No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Catholicity

Was Luther an Antichrist? The Bible suggests yes.

Today’s link is from David Murray’s blog.  He identifies as a pastor, professor, and author, so even though it is a blog post rather than news, it is be respectable.  In his post he discusses some marks he sees as indicating antichrists.  Let’s look at each point and see whom it may identify, as is subsequent post points whom he thinks is the antichrist.  In this post I’ll look at what his points tell me about whom an antichrist might have been.

Point 1: Lawless

Mr. Murray searches Scripture and finds that the antichrist is one who disregards God’s law.  Let’s look at part of God’s law of the new covenant — the use of Sacraments.  The Catholic Church has 7 Sacraments, but many have disregarded some of the sacraments.  Anglicans and the Reformed, for instance, have only 2 sacraments — Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Lutherans have 3 (the Anglican two plus Absolution).  Quakers have none.  Or, looking at law more strictly speaking, who has kept the command of Jesus that divorce is against the law of God?  Only Catholics don’t allow divorce (for you who might chime in that annulment is Catholic divorce; an annulment is actually a claim of a marriage never existing, not the dissolution of a marriage).  This rejection of the law of God is a good argument for the founders of Protestantism to be considered antichrists.

Point 2: Destroyer

This point is that the antichrist is a destroyer.  Well, the destruction of the unity of the Christian Church, which is something Jesus himself prayed would be kept intact (“that they may be one“), was again brought about by the founders of Protestantism.  Protestants now aren’t responsible for this, they aren’t antichrists, but those founders of Protestantism who split the Church seem to fit the bill so far.  And in the bloody split of the church, people on all sides were destroyed physically by death.  One such famous priest killed was Cuthbert Mayne, who became a priest in France and went to Anglican England to die for his faith.

Cutherbert Mayne, Catholic Martyr

Cuthbert Mayne, Catholic Martyr

Point 3: Opposition to God

The first step in understanding this is to know that Christ and his Church are mysteriously one entity.  St. Augustine says, “Marvel and rejoice, we have become Christ”.  Pope St. Gregory says, “Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church”.  St. Tomas Aquinas states, “Head and members [Christ and Church] form as it were one and the same mystical person”.  Joan of Arc concludes, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing”. (For citations see CCC 795).  This oneness is why Paul talks about Christ being formed in us (Galatians 4:19).  As Colossians puts it, Jesus is, “head of the body, the Church”.

Therefore one who is in opposition to the Church is one who is in opposition with Jesus.  Again the Protestant Reformers come to mind.  Their opposition to the Church created a replacement for it, and now people might go to various denominations instead of directly to the Body of Christ.  Which brings us to the fourth point of Mr. Murray.

Point 4: Substitution

The antichrist tries to substitute himself for God.  Mr. Murray says this point is that the antichrist, “is not necessarily an enemy from outside the church, but from inside it. He opposes Christ by replacing him, by taking Christ’s titles, worship, and roles.”  This is exactly what the Protestant founders did with the Church, the Body of Jesus.  They replaced the worship of Jesus passed down from Jesus himself with worship of a Jesus created more after their own thoughts and desires.  It is easy to look at the insecurities of say, Luther, and see why that would psychologically drive any logical person to say we don’t need to cooperate with the mercies of God for our salvation.  Cooperation for such an insecure person means too great a risk of losing God.  Psychologically speaking, Luther makes excellent points.  Luther created a very psychologically fulfilling vision of God, the only problem is that it is a replacement of the truth, which Mr. Murray says is a sign of the antichrist.

Point 5: Deceiver

These Protestant founders then used this psychologically fulfilling vision of God to deceive people away from the fullness of the truth.  By their preaching and actions they deceived people into the substitute Church, the various Protestant denominations.  With admittedly humanly wise words they brought people out of the fullness of truth.  They did not come expressly to destroy the Church, but under the deception of “reform” brought about that effect.

Point 6: Heretic

This obviously tie ins with previous points.  Mr. Murray says, “THE ultimate Antichrist will not deny everything about Christ, but just enough to undermine the power of Christ’s gracious salvation.”  The Protestant denominations still have large swaths of truth — most of the books for the Bible, Baptism, Marriage, the necessity of Grace, even various aspects of predestination and so forth.  In doing so they undermine the power of Christ’s salvation through the fullness of all the Sacraments he gave us and in the fullness of the Truth passed down to us from generation to generation.

Point 7: Politics

Any student of the Reformation can tell you that things got very politically messy.  The German princes used Luther to advance their independence.  Henry VIII used the Reformation to get a politically expedient divorce.  If not for the political involvement to advance their temporal power, the Reformation would have been much more unlikely to get off the ground.  It is not coincidence that religious maps of Europe coincide with political boundaries.

Political and Religious Borders

Simplified Political and Religious Borders

Presbyterianism was founded in Scotland.  Anglicanism was founded in England.  Lutheranism was founded in Germany, and adopted by Scandinavian princes. An authentic reformation should have effected the whole Catholic world, but instead it remained tied to principalities.  Political expediency drove the Reformation forward, which again is a sign that the founders were antichrists.

Now, in turning the page to Mr. Murray’s next blog post, he surprises by saying it is the Pope who is the antichrist.  This is the opposite of what I took his post to be implying, but it is also an old claim (after all, no news is new!).  While there are older claims (see Mr. Murray’s post), none have been so influential as Mr. Alexander Hislop’s work, “The Two Babylons: Papal worship Proved to be the worship of Nimrod and His wife.”  This book was first published in 1853, and is known to be abundant with inaccuracies.  It compiles a lot of the earlier claims about the papacy as a form of antichrist.

The point is that this is an old claim, but when brought up can cut both ways.  It can easily turn into a he said/she said sort of discussion.  Mr. Murray can look at the Bible, and his take-away is that the Pope may be an antichrist.  I can look at the same passages and even the same understanding of the passages and my take-away might be that Luther was an antichrist.

I think this is why Mr. Murray’s point that,

“I don’t believe this should be a prominent part of any Christian’s ministry. Yes, we should outline the Antichrist’s characteristics and call people to look out for this threat, even in the mini-antichrist’s of our own day. But it’s not a huge theme in the Bible and it certainly doesn’t specify the individual.”

is so important.  To fixate upon antichrists takes our attention off of God and our neighbour, which is where our attention should be.  Even putting this post as kindly as I know how, and even recognizing that Mr. Murray did the same, name calling doesn’t help to grow Christian union and doesn’t help ease people’s journey of faith; however that journey may be progressing.  It is an interesting exercise to examine these things (hence my own posting about it), but it should never take our eyes off the prize of communion.


Thinking vs. Mindlessness

There are two approaches to the divine life: that of thinking and that of mindlessness.  The path of thinking was well trod by the Scholastics (11-15 hundred AD).  It is an intense probing of the mysteries of life through the use of reason.  The other path is that of mysticism, or mindlessness.  It is a meditation upon the mysteries of God seeking enlightenment not through reason but rather through “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moments.  It is finding God in the still, small whispers of life where everything fits together as a whole.

Aikido: still my favorite martial art.

Aikido: still my favorite martial art.

Both methods are useful tools to understand our world, and by way of illustration I will use an example from Aikido.  When I was first being taught Aikido I was shown particular movements to learn.  I used reason about the human body to understand why certain actions would have certain effects.  Later in training we learned how to be of “no-mind”, where one doesn’t focus upon any specific thought so that one can pay attention to everything.  Even today at stop lights I go to “no-mind” so that I can pay attention to pedestrians, other cars, and what the lights are doing all at once.  I remove my focus so that everything can be paid proper attention.  The combination of both reason and of stepping back from the laser intensity of reason were necessary for me to understand the little bit of Aikido that I grasp, and the absence of thought I learned is still very useful at busy intersections.

This brings me to the brief comments about this pastor’s sermon.  While there is a place for mindlessness and meditation, there is also a place for reason — reason and not reasoning both have their place.I am not sure whether this pastor has drawn the line between the two times in the right place, but experience teaches me there are two times.  Sometimes a few Atheists put the narrow focus on reason, but reason isn’t the only tool in our tool belt of understanding.  Sometimes a few Christians put the narrow focus on no-reason, but this also isn’t the only tool in our tool belt of understanding.  The Catholic Church sees the problem with catholicity, and therefore accepts both paths as ways to understand God and our world.


Atheists in Heaven


In recent days much attention has been given to the pope’s admission that Atheists could end up in heaven if they follow their consciences.  Far from being the heretical ideas of a rogue pope, this teaching fits firmly within Catholic teaching.

To unwrap this traditional teaching, it is first necessary to understand the Church is not absolutist in the understanding of the law.  The law of God was made to guide us to communion, not to be an arbitrary list of rules.  Related to this is that God will never require the impossible from us.  He knows who we are and desires our salvation, so he will never put it out of reach by a requirement that cannot be fulfilled.  Within the context of these two truths, we can see how layers of salvation can be added to the core of those who are firm Catholics.

Starting with the core, we Catholics understand ourselves to have the fullness of truth.  This truth leads us into communion with God, but we don’t hold it exclusively.  For instance, baptism into the body of Christ is a truth we hold as necessary for salvation, but other Christian groups also understand and practice baptism.  Hence the first layer of people who might attain salvation are those who are baptised into the Christian faith, but who through no fault of their own don’t hold the fullness of truth.  A fourth generation Baptist might not be required to hold Catholic teaching to enter heaven because they might never have had Catholic teaching explained to them.  To require knowledge of the way Catholics believe might be an impossible requirement for such a person.  This doesn’t deny that they do hold some of the truth, such as the truth of the necessity of baptism.

Adding on another layer, those of other faiths who are seeking God might also be saved, even without baptism.  Their desire for knowing God and loving their neighbor could be enough to save them, especially if they haven’t heard the Gospel or if those who have shared the Gospel did so in a very poor way.  The supposition is that if they knew of the necessity of baptism, they would have had themselves baptised.  Since they didn’t know how important it is, it is not a necessity for them.

Yet another layer are Agnostics and Atheists.  If the sexual scandal of Priests has driven them away from the Church, it might be the fault of priests and not of their own that they don’t believe.  Again, as long as they are seeking to follow their consciences and striving to help their neighbor, they might be saved because God doesn’t require the impossible of them — and with as horrible as the scandal was, it might very well be impossible for some Agnostics or Atheists to believe in God.

Each layer of salvation granted holds to less of the truth, but each layer can still be saved because God desires that all people have salvation.  But this raises the question: why teach people the Gospel if it puts a greater responsibility upon people to adhere to more truth?  The more Catholics share their faith, the less likely it is that others will still fall into the category of “disbelief through no fault of their own”.

The answer is that God’s law brings us into greater communion here on earth, not just in heaven.  The moral and faith teaching of the Church is meant to bring us into greater communion now, and isn’t an arbitrary code.  This greater communion is a good that out of love is shared.  It would make no sense to hold back a good from a fellow human — that would be violating communion with them.

Communion is the goal of Christianity

God’s law is meant to foster communion on earth, not to be a list of random rules.

Some might argue that this broadly granted salvation takes away from the saving work of Christ — why do we have to believe in Jesus if those who don’t believe can still be saved?  The reason is that even those who don’t believe are saved by the action of Jesus on the cross.  Understanding and knowing the gift of Jesus is a greater grasp of the truth, but we don’t need to know the truth to have the truth applied to us.  For instance, a severely mentally disabled person can still go to heaven, even if they understand nothing of the truths of our faith.  It is through no fault of their own that they cannot understand because their brain is mis-wired.  To bar these people from heaven would be an act of cruelty incompatible with a loving God.  Knowledge isn’t what saves, but rather the direction the heart is facing.  Does the heart face communion or does the heart face hatred?

Therefore, for all people, the requirement is that of love.  As long as the heart seeks communion with others, God will grant the communion of heaven — the sins of those people seeking communion are forgiven by the blood of Christ.  As long as the heart seeks the isolation from others, God will grant the isolation of hell — the sins of people seeking the worst for others will not be forgiven.  This is why the guidance of the conscience is so important.  That is not to say that the consciences of Atheists are as well formed as those who adhere to Catholicism.  Catholics believe we have the fullness of truth so we are held responsible to use that truth to educate our consciences.  Atheists who don’t believe the fullness of the truth will have a harder time educating their consciences.  At the time of Judgement, Atheists will be held to an easier standard than Catholics because Catholic should have known better, while an atheist might be innocent through ignorance.

The importance of sharing the Gospel on earth is because it helps others educate their consciences so that they might love others better right now on earth — it is not to make it harder on Atheists to get to heaven by raising the bar of what their consciences must be formed to, although that might be a side effect.  It is a mis-educated conscience that supports euthanasia, abortion, and other sins.  Most often, those who support sin don’t do so out of malice, but through having an under formed conscience.  Everyone I know, for instance, who supports abortion does so out of love, not out of hate.  Catholics hold that a conscience formed more closely to the truth of human life would not support abortion for the same reason of love.  Both sides are working within a framework of love, but one side has a greater understanding of the truth and so has a conscience educated to be more loving in effect, even if not more loving in intensity.  Helping others live out the truth of love is why it is important to spread the Gospel.  To fail to spread the Gospel keeps consciences under formed and therefore leads to greater disunity through ignorance of what it means to love one another.


Amnesty is the American (and Catholic) Way

This article seems to forget Catholics are catholic.  Catholics think of the universality of the Church.  While one may be more Gallican or Ultramontanist, we always remember our common ancestry of Adam and Eve.  We are all siblings, but we divide our land into many nations because we are not homogeneous.

What this means is that Christ wasn’t meant just for the West, he was meant for all.  There is no fear of societal suicide or a pillaging of wealth because we are a family.  The intention of the Church is not to condemn the West but rather to remember that with the great privilege inherent in being born white or in the industrialized West comes great responsibility to our neighbor.

We might banter about what the best way to aid our neighbor is, but we must seek to aid them.  Amnesty is one way to aid them.  Another would be helping develop their home countries.  Welcoming pilgrims into our land seems like the easiest way, and fits with the American ideals expressed on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

To have clergy support such an American ideal as accepting the poor refuge from another land as well as recognizing our common union is hardly a call for the extinction of the West.  The heresy that the Church should only be concerned with a few elect rather than all people is close to the heresy of Donatism.  Sinners were excluded in donatism, and in the linked to article it is people of color and poor people who are excluded.  The “True Church” is considered western Christianity, and Christians not so lucky to be born in the West or of the right skin color are considered heathen.  This is heresy denies the Catholicity of the Church.

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.