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Only if we understand real love of neighbor and its holy fire and power, as we find this in St. Paul, can we understand that the anathema and excommunication are in no way opposcd to the spirit of love of neighbor. but rather flow from its true spirit. Oi course, I am not here speaking of a condemnation by the Church which was followed by punishments and execution that were imposed by the state, as was the practice at the time of the Inquisition — these were of course wrong and contrary to the spirit of love of neighbor. I am rather speaking of the anathema as such and of that excommunication which, first of all, solemnly and officially condemns an heretical teaching, and secondly, excludes the excommunicated person from the reception of the sacraments. In the case of a priest it also necessarily suspends him, and in the case of a theologian. removes him from his teaching position. Such a condemnation is an act of love of God and of neighbor.
The anathema is an act of love of God because it condemns the offense against God which lies in the distortion of Christian revelation and of the teaching of the holy Church, and because it officially unmasks error as error. The protection of the divine Revelation has been entrusted to the holy Church, and to fulfil this holy trust is a central act of holy obedience and of love for divine truth, and indeed for God Himself. And it is an act of sublime love of neighbor to protect the faithful from the poison of false teachings, for it is a far more important and higher objective good for man to remain in the true faith, than to be relieved in his physical or psychic sufferings. The anathema is for men in statu viae (in their pilgrimage through life) something which protects that greatest good, which is so important for the salvation of their souls. It is thus a very great act of love because it protects the faithful from the deceits of heretics, who speak in the name of the Church, especially when they hold a position of authority and thus belong to the ecclesia docens (the teaching Church). These heretics are listened to with much sympathy and openness by the simple believing layman, and this makes it quite easy to seduce him to error and to poison his faith. Is it not a more fundamental, deeper act of love of neighbor to protect the faithful by unmasking heretics — and suspending them if they hold any office of authority — than to protect men against a plague, or to mitigate their poverty, or even to eliminate social injustice? Let us consider how seriously the anathema takes man as one who is called to eternal blessedness, as one who has the great dignity of belonging to the mystical body of Christ.
And even for him who is condemned it is an act of the greatest love of neighbor. It is for him like the knife of a surgeon which cuts away the cancer of a patient. It is a fully earnest admonition, an enlightenment as to his errors, an invitation to return to the truth. It protects him from completely lapsing into heresy without fully realizing it — it enables him to grasp the full incompatibility of his theses with the teaching of the holy Church, to feel the significance of his error, and with terrible seriousness it forces him to decide “for or against God and His holy Church.” If a spark of true faith in Christ and His holy Church still lives in him, he will turn away from the temptation which his heresy involves, and return to the community of the holy Church.
The vilification of the anathema — though it is through the anathema that the Church has preserved her identity and the purity of her teaching since St. Paul and throughout the centuries — is a typical consequence of distorting love of neighbor, and of confusing this love with a weak cheerfulness, niceness, and readiness to give in. The fear of the anathema betrays above all a loss of the sensus supranaturalis, a lapse into that this-worldliness which is more concerned with the earthly welfare of man than with his eternal salvation.
The distortion of love of neighbor is also expressed in the confusion of love of neighbor with community. I have already gone into this grave error in the Introduction to my book, Cclibacy and the Crisis of Faith. I refer to it again here, not only because it is an especially disastrous error, but also because it is closely related to the vilification of the anathema and of excommunication.
Ecumenism Impossible toward Heretics in the Church
It must be said again with great emphasis that we can speak of ecumenism only with regard to religious communities which claim to be something completely different from the Catholic Church. First of all there is the Byzantine Orthodox Church, which is only schismatic. Secondly there are believing Protestants, who have for centuries not only been in schism, but have also formed a dogmatically distinct religious community. No Protestant would call himself Catholic, or claim to speak in the name of the holy Church. This holds even more for Jews, Moslems, Brahmans, or Buddhists. The attitude toward all these non-Catholics which Vatican II calls for under the name of ecumenism, can never be meaningfully directed to heretics within the Church.
The attitude which goes with true ecumenism (and it varies greatly according to the particular religion we are dealing with) involves sympathetically emphasizing the elements of truth in other religions while clearly rejecting the errors which they contain. But this attitude is never appropriate toward a Catholic who wants to remain in the Church and spread heresies and teachings contrary to those of the holy Church, and who often wants even to change the teaching of the Church. We should not keep any pseudo-community with these false teachers and destroyers of the Christian revelation and of Christian life in the holy Church. Full community is not even possible with those who are outside the Church and who have separated themselves from her. But the attitude which is right towards our separated brothers would be wrong towards heretics in the Church. Of course our love of neighbor must extend to these heretics. But even a certain loose community which is possible with our separated brothers (there are many degrees of this community, according to the different ones with whom we are dealing), is impossible with the heretics within the Church, because willy-nilly they are destroying the Church and poisoning her teaching, because they are abusing their apparent membership in her. Here we have to apply the words of St. John: “If someone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not admit him into your house, or greet him. For whoever greets him, shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 10-11).
Truth and Community
There is another great danger which goes together with the distortion of love of neighbor: the danger of putting community above truth, and of implicitly making peace the highest value. Unfortunately this tendency to regard community as more important than truth is very widespread in the holy Church today.
The first great error which we find here is the separation of community from truth. All genuine community among men presupposes that they encounter one another in a certain realm of goods. The solidarity which comes from worshipping the same idol and working for it, or from working together for something false or evil, does not deserve the name of community. Such a pseudo-community is a definite evil, and possesses a disvalue. The value which community possesses as such is here poisoned by the disvalue of that which brings people together, of that in whose name they are united. Surely unity, community has a value of its own. The unity of man is something of value not only because it is the opposite of strife and struggle; it also has a value which is absent as long as individual men are indeed at peace, but not united in community. I have discussed the nature and value of community in my book, Metaphysik der Gemeinschaft (Metaphysics of Community). But what has to be especially emphasized today is that the formal nature and above all the value of community as such depend exclusively upon that “name” in which men are united. Community based upon error or something evil not only has no value, it has a definite disvalue. A pseudo-community built on some evil idol in something much worse than many individual, unrelated men who are in error or do evil. It is not only that it is worse for many to fall into error or heresy than for one to do so: it is not a question merely of a quantitative increase. No, it is the very unity of those who encounter one another in untruth and evil which gives birth to a pure disvalue and heightens the evil. The value of true community, the concordia, becomes in a pseudo-community a definite disvalue. Thus it is utterly impossible to separate community from truth, and to make community the most important thing. Community is dependent in both its nature and value on the truth on which it is built.
Secondly, in the religious sphere the thing of greatest value, that which glorifies God the most, is standing in the truth. possessing the true Faith. Christ has said: “Go into the world and teach all peoples. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, and whoever does not believe will be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). The absolute importance which these words clearly ascribe to the true Faith, to faith in the true revelation of Christ, is in no way affected by the definition of Vatican I that God can give eternal blessedness to all men who lead a life in accord with the highest norms they know of.
The value of the truth and of the true Faith is thus undeniably greater than that of community, even if we are speaking of a genuine natural community built upon some real good. Indeed, the value of standing in the truth, and confessing the true God, is even greater than that of the marvelous community of the mystical body of Christ.
For it is in the true Faith and in real love of God that community with Him is constituted, and this is clearly the most important thing, and that from which all other community is dependent in its nature and value. The words of the Holy Thursday liturgy, “congregavit nos in unum Christi amor” (the love of Christ has brought us together and made us one), clearly express that it is only the love for Christ (which implies the true faith) which can establish this sublime unity among the faithful.
This overemphasis on community, on unity among men, this tendency to put unity above the truth and orthodoxy, is a consequence of the disastrous this-worldliness which is analogous to emphasizing love of neighbor at the expense of love of God. To hold that love of neighbor is the only manifestation of love of God and Christ, that they are both identical — one speaks hardly at all of the direct love for Christ, but makes up for this by speaking all the more of love of neighbor — is strictly analogous to placing community above orthodoxy.