The Temptation to Subvert the Gospel

December 22, 2019
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians to stop the subversion of the Gospel.

The first chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, which according to the traditional Roman Rite, is read as part of Matins on the third Sunday after Epiphany. In the Byzantine Rite, however, verses 11 thru 19 make up the Epistle reading for the Sunday following the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas). Here is an excerpt:

"For I give you to understand, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For neither did I receive it of man, nor did I learn it; but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Confirming the Gospel

It may be startling to some in these times to recall that even in the earliest decades following the birth, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Gospel, which had been entrusted to the Church, was already being subverted. This is why St. Paul, in his charity, wrote to the churches of Galatia to remind them that the Gospel he preached is not the work of human hands, not even the work of an Apostle’s hands, but comes directly from Christ.

And what was subverting the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the churches of Galatia? Was it some great perversion, such as fidelity to the grotesque excesses of pagan religion or the embrace of a novel philosophy that called the possibility of truth into doubt? It was nothing of the sort. For those early Christians of Galatia, what subverted the Gospel was faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. That is to say, the Galatians’ faith was not being corrupted by an obvious evil; it was being undermined by a misplaced prioritization of a gift from God, which had been fulfilled in Christ.

After the revelation of Jesus Christ and entry into His Church through Baptism, St. Paul goes on to explain, “There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In other words, in the interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is as if St. Paul were saying: “Truly have I said, that as many of you as have been baptized in Christ Jesus have put on Christ, because there is nothing in man that would exclude anyone from the sacrament of the faith of Christ and of baptism” (Super Epistolam B. Pauli ad Galatas lectura, Chapter 3). And, according to St. Thomas, the Apostle “mentions three differences among men to show that no one is excluded from faith in Christ by any of them[.]”

Subversion From Good

Although the subversion of the Gospel which infected the churches of Galatia may seem far removed from the myriad of subversions found throughout the Catholic Church today, some share a common ancestry with the Galatian controversy.

When the Gospel is subverted today, that subversion often comes from goods, albeit of a secondary nature. Economic prosperity, environmental stability, the cessation of warfare, and peaceful coexistence are not evils in and of themselves, which is why it is so tempting for Catholics, including the Church’s leadership, to incorporate these secondary goods into their interpretation and dissemination of the Gospel. But what does this distortion accomplish except to reduce the Gospel down to the level of a social theory or political platform?

It is exponentially harder to subvert the Gospel immediately with those things that are overtly opposed to the Gospel: abortion, gender theory, religious indifferentism, warmongering, and so forth. Yet when the Church’s bishops, including Pope Francis, preach a Gospel subverted by worldly concerns and political goals, these obvious evils have a way of creeping in, of further distorting the true meaning of faith and salvation, and ultimately splintering the Church. 

St. Paul knew 2,000 years ago how easily Christians could be tempted into subverting the Gospel. In order that the Church not find itself splintered, he implored the Galatians to remember that the Gospel comes down to man from God above; it is not an artifice of man below. That central teaching should be echoed by all of the Church’s clergy today, but lamentably it is not. 

Were the Gospel preached in the manner in which St. Paul preached it, that is, in the form in which Christ revealed it, perhaps the peoples of the world would understand that what they need above all else is God. May the day come quickly when those entrusted with the Church’s care preach this message to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.