Emmitsburg Council of Churches


History of the Church: Part III

Father John J. Lombardi & Stephen Quinn

Read History of the Church: Part I, Part II, Part IV

Did the Church, established by Jesus Christ on the Rock of Peter (Mt 16:18), survive intact as we know it today? Have Jesus' Teachings continued after He died? Do the principles of the Holy Bible endure in some way after the first century? Some think not; Catholics, however, think so. How so? Jesus says: "The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth…The Advocate…will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you" (Jn 12:16, 26). Jesus promises a linkage of Himself and His teachings thru all time. The Catholic Church preserves and promotes this succession of holy teaching-it is called Sacred Tradition. We continue our investigation of this in our third installment of the History of the Church.

First, given the questions above, let's ask: Was there ever a time, or occasion, when Jesus' teachings did not continue? Yes and no: this has occurred voluminously throughout two thousand years as people broke off from His teachings and formed a different "church" or community from the Catholic Unity established by Jesus. Today there are thousands of Christian "churches" or communities in the world. (We use the word "church" in quotes, lower-case, in accordance with Vatican distinctions-cf. "Dominus Jesus". As Jesus founded only one Church and intended this to last forever as His Bride-(cf Mt 16; Eph 5), we believe the Catholic Unity is His Church-"I will build My Church…"-(Mt 16:18; 18:17).

Secondly, then, what are some instances or descriptions of break-offs from Jesus' teachings? The two major errors and distinctions are described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (they are seemingly strong terms, but probably occur more frequently than we think): "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… Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (CCC: # 2089). Throughout the centuries, as we shall soon see, these phenomena occurred, and individuals, either out of ignorance or direct free choice, have gone by themselves to start a new community and dis-form Jesus' Unity .

Meditations: Have you ever refused-consciously, willfully-- to believe Jesus as He speaks thru His Catholic Unity and Church? Vatican Council II calls Catholics to believe all teachings of the Faith ("Lumen Gentium"--# 25). Do you refuse the submission of your mind and will in matters of Faith and morals? -regarding abortion, contraception, human sexuality, following Jesus? How can you believe more fully and completely?

The schism of Montanism was one which caused trouble for the Church from within (and continues in a different fashion to plague the Church today), through spiritual pride and self-righteous sectarianism. Montanism began in the second century and lasted until the mid-fifth century, when St. Augustine reconciled its remaining adherents to the Church. The Montanists, named for their founder Montanus, were a renewal group. Montanus's followers were impressed with his charisma and apparent holiness, and believed that many bishops and average believers weren't really Catholics because they weren't as holy as the Montanists were. This unreasonable "striving standard" turned out to be inordinate and unjust,, disjointed from other valid Catholic-Christian teachers and the Bible-Montanism became impossible for the mass of "normal believers". Montanism was not a heresy because it rejected Church doctrine about the Trinity or the Person of Christ-- they were a schismatic group because they held the personal teachings of Montanus to be of greater authority than Church teaching, as if there were additional revelation. But not even the Church has the power to reveal new doctrine. Sacred Revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle (John); the Church has the power only to interpret and develop what has already been revealed (cf. Jn 16:12).

As the Second Vatican Council explains, "To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work …and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13: fr. Dei Verbum). Meditations: Ultra traditionalists fail to see legitimate development in our Faith and morals; progressivists see too much and neglect tradition. How about you? Are you awaiting a new teaching-about morality, celibacy, the Second Coming of Jesus?...Do you believe some private revelations or teachers which "circumvent" the Public Revelation of the Bible and Church?

In the fourth century, the Arian heresy denied Jesus' s divinity. The priest Arius of Alexandria, Egypt, taught, "There once was a time when the Son was not"--in a catchy song. He held that Jesus was less than the Father, and thus denied the Trinity. Arianism became so influential that at one point a majority of the Church's bishops taught it--evidence that individual bishops do not share the Pope's charism of infallibility, i.e. (cannot be wrong) when teaching matters of faith and morals. It would take two Church councils, the Council of Nicea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381, to finally break its power. Nicea taught, as we say in its Creed at Mass to this day, that Jesus Christ is "one in being with the Father," not a mere creature. (Note: an influential priest once rejected two other priests from coming to "his parish" because he does not allow the Nicene Creed to be recited. So: Don't break with Sacred Tradition - help pass on this precious Faith by prayerfully reciting these important and sacred words!).

St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, stood firm as a fierce defender of Our Lord's divinity, and reminded the Church that unless Christ was both human and divine, he could not have redeemed us from sin. Athanasius was persecuted and exiled more than once! Athanasius' work, "On the Incarnation of the Word," is one of the best, brief demonstrations from Scripture of Christ's divinity, and well worth reading today. Meditations: Do you fully believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ - in His power to die for, and free you from, sins? Are you defending the orthodoxy of the Church in dialog with its opposite, progressivism? Can you avert spiritual pride and self-righteousness in this dialog?

The Nestorian heresy that rocked the fifth-century Church resulted in a doctrinal pronouncement, which Catholics and Protestants proclaim together today. The monk Nestorius, who became Patriarch of Constantinople in 428, taught that Jesus Christ was not God incarnate, but that the divine Christ only dwelt in the human Jesus as in a temple (not fully inhering). There would thus be two persons in Christ. Thus, Nestorius reasoned, the Virgin Mary could not be the mother of God (theotokos-God-bearer) but only the mother of the human Jesus. Leo taught that Mary must therefore not only be the mother of the man-Jesus, but the Mother of God, because Jesus Christ was one person with two natures, not two persons with one nature.

The Council of Chalcedon, which condemned Nestorius in 451, proclaimed the full doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinitarian doctrine was taught and understood from the time of the Apostles, in one fashion or another (for instance, baptismal formulas, etc.); however, a formal declaration became necessary. All Christians accept the doctrine of the Trinity (even though the word Trinity is not found in the Bible), as the doctrinal teaching that ended this early Church heresy lives on in some Christians today. Are you aware that the Trinitarian doctrine was revealed through Scripture and declared by the Catholic Church? Meditations: How can you help others who do not rightly believe in the Blessed Trinity (since it is the central core and tenet of our Faith ( CCC: # 234)--for instance, Mormons (who do not believe in Christ's full divinity, or truths about the Trinity)? And, from a possible dialogue with them, how can you learn to cultivate evangelical zeal from their lively examples?

Read History of the Church Part I, II,

Briefly Noted

The Great Eastern Schism

"From the beginning of the See of Constantinople to the great schism in 867 the list of these temporary breaches of communion is a formidable one. There were fifty-five years of schism (343-98) during the Arian troubles so for the 544 years period (323-867) no less than 203 were spent by Constantinople in a state of schism" (from: The Catholic Encyclopedia).

The Eastern Churches broke from communion with Rome, over what they saw as a Western idolatry of the papacy. The reality is more complicated; why God allowed this development is a mystery of His Providence. We are hopeful for a full communion with the East and must pray and sacrifice for this reunion-as Pope John Paul has encouraged.

Centuries later, another eastern community broke away from Rome over the doctrine of filioque and began the Eastern Orthodox church. We Roman Catholics believe that the procession of the Holy Spirit is "from the Father and the Son", and not just from the Father alone. Along with political, social and cultural issues, the two Lands separated and are still apart-doctrinally and morally, but more close together than apart.

Meditations: How can you pray and work for this unity in our Church/churches? Have you ever been to a valid, Catholic-Eastern Mass which emphasizes mystical worship, praise of the Trinity and smells (incense) and bells to enlighten the intellect and help worshippers bow and surrender?! Do you possibly neglect wounds and errors in the Body of Christ which can be avoided and "fixed"? Pope John Paul has said our Church needs to "breathe with both lungs"-meaning, along with our Latin lung we need the other Eastern lung to fully function What treasures are you neglecting?

-By S Quinn and FJL. Historical facts from: Church History by Fr. John Laux and the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Advent means "to come to." Notice-we are not at Christmas-- not yet. We are pilgriming thru Advent to come to Christmas. Just as the Virgin Mary and St Joseph prepared for that First Christmas, so must we prepare, above all by our prayer, meditation, Mass and confessions; by our Bible reading and serving the poor, sick and dying. Prepare to Receive the Divine Share.

Advent helps to prepare for two things: the Second Coming of Jesus and His First Coming-Christmas. How prophetic. We need not slumber or get slothful (thinking He's not come for two thousand years so why now?"…) and against materialism. Even the original St Nicholas gave presents and charity because of the Divine Presence of Jesus in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and he lived a simple, humble life.

A Spiritual Meditation: Rest in Him…Impress within…Coalesce in Him…Commentary: Rest in Him. First, we busy people need to rest in God (Ps 46:10-Be still and know that I am God). We actually need to stop to give God our best time ("not just on the run"). Impress within: Then we need to allow God to impress Himself within us, as when a camera lets light within, to be impressed on the film surface, imprinted. Then-coalesce with Him--we are called to be one with God-as far as possible in this life, to "participate in the divine nature" -II Pt 1:4; and "abide in Me (Jesus) and I in you"-Jn 15:4). These are steps, poetic signifiers to mystical prayer and contemplation. Are you willing to take them? Heroically keep trying to be quiet, quieted within to receive God more?

Come to Our Advent Series-"Preparing for Christmas," led by Fr Francis Kelly, a Franciscan of the Primitive Observance. This Sunday night--5pm Mass and spiritual conference/Holy Hour following...Mon and Tues: 6.30 Holy hour and 7.30 Mass and Spiritual Conference following...All are welcome!

New Website: is www.veritaschristi.org. ("Truth of Christ") led by the Grotto Chaplain and others. The main topic is "spirituality," with other articles of interest in apologetics, returning to the Faith," "Mysticism East and West," Meditations," etc. Check it out and gain some spiritual insights.

Read History of the Church: Part I, Part II, Part IV

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi