The Fighting Church, the Attacks of Satan, and the Laity

07-30-2023Weekly Reflection

The pivotal meditation in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola is called “The Two Standards.” Fr. Ambruzzi1 comments: Satan summons together innumerable devils and spurs them to go, someone to city, some to another, throughout the world, omitting no province, place or state of life, nor any person in particular. His attack is universal. St. Ignatius is the last man to attribute all temptations to the devil. Still the fact remains, and the Saint strongly emphasizes it, that Satan is constantly at our side, as the embodiment of evil, bent on organizing the attacks of the world and the flesh against us, and on undoing God’s work in our souls. …(T)he Son of Man is manifested, that He might undo the works of the devil. 1 John iii, 8. See Ephesians 6: 11-171 Fr Aloysius Ambruzzi S.J., Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius sees two vast plains: Satan and his minions on the left and Jesus, our Lord on the right with His followers, the Holy Church. In between there lies a vast intermediate ground where men, who have sworn fidelity to Christ, move about freely, constantly laying themselves open to attacks of the Enemy. It is for such that the contemplation of the Two Standards is chiefly meant. We must see the whole world as the battlefield where Christ wages a ceaseless battle against Satan, with the aim of conquering and reigning in our hearts and we should always humbly pray: From the traps of the devil, deliver us, O Lord. Around Christ there are gathered countless faithful souls, clergy and laity. Around Satan are gathered hordes of demons. In the Epistle of Barnabas, 2, he says: We ought to learn accurately concerning our salvation, lest the Evil One, having effected an entrance of error in us, should fling us away from our life. One of the chief attacks of the Evil One against the Church is to sow false teachings, doubt, and division. The point of attack will be to bring about false teachers, especially from clergy, in order to do maximum damage. Fr. Ambruzzi remarks: It is Satan who raises all kind of obstacles to the preachers of the Faith, who encourages idolatry, sows the seeds of doubt, and fans the spirit of revolt. He contends with Christ for the empire of the world. He is Christ’s great enemy.

Consider that one of the worst false teachings in the history of the Church was from a priest named Arius, who denied the divinity of Jesus. It sparked one of the greatest crises in the Church called Arianism, when almost the whole of the bishops were in the throes of this heresy, with only a few faithful like St. Athanasius. St. Jerome has the famous quote: The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian. Nestorius was a bishop, the patriarch of Constantinople who held a false teaching about Christ’s divinity that was separated from His humanity so that Mary was not the Mother of God but of a mere man. Two Councils dealt with these false teachings, that of Nicea, and then of Ephesus. The Creed of Nicea we pray every Sunday. We call Mary Mother of God, theotokos (God-bearer), because the Child in her womb was God made flesh: a Divine Person, the Son of God Who is both God and Man. Despite these Councils the false teachings didn’t immediately die out. The warfare of the Evil One continued to corrupt with the false teachings.

We are in a similar crisis today, worse than the Arian, when numerous bishops and clergy think they have the power to overrule defined doctrine, the Scriptures, apostolic tradition, and the natural law of creation. A pivotal point of attack is directed against the moral teachings of the Church, the priesthood, and the hierarchical nature of the Church. A virulent set of false teachings, called modernism, never died out. Modernism, it will be remembered, seeks to interpret Christianity in terms of “modern thought” where the standards of the world control rather than the traditional teachings of the Church coming from Scripture and Apostolic tradition. Teachings according to the modernists are always evolving from modern “sources” of revelation. A recent example of this is the so-called Synodal-Way in Germany, which among other things, wants to change Churchteachings, for example, on the priesthood, and the immorality of homosexual activity. For example under the leadership of Bishop Georg Baetzing, these bishops seek to accommodate homosexual activity, and the blessing of homosexual unions, as part of the Catholic Faith. He denies fornication is a sin and contradicts the Scriptures. He claims, along with others, the power to change those teachings and stated, if he didn’t think those teachings could change, he would leave the Church.

Cardinal Koch called out this attempt to alter Catholic teaching with the following: In an interview with a German newspaper, Koch — an internationally respected theologian — had said he was shocked that, of all places, the German Synodal-Way was talking about new sources of revelation. “This phenomenon already existed during the National Socialist dictatorship, when the so-called ‘German Christians’ saw God’s new revelation in blood and soil and in the rise of Hitler,” Koch told the weekly Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost.

The “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen) were a Naziera pressure group that wanted to align Protestantism with racist Nazi Ideology. In contrast, the opposing Confessing Church’s Barmen Theological Declaration spoke against such distortions of Christian teaching. The 1934 statement said, in its first article: “We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.’”

Bishop Baetzing was outraged and asked for an apology, because he claimed the Cardinal was calling them Nazis. This was disingenuous. He had to know the point was: just like the German Christians, who sought to accommodate Christian teachings to the political ideology of the Nazis so the synodal-way is seeking to accommodate Catholic teachings to current political ideologies (political correctness, LGBTQ etc.) especially in the area of homosexuality, but not only that area of Catholic teaching. The comparison was apt, accurate, and biting, despite the fact that the Cardinal apologized for any hurt feelings.

Recently Catholic philosopher Edward Feser wrote the following involving the history of the Church: St. John Henry Newman famously noted that during the Arian crisis, “the governing body of the Church came short” in fighting the heresy, and orthodoxy was preserved primarily by the laity. “The Catholic people,” he says, “were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not.” Even Pope Liberius temporarily caved in to pressure to accept an ambiguous formula and to condemn St. Athanasius, the great champion of orthodoxy. … Newman wrote:

“The body of the Episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism… at one time the pope, at other times a patriarchal, metropolitan, or other great see, at other times general councils, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the Christian people, who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength of Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius of Vercellae, and other great solitary confessors, who would have failed without them.”… In particular, Newman says:

There was a temporary suspense of the functions of the ‘Ecclesia docens’ [teaching Church]. The body of Bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicaea, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. Newman goes on to make it clear that he is not saying that pope and bishops lost the power to teach, and in a way that was protected from error when exercised in an ex cathedra fashion. Rather, while they retained that power, they simply did not use it. You can read his whole essay here: al-newman-archbishop-fernandez-and-the-suspendedmagisterium-thesis/

Is this happening today: infidelity on the part of the body of the episcopate to their obligations to teach in accord with the Faith? A case can be made that the crisis in the Church today is worse than the Arian-crisis because of the notions on the part of many that teachings like the indissolubility of marriage, the meaning of marriage and order of sexuality are up for grabs to be re-defined by some kind of plebiscite. The Pope and the bishops are guardians of the Faith, but not the source of Catholic Faith. They are bound to Scripture and apostolic Tradition. The idea that the Pope and/or Bishops could simply overrule teachings they don’t like is a political secular notion of political power rather the notion of the Pope and Bishops as guardians and servants of the truth coming from the Lord.

Pope Benedict pointed out: The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism. That applies to the bishops as well. The Second Letter to Timothy comes to mind in relation to the crisis in the Church: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Is this crisis that time? Pope Benedict also remarked: “In the end the Lord wins.”