How Did the Laity React to the Council of Nicea?

Surrounding the news and criticism of Roman Catholic bishops in their responses to instances of sexual abuse by priests (and other officials) are calls for the bishops to be as holy as they should be and for the laity to be included in some mechanisms of accountability. What is strange about these arguments — especially by Roman Catholic laity — is what questioning of the bishops does to the entire justification for Roman Catholicism. Critics of the bishops seem to assume that in the case of the current scandal, the bishops have behaved badly and acted unwisely. But if bishops can show such deficiency now, couldn’t they also have been unwise, acted out of self-preservation, or outright erred when deliberating about liturgy, the creed, or the beatification of exceptional believers? I mean, once you start to question the bishops’ judgment on this one matter, you can question almost any part of Roman Catholic history going all the way back to the church that Jesus founded (not in Rome but in Jerusalem).

Michael Sean Winters does not seem to be aware of how his reaction to the recent meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore could also be applied to the gathering of bishops at Nicea almost 1800 years ago:

On Nov. 12, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the conference, expressed his disappointment when he announced the Vatican’s decision to delay any votes on concrete proposals to confront the clergy sex abuse crisis. At the coffee break, bishops were fuming, complaining that Rome had pulled the rug out from under them. Even those bishops who are most enthusiastic about Pope Francis were distressed, worried that he did not understand the media spotlight under which the bishops were laboring.

But, when the bishops began discussing the proposals on Nov. 13, it quickly became obvious that the proposals were ill-conceived and would have fallen apart on their own, without any help from Rome. Erecting a national oversight commission, at considerable expense and with additional bureaucracy, to monitor 200 bishops, very few of them likely to have broken their vows of celibacy, didn’t seem very practical once they began discussing it. The proposed commission would report allegations to the nuncio but that happens now and no one had bothered to ask the nuncio if he wanted a commission to help him in his work. The Standards of Conduct seemed poorly framed and vague. The whole thing seemed amateurish.

Were the proposals at Nicea ill-conceived? Was the use of Greek philosophical terminology to explain the relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit amateurish?

By the way, who is a Michael Sean Winters to judge his bishops? After all, even when Vatican II affirmed the laity as the “people of God” in Lumen Gentium, the bishops were quick to remind readers who remained in charge of the church (Jesus founded):

27. Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant. This power, which they personally exercise in Christ’s name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful. In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate.

The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to them completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called “prelates,” heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it, since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church.

If Winters is within his rights as a church member to take swings at the bishops or if he is right about the lack of discernment by the bishops themselves, the Roman Catholic Church is in a crisis of jaw dropping proportions.

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9 thoughts on “How Did the Laity React to the Council of Nicea?

  1. You probably have seen this passage when it was being cited more often a couple of years ago, but Aquinas’s discussion of the fraternal correction of bishops, even by his subjects, is perhaps relevant here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3033.htm#article4

    It shows that correcting one’s bishop (in a certain way and under certain circumstances, etc., etc.) is not contrary to the Church’s common teaching. But it also reinforces some of what you are saying about the way in which Catholics talk about these matters today.

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  2. Your post highlights the problems and dangers of the RCC Magisterium. If bishops can’t even put together a way to monitor sexual abuse in their own ranks without being “amateurish,” how can we trust with them with the keys to the Kingdom?

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  3. Darryl,
    Criticism and correction of bishops, popes, clergy is nothing new or foreign to RCism. Matthew provided an oft-cited discussion by Aquinas, Feser covered that and more at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-church-permits-criticism-of-popes_20.html when discussing Francis, though the same could obviously then also be extended to bishops.

    “But if bishops can show such deficiency now, couldn’t they also have been unwise, acted out of self-preservation, or outright erred when deliberating about liturgy, the creed, or the beatification of exceptional believers?”

    Sure. But RCism’s claims of infallibility and indefectibility do not assert personalities, character, arguments, theological acumen of individual bishops are protected from error, it’s a much more restricted claim. The minutes of Trent or Vatican I aren’t infallible.

    If Peter showed deficiency in Antioch causing Paul’s rebuke, couldn’t Peter also have been unwise or outright erred when writing his letters?

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  4. James Young, so you concede that the Bishops have erred in doctrine?

    Criticism of popes is one thing. The idea that bishops and councils of them lack discernment about moral and religious matters is another. And with bishops vulnerable to error on the scale we see, then you have no teaching that is true since you need the church to identify the true teaching for you to have any.

    You can’t on the one hand assert that Rome is great because of its hierarchy which leads to truth, goodness, and beauty and then cross your fingers and say only sometimes. That makes you pope (or Protestant).

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  5. Darryl,
    You can’t on the one hand assert that Rome is great because of its hierarchy which leads to truth, goodness, and beauty and then cross your fingers and say only sometimes. That makes you pope (or Protestant).

    Ding, ding, ding.

    And if you are a more traditionalist RC with a high view of the papacy, your choice is either to protest, in which case you are a Protestant in reality if not in name OR to figure out yourself how Pope Francis and the current curia aren’t out and out heretics, in which case you are taking it on yourself to authoritatively interpret the dogma. Either way, the faith of today’s RC is really not in continuity with pre-V2 RCism.

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  6. Darryl,

    Did Peter lack discernment about moral and religious matters in Antioch?

    “so you concede that the Bishops have erred in doctrine?”

    I don’t know why you’re apparently surprised or think this is a “concession”; bishops have been corrected on doctrine – even judged as heretics – many times in history, nor is every gathering of some subset of bishops infallible.

    “And with bishops vulnerable to error on the scale we see, then you have no teaching that is true since you need the church to identify the true teaching for you to have any.”

    Define “scale we see” – is it universal? Define the “error”, that is the doctrine they are teaching on that scale and why it’s erroneous or contradicts existing RC dogma.

    “You can’t on the one hand assert that Rome is great because of its hierarchy which leads to truth, goodness, and beauty and then cross your fingers and say only sometimes. That makes you pope (or Protestant),”

    Sure I can. Protestants don’t even (and never can) get to the “only sometimes” – *every* teaching and offered doctrine has crossed fingers in that system. Cue the 1000+ comment black hole.

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  7. Clete,

    Protestants don’t even (and never can) get to the “only sometimes” – *every* teaching and offered doctrine

    Neither can RCs because the dogma can always be authoritatively reinterpreted to mean something different, as we’ve seen over the past few decades. And you can’t know if your understanding of the dogma ever fully matches the bishop’s understanding in any case. All you have is your private judgment. Just. Like. Us.

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  8. James Young, the point stands despite your protest. You only have Christian truth thanks to the bishops/magisterium. If you question the discernment of bishops, you either you don’t have the truth or you are the one who determines truth.

    Welcome to Protestant world where Paul rebukes Peter to his faith and on one ever believes the fairy tale that Peter was first pope.

    Plus, every doctrine in the RC system has crossed fingers thanks to your ability to know which ones are real and which aren’t. Here’s the kicker. Romans deceive themselves (part of the time) to think they don’t have crossed fingers. It’s cult like.

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