I have just completed at long last the part of this project that takes me from the 1st to the 2nd Œcumenical Council. A recent article thus struck a chord, ‘The World Episcopate and the German Apostasy’ (First Things blog, 10 March 2021), by George Weigel, American scholar and author, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.
He summons up the great Fathers of the Church whose struggles against heresy I have just been recounting. ‘As the names Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom suggest, the middle centuries of the first millennium, the era of the Church Fathers, were the golden age of the Catholic episcopate … Convinced that what happens in one part of the body has effects on the whole, bishops like Cyprian, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose, and Augustine did not hesitate to correct brother bishops they thought were mistaken in their doctrine or disciplinary practice—and sometimes did so in forceful language.’
Weigel is afraid that the ‘German Synodal Way’ of the Roman Catholic bishops of Germany is leading to apostasy. He quotes its ‘Fundamental Text’: ‘… there is no one truth of the religious, moral, and political world, and no one form of thought that can lay claim to ultimate authority,’ and points out that ‘It is apostasy, and apostasy in service to the postmodern creed that there may be ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’ but nothing properly describable as the truth. And lest you think that this approach will lead to a new tolerance of diversity, the Fundamental Text warns those who profess the Nicene Creed, rather than the postmodern creed, that they will be compelled to ‘support’ and ‘promote’ what they reject as departures from Christian faith.’
I am in complete sympathy with Weigel’s concern. The German bishops have forgotten Christ’s teaching: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’ (John 14:6) By rejecting the truth, they are prepared to change even the Christian understanding of marriage to something that has never before been heard of.
As St Irenæus of Lyons wrote in the 2nd century, ‘True knowledge is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor curtailment … and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts.’ (Adversus Omnes Hæreses, IV.xxxiii.8)
The ‘German Synodal Way’ reminds us once again that the Church’s struggle against heresy requires constant vigilance and the willingness to chastise and correct, even at the cost to ourselves, as did St Athanasius, five times exiled for his condemnation of the Arian heresy.
Occasional comments by a convert to Orthodoxy.