I have a good friend with whom I take pleasure no end in needling about his heretical notions (he’s a Calvinist, probably greater than which cannot be thought). Though, as I often keep reminding him, holding heretical notions does not ipso facto make one a heretic, at least certainly not formally, though perhaps materially, if we can use a distinction that Rome employs, and which I find happily valid. A material heretic is one who holds wrong notions, even heretical ones, or notions founded on what are heretical axioms, but has done so not against the truth as they have learned it from childhood, for indeed, they have not learned it from childhood. A formal heretic, however, is one who is presented with the clear teaching of the Faith, and then summarily turns his back on it. Such a person is one who had been well-grounded in their education, and then makes this choice. Thus while my friend would decry Nestorianism, he has to assert that the righteousness by which we are justified is that of the human Christ, and at the same time has to admit of a coincidentalist view of the two wills of Christ that is only monergistic, and thus monothelitist. He was reared, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or the Only Pure Church, as we used to say when I myself was a member of that small but august body, and thus has really known no other doctrine, even though he has read some of the Fathers now and again. As such, I don’t consider him a heretic in the way I would Arius, or those who hold to Arianism, and thus I have no aversion to praying with him. He is a good fellow, well read, a real humanist and liberal educator. By the same token, I have brothers who are Baptist, Methodist, Independent, and Anglican ministers, none of whom I have consigned to the flames, however much I may disagree with them. Indeed, with my Anglican brother’s son, who is well educated in both Philosophy and Theology, I love giving him the business about such matters (“Uncle, what should I do about having communion at my wedding?” “Well, Billy, you’re not really having communion so why get all exercised about it?”). My three closest friends, William, Mark, and Gary, are Roman Catholics, devout, observant, and pious as can be found, curmudgeonly even. Each I count a dear brother, even while I hold them wrong, and think them apart from Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I would have no compunction, however, of singing the Kyrie in their parishes, nor entoning the Ave Maria or Pater noster with them. I cannot receive communion with them, nor they with me, for neither is under the others’ disciplines, and we recognize a real schism, but I do not hold that somehow the Orthodox Church is defective without Rome, just as the ancient Church was not defective without Israel, even though we pray that the domestic branches be grafted back into the olive tree.
I say all of that to address something else. Today I left coffee hour early to attend the confirmation of my niece and nephew. They attend a parish of the United Church of Christ. As we were coming home after the confirmation I asked my foster son, Matt, a very simple boy, if he ever felt the need to cross himself during the service. He answered no. The reason? They never once invoked the name of the Trinity. They wrote the word “Lord” out of all their texts as well. At the offertory was song “We give you (yech) of your own, what ere the gift may be. All that we have is yours alone, we give it gratefully.” The only time they used the name Father to refer to our Father, was in the Lord’s prayer. Prior to the confirmation, there were three “baptisms,” done in the name of “God, Jesus, and the Spirit.” Now, I cannot judge the piety of the people there present, but the Liturgy in that Church was not served to the Trinity, and indeed, at one point was God was invoked as one “who is known by many names.” Apparently, “Lord” isn’t one of them. Indeed, I was waiting for either of the two ministers to say “To the Unkown God.” One came very close: “Oh God whom we cannot know.” All the false apophaticism has been addressed before, and I would commend Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s essay “Father, glorify Thy Name!” I bring it up to note that I could not bring myself to say any prayers with them other than the Our Father. The very first prayer of the service began “O Mother God.” I was tempted to take out my pen and shove an “of” between Mother and God, but I controlled myself.
Noting other au courant insanities, we can join today’s liturgical experience with a recent sermon by the prima of the Episcopal organization, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who more rightly has been called by curmudgeon #1 above, the flaminica of episcopagn cult. Her sermon spoke of St. Paul’s exorcism of the demon possessed girl in Philippi as an act of Paul not recognizing God’s gift in the girl, and not accepting her for who she was: “Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.” Now, as I am typing this I am listening to Lobo’s Versa est in luctum (My harp has been turned to mourning), part of the funeral requiem for Philip II of Spain, a piece which I never tire of hearing, and especially the performance of the Tallis Scholars. Here is something beautiful. But that a girl possessed by demons could ever be thought as beautiful . . .. I shudder to think what type of mind could come up with that. This nonsense proves that fact is stranger than fiction, as one could not make up such stuff with which to libel or slander someone else by. Indeed, I cannot really tell the difference between what Schori says about what St. Paul did, and what the Pharisees said about our Lord when He cast out devils. This is a willful twisting of Holy Scripture so that it will meet her new canon of truth, the Gospel of Personal fulfillment at the Church of What’s Happening Now.
There is something qualitatively different between these latter examples and my friend the Calvinist, for he affirms the Holy Trinity, the teachings of the councils on the two natures of Christ existing in One Person. Alas, he still holds to the Reformation’s impoverished, enfeebled, and historically inaccurate view of icons (see here and here for more on this – – and more will be coming), but both of us know full well that he has betrayed the Reformation if he really holds this, for he had me lead a morning office at a recent retreat (complete with “through the Theotokos, save us” in the prayers), and cannot in honesty take me for an idolater. Thus, with such a one I am able to pray. But even ecumenicity has its limits.
And indeed, this limit is itself a testimony to the truth, in that those who consciously and overtly dissent from the truth, as opposed to those who have made no informed choice on the matter, are rightly excluded from any form of fellowship. What to do about the feigned learning of the likes of Steven Wedgeworth, is another matter perhaps best left for the comments, or another post.