Mark Shea: Capital Punishment – A Study in the Development of Doctrine, Part I

With a correct understanding of how doctrine develops, you too can avoid a doctrinal freak out.

Part 1: Everything Old is New Again

A reading from an ancient manuscript found in Jerusalem authored by Micha-el ben Mattityahu:

We’re all familiar with the story by now. A weak pope with a long history of dubious opinions and reckless public statements has fallen under the sway of a liberal cleric with radical ideas and is overturning two thousand years of Tradition after a disastrous modernist “council” (see Acts 15). It involves appointments to high Church offices under questionable circumstances, internal divisions, confusion, and infighting at just the moment the Church needs a unifying pope. It also involves contradictory actions from that pope that sow confusion among the faithful, and a devoted band of traditional and orthodox figures fighting a losing battle against a tide of modernism. It reaches its tragic denouement with a brief moment of optimism that a strong, orthodox figure had finally emerged in the papacy – and then a shattering of all hope as the magisterial tide turned decisively toward novelty and modernism, necessitating schism away from a false “church” and a radically compromised “Magisterium” and back to Traditional purity.

I speak, of course, of the recent circumcision controversy that has destroyed the once-promising Church founded by Jesus and has necessitated that we faithful take radical steps to save her from a leadership gone terribly wrong.

The problem is this in a nutshell: Peter, a pope so weak he was known by the whole Church to have three times denied Christ (who once called him “Satan”), has departed from two thousand years of Tradition to suddenly declare that circumcision and keeping kosher are not necessary for those who wish to join themselves to the Covenant People.

We are talking two millennia of established Tradition suddenly swept away by a pope and a “council” that – in a bid for trendy popularity with Gentile “converts” who want to remake things in their own image – have expressed unwillingness to undergo a little hardship for the sake of Jesus.

Jesus himself said that not the least jot or tittle of the law would be changed. Moreover, every single person at that “council” in Jerusalem was himself circumcised and had kept the law all their lives like their fathers before them. The Torah they quoted had not one single verse in it saying, “If Gentiles want to observe the covenant with the Lord, they can just blow off circumcision and kosher laws if they feel like it.” But these modernist radicals have decided to ignore all that and overturn Tradition with some new theory about “salvation by grace through faith and not by works of the law”.

One figure that has risen to prominence in the turmoil is a so-called “apostle” who was never even part of the original Twelve and who was in fact a persecutor of the Church. Many suspect he changed his tactics, but not his goals and means to destroy the Church from within, by using new tactics straight out of Satan-worshipper Saul of Alinscus’ Rules for Radicals. In fact, his name is actually Saul but he now has pulled the same stunt as Rachel of Dolezal by denying his true ethnicity, changing his name to “Paul” and trying to ingratiate himself with Gentiles in the Church in order to plead their cause and attack reliable and unbroken Tradition dating all the way back to Abraham. He denies – with curses and lewd threats of castration against good believers (see Galatians 5:12) – the need to be circumcised. What is even more sinister, he exerts a creepy influence on the Holy Father, who seems to be conflicted in his views on all this and offers contradictory examples that confuse the faithful – which brings us to the present crisis.

Reports from Antioch say that Peter, despite his statements at the “council” of Jerusalem “liberating” Gentiles from God’s command to be circumcised briefly came to his senses and drew back from eating with them. Like a proper observer of tradition, Peter started keeping kosher again and avoiding defilement. Traditionalists were hopeful that the nightmare might finally be over, and the Holy Father was repenting his dalliance with loopy liberalism.

But then “Paul” showed up and had the gall to rebuke the head of the apostolic college. He brags about it in a recent letter to the Galatian Church (see Galatians 2). And what did the supposed “head” of the apostolic college do? He actually listened to him and returned to the failed and disastrous policy of ignoring millennia of Scripture and pursuing the modernist novelty of welcoming Gentiles without benefit of circumcision, kosher observance, or respect for Tradition.

Now, it appears the battle to save the “Magisterium” from modernism is lost, demonstrating that it was never really a true Magisterium in the first place. As the Church is sucked into a vortex of controversy, a conference has been held in Gaul among members of the Remnant of true Christians, and we have decided that a “pope” who loses the faith was never a true pope in the first place and can be deposed. We pledge to fight on against this gross perversion of the tradition and accept with pride the badge “Judaisers” that some, like “Paul’s” followers, use to describe us.

It all sounds so familiar when you recast it in the language of American culture war, doesn’t it? It might even sound, to some Reactionaries, disturbingly like the Church may have “gone wrong” a lot earlier than Vatican II or the pontificate of Pope Francis or Pope St John Paul II.

But, in fact, the Church has not gone wrong in her developments of doctrine, neither with circumcision, nor with other matters of faith and morals, because as Jesus promised, the Spirit will guide the Church (often with excruciating slowness) into all truth and Christ will be with the Church to the end of the age.

Which brings us to the matter of capital punishment. Of which more next time.

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