“The sheep follow him, because they know his voice.
But a stranger they follow not, but fly from him,
because they know not the voice of strangers.” (Jn 10:4-5)
This little series is for the faithful who don’t so much seek pastors with the smell of the sheep, but who pray rather for pastors who have the sound of the Shepherd.
All who miss that tenor of apostolic zeal in certain pastors at present are invited to be encouraged by the ministry of those shepherds who have gone before us in history. Their words come across now as a fresh draught of clear doctrine in the midst of a salt waste of heterodoxy; an orienting breeze from some holy mountain in the midst of a tepid swamp of self-gratifying psychobabble and modernist nonsense.
They strengthen us because they are the words of those not content with this life, witness to a truly Apostolic courage in the preservation and extension of that Faith which alone can satisfy and save. We greatly need their prayers and inspiration.
“His disciples remembered that it was written,
The zeal of Thy house consumes me.” (Jn 2:17)
SETTING: You converted to Catholicism last year, finally convinced that the sect to which you belonged had abandoned the truth of Christ. The testimony of a few lay Catholics in your area was most powerful in this regard; not because they were great scholars or orators, but because like the Magdalene, they sought to cleave to Him.
They clung with all their strength and deepest love to His doctrine, preserved by his Apostles and handed on to their successors – even while some of their priests and bishops became new Judases, turning aside into errors of every kind.
You once professed such errors – but no longer.
The brilliance of the apostolic doctrine showed itself in the very prayer and actions of you Catholic neighbors, whose simple devotion and only rudimentary learning continues to confound the novelties and errors which you once had learned. They remind you of the Psalm: “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise… that thou mayst destroy the enemy.” Indeed, these are “the little ones who believe,” whom your Lord once praised.
When they saw your sincere desire for Him and allowed you to attend their Holy Sacrifice for the first time, you heard Him speak in the silence of your heart, from that Eucharist raised in the hands of their priest. Indeed, their worship itself declares: Here He Is, Incarnate on their altars even as he was in the arms of the Virgin.
You had to have Him. After months of preparation, you were received into the true Church, and it continues to be the greatest consolation of your life.
Yet even as you rejoice, you mourn; for just as the Apostles experienced terrible dissensions in the first age, heresies rend the Church today. When you learned that the Catholic bishops of your district had abandoned the apostolic faith and become heretics, you groaned to watch the splendid basilicas and local parishes transform into houses of impiety and falsehood. Your Catholic brethren groaned with you, and sought the few Catholic priests who remained. Many of you now attend Mass in local houses, as your Catholic ancestors did in prior generations.
Reasoning with friends and family still caught in the snares of error is taxing and sad – indeed, it would be unbearable if it were not for that abiding interior freedom and peace from the truth of the Lord. You recall that with Him, all things are possible. But how to convince your family of the heretical nature of their favorite priest, Eutyches? The man is a learned archimandrite with tremendous acclaim, while you remain an unlettered layman – and a recent convert, at that. What can you say?
Hope surges when a Papal letter begins circulating: Peter has spoken! Here again, he “confirms the brethren” as Christ commanded, and the words of the Supreme Pontiff brings great joy to your heart – for the Faith is not beyond the grasp of the simple. Indeed, it is precisely to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.
From the Tome of Leo (449 AD):
…We now see what scandal against the integrity of the faith had reared its head among you. …Eutyches, who was considered a man of honor because he had the title of priest, is shown to be very rash and extremely ignorant. What the prophet said can be applied to him: He did not want to understand and act rightly: he plotted evil in his bed. What can be worse than to have an irreligious mind and to pay no heed to those who are wiser and more learned?
The people who fall into this folly are those in whom knowledge of the truth is blocked by a kind of dimness. They do not refer to the sayings of the prophets, nor to the letters of the apostles, nor even to the authoritative words of the gospels, but to themselves. By not being pupils of the truth, they turn out to be masters of error.
A man who has not the most elementary understanding even of the Creed itself can have learnt nothing from the sacred texts of the New and Old Testaments. This old man has not yet taken to heart what is pronounced by every baptismal candidate the world over!
He had no idea how he ought to think about the Incarnation of the Word of God; and he had no desire to acquire the light of understanding by working through the length and breadth of the holy scriptures. So at least he should have listened carefully and accepted the common and undivided Creed by which the whole body of the faithful confess that they believe “in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.” These three statements wreck the tricks of nearly every heretic.
…But if it was beyond Eutyches to derive sound understanding from this, the purest source of the Christian faith, because the brightness of manifest truth had been darkened by his own peculiar blindness, then he should have subjected himself to the teaching of the gospels… [and] the further development in the apostolic preaching.
…[For] without leaving his Father’s glory behind, the Son of God comes down from his heavenly throne and enters the depths of our world, born in an unprecedented order by an unprecedented kind of birth. In an unprecedented order, because one who is invisible at his own level was made visible at ours. The ungraspable willed to be grasped. Whilst remaining pre-existent, he begins to exist in time. The Lord of the universe veiled his measureless majesty and took on a servant’s form.
The God who knew no suffering did not despise becoming a suffering man, and, deathless as he is, to be subject to the laws of death. By an unprecedented kind of birth, because it was inviolable virginity which supplied the material flesh without experiencing sexual desire. What was taken from the mother of the Lord was the nature without the guilt. And the fact that the birth was miraculous does not imply that in the lord Jesus Christ, born from the virgin’s womb, the nature is different from ours. The same one is true God and true man.
…This Eutyches must be judged to be extremely destitute of this mystery of the faith… it is by this faith that the Catholic Church lives and grows, by believing that neither the humanity is without true divinity nor the divinity without true humanity.
When you cross-examined Eutyches and he replied, “I confess that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but I confess one nature after the union“, I am amazed that such an absurd and corrupt declaration of faith was not very severely censured by the judges; and that an extremely foolish statement was disregarded, as if nothing offensive had been heard! …Eutyches must not suppose that what he said was either correct or tolerable just because no clear statement of yours refuted it.
So we remind you, dearest brother, of your charity’s responsibility to see to it that if through God’s merciful inspiration the case is ever settled, the rash and ignorant fellow is also purged of what is blighting his mind. As the minutes have made clear, he made a good start at abandoning his opinion when, under pressure from your statement, he professed to say what he had not previously said, and to find satisfaction in the faith to which he had previously been a stranger. But when he had refused to be party to the anathematizing of his wicked doctrine, your fraternity would have realized that he was persisting in his false belief and that he deserved a verdict of condemnation.
If he is honestly and suitably sorry about this, and acknowledges even at this late stage how rightly episcopal authority was set in motion, or if, to make full amends, he condemns every wrong thought he had by word of mouth and by his actual signature, then no amount of mercy towards one who has reformed is excessive. Our Lord, the true and good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, and who came not to destroy but to save the souls of men and women, wants us to be imitators of his goodness, so that whilst justice represses sinners, mercy does not reject the converted.
For then indeed is the true faith defended with the best results, when a false opinion is condemned even by those who have followed it.
Not long after Pope Saint Leo the Great sent this letter, Rome itself would be threatened with the invasion of Attila the Hun and his armies. The Pope rode to meet the barbarian in Mantua, and convinced him to abandon the attack.
The Pope’s ringing words about the Petrine Office’s task to affirm orthodoxy and suppress heresy are equally salient, especially coming from so great a Saint and Doctor of the Church: “If We do not watch with the vigilance which is incumbent upon Us,” he declared, “We could not excuse ourselves to Him who willed that We should be the sentinel.”
Happy Feast of Pope Saint Leo I, and may he intercede for his Successor in the Chair. May the Lord preserve our Holy Father, give him life, and make him blessed upon earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies. Amen.