Pandoctrinal Catholicism: Unity before Truth

Blogged by James Preece on 17th January 2012

You will no doubt have seen it pointed out many times and by wiser men than me that many of the more popular heresies have consisted in taking some truth of the faith and playing it off against the others. Classic examples include Arianism in which the humanity of Jesus becomes a reason to deny his divinity, then there's Pelagianism where the obvious value and necessity of good works (e.g. James 2:24) is used to deny the necessity of grace. Not to mention more modern examples such as our friends the Protestants and the whole sola scriptura/sola fide thing...

It's not difficult to see why this should be the case. Truths of the faith are true!

This nugget of truth at the heart of the more famous heresies is what makes them so potent - and so hard to oppose. You see, the Arians are right to say that Jesus is fully human, the Pelagians are right to insist on the necessity of good works, the Protestants are right to insist on the importance/inerrancy of scripture and the necessity of faith.

Unfortunately, they are very wrong to claim that these particular truths trump their apparent opposites. Jesus is both human and divine. Faith and works are required for salvation. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are both important.

Why do I mention all this?

Well, it is my view that a particularly dangerous heresy is widespread in the Church today and, like Arianism, can be found among many Bishops and even Cardinals. It is not a local problem, not a "one or two bad eggs need reporting to the Bishop problem" - it is a major crisis that affects the Church at every level.

The heresy is simply this: That unity is to be preferred to Truth.

We find at it's heart a truth that nobody can deny: That unity is important. That division is bad. That Jesus prayed to the Father "that they may be one, even as we are one". We are painfully aware of the effects of the division which ravaged Christianity in the latter half of the second millennium. We know that a lack of Christian unity undermines our efforts at Evangelisation and even leads to sectarian violence. Then there's the fact that truth itself can be expressed in different but equally valid ways as well as the fact that there is an (often misunderstood) "hircarchy of truths".

All of these things are true of themselves. None of them can be denied. Yet just as the Arians were wrong to think that Jesus' humanity trumped his divinity, so it is also wrong to think that these truths trump, well, truth. Those of us who oppose the triumph of unity over truth are thus characterised as nasty, divisive individuals who yearn for conflict and violence. We are too stupid to understand that differences within the Church are really just differences of opinion over the best way to express the truth... and so on.

Unfortunately these arguments form a convenient smokescreen to hide the fact that actually, important doctrinal truths often are denied. The laity often are mislead by what is not merely a different of expression of the same truth. You really can choose your teaching on major doctrinal issues simply by driving from one Catholic parish to the next. Orthodoxy is just one perfectly valid "expression" among many. I hear many accounts of a priest spreading falsehoods from the pulpit - so do you. Can any of us think of a single occasion when a Bishop has done anything about it?

Naturally there is a tension. The Bishops want to to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ, it is their job to preserve it. Yet if they teach too strongly then those who disagree with them may walk away. The scriptures are no stranger this - when Jesus said "my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55)  we read that "many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him". Jesus doesn't offer them an inspirational listening day where there are no wrong answers... He let's them walk away.

Rather than disposing of truth in the name of unity, we need to understand that unity can be found only in Truth.

The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth?  [...]  A "being together" which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to the nature of God who offers his communion and to the need for truth found in the depths of every human heart.

[John Paul II - Ut Unum Sint]

My children have the right to hear the fullness of the Catholic faith proclaimed clearly, not several different versions of it depending on which priest is in school that day, not ambiguously worded in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of the latest political fashions.

Do I need to remind you what Jesus said about millstones?