For this month’s carnival of Christian Reconciliation, I posed the following question:
In St. John Cassian’s Conferences Abba Moses teaches that our thoughts come from three sources, the Holy Spirit, Satan, or ourselves. He then teaches discernment is perhaps the most important Christian virtue, to separate those three in our minds and subsequently our actions. Our Church has split from one into so very many over the almost two millennia since Christ’s resurrection. Some have suggested that perhaps the prevalence and predominance of division in our church is a sign that it is God’s will that the Church be divided. But is this so?
In analogy to Abba Moses’ instruction, one might propose that the origins of any one of these divisions arises from the work or activities of the Spirit, Satan, or Man. One would expect that the latter two are the ones which, if one supports ecumenical movement, should be the ones we actively oppose. How should we discern the difference between these, if indeed that is even a thing we should attempt? Is the motive behind the division a thing which we should discern as we try to heal that same division? Is such a discernment (or claims to the same) today even useful?
What I don’t intend in appraoching this question is a look back at schisms of the past, for example the East/West split ostensibly over filioque, and then attempting to essentially name-call and “determine” whether Satan, Spirit, or Man was a primary driving force in forcing the schism. What is needed however, is people today considering schism and ecumenical meeting, to keep to the narrow path. It should emphasise for us today the primary role discernment, especially as to the question of the question of who’s driving the bus, Spirit,Satan, or Man.
The church has undergone at this point in its history, hundreds of schisms and splits. The demonimation cound in the US alone is staggering. Right now, a number of mainline protestant churches are considering or approaching futher schism, a prominent example is the Anglican communion. The common practice on both sides of these splits in today’s era is that those involved on opposite sides of a split publicly (most often) express high minded charitable opinions of the other side in public, but excoriate and call the other side, hateful, bigoted, or in view of the above, motivated by Satan or at the best … the worst human impulses in private. One might ask, if where there is a marked difference expressed of “other”, if that’s a sign that your opinions and motives are driven by God. I’d offer this is backwards. If we are confident in our discernment, and loving of our neighbor, that discernment should tell us how to correct our neighbor, and that method shouldn’t include such a marked dichotomy between private and public remarks.
If St. Cassian is right, and a most important virtue is discernment, two questions need to be answered. The first is, how is discernment best practiced? Our modern age stresses the personal, in contrast with earlier eras in which discernment was typically more guided and communal. The second question is more practical. If discernment and the lack/failure of the same is a primary cause of schism, how do we fix, how to repair our practices in this virtue to right the ship?