… and the New Pseudo Praxis
Perhaps the most critical and classical difference between all forms of
Protestantism and Catholicism lay in their respective understandings of the
relationship between faith and good works. For Catholics, God’s saving work in Jesus Christ – the fruit of unmerited grace – issues in a changed heart and a life of good works; for a changed heart is, in Catholic theology, the very reason Christ died for us; that is, to make us holy unto salvation.
For classical Protestants, good works and holiness are of little or no consequence so far as one’s justification – salvation is concerned, for that is seen as the result of faith alone. Good works are merely attendant to faith and a sign of the one’s justification – salvation which is wrought in believers by the predestined good pleasure of God in Christ Jesus.
Catholics and many Lutherans in recent years however made significant progress toward seeing that the old formulas, as summarized above, actually intended to say much the same thing (neither denied the freedom of God’s grace or the need for holiness, for example) but each accented these important aspects and consequences, it is said, in historically different ways. I don’t intend to revisit that precise polemic here. But the old polemic is relevant in new contexts which is what I wish to point out below.
In every era of the Church there have been various heresies and errors allowed by God to test His people and to bring about a clarification of revealed teaching. Our age is no exception. I would like to focus on two of these which, in some ways, are two sides of the same coin.
First, there is the sad fruit of an old development which, in some serious
ways, has come home to roost. I am speaking here of the divergence of
theology from spirituality which tends toward a rupture in communion from
Secondly, there is the temptation to substitute good works, praxis, for
the Gospel itself, rather than seeing it as the indispensable fruit of the Gospel leading to salvation in eternity (Eph 2:8-10).
This is a new take on the old Pelagian heresy which sees grace as the fruit of our own autonomous free will and good works.
Long ago theology began separating
more and more in some circles from spirituality in the West. With the
development of Catholic universities especially, with their emphasis on
theology as the queen of the sciences, there increased a temptation to reduce
theology to an autonomous and largely academic discipline.
Now, to the extent that theology is “faith seeking understanding,” it is legitimate, of course, that certain persons are called to serve the Church by specializing in theology in all its many categories, whether that be fundamental theology, systematic, liturgical, spiritual and so on. Theologians serve the Church by responsibly and faithfully putting new questions questions often posed by changing times to the Deposit of Faith, thus enabling the Living Magisterium (the Holy Father and the college of bishops with him) to authoritatively clarify revelation when it deems it right or necessary to do so. No theologian, however, works for himself alone, and any notion of a novel and personal theology which the theologian then seeks to set against the magisterium, as the Church’s own theology, is inherently contradictory and utterly presumptuous from a traditional Catholic point of view. Such a notion of theology violates the principle of the Church’s communion, which is in no way competitive with, or contradictory to, the Church’s hierarchical constitution.
Thus a theologian should be called and affirmed by the Church to such a sublime and holy vocation, as in all previous centuries. He (or she, it is understood) does not call himself. The Church must affirm the calling and recognize the theology. For this is a high calling indeed. And when the theologian understands his vocation as being one in service to and facilitating the Church’s own communion, then there is maintained that proper unity between spirituality and theology.
True theology is humble, obedient, and places its findings before the Church. It does not insist on its own a priori correctness. It would be unthinkable.
But alas, this unity can hardly be taken for granted today. Today we see far too many theologians and others operating as apologists for the zeitgeist, as though they could reduce revelation and all previous understandings of dogma to the historically conditioned ash heap and then re-creating a new theology on their own.
This is far from the time-honored libertas, the legitimate differences between various approved schools of theology-which schools presupposed the Deposit and communion of Faith.
Under consideration here are altogether
new and radical points of departure which would seek to redefine the Gospel itself or, for example, such fundamental matters as sexual gender and the notion of what constitutes family (and thus in each case the very nature of creation’s order).
When the Magisterium must finally correct such notions, often
demonstrating very great patience before doing so, we hear these theologians
crying foul, bandying about inflammatory words like “inquisition” (that
such rhetoric is nonsense is shown by that very patience of the magisterium
when such radical notions could very well be justifiably subject to the most extreme sanctions. Sometimes it takes several pontificates before a final judgment is made.
The fact is, it is possible to love theology more than God. Indeed it is possible to enjoy theology and theologizing and not even believe in the history of salvation, traditionally and biblically understood.
Today we hear theologians embracing and baptizing every eccentric ideology, whether denouncing an alleged “Patriarchal” theology or decrying “Augustinian / Fall” theology, proffering new species of faith in their place in which old theological terms and concepts are filled with new meanings.
New models of theology have become iconic in certain large circles-indeed having whole cult followings whether these imagine the spirit of Jesus as a gun-toting Che Guevera, or a radical woke feminist Jesus’ represented by “womyn” seeking to abolish gender and deify the cosmos in the place of the transcendent personal God.
Then there are others who proclaim that all religions are metaphysically one. In such cults, which exist in Catholic circles today in not a few places, we often find a rejection of Catholic biblical morality and natural law, as well as a peculiar and revealing obsession on sexual matters, even to the point of framing disordered homosexual sex and relationships sexual relationships, which defy the very order of creation, as victims of “hierarchical abuse” in which traditional moral theology, and not this rejection of creation’s order, is represented as the product of a “dysfunctional” theology and family.
Such is the language of a cynical propaganda which seeks to reinvent a “new Jesus” and a “new Gospel” and “another Spirit” through a scissors and paste ideology born of an alien application of historical criticism (2 Cor 11:4).
Finally, and this brings me full circle to the opening comments about faith and works another characteristic of such cult theology, which is often common to such theologies, is the substitution of good works, praxis, in the place of the Gospel itself, rather than as the faithful fruit of that Gospel and sanctifying grace which gives rise to obedience, communion, and love.
This has become, all too often, the self-justifying tactic of many who attempt to mask their disobedience to the Church’s teachings, all in the name of theology. They speak often of giving to the poor (as, we must remember, Judas did too, Jn 12:4-6) and often pose as chic radicals and advocates of civil rights.
Now, there is no question that Jesus Christ and His Church requires a radical love for neighbor as the fruit of a conversion which elevates us above all self-complacency. At the very beginning of his ministry in Nazareth, St. Luke tells us, Our Lord:
“…stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Lk 4:16-19)
The Church does indeed show a preferential love for the poor in this world, for this is the Way of her Lord and of the prophets before him. She has shown this love for over two thousand years by caring for widows, for orphans, for the weak, for the physically and mentally ill. She continues His healing and reconciling ministry in the world, until the end of time.
In more recent times, with the advent of nuclear weapons and their actual and
potential destruction of whole civilian populations and threat to the whole
planet, a planet which has become so much smaller due to advances in transportation and communications, she has had to examine ever more closely the ways in which people seek to resolve tribal and regional conflicts. In so doing she has sought to apply the Gospel’s message of peace in greater and greater contexts as the necessary alternative to war. The
Church indeed is come to proclaim liberty to the oppressed and to give
release to the captives. We are indeed called to be peacemakers (Mt 5:9).
This is the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But when theologians or activists substitute praxis, such good works, for
Church teachings, for the moral and natural laws, they become, sadly, cheap charlatans, prostituting the fruits of the faith and sanctifying grace to their own ends. Love then becomes a ruse, a cover and bait to deceive people away from the Church in the name of the Church.
We must never cease to show the Church’s preferential love for the poor. We laymen and laywomen, especially, must be involved in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in imitation of our Lord who is the Light of a broken world. Personal piety which seeks only lavish liturgical satisfaction is selfishness, spiritual gluttony, if it does not lead to good works. Even the sick can offer their sufferings for others in and through
Christ Jesus (Col 1:24). But we must not follow false gods which can only
lead to the collapse of our spiritual immune systems and a pseudo peace which is in fact spiritual death. Truth and love are inseparable (Eph 4:15).
This alone is the Truth which makes us free. — SH