Friday, August 24, 2012

A Heresy Still With Us

Archbishop Fenelon, a
saintly proponent of the
Quietist Heresy

In a recent post (August 19), I mentioned the heresy of Quietism.  Quietism basically posits that the soul, when it comes to its perfection, is completely at rest in and submissive to the Will of God and that spiritual and moral perfection consists in this state of absorption in the Divine.  Many of the great mystics such as Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross speak of the union of the Soul with God as the pinnacle of prayer—but they don’t define that union as perfection but take the spiritual journey further to where the soul is transformed in its loving union with God and by its loving union with God so that it, the soul, can love with the same love with which God loves.  That may be confusing, but let’s put it this way—for the Quietists the soul gets off the train a station early, preferring to “rest quietly” in the love of God rather than continue on to its destiny of loving God and (and this is crucial,) neighbor.  This is what was meant by the quote of Innocent XI condemning Quietism in my previous entry (August 1) by speaking about two bishops who were proponents of this heresy—that the one prelate loved God too much while the other loved his neighbor too little. Quietism falls into the trap of focusing solely on the love of God without due concern for love of neighbor.    
Quietism still exists in the Church today—and in fact is quite alive and well in contemporary Christianity.  The “Christian” whose concern is for ritual and ceremony while ignoring questions of poverty and injustice is typical of the Quietist heresy.   The “evangelical” whose concern is with the “Law of God” and so is anxious to prevent same-sex marriage and abortion but who has indifference to the sufferings of those at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale is yet another.  Indeed, evangelicalism has long been associated with Quietism—a tragic fate for genuine evangelicalism.  In the centuries old struggle of Protestantism to maintain the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, the inherent relationship between faith and works has been lost and a pseudo-Christianity that permits charity and justice to be optional characteristics of discipleship has emerged.  This was only exaggerated in the American experience by untrained lay preachers in 19th century Methodism where faith came to be measured by religious or pious “feeling” rather than by concrete commitment to practical discipleship.   Even Catholics have fallen under the spell of what is truly the great American heresy—“feeling” religion.  Whether it is the “liberal” who wants the emotional high of a frantic and frenetic liturgy with drums and dancing or a pseudo-traditionalist who thinks that for the Mass to be the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven” it must be in Latin and facing the wall, “form over substance Catholicism” reflects the Quietist tendency to let one’s feelings be the guide of all things good and holy.  There is, in fact, nothing inherently wrong (nor inherently more sacred) with the Drum and Dancing Mass or the Solemn Tridentine Mass or any Liturgy on the spectrum between.  We each have our own preference for worship style, but what our Catholic faith demands in its orthodoxy is a relationship with God in which we mature beyond our pious comforts and find ourselves purified of the desires for our personal spiritual consolations so that we may be totally at the disposal of God’s Will for us to love our neighbor not merely on the natural level of human affection but on the Supernatural level of Charity—that is, of loving others with the Love that fills God’s Own heart and not merely with the emotions that spring from ours.  A Christianity which ignores the requirements of societal justice (notice, I am avoiding the more narrow term “social justice”) is off track when it comes to orthodoxy. It brings to mind the axiom of Saint John Chrysostom
"Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage here in the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it suffers cold and nakedness”.  
I say this in the context of visiting a parish that was once known for its commitment to make concrete the principles outlined by the Social Justice magisterium as found in Mater et Magistra, Gaudium et Spes, and Popolorum Progressio but now where the priest busies himself only with a wide range of pious devotions.  A parish that ten years ago was packed out for three liturgies on Sunday now has two Masses with a combined attendance of less than 300.  The pastor is proud that they have adoration every day and a variety of novena devotions for each day of the week, but it is clear that they have lost their sense of mission and consequently have lost the essence of the Gospel.  There is nothing wrong with a devotional life, but prayer that is meant only to engender pious feelings and does not impel us from the Church into the World armed with the Good News of Jesus Christ and a compassion for the least of his brothers and sisters is not true prayer and is not our Catholic heritage.

No comments:

Post a Comment