When I was a young lad, my grandfather, who was not a big joke teller, and who spoke nothing but French till he was sent to school, once entertained himself enormously by telling me this little joke:
A man in a restaurant asks the waitress, “Miss, can you tell me what the soup du jour is?”
To which she replies, “No sir. It changes every day, you know!”
My mother had to explain it to me. She explained (laughing) that soup du jour is French for “soup of the day,” which means that the soup served perforce changes on a daily basis. (As Charles Coulombe says humorously, the best reason for a good education is that with it, you’ll get all the jokes.)
Heresy is something like the soup du jour. It changes, if not every day, at least quite frequently. Brother Francis used to tell us that apologetics is the only part of sacred theology that changes constantly. The reason for this is that the objections to the Faith from unbelievers of all sorts — including heretics — are constantly changing. It is the job of apologetics to defend the Faith from those objections, so it, too, must change to defend the unchangeable Faith with new arguments. Orthodoxy is semper idem (always the same), whereas heresy is ever in flux. (This reminds me of another humorous anecdote, but I will save that for the end.)
Now, while heresy is ever changing, one has been with us for about two hundred years and shows no signs of going away any time soon. It has grown to become, in our opinion, the mega heresy. It is still on the menu as the hérésie du jour, although it is often a side-dish served up with some more recent offering which complements it nicely. It is indifferentism.
Indifferentism is the belief that it does not matter what religion a man professes, he can be saved nonetheless. The Church has roundly condemned this notion as a heresy in very strong language, holding it to be a denial of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The last great monk-pope, Gregory XVI, condemned it in his Encyclical Letter, Mirari Vos (August 15, 1832). Here is what that Holy Father had to say:
13. Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that “there is one God, one faith, one baptism” [Eph 4.5] may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that “those who are not with Christ are against Him,” [Lk 11.23] and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore “without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate.” [Athanasian Creed] Let them hear Jerome who, while the Church was torn into three parts by schism, tells us that whenever someone tried to persuade him to join his group he always exclaimed: “He who is for the See of Peter is for me.” [St. Jerome, epistle 57] A schismatic flatters himself falsely if he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration. Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: “The branch has the same form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it is the form, if it does not live from the root?”[St. Augustine, in psalm. contra part. Donat.]
Such talk is rare or non-extant in these days of ecumenism, isn’t it? When is the last time you heard a Bishop preach like this? When is the last time you heard a priest preach like this? When is the last time you heard any Catholic educators say anything remotely resembling this?
Yet, the Church’s teaching has not changed.
The very notion of heresy implies that orthodoxy matters. Heresy, as you may know, comes from the Greek verb, αἱρετίζω (hairetízō), meaning “to choose.” The very notion of Orthodoxy — meaning, literally, “right belief” — implies that there is no choice other than, well, choosing to be wrong about God’s revelation of Himself to man… and therefore damned. The concept of heresy within the orthodox belief system of Catholics tells us that we cannot be indifferent to such matters. Indifferentism essentially says that either there is no right belief, or that right belief does not particularly matter. Just as God is a jealous God (Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24), so, too is Catholicism a jealous religion. It will admit no other into its company. Truth is that way. “What fellowship hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15)
Standing up for these truths does not make you popular, I know. Father Feeney promised us that this doctrinal issue would be our hair shirt, that is, our penance. True, this is not the only penance we need; Father’s point was that the opprobrium you will have directed at you when you take up this cause is penitential. In these days when the cult of political correctness has joined itself to indifferentism, one is considered an outright freak for upholding Catholic orthodoxy, especially this particular point of it.
There are those who speak with utter contempt of what we hold sacred. They call us triumphalists, restorationists, ideologues; they accuse us of adhering to ceremonies, doctrines, and world views that were appropriate for another time, but whose day is past. They say this with great arrogance and certitude even as the fruits of their own failed progressivist ideas are plain to see. Jerusalem desolata est! (“Jerusalem is desolate.” —Isaias 64:10).
But in the face of that, we must keep doing what we are doing, maintain a high level of Catholic pluck and good cheer, and be grateful that we have fewer occasions of vainglory. The sacramental life, the liturgical life, the interior life of a Catholic is what ought to give us joy. Even as we keep up our Lenten penances!
And speaking of good cheer… The joke I promised earlier is one we heard from a Melkite Bishop who came to visit Brother Francis many years ago: There was a bishop making a visitation of his diocesan seminary. He requested to see the final exams of the fourth-year theology students. The rector dutifully dug up the pile of papers for the bishop’s inspection.
“Very good!” His Excellency said upon reviewing the exams, “Now let me see last year’s.” Another pile was produced. “Father Rector, these exams have the exact same questions as the others I just saw. Do you give the same final exams every year?”
“No, Your Excellency,” the Rector replied with a very satisfied smile, “the answers change every year!”
When someone is indifferent to truth, the answers will indeed change every year, won’t they? Let us pray for the grace not to be indifferent to the high demands of Catholic Faith and morals during these dark hours. God will not be outdone in generosity.