by Deacon Nick Donnelly
In the remaining weeks before the Synod in October I think it is necessary for faithful Catholics to re-claim the apostolic warning cries of “anathema” and “heresy”. These are salutary reminders when faced with the danger of the imposition of a “counterfeit Christ” on the Church. And let us not be in any doubt, those who seek to allow the divorced and re-married to receive Holy Communion, even though they are committing the sin of adultery, have a misunderstanding of Christ’s merciful role as Saviour. It is a caricature of Christ, that leads them to downplay the significance, even the existence, of sin and forget that we are to be His holy people trying to follow His command to “go away and sin no more”.
Since the time of the Apostles the Church has been on her guard against those who would introduce a counterfeit Jesus. St Paul took so seriously the threat posed by those who sought to subvert and change the divine truths of the Gospel that he warned, in God’s name, that they were “accursed” [anathema]. St Paul warned the Galatians:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:6-9).
However, since Pope St John XXIII’s opening speech at the Second Vatican Council, the Church has set aside the apostolic warnings of “anathema” and “heresy” about the threat of those promoting a counterfeit Christ, preferring “to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity”. Pope St John XIII did not dispute that the Church still faced “fallacious teaching” and “dangerous ideas” but he trusted in the innate goodness of modern man to identify and reject such dangerous ideas:
“Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity.”
During the intervening fifty three years since Pope St John XXIII’s optimistic opening address we have witnessed the widespread acceptance of abortion, IVF, contraception, divorce, pornography and homosexuality by our contemporaries, including many Catholics. Pope St John XXIII’s trust in modern man to reject dangerous error has been betrayed and his decision to set aside the apostolic defence of “anathema” premature.
Shout Out the Alarm of Heresy!
The optimism of Pope St John XXIII’s approach to dangerous untruths has continued over the past fifty years to the present day. It’s rare to hear the words “heresy” and “heretic” on the lips of cardinals, bishops and priests and in mainstream Catholic circles. Contrary to the overwhelming evidence of the rejection of fundamental doctrines by some Catholics there appears to be a dogged determination to either ignore blatant heresy or to always focus on the positive, pretending that immorality and sinfulness doesn’t come into it.
Even when grave untruthfulness and error is acknowledged in the thinking and behaviour of Catholics the more neutral words “dissent” and “dissenters” is preferred. It’s as if Catholics have become too sensitive, too careful about giving offence, to use such hard, explicit words such as “heresy” and “heretic”. But it is a false type of love which fails to convey the real danger, the true horror of sin. It is a love divorced from real care for the person that cries out in alarm when it sees them about to get hurt. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his famous interview ‘The Ratzinger Report’ had no difficulty using the word “heretic” and talking about the seriousness of heresy in the Church, especially among clergy:
“Even for the post-conciliar Church, heretics and heresies – characterised by the new Code as ‘punishable offenses against religion and the unity of the Church’ – exist, and ways have been provided to protect the community from them. The word of Holy Scripture is valid for the Church of all times, just as man’s capacity for error ever remains. Hence the warning of Peter to protect oneself ‘from false prophets…false teachers, who will insinuate their own disruptive views’ (2:1) is still relevant and valid.” (p.25).
The Preaching of a Counterfeit Christ at the 2014 Synod
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a warning in the wake of the Extraordinary Synod that a subtle Christological heresy was being promoted by a number of Synod Fathers, and their supporters. Those who attempt to separate the Church’s doctrine from her pastoral practice are reflecting a “subtle Christological ‘heresy’” that results in “a division in the mystery of the eternal Word of the Father, who became flesh”:
“This would obscure the dynamics of the Incarnation, which is part of any healthy theology. Christ had said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. Therefore, there can be no truth without life and no life without truth.’”
This heretical separation of Divine truth from pastoral practice during the 2014 Synod was most apparent in the sections of the Synod reports dealing with the pastoral care of homosexual persons and cohabiting couples. The mid-term report exhorted the Church to recognise “positive elements” in the relationship of cohabiting couples, without mentioning the harm caused by the grave sin of fornication. It also exhorted the Church to recognise the “sacrificial” dimension of the lives of homosexual couples without mentioning the grave sin of homosexual sex. Cardinal Burke objected to the lack of references to sin saying:
“How can one say that there are positive elements in an act which is gravely sinful, namely to engage in the marriage act when you’re not married? There can’t be any positive element to that. It’s against the divine, natural and revealed law.”
By ignoring the gravely sinful aspects of cohabitating couples and homosexual couples the 2014 Synod denied the imperative need of these couples for Our Lord as Saviour. As sins against the sixth commandment those who engage in fornication or homosexual sex are in danger of committing mortal sins. To omit any reference to the sinful nature of these acts robs them of the knowledge they need to seek repentance and absolution, saving them from the grave danger of hell. Such an explicit omission of sin, and by implication Our Lord’s role as Saviour, leaves souls trapped in sin.
To neglect the Church’s doctrine on the sinful nature of these states of life reduces Christianity to a morality of shallow affirmation and trite expressions of positive regard. If we can’t talk about the sin of fornication or the sin of homosexual acts we can’t talk about the sinner’s needs for salvation, and ultimately, we can’t talk about the real Jesus. Instead, we can only talk about the gross caricature of an always smiling Christianity. Some proponents of so called gay theology even present a sin-affirming Jesus, which is a blasphemous caricature.
The Insinuation into the Church of this Counterfeit Christ
The counterfeit Christ that is being insinuated into the Church by some Synod Fathers wasn’t introduced for the first time at the 2014 Synod. The intellectual and moral conditions for this attempted hijacking of doctrine have been infiltrating the Church for over one hundred years. A series of popes raised the alarm about this infiltration of a counterfeit Christ which they identified as the heresy of modernism. Tragically the defences they raised to protect the Church, and Faith, were abandoned in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Pope St Pius X warned that modernism was the greatest threat ever faced by the Church, and the 2014 Synod proved him correct:
“The Modernists are therefore ‘worse than all other enemies of the Church’ because they “attack the root, the Faith and the deepest fibres of the Faith. They are extremely skilful and cunning’. ‘They assume the role of the rationalist and the Catholic in turn so skilfully that they find it easy to draw the guileless over to their errors. The Catholic Faith is in jeopardy. It would be a sin to remain silent any longer. We must speak out, we must unmask them in front of the whole Church”. (Pope St Pius X, Pascendi).
What are the signs of the insinuation of this counterfeit Christ into the Church?
There are four signs to look out for during the 2015 Synod that would indicate that a Synod Father is attempting to insinuate this counterfeit Christ into the Church:
Secular rationalism replaces supernatural faith
If a Synod Father presents an argument that changes Divine truth by appealing to so called ‘rational’ arguments from secular society, such as equality, tolerance, personal freedom, and ignores, or distorts, the supernatural truths of revelation.
Unconditional approval replaces repentance for sin
If a Synod Father speaks in terms of unconditional positive regard about individuals living in sinful states of life, making no mention of the immorality of sinful acts and the need for repentance and conversion. Also, if a Synod Father argues that the Church needs to drop the language of “grave sin”, “intrinsic disorder”, “grave depravity”.
Humanism replaces supernatural grace
If a Synod Father only speaks in positive terms about man, the materialist needs of man and the social achievements of man, making no mention of original sin, man’s need for grace, and man’s supernatural destiny.
Evolution replaces the Fidei Depositum
If a Synod Father argues that truths that were expressed and appropriate for past periods of history are no longer appropriate to, or necessary for, this modern period of history; as if truth evolved. Also, if a Synod Father refers to Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s work on the Development of Doctrine to argue that ‘doctrines change’ while neglecting Newman’s primary condition for the development of doctrine – that the proposed development doesn’t contradict the Church’s 2,000 year understanding of the truth.
Finally, I think it will be important during the coverage of the October Synod to bear in mind St Jerome’s caution about those who seek to twist the Church’s doctrine:
“These people wanted to change the Gospel, to twist it; but that is something they cannot succeed in doing, for this Gospel is such that it cannot be true if it is tampered with”. (Commentary in Galatians, 1,7).
May Our Lord Jesus Christ, the true light, remain at the heart of the Synod and the Catholic Church which comes into being through Him and give us the grace to truly recognise Him.