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After The Recent Coup Attempt, Christians Must Speak Up And Resist Evil Coming From Within The Church

After The Recent Coup Attempt, Christians Must Speak Up And Resist Evil Coming From Within The Church January 11, 2021

Tyler Merbler: Storming of the United States Capitol /Wikimedia Commons

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said it is better for the body to lose its eye or hand than to use them for evil:

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matt. 5:29-30 RSV).

Interpreters of the text have long understood that Jesus’ words were not literal; he was not telling us to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands. He was, however, making a point. We should root out the causes of evil when we can do so. Realizing that the text is not literal led commentators to interpret the “eye” and the “hand” allegorically. One way to do so was to see the body being discussed as being the church. If so, then the eye could be seen as an evil bishop, and the hand a deplorable priest:

Hence, if this type of eye, that is, bishop, through his depraved faith and disgraceful manner of life becomes a scandal to the church, he commands him to be plucked out, that is, cast out of the body, lest the people be held guilty for his sin. For it is written that “a little leaven corrupts the whole lump” [1 Cor 5:6]. And again, “Remove the evil man from your midst” [1 Cor 5:13]. The hand is understood to signify a priest who, if he holds to a depraved faith or does not lift uprightly, creates a scandal to God’s people. The Lord commands that he be cut off, that is, cast out, lest the church becomes defiled by his sin.[1]

If a bishop or a priest would cause scandal to the church by the way they live, or by what they teach, St. Chromatius of Aquileia says the church needs to swiftly do away with them, lest the church “becomes defiled” by “sin.”  It is clear, with the number of terrible bishops and priests found in church history, let alone in contemporary society, the church is slow to do this, and as a result, the church consistently finds itself riddled with the scandal. Its reluctance to deal with malignant clerics has given those clerics the freedom to conspire against the church and its teachings, which is what we see with those clerics (priests and bishops) who routinely misrepresent Pope Francis: their voice is heeded, and the criticisms used against the Pope lead their listeners to believe false things about the church and its teachings.

Social justice is routinely denied by the same people who push for and follow an extremely legalistic morality which knows no mercy nor grace. But, it is not just that they know no mercy, their morality is incomplete; they are selective in what they find troubling and to be of concern. Everything else is relativized or denied. This is why some many such public voices can be found denying core principles of Catholic teaching while pretending to preserve the Catholic faith. They use the few teachings they hold, in the most literal, and unrelenting fashion, as indication of their fidelity, but it is all a ruse, as they end up misunderstanding and misapplying those very principles in order to justify ignoring the whole of Catholic teaching. “I have to be pro-life,” some say, meaning, anti-abortion, while they ignore countless deaths from pandemics, poverty, and various grave injustices, such as those promoted by white supremacy.

Thus, we find an important truth in the works of St. Bede “But without any doubt false brethren are those who are within oppress the Church more than open enemies who assail it from without.” [2] Those within the church who try to undermine the full teachings of the Catholic faith, either by ignoring them, or criticizing them with bad arguments, do the church a far greater disservice than any who would speak out and criticize the church from without. It should not be surprising those outside the church will look to the church and criticize what they do not agree with, even as they criticize the bad which people within the church do. On the other hand, those who claim positions of teaching authority, and use it to undermine the church’s teaching, are causing scandal; so long as the church allow them to continue and do nothing to stop it, or worse, as long as authorities in the church seem to give some credence to those causing such scandal, the church truly suffers due to a grave evil from within.

EWTN, with its constant and misleading criticism of Pope Francis (and with it, its commentary on politics, founded upon similar misrepresentation of Catholic teaching), is a prime example of a voice causing scandal in the church. That it has not been silenced, that priests have not been told not to work with them and give them succor in their attacks against the Pope, shows why so many Catholics in the United States (and abroad) hold false opinions about the Pope and church teaching. EWTN holds a very vocal presence in Catholic media, with many parishes actively promoting their materials for their congregations. Other media outlets, some owned by the same people who own EWTN, and some which are not, like CatholicVote, Crisis, Church Militant, and LifesiteNews all have the same problem: they misrepresent Catholic teaching, attack Pope Francis and official declarations made by the Vatican, and give cover to extremists whose views are among those causing chaos within the United States today (such as can be seen in the way the recent coup attempt in the Capitol has been treated by many such sources, with some of them giving active support to those involved in the attempted coup, and others trying to make the coup attempt to appear as being merely a mild protest, instead of the deadly assault which could have led to the execution of members of Congress or the Vice President if one of the rioters had caught up to them).  It is clear, many Catholic media figures have their hands in with the riots, and now, more than ever, it is time for the church to act (even if it is after the fact, it is better late than never, lest without proper discipline, the church finds those unrighteous group grows in size and power as no ecclesial authority does anything to stop them).

So many of those who supported the riots, because they reject President Elect Biden, will likely continue to support militant attempts to take over the United States. Many of them are Catholics. They will continue to use abortion as justification for what they do, saying until abortion is dealt with, none of the other concerns matter (though, if they found themselves under attack by a would-be mugger on the street, I doubt they would find it pleasing if some police officer said they could not and would not come to help until all abortions are first put to an end).

Many, likewise, try to claim their desire for “freedom” justifies what they do. They claim freedom is under attack, and so they must resist – though of course, if one looks at their record, they are not promoting freedom, they are not supporting liberty for all – they seek only power for themselves, showing they confuse power without responsibility with freedom. Freedom always comes with responsibilities and obligations. Free speech does not mean unregulated speech just as religious liberty does not mean one can claim a religious exemption for anything – including killing another person. Thus, Bede, understanding their ideology, warned us:

But on the other hand they use their freedom as a cloak for maliciousness who, the less they are restrained by the yoke of human service, are the more widely set free for the oppression of sins, and when they become servants of vices with impunity, they call this freedom and cover up their fault under this name.[3]

Freedom without responsibility is not freedom. Freedom without regulations is chaos. Freedom is established and followed only in relation to the common good. Preserving order, preserving the common good, establishes the grounds in which freedom can exist; deny that order, and there can be no freedom, only those with power and those without. Those who want to ignore the common good, those who fight against basic rights, those who ignore those in need, cannot claim freedom as their justification, because they are fighting against freedom in what they say and do.[4]

St. Salvian in his own day was saddened by the way Christians failed to follow the teachings of Christ. They should know better, and so should do better, and if they did not, they are more culpable for what they do: “Therefore, for this very reason, Christians are worse because they should be better. They do not practice what they preach, and they struggle against the faith by their morals. All the more blameworthy is evil which the label of goodness accuses, and the holy name Is the crime of an unholy man.” [5] When Christians ignore the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, when they ignore the preferential option for the poor and oppressed found throughout Scripture, when they focus on secondary sins instead of those sins which cry out to God, Christians have a problem, and that means, the world also has a problem. If Christians will not live out the dictates of Christ, if Christians will not be the salt of the earth, how can we expect others to do so? How can the world be preserved in holiness when Christians ignore the dictates of holiness?

The church can and must do better. The church must take action. It must denounce those who promote hate, in all its forms (racism, sexism, religious bigotry, et. al), and affirm the teaching of love, the source and foundation of Christian holiness. For God is love, and that love goes out to all the world. Such love must seek for the good of all, not a few. “Surely, love is the beginning and the end of every virtue. May it comes to pass that we enjoy a true and constant love for others and that we come to the kingdom of heaven through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power forever and ever.”[6]

Christians must stand up for what is good and just. They must act in and with that love. They must speak out when the common good is denied and when hate runs rampant, especially from within the church. They must realize they cannot ignore the common good and think they are holy because they engage some sort of personal devotion: fasting while hating one’s neighbor only leads to hunger for all. “What is the benefit of fasting when calumny acts wantonly in thy lips? What is the emaciation of the body, when thy tongue is fattened and takes delight in reviling thy neighbour?”[7] And when those who try to speak for the church ignore, or reject, the common good, Christians must respond; they must make it clear those voices resist the teaching of Christ and do not speak for the church. When so many Christians act unjustly and seek to overtake the common good by engaging a coup, Christians must wonder what happened and work to prevent it from happening again, If we fail to speak as we should, then it is indeed on us, and we will be held responsible for what happens from our silence. We find ourselves in a delicate time. Christians are acting against the common good and claiming their actions are what Christianity is about. We must not allow those voices to be seen as authentically representing the Christian faith. Yes, they are Christians, but they are bad followers of Christ. They are Christians, but their teachings and ideologies are not Christian. We must make this clear. Until we do so, non-Christians will look at and point to such evil, and use it to justify their rejection of the Christian faith. And who can blame them?

 


[1] St. Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermons and Tractates on Matthew. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (New York: Newman Press, 2018), 201-2 [Tractate 23].

[2] St. Bede, On First Samuel. Trans. Scott DeGregorio and Rosalind Love (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2019), 388.

[3] Venerable Bede, “Commentary on 1 Peter” in Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles. Trans. Dom. David Hurst, OSB (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1985), 92.

[4] It is also telling, so many of them, complaining about lack of free speech on the internet, are among the first to silence their critics on sites which they own.

[5] Salvian the Presbyter, “The Governance of God” in The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter. Trans. Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1962) 123.

[6] St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1982), 269 [Homily 10].

[7] St. Photius, The Homilies of Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Trans. Cyril Mango (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1958; repr. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 226 [Homily XIII].

 

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