In the article “Porneia and Communion in the Hand” that was recently posted on 1P5, I explored the connections among porneia, the abuse crisis in the modern Church, and the immodesty toward our Lord’s Eucharistic body. Scripture speaks just as frequently of “spiritual porneia” as “spiritual harlotry” as it does of porneia as physical immorality. Spiritual porneia is the worship of idols, which is the worship of anything other than God. This includes deities, such as pagan gods, but in common usage, the definition would also include non-deities such as money, fame, power, and the self. Pope St. Pius X has famously defined modernism as the “synthesis of all heresies,” which certainly includes idolatry in all of its forms.
Sin is insidiously invasive. It is relentlessly opportunistic — lurking, multiplying, and spreading undiscovered until it has completely overwhelmed its host. When its presence is finally revealed, it is usually too late. The Church has allowed the leaven of modernism to transform “the lump” of the Church both through physical porneia and through spiritual porneia.
Old Testament prophets speak in vivid terms about the spiritual porneia of Jerusalem. For example, here is Ezekiel:
So it came to pass, after all your evils, says the Lord, “that you also built for yourself a house of fornication (porneia), and made a public place for yourself in every street; and at the beginning of every road, you built your brothel (porneia) and ravaged your beauty. You spread your legs to everyone who passed by and multiplied your acts of prostitution (porneia). You committed fornication (porneia) with the children of Egypt, your fleshly neighbor, and committed fornication (porneia) in many ways, to provoke Me to anger[.] … You also committed fornication (porneia) with the daughters of Assyria, and even then you were not satisfied; indeed you committed fornication (porneia) with them and were not satisfied. You multiplied your covenants with the Chaldeans, and not even with these were you satisfied. Why should I make a covenant with your daughter,” says the Lord, “when you do all these things, the deeds of a prostitute (porneia)? So you committed threefold fornication (porneia).” (Ez. 16:23–27,28–30)
Ezekiel has much more to say along the same lines. Yahweh (referred to here as the “Lord”) is accusing Jerusalem of spiritual fornication with any and all of the pagan gods of her neighbors who come along. Yahweh as the Christ is the Bridegroom, so the image of Jerusalem as a faithless woman is fitting.
Violations of the First Commandment in the eyes of God are much worse and much less forgivable than sexual sins. God routinely puts people to instant death in the Old Testament for a First Commandment sin (spiritual porneia), but there are no instances of instant death for a purely sexual sin (porneia). This is understandable, since God’s purpose is to form Israel into a fitting spiritual bride for himself so that the Incarnation could be produced as a result of their union. If their relationship is properly spiritually and liturgically ordered, proper moral behavior will necessarily follow.
Leaven is a good natural analogy for sin. That is why the Jews observed the Day of Preparation prior to Passover to rid their homes of every speck of leaven. Leaven (or sin) was such an abhorrent thing that if someone ate leavened bread illicitly, he was not just punished, but “cut off from Israel.” In other words, he was completely expelled from the community.
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel. (Ex. 12:15)
God is literally deadly serious about eradicating all traces of “leaven” in His chosen people and making sure that the “house” where they dwell, the Promised Land, is completely free of it. Joshua (Jesus in Hebrew) is given the task of leading Israel into the Promised Land after Moses’s death. God is clear that He wants every single pagan inhabitant exterminated, lest they contaminate his chosen people.
Joshua waged war with these kings for many days, and there was not a city Israel did not take. They took them all in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their heart to wage war against Israel, that they might be utterly destroyed and be shown no mercy, as the Lord said to Moses. (Josh. 11:18–20)
In the descriptions of the battles for the Promised Land, the Israelites “kill every living thing,” including their prisoners. In his final address before his death, Joshua reminds his people:
Therefore take great heed to love the Lord your God. For if you turn away and attach yourselves to the remnant of these nations among you, and intermarry and become mingled with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord will no longer utterly destroy these nations before you; but they shall be snares and traps for you, and nails in your heels and darts in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you. (Josh. 23:11–13)
Even though when they are faithful to God, they go from one victory to another, the Israelites do not heed Joshua and do not do as they have been repeatedly told.
Then the sons of Israel did evil before the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods from among the gods of the nations all around them, and they bowed down to them. (Jdg. 2:11–12)
Nevertheless, God does not abandon them.
The Lord raised up judges and the Lord saved them from the hand of those who plundered them. But even so, they would not listen to their judges, but instead they played harlot (porneia) with other gods and bowed down to them. (Jdg. 2:16–7)
Zero tolerance for the leaven of sin is a feature of not just the “mean God” of the Old Testament. Early in Acts, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira sell some property “but keep back part of the proceeds” (Acts 5:2). Ananias lays the partial proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Peter is not amused and confronts Ananias for allowing Satan to fill his heart and cause him to lie to the Holy Spirit. As soon as Peter finishes speaking, Ananias drops dead. The young men of the community promptly carry out his body and bury him. A few hours later, Sapphira appears. Peter asks her for how much they sold the land. She lies like her husband, and she too drops dead at Peter’s feet. Her body is also promptly carried out and buried. Should Peter have been more “merciful” and just been pleased with whatever Ananias and Sapphira wanted to give the Church? Something is better nothing, after all! At least they tried! Not in the slightest. Peter and God do not tolerate the leaven of liars, hypocrites, and the uncommitted in this world and certainly not in the next.
Paul is just as firm when he is confronted by an act of porneia in the community (1 Cor. 5:1). As punishment, he recommends excommunication.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:5)
Paul then explains why zero tolerance is necessary.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore, purge out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, since you are truly unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6–8)
The dreary cycle of faithlessness and “spiritual harlotry” by God’s chosen people, whoever they happen to be, continues right on through to our times. Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907) prescribes zero tolerance for modernists in the Church for the same reason as Yahweh, Peter, and Paul do before him. If left neglected, the smallest amount of modernist leaven will eventually consume the entire Church.
For as We have said, they put their designs for her ruin into operation not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her. Moreover they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt. Further, none is more skillful, none more astute than they, in the employment of a thousand noxious arts; for they double the parts of rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error; and since audacity is their chief characteristic, there is no conclusion of any kind from which they shrink or which they do not thrust forward with pertinacity and assurance.
Pius X directs that uncompromising action be taken. For example, in defending against the infiltration of modernist teachers in schools, he unflinchingly demands:
48 Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with Modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices, and those who already occupy them are to be withdrawn. The same policy is to be adopted towards those who favour Modernism either by extolling the Modernists or excusing their culpable conduct, by criticising scholasticism, the Holy Father, or by refusing obedience to ecclesiastical authority in any of its depositaries; and towards those who show a love of novelty in history, archaeology, biblical exegesis, and finally towards those who neglect the sacred sciences or appear to prefer to them the profane. In all this question of studies, Venerable Brethren, you cannot be too watchful or too constant, but most of all in the choice of professors, for as a rule the students are modelled after the pattern of their masters. Strong in the consciousness of your duty, act always prudently but vigorously.
The culmination of the modernist leaven occurred on October 4, 2019, when “Peter” committed porneia with a pagan god. The act was the inevitable end result of the modern Church’s long harlotry with the false gods and idols of the modern world. On that day, Amazon Synod guests prostrated themselves to the pagan goddess Pachamama and a pile of dirt in a Vatican gardens ceremony, with “Peter” looking on approvingly. The idol was also processed through St. Peter’s Basilica and installed in a nearby church. This would have been all too familiar to Ezekiel, who quotes the Lord as saying,
“Her priests reject My law and desecrate my holy things. They no longer distinguish between the holy and the profane, nor between the unclean and the clean. They have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am desecrated in their midst.” (Ez. 22:26)
A tiny amount of the leaven of any kind of porneia inevitably consumes the lump. Things such as Communion in the hand seem small and inconsequential to virtually every modern Catholic, but it is perhaps not coincidental that the title of St. Pius X’s great anti-modernist encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis means “Feeding the Lord’s Flock” in Latin.
Paul warns us, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (Galatians 6:7).”
The Greek word Paul uses here for “mocked” is μυκτηριζω or mukterizo. After Ezekiel describes a series of idolatrous abominations by the Jews in the Jerusalem Temple, the Lord says to him:
“This is not a trivial thing for the house of Judah to commit these lawless acts which they commit here, is it? For they have filled the land with lawlessness, and behold, they are as those who treat Me with mockery (mukterizo). As for Me, I shall treat them in anger. My eye will not spare, nor will I have mercy.” (Ez. 8: 17–18)
Of course, the Babylonian exile and the “abomination of desolation” followed shortly after the Lord’s warning. Since things did not improve in the centuries after their return, Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed in the year 70.
The ultimate and complete destruction of the spiritual harlot Jerusalem was clearly foretold by Jesus (Lk. 28:20). In Revelation, John also confirms and foretells the same thing.
And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. (Rev. 16:19–20)
Jerusalem is referred to here as Babylon by John for her faithlessness. Romans used catapults to batter Jerusalem with large white stones (a talent is equivalent to about 200 pounds) that could easily be described as great hail. The penalty for adultery in the Mosaic Law was death (Lev. 20:10), usually by stoning. Jesus Himself famously intervenes when a woman is accused of adultery and says, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” (Jn. 8:7). The ultimate fate of the harlot Jerusalem is to be stoned to death by the Roman legions, exactly as prescribed by the Mosaic Law.
God’s response to spiritual porneia and to the people who commit it then and today is unsparing.
Dr. Alšėnas is a biopharmaceutical industry analyst, executive, and consultant. He is a graduate of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Northwestern University.