Catholics familiar with Church history will know that the fifth century heresy known as Monophysitism claimed that Christ was one person with only one nature, a kind of fusion of both the human and divine elements. Monophysites therefore believed that Jesus had only one divine nature. His human nature, it was said, was “dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea”. It was a reaction to Nestorianism which held that Christ was two persons (one divine and one human) with two different natures (one divine and one human). The Catholic (Chalcedonian) position, of course, was that Jesus had two natures – one fully human and one fully divine, but that He was one divine person. Without Jesus being both truly and fully divine and human, there would be no redemption on the Cross for humanity and no reconciliation either because, to be truly Son of God and Son of Man, Christ had to possess both natures. What “holds” these two natures together is what Catholics call the hypostatic union.
Heresies invariably always either take some essential element away or they stress truths to the point of negating other essential truths. That is why when people sometimes claim that Catholics are “extreme” in their theological or moral positions, they have no idea that the Catholic Faith is, by definition, right in the exact center, in perfect equilibrium.
Since the beginning of the Church, the attack on Christianity has always been through separation. In the Christological and Mariological controversies of the early centuries, it was all about trying to strip Jesus of some fundamental aspect of His identity. The attack was directed at Him personally, or indirectly through the identity about His Mother. But it was all about seeking to divide and conquer. To strip. To take away a fundamental element. To make the whole less than what it was.
Today in the Church, the new heresy (if I may use the term loosely) is not a doctrinal or moral one. It is a pastoral one.
Morally or, if you prefer, doctrinally, everyone is on the same page on the issue of abortion, for instance. Abortion is wrong. It takes the life of a human being. On paper, therefore we Catholics appear to be a strong team. But like in the world of professional sports, teams on paper don’t always win the actual game. “On paper”, sports commentators will sometimes say, “this team should win the game”. Invariably, however, these teams don’t perform according to script because there is usually some fundamental element lacking to produce the victory. In the case of the Church’s position on abortion, the fundamental element missing is Her members’ complete witness to the inviobility of human life to the point of heroic sacrifice even through the loss of human respect.
In the 60s, Pierre Trudeau in Canada and later Ted Kennedy in the U.S. became the pall bearers of the idea that you can oppose abortion personally but promote it publicly as a public servant – the standard cliche line today whose sentence I cannot bring myself to complete – “Personally, I am opposed to abortion, but….”
Although we generally do not consider it so, this ideology is actually an attack on the human person, and it represents what I call the “new Nestorianism”. Although not strictly doctrinal in nature, it posits that a human being can be two persons and not merely one. There is the private person who may believe in a certain creed and act a certain way in his private social setting. And then there is the public person who may disavow and even oppose that creed in the context of a public setting. In other words, one human being who should be acting as one person instead acts as two completely different persons on the fundamental issues of our time. This phenomenon is manifested most often and clearly in the Catholic politician. Although theologically he can be only one person, he believes that he can be two. He can hold one position in the context of his private life, but he can hold the exact opposite position in public office.
While this phenomenon is well known in political life, we do not normally consider this “pastoral heresy” within the Catholic Church itself. And yet, with the Kennedy funeral, we see that indeed this “new Nestorianism” has gone well past the boundaries of secular political life and influenced many Catholics and the hierarchy itself. In the context of the Kennedy funeral, we have learned that you can be a politician who strenuously advocates for abortion while concurrently being in Communion with the Catholic Church. In permitting this contradiction, Cardinal O’Malley, Father Rosica, and other Catholic leaders are doing two things. First, they are communicating to the Faithful that a Catholic can be a person of moral contradiction. A politician therefore may be permitted to advocate for the murder of the unborn child, and, while maintaining this position, he may also be in Communion with the Lord. Through the allowance they give in reception of Communion to these pro-abortion figures, or their extolling them at public funerals, these false teachers are telling us that we may live a contradiction; that we may live a lie. Alternatively, if we are not living a lie per se, then we are living as two persons: one person that may advocate for abortion, and another person who does not and who may be in Communion with the Lord.
But what kind of alternatives are these? One is in living a lie. And the other is in accepting a heresy. That’s a pretty scandalous choice, if you ask me.