A Survivor’s Guide to Living in a Time of Aberrant Doctrine, Part I

News: Commentary
by Deacon Nick Donnelly  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 28, 2017   

It is clear that the Church is facing a grave crisis

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A week doesn't go by when there is news of a member of the clergy somewhere in the world making headlines for saying or doing something that appears to reject or contradict the doctrine of the Church. I've been told by older Catholics that the present times are bringing back bad memories of the doctrinal chaos and moral confusion following the Second Vatican Council. What Cdl. Henri de Lubac, S.J. wrote in 1967 seems to apply to the Church of 2017, "It is clear that the Church is facing a grave crisis. Under the name of 'the new Church,' 'the post-Conciliar Church,' a different Church from that of Jesus Christ is now trying to establish itself."

A different Church from that of Jesus Christ is now trying to establish itself.

Over Christmas a European bishop gave an interview in which he said that divorced and civilly "remarried" Catholics now have the "blessing of the Pope" to receive Holy Communion. He went on to assert that the use of contraception is "a decision of conscience" for couples and that Natural Family Planning was only a "recommendation" of the Church. He also went on to agree that homosexual persons can constitute a family. In this interview the bishop appears to undermine Sacred Scripture's teaching on homosexuality, Our Lord's teaching on adultery, Pope St. John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio, and Blessed Paul VI's Humanae Vitae. However, none of these aberrant doctrines can be found in the text of Amoris Laetitia.

During the same week Catholic media reported that a European Bishops' Conference website had posted an interview with a bishop in which he welcomed the fact that couples in "interdenominational" marriage were already receiving Holy Communion, and expressing the hope that during the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that this practice would be officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

So, in this time, when misleading statements on doctrine and morality in the Church are rife, how do we stay true to Christ and help our families survive with our faith intact? Sacred Scripture is full of guidance for such times and tips about how to save souls from being trapped in error and sin.

Beware of False Prophets

One of the consistent themes of both the Old Testament and the New Testament is God's warning against false prophets so that they are exposed and the faithful can distance themselves from them.

False Prophets in the Old Testament

The Old Testament condemns false prophets for presenting their own words as the word of God. In the Book of Jeremiah the Lord exposes false prophets for claiming as His divine word their own "lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds" (Jeremiah 14:14). In the Book of Ezekiel the Lord warns against false prophets who claim as divine inspiration the "prophesy of their own minds": "Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!" (Ezekiel 13:3).

Furthermore, God condemns false prophets for misleading the people about the reality of their situation, lulling them into a sense of false security, hiding the true nature of the imminent threat against their lives: "Because, yea, because they have misled my people, saying, 'Peace,' when there is no peace" (Ezekiel 13:10).

The Old Testament warns us to be on our guard against false teachers who present their own personal preferences and ideologies as the word of God, when they contradict or obscure the clear doctrine of God. The Old Testament also exposes as false teachers those who present an overly positive vision of the human situation, overlooking the reality of evil, and downplaying the mortal danger posed by immoral behavior and unrepented sin.

Our Lord's Warnings About False Prophets

Our Lord Jesus Christ warns of the mortal danger of false prophets infiltrating the Church through subterfuge and deceit. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15). Saint Jerome interpreted this as referring to those who appear to be pious and reformist but who are in fact seeking to introduce heresy into the Church because they do not remain true to Christ.

You will know them by their fruits.

Our Lord also advises that we can distinguish between a true prophet and a false prophet by looking at the fruit they produce:

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16-20)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church interprets this in terms of the sin of scandal, which is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. Those who cause scandal tempt others to commit sins (CCC 2284–2287). Scandal is most grave when caused by those who hold an office in the Church that obliges them to uphold and teach the Faith. False prophets contradict or reject the perennial Magisterium of the Church through which Christ's teaching is proclaimed to the world. False prophets are those who separate the people of God from the authentic Magisterium of the Church.

The Apostles' Experience of False Prophets

The epistles of the New Testament show that from the beginning the Apostles had to contend with false prophets infiltrating the Church, causing strife and confusion and leading the faithful away from the teachings of Our Lord. Saint Paul warned about the danger of false teachers who used the "cunning of men" and "craftiness in deceitful wiles" (Ephesians 4:14) to disturb the peace and serenity of Our Lord's true teaching. Saint Paul warns St. Timothy that false teachers "wander" away from "a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith," preferring "meaningless talk" (I Timothy 1:3–7). Those who teach their own theories and ideologies instead of the truths of faith spread conflict, doubt and confusion:

If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (I Timothy 6:3-5)

Saint Peter also describes the deviousness of false prophets who "secretly bring in destructive heresies," exploiting the faithful with "false words" (II Peter 2:1–3). Their goal is the abandonment of obedience to God's Holy Commandments, particularly the Sixth Commandment in the Church. "They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls" (II Peter 2:15). False prophets preach the weakening and abandonment of God's commandments in the name of "freedom":

For, uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved. (II Peter 2:18–19)

Saint Jude says that false prophets can be known by their arrogance, preferring their own "dreams" to the authority of God's truth. Saint Jude also advises that false prophets are associated with three sins: "defiling the flesh," including sins of impurity such as homosexual sex acts; "rejecting authority" of Our Lord Jesus Christ's teaching and "reviling the glories," treating with contempt the supernatural dimension of our lives by focusing on the pleasures of the world (Jude 8).

Modern Popes on False Prophets

Popes since the Second Vatican Council have warned the faithful about the danger of false prophets. Pope St. John Paul II told young people during his 1995 visit to the Philippines to guard themselves against false teachers who used culture and the media to present "an anti-Gospel" that promotes "the toleration and even the exaltation of forms of behaviour which the moral conscience and common sense formerly held in abhorrence."

In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI spoke of "false prophets" who propose a "low cost savior" and a "low cost salvation":

Of course, false prophets continue to propose "low cost" salvation, which always ends up delivering resounding disillusionment. Indeed, the history of the last 50 years provides an example of this search for a "low cost" Savior and highlights all the consequent disillusionments.

In the second part of this article we will look at the New Testament's advice about how to guard against aberrant doctrine and how to remain faithful during a time of aberrant doctrine.

Originally published at Catholic Voice Ireland.


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