No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Orthodoxy

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.