Disciplina Arcana or the “The Discipline of the Secret” was an early Catholic practice whereby a hierarchy of initiation was established to determine a person’s worthiness to learn the mystical and secret rituals of the initiated and the more sacred ceremonies of the Catholic church, (none of which appear in the Bible).
The Discipline of the Secret involved an organized hierarchy consisting of different ranks or orders being instituted within the congregation, based on capacity, faithfulness and other qualifications. The “Catechumens”, which included the most basic and elementary level of inclusion, were permitted to pray, but were not permitted to participate in or even observe a baptism. During mass, this group was the first to be asked to leave while the more initiated got to participate in the subsequent and unfolding mysteries reserved for higher ranks.
However, when enough knowledge had been acquired and demonstrated to the satisfaction of whomever was over these neophytes, the Catechumen then petitioned the Bishop for the Sacrament of Baptism. At this point, the Catechumen becomes a “Competentes” or Seeker and his name was then registered in the books of the church.
The “Fideles” or Faithful comprised the third degree or rank of the believer. This group was permitted to be baptized and were given numerous titles and honors in contrast with the less initiated. This group was called Illuminati or “Illuminated” since they had access to secrets concealed from the inferior orders. They were also called Intiati or “Initiated” because they had knowledge of concealed doctrines and sacred mysteries.
When the time came for the Fideles to alone remain in the mass, the formula for dismissal used by the deacon was: “Holy things for the holy, let the dogs depart,” Sancta, sanctis, foris canes; which I find shocking since according to the Scriptures, once someone places their faith in Christ, they are made a new creature and are immediately forgiven and seen as holy by God, certainly not as “unholy dogs.”
I first heard of the concept of “The Discipline of the Secret” in a book I read in 2002 called The Signature of Jesus, by Brennan Manning. And while I did not gather that Manning, a Catholic, was promoting a full return to this ancient heretical mysticism, he was promoting the idea that the correct way to share our faith in Christ was to do so “in secret.” In other words, rather than boldly proclaiming Christ with our mouths as we reach out to a lost and dying world, we should instead preach Christ through our lifestyles, behaviors, attitudes and love. The “Discipline” of the Secret as far as I understand it, means not outwardly sharing Christ in the traditional way.
The question then arises, is any of this Biblical?
Certainly we can see from Scripture that none of the ancient mystical practices–shrouding the truth in secrecy, establishing hierarchies or order of initiation, and having secret rituals and ceremonies have anything to do whatsoever with Biblical Christianity. They would have more in common with Fraternal Orders or Clubs than anything remotely outlined in Scripture.
But what of Manning’s definition of sharing the Gospel silently?
While it is certainly commanded to love God and love one another, that is very different from stating that it is only correct to share our faith through silence when the Bible says, “Faith come by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”
The Lord’s final command to the Church was to go and make disciples of all nations. Surely this requires an outward and communicative approach.
And while Manning strives to convince that the Discipline of the Secret was the original method of discipleship and evangelism, we know from the Book of Acts, New Testament Letters, and the writings of secular historians that this does not match the record of history. The first century believers did not keep silent about their faith. In fact, you will find the exact opposite as believers boldy entered villages, cities, temples and town squares declaring loudly, unequivocally and without apology, the truth of the risen Christ. And should they have gotten beaten, whipped and kicked for their efforts, they praised God for the opportunity to suffer for Christ as they dusted themselves off and headed unwaveringly to the next city. How else do you think twelve men turned the world upside down and the Gospel went forth throughout the world?
No where do we see it taught in the pages of Scripture that we are to be “Secret Agent Christians.” And yet, that is often the model we see employed today. We seem to be under the impression that the way to share our faith today is to become friends with unbelievers for about four or five years and then after we have built and established a relationship, share the love of Jesus with them.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this model of evangelism is simply not articulated or demonstrated in the pages of Scripture. In fact, one could readily make the case that sharing through silence is a contradiction of terms and reprents an abandonment of biblical instruction.
Jesus said, “He who follows me shall not walk in the darkness” (John 8:12).
The enemy of our souls would agree we should be silent about the Gospel.
Silence is betrayal.