ON THE CHARACTER of HERESY
In religion, just as in politics or philosophy or any other institutional mental effort, heresy is taking one idea from an organic plurality of ideas and elevating it to supreme preeminence, so that other ideas are justified by their agreement with the master idea, or rejected by the master idea. What makes heresies illogical — all heresies, not just religious ones — is that the master idea has no innate preeminence over other ideas in the institutional mental effort equally as old or foundational or well-attested.
If you have noticed the difference between, for example, Libertarians and Classical Liberals of the Enlightenment, what are now called Conservatives, you note that the Libertarians affix all their political ideas to the one master idea or principle of nonaggression, which says that the state’s role is restricted to preventing aggression or fraud between citizens. While this idea covers the majority of what Conservative principles since the time of the Declaration of Independence or earlier suggest, it rebukes other ideas, equally as old, or foundational, or valid, which Conservatives uphold. The Libertarians took one idea out of the pluralism of classical liberal thinking and ran it out to its logical conclusions and beyond. For this reason, Libertarians find themselves oddly mute on certain political ideas unrelated to their master idea, such as when (or if) the state should gather taxes and raise or maintain standing armies. Without involving myself in further nuances, any reader who dislikes this example is invited to provide his own: the phenomenon of enthusiastic reformation in the name of a daringly simple idea defeating an older, richer, more complex and more human idea is commonplace.
The allure of the simple idea is its simplicity; its elegance. The illogic of the simple idea is that it has no validity outside of its context, and no right to overrule other ideas equal in rank and dignity to it. It is, in a word, simplistic. It does not say everything about all aspects of life.
Outside the Church, we have all certainly seen this in other cults and social movements. For the Communist, there is no aspect of life or art which is not directly related to the Communist revolution: there is no such thing as a soccer game, unless it displays the principle of material dialectic, or shows the oppression of the proles. For the Feminist, there is no topic from cookbooks to contraception not directly related to feminism: there is no such thing as a soccer game unless it is coed soccer. If the Catholic Church were indeed heretical, it would have this monotonous, one-hued character, because it is the nature of heresies to absorb all surrounding ideas into the one simplified heretical idea.
This tendency to simplification is not due, or not due solely, to some satanic attempt to deprive all human life from the blessings of the sacrament. Rather, this simplification is due to the nature of a heretical ideas as such.
If the Protestant claim were correct, we should expect to see in history a Primitive Church with all the organic wholeness of the True Church, a Church that addressed every issue of life from every angle of the circle and informed every aspect of human life: a complete Church.
Then when the apostasy struck, those organic truths would be compressed and corrupted, as heresies always compress and corrupt, turning each of the multiple and various aspects of church teachings into a dull repetition of the one apostate theme.
So if the Protestant view of history were correct, we should expect that a Primitive Church once held the wholeness of truth and was corrupted into an apostate Church, or, in other words, that an original plurality and richness was simplified into an single all-consuming master idea.
Instead we see the opposite: the Catholic Church is accused not of simplifying the complexity of an organic original doctrine, but of adding layers and accretions and ornamentation to what was once a primitive doctrine refreshing in its stark simplicity.
On the other hand, if the Catholic claim were correct, the Protestant movement is no different from the Albigensian movement or the Arian, or the Docetist, with the one exception that, unlike those previous heresies, this one is still alive. But the truths of the Catholic faith would be compressed and corrupted and suffer simplification into a master idea.
And, of course, it is rather easy to simplify the ideas of the Mohammedans or the Lutherans into a simple slogan, saying there is no God but God, or saying there is no scripture but scripture.
Which is what we do see.
The best counter argument made here, is that human nature, being naturally inclined from Adam onward against obedience to heaven, inevitably corrupts pure doctrine. The Pharisees took the oral legal codes of the Jews rather than the writings of the law and the prophets for their doctrines, and so became consumed with legalistic niceties. The result was that they were justly condemned by Christ as hypocrites and worse.
Surely (runs the counterargument) this is the pattern we see here, with the Church, once elevated by imperial favor to being the sole established religion of the Empire, larded with lands and privileges, began to busy itself in petty theological disputes, furiously fuming over insignificant niceties of definition, or attempting to define mysteries no mortal could understand, or to add pagan rituals and ornaments in order to be more easily accepted by the rustic mobs, and in all things followed the Pharisees and became like them.
The problem is that the Catholic Church is and continues to be concerned with those things which make her uniquely Catholic. She opposes contraception because she has for two thousand years. She accepts infant baptism because she has for two thousand years. Neither the teaching on contraception nor on infant baptism is an accretion, because it has been an unchanging fixture of the Church teaching since the time when the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.
And, more striking to me was that I noticed the Catholics with whom I spoke still passionate, still fully engaged and still—if my mortal eyes are any judge of invisible things—driven by the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, few if any Anglicans are still passionate over the matter of the 39 Articles. Some do not even know what that is. Likewise, the leaders of the Free-Will Baptist Church founded by Benjamin Randall perhaps can identify on what grounds they broke away from the Baptist Church founded by Roger Williams, but I doubt any in their rank and file could do.
I have met one or two people on the Internet who can get worked up about the question of Justification by Faith Alone versus Justification by Faith demonstrated in Works, but for the most part the Protestant Churches seem not to remember why they broke away from the Catholics.
(In just this series of articles so far, I have been chided more than once for over-stating a difference between Catholic and Protestant, or misstating a difference which was not present: some agree with the doctrine of the Real Presence, and some have Deacons and Bishops and so on. All of which leads me to wonder what the fuss was about—it is like reading a version of the Declaration of Independence where the King of England is not accused of anything disadvantageous to the colonists.)
The love of Christ in the Protestant churches I saw in action was still burning red-hot: let no man say I accuse them of a lack of charity or zeal! But several of the Protestants were dabbling with contraception and divorce and abortion and government-funded abortion, and admitting Priestesses, and they continued to schism and schism again, so that if I joined one, it might not be in business a decade from now. Because of this following after worldly fashions and dabbling with fashionable ideas of postmodern sexual liberty, I grew convinced that they were not being guided by the Holy Spirit. They did not seem to act like supernatural institutions should act.
But the only place I came across the love of the specific features that defined the denomination was either in the youngest and smallest denominations (the Christian Scientists, the Church of Latter Day Saints) or the oldest and largest (the Orthodox and the Catholics).