Emptying the Cross of its power

“Whosoever would be saved before all else it is necessary that he profess the Catholic Faith which faith unless he profess whole and entire with all its parts he will most certainly perish everlastingly.”

The Athanasian Creed

The year 1960 was a pivotal one in the history of the Church militant. Famously Sister Lucia of Fatima said that the Third Secret of Fatima should not be made known until that year, but when Pope John XXIII opened it, he pronounced it “not for our time” and put it away. The text of the secret released in the year 2000 contains an allegorical description of a devastated city built upon a mountain and the martyrdom of the remnant of the Church. With the benefit of hindsight, not a few people have concluded that it did refer to “our time” after all.

The position of the Church in western societies in 1960 was, if not quite dominant, commanding. In the light of what followed it is hard not to compare it to Our Lord’s own triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. Nevertheless, it was a position achieved over the previous eighty years by iron discipline and doctrinal purity. In 1960, the Church was in danger of becoming the victim of its own success. The tight-knit Catholic areas which had sustained the faith were breaking up, perhaps sometimes by hostile design but in many cases simply as a result of the prosperity and success of the communities themselves. In order to achieve the Social Kingship of Christ, the faithful needed at one and the same time to preserve the traditions by which the faith had been handed down to them, to transcend any ethnic particularism by which the evangelisation of the rest of society might have been impaired and to maintain the fidelity of heart and mind which had brought them to the brink of possible restoration.

This manoeuvre was not achieved and, as at the end of Holy Week, the flock was scattered. Before the end, the Catechism explains, the Church must pass through “a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth” (CCC 675). This is not (yet?) “a persecution of blood and death, but of craft and subtlety” such as worried St John Henry Newman.

Pope Benedict XVI conceded that, in the 1960s, the Church entered “a deep double crisis” which destroyed the faithful’s apostolic zeal and the willingness of Catholics to adhere to the canons of their own religion. The bewildered laity began to ask themselves, as the retired Pontiff explained:

“Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also, for Christians, an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated.”

In remarks reminiscent of the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pope Benedict reassures us that we have “top men” working on the problem, so we need not worry too much. Fortunately, we have already had top men look at the question for us for a couple of millennia:

“Friar Giacomo di Viterbo, Archbishop of Naples, often said to me that he believed, in accordance with the Faith and the Holy Spirit, that our Saviour had sent, as doctor of truth to illuminate the world and the universal Church, first the apostle Paul, then Augustine, and finally, in these latest days, Friar Thomas, whom, he believed, no one would succeed till the end of the world.”

Testimony of Bartolommeo di Capua at the hearing of the case for the canonisation of Saint Thomas, August 8, 1319.

In Ephesians 2:8–9, St Paul reminds us, “by grace you are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God. Not of works, that no man may glory”. It is not that works are unnecessary for salvation — they are — but nothing done prior to the reception of the faith can be meritorious in the sight of God, for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). As Our Lord tells the apostles immediately before the Ascension, “Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall he condemned” (Mk 16:15–16). We may not boast because this saving proclamation is not owed to us it is a free pardon restoring us to the favour of the eternal king.

“How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent?”

Rom 10:14–15

If it were possible, as the confused, scattered and dwindling Catholics of the early twenty-first century so often suppose, for “good people” to be saved, and only unimaginably wicked people to be lost, and even then repentance without belief would be enough to save the day, then salvation would be essentially by works. The necessity of faith, of proclamation, guarantees the gratuity of salvation and of the supernatural order, and it guarantees that the one justified apprehends that gratuity.

This is a matter of no small importance, for the evil one was happy to accept participation in the divine nature; he just would not accept it as gratuitous. It is not enough that man accepts God as the object of supernatural beatitude, he must accept that this is a gift to which man (or angel) has no right, either as sinner or simply as an intellectual creature. The enemy fell “desiring, as his last end of beatitude, something which he could attain by the virtue of his own nature, turning his appetite away from supernatural beatitude, which is attained by God’s grace” (Summa Theologica, Ia, 63, 3). Those who receive the saving proclamation of the gospel “are disposed to that justice when, aroused and aided by divine grace, receiving faith by hearing, they are moved freely toward God, believing to be true what has been divinely revealed and promised, especially that the sinner is justified by God by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification)

It would not be surprising if this heresy which has so devastated the Church were the persecution of craft and subtlety, the great religious deception prepared for the last days, for it must be a lie very dear to the enemy of our race. Pius X feared that the errors of his times were “a foretaste, and perhaps the beginning of those evils which are reserved for the last days”. He declared Modernism the “synthesis of all heresies” because it substitutes “religious sentiment” for saving faith. The Catholic must hold that “faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source, by which assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our Creator and Lord”; for the Modernist, in contrast, faith is “a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality” (Pius X, Oath Against Modernism). This “sentiment”, they maintain, is inherent to all intellectual creatures because the Modernist and their prince, “destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision” (Pius XII, Humani Generis).

Not only do these errors rage unimpeded through the Church today but, in most places, they are actually what goes by the name of “Catholic theology”.

Not only does Modernism remove all motivation for missionary activity, it actually deters it, because if it is not actually the Catholic faith which saves us then the articles of faith are not the terms of our pardon but are burdensome precepts of divine positive law of which, had we remained ignorant, we would have been free. For the Catholic, as St Paul explains, “if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). The gospel is something which we simply cannot know unless we are told. If we supposed it to consist in truth knowable by unaided reason, it would not save us. If we believed the good news could be proven, neither we nor those receiving such a false proclamation would receive any good from it “preach the gospel: not in wisdom of speech, lest the cross of Christ should be made void” (1 Cor 1:17).

For the Modernist and the Pharisee, the proclamation is a supererogatory act beneficial to the one who does it but positively harmful for the recipient. In fact, thus misconceived, it is ruinous for both, as Our Lord Himself explains:

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves.”

Mt 23:15

In fact, given the opposition which the Church still provokes (for the enemy knows that the gates of hell will not prevail), few of today’s scribes bestir themselves to cross land and sea (except perhaps for a conference of likeminded apostates).

“The hireling and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep and flieth: and the wolf casteth and scattereth the sheep, and the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep.”

Jn 10:12–13

The natural and divine laws cannot be separated, because the first requirement of the natural law is to worship God in the manner He has appointed: to discover and embrace the divine law. Just as the one for whom the Cross has been emptied of its power imagines that, if only he had never heard the gospel, his life would so much easier, so also he begins to conceive of even the precepts of the natural law as mere “rules” which the Church might “change” and about which the Creator could surely not be too punctilious.

“Heroism” Walter Kasper reassures us “is not for the average Christian”.

Leo XIII cannot agree. For though “man is able by the right use of reason to know and to obey certain principles of the natural law. But though he should know them all and keep them inviolate through life — and even this is impossible without the aid of the grace of our Redeemer — still it is vain for anyone without faith to promise himself eternal salvation” (Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus [1900], §11. And that faith demands of us everything: 

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Lk 14:26–27

Faith and works are necessary for salvation, but works without faith are empty, and faith without works is dead.