"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.IV No.X Pg.1,8a
May 1942

Modern Gnostics

Fanning Yater Tant

More than one person is astonished by the unshakeable hold which Catholicism seems to have over its devotees. While Protestant churches put forth desperate efforts to persuade a bare quorum of their members to attend on Sunday mornings, and churches of Christ are little better, Catholic churches are filled to capacity, not once, but three or four times each Sunday morning.

In perplexed bewilderment the non-Catholic beholds it and wonders. Don't Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians love their organizations just as devotedly as Catholics love theirs? And aren't Christians as truly devoted to the church as Catholics are to their institution? Then why do Catholics attend so much better than others?

To answer that question fully would involve consideration of the whole doctrinal, educational, racial and governmental backgrounds of the respective groups. It would require a book, not an article. But there is one very potent reason for the Catholic influence, which many people may overlook. And that is that modern Catholicism is the embodiment of the last lingering remnants of one of the most gripping, fascinating, speculations that ever plagued the course of man's spiritual history—Gnosticism. This oriental philosophy, existing long before Christianity, has never failed to mystify the world on two points: one, the doctrine itself, and the other, the unbelievable power it has over those who accept it.

To some it may sound far-fetched to say that modern Catholicism is the rightful descendant of ancient Gnosticism: but consider this description of Gnosticism as given in Foakes-Jackson's "History Of The Christian Church," (page 129):

"Matter being evil, the body must be evil and consequently the duty of the true Gnostic was to show himself hostile to it. Two courses lay open to him: either to conquer its desires by ascetic practices, or to adopt the alternative of showing that he considered the body to he so contemptible that he saw no harm in degrading it by indulging in every species of sin."

Catholicism has traditionally taken both of these alternatives. Through all the middle ages the doctrine of asceticism was practiced. Monasteries dotted Europe like mesquite bushes on a Texas prairie. Fasts and self-flagellations were commended and extolled by all the Catholic teachers as being the essence of Christianity. Existing right down to our own day are such anachronisms as the Gethsemane Monastery at Bardstown, Kentucky, and countless other similar institutions throughout the world, in which devout Catholics think they can conquer evil by imposing hardships and privations on the physical body.

But what of the other alternative—the indulgence of every sort of sin and the gratification of all fleshly appetites and lusts? Surely, someone might say, Catholics do not adopt that sort of heresy!

We are prepared to say they do.

First of all, let us understand that this is not a conscious acceptance of Gnosticism on the part of the Catholic masses. If a devout Catholic should be told that his church not only allows, but actually encourages, him to indulge the lusts of the flesh, he would be appalled and incredulous. Even the priests, and very likely the pope himself, would not admit the presence of such a hellish heresy. That's the insidious thing about it. It has become so deeply embedded into the very structure of Catholic thinking that Catholics, most of all, are wholly unconscious of it.

In every community, however, in which Catholicism is strong it tends to compromise the standards, of moral living. Wherever Catholicism has found some practice deeply rooted in the lives of the people, even though the practice was inherently wrong, the Catholic church has not tried to remove it, but has incorporated the practice into its own religious observances, and given it the "blessing" and "sanction" of the church. Christmas is an example in point. Originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice and the turning of the sun, Catholicism took over the feast and made "Christmas" of it—retaining a considerable portion of the pagan trappings and ideas that had characterized the rites from dim ages of the unknown past. Being unable, or unwilling, to teach the truth to the pagan peoples who had been "converted" the Catholic church merely permitted them to retain their former practices under a new name. A similar disposal was made of numerous other troublesome doctrines, festivals, and practices of heathen people who had been won to Catholicism. They were allowed to continue their old practices, merely doing them now in the name of Catholicism.

Basically, it is the old, old story of "We abolish the wrong by legalizing the practice," which we've seen worked out many times on secular questions. There was the liquor traffic, for example. The "wets" said that prohibition wouldn't work, that people were going to drink anyhow, and the only way possible to avoid wholesale violation of the law would be to legalize the sale of liquor.

The same argument is made with reference to betting on horse races. Men are going to bet regardless of what the law says, we are told. So the only way to avoid illegal practices is to legalize and regulate the betting.

What these men have done with public law and practice, the Catholic church has done with religious law and practice. She has discovered the things the people like to

do; and has them incorporated them into her church life, and given them the "blessings" of the church. '

A few illustrations might demonstrate the justice of this charge. For one thing, dancing has been practiced in the Catholic church for many years. Catholic leaders saw that many people liked to dance; churches generally would not permit members to dance and remain in good standing; so the Catholic church began to sponsor dances in its own halls' and buildings. For another, there is card-playing. Long before respectable people would permit a deck of playing cards in the house, the Catholic church had been sanctioning card parties in the church.

Gambling could also be mentioned. Many people have a weakness along this line. But they know it is frowned on by most of those who profess Christianity. So what happens? Why the Catholic church gives "Bingo" parties, offering prizes as rewards, and sells tickets to raffles at which everything from pocket knives to automobiles are awarded the holder of the lucky ticket.

There is also the matter of drinking. The practice may not be general, but in these sections, Catholic churches have been known to raise no small amount of money by selling beer at their church parties. Believing that people are going to drink beer regardless, the Catholic church has decided the best policy is to give the "sanction" of the church to such a practice.

Although there may be no way of proving it, it stands to reason that the same attitude likely prevails in Catholicism as regards the moral question of relations between the sexes. Since fornication is a popular diversion, is it not reasonable to assume that it is much more prevalent among those people who teach that it can be forgiven most easily by a confession to the priest and the performance of whatever "penance" he may impose?

In short, and to sum the matter up, Catholicism has let the people indulge in almost any sort of life they cared to follow, only provided that they "remain loyal to the church." She has satisfied the innate hunger of the average man for a religious sanction to his life; and she has given this sanction without demanding a corresponding moral character. And in doing this she has fallen under the curse and condemnation pronounced against an earlier generation of Gnostics, "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 4)

Here, in part at least, we have the explanation for her hold upon the masses. She gives them that for which they hunger—the comfort, security, and hope of heaven provided by religion—without demanding that they give up any of the worldly and sinful practices to which they are addicted. She allows them to "eat their cake, and have it, too.

In every church there are some people who are very pious and devout. In every church there is also another group of people who belong to the church only as a sort of "insurance against hell." The Catholic church is such that the premium on its "insurance policy" is the most attractive in all the earth for the person to whom religion is only a means of escaping hell. It requires of the member that he attend mass every Sunday, but does not require of him that he do much by way of moral character and clean living. The Protestant churches so far have not been able to compete with this sort of an offer. There are signs that they are beginning to do so. If the Protestant churches, and the church of Christ can ever lower their standards to the same level as the Catholic church, undoubtedly they will be able to offer some competition in the matter of attendance. But until they do, they may expect to continue discouragingly unfilled. "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby."