by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
Recently, I read a fascinating interview which Bishop Athanasius Schneider (Kazakhistan) gave to Life Site News. Although Bishop Schneider is not a Synod Father, and the President of the Kazakhistan's Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Tomash Bernard Peta is, the insights of Bishop Schneider are nonetheless quite interesting and provocative; some would argue, compelling.
He firmly believes that the progressive and liberal-minded Synod Fathers (exemplified by the German-speaking bishops) are on the wrong side of doctrine and therefore on the wrong side of history because their message is not in harmony with the plain teaching of Our Lord in the Gospel on the indissolubility of marriage, fornication, adultery. As a matter of fact, Bishop Schneider expressed dismay that certain Synod Fathers seem more concerned about pushing through an anti-family agenda than a pro-family agenda.
The Bishop marvels at the fact that almost nothing has been said at the Synod about the immorality of pre-marital sex and artificial contraception, both of which contribute directly to the breakdown of the family and society, especially among our young people who have been raised in a society that considers chastity as weird and uncool, while promiscuity is glorified as though it were a virtue rather than a vice. Bishop Schneider analyzes the rhetoric of certain Synod Fathers, who favor a more lax, open and "inclusive" pastoral approach -- one that would permit divorced/remarried couples to receive Holy Communion, but also perhaps throw open the door to a greater acceptance of homosexual activity -- as dangerously clever and insidious.
Why such a negative (some would even say, harsh) view? Bishop Schneider explains that such rhetoric is akin to the wily double-talk of Satan who convinced Adam and Eve to commit the original sin by offering them the good-looking fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but which fruit turned out to be really spiritually rotten -- indeed poisonous.
Sophists (as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle taught) are not the wise men they appear to be; in fact, they are fools because they argue in contradiction of logic. On the one hand, Gnostics (the philosophical and theological descendants of the Sophists) are quite comfortable in defending truth and yet on the other they feel justified in arguing against objective truth, without ever taking a clear stance on either side of the argument. This means that Sophists are more concerned about packaging convincing arguments than about the objective truth or falsehood of their arguments. The Sophists were notorious for being at ease in placing a true statement right alongside a false (contradictory!) one, and then arguing both as though they were equally plausible.
[Sophistry, as Bishop Schneider, Cardinal Sarah and Archbishop Peta reflect, seems to have been at play in the writing of last year's "Interim Report" for the Extraordinary Synod and is likewise a grave error detectable in the text of the "Instrumentum Laboris," which has guided the discussions of this year's Ordinary Synod and forms the basis for the Synod's "Final Document."].
From the Sophists' pragmatic and utilitarian perspective, falsehood can triumph over truth and evil over good just as long as the arguments being made lead the one making them to rhetorical victory. What matters most for Sophists is winning the argument (debate, case) by any means necessary. Distortions of the truth (lies and half-lies) are not only tolerated and thus legitimized by Sophists but often encouraged and rewarded; as a result, they can become enshrined in particular laws, immoral or unethical precepts, wayward cultures, warped mentalities, and deliberately ambiguous language -- all of which corrupt good morals, especially among our vulnerable youth.
The early Gnostics believed that they possessed secret knowledge about life and salvation that transcended the Divine Revelation found in the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition. For the Gnosics, the orthodox teachings of the Catholic Church were incomplete and therefore insufficient for a person to achieve full enlightenment. Many Gnostics also believed that what one does with his body has no affect on the state of that person's soul. Thus, many Gnostics gave themselves over to licentious sexual immorality, including debauched and perverted lifestyles, without batting an eyelash.
The rhetoric of secularists, many of whom happen to be neo-sophists and neo-gnostics, is always pleasing to the ears on account of its apparent "sophistication" and the allure of its "elitism." However, in reality, sophist and gnostic rhetoric are replete with internal contradictions, vagueries, and ultimately void of substantive content. Consequently, following sophism and gnosticism leads to moral confusion and even moral relativism.
Bishop Schneider goes so far as to suggest that there are forces of evil at work in the Synod that are looking to unravel the cohesiveness of Catholic dogma by assaulting traditional marriage and the family in favor of neo-sophism, neo-gnosticism and moral relativism. The Kazakhstan Auxiliary Bishop does not think there can be a principle of gradualism when it comes to the indissolubilty of marriage, for either the sacramental bond is indissoluble or it is not.
As good parents and teachers are both firm and gentle in dealing with their children and students, offering them "tough love," discipline, correction for their own good and not to be harsh, so too the Church's pedagogy with sinners must be both wise and gentle (compassionate) and yet uncompromising when it comes to upholding the objective truth of her teachings on marriage and the family. As Bishop Athanasius explains, it is a much more selfless act of love to save a person from falling into a ditch than to tell him that it's okay to stay in that imminent danger -- as long as he feels good about it. Just because a person feels like doing something, doesn't make that action right or beneficial for that person.
Nor should Christians be so easily swayed by political correctness as to be dissuaded from offering fraternal correction to their brothers and sisters in the human family and in the Church who are on the verge of harming themselves by engaging in immoral acts that, if unrepented even at the hour of death, can lead a person straight to Hell!