Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

In light of the path being chosen by the Episcopal Church (USA) at its current General Convention, and the resulting reaction from around the Anglican Communion, I have invited a worthy guest to blog here on a topic which he knows well: the history of past heresies and schisms in the Church Catholic. He is worthy of your attention, but also, I have to say (alas), a bit wordy --- I have had to edit his submission down to manageable length. [Note to speed readers: I have placed the key passage in blue type.] The wealth of knowledge he brings to the topic will nonetheless, I assure you, repay the attention that it demands. Please contrast the current state of affairs in Christendom with the situation as my guest depicts it in the fourth century:

* * * [Begin guest blog] * * *

There is a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and holding all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body; it is a sort of secret society, binding together its members by influences and by engagements which it is difficult for strangers to ascertain. It is spread over the known world; it may be weak or insignificant locally, but it is strong on the whole from its continuity; it may be smaller than all other religious bodies together, but is larger than each separately. It is a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing, and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by the intellect of the day; it is frightful to the imagination of the many. And there is but one communion such.

Place this description before Pliny or Julian; place it before Frederick the Second or Guizot. "Apparent diræ facies." [Aeneid, II 620-23: "Dread shapes come to view . . ."] Each knows at once, without asking a question, who is meant by it. One object, and only one, absorbs each item of the detail of the delineation.

. . .

How was the man to guide his course who wished to join himself to the doctrine and fellowship of the Apostles in the times of St. Athanasius, St. Basil, and St. Augustine? Few indeed were the districts in the orbis terrarum, which did not then, as in the Ante-nicene era, present a number of creeds and communions for his choice. . . .

How was an individual inquirer to find, or a private Christian to keep the Truth, amid so many rival teachers? The misfortunes or perils of holy men and saints show us the difficulty; St. Augustine was nine years a Manichee; St. Basil for a time was in admiration of the Semi-arians; St. Sulpicius gave a momentary countenance to the Pelagians; St. Paula listened, and Melania assented, to the Origenists. Yet the rule was simple, which would direct every one right; and in that age, at least, no one could be wrong, for any long time without his own fault. The Church is everywhere, but it is one; sects are everywhere, but they are many, independent and discordant. Catholicity is the attribute of the Church, independency of sectaries. . . .

The Church might be evanescent or lost for a while in particular countries, or it might be levelled and buried among sects, when the eye was confined to one spot, or it might be confronted by the one and same heresy in various places; but, on looking round the orbis terrarum, there was no mistaking that body which, and which alone, had possession of it. The Church is a kingdom; a heresy is a family rather than a kingdom; and as a family continually divides and sends out branches, founding new houses, and propagating itself in colonies, each of them as independent as its original head, so was it with heresy.

[Ed. Note: In urging approval yesterday in the House of Bishops of Resolution D 025, Bishop Dorsey Henderson characterized the Resolution as follows: “This is family talk,” Bishop Henderson declared, adding that “what we do affects a larger family.” Continuing with guest blog:]

Simon Magus, the first heretic, had been Patriarch of Menandrians, Basilidians, Valentinians, and the whole family of Gnostics; Tatian of Encratites, Severians, Aquarians, Apotactites, and Saccophori. The Montanists had been propagated into Tascodrugites, Pepuzians, Artotyrites, and Quartodecimans. Eutyches, in a later time, gave birth to the Dioscorians, Gaianites, Theodosians, Agnoetæ, Theopaschites, Acephali, Semidalitæ, Nagranitæ, Jacobites, and others. This is the uniform history of heresy. . . .

Scarcely was Arianism deprived of the churches of Constantinople, and left to itself, than it split in that very city into the Dorotheans, the Psathyrians, and the Curtians; and the Eunomians into the Theophronians and Eutychians. One fourth part of the Donatists speedily became Maximinianists; and besides these were the Rogatians, the Primianists, the Urbanists, and the Claudianists. . . .

This had been the case with the pagan rites, whether indigenous or itinerant, to which heresy succeeded. The established priesthoods were local properties, as independent theologically as they were geographically of each other; the fanatical companies which spread over the Empire dissolved and formed again as the circumstances of the moment occasioned. So was it with heresy: it was, by its very nature, its own master, free to change, self-sufficient; and, having thrown off the yoke of the Church, it was little likely to submit to any usurped and spurious authority. Montanism and Manicheeism might perhaps in some sort furnish an exception to this remark.

In one point alone the heresies seem universally to have agreed,—in hatred to the Church. . . . She was that body of which all sects, however divided among themselves, spoke ill; according to the prophecy, "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of His household." They disliked and they feared her; they did their utmost to overcome their mutual differences, in order to unite against her. Their utmost indeed was little, for independency was the law of their being; they could not exert themselves without fresh quarrels, both in the bosom of each, and one with another. "Bellum hæreticorum pax est ecclesiæ" ["The heretics' war is the peace of the Church"] had become a proverb; but they felt the great desirableness of union against the only body which was the natural antagonist of all, and various are the instances which occur in ecclesiastical history of attempted coalitions. . . .

It had been so from the beginning: "They huddle up a peace with all everywhere," says Tertullian, "for it maketh no matter to them, although they hold different doctrines, so long as they conspire together in their siege against the one thing, Truth." And even though active cooperation was impracticable, at least hard words cost nothing, and could express that common hatred at all seasons. Accordingly, by Montanists, Catholics were called "the carnal;" by Novatians, "the apostates;" by Valentinians, "the worldly;" by Manichees, "the simple;" by Aërians, "the ancient;" by Apollinarians, "the man-worshippers;" by Origenists, "the flesh-lovers," and "the slimy;" by the Nestorians, "Egyptians;" by Monophysites, the "Chalcedonians;" by Donatists, "the traitors," and "the sinners," and "servants of Antichrist;" and St. Peter's chair, "the seat of pestilence;" and by the Luciferians, the Church was called "a brothel," "the devil's harlot," and "synagogue of Satan:" so that it might be called a [characteristic] of the Church, as I have said, for the use of the most busy and the most ignorant, that she was on one side and all other bodies on the other.

Yet, strange as it may appear, there was one title of the Church of a very different nature from those which have been enumerated,—a title of honour, which all men agreed to give her,—and one which furnished a still more simple direction than such epithets of abuse to aid the busy and the ignorant in finding her, and which was used by the Fathers for that purpose. It was one which the sects could neither claim for themselves, nor hinder being enjoyed by its rightful owner, though, since it was the characteristic designation of the Church in the Creed, it seemed to surrender the whole controversy between the two parties engaged in it. Balaam could not keep from blessing the ancient people of God; and the whole world, heresies inclusive, were irresistibly constrained to call God's second election by its prophetical title of the "Catholic" Church. St. Paul tells us that the heretic is "condemned by himself;" and no clearer witness against the sects of the earlier centuries was needed by the Church, than their own testimony to this contrast between her actual position and their own. Sects, say the Fathers, are called after the name of their founders, or from their locality or from their doctrine. So was it from the beginning: "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas;" but it was promised to the Church that she should have no master upon earth, and that she should "gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Her every-day name, which was understood in the market place and used in the palace, which every chance comer knew, and which state-edicts recognized, was the "Catholic" Church. . . .

It was an argument for educated and simple. When St. Ambrose would convert the cultivated reason of Augustine, he bade him study the book of Isaiah, who is the prophet, as of the Messiah, so of the calling of the Gentiles and of the Imperial power of the Church. And when St. Cyril would give a rule to his crowd of Catechumens, "If ever thou art sojourning in any city," he says, "inquire not simply where the Lord's house is, (for the sects of the profane also make an attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord,) nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Body, the Mother of us all, which is the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ." . . . When Adimantius asked his Marcionite opponent, how he was a Christian who did not even bear that name, but was called from Marcion, he retorts, "And you are called from the Catholic Church, therefore ye are not Christians either;" Adimantius answers, "Did we profess man's name, you would have spoken to the point; but if we are called from being all over the world, what is there bad in this?"

"Whereas there is one God and one Lord," says St. Clement, "therefore also that which is the highest in esteem is praised on the score of being sole, as after the pattern of the One Principle. In the nature then of the One, the Church, which is one, hath its portion, which they would forcibly cut up into many heresies. In substance then, and in idea, and in first principle, and in pre-eminence, we call the ancient Catholic Church sole; in order to the unity of one faith, the faith according to her own covenants, or rather that one covenant in different times, which, by the will of one God and through one Lord, is gathering together those who are already ordained, whom God hath predestined, having known that they would be just from the foundation of the world . . . .

But of heresies, some are called from a man's name, as Valentine's heresy, Marcion's, and that of Basilides (though they profess to bring the opinion of Matthias, for all the Apostles had, as one teaching, so one tradition); and others from place, as the Peratici; and others from nation, as that of the Phrygians; and others from their actions, as that of the Encratites; and others from their peculiar doctrines, as the Docetæ and Hematites; and others from their hypotheses, and what they have honoured, as Cainites and the Ophites; and others from their wicked conduct and enormities, as those Simonians who are called Eutychites."

"There are, and there have been," says St. Justin, "many who have taught atheistic and blasphemous words and deeds, coming in the name of Jesus; and they are called by us from the appellation of the men whence each doctrine and opinion began ... Some are called Marcians, others Valentinians, others Basilidians, others Saturnilians." "When men are called Phrygians, or Novatians, or Valentinians, or Marcionites, or Anthropians," says Lactantius, "or by any other name, they cease to be Christians; for they have lost Christ's Name, and clothe themselves in human and foreign titles. It is the Catholic Church alone which retains the true worship."

"We never heard of Petrines, or Paulines, or Bartholomeans, or Thaddeans," says St. Epiphanius; "but from the first there was one preaching of all the Apostles, not preaching themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. Wherefore also all gave one name to the Church, not their own, but that of their Lord Jesus Christ, since they began to be called Christians first at Antioch; which is the Sole Catholic Church, having nought else but Christ's, being a Church of Christians; not of Christs, but of Christians, He being One, they from that One being called Christians. None, but this Church and her preachers, are of this character, as is shown by their own epithets, Manicheans, and Simonians, and Valentinians, and Ebionites." "If you ever hear those who are said to belong to Christ," says St. Jerome, "named, not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, say Marcionites, Valentinians, Mountaineers, Campestrians, know that it is not Christ's Church, but the synagogue of Antichrist."

St. Pacian's letters to the Novatian Bishop Sympronian require a more extended notice. The latter had required the Catholic faith to be proved to him, without distinctly stating from what portion of it he dissented; and he boasted that he had never found any one to convince him of its truth. St. Pacian observes that there is one point which Sympronian cannot dispute, and which settles the question, the very name Catholic. He then supposes Sympronian to object that, "under the Apostles no one was called Catholic." He answers, "Be it thus; it shall have been so; allow even that. When, after the Apostles, heresies had burst forth, and were striving under various names to tear piecemeal and divide 'the Dove' and 'the Queen' of God, did not the Apostolic people require a name of their own, whereby to mark the unity of the people that was uncorrupted, lest the error of some should rend limb by limb 'the undefiled virgin' of God? Was it not seemly that the chief head should be distinguished by its own peculiar appellation? Suppose this very day I entered a populous city. When I had found Marcionites, Apollinarians, Cataphrygians, Novatians, and others of the kind, who call themselves Christians, by what name should I recognize the congregation of my own people, unless it were named Catholic? ... Whence was it delivered to me? Certainly that which has stood through so many ages was not borrowed from man. This name 'Catholic' sounds not of Marcion, nor of Apelles, nor of Montanus, nor does it take heretics for its authors."

. . .

In citing these passages, I am not proving what was the doctrine of the Fathers concerning the Church in those early times, or what were the promises made to it in Scripture; but simply ascertaining what, in matter of fact, was its then condition relatively to the various Christian bodies among which it was found. That the Fathers were able to put forward a certain doctrine, that they were able to appeal to the prophecies, proves that matter of fact; for unless the Church, and the Church alone, had been one body everywhere, they could not have argued on the supposition that it was so. And so as to the word "Catholic;" it is enough that the Church was so called; that title was a confirmatory proof and symbol of what is even otherwise so plain, that she, as St. Pacian explains the word, was everywhere one, while the sects of the day were nowhere one, but everywhere divided. Sects might, indeed, be everywhere, but they were in no two places the same; every spot had its own independent communion, or at least to this result they were inevitably and continually tending.

St. Pacian writes in Spain: the same contrast between the Church and sectarianism is presented to us in Africa in the instance of the Donatists; and St. Optatus is a witness both to the fact, and to its notoriety, and to the deep impressions which it made on all parties. Whether or not the Donatists identified themselves with the true Church, and cut off the rest of Christendom from it, is not the question here, nor alters the fact which I wish distinctly brought out and recognized, that in those ancient times the Church was that Body which was spread over the orbis terrarum, and sects were those bodies which were local or transitory.

. . .

Lastly, let us hear St. Augustine himself again in the same controversy: "They do not communicate with us, as you say," he observes to Cresconius, "Novatians, Arians, Patripassians, Valentinians, Patricians, Apellites, Marcionites, Ophites, and the rest of those sacrilegious names, as you call them, of nefarious pests rather than sects. Yet, wheresoever they are, there is the Catholic Church; as in Africa it is where you are. On the other hand, neither you, nor any one of those heresies whatever, is to be found wherever is the Catholic Church. Whence it appears, which is that tree whose boughs extend over all the earth by the richness of its fruitfulness, and which be those broken branches which have not the life of the root, but lie and wither, each in its own place."

It may be possibly suggested that this universality which the Fathers ascribe to the Catholic Church lay in its Apostolical descent, or again in its Episcopacy; and that it was one, not as being one kingdom or civitas "at unity with itself," with one and the same intelligence in every part, one sympathy, one ruling principle, one organization, one communion, but because, though consisting of a number of independent communities, at variance (if so be) with each other even to a breach of communion, nevertheless all these were possessed of a legitimate succession of clergy, or all governed by Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

But who will in seriousness maintain that relationship, or that sameness of structure, makes two bodies one? England and Prussia are both of them monarchies; are they therefore one kingdom? England and the United States are from one stock; can they therefore be called one state? England and Ireland are peopled by different races; yet are they not one kingdom still?

If unity lies in the Apostolical succession, an act of schism is from the nature of the case impossible; for as no one can reverse his parentage, so no Church can undo the fact that its clergy have come by lineal descent from the Apostles. Either there is no such sin as schism, or unity does not lie in the Episcopal form or in the Episcopal ordination. And this is felt by the controversialists of this day; who in consequence are obliged to invent a sin, and to consider, not division of Church from Church, but the interference of Church with Church to be the sin of schism, as if local dioceses and bishops with restraint were more than ecclesiastical arrangements and by-laws of the Church, however sacred, while schism is a sin against her essence. Thus they strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel. Division is the schism, if schism there be, not interference. If interference is a sin, division which is the cause of it is a greater; but where division is a duty, there can be no sin in interference.

Far different from such a theory is the picture which the ancient Church presents to us; true, it was governed by Bishops, and those Bishops came from the Apostles, but it was a kingdom besides; and as a kingdom admits of the possibility of rebels, so does such a Church involve sectaries and schismatics, but not independent portions. It was a vast organized association, co-extensive with the Roman Empire, or rather overflowing it. Its Bishops were not mere local officers, but possessed a quasi-ecumenical power, extending wherever a Christian was to be found. "No Christian," says Bingham, "would pretend to travel without taking letters of credence with him from his own bishop, if he meant to communicate with the Christian Church in a foreign country. Such was the admirable unity of the Church Catholic in those days, and the blessed harmony and consent of her bishops among one another." . . .

Moreover, this universal Church was not only one; it was exclusive also. As to the vehemence with which Christians of the Ante-nicene period denounced the idolatries and sins of paganism, and proclaimed the judgments which would be their consequence, this is well known, and led to their being reputed in the heathen world as "enemies of mankind." "Worthily doth God exert the lash of His stripes and scourges," says St. Cyprian to a heathen magistrate . . . Inexplicable and heavy is the sin of discord, and is purged by no suffering ... They cannot dwell with God who have refused to be of one mind in God's Church; a man of such sort may indeed be killed, crowned he cannot be." And so again St. Chrysostom, in the following century, in harmony with St. Cyprian's sentiment: "Though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fulness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who mangled His body." . . .

One more remark shall be made: that the Catholic teachers, far from recognizing any ecclesiastical relation as existing between the Sectarian Bishops and Priests and their people, address the latter immediately, as if those Bishops did not exist, and call on them to come over to the Church individually without respect to any one besides; and that because it is a matter of life and death. To take the instance of the Donatists: it was nothing to the purpose that their Churches in Africa were nearly as numerous as those of the Catholics, or that they had a case to produce in their controversy with the Catholic Church; the very fact that they were separated from the orbis terrarum was a public, a manifest, a simple, a sufficient argument against them. "The question is not about your gold and silver," says St. Augustine to Glorius and others, "not your lands, or farms, nor even your bodily health is in peril, but we address your souls about obtaining eternal life and fleeing eternal death. Rouse yourself therefore . . . "

. . . The idea of acting upon the Donatists only as a body and through their bishops, does not appear to have occurred to St. Augustine at all.

On the whole, then, we have reason to say, that if there be a form of Christianity at this day distinguished for its careful organization, and its consequent power; if it is spread over the world; if it is conspicuous for zealous maintenance of its own creed; if it is intolerant towards what it considers error; if it is engaged in ceaseless war with all other bodies called Christian; if it, and it alone, is called "Catholic" by the world, nay, by those very bodies, and if it makes much of the title; if it names them heretics, and warns them of coming woe, and calls on them one by one, to come over to itself, overlooking every other tie; and if they, on the other hand, call it seducer, harlot, apostate, Antichrist, devil; if, however much they differ one with another, they consider it their common enemy; if they strive to unite together against it, and cannot; if they are but local; if they continually subdivide, and it remains one; if they fall one after another, and make way for new sects, and it remains the same; such a religious communion is not unlike historical Christianity, as it comes before us at the Nicene Era.

* * * [End guest blog] * * *

My thanks to His Eminence John Cardinal Newman, of soon-to-be sainted memory, for sharing his broad perspective with us. (Text excerpted from An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, ch. 6, secs. 1 and 2.)

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.


  1. I really wonder what Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina has to say about the events that have transpired this General Convention. Where if anywhere is he going to lead us during this very turbulent time. The ACNA looks better and better all the time.

  2. One of so many valuable insights presented on this blog.

    Mil gracias Curmudgeon!

    Mark Brown
    San Angelo, Texas
    July 14, 2009

  3. Dear Mr. Haley,

    I recognize that this may seem an irrelevant request, but (for purely personal reasons) I am curious to know (if you have the means to determine) whether Cardinal Newman wrote this before or after he was accepted into the Catholic Church on 9th October 1845.

    I will, of course, explain my reasons via email, if you so desire, so as not to lead this thread off topic.

    Pax et bonum and my best regards,
    Keith Töpfer

  4. Martial Artist, no problem. It was in the course of writing the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine that John Henry Newman became convinced by his own arguments that there was no longer anything to hold him back from joining the Catholic Church. He explains this in what is called the "Advertisement to the First Edition", from which I quote this part:

    "Since the above was written, the Author has joined the Catholic Church. It was his intention and wish to have carried his Volume through the Press before deciding finally on this step. But when he had got some way in the printing, he recognized in himself a conviction of the truth of the conclusion to which the discussion leads, so clear as to supersede further deliberation. Shortly afterwards circumstances gave him the opportunity of acting upon it, and he felt that he had no warrant for refusing to do so."

  5. Mr. Haley,

    Thank you very kindly. I rather thought it might antedate his reception by Rome. Of no particular import beyond its peculiarity, except to me, is the odd coincidence that it was a quotation from Newman about revelation and authority which explained to me the epiphany I experienced last fall which led me to depart TEC and seek reception in the Catholic Church and that the date of his reception (9th October 1845) antedates by exactly one century the date of my birth (9th October 1945). Hence, my curiosity.

    I entertain the wildly ambitious hope that a second miracle will be verified attributed to his interventions, and that he might be sainted prior to my being confirmed. Choosing him as my patron saint would be an obvious choice.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer