It was God Himself, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, who warned us at the Sermon on the Mount
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly are ravening wolves. (Matt. 7:15)
What should motivate us to heed this warning most carefully in our day-to-day lives? The reality that a person's Faith is a serious matter and can easily be corrupted.
But before continuing, let us pause and
meditate upon the contents of the following Note which was added barely two
years after the original publication of the document.
NOTE Added on February 6, 2003:As the Faithful becomes more confused by the incoherence in the "teachings" flowing out of The Vatican and the many deviant practices being implemented at the parish level we read [VATICAN, Feb. 3, 03 (CWNews.com)] :The Vatican has released a long-awaited document on New Age ideology, putting Christians on guard against the "cultural currents" created by New Age theories.This is indeed excellent advice, but then the faithful is told [VATICAN CITY, Mon. Feb. 3, 4:03 PM ET (AP)]:
The influence of New Age theory, the Vatican notes with concern, has become obvious within the Catholic Church,... The document calls attention to theories about the psychological affirmation of the individual, and the search for an "alternative vision" of human potential, as signs of danger.The Vatican is giving two thumbs up to the Harry Potter series.
The good vs. evil plot lines of the best-selling books are imbued with Christian morals, the Rev. Don Peter Fleetwood told a Vatican news conference Monday.
"I don't see any, any problems in the Harry Potter series," Fleetwood said... responding to questions following the release of a new Vatican document on the New Age phenomenon, which he helped draft as a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
As if this was not enough to completely disorient the faithful, then, at the same News Conference, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter religious Dialogue chimes in [VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2003 (Zenit.org)]:Brothers and sisters - the ONLY solution to stay on the Truth is to remain in tune with the Holy Spirit of God and follow Its prompting.
"There can be positive New Age practices, so long as they do not cast doubt on Catholic doctrine," he said.
Yes, we agree that the Holy Spirit of God is the Infallible Guide of the Church. That is not the problem. The problem is that the Church has become a very fallible listener and a reluctant follower of the Truth.
"Tune in" to the Holy Spirit with a solid prayer life and stay tuned, because the times ahead will make absolute darkness look like the light. The Vatican seems completely caught up in said darkness with no sign of let up.
Let us now return to the original document....
Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Satis Cognitum, reminded us about this in so many words:
"Nothing is more dangerous than the heretics who, while conserving almost all the remainder of the Church's teaching intact, corrupt with a single word, like a drop of poison, the purity and the simplicity of the faith which we have received through tradition from God and through the Apostles."
Not only should we heed Our Lord's warning because of how EASILY a person's Faith can be corrupted, but we should find motivation in the fact that the danger is more prevalent today than it was at the turn of the century, 87 years ago, when Pope Pius X felt it necessary to write:
"The partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church's open enemies; but.... in her very bosom, and are the more mischievous the less they keep in the open."
"The Church has no greater enemies. For they put into operation their designs for her undoing, not from without but from within. Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate."
"They seize upon professorships in the seminaries and universities, and gradually make of them chairs of pestilence."
Certainly we don't expect to find men dressed in sheepskin. No. What we are told to be wary of is that which on the surface sounds pleasing to the ear; that which seems "positive" or "beneficial" at first glance, but behind it all is a subtle error that destroys Faith. What is one of the best ways that an error against the Faith can be taught to a Catholic and have him easily accept it as true even if at first they question the novelty of it?
The way it was done at the turn of the 20th century was to say that "doctrine evolves", or that "truth evolves with man". Today however, being that evolution is not generally looked upon favorably by Catholics, they will instead say that you must realize that there is "doctrinal development" - this is the "sheep's clothing" of which Our Lord speaks.
What better way to have false doctrines accepted by the faithful than to claim that the doctrine only "seems different" because they are the truths of old which have "developed" and progressed, or advanced! This is one of the most insidious and treacherous methods of corrupting the faith of a Catholic. The word "development" sounds beneficial or very "theological" to the ear, and may very well catch the faithful off guard. It is a very general term that has more than one meaning: beware of ambiguous wording. The term must be properly understood.
When an oak tree grows, it matures and develops as everything does in nature. The oak tree has in fullness what the acorn had in germ. The acorn does not later become an apple tree. When it comes to the supernatural truths of Divine Revelation we see that this is true. The Church cannot at one time condemn something as a sin or error and later teach that it is true and/or a virtue; or the reverse. If that were the case, the cause behind such reversal would be a mistake and not a development.
Another and most interesting Example
Let us look at a young boy who lived generations ago, say, Michael Ghislieri. At age 10 the boy learns his catechism, receives the sacraments and professes his Faith. He is a Catholic pure and simple, and knows the truths of his faith. As he matures, so does his faith and understanding of the truths, which he always knows are true. Later in life he studies philosophy and theology and becomes a theologian.
He is still just as much of a Catholic as he was when he was 10 but now instead of simply BELIEVING things to be true, he now knows the WHY and HOW of these truths. He has attained a BETTER understanding as he grew. This is nothing less than a "development of doctrine" in its TRUE SENSE. At age 10 he was Catholic with a GOOD understanding of the Truths of the Faith. As an elderly theologian he believes and professes the very SAME doctrines with the SAME MEANINGS but with a BETTER understanding.
Incidentally, the boy Michael Ghislieri blossomed into St. Pope Pius V.
The Church was given the Truths of the Faith from Our Lord. Truth is immutable. What was once condemned by the Church in the past cannot be later approved in principle, nor can what was once declared as true and good by the Church, later become false and sinful. A true development of doctrine "increases" the understanding of the fine points and its relation to other truths, it does not reverse it; in spite of the efforts of Cardinal Ratzinger to justify such reversal.
A theologian believes the same truths as the school-boy, only he knows them in better detail. This fuller detail cannot be contrary to what the school-boy knows.
So, we see that Our Lord warns us that such men today, quite often, wear the sheep's clothing of "doctrinal development" to fool unwary Catholics into believing different doctrines than were previously taught by the Church.
The sheep's clothing, which is just as treacherous and insidious, is that of "ecclesiastical position". The Church has had to deal with such heretics in the past, and has dealt with them severely. Heretics who hold high office in the Church can easily fool the average Catholic simply by standing on his office of dignity (as we see in the quote above by Pope Pius X). History shows that this has wreaked havoc on the Church. Bishop Arius is a good example. The Arian heresy caused about 80% of the clergy in the east to fall away from the Faith. And many went along, not because they understood that one heresy, but because they simply followed their clergy into it.
St. Paul seemed to warn us of different doctrine when it comes from a source with a special office or dignity:
"...there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:7-9)
St. Paul gives us a principle to remember: "...brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle." (2 Thess. 2:14)
No one is above tradition. We read the strong words of St. Paul - "...though we, or an angel from heaven..." These are words which include the warning that the office even of a Pope, could be used to spread heresy. There are enough examples in history to support this statement.
Of course, in such a case, there would be an "anti-pope" and not a real one although the general public would not be aware of this.
So effective is the Sheep's Clothing of "ecclesiastical office" in promoting error that St. Bernard, Cardinal Newman, and others, logically believed that the only way the Anti-Christ could possibly be so effective in creating a "great apostasy" among Catholics is by becoming an "anti-pope" whom the Catholic world at large would think is a valid Pope.
So we can now see:
1) How easily one can fall into error.
2) How prevalent error is today.
3) How serious adherence to tradition is.
4) The True meaning of Doctrinal Development
5) The Sheep's clothing of both "ecclesiastical office" and "evolution of truth".
The principle at the heart of this
all is: The Truth of the Catholic Faith is immutable. It has not,
cannot, and will not change.
Speaking of sheep's clothing The M+G+R Foundation feels that it is worthy to note that: When archbishops receive the pallium it symbolizes their metropolitan authority and his union with the Holy See. A pallium is a white woolen vestment prepared by nuns from lamb's fleece. Until they are conferred on the archbishops, the white woolen strips are stored in a coffer at the tomb of St. Peter. A coincidental play of words? Of course not! Our Lord does not play with the truth; He was warning us about this very serious danger 2,000 years ago.
NOTE Added on April 23, 2002:As the Church is convulsed by the sexual abuse scandals worldwide, the U.S. Cardinals and Vatican Officials meet to map out a Damage Control Strategy, it behooves all of us to review the (obviously) unheeded warnings of such Roman Catholic luminaries as Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X as well as the beautiful example of the life of Pope Pius V.
Their words and warnings, as well as their examples, are more timely now than ever, when a few men, so called Princes of the Church, have managed to almost destroy the little Faith left amongst believers.
There is nothing wrong with the Great Catholic Faith, the problem lies with those who chose Caesar while pretending to live for God.
Originally published on October 18, 2000. Texas, USA.
Restructured on March 30, 2011
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