By Kevin Lents
What is the purpose of this book? Why was it written? It is the kind of book
I needed but could not find in the 1990s, when I came back as a "revert" to a Church I had never really
known. I wanted to discover this Jesus Christ who is "...the way, the truth, and the life." (See John
14:6.) That meant trying to learn the truths of our Catholic faith. But when I plugged into Church ministries as
a volunteer in eighth grade catechesis, youth ministry, and adult continuing education classes, I began to hear
the comments mentioned in this book. Certain teachings of the Church, I was told, were no longer relevant for contemporary
Catholics. I became most confused.
In this, I was certainly no exception in the Catholic community. Lay Catholics all over the country report similar
experiences. From time to time in catechetical circles, almost any average Catholic is apt to hear statements about
the faith that sound incorrect to him. Maybe it is a gift of the Holy Spirit via the sacraments of Baptism, Holy
Communion, and Confirmation. But when an actively practicing Catholic hears an ambiguous, distorted, watered down,
or even heretical declaration about the faith, he often instinctively recognizes it as "language of dissent."
Oftentimes, some questionable statements can be true - if used in a certain and correct context (as is the case
with some of the statements in this book). It is when they are used incorrectly and out of proper context that
they distort the beautiful truths of our Catholic faith.
It is no secret that in the time since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, there has been much dissent
from the doctrinal, moral, and disciplinary teachings of the Catholic Church. Whether coming from clergy, religious,
theologians, or other religious educators, this dissent has had a disastrous effect on Holy Mother Church. Since
the end of the Council, a staggering proportion of registered Catholics in the United States have stopped attending
Holy Mass. While attendance varies from diocese to diocese and has leveled off in some, the average has dropped
from nearly 80 percent to 25 percent, and is still falling!
Many authors have taken on the task of explaining why dissent arose and how it has affected the Church. However,
this book focuses on the "language of dissent" often used by those in positions of authority in seminaries,
colleges, and diocesan or parish religious education classes. What is "dissent"? Of what does it comprise?
For a definition of dissent I turn to the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., one of the best-known, most orthodox dogmatic
theologians in the United States. His work will be referenced in various places in this book.
"Dissent, Doctrinal: The theory that a professed Catholic may legitimately disagree with an official teaching
of the Catholic Church and, in fact, should disagree in order to advance the Church's interests. It is based on
one of several erroneous premises, e.g., Modernism, which denies that the divine faith is an assent of mind to
God's revealed truth, or process theology, which postulates an evolving deity and therefore also an ever-changing
truth. Most often the dissent applies to some doctrine of Christian morals which, though infallibly true, because
taught by the Church's universal ordinary magisterium, has not been solemnly defined." (Fr. John Hardon, SJ,
Modern Catholic Dictionary, Bardstown, Ky., Eternal Life, Copyright 1999, p. 161.)
Two common examples of this "language of dissent," which will be covered more fully later in the book,
are: 1) "We are (the) Eucharist" and 2) "Jesus did not really multiply the fishes and the loaves.
The real miracle was the sharing of food His followers had with them."
One can see immediately the difficulties this language of dissent can cause. What do statements like this mean,
exactly? How can we, members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, be the Eucharist in the same
sense that Jesus is? Is the Mystical Body the same as Jesus' presence in the consecrated Sacred Host? How can this
be correct? Did Jesus really multiply the fishes and the loaves or did He not? Did He perform any miracles recounted
in the Gospels? If we are the Eucharist, and Jesus performed no miracles, then is the Sacred Host really His Body,
Blood, Soul, and Divinity - or is it merely a symbol which is supposed to unite Christians to be sacrament to others
in the world (as some in the Church put it)? Where does one find the answers to such questions?
This confusion abounds in the Western Catholic world. "Religious education" of this type is part of something
called the Modernist heresy or "Modernism." Pope St. Pius X wrote his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis
(Feeding the Lord's Flock) to combat this heresy in 1907. Sadly, the battle against it is not yet won.
For a definition of Modernism we refer again to Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary (there is another
definition of "Modernism" in chapter 16 from Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia).
"Modernism: A theory about the origin and nature of Christianity, first developed into a system by George
Tyrell (1861-1940), Lucien Laberthonniere (1860-1932), and Alfred Loisy (1857-1940). According to Modernism, religion
is essentially a matter of experience, personal and collective. There is no objective revelation from God to the
human race, on which Christianity is finally based, nor any reasonable grounds for credibility in the Christian
faith, based on miracles or the testimony of history. Faith, therefore, is uniquely from within. In fact it is
part of human nature, 'a kind of motion of the heart,' hidden and unconscious. It is, in Modernist terms, a natural
instinct belonging to the emotions, a 'feeling for the divine' that cannot be expressed in words or doctrinal propositions,
an attitude of spirit that all people have naturally but that some are more aware of having. Modernism was condemned
by Pope St. Pius X in two formal documents, Lamentabili and Pascendi, both published in 1907. (Etym. Latin modernus,
belonging to the present fashion.)" (Ibid, p. 356)
I decided to check into these questionable statements myself, relying on authoritative, magisterial documents.
Doing this is a matter of carrying out our baptismal and confirmation promises, as we read in the catechism:
"[For] by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched
with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged
to spread and defend the faith by word and deed". (CCC 1285, Lumen Gentium11; cf. OC, Introduction 2. Obviously,
"CCC" stands for the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Although your author urges every member of the Faithful to do so, the average Catholic sitting in his pew at St.
Anyparish USA may not have the time or the confidence to read Pius X's encyclical, or other recommended books,
to come to a better understanding of what is happening in the Church today. Or he may not know where to look.
Ultimately, the reason for this book is: to help average lay Catholics, who may have heard these or similar statements
about the faith, learn where to go to better understand and refute such dissenting or distorted statements. It
will sort examples of debatable statements about the faith into appropriate categories (authority on doctrine,
morality, sacramental theology, and scripture). Then it will answer the statements with reason and logic, backed
by such authoritative Church documents as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ecumenical Council documents, Papal
encyclicals or exhortations, or Sacred Scripture (using the Revised Standard Version Bible, Second Catholic Edition
- RSVSCE, unless otherwise noted). We will also look at writings by the early Church Fathers, who are:
"Early Church Fathers: Those select writers who either learned holy doctrine at the feet of the Apostles or,
being at least close to them in time, exhibited a profound respect for and understanding of their teachings. For
some time, the writings of the Apostolic Fathers were held in quasi-canonical esteem and naturally merit continued
study to this day. Among the lights of this group are Clement of Rome (Pope St. Clement I, d. 97A.D), Ignatius
of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna and Hermas. (Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia, Revised Edition, Huntington,
In., Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., Editor, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Copyright 1998, p. 94.)
The majority of quotes from the early Church Fathers will come from William A. Jurgens' The Faith of the Early
Fathers, volumes 1-3.
Some answers will be easy to find, as some statements are simple to refute. Other statements can be vague, ambiguous,
or seem to make no sense whatsoever. In such cases, we have to delve deeper.
The essential issue behind such dissenting or distorted statements is authority. Like the words of Lucifer and
his fallen angels, or those of Adam and Eve in the Garden, they challenge the essential authority of the Church
to speak definitively on issues of faith, morals, and discipline.
Knowingly or not, those who make such statements are either overtly denying the authority of the Catholic Magisterium,
or are simply echoing what they themselves learned in some Catholic institution, seminary or college, or at the
local parish or diocese. Whether particular individuals mean to undermine Catholic belief is something we cannot
know. Some undoubtedly do. Jesus Himself said there would be "false prophets" among us, warning, "by
their fruits you will know them." (Mt. 7:15-20.) But in charity, we can refute the dissenting or distorted
statements without claiming to know the intent of those making them.
To answer these statements, we will look primarily but not exclusively to God-given authority, the Church's Magisterium
and Magisterial documents. We will also discuss these statements in a logical, reasonable, and apologetic way.
Often, statements can be answered with common sense and logic. The word "apologetic" comes from the Greek
"apologia" which means to give a reasoned explanation or defense of a particular belief.
Included at the back of the book is an index of abbreviations for the magisterial documents cited, similar to the
one in the back of the catechism.
In citing a paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we will show the text and follow it with a parenthetical
reference to a particular paragraph number.
Since we are primarily focusing on obedience to the Magisterium of the Church, it may be helpful here to cite a
paragraph showing how Mother Church expects her faithful to have "purity of heart" and "orthodoxy
of faith" to the decrees of the Magisterium.
"The sixth beatitude proclaims, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' 'Pure in heart' refers
to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God's holiness, chiefly in three areas:
charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. (CCC 2518, "orthodoxy of faith"
here meaning correct Catholic teaching.)
As another example, we can look at one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). The Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum, Word of God), exhorts the Christian faithful to read their Bibles,
and is abbreviated with a "DV."
"The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to
learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ.' (Phil. 3:8)
'For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.' "(DV 25, the last sentence quoted above is a quote
from St. Jerome.)
When I first began to investigate these kinds of things in magisterial documents, I was still a novice trying to
learn the faith and understand the terminology. It was somewhat intimidating to view the abbreviations, paragraph
references, titles of documents in Latin, et cetera, in footnotes at the bottom of a page in the catechism or at
the end of an encyclical.
It is my hope that the groundwork laid out here will help others not yet used to digging deeper into these matters.
Also, from this point on I will not be referring to myself in the first person singular. When I say "we"
or "us" throughout the pages of this book, it is for my many friends, and those mentioned in the dedication,
who are contending for Holy Mother Church "on the front lines." It is in their honor that this book has
been written. For these individuals follow the command of our first Pope, St. Peter:
"Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet
do it with gentleness and reverence". (1 Pt. 3:15.)
Copyright ©; Kevin Lents 2015
Version: 22nd July 2015