15 August 2021

Neo-Arians, Palaeo-Arians, Newman, and Mary

 I recall a moderately recent news item about a questionnaire which was put to an Evangelical grouping. One of the questions asked whether the respondent agreed with this statement:

"Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God."

Cunning. By highlighting what look like positive words about the Lord, it lures the unwary and the uncatechised into affirming heresy. I was not surprised that ... I think ... 78% ticked the AGREE box.

Guiltily, I recall a Parish experience of my own. I let the staff at the Church of England Primary School write the text of a Nativity Play to be put on by the tinies in my Church. One of their prayers thanked God "for creating Jesus".

Bad, that. My fault. I should have been burned, together with the head teacher and the heretical tiny.

S John Henry Newman developed a rather tasty hypothesis to the effect that it was Arius who accurately analysed the position Mary truly occupies within the Church (Development Part 1 Cap IV Section II para 8). This is how it goes.

The Arians, wrote Newman, said a lot of fine-sounding stuff about Christ. For them, He was "the God of the Evangelical Covenant, and the actual Creator of the Universe"; He had "an ineffable origin before all worlds"; He was "High above all creatures as the type of all the works of God's Hands"; "the King of all Saints, the Intercessor for man with God, the Object of worship, the Image of the Father".

But this was not enough "because it was not all". 

The Arians failed to acknowledge Him as God; as "the One, Everlasting, Infinite, Supreme Being".

Our Blessed Lord does not fit into the slot devised by Arius. But that slot does exist. So who, Newman asks, was "the predestined heir of that Majesty?"

You can guess his answer. "A throne was seen, far above all created poweers, meditorial, intercessory; a title archetypal; a crown bright as the morning star; a glory issuing from the eternal throne; robes pure as the heavens; and a sceptre over all; and who was the predestined heir of that Majesty? Since it was not high enough for the Highest, who was that Wisdom, and what was her name, 'the Mother of fair love, and fear, and holy hope,' 'exalted like a palm-tree in Engaddi, and a rose-plant in Jericho,' 'created from the beginning before the world' in God's counsels, and 'in Jerusalem was her power'? The vision is found in the Apocalypse, a Woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

Our great Saint, Patron, and Doctor has again played the simple and satisfying trick with which I began this blogpost: followers of Popular Protestantism, when they complain that Catholics and Orthodox put Mary into the place belonging to Jesus, do but betray the simple fact that they themselves are thoughtless Arians who do not put Jesus high enough. Newman has lured them into his trap ... and ... snap! ... he has sprung its door. The Argumentum ad hominem ... in Locke's sense of the phrase ... has once again delivered the goods. And now S John Henry makes the Kill explicit: "The votaries of Mary do not exceed the true faith, unless the blasphemers of her Son came up to it. The Church of Rome is not idolatrous, unless Arianism is orthodoxy."

Surely, it was this sort of turning of the tables that drove Archdeacon Hare to inveigh against "Dr Newman's Circaean Wand".

I don't know about you, but there are moments when I feel myself so easily transported back to the common-room in Oriel nearly two centuries ago, reckoned the cleverest in Oxford ... standing there is a neatly dressed young tutor, the light of the candles reflected from the glass of his spectacles but not quite concealing the mocking amusement in his eyes. 

"Patrimony"? Exactly. Look no further. Oret pro nobis.

Gaude. Maria Virgo: cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo.



Colin Spinks said...

That 78% is an interesting statistic, showing that one can prove anything with numbers. Do that same 78% nail their colours to the mast by reciting "Credo...in...Jesum Christum...factum not genitum"?

Anita Moore said...

I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours, together with the Corn, Wine and Oil post of a few years ago.

Cosmos said...

Many so-called “sola scriptura” Protestants have historically adopted the creeds and dogmas of the first few centuries without a clear justification. They were generally accepted as part of the patrimony that would have inevitably arisen from a good, honest reading of the Bible by a believer filled with the Holy Spirit.

However, with the mainline Protestant churches losing their influence, many Evangelicals have lost their theological crutches and are truly relying on scripture alone for the first time. The result is a rehashing of ancient heresies, like Arianism. It turns out that these ideas are not so easy to avoid without the ancient Tradition, most importantly the Law Of Prayer—i.e., the liturgy!

It makes me wonder what new heresies are in store for those Catholics who leave behind the ancient liturgy? While the Novus Ordo is certainly compatible with Orthodoxy when led by a Ratzinger, Burke, or Sarah, the words and gestures also seem compatible with a more reductionist faith when led by men or women with less precision (or other motives).

Jesse said...

I know that this comment will not be seen until the end of your holiday, Father, but I wanted to submit it while it was still fresh in my mind.

I suspect that the 78% erred, not because they were (unwitting) Arians, but because they were (unwitting) Nestorians.

To be proper Arians, they would have had to believe that the name "Jesus" denoted a single Subject with Divine and Human Natures, but that the Divine Nature of that Subject was not "of one substance with the Father."

In my experience, however, the clergy of today will readily affirm their assent to the doctrine of the homoousios that they were taught in seminary. They believe, in an abstract way, that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, is fully God, that he was begotten, not made, and that "there was no time when He was not."

What they cannot quite grasp, however, is that "the man Christ Jesus" is that Second Person, and that the subject of all the thinking, speaking, doing, and suffering of Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son. Instead, they see Jesus of Nazareth as a distinct human subject -- a subject uniquely joined in will and cooperation with God the Son, but a distinct subject nonetheless.

The 78% thus probably thought that they were affirming that our Lord's human nature -- which they could not conceive of except as a human person, i.e., a "being" -- was "the first and greatest being created by God."

In other words, these clerics were fully on board with the teaching of the Quicunque vult that our Lord is "Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood." They just hadn't read as far as the next article: "Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ."

(We may be sceptical, of course, about whether any of the 78% had ever read the Quicunque vult. Most of my seminary students haven't heard of it before I inflict it on them in my courses.)

A stumbling block for many seminarians is how our Lord's finite human mind can be reconciled with divine omniscience, and they get round this by a vague appeal to "kenosis." That solution is adroitly "problematized" by E. L. Mascall in his splendid book Christ, the Christian, and the Church (London: Longmans, Green, 1946; repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017), pp. 53–65. I assigned this as a mandatory textbook in a course last year. But it was, to judge from the student's course evaluations, "too hard."

Banshee said...

The late Msgr. Hardon had a very interesting talk about the Protestant view of Adam and Eve, and of fallen humans, not being high enough, and that his opinion was that a lot of trouble about Mary, free will, human politics, etc. was caused by that.

So yeah, this is just the flip side of that, and I was very impressed to realize it from Newman.

Same thing with Mohammed's place in Islam (although honestly, some Muslims apparently do believe that Mohammed is basically the second person of Allah, pre-existent, the world was made by Allah for him alone, him and his whole family were made out of light (that's Shia stuff) or something off Allah's throne, and blah blah blah.

There's a website with some pretty awful mp3 versions of archival cassette recorded talks, and that's where I heard it.

PM said...

Often overlooked is the fact that Arius erred from both ends. He reduced His the Son to a semi-divine Platonic emanation,but was also a Monophysite of a peculiar sort, holding that this semi-divine emanation substituted for a human soul in Christ.

Grant Milburn said...

I assumed that both those polled and the school staff were thinking of "Et homo factus est" rather than "genitum non factum."

If I were the Grand Inquisitor, I'd let everyone off with a public penance, possibly writing out the Athanasian Creed 100 times. Then the auto da fe could be restricted to the burning of the heretical play.