Standing Tall Against Rank Heresy

As you may know, I am writing a book on the Creed, so I feel it is particularly a duty of mine to sniff out any whiff of heresy.

Yesterday, President Trump gave a speech which alerted me to just such a threat in the American body politic and I feel I must, of course, speak out:

Did you catch the shocking heresy?

I’m sure all Good Christians are as upset as I am about President Trump’s dire warning that Joe Biden is trying to “hurt God”. No good Christian can sit still while this kind of rank heresy is being committed by a man who not only supports Planned Parenthood but even claims to be a Christian!

I speak, of course, of Patripassianism, the heresy President Trump flagrantly committed when he claimed that God can be hurt.

Recall that heresies pertaining to the relationship of the Father and the Son took various forms. 

  • For instance, Gnostics–particularly the followers of Marcion in the second century–saw the Father as the evil God of the Jews and the Son as the good God who came to rescue us from him. Irenaeus was the great champion who argued against them in his Adversus Haereses.  He re-asserted the basic Christian truth that the Father and the Son are good and that they love, not hate, each other.
  • Sabellians taught that God was one Person wearing three different hats: God the Father before the Incarnation, God the Son during the Incarnation, and God the Holy Spirit after the Ascension.  They ignored the fact that the Biblical text makes distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and shows them in relationship with one another.  So, for instance, at the Baptism in the river Jordan, God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Likewise, the Son prays to the Father, not to himself (Luke 10:21-22) and speaks of the Holy Spirit as a person distinct from himself and the Father (cf. John 16:12-15).
  • Patripassians similarly destroyed the distinction between the Father and the Son and insisted that the Father suffered on the Cross as Jesus.

The paradox of the Church’s condemnation of Patripassianism is that it reveals a God who is capable of sharing in our trials (in the Son Christ Jesus) and yet who remains, in his divine nature, perfectly happy. God the Father can no more be hurt than a squirt gun in my hands can put out the sun.

I find that deeply consoling. The good news of the Christian revelation is that we have a savior who can both share in the depths of our suffering and to whom we can relate, but also a God who remains perfectly happy in his deity. As I wrote in The Work of Mercy some years back:

It is even more comforting to know that God the Son endured the worst suffering and won through to Resurrection, promising that same grace and power to us, if we will remain in him. But here’s the paradox: the other part of the gospel’s comfort is the strange doctrine that God the Father is “impassible”. That is, he is not subject to suffering or affliction and cannot be moved by the emotions that move us.

That seems problematic. Doesn’t it contradict what I just said about the bureaucrat without experience sitting in a far-off room? Strangely no. Because comfort comes not merely from knowing that others have suffered as you have, but that they have come through their suffering to the place where “the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). In our affliction, what we want is not only to have somebody suffering beside us, but to know that there is someplace where all this pain and horror loses its power. Sam Gamgee is a comfort to Frodo in his affliction because, like Christ, he stands beside him and even carries him in the struggle across the Plains of Gorgoroth and up the purgatorial slopes of Mount Doom. But Sam’s comfort comes when, like Christ, he casts his gaze on the place where the troubles of this world cannot reach:

Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.

The good news of the “impassibility” of God is like that. There is a perfect happiness in God that the devil cannot ever harm or even touch. To be sure, God Incarnate “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Yet the miracle of the thing is that it was for the joy that was set before him—the joy of the impassible Father who is pure happiness—that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God (cf. Hebrews 12:2). Something in our nature conforms to this. We are comforted in our affliction by shared suffering. But we require, as well, the anchor of hope that there is, somewhere, a place far above the cloud-wrack where we shall find the joy that is not—and cannot be—touched by the suffering we face here. It is exactly that paradox that moves St. Paul to remind us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

18 Responses

  1. The Bible trump held upside down lists these qualities as signs of a person who is relationship with God:

    love
    joy
    peace
    patience
    kindness
    goodness
    gentleness
    faithfulness
    self-control

  2. I am not enough of a theologian to understand or see heresies. In his comments though I see the same old anti-Catholic “drive” in America. After all we “all know” that Catholics don’t read the Bible; that Catholics “worship” the Pope; and that the Mass is an abomination. I have no idea of how American Catholics can support this man, as I see in trump a person who only divides, who only hates people not like him. And Catholics should not be like him.

  3. What he said in this clip is bad enough, but you chose an uncharitable extension of idiomatic remarks that also made a distinction between the radical left agenda and Joe Biden. This is what I heard in this clip:
    “…things that nobody ever, would ever think even possible. Because he is following the radical left agenda: Take away your guns, destroy your second amendment. No religion. No anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy, our kind of energy. Uh, I don’t think he’s going to do too well in Ohio.”

    1. I mostly just thought it would be fun to engage in a bit of hyper-theo-nerdery so I could do a tiny bit of catechesis. It isn’t every day that the President hands you a setup to discourse on Patripassianism. Trump’s remarks, in context, were his typical scare tactic for ignorant right wingers. The weird equivalency between the Faith and the second amendment is particularly ridiculous, but extremely common MAGA piety.

      1. @ Mark

        This seems like as good a place as any to post this. I realize the James Robison is a scamvangelical evangelical and not catholic, but here it is anyway.

        ““Satan, the father of lies, division, dissension, death, and destruction was losing ground that he had gained. We were beginning to see the value of every life, the importance of loving every person, beginning with God and our neighbors.

        “We were beginning to see the economy become strong again. We were seeing the justice system reformed mightily. We were seeing great change. We were seeing security in our nation becoming stronger, our military to protect freedom and all that is precious becoming strong.

        “I’m saying, and I really do believe this, Satan himself, losing ground, went ballistic. We were beginning to push back miraculously, and of all things, the last person on the planet we thought would stand up for what’s right—this president, Donald J. Trump—began to stand up for what was best.

        In this case, confession actually IS confession. ” and of all things, the last person on the planet we thought would stand up for what’s right—this president, Donald J. Trump—began to stand up for what was best.”

        So he thought that Jabba the Trump was the last person on the planet etc, but he voted for him anyway.

        Moral bankruptcy declaring it is solvent. Ya gotta love it.

  4. One man’s heresy is another man’s hearsay.

    But you’ll be pleased to know that we left wing, liberal, communist, marxist, heretical Atheists— I don’t want to leave anyone out, and I hope I didn’t – were having a field day yesterday With that At my usual haunts. A number of us noted exactly what you noted – the failure of trumps evangelical followers to comment on this notion. Why, you would almost think that their faith, so central to their lives, is really just camouflage for an overwhelming desire for power, money and dominion.

    That’s one of the things I like about you, Mark, and many of the people that post here. You actually take your faith seriously.

  5. Thanks, I learned about Patripassianism for the first time today. It’s easy to see how people project human emotions onto God. Even the language of our prayers sometimes leans this way, “…I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…”
    I’m not sure that it is entirely true that God doesn’t experience emotions, it’s just that he can experience grief over sin, and perfect love and happiness all at the same time.

  6. The last passage (from Mark’s book) I think explains it very well. There’s some Catholic theology that holds that Jesus suffers. Jesus suffered for our sins, and Jesus clearly was suffering during the Passion. But we have to remember that Jesus was both 100% human and 100% God. The human part of Jesus suffers…in solidarity with our suffering. The God part does not… All part of the mystery of the Trinity.

  7. @Mark, Trump reveals so much of his fake Christianity so often. The fact that his chosen Paula White as his official spiritual advisor says it all. Her prosperity gospel ideology is a mega business money creation ruse under the guise of Christianity. A wolf in sheeps clothing if there ever was one.

    The fact that ultra traditionalist Catholics raise so much stink about pachamama and have nothing to criticise about Paula White and Trumps spiritualist roots for the sole purpose of making mega bucks. It’s just mind boggling.

    1. @ stella

      Paula white was a pastor, although the Bible says clearly that women are not to exercise religious authority over men, and not speak up in the church. Paula white, as a Bible believing Christian, has been divorced twice and married three times. If one to Christianity seriously, she has as many biblically incorrect marriages as Trump or Newt Gingrich. Paula White has declared bankruptcy; to people like me, who pay my debts, bankruptcy looks an awful lot like theft. Paula white is worth an awful lot of money. As someone who is no longer important to a certain class of so-called Christians once observed, There is something about desert quadrupeds, sewing implements, and money.

      1. @ ben, haha, good reference to Matthew 19:24. Why traditional Catholics buy into Trump and his fake Christianity is something that I hope we’ll all understand one day so that it can never happen again.

  8. “hurt the Bible”

    Another heresy: bibliopassianism (or “sentiens scriptura”) the doctrine that the Bible has a consciousness and thus can hurt and suffer.

  9. > “Patripassians similarly destroyed the distinction between the Father and the Son and insisted that the Father suffered on the Cross as Jesus.”
    The same reason, as it happens, why Protestants refuse to call Mary, the Mother of the human Jesus, the “Mother of God”. It is not a denial by them that Jesus was God.

    1. Why would some Protestants refuse to call Mary, “Theotokos”, which literally means “bearer of God”? If they refuse to confess that Mary carried Jesus (who is God, as well as Man) in her body, then would that not be denying that Jesus is God?

      1. Hi Agnikan, see above Mark’s detailed explanation of why Patripassianism is a heresy to Ps and RCs/ EOs alike; the difference when we are talking about physical actions regarding the human body of Jesus. My read is that a protestant would say: if Jesus returned to earth today, and Trump had him locked up and tortured a’ la Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, Trump would be hurting Jesus, but still not “hurting God”.
        Insofar as God is Father AND Son AND Holy Spirit, something that’s true only of the physical body of the Son (whether it involves forceps or Longinius’ sphere) is not true about “God” as a whole.
        I can’t speak for Prots with any great authority any more, but I don’t think they have any strong objection to “Theotokos” if translated as “bearer of God”. However in the West it’s almost always translated as “Mother of God”” which has quite a different connotation. If one said to a Catholic “What’s wrong with Jack Chick describing the Pope as ‘the Chief Priest of Rome’? Isn’t the Pope a priest, isn’t he chief over all other priests, and doesn’t he reside at Rome?”, there would be shuffling of feet and “Well, in a literal sense, yes, but we don’t agree with the connotation.”

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