Athanasius And… Marcellus
Most of you may already know that the Church has already gone through very troublesome periods. Many of you will be aware that the Arians were probably the biggest challenge the Church had to confront, at least before the challenge of V I I.
What,though, many of you might not know is that even Athanasius, the great champion of Trinitarian orthodoxy, was excommunicated by Pope Liberius, and that the same Pope Liberius actually demanded that his diocese (or perhaps the entire Church, not sure on that but it isn’t so relevant) does not use the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in public worship. In a word, whilst not proclaiming a heretic dogma or denying the Trinity as traditionally intended, Pope Liberius did try – and certainly intended – to silence orthodox Catholic understanding at least in some regions. He did it, we are told, to avoid “fractures” within the Church and to not upset those “good Catholics” who had a, erm, modern understanding of the Trinity and should not feel, erm, antagonised.
Mind, those progressive Catholics thought they had their heart in the right place and were, no doubt, the nicest and most tolerant chaps around. I do not doubt they thought they would, by getting rid of an embarrassing concept like a God-Man who is fully God and fully Man, make Christianity more, erm, relevant. They must have seen our Athanasius as an extremely inflexible, obviously “uncharitable” bloke, bent on slavish adherence to “the past” with no consideration at all for the “new times” and the necessity of being “pastoral”. No doubt, after the papal excommunication (let us say this again: papal excommunication) most devout Christians thought the good man had now nothing else to do than to bow to the superior rank and wisdom of the Pope and retract his strange fixation with the Trinity properly intended.
Ubi Petrus, and all that…
If you think Athanasius bowed faced with group pressure, think again. If Pope Liberius did, he didn’t. If you think he was afraid of the excommunication, or fearful for his own soul, I will have to disappoint you again. This saintly man simply knew he was on the side of the Truth the Church had taught from the start, and if an angel had come down asking him to believe different things than those transmitted to us by God through the constant teaching of the Church he would have simply refused.
Fast forward to the XX century. The Church at large adopts strange ideas which, whilst not (mostly) openly heretics, are certainly at variance with what the Church has always taught. The Creed is not abolished, but the sacredness of the Liturgy as such is under a great attack. A very strange (but very convenient) theology concerning religious liberty and the role of the Church is being introduced; mainstays of Catholic theology are “revisited” according to modern sensitivities, with Capital Punishment now largely perceived as intrinsically bad, and war as always wrong. The primacy of the Pope itself is under attack, now practically – if not formally – substituted by a thinking according to which the Pope is there to give some good counsel and wise admonition every now and then, but leaving the real business of governing the Church to his bishops as a body. Concepts like the Kingship of Christ are not officially abolished but willingly forgotten; the same happens with countless traditional devotions like the Rosary, the Litanies or the Vespers; even the Sacraments suffer unprecedented attack, with Confession now seen as an embarrassment by many priests and even the sancta sanctorum of Catholic dogma, Transubstantiation, being factually ignored by a growing number of priests and faithful who, like their Arian ancestors, simply feel too modern and enlightened to believe in such “old” things.
A bishop reacts, like Athanasius, to all this. Like Athanasius, he does not care what the clear majority thinks, preferring to side with the minority which includes Christ instead. Like Athanasius, he is not impressed at having the Papacy against him, and like Athanasius he gladly suffers excommunication at the hands of a Pope to allow true Catholic teaching to continue.
We all know who this brave Archbishop was. Please remember him with affection in your prayers, and ask him to help you in your daily tasks and toils if you think – which would not be surprising at all – that he is in Heaven and can intercede for us wretched sinners fighting not only against the lures of the world, but against a clergy apparently joyously intent in a ceaseless work of self-destruction, and of possible destruction of legal Catholic practice in many Western countries.
To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant, Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman famously said. To be even shallow in Church history is, if you ask me, to cease to be deceived by clericalism or, worse still, papolatry.
The Truth is the Truth is the Truth. We do not adapt the Truth to the thinking of the Clergy, but we measure the work of the Clergy according to its adherence to Truth. Pope Liberius’ mortal spoils have finished decomposing a long time ago, whilst the immortal Truth defended by Athanasius could never die. This our hero never forgot. Several times during the course of his very turbulent life he had to endure exile, humiliation, and physical danger. Never he wavered, knowing he had Truth on his side.
I suggest you remember Athanasius every time you are told the one or other bishop (or Society) must recant or repent or adopt a strange theology because… the Pope says so, perhaps under pain of excommunication.
Athanasius didn’t retract, because he defended the Truth and the Truth is defended against angels, let alone Popes. It is not clear to me why the thinking of the XX Century’s Archbishop or of his followers should be any different than the one of the great saints of the past.
Posted on January 6, 2013, in Catholicism, FSSPX, Good Shepherds and tagged Archbishop Lefebvre, Athanasius of Alexandria, Conservative Catholic, conservative catholicism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Athanasius And… Marcellus.