Tag Archives: Universal

Trend toward ‘revising’ Christianity

Today, a number of scholars are exploiting individualism and “revisioning” Christian origins to more easily fit into a global religious unity. Two representative figures are the late Joseph Campbell (1904- 1987) and Karen Armstrong (1944- ). Campbell, known for his Power of Myth, called for “obstinate” Christianity to abandon the doctrine of the Fall as a “primeval event,” along with the historic bodily resurrection, and the unique incarnation of the Son of God. Karen Armstrong, ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, is a former nun promoting her Charter for Compassion (2009) and activating the Golden Rule to unify the world’s religions.


Al Kresta

Redefining Heresy and Orthodoxy

The revisionists also include Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Karen King, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg and scores of others less well known. Some are members of the Jesus Seminar. Some occasionally cooperate on projects. Many hold compatible visions of Christian origins but disagree over the future of inter-religious cooperation.

Elaine Pagels (1943-), author of The Gnostic Gospels (1979), has exercised special influence. She wrote the first popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi documents, chosen by Modern Library Association as one of the most significant nonfiction books of the 20th century. She and others have been promising for over 40 years that the Nag Hammadi library (1945) would radically refashion our understanding of Christian origins. “These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was.”

Their work is revisionist and denies that early Christianity had an authoritative, doctrinal core or set of authoritative teachers. Heresy wasn’t error, it was just different. Diversity of belief, they say, characterized the earliest Church. The development of orthodoxy over a few centuries was purely a result of … forces entirely apart from God’s guidance ….

The Traditional Storyline: Truth Precedes Falsehood

The traditional storyline is represented by Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. Jesus proclaimed and advocated the “truth,” i.e., “orthodoxy” (from the Greek meaning “right belief”). He commissioned the apostles and their successors to guard, defend, apply, and transmit this truth from generation to generation until He comes again. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity was the score but some preferred to create their own doctrinal playlist. These were called “heretics” (from the Greek hairesis “a taking or choosing, a choice”). Heresies were deviations, corruptions of the truth. Orthodoxy preceded heresy.

The Revisionist Storyline: Diversity Precedes Orthodoxy

German theologian Walter Bauer (1877-1960), recast the tradition: “[O]rthodoxy was only one of several competing systems of Christian belief, with no closer links to any original, so-called ‘apostolic Christianity’ than its rivals…[I]t owed its victory…more to what we might call political influences than to its inherent merits.”

Excerpt from Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents ©Al Kresta. Published by Our Sunday Visitor, www.osv.com. Used by permission.

AL KRESTA is a broadcaster, journalist, President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications, host of the nationally syndicated Catholic talk show “Kresta in the Afternoon”

Catechism 101

Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2089

Why are we called Catholics instead of simply Christians?

It’s not a case of either/or but of both/and. “Christian” was first used to describe the followers of Christ at Antioch. It probably originated among our enemies as a contemptuous nickname (see Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). But by the time St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the first decade of the second century, the believers had gladly accepted it.

kresta“Catholic” is simply derived from the Greek word catholikos, meaning “universal.” We call ourselves Catholic because it describes the scope of Christ’s saving mission and the extent of the community he founded. Christ died for the sins of the whole world, and his Church is open to members of every nation, kindred, tongue, region, generation, locale, race, gender, class, and culture. ŠThe Catholic Church is the “universal” community founded by Jesus Christ, the savior of the whole world (see 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Rv 5:9; 7:9; 14:6).

Wonderfully enough, it’s St. Ignatius of Antioch who gives us our first recorded use of the term “Catholic” to describe the Church. Ignatius was the second or third bishop of Antioch, a major teaching center in the early Church that had breathed some deep apostolic air. Saint Peter had served as bishop just before he went to Rome, and Ignatius was himself mentored by the apostle John.

On his way to martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius left us a body of correspondence that was highly revered in the early centuries of the Church. ŠThere he wrote: “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

“Catholic” is not, as many people imagine, a denominational title. It simply describes a quality or mark of Christ’s Church. “Denominationalism,” strictly speaking, didn’t arise until the breakup of the Western Church in the 16th century.

Today the Catholic Church is sometimes referred to as the “Roman Catholic Church.” Certain Anglicans, not Catholics, originated the phrase. ŠThey wanted to be regarded as the true “Catholics” in contrast to the merely “Roman” Catholics. So they sought to exploit a contradiction in terms. How can one be “Catholic” — that is, universal — and yet merely “Roman” at the same time? It was a clever play on words that was intended as a sneer.

Today we often hear Catholics themselves claiming to be “Roman” Catholic. ŠThis is an attempt to turn the tables on the critics and redefine the phrase. “Yes, we are ‘Roman’ Catholic, meaning that we accept the primacy of Peter and the teaching authority of his successors, who traditionally operate from Rome.” ThŠese Catholics wear the phrase “Roman Catholic” as a badge of loyalty to Church teaching.

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001

Catechism 101

ThŠe Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church. In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him the fullness of the means of salvation which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. ThŠe Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #830