In the first part of this article, we examined what Sacred Scripture and the Tradition teaches about the danger of false prophets and how to identify their influence in the Church. In this second part, 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.
The New Testament also prophecies that the Church will undergo a crisis of aberrant doctrine and debased morality. Our Lord warned of a time of great tribulation when "false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).
Saint Paul tells of a time when many of the faithful will not endure sound teaching but will instead welcome teachers who accommodate to their likes and dislikes: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (II Timothy 4:3–4).
Saint Paul also describes this unprecedented crisis in the Church as the time when "some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared" (I Timothy 4:1–2).
Although we should be cautious not to draw conclusions too quickly, it is clear that we are living through a time of lies when absolute evils are presented as great goods, such as the killing of babies through abortion, the killing of the elderly and sick through euthanasia; when homosexual sex acts are equated with the conjugal love between a husband and wife, the impoverishment of sexual love through artificial contraception is praised as "responsible parenthood" and divorce is accepted as healing the pain of wounded families. There are some in the Church who lie about these gravely sinful acts and by so doing put souls in danger of mortal sin and hell.
Commenting on I Timothy, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that aberrant doctrine always hides behind lies. He writes, "No one can deceive another by naked lying; the lying has to be disguised. These people could not have deceived others unless they covered their lie with the veil of good intentions, pretence or false authority."
Saint John's rule of thumb for judging if a doctrine is true or false is whether it upholds or undermines the Incarnation of Our Lord (I John 2:22; 4:3). There are ways of denying the Incarnation of Our Lord apart from a bald denial. A subtle denial of the Incarnation is to verbally affirm the authority of Our Lord’s teaching, while at the same time promoting pastoral actions that totally contradict Our Lord’s teaching expounded in the perennial doctrine of the Church.
As well as warning about the threat posed by false teachers and the danger of false teaching, the New Testament also provides advice about how to remain faithful and steadfast during a time of aberrant doctrine.
It is important to trust in the providential care of the Lord, knowing that He will rescue us during this time of trial. II Peter recalls that the Lord rescued Lot from the depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah: "Yet he saved Lot, an innocent man who was overborne by the violence and the wantonness of his wicked neighbours; eye and ear could testify to his innocence, although he lived among men whose lawless doings, day after day, wrung that blameless heart" (II Peter 2:7–8).
The Lord knows the anguish that many of us are suffering on seeing and hearing the promotion of grave sins as "good" in society and even in the Church.
The mistake that many Catholics seem to fall into today is to look on the Faith as if it were like a political manifesto that can be changed with a change of pope, as if he were the leader of a political party. The Faith is not some human thinking but a participation in the life of the Most Holy Trinity.
It’s important to often recollect that Faith is a gift from God and ask the Lord to strengthen His gifts of Faith, Hope and Love in our lives and the lives of our family and parish. Saint Jude gives the following advice on how we can counter the lies and corruption of false teachers:
In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (Jude 20–21)
We are witnessing a tragedy in the Church, in which countless souls are in danger of being lost as a result of false prophets teaching aberrant doctrine. The New Testament makes it clear that during such times it is the responsibility of all faithful Catholics to care about the salvation of souls. Nothing else matters.
"To some you must give a hearing, and confute them; others you must pluck out of the fire and rescue them; others again you can only pity, while you shun them" (Jude 22–23).
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching" (II Timothy 4:1–2).
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman observed that during the Arian crisis, when false prophets openly ruled the vast majority of the Church, it was ordinary Catholics who upheld the Faith. The Catholic Church was saved by their unbreakable obedience of faith, their steadfast fidelity to the teachings of Our Lord and their dedication to the salvation of souls. Pray that we will stand as firm when needed.