the faith.  Even today, we can have heresy arise from becoming too orthodox and even by becoming too catholic.

If ones faith becomes too catholic, one becomes in danger of moving beyond Jesus.  God himself becomes an afterthought because all the focus is upon spreading outward.  There is a danger of turning faith into atheism if one seeks universality by gutting out truth.  Unitarian Universalists and some American Religious Sisters are a good example of this.  Both groups lower the bar of truth so that more may be included.

The reverse of excessive catholicity is excessive orthodoxy, as represented by Faithful Answers.  They teach that the only acceptable Catholic viewpoint on creation is exclusive of evolution.  Which is in conflict with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which leaves the answer more open ended.  The problem is when one forgets there are degrees of theological certainty.  Everything the Church teaches isn’t de fide definita, it’s not all dogma.  Take predestination for example.  One may believe that God predestines people from before time began to salvation, and then gave them the gifts to ensure they reach that destiny (like St. Thomas).  Or one may believe God knows how we’ll act in certain situations, and so using that knowledge God determines who will be saved (St. Francis de Sales position).  For something as big as predestination (one of Calvin’s 5 points!) it is remarkable that these and other positions are acceptable.  Further, if one is not convinced, one can even reject all the apparitions of Mary and still be a devout Catholic!  This is how the Church allows us the flexibility and freedom to workout our faith.  There is quite a limited pool of required beliefs, then a larger pool of strongly suggested beliefs, a bigger pool still of weakly suggested beliefs, and so forth.  These degrees allow Catholics to have a wide variety of disagreement while still remaining in unity.

Therefore, there exists a tension between orthodoxy and catholicity.  It is one of the many tensions in the Catholic faith, which proclaims both orthodoxy and catholicity.  Undoubtedly I myself will at some time fall into excessive orthodoxy, as I’m exploring heresies in this blog.


History of Heresy

I ran into the above visiting Patheos today, and thought a meta-heresy post would be useful and clear up a major misconception in the comic.

The first point would be that in the year 1,000, there was only one Christian Church (excepting some Nestorians and Monophysites, who rejected a few ecumenical councils but of whom large parts returned to communion with Rome after 1,000 AD).  There was an East-West argument brewing, but they were still united.  Nearly all the heresies from early on had died out.  New ones continually being invented but subsequently dying out as well.  So half the chart in the comic should be just a strait line (or at most three lines that show some merging in the other half) with short little offshoots.

Now, for a variety of complex factors around 1050 the Church split into Orthodox and Catholic.  They are quite similar, differing in only a few points of theology.  In fact, the difference is so little Catholics might even receive communion at Orthodox Churches (if the Orthodox priest allows it) and vice versa.  The differences between Russian Orthodox and, say, Greek Orthodox is similar to the difference between the Diocese of Santa Fe and the Diocese of New York — which is to say those differences aren’t theological but managerial.  Catholics focused on the universal (aka catholic) aspect of the Church and Papal authority, while the Orthodoxy focused on what they thought was true (aka orthodox), and that was the root of the split.

For another 500 years or so small little heresies grew, burst, and healed like acne across the face of Christendom.  In the 1500’s Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Henry VIII all created their own churches.  This was the start of Protestantism, which wouldn’t heal like the previous heresies.  In addition, they often drew on the carcasses of long dead heresies.  For instance, the Albigensians (around the 1100’s and 1200’s) had a baptism of the Spirit called “consolamentum”, not that unlike a modern “altar call”. Yet the modern Protestants who use altar calls reject the high praise of suicide that Albigensians also had.  My posts tend to look at these singular aspects of a heresy popping up again in the news, while knowing full well no one holds to all the tenants of the dead heresy.

Later, some of these Protestant groups which formed in the 1500’s split again.  For instance, the English King Henry VIII started Anglicanism so he could divorce and remarry as well redistribute the vast amount of land the Church was endowed with.  Many Christians in the American Colonies were Anglican because they came from England.  After the Revolutionary War, they didn’t want to hold spiritual allegiance to a king they just threw off the political yoke of, so they invented Episcopalianism and had the Bishops (Episcopals) lead the church.  Other divisions, like the difference between high and low Lutherans, have more to do with theology and worship style (which often go hand in hand).  These denominational divisions are a result of an absence of Church authority that had existed for 1,500 years.  In those short 500 years all the division and splitting into countless churches that the comic depicts has occurred.

Amidst all this splintering, Catholics still remain the largest group.  In fact, Catholics are so far in the lead that in America lapsed Catholics turn out to be the third largest Christian group.  The volume of adherents isn’t shown in the comic, and instead tiny little splinter groups are given equal weight with much larger groups.

Ideally, then, the chart in the comic should have at most four lines running into the last quarter of it, not all these splits from what is marked as 1 AD.  All the little splits shown in the comic are really just from Protestantism after the year 1,500.  If this multiplied division of churches is problematic, then Protestantism is where the problem lays, not Christianity.

If the amount of adherents was shown in line weight, Catholics would be a line as thick as all the other lines put together.  Protestants divisions would add up to a third the total, and the Orthodox would be a little over a tenth the total.  About 1/30 of current Christians belong to those who split with Catholics before the year 1,000.

This changes dramatically how the chart in the comic would come across, especially for those who are Catholic.  This look at history was part of my own conversion to the Catholic faith.

The Yuck Factor and Holistic Love

This article above is becoming much discussed around the blog world, so I consider it news.  However, I want to focus on a different part than what everyone else is talking about.  I think the following is more relevant to heresy (it is also not already covered in a thick layer of commentary): “If marriage wasn’t about the conjugal relationship, what was it about? ‘Love and commitment’ we were told. ‘What’s wrong with two people finding love?'”

Indeed, browsing Pinterest the other day, it was easy to find such images as below:


This idea that love has no gender is a form of dualism.  The body and soul are separated and seen as distinct.  This splitting apart of a whole person can be see even more clearly with this image, which shows what all the fuss is about:

The one human person is broken up into all these bits and then these bits are set against each other.  Expression might be at odds with sex which might not align with orientation.  While there are some cases of intersex (1 in 100 babies don’t appear normally male or female), these are the result of a breakdown in the normal genomic process.  Some children are born with tails:

And this is not considered an identity but a deformity in how the body would naturally express itself.  Being born with a tail or intersex is a breakdown of the person because of the fallen nature of the world.  The person, according to Catholic teaching, should still be seen as a whole person and not broken up into bits like the ginger bread man image above would suggest.  Dualism’s excessive drive to split apart whole beings into their component parts fuels the idea that love has no gender.  The soul is seen as entirely separate from the body.

Rejecting dualism, the Church teaches that the soul and the body are one person.  If that person is male, that means the soul has a certain “maleness” to it as well.

“The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365)

If my nature is female, then my soul and body together are female.  This holistic approach by the Church guarantees the love of the whole person rather than just loving parts of a person.

Which brings us back to the point of the discussion: it is people who love, not merely the soul or the body which loves.  And because people come in two sexes (baring a medical problem) then love also comes in two sexes.  Love is gendered.  I love a woman in a different way than I love a man because I am a whole person, and my body and soul form a unity that has a sex.

This unity of a person, this holistic approach to people, restores the notion that marital love has a component of reproduction.  To say married love is both unitive and procreative is to recognize that love has a gender because people have a gender.

In turn, this walks us back the path laid out by LGBT activists to the “yuck factor” in the article.  There needn’t be a grossness to the external acts (Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile), but instead a blanching of the face that people are reduced to mere external acts.  The dualism required to think same sex sexuality is love appallingly divorces a person’s body from their soul.  It is a wretched thing to turn a person against him/her self by introducing a disunity into that person through dualism.  Homosexuality requires that disunity between ones body and soul and that’s why it’s bad.  It hurts a persons communion with themselves.  It is not wrong in the abstract because, “the Bible also teaches that homosexual behavior was wrongdoing or sin” (one might see the Nominalist roots of how the author proclaims it), but it is wrong concretely because it does injury to communion through dualist ideology.

“You are just a robot”

In this disturbing article we find out schools teach 9-10 year olds that their bodies can be treated as merely tools for pleasure.  While the teaching will include “beliefs and opinions may vary”, by not condemning treating bodies as things, it implicitly teaches that one permissible belief is to use people as things.  This is a dangerous and demeaning idea.

Masturbation, at it’s core, is Materialist.  The body is only a thing that can be used or not used at will.  A natural outcome of teaching bodies are things to be used is shown in this song called “Robot” by Nada Surf (at least PG13 for themes):

In the song, the main character is called a robot, because of how he blindly follows his impulses and uses people as things for sexual pleasure.  This is what masturbation is: using a body for pleasure.  If I may treat my own body as a thing, what would stop me from treating another person just as poorly?

In contrast, Catholics teach sexual pleasure is a good shared between people.  If the wife or husband is reduced to merely a sex toy, a body to use, then the good is no longer shared.  A communion of persons is a meeting of body and soul.  If only bodies meet then there is no communion, there is only robotic physical action to satisfy selfish lust.

We are people, not robots.  Materialism teaches our brains are only physical neurons firing off, just a robotic mind controlling a robotic body.  What a sad view of humans.  Catholics teach we are more than just our flesh and blood, and that is why masturbation is evil.  It is not an evil because God arbitrarily wants to deny us pleasure (that would be what Nominalism suggests), but it is an evil because it hurts our communion with ourselves and others by treating bodies as things rather than as persons.

Enhanced Punishment is Death

In seeking to find punishment for criminals, the above article expresses an heretical view held by the Valentinians, who were Gnostic in nature.  Their leader, Valentinus, lived around the year 150.  The core of his system of thought is that we are chained to this physical world, and Christ came to free us from that so we could be solely spiritual.  In his dualist idea of the world matter is evil, spirit is good, and through a special knowlege we can be freed from matter.

In the article, the special knowledge is Science, and it might one day free prisoners from their bodies by uploading their consciousness to computers.  The writer of the article suggests we do this so that we might punish criminals for much longer lengths of time than a body can survive.

The separation of body and soul to better punish the soul is based in heresy because Catholics believe the body and soul together make up the human.  Separation of body and soul is death.  Therefore, an uploaded mind is just a simulation of the real deal, because it is missing its body.  Running simulations does not enforce justice.  Similar to running simulations of a person to punish them would be to take their dead body and torture it to punish the person.  The person is dead, body and soul have been sundered, so beating up upon a dead body does no punishment just as beating up a computer simulation does no punishment.

In our world often follow this Valentinian ideal and think it is the mind that makes the person.  Our Catholic faith has been fighting this for over 1850 years, and sees the body as no less important in the make up of a person than the mind.

The dead are asleep,0,5767278.story

In this story, the author seems to not fully understand Catholic belief as he writes about the “memorial” service.  As Catholics, it’s up to the family do memorial services with eulogies, if it is at the church with the priest presiding, it is a Mass for the dead.  There is a very good reason for this, and it is that our faith teaches us we live in Christ even if we die.  The sacrifice of a Mass isn’t just a remembrance of things and people gone by, but a promise of meeting them again in the future by our union with Christ, who has already risen from the dead.

St. Paul dealt with the heresy that we aren’t going to live on in his first letter to the church at Corinth, so this is about as old as our faith.  It also could be seen in more modern terms as an expression of Materialism, where there is no soul to arise at the end of time.  All faith and reason teaches us our souls were made for eternity.  At the end of time, we believe everyone will rise up out of their graves.  Some will rise up having lived an earthly life desiring communion with God and their friends.  These are resurrected to a life of eternal communion (perhaps after grinding off the rough edge of hating one’s enemy by a temporary stay in purgatory).  Others dislike the impact their neighbor has on their life, as Sartre wrote “hell is other people”.   These will have what their earthy life showed they desired: solitude and lack of communion.  Truely being forever alone.  This burning loneliness is pictured with fire in our iconographic tradition, but the young kids are using the updated iconography below:


Women and the Priesthood

The National Catholic Register offers so many good heretical ideas to look at that the local Bishop has asked them to remove the word “Catholic” from their name so that people don’t mistake them for a Catholic paper.  The above article is typical example of some of the heresy they espouse, and it’s about woman’s ordination.

The woman’s ordination movement is at it’s core Montanist.  From the “Call Me Maybe” parody video in the article, we can see the woman’s ordination movement believes a perceived spiritual call trumps church authority.  This was the Montanist view some 1800 years ago  — Spirit supersedes Church.  An authentic Catholic understanding sees both Church and Spirit as complementary.  The Church is the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit would naturally complement Christ rather than be in conflict with him.  As no less a feminist than St. Joan of Arc said to her judge, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”  To believe that God would be in conflict with Himself would violate the unity of God, and therefore veer into polytheism.

That’s what I was going to say!

Sometimes my work is done for me, and the above post is one example.  Governor Christie’s signing into law a bill to ban helping those who experience same sex attraction does express our countries increasing fondness for the heresy of gnostic dualism.  As the article states, it “confirms the growing gnostic assumptions about human reality, enshrining feelings and impulses as sacred, while instrumentalizing the human body”.

Gnostic dualism splits the person apart into body and soul.  In this particular article, it sees the soul as “feelings and impulses”, which is a bit different from historic gnosticism, which saw the soul as mainly knowledge and will.  Regardless, the soul needs to triumph over the body, which is why the article talks about “instrumentalizing the human body”.  For Gnostics, the body is a thing to subject to the soul, because the body is material and therefore imperfect.  While I doubt modern dualists would say the body is imperfect, there does seem to be a clear understanding that the body needs to match the soul, and never vice versa.  So with the Pill, the soul doesn’t want children, so the body must be made sterile.  Or with people who are transgendered, the soul dictates what the body should look like.  This even is true with most cosmetic surgeries, which don’t restore damage from an accident but rather take away the signs of how old the soul is.

That said, the article might go too far in their support for conversion therapy.  Science seems to suggest an epigenetic component to homosexuality.  Recognizing what a body is and what its desires are is important.  One shouldn’t follow Marge Simpson’s advice:

“It doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know. It’s what shows up on the outside that counts. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you. And happiness will follow.”

This would be to take dualism too far in the other direction, where the body dictates everything to the soul.  It is the heresy of Materialism, which places the whole of a person in the body and excludes the soul as a source of truth.

To attain the middle between Gnostic and Materialistic dualism, the Church teaches that “Homosexual persons are called to chastity” (CCC 2359).  They aren’t called to change their attractions, but to have the Courage to live chaste lives, just as all people are.  Priests sometimes talk about the “Sublimation” of their personal desires.  Because priests are people, they have sexual urges.  The approach used is not to push that urge away (which might make the urge express itself in an impure way), but to recognize the urge for what it is, and then use that sexual energy in another and holier way; such as to go for a run, or do some repairs around the rectory, or pray.  In this way, priests can be authentic to who they are while dissipating that energy in a positive way.  The body is recognized for it’s influence, the soul is recognized for its influence, and the person as a whole acts in a pure manner.

Montanism and the rejection of moral leaders

The heresy Ed Schultz espouses is part of Montanism.  Starting near 170, Montanus started teaching that we don’t need a Church to teach us right and wrong (it was only to be the Holy Spirit).  Near the same time, this wall was built to protect Britannia (modern day England) from Caledonia (modern day Scotland):

As you can tell from the busted up wall, Catholics have faced the issue of people rejecting the Bishops for quite a long time.

Mr. Schultz, much like Montanus, had this special “born-again” experience of God, and therfore like Montanus before him, he feels qualified to distinguish between real and phony Christians.  Also like Montanus, he bases this upon his own personal morality.  For Montanus, it was sex he rejected as immoral. Marriage was denied to all and all were expected to be celebrate because the physical world is bad.  These were the “real” Christians of 170 AD.  For Mr. Schultz, the “real” Christians are those who embrace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) because it will save the lives of children.  These are the “real” Christians of 2013.  In both cases individuals think they know better than the Church — they feel that their morality is superior and that others have lost their way.

(A closing note: the American Bishops did campaign for a revision to health care prior to the implementation of the PPACA, but when it was revealed the revision would pay for more abortions, they rejected the legislation as unjust.)

How does Capitalism value people?

The heresy expressed in this letter is tied up with Capitalism, which isn’t exactly new.  Our first recorded modern usage of the word dates from the middle of the 1800’s.  For those who know the role of Blessed John Paul II in the decline of Communism, it might be a surprise the Church also believes Capitalism has it’s failures.  It’s not often priests preach against the negative aspects of Capitalism (this is because there is so much else to talk about, not because priests as a whole are delinquent), but there certain condemned aspects.  Mainly, Capitalism fails in terms of social justice.  By focusing entirely upon accumulation of capital and market forces, and incorrect hierarchy of values is created.  Instead of humans and God at the top of the value hierarchy, money and utility goes to the top.  This is why the unknown author the the letter suggests the boy be euthanized and his body used for science.  She sees the child as only good for how he can help society.  She further critiques that no employer will hire the boy. In other words, he’s not productive for market forces.  She even thinks the child is worth less because he won’t reproduce (“no normal girl is going to marry/love him”).  From her perspective, he offers nothing to society but a drain on resources.

This fits in with what I wrote yesterday.  In Protestant Capitalism we are not good based upon our being but based upon our actions.

Contrast this with the Catholic notion that we were made for communion, and our being is good because it is in the image of God.  The boy is of substance human, and only of accident autistic.  He has communion with his family who loves him (hence the mom cried in talking about the letter to the reporter).  The Catholic understanding is that we should all reach out to those in our communities like him, to ensure that his communion stays even when his family passes on.  In this way, we place the highest value on fellowship with others, and what the boy costs the community isn’t such a big deal, but the fact that we have made a friend is what’s important.  This shows the imprint of God upon us, giving money away and forging connections to others is what makes us happy.  Capitalism disrupts this hierarchy of values imprinted upon our nature, and that value disruption can lead to nasty letters like the one shown in the news today.