Porphyry (AD 234–305) was a bitter enemy of the Christian faith.
One reason Christianity has enemies is that there are wicked people in the world, who oppose the message of conversion and repentance, who seek to revel in sins of the flesh or are strangled by pride – or both.
Another reason is that some don’t understand the Gospel truly, receive a version of Christianity that is opposed to right reason (which is in-alienable to man) and therefore reject it. In some respects, Porphyry falls in the latter camp. (This is not to deny that he might also, in other respects, belong in the other camp.)
Let us simply look at his diatribe against a Christian understanding of forgiveness. He cites Paul. He interprets Paul has preaching unconditional forgiveness, that is, a forgiveness that negates obedience to the law as a necessary condition for final well being. Let us read him:
“I ask, who wouldn’t prefer a life of corruption, based on the strength of these [promises]; who would not choose a life of evildoing and unutterable wickedness if he knew in advance that all would be forgiven him if only he believed and was baptized, confident in his heart that the judge of the living and the dead would pardon any offense he had committed. Such [promises] encourage those who hear them to sin; and the teaching of such a doctrine produces an attitude of disobedience. [Further] such a doctrine tends to supersede training in the virtue of obedience, so that doing what is right becomes indistinct and ineffective in relation to what is wrong. [The Christians] would bring us a society without law. They would teach us to have no fear of the gods. This arrogant saying says as much in asserting that the whole range of our wrongdoing can be washed away just by being baptized.”
Comment: Porphyry, a pagan, fails to grasp what is true in Christian forgiveness here. More on that anon. But some of his criticism has a point. He is critiquing also a bastard form of Christianity. That bastard form is an interpretation of forgiveness at odds with Christ, with God’s justice, with Truth. It also resembles the Lutheran and Reformed interpretation.
Among the errors in this aspect of interpretation of forgiveness is this: That Obedience to the law as a necessary condition of final salvation is negated, cancelled, by the forgiveness of God.
By contrast, Catholic dogma and the orthodox Tradition recognize that obedience to the law is not cancelled by the mercy of God. Rather, according to Catholic dogma: God’s mercy forgives past wrongdoing, truly transforms man now, and enables present righteousness and virtue unto a happy end. In short, God’s powerful mercy enables us to obey the very difficult commands of Christ. Because obedience out of love is in fact what is commanded, this yoke of difficulty is sweetness and this burden, bearable – but let us not fool ourselves that it is not demanding.
The heretic Marcion (2nd century) cancelled the law in light of God’s forgiveness. Some others, too, thought that Paul cancelled the law, even though he emphatically insisted he had not. Paul has long been misread.
But let us return to Porphyry’s objection to Baptism, whereby God’s grace invades hearts. Truly, God’s mercy indeed enables astounding changes in our lives. Sudden changes. Yes, his grace can invade our lives, heal our hearts, and we can evidence before others a profound change in our souls by our renewed conduct. Porphyry, thinking like the Pagan he was, despaired that this is possible. In this, he was once again like Martin Luther, who despaired that God could so heal the human heart that obedience to the commands is made possible and therefore also a final salvation contingent on that obedience is made possible. Luther denied it. Luther despaired. Then Luther found a way “out” of despair. (In fact, it was only a journey more deeply into despair.)
Let us examine Luther’s solution to his despair: PRESUMPTION. Not Pelagian presumption – the Pagan presumption that says, “I can do it. You can do it. If we each work hard enough.” That is the Pelagian presumption. It is a sin against God’s grace, and a sin of pride. For it is totally false that I can do it on my own.
On the other hand, Theological Presumption – to which presumption Martin Luther by his “solution” of justification sola fide succumbed – is worse than Pelagianism. Why, whereas Pelagianism ascribes to man what he cannot do and thus errs against man directly and indirectly sins against God’s grace by neglect, Theological Presumption ascribes something totally unjust to God’s own Mercy. What does it ascribe? A Mercy in counter-position to Justice. A Mercy in dialectical tension with Justice. A Mercy that would do something unfitting, namely, acquit what is guilty while guilty: A sheer pronouncement of forgiveness raining over the wayward while wayward. The sheer declaration, “You are righteous,” hanging over the sinner while sinner. This is false. While the sinner is sinner, he most emphatically is not righteous. Luther’s is an ideology of Divine Falsehood.
Further, Theological Presumption blasphemes against the Divine Mercy because it ascribes impotence to that Mercy. If it is impossible that I ever come to obey the commandments adequately, then GOD’S MERCY CANNOT DO IT. God’s mercy is too weak and paltry for Luther (Newman’s righteous judgment against Luther’s theory). But Paul declares the opposite: God has done in us what we could not do, the fulfillment of the Law (Rom 8).
Porphyry and Luther are in manifold agreement in terms of despair. Luther’s solution is Presumption. Porphyry thought that Presumption is the Christian solution. In fact, it is not. Paul has long been misread, as 2 Peter attests.
What does Porphyry fear in the Christianity he misreads? A lawless society. A society that invites vice instead of virtue, passiveness instead of active work, an arrogant society that would not heed the law. Why not add a society of suicide? “He’s in so much pain now, why not have him drink the cocktail and go to heaven?” Did I just say that the Euthanasia Culture is a bastard child of Theological Presumption, of “Justification by Faith Alone”? I did. It is not that those who embrace this theology have no insight and are not onto part of the truth. They are onto part of the truth. Namely, that God forgives and thereby opens up hope. But there are major problems and it is to these I am referring.
Again, how about this: “Their marriage is a permanent failure. It can never be healed. But they should just get a divorce. He can find another person that works better for him, and she for her. God will not hold the law against any of them.” Note: The persons cannot be healed. The relationship is pronounced dead. It is time to start again, not to heal the old. It is time for a re-creation that is not the salvaging of the old but the FIAT PRODUCTION of the new, shielded from Truth and Justice by the Lie of a “Justification by Faith Alone” theology. Did I just say that the Divorce Culture is a bastard child or such theology? I did.
What do the cultures of Euthanasia and Divorce contribute to society? Its downfall. What does the culture of permissiveness – hiding under the banner of a false Mercy – do for society? Invite anarchy.
Porphyry’s are exactly the concerns that Catholics had – and should have – about “Justification by Faith Alone” theology.
Now, if the “justification by faith alone” Dialectic of Mercy vs. Justice is evil and wicked – which it is – much worse is the total abolition of law itself, à la Marcionism, to which our own culture and some Catholic Bishops are now by implication turning.
The total abolition of law and justice differs from “faith alone” in that the “faith alone” theology at least retains the function of the law – in itself just – to accuse poor sinners so that they flee to God for refuge. Calvin adds, salutarily, that the law is at least a goal or teacher of what should be done. Luther in fact has this same goal in mind, though he hates to call it law. But back to the “faith alone” Dialectic. In its Most Important Function (according to “faith alone” theory), the Law Demands Absolute Perfection. All who fail to measure up to Absolute Perfection are considered damnable. Now, who can measure up? Therefore, the Law in this perverse “faith alone” approach Accuses Everyone. Now we come to a grain of truth: The Law thereby disposes the poor sinner to the sobriety necessary for the humility necessary for faith. Man is terrified by this accusation, thinking he may be damned. But he hears of the promise of mercy and forgiveness (another grain of truth.) Thus, he runs to God for shelter. (These grains of truth are inmixed with lies. First, the lie that the Law demands perfection. Second, the lie that God’s mercy does not demand the law but puts it aside. What we get here in this “faith alone” approach is that God is Himself both Evil and Good, a veritable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Rather, God is the Abusive Father who demands and, on the other hand, the Sugar Daddy who never minds the rules.)
By contrast, Marcionism destroys the law utterly. For Marcion, the law is the creation of a foreign, evil God. Run to the good God and reject the evil God and his laws. “Faith alone” theory never went that far. … UNTIL:
Until these very days in which perhaps not “Faith Alone” theories but we, the bastard children of these theories, have taken up the diabolical logic of its banner and turned the Dialectic one more twist, with a surprising conclusion: We are now completely ignoring the law. Bypassing the law. Outlawing the law.
“You are OK,” we say to the consumerist sinner, so long as he donates. “It is not a sin,” we say to the young man who reads porn only to go on and ruin the lives of others when they need him most. “The Church used to think that was a sin,” says the confessor, “But thankfully, not now.” If pedophilia is a problem in the priesthood, has anyone thought of conducting an inquiry concerning the solitary sin, father of many a vice – father, indeed, of effeminacy and weakness before the parish council?
And for the married couples, the priest whispers, “Contraception is not a sin, at least if you don’t think it is a sin. You may do it, if you wish.”
Thus, everyone is in cahoots. John the Baptist is an Outlaw! He should be jailed for breaking the law. Because the Law itself – righteous law – is outlawed in this culture of “mercy”.
And today, just footsteps away from the Chair of St. Peter, some rebels are attempting to annihilate God’s Law by pseudo-pastoral guidelines that would in effect take away all reality of the law.
It is as though Man Himself, Eyeing the Fruit that Hangs from the Tree in the Center of the Garden, Want to “Know” Good and Evil. Man wants to impregnate Being with his own ideological interpretation. Man wants to call the evil good. (Perhaps tomorrow he will call the good evil, and outlaw marriage itself.)
All of this is totally anti-ecology.
If ecology rightly understood is good and prudent stewardship of the world, a lawless reading of the world and of morality is anti-ecological. Whereas nature has, in-scribed, the laws of God’s intelligent providence, some men set their paths towards desert waste, towards dung heaps that bear no fruit, pits of stench the traversing of which bring disease and death. Then, as though to conjure up a cure for their own sadness and misery – for their lack of identity, they make haste to defend their action: They declare what is death to be life, what is disease to be health, what is fruitless to be fruitful.
Yes, this is the last stage of the Dialectic – which in truth cannot bear a tension of polarities but rather tyrannizes against all goodness and truth once it has duped those who thought the tension could last and thus marched as useful idiots in its parades – the stage in which Man Declares the Law Null and Void.
Let us inspect: Once the Law is Null and Void … of what need is there for Mercy? None. And once the rule of law is overrun by pseudo-mercy, what prevents the Tyrant from taking the stage?
Thus, Satan tells a marvelous tale, a lengthy tale for many a century, the better with which to sweep down the stars of heaven with his own, a tale for a while full of tensions and dialectical balances, to disguise his ultimate end: The downfall of Holy Mother Church.
But for those who cling to Truth, to Tradition, to the Actual Teachings of the Magisterium—to which in fact all Catholics are called to cling because all are members of the Church Listening / Obeying / Believing, even if some are also, when and insofar as they actually engage their office, part of the Church Teaching / Ruling—and not to pseudo-pastoral advice whispered here and there, to the ultimate downfall of all things decent.
Let us—together with what is right and just in Porphyry’s work, in Nietzsche’s work (he called Paul the dis-evangelist for reasons similar to those in Porphyry’s critique), and in all responsible common sense—vomit up the foul lawlessness with which some would propose to taint the practices of Holy Mother Church.