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Healing Line

Healing Line

Lessons from History

by Francis MacNutt
December 1994

Recently as I have been reading a history of the Church (This Our Church by Wm. Herr. Chicago IL: Thomas More Ass., 1986), a fascinating, disturbing pattern has become clear. Go d's answer to the Church in one generation becomes the problem of the next generation! And it happens over and over again! The object lesson from this is that we must move on, and we truly need to listen to the Holy Spirit and not simply look to the past for our answers.

One clear example in the Old Testament is how God instructed Moses to set up a bronze serpent on a stick, so that whoever might look at it was healed of a snake–bite during their wanderings in the desert (Numbers 21: 5–9). But then, centuries later, the good, reforming King Hezekiah "broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made" because the Israelites had started to worship it (2 Kings: 18:4).

The example in church history that most of us know best is the conversion o f the Roman Emperor Constantine. Most of us today judge this as the start of a long decline in the Church, but look at it as if you had actually lived during that period. You are a Christian, a member of a persecuted minority; you probably had friends and relative s who were martyred during the fierce persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. If you refused to offer sacrifice to pagan gods, you were subjected to excruciating torture.

Diocletian abdicated in 305 AD, and six years later the persecution finally ceased. In 312 AD Emperor Constantine won the famous battle of the Milvian Bridge after seeing a vision of the Cross. Suddenly the Emperor converted and was promoting Christianity as vigorously as Diocletian had tried to destroy it. In a few short years every thing was reversed. What a cause for rejoicing it would have been. You could move from underground prayer in the catacombs into broad daylight while pagan temples were everywhere being converted into the first Christian churches! Everyone was becoming a Christian. Let's celebrate! We've been waiting 300 years for this glorious day.

We now know the downside. Once it became fashionable to be a Christian, mediocrity set in. A hundred years later, if you really were serious about being a Christian you had to escape the worldly Christian society by fleeing to the desert in imitation of St. Anthony. Rome was falling and the barbarians were at the gate.

Constantine tried to help the church by giving the bishops secular power, while he used the Church to unify the Empire by promoting one religion, forcibly imposed. This began the intertwining of political power and the Church which we have had to struggle with ever since. So what helped the Church in 312 was hurting it in 400. It was time to move on.

And so it goes. We have to sift out what is eternal divine truth from our human traditions, which we are always tempted to believe are divine traditions.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, in an effort to escape the clutches of the Kings and Emperors who had the Popes wanted to assert their spiritual · power. The Pope changed from simply being the "Vicar of Peter" to becoming the "Vicar of Christ." It worked for that century. The Popes got back some of the spiritual power the rulers had usurped. But later, this proved a problem. How can a good Catholic, even today, withstand a Pope, the vicar of Christ, as Paul "withstood Peter to his face" without feeling shame and guilt.

Reading this fascinating, but painful, history we are reminded of the extraordinary need we have for the New Law, which is primarily the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to move creatively into the coming days and years. "Come Holy spirit and guide your faithful."


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. December 1994 Issue