Lately, there has been a lot of talk about dogma and its connection to love. Those, who adhere to the correct dogma, are attacked by some on the basis that they did not learn love and tolerance for others. They believe that holding fast to the correct doctrine is a form of fanaticism, which does not agree with the atmosphere of love, which should be present amongst the Christians, especially in our present days. Some evade the discussion of the dogma to avoid hurting the feelings of others or to preserve love. Others, when faced with a situation in which they have to discuss it, begin with a long introduction to prove their love. Yet, others try to dilute the situation and consider it a matter of difference in methods, approach, or taste. Still they do not escape from attack. We will discuss this matter and try to answer some of the questions.
What is meant by dogma?
Dogma is the correct faith. It is a trust that we received from our Fathers the Apostles, was guarded by the Church Fathers throughout the ages, and the Church lives it through Her holy liturgies. St. Paul instructs his disciple Timothy, as well as all of us, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babbling and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you.” (1 Tim. 6: 20-22) The question is: how do we guard the trust? St. Paul tells his disciple, Timothy, as well as all of us, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Tim. 4:16) Therefore, guarding the faith is very important for the salvation of the honest servant, as well as the salvation of the souls of those being served. Accordingly, neglecting the dogma is a cause of perdition of the servant, as well as those who listen to him. As for the relationship between faith and the spiritual life, St. Paul said, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” (1 Tim. 4: 12-13). The person, who holds fast to the correct dogma, must embrace love, purity, and the holy spiritual life. St. Gregory the Theologian revealed in his theological writings that the genuine theologian must study with depth, but more importantly he must lead a pure life, both physically and spiritually.
How do we hold fast to both the dogma and love?
In order to understand the true meaning of holding on to the correct dogma and the meaning of true love, let us reflect on our Good Lord, Jesus Christ’s life and how he faced the scribes and the Pharisees, who had many misunderstandings regarding the faith. Among these mistakes were their erroneous understanding of the mission of the Messiah, the literal understanding of the Sabbath, and their refusal to deal with sinners. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not ignore these doctrinal mistakes, but rather explained to them the mission of the Messiah is salvation of humanity from bondage to Satan through the cross. He explained that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and therefore it is acceptable to do good on the Sabbath day. He further revealed that He came to save what was lost and that those who are well don’t need a physician but those who are sick. Because of the stubbornness of the Pharisees, our Lord Jesus Christ declared the “woes” to them (Matt. 23). Does that mean that in dealing with the scribes and the Pharisees our Christ succeeded in the test of doctrine and failed in the test of love?
St. John the Apostle is given both the title “the Theologian” and “The Beloved”. He is referred to as “The Theologian”, not just because he emphasized the divinity of Christ in his gospel, but also because he defended in his three epistles the correct faith against the heretics. He is also referred to as “The Beloved”, not just because he was the disciple whom Christ loved, but because he wrote abundantly about God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for one another. We see that in the following verses, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 Jn. 4:16); “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how canhe love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 Jn.4: 20-21)
John, the Apostle of love, is also the steadfast apostle, who defended the correct faith. He urged us to the following, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 Jn.: 10) St. John does not ask us to hate others, but is teaching us to love them in the correct way that will lead to their repentance and return to the true faith. He is also very careful about our salvation, since mingling with those of an opposite faith may affect the belief of the simple ones and make them doubt the doctrine.
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” (Gal. 1: 6-10)
Some are disturbed when the Church excommunicates those, who oppose the faith or those who come up with new heresies. They consider this to be lack of love and absence of wisdom in gaining people. Actually, St. Paul considers that not doing this would be just to please people and displays lack of honesty in worshiping Christ. So which do we choose: pleasing people or pleasing God? Is pleasing people true love or fake love? True love is pleasing God for God is love.
How do we love our beloved, who differ from us in dogma?
Aquila and Priscilla were disciples of St. Paul the Apostle and learned the correct faith from him. When they heard Apollos in Ephesus teaching what does not agree with what they have been taught, they did not attack Apollos nor deny his talent as an eloquent speaker, powerful in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in the Spirit, as well as speaking and teaching accurately. His problem was how he understood baptism in terms of how it was similar to John’s baptism, i.e. an external symbol of a person’s repentance. Aquila and Priscilla understood baptism as the new birth, a death and resurrection with Christ. Therefore, it is written in the Scriptures, “When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18: 26) This is the genuine love, which perceives the positive points, but corrects the negative points in an objective manner.
Also, when St. Paul found in Ephesus disciples, who were baptized into John’s baptism for repentance, and didn’t know about the Holy Spirit and His role in the economy of salvation, he corrected their faith and then baptized them in the correct baptism, and the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 19: 1-7). By baptizing them, St. Paul sets the example of true love, since he did not leave them just in the baptism of John, which was just a symbol, and would have deprived them of salvation.
True love makes us acknowledge the positive points and the large horizon of common faith with our beloved from the different denominations. But we have to realize the differences through theological dialogue so we can overcome the differences. But to ignore the differences or to attempt to change them into just historical differences is in fact lack of love and an aspect of deceiving oneself. Also, the zeal to unify the Christians make some claim that unity exists and the differences are man-made because of lack of love. If we do this, we are actually deceiving ourselves and the Truth is not us.
St. Cyril of Alexandria did not ignore Nestorius’ mistakes in understanding the Mystery of the Incarnation. Rather he wrote him letters to explain the true faith. He wrote his letters in a loving way, clearly and powerfully explaining the correct faith in a logical and convincing way, free from personal attack. We find that he began his theological letter to Nestorius by writing, “Cyril sends greetings in the Lord to the very honored and God-loving, our partner in the service, Nestorius.
We also find how our beloved departed father, H.H. Pope Shenouda III used a fatherly and spiritual way in his message to Max Michele, who separated himself from the Church. He wrote in “El-Keraza Magazine” in the July 2006 edition, “I mourn for you, my son”
This is the manner of those who have adhered to the correct dogma, as well as achieved love. As for those, who are semi-learned, who claim to know the dogma, who use an offensive method with personal attack, allocating accusations, and labeling people according to their personal vision, they know neither the correct dogma nor the true love!العقيدة والمحبة