Bp. Schneider’s Four Great Crises of the Church

by Ryan Fitzgerald  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 20, 2016   

The common error? Excessive focus on the human and a denial of the divine

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The great Bp. Athanasius Schneider is again warning Catholics about a dangerous "spirit of the world" threatening the Church. In his most recent interview, he specifically calls out "an agenda ... to change the truths of the Church in morality."

Schneider no doubt considers this agenda to be a part of what he has somewhat famously called "the fourth great crisis of the Church." The essence of this modern crisis, His Excellency observes, is a widespread anthropocentric relativism. We Catholics have largely ceased to place Christ at the center of our lives and of our worship, and in His place we've resolved to focus on ourselves and our own liturgical and moral preferences. In these days of "progress," what is right is supposed to be whatever (we think) suits us.

The first time Bp. Schneider publicly proclaimed the current "great crisis," he didn't identify what he took the other three to be. In ChurchMilitant.com's interview with him last year, however, we asked him what they were. The four crises, according to Bp. Schneider, are as follows:

1. The Arian Crisis

Bishop Schneider says, "The first big crisis was of course the Arian Crisis, that Arianism was commonly accepted. It was really a general crisis of the Church, extremely grievous."

Arius was a priest in the Early Church — in just the fourth century, before there was even a complete official canon of Scripture. Not much of his own writing remains, but his views can be adequately discovered from reading Church Fathers like St. Athanasius. Arius held that since Jesus is begotten, He must be a created being and thus not God. So, Arians denied what is indisputably an essential doctrine of the Christian faith, the divinity of Christ.

The severity of Arianism was by no means limited to Arius or some small, local sphere of influence. At its height, this heresy came about as close as Our Lord could conceivably allow to taking down authentic Christianity. A majority of the bishops — estimates of up to 80 percent — fell into the Arian heresy. The whole crisis spanned some 60 years, finally being put to rest with the councils at Nicaea and Constantinople.

Ultimately, the Church came out of Arianism with a Creed and much more sophisticated doctrines on Christ and the Holy Trinity.

2. The "Dark Century"

"[T]he next [great crisis]," says Bp. Schneider, "was the so-called 'Saeculum Obscurum,' the 'Dark Century,' the ninth and tenth centuries when the papacy was occupied by immoral people of some Roman Mafia in those times. They put their sons on the papal thrones."

As its name implies, not much is known in detail about this tragic era of Catholicism other than that the papacy was in dire straits owing to excessive control on the part of wealthy and worldly powers, such as the Roman Theophylact family. This period saw the office of Roman Pontiff occupied by the likes of: John XI, a 20-year-old who may or may not have been the son of a prior pope; John XII, an 18-year-old with a notorious moral record; and Benedict IX, "a disgrace to the chair of Peter," who indulged in anything from sodomy to rape to even murder.

"It was really dark, essentially," explains Bp. Schneider. "It was a deep humiliation of the Holy See, but God permitted it."

3. The Great Western Schism

Bishop Schneider identifies the third great crisis as "the crisis of the exile of Avignon, and it was this great Western schism." During this 40-year period, there was no visible, indisputable head of the Church. At one point, three different men claimed to be legitimate popes. The ordeal required two Church councils to finally settle on a new, universally agreed-upon Roman Pontiff.

Although there was no schismatic intention behind the Western Schism, there were certainly schismatic effects that came from the loss of clear papal authority. Inevitably, Catholics were left in an uneasy state of confusion, the cure for which they sought in unsuitable places. As The Catholic Encyclopedia put it in 1912, "[H]ow were the faithful to dispel uncertainty and form a morally sure opinion? They relied on their natural leaders, and these, not knowing exactly what to hold, followed their interests or passions and attached themselves to probabilities."

"And it's a part of this crisis ... that started already the crisis of the Renaissance papacy," Bp. Schneider asserts, "so I would include this in some way, this branch, the scandals of the Renaissance popes, and the causes they adopted, the spirit of the world in this time — the humanism, the pagan humanism, adopted by the popes in some way, to open them to the world."

4. The Anthropocentric Crisis

Finally, there's today's anthropocentric relativism, especially prominent in the West, where the Faith is burning out. "And this is today the general crisis of the relativism reigning inside the Church — doctrinal, moral and tremendous liturgical anarchy," insists Bp. Schneider. Chief among the results of this disorientation is an inexcusable disregard for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, which is sometimes even moved off to a corner of a parish so that human activity can remain front and center.

Like the crises before it, today's problems in many ways manifest an excessive focus on humanity alongside a denial of divinity, an inability or unwillingness to see the divine in life and its necessity for human salvation. Arius denied the divinity of Jesus theologically; those in the rest of the crises have done so practically — they've behaved without any due regard for God, as if He and His will don't matter or exist.

All the crises affect the universal Church, all of whose members are united in profound spiritual ways. "But every crisis, God sends the solution and sends His instruments, and often they were simple, and firstly started with hidden realities in the Church, and simple ones, little ones. And so, time by time, God renews His Church."

So, while admirably realistic about the state of the Church since last century, Bp. Schneider nevertheless sees cause for hope. "In our time, I can observe in so many parts of the world this beginning of the renewal of the Church, slowly but very clearly. This is the Holy Spirit. And nobody can hinder the Holy Spirit to make this, even not the cardinal, not a bishop. The Holy Spirit is using the little one in the Church to renew this. And so I hope that we will proceed with patience and with much grace in this work of the renewal of Our Holy Mother Church."


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