Visiting the Italian hospital and Bedouin Christians in southern Jordan last week, Cardinal Dolan and I took a brief detour in Karak to view a 12th century castle that was built by Crusaders from France who lived there and controlled that part of Palestine until Muslims captured it under the leadership of Saladin later that century.
Among the artifacts was a stone tablet, much older, that could be dated much earlier to the third or fourth century with one name carved in block letters: NOVATIANUS. The guide made much of how ancient it is but had little to say about its meaning. I suggested that it might be an indication of a Gnostic Christian heresy that, along with Donatism, spread throughout the Christian world. These “Gnostic” heresies of the early Church preferred their own interpretation of the Gospel by claiming to have an inner “superior” understanding of Jesus “true message” which allowed them to erect alternatives to the Church’s teaching and the Church’s leadership.
These kinds of “Gnostic” teaching, strongly rejected by popes and bishops like St. Augustine, then continued to be present in the Church of every age, always claiming that we are “in a new era” or we are “entering into a new consciousness” that allows us to place the Gospel and Church teaching under the control of the “superior knowledge” that these groups claim.
In our own days we have had modern examples of this same kind of thinking, groups claiming to have a deeper understanding of Christ’s message which allows them the right to judge the Church as imperfect or as needing to be re-imagined by their own point of view. It is a modern type of Donatism or Novationism. I recall hearing for a few years a lot of vague talk of a “new cosmology.” Many also have been caught up in “new methods” such as Reiki and the like. The latest I have come across is called “Conscious Evolution” led by a woman named Barbara Marx Hubbard. To be blunt, it is nonsense wrapped up in jargon. But it carries within it the seeds of disruption when it proposes a kind of self mastery and immanentist power of control over the world and human life that is supposed to be liberating.
In addition to its basically flawed proposals, it becomes dangerous to us Christians when, as this woman does, she occasionally cites the Lord Jesus or St. Paul as if there is some kind of Christian inspiration to her Gnosticism. First, in the citations I have read, she misquotes and misapplies both the words of Jesus and the writings of St. Paul. Second she leaves one with the false impression that somehow this is compatible with Christianity which it patently is not.
Whatever artifacts future generations may find from our time, I can assure you that neither Novationism of the early Church or “Conscious Evolution” of our own time will have any meaning when compared to the words of Paul or those of Luke in Acts, “There is no other name by which we can be saved but Jesus Christ to whom be Glory forever and ever. Amen.”