ONCE UPON A TIME,
there reigned a pope who caused a great stir. Your waning time, kind reader, I shall spare; all a gory detail shall not be shared.
This pope signed off on a document that shook the confidence of the devout and rattled the faith of believers but won the applause of the ruling elite and of many straying bishops, in the midst of an age of confusion and rebellion, an age that loved the praise of men more than the glory of God.
The remnant faithful had, for some several decades, been defending the teaching of the faith, and doing so under duress and great adversity. These were battle weary, yet they marched forward. Families protected their children from the poisonous fumes of rebellion, fostered and dominant among political rulers and even bishops and priests.
The pope’s document shattered their confidence. It seemed on its surface a capitulation of the One True Faith, a capitulation that won the applause precisely of those who rejected or watered down that faith. Upon hearing of the pope’s document, these devout parents were devastated, heartbroken. “What to do? This is our father in the faith; he has spoken. Yet, his document undercuts precisely what the faithful have defended for decades, and what goes back to the very foundations of the Church. It touches the very worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Sacraments. Sure, it has good elements, but its problematic elements undercut these good elements.”
A devout priest, seeking neither title nor recognition, not hoping for ecclesiastical advancement, longing only for the courts of Our God and for the salvation of souls, the only ultimate pastoral end worthy of a cleric, reassured them. He told them,
“The gates of hell cannot prevail against the One True Church, though the gates of hell march to the very door of the Church herself. Now, you seek my counsel, my advice. Of course, do not show your young and impressionable children this document, lest they read it and be led astray. Then, their eternal salvation would be put in peril. Teach them the true faith. As they grow older, you may expose them to the shame of this document in the context of the security of knowledge of the never-changing faith. For that matter, if you have relatives insufficiently formed in the True Faith, do not expose them to this text, lest they take occasion to blaspheme Our Lord. Some of those who are adults in the faith and those who are theologians have the grace and duty to read it and, while doing so, not to let go of our Sacred Tradition.”
And so these parents did what that wise and loving priest advised. Their domestic church rendered this document another item proscribed on their wisely-constructed “Index of Forbidden Books,” along with false philosophies, degenerate literature, subtle heretical subversions of the faith by Marcion and Valentinus and Mani, confusions and mistakes of earlier theologians whom otherwise they revered greatly. Some of this literature they deemed appropriate for no one; some of it they deemed appropriate only for mature and formed readers. Now, some gainsaid the educational principles of these parents. Some insisted, with pseudo open-mindedness, that even the young and the not yet virtuous could read all such literature without harm. Dear Reader, you may agree with me in retorting, “Not so!” To drag unformed minds through difficulties without adequate preparation and guidance is like a big brother beating his younger sister. Have pity, O Man! Or do you get a thrill from watching the susceptible squirm under your care? Well, then, O Teacher!
But I say, the teacher is not the end, so as to delight in the squirming of hungry souls like sheep without a shepherd under the power of your mighty mind; rather, the Truth is the end. And Truth Exists. Truth Reigns. We are all for Truth. Hence, to stir up a young mind to an active frenzy and not to lead it to Truth, when Truth calls and beckons and is ready to feed with Ample Power… – This is no good service.
Still deeply troubled, these parents asked each other, “How could the Pope have done this?” Among the faithful, there was massive confusion. The Pope had caused grave scandal. Arguments this way and that. The pope’s name was… Liberius. He reigned in the 4th century, after the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and before that of Constantinople.
Eventually, four ‘iterations’ of his creed made their way around. No one knew which was the creed Liberius actually signed. The best of these iterations was a creed so ambiguous that an Arian could say “yes” to it, so watered down that one could safely ignore the saving truth infallibly clarified at Nicaea. The worst iteration was a pro-Arian formulation explicitly contradicting Nicaea.
These good parents saved their children from probable ruin by ignoring each of these Liberian creeds in the domestic abode and nurturing their children in the Ancient Faith and Practice of Holy Mother Church, so crisply and authoritatively taught at Nicaea. To this day, many wise parents ignore that sad and unfortunate creed(s) of Liberius.
Perhaps, such parents could have culled good elements from this otherwise lamentable creed, such as belief in God the Father, etc. But the parents about whom this tale is told saw these good elements already taught in Nicaea. So, they remained content with their library until, in their old age, Constantinople I added authoritative, important additions, organically reaffirming the entire authoritative past and building thereon, not lopping off life-giving limbs here and there, but remaining true to the same judgment and the same sense as that pronounced in Nicaea: That of the One True Faith.
Other parents were less pessimistic (less realistic?) and did their best to interpret the objectively sad creed in accordance with the Ancient Faith, rejecting any proposed interpretation that contradicted that Faith. Such optimists tried to stress the good points, and squeezed, out of the ambiguous statements, the stark dogma of Nicaea. Eyes perplexed, straining, and twirling…. Concerning the pro-Arian creed, even the optimists simply passed it over in silence, recognizing it as anathema, though they didn’t like to think of this.
Both types of parents sought to defend the One True Faith, and both were deeply concerned about the massive confusion among the faithful and the tragic, self-serving ways of pro-Arian bishops who took this creed as license for the very rebellion against the Faith that they had covertly supported for decades. And then there was the sack of good old Athanasius. Liberius had the gall to boast of his ousting. And there was much rejoicing of the world.
At length, after many trials, God in his Wisdom vindicated his true children. Those brave parents, in their old age, took great solace that the Nicene Creed was at last reaffirmed and even augmented at Constantinople. They had, after all, some apprehension that perhaps they should have turned off all reason, and blindly accepted the creed of Liberius. These apprehensions caused them trouble, even anguish. The pain of these apprehensions they offered up for this Vicar of Christ. Still, their apprehensions were not so significant as to disturb the deep peace they retained. After all, God had given reason. Right? Further, he called for its use, right? Finally, should they turn off all reason and listen to the latest confusing creed on Day X of year XYZ, ignoring the once authoritative statements of the past, should they not simply reject altogether the papal authority, given that on Day W of year ZZZ, some future pope could simply reverse the awful confusion of year XYZ? Is Christ even with his Church any longer? “But no!” they commanded, discerning evil spirits. “These thoughts are more confusions. The seed of the Devil. Let us simply accept the already defined faith, and offer up our pain.” When Constantinople reaffirmed what was already definitively laid out, they drank deeply of the great peace of Christ that comes, not from a mere man, not from the world, but only from God.
O Heavenly Father of us all, thank you for the courage and far-sightedness of those who trusted that, with your grace, all things are possible, including obedience to the Law that you have re-iterated for us in your Divine Son, the Law that gives life to and fattens the bones and which is a way and condition of final salvation. Not only did they obey your Law, but under great adversity they held fast to your saving Truth. Charity is born of Truth and lives only in Truth. The Truth takes flesh in real life, making right living possible, able to convert those who are sinfully alienated from God into his true lovers and friends. Let us not doubt or deny that Truth can come into the flesh of our circumstances and heal them.
Who is it that doubts that Truth has come in the flesh and still comes into the flesh of our morass, with grace sufficient to generate children of Abraham from stones of death?
Why shorten God’s legislating and judging hand? Why quench the flame of his healing love? Why deny the dignity of the freedom of the children of God? Can True Life be found by leaping from the lying sin of pessimism (“Did God say you can eat of no tree at all?”) to the defiant sin of presumption (“You shall not be judged according to any works but accepted entirely by mere faith though you sin and sin boldly”) to the anomian denial of law (“What is sin? Quid est Veritas?”)? Why cover under a bushel the Light that streams not from your face but from Christ’s, the Light that is to enlighten the darkness of the human mind (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”)?
Who is it that doubts that Truth has come in the flesh? Who is it that doubts that Truth still comes into the flesh of our morass, with grace sufficient in power to generate children of Abraham from stones of death? Shorten not the arm of God, lest his patience — meant for our conversion and not for our presumptive indulgence (Rom 2) — be likewise shortened. Let the reader understand.