“History is the tutor of life,” said Cicero. Nothing is more useful for the understanding of certain of the liveliest aspects of modern reality than the study of analogous situations of the past.
Heresies, as is well-known, rose up one after the other during the whole twenty centuries of the history of the Catholic Church. The most recent of them is progressivism, an ill-disguised revival of the modernism St. Pius X condemned at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The public at large has vague and not infrequently inexact notions about the way these different heretical currents broke away from the Church. For example, the majority of people imagine that Luther’s break with the Church took place in four stages: 1) He elaborated a doctrine contrary to Catholic doctrine; 2) then, realizing the ideological contrast, he revolted, broke away from the Church and set up an evangelical sect; 3) as a consequence, the Church threatened him with excommunication unless he abjured his errors; 4) Luther persisted in his doctrinal position, was excommunicated and the break was consummated. Thus Luther supposedly left the Church because he wished, when he wished, and as he wished. He left her like the prodigal son left his father’s house: openly, frankly telling his father ahead of time.
History teaches us, however, that in Luther’s case, as in those of the other great heresiarchs, the process of separation was quite a bit more complex. The reason is that certain heresiarchs — perhaps most of them — did not by any means want to go roaring out of the Church with a slam of the door. They were far too diplomatic and subtle to select such a simple-minded way to achieve their goals. They chose to stick to the Church like a cyst to covertly spread heresy among the faithful. If this system worked, the heresiarchs would be able to infiltrate all the structures of the Church from top to bottom.
For that reason, albeit aware that their thinking was incompatible with Catholicism, the founders of heresy tried to formulate their maxims in terms seemingly reconcilable with orthodox theology. Had they not employed such precautions, they would, in fact, have been easily identified and condemned as heretics. All Catholics would have turned against them and their doctrines. The heretics’ process of infiltration would have halted ipso facto, and they would have run the risk of taking with them no more than a handful of apostates.
From this standpoint it is not difficult to grasp the milestones in the most subtle heretics’ process of separation from the Church: 1) the heresiarch engenders his heterodox doctrine and gives it a formulation that at first sight looks orthodox; 2) the heresiarch begins circulating his camouflaged error and attracting unwary followers whom he gathers in groups controlled by his enthusiasts; 3) in secrecy his followers are taught the stark error, but they are advised to spread it in a veiled manner; 4) as the new sect begins to spread, voices are raised among the genuine Catholics denouncing the new heresy; 5) its adepts defend themselves by claiming that they are orthodox and are being vilely calumniated; 6) the Church examines the controversy, declares the new doctrine heretical, and excommunicates those who follow it.
So there is a class of heresiarchs and heretics who don’t rush out of the Church but wish instead to stay inside, fishing in muddy waters. It is necessary to root them out by sheer force through the application of spiritual penalties.
The peculiar nature of these sectarians explains why their process of separation from the Church sometimes does not even end in excommunication. Once the heresy has been condemned, it appears to have died; but within a little while, it springs up once again… inside the Church. For example, once Arianism, the famous heresy of the 4th Century had been condemned, the Arian sect fell apart. But soon afterwards it sprang up again within the Catholic ranks using expressions that camouflaged doctrines less radical than Arius’s but inspired in his thinking. Thus arose so-called Semi-Arianism.
Consequently, it was necessary for the Church to carry out a new effort to detect, define and condemn this new heretical snare, uprooting the cancer that had again sprung up within her.
What is the highest ambition of a veiled heresy? What do its leaders hope for with this tactic of infiltration? It is not simply to recruit many followers among the faithful. It is to bring priests, bishops, cardinals, and even, if they could manage to, a Pope, to their side. What extremes can’t the heretics’ dreams of empire reach!
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The process of the formation of communism was quite different. Its founder was not a Catholic. Its adepts were recruited among people who had never had faith or who had lost it entirely. Whenever the Marxist sect would make new recruits, they would openly break with the Church.
It seems evident, however, that in our days Communism is changing its tactics and trying to imitate, at least to a large degree, the subtle manoeuvre of the veiled heresies. In other words, Marxism now takes on the airs of a sacristan, endeavouring to take root in the Church in order to conquer her. Realizing that it has failed in its hundred years’ struggle against the Church from the outside, it now tries to kill her from the inside out.
How is this done? In a thousand ways. I don’t have enough space here to describe this immense manoeuvre in all of its aspects. I will limit myself to giving only one characteristic feature of it.
So we come to the hoax of “atheistic Communism.” The expression is legitimate; it is found in the pontifical documents. It is based on the fact that Communism is an extensive fabric of errors of which atheism is the gravest and most marked. So it is logical for it to be commonly designated as “atheistic Communism.”
Now, however, Catholic circles imbued with communist influences have begun to interpret the expression capriciously. If the Popes condemn atheistic Communism, they argue, it is only because it is atheistic. Therefore, if there were a non-atheistic current of Communism, the Church obviously would not have the least objection to it.
This subterfuge, for that is what it is, amounts to affirming that the Popes never condemned anything in Communism but its atheism. Now, reading the documents of Leo XIII alone is enough to see that this is entirely false. The Church, in fact, also condemns the political, social, and economic tenets of Communism. An authentic Catholic cannot accept them, even though they be presented without any connection with atheism.
So, for instance, to affirm the orthodoxy of a communist-inspired program of social reform including divorce, free love and complete promiscuity in sexual relations is blatantly opposed to Catholic morality. This is so even when the advocates of these reforms frequent the sacraments.
What I say about sexual promiscuity holds likewise for collective property, that is, an economic system that excludes individual property. If anyone says he believes in God but desires the implantation of such a system, he is against the Church.
What does communist propaganda gain from this doctrinal shell game played with the expression “atheistic Communism”? It manages to create in innumerable Catholics the illusion that, setting atheism aside, they may be communist in every other aspect. Now this is a perfect imposture.
To the extent that this treacherous manoeuvre goes on unobstructed, we shall have Communism deeply rooted in Catholic circles like we formerly had nascent Arianism and Protestantism.
In the face of this panorama, authentic Catholics are horror struck. The communists laugh. Because who will root them out of Catholic circles if the tendency in the Church not to excommunicate anyone continues?
(The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on March 14th, 1971. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed. www.tfp.org)