In his study of the history of religions, Joseph Ratzinger says: “Christianity, from Paul’s speech on the Areopagus onward advances the claim to be religio vera.” The true religion “is the worship of that being which is the foundation of everything that exists, the ‘true God’.” Throughout Christian history, many groups claimed to be the true religion and yet they are not complete enough, too simplistic, or simply wrong. And so do not measure up to the tradition of the Catholic Church. These include Arianism, Gnosticism, and hundreds of others as well as all the private adaptations that individuals arbitrarily put together to make their “Catholicism” easier.
Taking another step, Ratzinger says that: “According to [Saint] Augustine and the biblical tradition that is normative for him, Christianity is not based on mythical images and vague notions that are ultimately justified by their political usefulness.” Myths and politics have been the foundations of many religions, even including the “Christianities” above.
One example: Adolf Hitler frequently spoke about Christianity. The title of the present column is drawn from a stunning statement of his: “Nazism stands on the ground of a real Christianity.” Michael Lackey contends in The Modernist God-State that Nazism did not evolve out of secularism (pace Charles Taylor’s analysis), but out of a “specific version of Christianity that made Hitler and the Nazi’s possible.” It’s impossible to examine here in detail his exhaustive analysis of Hitler’s speeches related to this thesis.
But in the thirties, for political reasons and to better establish certain manufactured myths, Hitler’s henchmen organized a “Christianity” that held that Jesus was an Aryan; he is manifested in the Nazi State; and the Old Testament is thereby rejected, etc. This “Positive Christianity,” as it came to be known, was a grab-bag of convenient notions.
You can see the mythical elements popping up – the Aryanism, Kant’s attribution of “materialism” of the Jews, and so on. Furthermore Hitler regarded: “Christianity as the unshakeable foundation of the morals and moral code of the nation.” And so, here was a new catchall national “Christian” church that the mass of German people would comfortably slide into while dissidents were simply rounded up.
The history of Christianity is often really only the history of the fabrications of different “Christianities” through the ages driven by prevailing myths or political expediency at a greater or lesser distance from the Christianity of the Church’s Tradition.
“The Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church.”(CDF) The problem with Christianity is that it comes from a Man who is also God, Jesus Christ. So it is inevitably an organic unity. Everything is related to everything else.
Drop Christ as the Light of the World, and you do not have the Christ anymore, but someone else – a human fabrication. And in the process, he is not the full meaning of the world anymore. Or change the anthropology – follow Locke or Kant instead – and you no longer have Christianity either. Ignore sin and you have the same problem. Worse still, treat Christianity as eclectic and it can even become the religion of the Third Reich. Liberal Catholicism is developing its own threats without even having an army.
The living Tradition of the Church “includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church – in her teaching, life, and worship – perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.”(Vatican II) This is the living Tradition because it embraces “her teaching, life and worship” as they express the life of the one Jesus Christ present and active.
But as to the eclectic “Christians,” No one said it better tan St. Irenaeus:
Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavor, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.