The Culture of Death isn’t really so (Post)Modern after all

On the 12th of April 1204, soldiers of the Latin West made a stop in Constantinople and sacked it. They looted it for 3 days. They raped and pillaged. According to Pope Innocent III they even molested nuns. The Great Schism was now irreparable. The plans of Pope Innocent III to revive Christian enthusiasm through a fourth crusade went terribly wrong. There was a deeper problem than the threat of Islam – the Latin West had spiritual and theological problems.

Historian R.H.C. Davis, Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham until his death in 1991 summarizes the problems with the Latin West, (that Innocent lamented at the time), in his 1957 book “A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to St. Louis”

The desecration committed by the crusaders was an outrage that reverberated through Christendom and made the schism between the Greek and Roman Churches definitive. Instead of reviving Christian enthusiasm, the conquest of Constantinople demonstrated the cynical lust and depravity which had overcome the Latin West.

What was the cause of this debasement of the ideals of the previous century? To Innocent III it seemed to lie in the fact that the fundamental tenets of Christianity were no longer understood or sincerely believed by a large part of the population. In the great towns of northern Italy and southern France the rapid growth of the population had far outstripped the parochial organization, with the result that many people, receiving none of the proper ministrations of the Church, had fallen a prey to false doctrines particularly to Manichaeism. This was a heresy of Eastern origin, founded by Mani in the third century, and it had spread to the West primarily through the agency of traders. By the end of the eleventh century it had churches in Constantinople, Bosnia, Roumania, Bulgaria, and Dalmatia, and during the twelfth century it was or less officially tolerated by the municipal authorities in towns such as Milan, Viterbo, Ferrara, Florence, Prato, Vicenza, and Spoleto, while in the south of France, particularly in the region of Albi, its success was even greater since the Count of Toulouse and the ruling factions in many of the towns were said to be numbered among its converts.

The central belief of these heretics, who were usually called Cathari, or Albigensians, was in the dualism of the Perfect and Imperfect, the Eternal and the Temporal, the Spiritual and the Material, the Good and the Evil. They believed that God, being perfect, had created only the world of the spirit, which was eternal, and that the material world, being corruptible, had been created by and evil God (Satan, Lucifer, or Lucibel) who was identified as Jehovah, the God of the Jews. Consequently, they not only rejected the Old Testament, but also denied Christ’s Incarnation (for how could God have had a body which was the creation of Satan?) Having thus rejected the central doctrine of the Christian Church, they proceeded to undermine the fundamental institution of society, which was the family. Carrying their belief in the wickedness of all matter to its logical conclusion, they held that it was a sin to add to the amount of evil in the world by the procreation of babies; and while they preached chastity for the ‘perfect’, they declared that prostitution was normally a lesser evil than motherhood. (Davis, 333-334)

This was an issue before Innocent III became Pope and the Church sent many preachers to the effected areas, even St. Bernard. Innocent III intensified the preaching efforts and although the men sent to preach against the heresies of the Cathari repeatedly vanquished their opponents in public disputations, they failed to manage wide spread conversion. According to Davis “The heretics remained obstinate because they were encouraged by their temporal rulers.”

Innocent appealed to Philip Augustus, King of France, to take temporal action against the worse of the temporal rulers of the Albi region, Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse – but Philip was busy fighting King John of England. Emperor Otto IV was busy on other fronts. Innocent III took matters into his own hands and preached Crusade against the Albigensians. The call to arms was wildly successful and in a short time, Raymond, Count of Toulouse who tolerated and supported the Albigensians turned and joined the Crusade against his own people. Shortly after this "crusade", the 4th Lateran Council was convened and Innocent III managed to demonstrate an outwardly unified Catholic Church. The faithful were enjoined to report heretics and the rule was instituted that all Christians must confess their sins to a priest at least once a year, in order to ensure that priests could keep heresy in check amongst the faithful charged to their care.

Is the “Culture of Death” a byproduct of (Post)Modernity or of Latent Heresy?

In addressing the “Culture of Death” in which we find ourselves, quite often we see the problem as a child of Modernism and Marxism (e.g. Margaret Sanger) or of Post-Modernism (too many examples to list). While the spirit of Post-Modernism is our enemy du jour, I believe the enemy is really the same heresy that Innocent III confronted: Manichaeism.

Re-read the citation from Davis. The twelfth century countries listed could be substituted with any country in the present day West. The cities listed could be any modern day metropolis in the West. The region of Albi could be Southern California and Hollywood. Have you seen any of the specials on TV about “The DaVinci Code” in the last few years? Notice how the research leads time and time again to Southern France. The Incarnation is attacked again and again, from long buried heresies “repackaged” to the fantasies of atheists.

As for the general state of belief amongst Christians and the role of the government:

How many times in conversation amongst Christians has this phrase been uttered? “Oh, it is such an evil world, I feel guilty to bring children into it.”

Sounds down right Manichean, doesn’t it?

Prostitution is not necessarily encouraged by any respectable interest group, but pornography and the violations to personal chastity that result from it are widely accepted in Christian circles.

Or to quote Davis, “they declared that prostitution was normally a lesser evil than motherhood.”

Governments and various NGOs are concerned about population in certain areas of the world and instead of correcting political and economic factors that make life especially miserable they simply want to reduce the amount of humans through birth control, abortion and sterilization.

Public Service Announcements run on television discouraging teenage pregnancy with phrases like, “I don’t want a kid to mess up my life.”

The Government not only tolerates the “culture of death”, it is infiltrated by it.

Scientists beam with joy about the beauty of a humanless world on television shows like “The World after People.”

Then we will all be spirits right? Free to enjoy the beauty without the evils of the flesh??

All of this is nothing new. The religion of Mani is still alive and in practice – and it is more alive than most Christians are willing to perceive.

Learning from Pope Innocent III

Even those of us condemned by Trent would have to agree that Innocent III fulfilled the duties of his office by sending preachers out to dispute the Cathars and Albigensians. It is the sacred duty of Church to call sin out for what it is; sin. This is the first part of preaching. The Gospel must follow – there is more mercy in Christ for the greatest sinner than could ever be imagined. The ordained must call out the culture of death in all its forms and bring us to repentance. It is an evil world, but a reduction of the pinnacle of God’s creation won’t make it less evil. Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection scream out that the Holy Trinity finds humanity so precious that God would die to redeem it. Our pastors must instruct us about the sins of population control, abortion and yes even contraception – because the Incarnation stands as the ultimate antithesis to such things.

As far as the lack of “ministrations of the Church…” (or organization to support the population) addressed above as one of the causes that Innocent III sought to correct: In America there are churches a plenty, but how many of them truly carry out the ministry of Word and Sacrament? Again we have the same problem as in the 1200’s – the solution is to call and send men who will baptize, preach, commune and absolve but do not want to gain fame with the world. We do not need any more men who want to follow the next fad in American Evangelicalism.

Pope Innocent III, however, made a fatal flaw… one that we must not repeat. He encouraged the laity to arms to root out the heresy from the region of Albi. He had every right and duty in his office to pronounce the government and population of these areas dead to sin, unregenerate and even excommunicate their leaders, such as Raymond VI. The Church possesses the Keys for just such purposes! But our pastors cannot encourage us to arms and to confiscate the property and domain of those who are at odds with the faith and natural law. But those of us who are not ordained do not have our hands tied in such a way that we cannot combat the “culture of death” through material means within the limits of our vocation and citizenship, so long as we do not break the 10 Commandments. We can donate time and money to organizations that fight the culture of death. We can spend and invest our money in ways that uphold the sanctity of life from conception to eternity. We can use the means guaranteed in our Constitution. We can protest. Recall leaders. We can make temporal life for such people in Public Office and Public life very uncomfortable and unprofitable.

There must be a two pronged approach to combating the modern incarnation of Manichaeism and it must be in line with Two Kingdoms Theology. 1. The Church must teach and preach on the subjects of life and call sin as sin. The Church must use the keys when necessary and even excommunicate politicians who have shown themselves as manifestly unrepentant. 2. In the civil realm we must use all tools that are lawful and moral to combat the culture of death.

Manichaeism must be named and stopped.

If God in His omniscience knew that we would sin and bring sin and death into the world and He created us anyway, how can we who are not omniscient ever think that we are smart enough to limit or reduce His creation – especially since it is a creation that His dearly beloved Son took into Himself and redeemed? *

This is the argument that must be repeated again and again to the Manicheans inside and outside of the Church until this heresy is put down.

A History of Medieval Europe From Constantine to St. Louis R.H.C Davis. Longman, London and New York. Originally Published 1957. Second Edition 1988
* Reworking of a quotation from Fr. John Ricardo. Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church. Plymouth, MI

1 comment:

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thanks, Jon, for joining L & C and for a great introductory post.

As for the connection of the culture of death (and of contraception in particular) to Manicheaism, you quote the R.H.C. Davis saying that to the Manichees "prostitution was normally a lesser evil than motherhood." This is certainly true. They actually forbade marriage to the "Elect." Yet, interestingly, they allowed marriage for the "Auditors" - the catechumens. They simply advised these catechumens to practice what is now known in its more advanced form as NFP ("Natural Family Planning.") In so doing, Augustine says they turn the wife into a harlot.

Consider the following citation from Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, by John T. Noonan, Jr., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966.


Two books composed in the first year after his baptism as a Catholic Christian proclaim the reaction [of St. Augustine to contraception]. They are The Morals of the Manichees and The Morals of the Catholic Church. They were written, Augustine states specifically, to refute the Manichean claims of continence. In The Morals of the Manichees, Augustine declares that the Manichees are opposed to marriage. They are opposed to marriage, because they are opposed to procreation which is the purpose of marriage. They permit marriage, it is true, to their Auditors, the multitude of followers or catechumens who are not held to the standards of the Elect. These marriages of Auditors, however, the Manichees attempt to deprive of substance, for they advise the Auditors to avoid procreation. Augustine recalls the advice given and evaluates its significance in a passage which turns into a major attack on contraception:

Is it not you who used to warn us to watch as much as we could the time after purification of the menses when a woman is likely to conceive, and at that time refrain from intercourse, lest a soul be implicated in the flesh? From this it follows that you consider marriage is not to procreate children, but to satiate lust. Marriage, as the marriage tablets themselves proclaim, joins male and female for the procreation of children. Whoever says that to procreate children is a worse sin than to copulate thereby prohibits marriage; and he makes the woman no more a wife but a harlot, who, when she has been given certain gifts, is joined to man to satisfy his lust. If there is a wife there is matrimony. But there is no matrimony where motherhood is prevented; for then there is no wife. (The Morals of the Manichees 18.65 PL 32:1373)

The method of contraception practiced by these Manichees whom Augustine knew is the use of the sterile period as determined by Greek medicine. The Manichees, despite their keen interest in avoiding procreation, had acquired no better information. Probably they explained the disappointments which this advice must have entailed as due to some failure to watch the period closely.

In the history of the thought of theologians on contraception, it is, no doubt, piquant that the first pronouncement on contraception by the most influential theologian teaching on such matters should be such a vigorous attack on the one method of avoiding procreation accepted by twentieth-century Catholic theologians as morally lawful.

[End quote - Noonan]

To be fair, NFP is NOT accepted by the Roman Catholic church as morally lawful except in extraordinary circumstances. It is only to be used in cases which involve casuistry. We would allow contraception in such rare cases as well. I would not necessarily limit one's choices in a moral dilemma to NFP. The circumstances are conceivable to me, for instance, in which tubal ligation might even be the lesser evil if a woman's life would unquestionably be in grave danger if she were to ever become pregnant again and there was no chance this condition would change.

In any case, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters should beware of the unlawful promotion and use of NFP as a means of contracepting at will for unapproved and un-counseled reasons. Such selfish use of NFP is condemned by the Roman Catholic Church and is nothing but the same Manichean heresy you describe in your post, Jon.

Thanks again! Great thoughts here worth pondering.