Bishop Athanasius Schneider: The crisis of the Faith in the Church today

By H.E. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana

Rome Life Forum, 6 May 2016

The doctrines of rationalism, naturalism, anthropocentrism shape the frame of mind of the world today. Since the French Revolution they have conquered almost all sectors of public life and have invaded in progressive stages large areas of the Church’s life. At the beginning of the 21st century, we are witnessing an apostasy in the civil society, which resembles a direct and quasi-apocalyptic revolt against God Himself and against the divinely established order of the natural law.

In former times crises of faith, even when they had an almost universal reach, were nevertheless limited to a specific truth of faith (as for example Arianism in the 4th century). In times of enormous moral offences the sin was not justified theoretically, under the pretext of may be “pastoral” reasons or under the pretext of the mercy or tenderness of God, as one can hear often in our days. In those times, one had known that sin was sin and one has called a spade a spade. In our days, however, the dogmatic, moral and liturgical relativism reached unprecedented proportions inside the Church. In such times some ground-breaking and clear words of the Supreme Magisterium from modern times (19th and 20th centuries) reveal themselves being truly prophetic. In a situation, which is marked by obfuscation and in which the faithful receive not rarely an insipid spiritual nourishment on behalf of a culture of arbitrariness, such words of the Magisterium of our modern times have the effect of a healthy strong country bread and of a fresh sigh of relief. Indeed, they contain the true spirit of the Gospel and of the Apostles, and fill our mind and our soul with a heavenly unction and gives us a supernatural certainty and firmness.

Extracts from the First Vatican Council (Constitutio dogmatica, Dei Filius de fide catholica, cap. 4)

The immutability of the Catholic faith

“There came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world the doctrine of rationalism or naturalism,—utterly opposed to the Christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin,—which spares no effort to bring it about that Christ, who alone is our lord and savior, is shut out from the minds of people and the moral life of nations. Thus they would establish what they call the rule of simple reason or nature. The abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion, and the denial of God and his Christ, has plunged the minds of many into the abyss of pantheism, materialism and atheism, and the consequence is that they strive to destroy rational nature itself, to deny any criterion of what is right and just, and to overthrow the very foundations of human society.

“With this impiety spreading in every direction, it has come about, alas, that many even among the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of genuine piety, and as the truth was gradually diluted in them, their Catholic sensibility was weakened. Led away by diverse and strange teachings (Hebr. 13: 9) and confusing nature and grace, human knowledge and divine faith, they are found to distort the genuine sense of the dogmas which Holy mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and genuineness of the faith.

The obedience of faith

“Since human beings are totally dependent on God as their Creator and Lord, and created reason is completely subject to uncreated truth, we are obliged to yield to God the revealer full submission of intellect and will by faith. This faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the grace of God inspiring and assisting us, we believe to be true what He has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.

“Consequently, the situation of those, who by the heavenly gift of faith have embraced the Catholic truth, is by no means the same as that of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion; for those who have accepted the faith under the guidance of the Church can never have any just cause for changing this faith or for calling it into question.

“Hence, all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions, which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.

“For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed, is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained, which has once been declared by Holy Mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding (cf. Vincentius Lerinensis, Commonitorium, 28).

“In the performance of our supreme pastoral office, we beseech for the love of Jesus Christ and we command, by the authority of him who is also our God and savior, all faithful Christians, especially those in authority or who have the duty of teaching, that they contribute their zeal and labor to the warding off and elimination of these errors from the Church and to the spreading of the light of the pure faith.” (Constitutio dogmatica, Dei Filius de fide catholica, cap. 4)

Extracts from Pope St Pius X (Encyclical E supremi apostolatus, 1903)

War is now, almost everywhere, stirred up and fomented against God

“To eliminate all vain delusions, We say with emphasis that We do not wish to be, and with the Divine assistance never shall be aught before human society but the Minister of God, of whose authority We are the depositary. The interests of God shall be Our interest, and for these We are resolved to spend all Our strength and Our very life. A sacrilegious war is now, almost everywhere, stirred up and fomented against God. For in truth, ‘The nations have raged and the peoples imagined vain things’ (Ps. 2: 1.) against their Creator, so frequent is the cry of the enemies of God: ‘Depart from us’ (Job. 21: 14). And as might be expected we find extinguished among the majority of men all respect for the Eternal God, and no regard paid in the manifestations of public and private life to the Supreme Will – nay, every effort and every artifice is used to destroy utterly the memory and the knowledge of God.

“Such, in truth, is the audacity and the wrath employed everywhere in persecuting religion, in combating the dogmas of the faith, in brazen effort to uproot and destroy all relations between man and the Divinity! While, on the other hand, and this according to the same apostle (cf. 2 Thess. 2: 3) is the distinguishing mark of Antichrist, man has with infinite temerity put himself in the place of God, raising himself above all that is called God; in such wise that although he cannot utterly extinguish in himself all knowledge of God, he has contemned God’s majesty and, as it were, made of the universe a temple wherein he himself is to be adored. ‘He sits in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God’ (2 Thess. 2: 2).

“We shall never, however much we exert ourselves, succeed in calling men back to the majesty and empire of God, except by means of Jesus Christ. ‘No one,’ the Apostle admonishes us, ‘can lay other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3: 2). It is Christ alone … true God and true man: without whom nobody can know God with the knowledge for salvation, ‘neither does anyone know the Father but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him’ (Math. 11: 27). Hence, it follows that to restore all things in Christ and to lead men back to submission to God is one and the same aim. To this, then, it behoves Us to devote Our care – to lead back mankind under the dominion of Christ. When We say to God We do not mean to that inert being heedless of all things human which the dream of materialists has imagined, but to the true and living God, one in nature, triple in person, Creator of the world, most wise Ordainer of all things, Lawgiver most just, who punishes the wicked and has reward in store for virtue.

“The duty that has been imposed alike upon Us and upon all bishops consists in bringing back to the discipline of the Church human society. But, if our desire to obtain this is to be fulfilled, we must use every means and exert all our energy to bring about the utter disappearance of the enormous and detestable wickedness, so characteristic of our time – the substitution of man for God. This done, it remains to restore to their ancient place of honor the most holy laws and counsels of the Gospel; to proclaim aloud the truths taught by the Church, and her teachings on the sanctity of marriage, on the education and discipline of youth. We will use all our industry to attain it.

“An insufficient and defective religious instruction has as the result for a great many the loss of the faith. For it is not true that the progress of knowledge extinguishes the faith; rather is it ignorance, and the more ignorance in the doctrine of faith prevails, the greater is the havoc wrought by incredulity. And this is why Christ commanded the Apostles: ‘Going forth teach all nations’ (Math. 28: 19).

“The times we live demands action – but action which consists entirely in observing with fidelity and zeal the divine laws and the precepts of the Church, in the frank and open profession of religion, in the exercise of every kind of charitable works, without regard to self-interest or worldly advantage. Such luminous examples given by the great army of soldiers of Christ will be of much greater avail in moving and drawing men than words and sublime dissertations. … Oh! when in every city and village the law of the Lord is faithfully observed, when respect is shown for sacred things, when the Sacraments are frequented in the right disposition, and the ordinances of Christian life fulfilled, – it will also contribute largely to temporal welfare and the advantage of human society. It will be clear to all that the Church, such as it was instituted by Christ, must enjoy full and entire liberty and independence from all foreign dominion; and We, in demanding that same liberty, are defending not only the sacred rights of religion, but are also consulting the common weal and the safety of nations. For it continues to be true that ‘piety is useful for all things’ (1 Tim. 4: 8) – when this is strong and flourishing ‘the people will’ truly ‘sit in the fullness of peace’ (Is.32: 18).” (Encyclical E supremi apostolatus from October 4, 1903; numbers 4-5;8-9;12;14)

Extracts from Pope Pius XII (Encyclical Summi pontificatus, 1939)

The dethronement of Christ

“At the head of the road which leads to the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of the present day stand the nefarious efforts of not a few to dethrone Christ; the abandonment of the law of truth which He proclaimed and of the law of love which is the life breath of His Kingdom.

“In the recognition of the royal prerogatives of Christ and in the return of individuals and of society to the law of His truth and of His love lies the only way to salvation.”

The denial of the moral law destroys the unity of Europe

“The present age by adding new errors to the doctrinal aberrations of the past, has pushed these to extremes, which lead inevitably to a drift towards chaos. Before all else, it is certain that the radical and ultimate cause of the evils which We deplore in modern society is the denial and rejection of a universal norm of morality as well for individual and social life as for international relations; We mean the disregard, so common nowadays, and the forgetfulness of the natural law itself, which has its foundation in God, When God is hated, every basis of morality is undermined; the voice of conscience is stilled or at any rate grows very faint, that voice which teaches even to the illiterate and to uncivilized tribes what is good and what is bad, what lawful, what forbidden, and makes men feel themselves responsible for their actions to a Supreme Judge.

“The denial of the fundamentals of morality had its origin, in Europe, in the abandonment of that Christian teaching of which the Chair of Peter is the depository and exponent. That teaching had once given spiritual cohesion to a Europe which, educated, ennobled and civilized by the Cross, had reached such a degree of civil progress as to become the teacher of other peoples, of other continents. But, cut off from the infallible teaching authority of the Church, not a few separated brethren have gone so far as to overthrow the central dogma of Christianity, the Divinity of the Savior, and have hastened thereby the progress of spiritual decay.”

The exclusion of God from the public life

“The Holy Gospel narrates that when Jesus was crucified ‘there was darkness over the whole earth’ (Math. 27: 45); a terrifying symbol of what happened and what still happens spiritually wherever incredulity, blind and proud of itself, has succeeded in excluding Christ from modern life, especially from public life, and has undermined faith in God as well as faith in Christ. The consequence is that the moral values by which in other times public and private conduct was gauged have fallen into disuse; and the much vaunted civilization of society, which has made ever more rapid progress, withdrawing man, the family and the State from the beneficent and regenerating effects of the idea of God and the teaching of the Church, has caused to reappear, in regions in which for many centuries shone the splendors of Christian civilization, in a manner ever clearer, ever more distinct, ever more distressing, the signs of a corrupt and corrupting paganism: ‘There was darkness when they crucified Jesus’ (cf. Math. 27: 45).

“Many perhaps, while abandoning the teaching of Christ, were not fully conscious of being led astray by a mirage of glittering phrases, which proclaimed such estrangement as an escape from the slavery in which they were before held; nor did they then foresee the bitter consequences of bartering the truth that sets free, for error which enslaves. They did not realize that, in renouncing the infinitely wise and paternal laws of God, and the unifying and elevating doctrines of Christ’s love, they were resigning themselves to the whim of a poor, fickle human wisdom; they spoke of progress, when they were going back; of being raised, when they groveled; of arriving at man’s estate, when they stooped to servility. They did not perceive the inability of all human effort to replace the law of Christ by anything equal to it; ‘they became vain in their thoughts’ (Rom. 1: 21).

“With the weakening of faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and the darkening in men’s minds of the light of moral principles, there disappeared the indispensable foundation of the stability and quiet of that internal and external, private and public order, which alone can support and safeguard the prosperity of States.

“The ‘Catholic Church, the City of God, whose King is Truth, whose law love and whose measure eternity’ (Saint Augustine, Ep. 138 Ad Marcellinum, 3, 17), preaching fearlessly the whole truth of Christ and toiling as the love of Christ, demands with the zeal of a mother, stands as a blessed vision of peace above the storm of error and passion awaiting the moment when the all-powerful Hand of Christ the King shall quiet the tempest and banish the spirits of discord which have provoked it.

“Do you, too, pray, you whose courageous profession of the Faith entails today hard, painful and not rarely, heroic sacrifices; pray you, suffering and agonizing members of the Church, when Jesus comes to console and to heal your pains, and do not forget with the aid of a true spirit of mortification and worthy practice of penance to make your prayers more acceptable in the eyes of Him, that He in His mercy may shorten the days of trial and that thus the word of the Psalmist may be verified: ‘Then they cried to the Lord in their affliction: and he delivered them out of their distresses’ (Ps. 106: 13).

“And you, white legions of children who are so loved and dear to Jesus, when you receive in Holy Communion the Bread of Life, raise up your simple and innocent prayers and unite them with those of the Universal Church. The heart of Jesus, Who loves you, does not resist your suppliant innocence. Pray every one, pray uninterruptedly: ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5: 17)”. (Encyclical Summi pontificatus from October 20, 1939; numbers 21-22; 28-32; 110; 113-114)

A great bishop of our days, the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen, made some very striking affirmations which confirm perfectly the prophetic voice of the Supreme Magisterium already in the 19th century (Pius IX and First Vatican Council) and of the first half of the 20th century (Pius X and Pius XII).

Extracts from Archbishop Fulton Sheen

“The Antichrist will not be so called; otherwise he would have no followers. He will not wear red tights, nor vomit Sulphur, nor carry a trident nor wave an arrowed tail as Mephistopheles in Faust. This masquerade has helped the Devil convince men that he does not exist. When no man recognizes, the more power he exercises. God has defined Himself as ‘I am Who am,’ and the Devil as ‘I am who am not.’ Nowhere in Sacred Scripture do we find warrant for the popular myth of the Devil as a buffoon who is dressed like the first ‘red.’ Rather is he described as an angel fallen from heaven, as ‘the Prince of this world,’ whose business it is to tell us that there is no other world. His logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment then evil is good and good is evil. But above all these descriptions, Our Lord tells us that he will be so much like Himself that he would deceive even the elect–and certainly no devil ever seen in picture books could deceive even the elect. How will he come in this new age to win followers to his religion? The pre-Communist Russian belief is that he will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves. . . The third temptation in which Satan asked Christ to adore him and all the kingdoms of the world would be His, will become the temptation to have a new religion without a Cross, a liturgy without a world to come, a religion to destroy a religion, or a politics which is a religion–one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s. In the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality, he will have one great secret, which he will tell to no one: he will not believe in God. Because his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect. He will set up a counter-church, which will be the ape of the Church, because he, the Devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the Antichrist that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ.” (Communism and the Conscience of the West).

“If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church, which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because he called Himself the Truth. If the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself.” (Preface, Radio Replies)

“The world may disagree with the Church, but the world knows very definitely with what it is disagreeing. In the future as in the past, the Church will be intolerant about the sanctity of marriage, for what God has joined together no man shall put asunder; she will be intolerant about her creed, and be ready to die for it, for she fears not those who kill the body, but rather those who have the power to cast body and soul into hell.” (Moods and Truths)

“Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error … Architects are as intolerant about sand as foundations for skyscrapers as doctors are intolerant about germs in the laboratory. Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.” (Old Errors and New Labels)