Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan has recently published an important book: Christus Vincit, Christ’s Triumph over the Darkness of the Age . The book is a wide-ranging interview with Diane Montagna, the highly regarded Vatican correspondent of LifeSiteNews.com.
Schneider tackles the present crisis in the Church with profound wisdom and supernatural frankness. He tells the truth with charity. His defense of the doctrine of the Faith is welcome and spiritually refreshing, given the undermining of Catholic dogma and morality by certain clerical and lay advocates of revolution in the Church.
Those who propose such heretical innovations as the conferral of the sacrament of Holy Orders on women scandalize the faithful. Bishop Schneider ably defends the doctrine of the Church and the perennial value of her traditional practices and disciplines, such as priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite.
He is very concerned with the drift away from the sacred in Church life. He calls upon fellow bishops to examine the way the episcopal ministry has become diluted by a worldly and largely managerial vision of the role of the shepherd:
Many positions of responsibility in the Church today have de-emphasized the primary apostolic duty of worship, prayer and the zealous proclamation of divine truth. The life of the Church on the official level (the Holy See and episcopates) has turned excessively to human activities through an enormous proliferation of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, an unprecedented quantity of structures, committees, episcopal assemblies, and federations on various levels, through continuous meetings and synods.
A holy Franciscan priest I knew once said about the Church in our day: “The world is too much with us.” The Church is meant to stand apart from the world and announce the jarring news that God has transformed the world through His Son’s Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.
The Church does not come hat-in-hand to the world. The Church judges the world in order to call men to repentance. The natural order in our fallen world finds it fulfillment only when enlivened by God’s supernatural gift of grace. Creation awaits its ongoing incorporation into the supernatural order of redemption.
The salvation of souls is the mission of the Church. The natural order must be conformed to Christ in order to help us more readily embrace the mystery of Christ, and live in this world in such a way as to attain the life of the world to come.
Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts! the Church cries. The invisible world has been revealed in Christ, and we now turn towards Him and away from our own faulty and corrupted ideas about the meaning of reality.
Catholic sacred art and music are perfect examples of how the Church has drawn man away from pagan self-worship expressed in idolatrous images and Dionysian irrational indulgence. Eternal life, not merely temporal contingencies, and certainly not pagan errors, must be the focus of the Church’s life.
Schneider decries the worldly emphasis of much of Church life today: “In the last years, the activity of the Holy See and of many bishops’ conferences has even turned predominantly to temporal affairs, which leads ultimately to naturalism, which is the essence of the “heresy of action.”
Schneider defines this heresy as “frenzied activism.” He writes that “the ‘heresy of action’ was already condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his Apostolic Letter Testem Benevolentiae. . . .Pope Leo XIII refuted the error of those clergy who, on the practical level, gave primacy to the active virtues and to temporal and natural realities to the detriment of supernatural realities, i.e., grace, prayer, penance. . .the ‘heresy of action’ substitutes (practically speaking) “the primacy of man and his actions for the primacy of God’s action.”
The result is: “The ‘heresy of action’ with its spirit of naturalism causes a void in the souls of ecclesiastics and especially of bishops. . . .these men attempt to fill this void with continuous meetings, assemblies, and synods on different hierarchical levels and geographical regions. All of these meetings produce a document, usually an excessively long document. It seems there is a direct proportion between the spiritual void and the length of the documents produced. These lengthy documents contain much impressive rhetoric and beautiful theories, but little sound theology and practical usefulness.”
This book, while lengthy, is jargon-free and contains both sound theology and practical usefulness. Schneider writes so as to encourage deeper fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Church precisely when She is afflicted by errors that had seemingly been overcome, but have resurfaced with virulent force.
Schneider quotes the famous expression of Blaise Pascal in his Pensées: “Jesus will be in agony even to the end of the world. We must not sleep during that time.” (n.533) And he adds: “The current crisis in the Church, which is a mystical suffering of Christ in and for His Church, should call us to avoid spiritual sleep and be watchful, so that we may not be deceived by the spirit of the world which has so penetrated the Church.”
Watchfulness begins in front of the tabernacle, where Christ waits for us. Study of Catholic doctrine wakes us up from the sleep of ignorance. It is essential for anyone who would understand and defend that teaching, especially in our present crisis. Love for the Church must overcome the disappointment and weariness produced by outrages, scandals, and the manifest loss of faith by some. We must never retreat into slothful indolence when discouraged, but rather pray more and trust in the Lord.
Schneider concludes his book with hopeful and encouraging words about the way forward:
The path is the ever-valid way which Christ Himself, His Apostles and the Church over two millennia have shown us: the path of the inseparability of truth and love. . . .This path could be summarized in the brilliant and succinct phrase, which I once read on the tomb of Warren H. Carroll, the founder of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. USA: “Truth exists. The Incarnation happened.”