The sadness of all apostasy—and the modern scandal

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 01, 2017

I explained yesterday why, regardless of the motives and the naysayers, apostasy is always wrong, even under the circumstances depicted in the novel and film Silence.

As a postscript, I believe the following two observations will be found quite apt:

First, in a certain sense there is relatively little scandal in the formal apostasy of Jesuit priests in eighteenth-century Japan. When ten Jesuits entered Japan in an effort to counter the effects of the apostasy of a previous Jesuit, all of them eventually denied Christ under similar threats of torture.

This renunciation of the Faith would have scandalized the Japanese faithful undergoing similar threats—in the deepest sense of tempting them to commit the same sin, though many of them did not do so. But in the attenuated sense in which we understand “scandal” today—the sense of being outraged by another’s sin—we can hardly be outraged by the failure of these priests to pass the ultimate test, especially insofar as we ourselves can hardly be certain of our own perseverance in similar circumstances.

Perhaps it is this attenuated sense of scandal that the unfortunate James Martin, SJ had in mind when he argued in America magazine that, under the circumstances depicted in the 2016 film Silence (though the fictional circumstances of the novel and the film were not in fact the real circumstances), well-formed and prayerful Jesuits could legitimately deny Christ.

This is false (as I explained yesterday), but clearly the scandal of the denial is significantly mitigated by either the real or the fictional circumstances. Condemnation and millstones may be warranted, but not on our authority. For us, weaklings that we all may be, a more appropriate response would be sadness.

But a parallel dilemma in modern Western culture leads to a second observation. Indeed, Fr. Martin’s comments on the original dilemma lend this fresh observation greater urgency simply because he himself has so often been on the wrong side of the dilemma.

The legitimacy of contempt?

Second, then, there is a very great deal of scandal in the less formal yet material apostasy of so many Jesuit priests today, along with many others, especially in wayward religious communities and universities. These practical apostates harm countless souls and leads them into sin for no better reason than to be recognized as mainstream thinkers. Such men and women apparently fear, above all else, to be marginalized by the larger secular culture. Accordingly, they are driven to employ an unending series of specious arguments to demonstrate why this or that Catholic teaching is really quite compatible with what the world so urgently desires.

Here we have a scandal in both the deeper and the more modern senses. In the deep sense, this progressive denial of Christ leads little ones into sin on a daily basis. Those who apostatize in this way would rather justify the wayward desires of students (and others) than strengthen them against the world, the flesh and the devil. This form of apostasy produces an elite club which those who are misled are all too eager to join.

But in this case our response can be fundamentally different. The vast majority of those reading these comments have experienced all of the same worldly inducements, yet they have consistently said “No”. A great many have, in this case, earned the right to be scandalized in the more modern sense. We have earned the right to be outraged.

The apostasy of Modernism, the apostasy motivated by this itchy desire for cultural approval and intellectual “respectability”, this is sad indeed. But it really does also call for condemnation and millstones. It is just here that Our Lord’s own words apply so exactly. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself” (Lk 9:25)?

For the matter of that, what does such a vain and even risible weakness profit anyone else?

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: marksauser4128 - Dec. 03, 2017 5:43 PM ET USA

    Good article Jeff! This article begs the question: "Where are the bishops and why are they silent?" This apostasy is happening before our eyes for those who are willing to look. Most Catholics are oblivious to it and its consequences. It is saddening to see and contemplate. The mass, the rosary and confession are the only answer.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Dec. 02, 2017 2:42 PM ET USA

    Another great article!

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Dec. 02, 2017 12:55 PM ET USA

    "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:20-21) For anyone who knowingly does this on a grave matter, I'm certain the OT woe includes a millstone, since Jesus indicated such.