Skip to comments.Bruce Jenner, the “Shadow Council,” and St. Irenaeus
Posted on 06/09/2015 1:38:36 PM PDT by NYer
Two news items from last week put me in mind of St. Irenaeus and the battle he waged, nineteen centuries ago, against the Gnostic heresy. The first was the emergence of Bruce Jenner as a “woman” named Caitlyn, and the second was a “shadow council” that took place in Rome and apparently called for the victory of a theology of love over John Paul II’s theology of the body.
I realize this requires a bit of unpacking. Let me begin with Irenaeus. Toward the end of the second century, Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, wrote a text called Adversus Haereses (Against the Heresies), and the principle heresy that he identified therein was Gnosticism. Gnosticism was, and is, a multi-headed beast, but one of its major tenets is that matter is a fallen, inferior form of being, produced by a low-level deity. The soul is trapped in matter, and the whole point of the spiritual life is to acquire the gnosis (knowledge) requisite to facilitate an escape of the soul from the body.
On the gnostic interpretation, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, who foolishly pronounced the material world good, is none other than the compromised god described in gnostic cosmology, and Jesus is the prophet who came with the saving knowledge of how to rise above the material realm. What Irenaeus intuitedand his intuition represented one of the decisive moments in the history of the Churchis that this point of view is directly repugnant to Biblical Christianity, which insists emphatically upon the goodness of matter.
Scan through Irenaeus’s voluminous writings, and you will find the word “body” over and over again. Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection, the theology of the Church, sacraments, redemption, the Eucharist, etc. all involve, he argued, bodiliness, materiality. For Irenaeus, redemption is decidedly not tantamount to the escape of the soul from the body; rather, it is the salvation and perfection of the body.
Now you might think that this is all a bit of ancient intellectual history, but think again. As I hinted above, the gnostic heresy has proven remarkably durable, reasserting itself across the centuries. Its most distinctive mark is precisely the denigration of matter and the tendency to set the spirit and the body in an antagonistic relationship. This is why many thinkers have identified the anthropology of René Descartes, which has radically influenced modern and contemporary attitudes, as neo-gnostic. Descartes famously drove a wedge between spirit and matter, or in his language, between the res cogitans (thinking thing) and the res extensa (thing extended in space). In line with gnostic intuitions, Descartes felt that the former belongs to a higher and more privileged dimension and that the latter is legitimately the object of manipulation and re-organization. Hence he says that the purpose of philosophy and science is to “master” nature, rather than to contemplate it.
One would have to be blind not to notice how massively impactful that observation has proven to be. Echoes of Descartes’s dualism can be heard in the writings of Kant, Hegel, and many of the master philosophers of modernity, and they can be discerned, as well, in the speech and attitudes of millions of ordinary people today.
All of which brings me back to Bruce Jenner and to the “shadow council” in Rome. In justifying the transformation that he has undergone, Jenner consistently says something along these lines: “Deep down, I always knew that I was a woman, but I felt trapped in the body of a man. Therefore, I have the right to change my body to bring it in line with my true identity.”
Notice how the mind or the willthe inner selfis casually identified as the “real me” whereas the body is presented as an antagonist which can and should be manipulated by the authentic self. The soul and the body are in a master/slave relationship, the former legitimately dominating and re-making the latter. This schema is, to a tee, gnosticand just as repugnant to Biblical religion as it was nineteen hundred years ago. For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul’s manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the “true self” standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self. Until we realize that the lionization of Caitlyn Jenner amounts to an embracing of Gnosticism, we haven’t grasped the nettle of the issue.
And just a word about what took place in Rome last week. I want to be careful here, for I’m relying on a few reports concerning what was intended to be a private gathering of church leaders and intellectuals. I certainly want to give all of the participants the benefit of the doubt and I remain sincerely eager to hear their own accounting of what was discussed.
But what particularly bothered mein fact, it caused every single anti-gnostic sensor in me to vibratewas the claim that the secret council was calling for a “theology of love” that would supplant the theology of the body proposed by John Paul II. For Biblical people, human love is never a disembodied reality. Furthermore, lovewhich is an act of the willdoes not hover above the body, but rather expresses itself through the body and according to the intelligibility of the body. To set the two in opposition or to maintain that an inner act is somehow more important or comprehensive than the body is to walk the gnostic roadwhich is just as dangerous a path as it was in the time of St. Irenaeus.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said, See, this is new? It has already been, in the ages before us.
11 The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Excellent post! Many thanks.
Poor Bruce. I have the feeling that the cover shot of him/her in her 1950's vamp-lingerie of all things, in Vanity Fair, with many hour's worth of facial surgery, cosmetic application, hair extensions, strategic hiding (his man-hands, his man-feet, and his man's what's in the middle), plus posing, framing and photoshopping, will have been the high point of his "new life."
I fear we're going to be hearing of his suicide within the year.
After Vanity Fair, all downhill.
I hope somebody loves him enough to help him.
Apparently nobody loves him enough to challenge his delusion.
This is a superb article. Thank-you. The definiton of the nonsense of the self-absorbed Jenner as gnosticism is something I never thought of. It is the very antithesis of the theology of The Church.
My only complaint is the observation that “...the theology of love that would supplant the theology of the body proposed by John Paul II.” was a bad thing. I have no idea what the “theology of love” is, but if it is the theology of The Fathers of The Church, for example that of +BXVI, the first Father since +Gregory Palamas, that would be just fine by me. +JPII’s theology was at best a comic book version of that of his successor!
Apparently, he is the central figure in a new reality program. "Vanity" lives on.
I hope somebody loves him enough to help him.
Ditto but, FWIU, there is new legislation on the horizon, to ban psychological intervention.
As christians, we can pray for him ... and no legislation can take that away from us. God bless!
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