Judas, Alive and Well

As horrifying as it is to hear it and to speak it, the entire Christian world will once again witness the unfolding drama of the Passion during Holy Week.  For many of us, this time will be one of sincere repentance and deep reflection.  For some, it will be just another week marking the gentle return to spring.  But for others, it will be the perfect time to deny, discredit and attempt to destroy the Truth.

This last group consists of people who ally themselves with the forces marshaled by the Adversary himself.  These are the ones who propagate the tradition of betrayal that extends from as far back as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the host of Old Testament betrayers like Alcimus and Ahithophel, and Holy Week’s apostle-turned-apostate himself, Judas Iscariot.

The worst part of this week, however, is that the story of Christian betrayal didn’t end when Judas hanged himself.  It continued afterward in the guise of heretics fighting against the early Church, and it still exists in our day.  In fact, the age in which we are living is decidedly despicable because not only has it invented its own heresies, but it is resuscitating the same ones put to rest in the early Church.  That is why it is vitally important for Catholics, the Orthodox and other-tradition-minded Christians to understand our patrimony.  We must inform ourselves about the ancient faith and use that knowledge and a commitment to prayer to learn to spot heresy in our own time.

As soon as Holy Week is over — since you would have been reminded of the story of Judas — take some time to understand more about the historical development of Church doctrine by becoming more familiar with the debate surrounding certain early heresies.  Include in your research Gnosticism-Docetism (denying God came in the flesh), Arianism (denying Jesus is God), Pelagianism (denying man is dependent on God), Iconoclasm (denying the use of images of God in prayer), Macedonianism (denying the Holy Spirit is God), Origenism (denying an eternal judgment) and Messalianism (denying the sacraments and ecclesiastical obedience).

While doing so it might appear that some of these heresies are obscure debates that have little to do with the modern person in the pew.  On the contrary, the controversies over doctrine in the first centuries of the Church are at the very heart of the challenges we face today.

Therefore, the second activity you can undertake is to make connections between what happened in the early days of the Church and what is happening today.  In other words, once you are grounded in these doctrines and debates, I hope to help you see how the modern world is re-adapting these heresies and passing them off as some sort of modern cultural orthodoxy.

Specifically, notice how Gnosticism-Docetism is alive in Scientology, the entertainment world and even some parishes.  Arianism can be found among Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unitarians and in certain parts of inter-religious dialogue. Pelagianism is rampant in American culture and can be found in modernist spirituality and homiletics. Iconoclasm is captured in public policy and is prevalent in the design of modernist churches.  Macedonianism has reappeared in the New Age movement (which is largely synonymous with environmentalists now) and in modernist spiritualities within the Church.  Origenism can be found not only within the wider secularist culture but also among Christians who dismiss the truth of the final judgment. Lastly, Messalianism can be found among Quakers, Buddhists and Marxist spiritualities that reject sacraments and ecclesiastical obedience.

Recognizing these connections should mean to us that Docetism, Origenism, Arianism, Macedonianism, Pelagianism, Iconoclasm and Messalianism are not obscure theological and spiritual debates weighed down by the miniscule ravings of hermitic lunatics who sought to hide in caves away from a disappointing world.  These seven heresies, in fact, are vitally important to how we understand God and His Church.  More than that, betrayal and heresy-as-betrayal offer us an important key to unlocking the rather confusing and disheartening times in which we live.

The people behind these heresies, the theological details of these heresies and the spiritual impact and meaning of these heresies can all be found in our world today.  It is possible, in fact, to say evil was at work in the early Church, and we can say it is today, too.  But it is altogether too important to ignore man’s decidedly dark attempts throughout our history to destroy God’s Churches, to dissuade His followers and to try to dissuade God’s people from the validity of His sacraments.

That is why the third activity you can take on after Holy Week is to pay better attention to the prayers right before Communion.  In the 1970 Missal of the Roman Rite (Novus Ordo) take note of the phrase: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you […]”  In the 1962 Missal of the Roman Rite (Blessed John XXIII) the believer begs: “Let not the partaking of Thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, though unworthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation […]”  Finally, and most significantly in the Byzantine Catholic Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the believer asks and promises: “Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas […]”

Let us not be like Judas and let us fight against those who are.  For we know the truth that God Himself became man so that man could become more like God.  We know He came in the flesh, worked miracles, preached the Kingdom, was betrayed, beaten and crucified.  Thankfully, we also know He was resurrected.  But we must take what we know into the world.

Our efforts during this week and in the weeks to come will make us wiser in understanding and handling the hidden messages and methods used by the forces of those who wish to ignore the revelation of God.  Understanding and rooting out this betrayal where it exists will further toward the ultimate, heavenly goal: theosis or union with Him for all of eternity.


Cover image credit: shutterstock.com

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  • pcummings

    Thank you for the excellent summary of the heresies and how they exist in the world today.

  • jsloan

    It’s fascinating to see how these heresies have morphed and become so rampant in our own world. Thank you for the article, and I would be interested in hearing more about how we can combat these heresies as they are today.

  • goral

    We Americans have the distinction of having our very own national heresy called Americanism. We take it upon ourselves to decide credible matters of doctrine. These heretics profess the Nancyan creed.

    “Americanism refers to a group of related heresies which were defined as the endorsement of freedom of the press, liberalism, individualism, and complete separation of church and state.” (Did I read that right???)

    Pope Leo XIII considered exposing children to public schools as something to be avoided when possible. Modern Catholics laugh at this notion and we all fund it. Pope Leo derided the idea that all opinions are valid and should be aired publicly. Mention the word censorship anywhere and you will be branded with “another-ism”. We know that certain speech could harm general morality yet we are obligated to support it.

    Read the vile and sewer language that is being plastered all over the Internet about our saintly BXVI and his priests. Modern American Catholicism is all about sensitivity towards Pilate, Herod and Judas.

  • joanspage

    I think arguing against freedom of press and all is a nonstarter. Catholic soldiers have died and bled defending such rights. JPII defending them against dictators.

    The Judases destroying the Church must include those priests who abused children and
    the bishops who played the shell game with them. These who have done unspeakable acts have cause great harm to the Church’s credibility. How could we avoid this elephant in the Church parking lot?

  • goral

    Freedom of press is in our Bill of Rights, it will remain there as long as the Press is credible. It is now at the point of marginal credibility because of the irresponsible way that “news” is being treated and reported. If the press puts out slander and half-truths, of what use is it?

    Speaking of slander and half-truths; it’s precisely what is being insinuated against our dear pope right now. We have an atheist lawyer in Wisconsin who’s out for blood money. His crusade is being given full coverage without any further investigation into the facts.
    In other words, they saw a rat in the parking lot and called it an elephant.

    The Judases are not the abusing priests and former priests. The sellouts are the catholics who buy into the secular view of the Church.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    So, why is everyone so keen on ‘ecumenism’?

    Why is Catholic Apologetics focussed on justifying Catholic beliefs to Protestants when most of what Protestants believe – the heresies – are extra-biblical?

    Why don’t our apologists start pointing out their heresy instead of always being on the back foot, as if the Protestant has a case against us?

    Catholicism doesn’t have to prove it’s biblically-justifiable does it, when, in reality it isn’t because we don’t hold to Sola Scriptura?

    We are the Church. They are the heretics. Let’s stop acting as if the burden of proof is on us. It is on them, and let’s at least make apologetics appear as if we believe Catholicism is true and hasn’t got a case to answer.

  • edmund burke

    Amen brother!

  • LarryW2LJ

    Interesting question.
    Would it be more effective to defend that which we believe or go on the “attack” and prove to someone that which they believe in, is wrong?
    I think most apologists believe that they are not in a defensive posture; but are rather assuming a teaching posture. Unfortunately, some of the students are hostile, indeed.
    But, as St Peter said, we are to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope., but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”
    This is the beginning of evangilism. And I think the true meaning of ecumenism has been distorted. Embracing other faiths should always be done with the aim of instructing them, and bringing them back to the one True faith, which we profess and know, is the Holy Catholic Church.

  • kirk

    I would hope that your questions are not spoken in a spirit like the Pharisee in the temple, content in his own righteousness. If someone would have confronted me with the accusation that my faith was heretical, without justification, without proofs – I would have spent all my efforts at re-energizing my own lifelong Protestant beliefs while I stated my case, rather than inquiring why Catholics believe what they do. Instead, I asked questions out of my own curiosity, ignorance and bias (hoping to convince the other), and he responded “with gentleness and reverence” (as Larry said in his post). As a result, I’m happily Catholic and grateful beyond measure.
    Every Catholic needs the tools to express faith in a non-threatening manner and not consign to hell everyone who misunderstands – God looks upon the heart. I know many Protestants who love God and follow Him as best they can with the knowledge they have. They are our separated brothers & sisters, and should not be compared to those who intentionally (and knowingly) teach contrary doctrines in order to mislead and divert believers.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Hi Larry.

    I agree. They should be in a teaching posture, but it depends what we mean by that, doesn’t it? Pope Emeritus Benedict is a scripture scholar, but everything I’ve read of his sounds NOTHING like counter proof-texting, which, I’m sad to say, most Catholic apologists sound like.

    Benedict doesn’t attack. His writings show the paucity of their position simply in the light of the richness of his. The apologetic aspect of his writings is an epiphenomenon of him merely living the Truth in the light of the Tradition. He’s not playing mind-games, but speaks mystagogically of the Glory of God.

    In other words, his words don’t reveal great learning so much as a man who’s so in love with God, they whisper, ‘Come, follow me’. That truly fulfils St Peter’s exhortation, to my mind.

    Just think how much his simple and beautiful way of being knocked the idea of ‘Panzer Cardinal’ on the head without a single shot being fired…

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Hi Kirk. See my reply to Larry, and in reply to you, I’m not suggesting any confrontation or accusation! Of course they’ll dig their heels in!

    There is a massive difference between judgmentalism and judgement, and I hope I know the difference. I certainly don’t accuse anyone of anything in these sensitive discussions with non-Catholics, but, if the Protestant insists that the Blessed Sacrament is just a wafer, for example I hope you would agree that it’s not whatever each of us believe it is, so we’re both right (receptionism), but that Transubstantiation is the correct doctrine on the matter and his view is heresy (although not expressing it so clinically but try to communicate the beauty of the Eucharist in as winsome a manner as possible).

    What I’m suggesting is that we don’t buy into their frame of reference, but transcend it. That we take it out of the realm of proof-texts and knock-down arguments (Protestant Apologetics, esp. Presuppositionalism) and into the ‘earthy’ realm of Sacramental and Mystagogical Realism.

    Lastly, and sadly, I’ve never met a Protestant who’s genuinely curious as to what Catholics believe. They all parrot the old red herrings and, when you answer coherently, you then get trapped in the ‘doctrinal dance’ of a barrage of Catholic ‘issues’. Why do you call priest father? Why do you worship Mary?, blah, blah, blah.

    They’re totally disingenuous because they’re simply confrontational accusations, whilst dressed – supposedly innocently – as questions, just like the Pharisees.

  • Peter Nyikos

    Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Great Heresies, is a fine book for going more deeply into why heresies are important today, even though it was written early in the 20th century. He was remarkably prescient about the resurgence of Islam in the last few decades, listing Islam as a kind of Christian heresy.

  • cajaquarius

    I was raised Catholic but began to drift away from the faith on certain points that I found morally repugnant (the concept of eternal hell for those outside the church, for example, when so many have either not heard of it or have gotten a bad understanding of it due to violent interactions and the like). I eventually came to the view that Hell and Purgatory were one and the same, for example (essentially Origenism, since I believe Hell is a place of purging and not eternal damnation). Having viewed the theologians and apologists on both sides of the argument, I tend to prefer the Universalist side all the more now.

    Unlikely I will ever change, which doesn’t bother me, even if I am wrong. I take no delight in the thought of being in paradise while those who suffered their whole lives in bitter, shameful loneliness, poverty, or abuse and died are tortured forever – my conscience would never allow me to love a being wicked enough to mete out such an unjust punishment which renders man incapable of doing true good (because any good you do to get to heaven or avoid hell is a purely selfish act). I have never been the type to be happy when I know others are miserable because I love other people too much to believe that.