The greatest sin in the world today may well be the senseless division of Christianity. One regrettable consequence of that partition seems to be that the fabric of Western culture is unraveling under the onslaught of radical individualism. This belief holds that self-determination, even regarding one’s own gender, ought to trump not only centuries of human tradition but the very laws of nature itself. And as the institution of family recedes ever deeper into its crisis of identity, society has becomes increasingly chaotic. A kind of intellectual anarchy now routinely assaults reason to substitute its own tenets for that great deposit of wisdom known as common sense. Meanwhile, in the West, Christianity seems to be in full retreat so that even an unobtrusive order of religious sisters, by following their consciences, is being threatened with ruinous fines by a heavy-handed government simply for refusing to offer contraceptive benefits to their employees.
Christianity, which until recently had represented the vital elan or “life force” of Western society (some have called the Church the “soul” of the world), is fast becoming a despised institution among that well-heeled “progressive” political class which increasingly controls trade, finance, government, and education. But how is it that in one lifetime or so the Church founded by Christ has gone from being a pillar of civilization to an object of ridicule, parody, and pillory? I would suggest that, in a nutshell, the Church’s problems can be summarized in one word, “disunity.”
This phenomena is neither recent nor especially novel if one looks carefully at the history. But next year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of a near fatal fissure in the Church which has only widened and multiplied since 1517. That initial Quixotic attempt by Martin Luther and others to reform the Church founded by Christ has instead had the long term effect of fractioning it again and again. At first there were but three relatively stable divisions, Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist ~ but division does not heal the body, it only weakens it further. So succeeding generations and centuries discovered more cracks in the newer ecclesial bodies which were consecutively exploited. By the 19th century anybody who had some petty grievance and a few listeners was busy founding his or her own church: Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and Charles F. Parham, the list goes on and on.
Generally, each of those newly founded bodies promptly proclaimed itself to be the only “true” form of Christianity. By the end of the 20th century this non-stop process of religious fractioning had produced thousands of church bodies all competing for the purest doctrine and most adherents. The resulting religious smorgasbord effectively annulled the formerly cohesive social fabric called Christendom. The die had been cast for a thoroughly secularized society to succeed its now hopelessly divided Christian counterpart. Christ had in fact prayed for something very different over his disciples. “(Father), I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.” (Jn. 17: 23)
As it turns out, the real secret for peace in the world, in society, even the family is not found through political justice or social action but in one very simple yet elusive virtue ~ unity. Few people today realize that the word devil is rooted in the Latin “diablo” which means to divide. Put simply, God is the One who unites human beings, the devil is the one who tears them asunder through division. Divide and conquer. God, in fact, is the perfection of all unity ~ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if we, as Christians, truly believe that He has made us in his own image, then to be true icons or reflections of God, we must also be in communion, both with God himself but also with one another. Communion is the very glue of our Christian faith and it operates on not just one but multiple levels.
The first and most basic kind of unity is found within our very selves. We are meant to be fully integrated beings, a body and soul working in harmonious tandem. We were not made to be conflicted within the self but to know ourselves as we truly are. Inner conflict is the rotten fruit of sin by which “El diablo” attempts to confuse us about who we truly are ~ children of the light. He hates the light and his main purpose is to deface and degrade the beauty of the human body and soul precisely because, as integrated persons, we are images of the Divine Being. That resemblance infuriates the evil one, so blinded by his own envy that all he can think to do is to shred God’s beautiful masterpiece. He accomplishes this by tearing away one part of the self from the other, setting our emotions against our reason and, ultimately, ripping our body from the soul, which is the very definition of death, a dividing of body and soul. The heinous crime of abortion becomes the perfect manifestation of El diablo’s infernal rage because by it the once living child is violently torn away from its own mother. What God had joined together is unnaturally divided, and the product of that gruesome operation is death.
The same integration is to be found in the family as in the individual. A family is the spiritual and social fusion of two persons, a husband and his wife, in a bond of love. The two become “one flesh” and from this union of love they beget new life. The family thus becomes a perfect metaphor for the Blessed Trinity ~ a communion of persons in love from which comes a profuse outpouring of life. The family thereby provides an even more striking icon of God than the individual, truly made in His image and likeness.
Moreover the family is the basic cell of all human society. It becomes a microcosm of the Church, the nation, and the entire human race. Therefore, if El diablo despises the fully integrated human person who images God, how much more do you suppose that he hates the family and will do everything in his power to deface and destroy it? He tears it asunder any way he can ~ infidelity, pornography, divorce, absentee fathers, abusive mothers. These are all tools in his box used to divide what God has joined together.
The integrity of the family is the only glue that can hold a larger society together. El diablo therefore attacks it by redefining what “family” means. Let individuals simply determine for themselves what constitutes a family. Multiple husbands or wives? No problem. Two mommies, two daddies? The kids will grow up learning tolerance and inclusiveness, right? Or perhaps it is more likely that they will grow into conflicted, confused, and insecure adults. That way the dysfunction can perpetuate itself into future generations. It all works to El diablo’s advantage in the end. To divide those things that God intended to be joined together always results in their eventual disintegration. To divide is truly to conquer.
This brings us back to the question of the Church itself which Christ established to be his own bride, that is his own body on earth. In every spousal union the husband and wife become ONE body. Likewise the Church is meant to be united to Christ as ONE body. When that body is healthy and strong the world around it will prosper and thrive. When it is weak and sickly that once vibrant society withers. Once again, El diablo’s tactics are surprisingly consistent. Create divisions and the body will be weakened to the point of ineffectuality. Only a unified Church can fully reflect the glory of God because God IS unity of the most perfect sort, the unity begotten by love. A Church without unity yields a world without peace. True peace cannot be imposed by force, a sort of “pax Romana” but only as the fruit of a true communion of love, “pax Christi.”
Today’s world is in turmoil because Christianity has allowed itself to become embroiled in strife and disunity, and the Church is the soul of the world. The pathway to lasting peace is not found in more social programs but through the re-unification of all of Christ’s followers into his one body, the Church. As long as Christians remain divided and intransigent the chaos will continue and intensify. There can be only one banner around which Christians must rally because Christ’s Church is one, not many. It is apostolic and it is universal, that is Catholic.
Until Christians of all persuasions come to realize that the crux of the problem is not secularism or humanism but rather that we have allowed El diablo to divide us into competing camps, the problems will only remain and even putrefy. The only way out of the trap is to swallow our sectarian pride and take Christ’s fervent prayer to heart, “so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us that the world may believe that you sent me.” (Jn. 17: 21) Christ left us his great sacrament of unity which alone can untie the Gordian knot of Christian factionalism. All Christians need to come home to the Eucharist if we ever hope to be one again. It is the only antidote powerful enough to dethrone El diablo and restore the world to sanity..
Fran Pierson +a.m.d.g.
Find the answer to the dilemma of a Church divided in my newest book,
Word Without End, The Mass ~ Splendor of the Incarnation published by In Ipso Press.
For more information go to the piersonworks.com website.