NSR: Making Church history up as they go!

Over at the National Schismatic Reporter, the journal of record for heretics and schismatics everywhere (aka Fishwrap), there is an article by one Richard Gaillardetz, the “Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College”, ostensibly about women, ordination and the Magisterium. Guess where he comes down.

I was amused by some of his premises, which you are supposed to just accept.

The first premise isn’t so bad, but the second is a real hoot.

To wit, the first:

Today the term magisterium generally refers to the doctrinal teaching office and authority of the bishops in communion with the bishop of Rome.

Okay, here he is suggesting that, in the past, the Magisterium was probably something else than it is today (and could be something else in the future?).

Let’s move along to next premise:

Even as questions of doctrinal authority emerged with considerable vigor in the early church, it would be anachronistic to assume that the church of the first millennium experienced anything like our modern conflicts between the magisterium and theologians.


The contrary is true.

Maybe the writer has forgotten Arius?

Arius was a priest in the diocese of Alexandria in Egypt. We could call Alexandria an Archdiocese. Later it would be a Patriarchate. The Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, convened a local synod of bishops and, with it, excommunicated Arius.

Has the writer forgotten Pelagius?

Pelagius was not a bishop and, as far as we know, not a priest.  Some scholars think he may have been a monk, but there is no conclusive evidence for that.  That leaves – wait for it – lay man.

The writer is correct that there were relatively few non-clerical theologians making problems in the ancient world, but it is hard to think of many theologians who caused more problems for the Church than Arius the priest and Pelagius the layman.

The theological problems of the modern age are nowhere near as serious as those of the Patristic era.

Here’s another example.  Remember Nestorius?

Nestorius was the a bishop in Constantinople at the beginning of the fifth century.  Nestorius had written in Greek to Pope Celestine, who did not read Greek.  Celestine asked his Archdeacon named Leo (later Pope Leo the Great) to respond.  Leo assigned the task to a young monk named John Cassian.  This sounds like a curial process to me.  And Jerome sure worked in the court of Pope Damasus, didn’t he?

It is absurd to suggest that the theological controversies we see today, in which the Roman Curia gets involved, are more serious than those of the 1st millennium, when there was supposedly a pristine, curia-less, happy era of consensus building in collegiality and sounding out the faithful in polls and in the pages of the Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter).

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  1. wmeyer says:

    In my limited study of the heresies the Church has suffered, I found myself dizzy trying to keep up, and that was just those which happened in the first couple of centuries. I have no idea what the total count may be, but I would guess that a “family tree” of heresies would be rather large.

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    What’s that quote? “To be deep in history is to become Catholic,” or words to that effect?

    Well, then, if you’re a supposedly educated Catholic clergyman or nun or lay pundit, and you’re ignorant enough of history to say this stuff with a straight face, I guess that would help you become not Catholic.

    Of course, being Marxist means you can weasel your way around history of all sorts, because everything that’s ever actually happened is irrelevant to the inevitable future progress. Actually knowing history is somewhat of a handicap, so those who want to be progressive can’t really bring themselves to pay attention. But it’s still sad to see.

    Prediction of what comes next: “Oh, well, those early Christians only argued about unimportant stuff, like the iota in homoiou-whatever it was. We argue about important stuff! And anyway, Pelagius and Arius were fine progressive folks who got their views oppressed.”

    [Go and visit the “Deep in history” swag store!]

  3. acricketchirps says:

    Maybe Professor Gaillardetz meant this. I’m not sure if it’s correct either but it rings true:

    Even as questions of doctrinal authority emerged with considerable vigor in the early church, it would be anachronistic to assume that the church of the first millennium experienced anything [as ridiculous as] our modern conflicts between the magisterium and theologians.

  4. fvhale says:

    Saw this article last night. “Standard Gaillardetz,” I said, and went to bed (on the Pacific coast).

    I found it interesting that the first item of “Recommended reading” at the bottom of the article was Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith by Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ (Sapientia Press, 2007), a book which I have on my shelf. From chapter 3, “The Magisterium: Historical Development,” p. 27:

    “In his struggle against Pelagianism Augustine wrote: ‘For already [the acts of] two councils on this question have been sent to the Apostolic See; and rescripts have also come from there. The cause is finished: would that the error might sometime be finished also!’ (Sermon 131; PL 38:734)”

    Same old thing. The Magisterium speaks (and conclusions are communicated from the Apostolic See), but people choose not to listen, especially “smart” people who fancy themselves to be theologians who “think independently of the Magisterium.” The example from Augustine, cited by the Cardinal, is about 1,600 years old. So much for Gaillardetz’ claim that “there is no real historical precedent for the plethora of ecclesiastical pronouncements emanating from the papacy.”

    Amusing side note: The beautiful illustration at the top of the article at NSR is “a 15th-century illumination [which] depicts a theological lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris.” I wonder what language the lecture was in? [Hint: it was not French!]

  5. Arius? What about those who denied Christ had a human body and was present in the Eucharist, who were corrected in the letters of Bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 104)?

  6. Bob B. says:

    This is a teaser to buy his book:
    When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Today’s Church
    “Catholicism has always recognized the need for a normative doctrinal teaching authority. Yet the character, scope, and exercise of that authority, what has come to be called the magisterium, has changed significantly over two millennia. This book gathers contributions from leading Catholic scholars in considering new factors that must be taken into account as we consider the church’s official teaching authority in today s postmodern context. Noted experts in their fields cover many intriguing topics here, including the investigation of theologians that has occurred in recent years, canonical perspectives on such investigations, the role that women religious have played in these issues, the place of the media when problems arise, and possible future ways forward. The book concludes with The Elizabeth Johnson Dossier, a selection of documents essential to understanding the case of Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, whose work was recently the subject of severe criticism by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
    Boston College and the Jesuits, tut, tut.

  7. disco says:

    I think what he means is that in the first millennium no one ever defended their heresies by claiming that the orthodox were protecting pedophiles.

  8. chcrix says:

    Let’s not forget Marcion of Sinope.

  9. aviva meriam says:

    WAIT……. let’s just assume the editors refuse to consider their errors. WHO OWNS this publication?

  10. NoTambourines says:

    I’m reminded of two things: first, the “spiritual pride” sermon posted earlier, and the tendency to think our problems are way, way worse than anything anyone else has ever had — that they’re “special.”

    Second, the revisionist leanings here remind me of Christian Primitivism/Restorationism. Fine article by Fr. Dwight Longenecker here:


  11. Bea says:

    Even earlier than that, how about our first bishops not wanting to accept Gentiles into the Church and got on Paul’s case, until Peter stepped in and said that Gentiles need not be circumcised. They gave Paul a hard time until Peter decided for them all.

    Not a heretical problem but a stumbling block for the early growth of the Church in that time.

  12. Clinton says:

    Perhaps Professor Gaillardetz is so dismissive of the issues faced by the early Church and Her
    magisterium because those issues were mostly about orthodoxy, not orthopraxy. I daresay
    Arians and Pelagians were just as horrified by the pagan world’s embrace of infanticide and
    sodomy as were orthodox Catholics. Maybe to Professor G. and his cohorts such things as the
    divinity of the second Person of the Trinity are merely trivial. If the entire early Church and
    the early heresies were disagreeing only on matters of dogma, yet in agreement that it was, say,
    sinful to leave unwanted newborns exposed to die, then to Gaillardetz et. al. there really was
    no significant conflict then between magisterium and theologians.

    Imagine there was documentation of a roving group of heretical women– “sisters”, let’s call
    them– in the Middle East of the 1st century AD. Perhaps they travelled in a large chariot they
    called a ‘bus’. History averts her eyes from what these women actually believed about such
    things as Christ’s divinity, but it is known that they were vociferous in their cries for women’s
    fauxrdination, and curiously ambivalent about the acceptance of infanticide by their pagan
    society (in contrast to their orthodox Catholic brothers and sisters). Documents describe how
    the magisterium stepped in … aannnd suddenly Professor G. and the NSR are interested in
    Church history.

  13. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I’ve seen some pretty pithy take-downs in my day, Pater, but that one was a beaute.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    wmeyer, I use to have a heresy chart, which I took from a book and had enlarged like a chart. I taught an “isms” course and the poster was on the wall.

    Many, many, many heresies.

    More and more, I think those who work at the Fishwrap just are not top drawer.

  15. wmeyer says:

    Supertradmum, I would love to see the chart. It would help me to place things in terms of which one spawned which others. St. Alphonsus’ book of heresies is the one which left me dizzy.

  16. Son of Trypho says:

    I think the modern theologians would be much more similar to the Donatists – refuse to accept a Papal ruling, then a clerical council and finally resorting to appealing the secular authorities…

  17. robtbrown says:

    In the Epistles of John conflict over doctrine n be seen in the Apostolic Early Church. Gnosticism was around at the very beginning of the Church, in fact, likely preceded it. I doubt that the Epistle refers to some as children of darkness because they were stealing bread.

    Some time ago I read an article by RGaillardetz on the Ordinary Universal Magisterium. He correctly notes that OUV authority was expanded by Vat II. Unfortunately, he does not approve of it while I think it’s great. He also thinks that a later era can correctly oppose what the OUV held in a previous era, which of course means that he thinks the Ordinary Universal Magisterium is not universal.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    wmeyer, I do not have that one any more, but I shall try and find one for you.

  19. Tradster says:

    Throughout the year the libs try to rewrite sacred history to justify women’s ordinations. We have an early Easter this year, which means the whining feminists of both sexes will soon begin adding their annual screeching rewrite of another bit of hallowed history. I refer, of course, to Holy Thursday and the “Wash Women’s Feet” (WWF) movement. After all, Jesus really washed the feet of the Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene, don’t you know, not those of the apostles.

  20. robtbrown says:

    >b?Even as questions of doctrinal authority emerged with considerable vigor in the early church, it would be anachronistic to assume that the church of the first millennium experienced anything like our modern conflicts between the magisterium and theologians.

    IMHO, these modern conflicts exist because no era of the Church has had anything like the contemporary surfeit of poorly educated theologians.

  21. wmeyer says:

    Supertradmum, acardnal says he has one from a book by Fr. John Markoe. I have asked whether it might be possible to scan it….

  22. dominic1955 says:

    As someone said above, I think this guy must have meant that it would be anachronistic to assume that the Patristic Church had arguments and conflicts approaching anywhere near the full-stop stupidity they get to know.

    At least the heretics of old had some leg to stand on, especially when things hadn’t been defined. Now, its morons who get pieces of parchment from other morons reiterating the same mind-numbingly dumb things they did forty years ago. They never tire of self-congratulation and listening to themselves in echo chambers.

  23. dominic1955 says:

    *now* I should proofread…

  24. Joe in Canada says:

    It’s sad to see what’s become of the Queen of Sciences. It used to be just sister going around giving weird workshops in parishes based on a few sabbatical courses, but now the “professors” themselves have given up rigor and objectivity.

  25. GOR says:

    For some time now, the study of history has been denigrated as ‘useless’, ‘old stuff’, ‘irrelevant’ – not to mention ‘bunk’ (Henry Ford). Apparently, we are so advanced today, we have so much technology etc. that the past has no lessons for us.

    Consequently we fall into the trap of thinking that the issues and problems of today are unique, one of a kind – and that these are the worst of times.

    How short-sighted! We have been here before. The Church has been here before. And the Church will still be here after we – and all the controversies of today – are long gone.

    How do we know this? From Faith…and history.

  26. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Even as questions of doctrinal authority emerged with considerable vigor in the early church, it would be anachronistic to assume that the church of the first millennium experienced anything like our modern conflicts between the magisterium and theologians.”

    Well, in a very, very restricted sense, following from Premise 1, this statement might be correct, simply because, IF the concept of the Magisterium were too primative to be of much influence in the early centuries, then there wouldn’t be much of a Magisterium for the theologians to fight against.

    However, there is an unchanging ontological status to the Magisterium, even if, say a Pope dies, here or there. What Gaillardetz is trying to do is make the claim that a red Buick Skylark is fundamentally different than a blue Skylark. In other words, he is looking at the paint job rather than the body frame.

    I can claim anything starting from arbitrary axioms. He must, first, prove that the Magisterium has changed over time, which is an impossibility because the concept of Papal infallibility is the central concept of the Magisterium and that was defined, de fide, by Vatican I. So, in terms of history, there is an impenetrable historical barrier standing in 1870 that his argument can’t get past.

    The Chicken

  27. Vincent. says:

    wmeyer, if you are able to get a copy of that chart, is it possible I could get a copy?

    All the best,

  28. wmeyer says:

    Vincent, I do not know if I will have any success. acardnal has one, from a book published in 1926, and again in 1960. I do not know what shape it is in, but at 28″ x 20″, it presents a challenge for reproduction.

  29. wmeyer says:

    …on a long shot, I Googled “chart of christian heresies”, and got this on the first hit:

    There are other hits that look worth exploring.

  30. oldCatholigirl says:

    wmyer: keep exploring. Not only does that chart have lots of typographical (graphical?) problems, it’s at a site that is Orthodox :i.e., not entirely consonant with Catholic teaching. (I checked out the article on the Papacy.)

  31. Mom2301 says:

    wmeyer, thanks for the link to the chart of heresies. That will come in handy.

    People like Gaillardetz will say whatever serves their purposes. In one breath we should look to the past to see the “real” Church an in the next, we dare not look to the past as the Church was “backward” and ignorant then. I think it boils down to the fact that the Fishwrap types believe they are smarter, more insightful and civilized than both their contemporaries and all people who came before them. It seems as long as they use big words like “Magisterium” and talk about history they can get away with it because the average Joe is not well schooled in Church history (or any history for that matter). They are then met with a chorus of “yeah, what he said!” and they puff up a little more. Pride ain’t pretty, look where it got Lucifer.

  32. wmeyer says:

    oldCatholicGirl: Thanks for the tip. I did note that there were many links returned. I am certainly not in a position to declare any of them particularly good or bad.

  33. robtbrown says:

    Supertradmum says:

    wmeyer, I use to have a heresy chart, which I took from a book and had enlarged like a chart. I taught an “isms” course and the poster was on the wall.

    Many, many, many heresies.

    As an unapologetic Thomist, I think there are two primary contrary heresies for each doctrine–one of defect, the other of excess. All other heresies are corollaries.

  34. acricketchirps says:

    I was okay with that heresy chart until I got down to filioque… which way did we go with that one again?

  35. Andy Lucy says:

    Whenever I read an intro or a blurb about a book, and the words, “…in today s postmodern context…” I just know that I need to break out the Maalox. It is going to be a fun ride.

  36. chantgirl says:

    If we (God forbid) had a Pope that thought like many of our liberal theologians today, you can bet that the theologians might come to a different conclusion about magisterial authority.

    I once took a course in Church History in which the prof said that whenever you see a heresy in the Church, chances are good that a priest came up with the idea. Even today, lay theologians are mostly spouting regurgitated theories that clerics were fermenting before and right after VII. On more than one occasion I have read something ridiculous that a priest theologian has written and been confirmed in my belief in Papal infallibility. What does seem to be different today is the percentage of the laity that have bought into the heresies (and still stay members of the Church). Weren’t the early heresies more foodfights between the clergy than representative of the views of the laity?

  37. chantgirl says:

    That should be *dissenting* lay theologians regurgitating.

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