The Danger of Orthodoxy

Romano Guardini: “The Lord” (Regnery 1954) 171.

    “As soon as a religious consciousness that preaches ‘pure doctrine’ comes into being, and with it an  authority ready to spring to its defense, the danger of  orthodoxy becomes acute.

“For what is orthodoxy but that attitude which considers obedience to the Law already salvation,and which would preserve the purity of the Law at all costs – even at the price of violence to the conscience? The moment rules of salvation, cult and communal pattern are fixed, one is tempted to believe that their strict observance is already holiness in the sight of God. The moment there is a hierarchy of offices, and powers, of tradition and law, there is also the danger of confusing authority and obedience with the kingdom of God. The moment human norms are applied holiness, inflexible barriers drawn between right and wrong, the danger of laying hand on divine freedom, of  entangling in rules and  regulations th at which falls from God’s grace alone becomes considerable. No matter how noble a thought may be, once it enters the human heart it stimulates contradiction, untruth and evil. The same fate awaits that which comes from God. Order in faith and prayer, in office and discipline, tradition and practice is of genuine value; but it opens up negative possibilities. Wherever a decisive either-or is demanded in the realm of sacred truth; where the objective forms of cult, order and authority are all that count, there you may be sure, is also danger of ‘the Pharisee’ and his ‘Law.’ Danger of accepting outer vales for intrinsic; danger of contradicting attitude and word; danger of judging God’s freedom by legal stanar ds – in short, danger of all the sins of which Christ accuses the Pharisees.

               “The history of the Mosaic Law is a terrible warning. What had come, a holy thing, from God, was turned into an instrument of disaster. The moment definite revelation, the positive ordering of existence by God is believed, this possibility presents itself. It is good for the believer to know this, that, was a member of the second covenant, he may be spared t he fate of the first.

The Danger of Gnosticism[2]

An intellect without God and without flesh

37. Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity. “Gnostics” do not understand this, because they judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. They think of the intellect as separate from the flesh, and thus become incapable of touching Christ’s suffering flesh in others, locked up as they are in an encyclopaedia of abstractions. In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people”.[36]

38. Certainly this is a superficial conceit: there is much movement on the surface, but the mind is neither deeply moved nor affected. Still, gnosticism exercises a deceptive attraction for some people, since the gnostic approach is strict and allegedly pure, and can appear to possess a certain harmony or order that encompasses everything.

39. Here we have to be careful. I am not referring to a rationalism inimical to Christian faith. It can be present within the Church, both among the laity in parishes and teachers of philosophy and theology in centres of formation. Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking. A healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel is one thing. It is another to reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.[37]

A doctrine without mystery

40. Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect. Thus, perhaps without even realizing it, this ideology feeds on itself and becomes even more myopic. It can become all the more illusory when it masks itself as a disembodied spirituality. For gnosticism “by its very nature seeks to domesticate the mystery”,[38] whether the mystery of God and his grace, or the mystery of others’ lives.

41. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.


[1] No one has at any time seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him. (Jn. 1, 14).

[2] Laudate et Exsultate, March 19, 2015

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