The true force of belief is glossed-over in the displacement, just one step away from Christ’s actual rising, to the belief of generations in the apostles’ persuasion of masses that they’d seen Jesus after the resurrection. At an appropriate break for questions I had to ask: why this deliberate emphasis as opposed to basis in the fact of the Resurrection? Mine was an ontological qualification to a subtle epistemic gloss.
I’m tempted to dive into why this is important, in fact crucial to the soul of a true believer — especially one whose belief is so unshaken that he or she will die for it. But let me relate the response. Our lecturer said, ‘since we do not know the minute when the resurrection is supposed to have occurred, we have to acknowledge that belief could only be transmitted by the attestation of those who saw Jesus some time afterwards.’ In other words, absent eyewitness of the Resurrection moment, faith is based not on it, but on others who believed in it.
We can’t know the Resurrection as ‘fact’, so the argument goes, even if the Lord seen coming and going later, we might. It doesn’t seem to dawn on discerning sophisticates that one who was seen to die and be buried, and later to ascend to heaven, couldn’t have been cavilling about resurrection. The beloved disciple believed, first thing Sunday morning, not by seeing a bolt of light, or hearing Magdalene’s story, but at seeing an empty tomb, seals burst and grave-cloths rolled up.
You’ve probably heard much the same glossing, perhaps trussed in terms of myth and mystagogy. What matters more to deconstructivists is the human act of witness - the heady stuff of moving legend - as compared to the divine acts of God. Yet these are witnessed not so much by devotees as by the foretelling of scripture and Jesus’ words, by logic, and by his Spirit. That’s how Philip’s eunuch believed.
I would lighten-up the scholar’s gravitas at mythology as found by anthropologists in the recesses of human culture. Who in their right mind would die for a myth? To be sure, some have died for myths, or have been sacrificed to them. But in plain language today, making myth of the gospel is as bad as making mirth. Modern-day people take myth to be dismissive, if overwrought and enthused-about as symbol. Boosting a fact to symbol and semiotic is to damn it by feigned praise.
My ex tempore response in class was that Thomas came to believe not even by way of the convictions of his closest confreres and colleagues. From the beginning, Barnabas had needed to come to Jesus, and Simon too: a real and present encounter with Christ had to occur. Indeed Jesus’ lesson in Thomas was that nearly none would have believed, had He continued in absence. Now, if Thomas and the others needed encounter, an encounter that is made at every Mass (they had not as yet celebrated their first one), who can presume to rest their belief on human testimony alone?
Pace St. Paul in his noting the sine qua non of hearing, true belief in the Lordship of the historical Jesus, “has been revealed not by flesh and blood .. but my Father in heaven.” When Jesus says “bless’t those who have not seen, yet believe”, He wasn’t requiring blind faith - even in the hearing - but warm faith in the encounter that hearing can bring, even in an invisible encounter.
For all the good will it bespeaks (“we will go and die with you”), and as precondition to a meaningful encounter, human witness at best can arrive at the threshold of faith: ‘believing that’ as a credal set of precepts, dogma, and doctrine. To ‘believe in’ is person-to-Person, and requires the embraced action of the Holy Spirit. Thus the inner witness to salvation is way past the words of men! It consists of a threesome: the Water (baptism), the Blood (eucharist), and the Spirit.
As to the Spirit, only His incarnate Divinity [speaking here of the Spirit as the soul of Christ] makes scripture alive, and no dead letter. The ‘life’ of the living Word is not the ‘liveliness’ of well-crafted letters on a page, engaging as it might be for Harry Potter fans. It is the origin and essence of Life itself, which no physical lab or writing lab can create. The words of God literally give Life to a moribund soul.
We must concede on this path of reflection that the first supernature-meets-nature encounters with the risen Lord were apparitions: with Magdalene in the morning and disciples at Emmaus approaching evening [already Jesus was showing a predilection for the ‘royal priesthood’ - the laity], and in the upper room with the apostles. Even so, these were apparitions on the day of which we chant “this is the Day the Lord has made!” It was made by Him, not by us; by His facts, not our capacity for others’ testimony or their capacity to persuade.
Presence and absence
So much to the everlasting reality of Sunday. As to the apparitions let’s remember they were set up to the threshold with everyone having first seen for themselves or heard reports early that morning that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb that had been sealed. Absence prompted the yearning (and his mother’s pondering) which the Lord would consummate with His real and visceral, palpable Presence. A philosopher has said (surprising for a Thomist) ‘the essence of personhood is presence’: as Elijah well perceived in the ineffable silence.
Luther’s influence on the notion of Presence reduced it to an entirely communitarian crowd-think, taking “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst” to have the grammatical equivalence of identified terms, as opposed to the rhetorical force of a divine promise. That would mean Jesus identified himself (or rather his followers identified him) with mere Christian plurality.
But rhetoric, especially in Jesus’ mouth, far transcends our literality. “Zeal for my Father’s house has consumed me” - even if quoting one whom the Word had long since inspired - is hyperbole, for this same Lord was very present at Horeb, in an un-consuming fire. He is not consumed, but his zeal would consume Him [if it could].
If in marriage or ordination I say, to paraphrase Saint Patrick, “I bind myself this day”, I don’t mean that nature addicts and enslaves me. Rather, I vow to be ever thine, ever available to thee. A marvel of sacramental grace seals it as a promissory bond not merely by oath, but in union with Christ. Likewise when Jesus said “do this in memory of me” He meant not in memoriam, but “in My memory” - a living and abiding Mind ever to deliver what He promises. Even in our halting ICEL missal language, we say ‘perpetual memorial’ to signify it is not limited by the entropic memory of human minds or culture.
To see this about the Eucharist, which Luther might have known but forgot or foresook, we note that in the sacred Species reposing, Jesus is present whether or not someone is there in chapel chatting about or praying to Him. He did not say “I am there only when two or more gather in my name”. He guaranteed, or warranted by His name (which with God is the same thing), that “when they are, I will to be there.” He carries out this will in the most extraordinary way by elevating our bodily nature with himself as the bread of angels.
Returning to our professor’s didactic goodwill, it was generously offered to Catholic sacristans or others who might be saddled with organizing the readings and music, or the Prayer of the Faithful, for Mass or a Eucharistic para-liturgy. It was well received by leaders from various parishes, being the only session of its kind in the archdiocese this year. Mind you, our Canadian Martyrs then proposed a complement series later in the year, to answer burning questions. The martyrdom of those Jesuits at burning pyres then inspired this essay.
With a solid number of engaged pupils, it surprising that none seemed to pick-up on the shift of belief from a divine fact to the human report of believers long since passed from hearing. In the latter perspective my daughter, born after the life of Churchill, could acquire as deep a regard, sympathy and emulation of Winston as any disciple might gain of Jesus. Would she die for the memory of the man ?
The anechoic reception of my point brought me to realize that this problem runs deeply, as a fissure or fault-line through the Church. I don’t think it’s the product of a Vatican council, but the cause of its frequent misapplication. It has to do with what popes Benedict and Francis have called-out as the gulf between knowing of, and knowing. Christians are, like Job, called to knowing: “I know that my redeemer lives, and on the last day I shall rise again.”
It is now 500 years since 95 theses of Luther marked the opening salvo of the ‘protestant reformation’. Shakeup impatient for an end-run at the van of Catholic reformation is what I call it, while fundamentalists see it as pre-empting the Catholic reformation. Now, Catholic neo-orthodox reformists habitually fret that their modern council is at risk of being preempted by pre-existing Catholics who couldn’t have got revelation right, to save their souls.
Fifty years ago, a little after council’s close, blessed Paul VI wrote his prophetic Humanae Vitae, only to meet wide dissent from theologians. Their claim on non-magisterial ‘collegiality’ stands as testimony that the neo-orthodox or ultraModernist dissident notions had made inroads well before the Vatican council. Dissenters could and would claim authority from Hans Kung, but the incursion took root earlier: in post-war, soft-on-socialism Karl Barth, and in discovered scriptural fragments at Qumran, and gnostic gospel versions at Nag Hammadi: all coming to the fore by 1950.
In a fear like that of the unheralded power of the H-bomb, new discoveries of biblical sources and gnostic interpretations portended to bowl exegetes on their ears: scholarly uncertainties (many still remaining) opened a crack in the edifice of belief. For instance, while the Nag Hammadi were shown to be heretically gnostic, there yet remain advocates of the Gospel of Thomas despite gnostic elements; and before 1957 even evangelist orators like Charles Templeton declared for unbelief (he went on to write a gnostic ‘novel’: Act of God in 1977, whose premise is the Resurrection story as contrivance).
Not to say that anti-papal dissent has to have gnostic elements, but dissent does require authority arrogated outside of magisterial infallibility. No less than for ‘gnostic’ Christianity, the assumed authority of self or community indulges permission to differ. After the council in which he was a consultant among other closet dissidents, Hans Kung opened up on his disbelief in papal or magisterial infallibility. But he had already been interdicted in 1963 for too great a support of Karl Barth’s universalism and ‘neo-orthodoxy’ (critiqued by E. Brunner  and C. Van Til  respectively).
In the face of the post-war ferment long before the council, if you did not embrace Christ personally, as evangelicals had come to emphasize, or ‘made Him your own’, you were destined for real trouble. The brittle edifice of chilly doctrine, fixed firm like clenched jaws in the mind, would not sustain the heady stream of uprising doubt. And indeed, very many Catholics stopped attending their Church after Vatican II.
A fair-minded person may suppose the Catholic neo-Lutheran ideas, about community and mind as the epistemic ground of sacred fideism, were conceived in a view to arm believers with stoical faith, rarefied to bare essentials, just in case the Dead Sea scrolls should prove to vitiate centuries of biblical Christianity, such as whether Jesus really said there’s a Hell, or salvation would be seized by the few.
Stoicism might salve a broken jaw of doctrine, but at the critical cost of retreating from the objects of belief - that is Person(s) - as real. A toe-hold on confidence might be there in the great longevity of a Church built on testimony and a trust in the Spirit of faith to make that testimony transformative. But the elevation of modern pedagogy over fideism was a lamentable step that made a deep rift, slow-acting like sclerotic toxin. In fact, with names like ‘didactics’ and ‘dialectics’, it vitiated and supplanted apologetics: it lost all saltiness.
Momentous and pivotal is this mid-century penetration of Catholic theology by non-Catholic ideas, like doubt whether anyone is in Hell [or whether it exists] and contortion or omission of scriptural meaning for one’s own purposes - the gnostic and the lutherian pincers.
Karl Barth - unusual for a protestant - took steps to elevate pious regard for Mary above the chill response of Charles Pusey to John Henry Newman’s tome on the mother of God. It may have been a bid for ecumenism with the Eastern Church; but he rejected actual veneration of Mary. Newman hd drawn short of ‘continental’ enthusiasm such as de Montfort’s True Devotion, and he opposed the Immaculate Conception declaration, not because he didn’t believe it, but because it seemed speculative theology inopportune for ecumenism.
Newman was read in Germany, having - in his teaching on conscience - a keen influence on the activism of the Munich White Rose student movement, which cost them, including heroic young Sophie Scholl, literally their heads. Sophie is now one of the patrons of free Europe.
A throw-back to Newman may have appealed to Barth as latitude to approach a restrained faction of Catholicism and keep at bay the ebullient. Kuhn, Barth’s Catholic disciple, even deplored the papal declaration of Mary’s Assumption as an excessive exercise of infallibility, just when pope Pius XII was preparing, with Fulgens Corona, the first historic year of Marian devotion from 1953-54.
That was just thirty years before the centenary of satan’s infamous boast to destroy the Church by 1984 (had George Orwell known that?). Only 33 years further, perhaps with a sigh of relief, pope John-Paul II declared the second such year in history with Redemptoris Mater  (followed in 1989 by Redemptoris Custos on St. Joseph as protector of the Church). In 1984 itself, John-Paul visited Canada where - at Downsview airport clearing under a rainy sky - a diminutive catechumen said in my hearing “shoot him; shoot him”. Conspicuous too was the boycott by Catholic schools in Toronto. And the year before, when (then) cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave a moving speech in Toronto for the correction of dissident theologians like Charles Curran, he was openly boo’ed by ‘teachers’ of Catholic teachers.
A capsulated simplicity, as above, makes it necessary to realize how pivotal was this mid-20th century tremor. Its subtlety and - shall we say ‘dialectic’ - of contraries poised it like two tectonic plates, snaking and mounting lethal deistic vs. theistic pressure along a fault-line.
Emil Brunner, a bold critic of Barth’s method of counterpoise (which he called ‘dialectical’ after Hegel), was in fact one of Barth’s allies in opposing theological liberalism led by F. Schleiermacher. Was Barth feigning this opposition, or did he just think that Schleiermacher’s brand of liberalism wasn’t sophisticated enough?
To take a not unjustified liberty, I group Schleiermacher and Heidegger with 93 other intellectuals who supported German elitist and nationalist ideals in 1914. A potent picture of this bookend to the 95 theses emerges, begetting more gratitude for Barth’s Barmen declaration  of a small but growing minority position against the Nazification and neoPagan heresies (cf. ‘Jesus the superman’) in Hitler’s nationalized [DEK] German church, which largely grew out of the 1914 hegemony.
That nerve gave Barth such post-war street cred, that he could get away with the ‘dialectic’ statement of deploring communism yes, but still more anti-communism. Thus Barth was a clear if unwitting member of the Frankfurt school of ‘higher criticism’ sympathetic to Socialist ideals, even if they are marred with atheistic materialism.
Western sympathy for socialist ideology (not just a political but an existential one) had begun by 1908 with US journals The Call (so styled contra the Christian ‘vocation’) and then The Masses, followed by The Liberator (Moses and Jesus would be included as social rebels) which morphed through various contortions into The Communist whose title changed in 1945 to Political Affairs. That journal is still active online, with hardly a hiccup from 1989’s purported ‘fall of communism’. A regime fell, but not the ideology still seen alive in the divisive ideas of (Catholic) Liberation Theology.
Even Dorothy Day, a convert in 1927, could not fully extricate herself from all the strands of socialism’s rope. Thus Barth’s dialectical paradox is leitmotif for the sub-surface division spreading in the Catholic church. One side - more or less ‘horizontal’ and communitarian - sees eschatology as requiring social justice to build the City of God literally on the face of the planet without a mystical parousia, and with a ‘universalist’ bent that downplays sin: thus altering soteriology. The other - more ‘vertical’ with a first duty for each to guard his soul for salvation (and so amenable to the ‘personal relationship with Christ’) - sees the necessity of a final judgment, the reality of Hell and the marvel of divine Mercy redeeming and justifying many from the ‘all’ who have sinned. The latter does not feel that the Mercy grasped by the former is palpable and real, since (vitually) all are saved despite themselves.
Increasing polarization between these opposed tectonic plates, produces a ‘politics of polemics’ and increased separation of their centres of mass - though not their pressurized contact surfaces. Such standoff opposes the draw to the virtuous middle road. It’s not unlike the wedge between sadducees and pharisees: one who downplayed the spiritual or its power to resurrect physical bodies, the other obsessing over law to neglect of its Spirit. Jesus condemned the excesses of both: to one “you err very greatly” and to those who said he had a demon “this is not a sin that cannot admit of mercy” [I paraphrase].
Their polarization pushed away from any rapprochement where sadducees could be at least more open to saving doctrine, and pharisees more attentive to heartfelt duties toward God. They drove their centroids further apart while pressing into more corrosive contact and opposition, such as Paul could use to his advantage. The benefit to Paul’s skin couldn’t help the faith of either camp, and since both ceased to exist after the cataclysmic sack of Jerusalem, they may have missed it altogether in their own lives.
So far as this my parable goes, the danger is growing for the socialist-sadducee and the recalcitrant pharisee critical masses in the Church to suffer another great schism. A number of women misled by dissident prelates to have themselves ordained (though invalidly) as priestesses - one group aboard ship in the St. Lawrence river bordering the U.S. and Canada - have broken themselves off as a splinter schismatic ‘church’, losing all the blessings of Christ in the Church they purport to ‘serve’ as sirens.
A now emeritus Canadian bishop who led much of the Liberation Theology camp, was responsible for an ill-advised hasty declaration in 1969 contrary to Humanae Vitae, for private conscience as opposed to objective sin. A vast Canadian following of the Winnipeg Statement then rendered the general Catholic public indistinguishable from the secular public in its acceptance of abortion and the contraceptive mentality or ‘culture of death’ as saint John Paul aptly called it.
A series of Catholic prime ministers - none of them ever excommunicated - have been progressively liberal social engineers, starting with Pierre Trudeau (groomed by non-Catholic Lester Pearson, a population controlist) who decriminalized abortion and homosexual acts, followed with Jean Chretien and Paul Martin who legalized same-sex marriages, and now Justin Trudeau who legalized euthanasia and undemocratically excluded observant Christians from the Liberal party. In a nazifying move, he also expelled from public funding youth who do not parrot his false dogma that abortion is a human right.
These noisome attainments, to demolish in public law a place for moral principles, would never have been possible without a key factor: the failure of Catholic schools to impart the true faith that they managed to uphold before 1950. Many of the necessary votes in Liberal caucus to support all these initiatives came from elected MPs who had attended Catholic schools in Ontario and Quebec since the 1960s. Even conscientious amendments, such as to not coerce medical practitioners to participate in abortions or euthanasia, were defeated by the same members of parliament.
An inside look, into the formation of Catholic teachers in Ontario in 1984 was revealing. I found already operating there with great confidence and long-standing ‘tradition’ a whole spectrum of open heresies and teachings contrary to the Christian faith, let alone the Catholic deposits, patrimony, papal wisdom, and doctrinal development. Their primary methods were Marxist, best friends Charles Curran, Matthew Fox and Gregory Baum, and central leitmotif theological revolution. They oggled themselves as superior pedagogues .. not least because they had the most direct impact on present and future young minds, but also because they had been left alone to their devices by bishops since at least the council a generation before.
One lone bishop dared to knock their hornet’s nest, firing one of their principal agitators from a teaching position, and immediately they banded into a commission hell-bent on making the prelate’s public life horrid and image travestied [the same ones who boo’ed cardinal Ratzinger and declared pope Benedict a German guard-dog grown up from the Hitler Youth]. At least one of them on the occasion of his election left the Church saying, “I have not left: the Church has left me!”.
In 1985 an NGO that makes a great deal of the struggle for a culture of Life arranged an international conference in Toronto. As was pope John-Paul just earlier, so was this outreach to Catholic schools firmly boycotted. Backed by the principals and most school-board members, who opposed even then a promotion of chastity as morally and healthily normative, no Toronto school sent student delegates to the free and even catered ‘Youth Day’ component of this conference.
These cursory examples of the failure and even the obdurate opposition of Catholic schools in conveying sound faith and saving doctrine are based on my eye witness, confirmed by many others. Even in Ottawa, whose schools had launched dissident teachings, eg. on the moral legitimacy of non-marital sex acts and multiple partners, the schools were lost. One of them proudly sported the name Lester Pearson: a non-Catholic who had legalized contraception and advocated coercive population reduction.
At the feet of these schools, and those formerly in Quebec (until Liberal justice minister Pauline Marois - who later became the separatist premier with the ‘kulturkampf’ decree of values - deconfessionalized all schools, clearly recognizing that the Catholic ones were no longer ‘separate’ from the secular ones): at the feet of these pedagogues and administrators we must lay the fruit of the Quiet Revolution: a set of incoherent doctrines that play entirely into the social engineering of a post-Cristian world. And were there any martyrs for the cause? None.
Another schism ?
So then, is the Church in schism, or is schism imminent? Many writers and commentators in Catholic media have said so. I would rather think that the Church is in the morbid tension (or traction) of schism that can break her apart any day now, a day that will make those writers correct and my hand of hope folded or moot. Perhaps that has already happened in Ireland!
It may at the same time be a Merciful answer to prayer that the tension is becoming so painful, even from the very top, that the imminence of schism is felt and evident. Only facing it down in prayer, head-on, can hope to avert the fractal disaster and the technologized replay of the ‘wars of religion’ that scandalized the world. Taking sheer numbers of the innocent oppressed and destroyed, abortion alone declares that a mass war is on, of genocidal proportions.
A dramatic increase of officially recognized Marian apparitions has been taking place steadily since 1917, when in the last apparition she appeared (to 70,000 witnesses, many secular and atheist) with Joseph holding the child Jesus and blessing the crowd. In all such apparitions she is warning of the approaching chastisement - which cannot be endured if the world wars pale by comparison. And by comparison they should do, because little of these wars had so much forewarning [though the 1917 apparitions did foretell WWII and the Cold War]. Also because the living Word speaks of a ‘final ordeal’ without mentioning anything lesser, such as we’ve seen in the ‘war to end all wars’ and then the vast Jewish holocaust, the ordeal must be virtually unendurable. Indeed Jesus said the times would have to be shortened, lest even the very elect be lost [in despair].
Is it again a time for the witness of martyrs to the faith, now near the end bookmarking the bloodied beginning? It would seem so. But if they’ve been emaciated and robbed of the faith in Catholic schools, where are they to come from? Could it be that they are already storming heaven: the millions victimized by abortion at the hands of deists at best and post-Christian atheists at worst? Or is jihad a chastisement that together with servile and fearful Western sycophants will gang up on the remnant of true belief as a ‘common enemy’?
Perhaps; but the only Church that could withstand such an onslaught is one that does not fall into schism yet again. Thus, since schism is imminent, what greater need of prayer for rapprochement and unity is there, than now? To me, the call is that prophesied by pope Leo XIII in 1889 [Quamquam Pluries] - for a renewed devotion to St. Joseph as the intercessor-protector of the universal Church; for he so protected the Holy Family in discernment, and God may be saying “my good and faithful servant, when they don’t even turn to you, my just hand will act”. Ite ad Joseph
(This is an academic article submitted to CNW - The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Catholic News World)