March 30, 2008
Both the New Age movement and the The Da Vinci Code seek spirituality without sacrifice, without authority, without the cross. They follow ancient Gnosticism in preserving a veneer of Christianity while emptying it of its heart and soul.
A Syncretism of Christ and the anti-christ!
March 30, 2008
Irenaeus the Gnostic-busterAs strange as this whole religious system may seem to us today, it swept the ancient world and posed a great threat to the Church. A bishop from Lyons (in modern-day France) named Irenaeus decided that someone had to take them on. And so he wrote a lengthy work called Against the Knowledge Falsely So-Called (a.k.a. Against Heresies) that did more than expose the ridiculous and illogical doctrine of the Gnostics. As an antidote to the poison of the heretics, Irenaeus offered a full exposition of the truth of the gospel. First of all, he had to deal with the issue of legitimacy. How are we supposed to know what Jesus truly taught and who he really was? Who is to say that the Gnostic Jesus is not the original one? To the Gnostic argument of a secret tradition, Irenaeus did not respond with a sola scriptura argument. He didn’t say “forget tradition–only Scripture is infallible.” That wouldn’t have worked since it was hotly contested which gospels were the authentic ones. Rather, Irenaeus just used common sense. If Jesus had secret, deeper knowledge to pass down, wouldn’t he have entrusted it to the twelve confidants called apostles whom he personally selected? And towards the end of their lives, would not these have entrusted these secrets to their successors, and so on?. Yet, protests Irenaeus around the year 185AD, the Catholic bishops of apostolic cities such as Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, can all trace back their lineage in a continual unbroken line to the apostles. Since they know nothing of the silly doctrines of the Gnostics, it proves that these doctrines did not come from Jesus and his followers. And to give one example of how clearly each bishop knew his pedigree, he gives the example of the Roman Church and traces the pope of his day all the way back to Peter, naming every Pope in between. This doctrine of apostolic succession of bishops makes clear which Scriptures were authentic – namely, those continuously read in the churches founded by the apostles. And it makes clear where the authentic Christian tradition is to be found –it is the tradition guarded by those churches, taught by the apostles’ successors. Having exposed Gnostic nonsense and established the legitimacy of the Catholic tradition, Irenaeus goes on to preach the true teaching of a material world that is a blessing, not a curse, a savior who truly becomes one of us, dies for us, and continues to nourish us through sacraments, material realities that become transmitters of holiness, vehicles for God’s saving power. So what happens to Gnosticism after Irenaeus’ blistering attack? Not long after his book is written, Gnosticism fades out of the picture . When darkness is exposed, it vanishes, swallowed up by the light. Though this esoteric religion initially appealed to a generation thirsty for spiritual life, it failed to satisfy. So the Gnostic gospels were lost, buried under the sands of time. The only reason that we have the Gospel of Thomas today is because the sand that entombed it was the arid sand of Egypt, which is too dry for the bacteria that causes decay. In 1946 a famous archeological dig unearthed a copy of this document that confirms Irenaeus’ description of ancient Gnosticism.
March 30, 2008
A Diverse Movement In the second century, the Roman Empire had grown tired. Under the Emperor Trajan (d.117AD) the empire had reached its greatest territorial extent. For over a hundred years the Pax Romana had reigned over the Mediterranean world, a peace kept in place by the unrivaled power of the Roman military machine. But the empire was far from its republican roots and republican virtues. Sensuality and materialism were the order of the day. Of course, no one took the religion of Jupiter, Juno, and the Vestal Virgins very seriously. Worship of the emperor and the Roman gods was a matter of civic virtue, not of true religious devotion. Affluence and corruption led to boredom and restlessness.In such an environment, people often look to far off, exotic lands for something new and exciting. So it is no wonder that ideas from Persia, married to a mish mash of ideas drawn from Greek philosophy, magic, and other exotic sects, coalesced into a something that came to be known as “Gnosticism.” Gnosticism was not a tightly organized religion, but rather a general way of thinking that characterized a wide variety of sects following different leaders and often disagreeing sharply on several points..The important thing here, though, is not what they disagreed about or even who they got their ideas from. What we want to understand is the essence of Gnosticism, the basic ideas that people called Gnostics held in common.
Some, hearing the Christian message that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” supposed that Jesus was the heavenly messenger bringing salvation through hidden knowledge. To these, of course, the stories of Jesus’ birth and death could not be right. No true heavenly being would ever defile himself with matter, for matter and spirit were utterly opposed. So he just appeared to be human. And the story about Golgotha was either left out entirely, or was said to be based on mistaken identity. Certainly the bearer of heavenly revelation had no body and therefore couldn’t have died.
Salvation was not, after all, accomplished through sacrifice, but through knowledge.
So how did these folks deal with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Some tossed out all Gospels save one, regarding the others as forgeries. For Marcion, who was not a thorough Gnostic but held many of their ideas, the Gospel of Luke minus the infancy narratives was the only gospel. Others liked the view of Jesus as the wandering guru who uttered profound discourses full of riddles, and John seemed to fit the bill. Others championed gospels by other names, such as the Gospel of Thomas.
But all the so-called Christian Gnostics had one thing in common: theirs was a Christianity without the cross. The crucifixion was either explained away or, in the case of the Gospel of Thomas, left out of the story. If salvation was by knowledge, why did they need a story at all? All that was needed was a collection of parables and sayings. And that’s exactly what we find in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.
So what kind of life-style should the true Gnostic lead? Here is where the various sects diverged a bit. They all agreed that the body was of no consequence. Some said, therefore, we must deny it as much as possible, even starve it. Their ideal was an ascetic life-style of severe fasting from food and sex.
Others drew the opposite conclusion. Since the body is just a hunk of meat that has no relationship to the spiritual life, what we do with the body simply does not matter. That means there is no law–anything goes. So some Gnostic sects celebrated this license through ritual orgies. It would appear that the Nicolatians, condemned in the book of Revelation, were an early form of such a sect.(Rev 2:6, 14).
But how could the Gnostics claim that their vision of Jesus was the true one? Simple. Jesus realized that most couldn’t take his true teaching, so he secretly confided it to a few chosen confidants. And these passed on this secret tradition to those who were worthy of it, from generation to generation.
March 30, 2008
When the lie replaces Truth and falsehood infiltrates the sacred space that is God’s province, heresy replaces sacred teaching and doctrine and leads many into the hands of the father of lies.
“Qoheleth said it well: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” Eccl 1:9.
The New Age movement imports exotic religious ideas from the East into middle class America. A best-selling novel paints a picture of Jesus far different than what we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, based on the authority of a secret tradition….The New Age is really not so new… back quite far. . . to the Second Century in fact. . . to a loose but very widespread religious movement in the ancient world called Gnosticism.” Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com
March 26, 2008
The Blood and Water from His Side
Liturgy of the Hours Office of Readings St. John Chrysostom
Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church This reading is an excerpt of The Catecheses (Cat. 3, 13-19; SC 50, 174-177) by St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest Early Church Fathers of the 5th Century. It is used in the Roman Church’s Office of Readings for Good Friday with the accompanying biblical reading of Hebrews 9: 11-28 and is a powerful meditation on the passion. But it also tells us much about the connection between the passion and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist which flow from the paschal mystery and connect us to its saving power.
If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish”, commandedMoses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors”. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, thedoors of the temple of Christ. If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water andblood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it. “There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib whenAdam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood andthe water after his own death. Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.
St. John Chrysostom was a monk who was ordained a priest and ultimately, against his will, selected as Patriarch Archbishop of Constantinople. His call to repentance and moral reform won him the enmity of the nominally Christian Empress who got him deposed on trumped-up charges and exiled. But his preaching inspired the hearts of the people of Constantinople and won him the title “Chrysostom” meaning golden-mouthed. St. John Chrysostom, who died under the harsh conditions of his exile in 407, will always be remembered as one of the greatest of the Early Church Fathers and one of the greatest preachers of all time. His beautiful but always practical bible teaching has earned him the title “Doctor of the Church.”