The Wolves in Sheep's Clothing...

Sheep's Clothing (Development of Doctrine):          This article received June 28, 1997.

It was God Himself, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, who warns us at the 'Sermon on the Mount' - "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly are ravening wolves." (Matt. 7:15) These words echo across the centuries to us Catholics at the present day, who are just as much, and even more, in need of such a warning. What should motivate us to heed this warning most carefully in our daily lives? Because the purity and integrity of the Faith is a serious matter. A person's Faith can easily be corrupted.

The Baltimore Catechism states that:
"A person who denies even one article of our faith could not be a Catholic; for truth is one and we must accept it whole and entire or not at all." This merely repeats the teaching of Our Lord as written by St. James: "whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all." (St. James 2:10)

St. Thomas Aquinas concurs: "To reject but one article of faith taught by the Church is enough to destroy faith as one mortal sin is enough to destroy charity..."

Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical "Satis Cognitum", teaches this in so many words: "Nothing is more dangerous than the heretics who, while conserving almost all the remainder of the Church's teaching intact, corrupt with a single word, like a drop of poison, the purity and the simplicity of the faith which we have received through tradition from God and through the Apostles." Not only should we heed Our Lord's warning because of how EASILY a person's Faith can be corrupted, but we should find motivation in the fact that the danger is more prevalent today than it was at the turn of the century, 87 years ago, when St. Pope Pius X felt it necessary to write:
"The partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church's open enemies; her very bosom, and are the more mischievous the less they keep in the open." "The Church has no greater enemies. For they put into operation their designs for her undoing, not from without but from within. Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate." "They seize upon professorships in the seminaries and universities, and gradually make of them chairs of pestilence." Certainly we don't expect to find men dressed in sheepskin. No. What we are told to "beware" of is that which on the surface sounds pleasing to the ear; that which seems "positive" or "beneficial" at first glance. But behind it all is a subtle error that destroys Faith. What is one of the best ways that an error against the Faith can be taught to a Catholic and have him easily accept it as true even if at first they question the novelty of it? The way it was done at the turn of the century was to say that "doctrine evolves", or that "truth evolves with man". Today however, being that evolution is not generally looked upon favorably by Catholics, they will instead say that you must realize that there is "doctrinal development" - this is the "sheep's clothing" of which Our Lord speaks.

What better way to have false doctrines accepted by the faithful than to claim that the doctrine only "seems different" because they are the truths of old which have "developed" and progressed, or advanced! This is one of the most insidious and treacherous methods of corrupting the faith of a Catholic. The word "development" sounds beneficial or very "theological" to the ear, and may very well catch people off-guard. It is a very general term that has more than one meaning: beware of ambiguous wording. The term must be properly understood.

When an oak tree grows, it matures and develops as anything in nature. The oak tree has in perfection what the acorn had in germ. The acorn does not later become an apple tree. When it comes to the supernatural truths of Divine Revelation we see that this is true. The Church cannot at one time condemn something as a sin or error and latter teach that it is true or a virtue.

Let us look at a young boy who lived generations ago, say, Michael Ghislieri. At age 10 the boy learns his catechism, receives the sacraments and professes his Faith. He is a Catholic pure and simple, and knows the truths of his faith. As he matures, so does his faith and understanding of the truths, which he always knows are true. Later in life he studies philosophy and theology and becomes a theologian. He is still just as much of a Catholic as he was when he was 10 but now instead of simply KNOWING things to be true, he now knows the WHYS and HOWS of these truths. He has attained a BETTER understanding as he grew. This is nothing less than a "development of doctrine" in its TRUE SENSE. At age 10 he was Catholic with a GOOD understanding of the Truths of the Faith. As an elderly theologian he believes and professes the very SAME doctrines with the SAME MEANINGS but with a BETTER understanding.
(We now know Michael Ghislieri as St. Pope Pius V.)

The Church was given the Truths of the Faith from Our Lord. The Church teaches that Revelation ended at the death of the last Apostle. This "Deposit of Faith" has been preserved and taught infallibly from the beginning. When the Church was young, Christians had a GOOD understanding of the Faith. As the Church grew we developed a BETTER understanding of what was contained in that sacred deposit. A Catholic in the year A.D.94 is just as much a Catholic as an orthodox theologian of the 20th century, believing the same doctrines - nothing to the contrary. Truth is immutable. What was once condemned by the Church in the past cannot be later approved in principle, nor can what was once declared as true and good by the Church, later become false and sinful. A true development of doctrine "increases" the understanding of the fine points and its relation to other truths. Never can a BETTER understanding mean that what was previously understood was defective. It was understood in less detail, but was NOT an error, or anything to the contrary. A theologian believes the same truths as the school-boy, only he knows them in better detail. This fuller detail cannot be contrary to what the school-boy knows.

So, we see Our Lord warns us of men who would seek to corrupt our Faith. Such men today quite often wear this sheep's clothing of "doctrinal development" to fool unwary Catholics into believing different doctrines than were previously taught by the Church. The sheep's clothing which is just as treacherous and insidious is that of "ecclesiastical position". The Church has had to deal with such heretics in the past, and has dealt with them severely. Heretics who hold high office in the Church can easily fool the average Catholic simply by standing on his office of dignity (as we see in the quote above by St. Pope Pius X). History shows that this has wreaked havoc on the Church. Bishop Arius is a good example. The Arian heresy caused about 80% of the clergy in the east to fall away from the Faith. And many went along, not because they understood that one heresy, but because they simply followed their clergy into it.

St. Paul seemed to warn us of different doctrine when it comes from a source with a special office or dignity: "...there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:7-9) St. Paul gives us a principle to remember: "brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle." (2 Thess. 2:14) Immutable truth is found in tradition. Many people today recognize the heresies that are infesting the Church and are trying to heed St. Paul's words.

An ordinary Catholic not long ago mentioned the disturbing fact that his parish priest in Pennsylvania was telling his flock that baptism wasn't necessary! Had this happened hundreds of years ago, even with the then slow communication and transportation, he would today be as infamous a heretic as a Zwingli, Donatus or Calvin! Today, however, this priest casually goes his way of destroying souls.

Many Catholics today have to be extra vigilant because these heretics are not being condemned, and can be found in many parishes. Some of these vigilant Catholics call themselves "traditional Catholics" to distinguish themselves from those who are not standing fast to the traditions. The term, however, is a redundant one: Catholicism, as we have seen, is essentially traditional. Calling a Catholic "traditional" is like calling a circle "round", or saying "a three-sided triangle". But the term today seems to take on a certain necessity of use in order to counteract those who have broken with tradition but still call themselves "Catholic". Unfortunately, there are several different flavors of these "traditionalists", but regardless of our feelings toward them, we must be aware NOT to let our feelings lessen the love we should all have for tradition, which is the touchstone of Catholicism. No one is above tradition.

We read the strong words of St. Paul - "though we, or an angel from heaven". These are words which include the warning that the office even of a Pope, could be used to spread heresy. Of course, in such a case, there would be an "anti-pope" and not a real one. So effective is the Sheep's Clothing of "ecclesiastical office" in promoting error that St. Bernard, Cardinal Newman, and others, logically believed that the only way the Anti-Christ could possibly be so effective in creating a "great apostasy" among Catholics is by becoming an "anti-pope" whom the Catholic world at large would think is a valid Pope. (see article ANTICHRIST in "Catholic Encyclopedia")

So we see:
1) How easily one can fall into error and cease to be Catholic.
2) How prevalent error is today.
3) How serious adherence to tradition is.
4) The True meaning of Doctrinal Development.
5) The Sheep's clothing of both "ecclesiastical office" and "evolution of truth". The principle at the heart of this all: Catholic Truth is immutable. It has not, cannot, and will not change. It would be well to read quotes from the Church declaring this crucially important truth.

The Solemn oath taken before God and imposed on all priests from 1910 to 1968 is very clear on the meaning of immutable truth: "I accept sincerely the doctrine of faith transmitted from the apostles through the orthodox fathers, always in the same sense and interpretation, even to us; and so I reject the heretical invention of the evolution of dogmas, passing from one meaning to another, different from that which the Church first had;....the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed otherwise, may never be understood otherwise.....So I promise, so I swear, so may God, etc."

"If anyone says: it may happen that to doctrines put forward by the Church, sometimes, as knowledge advances, a meaning should be given different from what the Church has understood and understands, let him be anathema." - Vatican Council (1870)

St. Pius X, who called "modernism" the "summation of all heresy", condemned the following: CONDEMNED "58. Truth is no more immutable than man himself, since it evolved with him, in him, and through him." "...the error of the modernists, who hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute but relative, that is, that it changes according to the varying necessities of time and place and the varying tendencies of the mind; that it is not contained in an immutable tradition, but can be altered to suit the needs of human life."

Baltimore Catechism:
Q. 546. Can the Church change its laws?
A. The Church can, when necessary, change the laws it has itself made, but it cannot change the laws that Christ has made. Neither can the Church change any doctrine of faith or morals.

Q. 568. Does the Church, by defining certain truths, thereby make new doctrines?
A. The Church, by defining, that is, by proclaiming certain truths, articles of faith, does not make new doctrines, but simply teaches more clearly and with greater effort truths that have always been believed and held by the Church.

(c) 1997 The Catholic Dispatch


 Return to Home Page: