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  • The Heresy of Indifferentism

    Indifferentism, the Heresy that All Religions are Equal
    A Consequence of Martin Luther’s Heresy of Faith Alone
    by Rev. Bertrand L. Conway, C.S.P, 1929


    Is not one religion as good as another? Are not creeds in themselves unimportant, and conduct the one thing essential? Do we not frequently meet men who believe in Christ and all His teachings, and yet day by day do things that would bring a blush to a pagan’s cheek?

    One of the most common heresies outside the Catholic Church in our day and country is the heresy of indifferentism. The indifferentist will speak patronizingly of religion as a police force to keep the discontented in check, or as an outlet for the emotions of pious sentimentalists. He will praise all religions for the virtuous men they have produced; he will maintain that intelligence and good breeding alike call for a kindly toleration towards all creeds, and churches; he will vehemently denounce the Catholic Church as bigoted, intolerant and autocratic, because she claims obedience under sin as the infallible mouthpiece of a divine revelation. There are many roads, he informs you, leading to the kingdom of heaven, and an honest man may travel any one of them with the conviction that he is pleasing God.

    You meet the indifferentist everywhere. In educational matters he is a secularist, who marvels greatly at the determined effort made by Catholics to educate their children in separate Catholic schools; in politics he wants the State to ignore religion entirely, and becomes indignant when Church and State work together for the common good; in social questions he advocates many principles subversive of Christian morality, and tells the Church to keep her hands off such questions as divorce, birth control, labor problems and such like issues. In religion he believes that all creeds are equally true and equally helpful–perhaps, down in his heart equally false–and that their acceptance or rejection is as unimportant as the cut of a man’s clothes or the customs of his peculiar nationality.

    The Catholic Church condemns in most unequivocal terms this modern heresy of indifferentism. She asserts that it is the most subtle enemy of religion, harder to combat successfully than the most bitter prejudice and bigotry. A man who hates the Catholic Church because he thinks she stands for everything unintelligent, ignoble and autocratic, may be led to love her, once he learns that he has been misled by the parents he loves and the teachers he respects. A good hater like St. Paul, who, as he says himself, acted “ignorantly and in unbelief,” became, after his conversion, one of the greatest lovers of Jesus Christ. But an indifferentist, who declares God indifferent to truth simply because he himself is indifferent, and who glories in a self-made religion free of all obligation and restraint, is hardly apt to consider the claims of a divine, infallible teaching Church, which requires absolute faith in all the revelation of God, and enforces her divine doctrine and law under penalty of sin.

    Is it not strange, however, that the very man who worries night and day over his business troubles, and who sacrifices health and comfort in his pursuit of money, political preferment, or the interests of science, should at the same time be utterly indifferent to the truth of God? “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” said Jesus Christ (Matt. vi. 33). “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” (Matt. xvi. 26.)

    It is easy to trace the origin of modern indifferentism. It is the inevitable reaction from Luther’s false teaching regarding justifying faith. His extreme formula, “Faith alone without works will save,” has in the minds of his descendants led to the opposite formula, “Works alone without faith will save.” Luther said: “Believe right, and I care not what you do.” His follower to-day says: “Do right, and I care not what you believe.”

    Moreover, Luther’s teaching of private judgment, which made man’s reason the one supreme arbiter of the revelation of God, led naturally to indifferentism. Sixteenth century Protestantism substituted an infallible book, the Bible, for the infallible Catholic Church, but in practice the meaning of the Bible was left to the private interpretation of the individual. Within a few years this faulty principle gave birth to a number of contradictory versions of Christ’s gospel. How was the man in the street to know the true version from the false? Was it not inevitable that lacking the time, the inclination or the ability to study, he would soon conclude that it made no difference what a man believed?

    The Catholic Church condemns indifferentism in the name of reason, of the Sacred Scriptures, and of Christian tradition. The god of indifferentism is not a God to be adored by rational men. God is Essential, Absolute and Eternal Truth; He is likewise Essential. Absolute and Eternal Holiness. A God of Truth and Holiness, He cannot be equally pleased with truth and error, with good and evil. To assert, therefore, that God does not care what men believe, is indeed blasphemous. A man indifferent to truth–a liar, in other words,–cannot have the respect of his fellows. A God indifferent to truth could not demand the homage of thinking men. No wonder, then, that those who formed so low a concept of the Deity finally denied Him altogether. Indifferentism is merely atheism in disguise.

    The assertion that one religion is as good as another is irrational. It is a first principle of reason that two contradictory statements cannot both be true. If one is true, the other is undoubtedly false. Either there are many gods or one God; either Jesus Christ is God or He is not; Mohammed is either a prophet or an impostor; divorce is either allowed or prohibited by Christ; the Eucharist is the living Jesus Christ or it is mere bread.

    To declare all religions equally true, or that their differences are immaterial, is to deny objective truth altogether with the pragmatist–a denial which is the curse of our age. On this theory a man ought to change his religion as he changes the cut of his clothes, according to his environment. He ought to be a Catholic in Italy, a Lutheran in Sweden, a Mohammedan in Turkey, a Buddhist in China, a Shintoist in Japan.

    It is certainly strange that many believers in the Bible are indifferentists, in spite of its clear, explicit condemnation of this theory. Jesus Christ commanded His Apostles to teach a definite Gospel, and condemned those who knowingly rejected it. “Preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 15, 16). He prophesied that many would gainsay His teaching, but He denounced them in unmeasured terms. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. vii. 15).

    Revelation, if it has any meaning, is a divine message which no one can reject without sin. We must receive it, as the Apostle says, “not as the word of men, but as it is indeed the Word of God” (1 Thess. ii. 13). God, a God of Truth, could not possibly have revealed a plurality of religions, or a multitude of varying Christianities. He founded one Church, one Kingdom of God, one Sheepfold, under the perpetual and infallible guidance of Himself and the Holy Spirit.

    The history of Christianity in every age shows how alien to Christ is the heresy of indifferentism, which was first popularized by the English Deists and the French Rationalists of the seventeenth century. In the first three centuries the Christian martyrs died by the thousands, rather than save their lives by a profession of indifferentism. Frequently they were asked by friends and kinsfolk to sacrifice to the gods of pagan Rome, or at least to allow their names to be written down as having sacrificed. “What difference does it make?” asked their pagan friends. They answered in the words of Christ: “Every one, therefore, that shall confess Me before men, I will confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. x. 32, 33). They were not indifferentists. In sixteenth century England, many a Catholic was offered money, preferment and life, if he would but acknowledge the royal supremacy of the Tudors in things spiritual, against the constant voice of Christendom from the beginning. But men like Blessed Thomas More, Bishop Fisher and Edmund Campion gladly died for the certain teaching of Christ. They were not indifferentists.

    As a matter of fact, we find that the man who says first, “It does not make any difference what a man BELIEVES” is led logically to say, “It does not make any difference what a man DOES.” His morality is built upon the shifting, sands of opinion, fancy, human respect, and, therefore, will not stand the stress of sorrow, disgrace, difficulty or temptation. If religion be a mere matter of opinion, all certainty in morals becomes impossible, and men lapse into the old-time vices of paganism.

    Sometimes the good lives of unbelievers are mentioned as proof positive that belief is an unimportant factor in the regulation of conduct. A man will argue, “A never puts his foot inside a church, nor does he accept any creed whatever; yet he is a man, kindly, charitable, pure and honest. On the other hand, B is a Catholic, accepting without question every dogma and law of his Church, and I know him to be a drunkard, an adulterer, a hypocrite, the most uncharitable and contemptible of men.” But this statement proves nothing at all, because the comparison is made between the open, well-known vices of a sinful, hypocritical believer, and the obvious good deeds of an amiable unbeliever. The whole character of the two men is often not adequately known, and consequently is not weighed in a true balance.

    But even if we grant that a particular unbeliever is a fairly good man, his goodness is certainly not due to his unbelief. He lives in a Christian environment; he comes of Christian stock; he may perhaps have received a Christian education as a child. His life is parasitic. As Balfour writes in his Foundations of Belief, 82: “Biologists tell us of parasites which live, and can only live in the bodies of animals more highly organized than they. . . . . So it is with those persons who claim to show by their example that naturalism is practically consistent with the maintenance of ethical ideals, with which naturalism has no natural affinity. Their spiritual life is parasitic; it is sheltered by convictions which belong not to them, but to the society of which they form a part; it is nourished by processes in which they take no share. And when these convictions decay, and these processes come to an end, the alien life which they have maintained can scarce be expected to outlast them.”

    If a man be utterly indifferent to the truth of God, if he look upon the Ten Commandments as temporary laws evolved out of the consciousness of a certain Semitic race, if he questions the fact of God’s existence, makes little of the fact of immortality, denies the fact of sin, and the freedom of the will, what basis can he have for the moral law? A lawyer, he will not hesitate to bribe both jury and judge, if he can do so without detection; a doctor, he will not shrink from child murder or a criminal operation; a politician, he will steal what he can from the State’s treasury, and be loyal to his friends, no matter what their competence or their morals; a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, he will deny its every doctrine, and be at the beck and call of the rich and powerful among his hearers–a mere “seller of rhetoric,” as St. Augustine called him long ago.

    The true Christian may under stress of temptation fall into the worst vices of the pagan, and give the lie to his high profession. But no matter how low he may fall, he falls FROM A STANDARD, and you may appeal to him for amendment. He has once climbed up the mount of God, and he knows that with God’s help he can again reach the summit. But if a man feels confident that every lapse is due merely to the evil of environment, a taint in the blood, or the impelling force of a stronger will, he will not answer your appeal to higher things. He calls evil good, and good evil.

    Will you say that conduct is the one thing essential? Yot are right. But faith is the inspiration and support of right conduct. It is the very foundation stone of the supernatural life. A good man will accept God’s word in its entirety, once he knows it. A good man is bound to search for the revelation of God, once he begins to doubt about the validity of his own ethical and religious convictions. It is just as much a sin to deny the known truth or to be indifferent in its search, as to commit murder or adultery. This is a principle which the modern world has forgotten, but it will have to come back to it. It is a truth that the Catholic Church is ever trying to drive home to every heart and mind. She appeals to all men, however deluded by error or debased by sin, in a spirit of kindliness, tact, sympathy and patience. But she dare not sacrifice one jot or tittle of the divine message, which Christ gave her for the healing of the nations.

Saint for the Day

  • Saint james

    AMONG the twelve, three were chosen as the familiar companions of our blessed Lord, and of these James was one. He alone, with Peter and John, was admitted to the house of Jairus when the dead maiden was raised to life. They alone were taken up to the high mountain apart, and saw the face of Jesus shining as the sun, and His garments white as snow; and these three alone witnessed the fearful agony in Gethsemane. What was it that won James a place among the favorite three? Faith, burning, impetuous, and outspoken, but which needed. purifying before the “Son of Thunder” could proclaim the gospel of peace. It was James who demanded fire from heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritans, and who sought the place of honor by Christ in His Kingdom. Yet Our Lord, in rebuking his presumption, prophesied his faithfulness to death. When St. James was brought before King Herod Agrippa, his fearless confession of Jesus crucified so moved the public prosecutor that he declared himself a Christian on the spot. Accused and accuser were hurried off together to execution, and on the road the latter begged pardon of the Saint. The apostle had long since forgiven him, but hesitated for a moment whether publicly to accept as a brother one still unbaptized. God quickly recalled to him the Church’s faith, that the blood of martyrdom supplies for every sacrament, and, falling on his companion’s neck, he embraced him, with the words, “Peace be with thee!” Together then they knelt for the sword, and together received the crown.

    Reflection.—We must all desire a place in the kingdom of our Father; but can we drink the chalice which He holds out to each? Possumus, we must say with St. James—”We can”—but only in the strength of Him Who has drunk it first for us.

  •  Feeding_the_50001

    GOSPEL. Mark viii. 1-9. At that time, when there was a great multitude with Jesus, and they had nothing to eat, calling his disciples together, he saith to them: I have compassion on the multitude: for behold they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way: for some of them came from afar off. And his disciples answered him: From whence can anyone fill them here with bread in the wilderness? And he asked them: How many loaves have ye? who said: Seven, and he commanded the multitude to sit down upon the ground. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, he broke, and gave to his disciples to set before them, and they set them before the people. And they had a few little fishes, and he blessed them, and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat and were filled, and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand : and he sent them away.

    Our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ came down from heaven to take upon Himself our human nature through the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary for our salvation and to take away our sins. For thirty-three years He prepared Himself for this mission, in silence, prayer, and retirement, in order to preach the glad tidings of the Gospel. As He travelled through the land of Judea, He was always attended by crowds of people, who were attracted by His goodness, His doctrine, and His grace. He healed all manner of sickness, He caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear; the dumb came to Him, and He bade them speak, and their tongues were loosed; the dead were raised to life, and many other things did this great wonder-worker perform in that little country of Judea.

    So great was the eagerness with which the people followed Our Lord, that they forgot everything, their food, their rest, and their business, in listening to His eloquence. They for got to go to their homes, so great was their desire to be instructed by the Saviour. This should be a lesson to us: showing us how we should seek the word of God and listen to it with avidity. But of this I have spoken before: let me now merely remind you that the food of the soul is the word of God; that unless we give it this food the soul will lose its vigor and fall into a mortal sickness. How many are there who are already stricken with this death, and do not know their unhappy state. As Isaias says: “There are those who call evil good, and good, evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. “There are some who make a boast of not having heard the word of God for many years. What blindness to boast of this! We hear sermons rarely enough; and when we do hear them, are we attentive? We never learn without attention. The Emperor Constantine had such respect for the word of God that he listened to it standing, and when asked to sit down, he said that holy things should be listened to standing, as did the first Christians in the ages of fervor. Those who will not listen to the word of God with respect and attention are judged by the words of Our Lord Himself, “My brethren are they who hear the word of God.”

    Our Lord saw this great multitude patiently following Him. He approved of their great desire to hear Him, and calling His disciples together He said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have not what to eat, and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint on the way.” Such is the tender heart of Our Lord: not only will He reward fidelity to Him in the next world, but even in this. Hold to Our Lord, therefore, with all faith and confidence. David, the prophet king, cries out, “I have been young, and now am old, and I have not seen the just forsaken nor his seed seeking bread.” Fear then the Lord; live good lives, be obedient to His laws, and you will want for nothing.

    This beautiful lesson the elder Tobias impressed on the mind of his son. One day he called him and said: “Fear not my son: we lead indeed a poor life, but we shall have many good things if we fear God, and depart from all sin, and do that which is good.” Tobias and the Jews were in exile and captivity, were dependent slaves to cruel masters, and still he had such unswerving faith in the goodness of God that not with one word did he complain of that providence that ordered things in this way. And even in a worldly sense this confidence was not disappointed; for an angel became his son’s conductor to a far off country, where he was happily married and received a large sum of money for the relief of his necessities.

    Our Lord in the tenderness of His heart asked how many loaves of bread there were. A few fishes and seven loaves were all that could be collected. Then He made them sit down on the grass, blessed the loaves, and the disciples distributed them. They multiplied in such a manner in their hands that all had more than enough, and seven baskets were gathered of the fragments. Did you ever, my dear young friends, reflect that this miracle is repeated at all times in this world by almighty God? When the farmer takes the little seed and places it in the ground, it comes up and multiplies a hundredfold in the crop that is gathered in, and many millions of people are fed by it. This multiplication is not only seen in the seed of the field, but in the multiplication of fishes, of animals, and of men. Of these things we do not take much notice, they are in the ordinary course of the things of this world; but they are not the less wonderful. Be grateful to God for all this, look up to Him, and thank Him for the abundance He has bestowed on us. Consider, too, the innumerable graces that God has been pleased to send us without ceasing; consider the light He pours in upon our souls, the inspirations to our minds; the helps for our spiritual life; the Sacraments, fountains of all blessings, by which He feeds the soul, and especially His sacred body and blood, which is intended by Him as the great food of the soul.

    St. Teresa, reflecting on the great benefits Our Lord be stows on man, especially in the sacrament of His divine love, the Holy Eucharist, says, “If you give a bone, which is no longer wanted, to a dog, he will show by his joyful leaps and the wagging of his tail how glad he is for the gift.” How grateful should man, then, show himself for God’s wonderful kindnesses! Impress deeply on your minds, my dear young people, the gratitude you ought to show to almighty God, and use every means to glorify His goodness.

    Once, in the amphitheatre of Rome, a slave was to be torn by a hungry and ferocious lion; when the unfortunate man was placed in the arena, the lion bounded toward him, as if to tear him to pieces. But instead of killing him, the beast crouched down before him, and acted in the most friendly way, because at one time the poor slave had taken a thorn from its paw, and the lion recognized its friend. Tremendous was the applause at this fortunate recognition, and the slave’s life was spared. You, having reason, and knowing from whom all good gifts come, show your gratitude like rational beings. God has given you life, has preserved it, has given you health and vigor; He continually protects you from the many enemies that are threatening you, especially the devil. What has not almighty God done? You ought to open your eyes and consider yourselves the happiest youths in the world, for all the benefits you are enjoying through His goodness, and of which so many others are deprived. You will acknowledge the goodness of God at the judgment seat.  God is like a good king, who took his favorite out of the midst of destruction, and put him in a safe place, whence he could see all, and where he would have him acknowledge that his fate would have been similar had the king permitted him to remain with the other’s. You will see the millions of wicked sent to hell, while you are going to heaven; by the mercy of God, you have been preserved and placed in safety, where the fire of hell cannot touch you.

    Then, indeed, and for all eternity, you will raise your voice in thanksgiving for His interposition in your behalf, “when you shall see the sinner perish.”