Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. (Luke 10.3-4).
“Take no bag -- no suitcase, no wardrobe, no overnight bag, no garment bag of extra suits of clothing for various occasions.”
In going on the way, as lambs in time and the world, there is only one occasion.
The logic behind the giving up of bags is bracingly simple: without the ability to change into different sets of clothing, if one is but a lamb, he must stay a lamb, even in the face of the modern synaxis of wolves.
I’m going to stick with my allegorical interpretation of “the wolves” as the persistent rogues gallery of heresies with which the Church has had to attend. The Gnostics are here again, but after all they’ve never left us. So are the Sabellians (i.e., pentecostalists) and the Arians (i.e., mainliners).
I suppose you could make a case that every single anathematized group cataloged in our conciliar history has its reincarnation padding around like feral cats today. Our Lord’s question, “Who do you think I am?” seems to allow only a few trite possibilities: “You’re not divine”; or “You’re not human”; or, as I averred in the last post, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Did you ever wonder how heretics grow up? From harboring little dangerous opinions (if only to be creative and authentic), to blossoming into a full-blown wearer of an orange clergy shirt sporting a rainbow montage on a burlap stole?
Our stock response to this question usually involves patristic word pictures, like the example of a mosaic: keep the whole (i.e., kata-holos) mosaic intact and you can see the beautiful meaning ... but remove the tiles of the mosaic for your convenience, and you deconstruct the design and are left with shards of glass.
This is a very nice and true description. It is clinical in that it describes the symptoms of heresy, and probably its prognosis. But it fails in etiology, which is the story of how it came to be.
Some of my students claim, in Church History, that heresy produces disunity. They look at the abysmal schismatic array of religious declarations of independence (i.e., “autocephaly” or “self-rule”) -- from Novatian to the non-Chalcedonians to 1053 to the pounding of 95 theses on an old wooden door to the rather boorish nitwit jungle that is American religion today ... and they conclude that behind every schism is a heresy.
Well, that’s about half right. But I suggest to them that the converse may be more robust as a historical analysis: behind every heresy is a self-absorbed divorce from fellowship.
Every heretic feels sorry for himself.
Every heresy is rooted in disunity and passion.
Wolves make for a scary scene for lambs -- a metaphor for innocence, yes, but also an image of all the psychic vulnerability that is mandated by the Good Shepherd. Just to underline this point, our Lord imaged us, in His rhetoric, as “poor in spirit,” as “meek,” as “innocent doves,” as “children.” The apologetical works of the second century insist that the world has nothing to fear from the Church -- whereas the Church might have a lot to be afraid of. She must constantly remind herself, in the Trinitarian vision of apostolic succession and the Eucharistic predicate of worship, that “we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us” ... and “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me” ... and “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”
These are affirmations that make sense only for lambs, not wolves.
But lambs get worried, if not panicked, when they meander away from the Shepherd. There is no courage or peace outside of the deifying and dogmatic Apostolic fellowship -- a fellowship that persists through history as “succession.”
In the face of wolves, and in the fear of death, the mind is thrown over. Thoughts disorganize and turn into a rout. Peace and courage vanish.
And in its egotistical self-enclosure, the soul manufactures pseudo-doctrine based on pride and fear, and takes as a template (actually, a die) the image of the wolf. “But when he succumbed to discontent he ceased to mind the things of God, he ceased to be content with heavenly things” -- Tertullian, in De Patientia.
Discontent is not the only cause of heresy, and disunion. The terrifying largeness of the universe, and the mindbending probabilities of quantum mechanics are enough for many to wad up the Nicene Creed and to adopt an anti-theological pantheism. Chesterton was not bothered by the possibility of quasars billions of light years away: he averred that the possibility was quite the cozy thing.
But most of us sheep cannot stand the implications of another planetary system, much less another galaxy and curved space.
To modify the words of the genial J. B. Phillips: "Your God is too small, and your universe is too large."
In discontent and fear, then, the soul reaches into its wardrobe bag, and in moral cowardice, the sheep puts on wolf’s clothing.
"Carrying no bag" means remaining in the vulnerable immediacy of the Apostolic fellowship. It means receiving the concrete gifts and holy mysteries of the Trinity. It means repenting, rather than extrapolating a doctrinal trajectory from a constellation of lust, anger, pride, gloom or acquisition. It means praying without vain repetition and in terms of salvation. It means childlike humility and meekness instead of fashionability.
It means taking the risk that you might get called names: horrible names, even, like "irrevelant" ... "fundamentalistic" ... "obsolete" ... "out of the mainstream" ... "patriarchal and homophobic" ... "socialist" ... "environmentalist" ... "creationist."
It means also, and foremost, recognizing the wolf as a wolf and not as a drinking buddy or prodigal friend, who is waiting to help you spend, in riotous living, your inheritance.
Carry no bag of extra suits of clothing. Wear the baptismal garb you have. It is enough.