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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The 2k Middle Way

This should eliminate the “R” from R2K with help from the Gospel Allies. Trevin Wax mentions three matters where New Calvinists (posing as neo-Calvinists) can learn from Anabaptists (hint, it’s not how to build a gospel barn). If Mr. Wax had spent a little more time with 2K, he might have posed these theses better.

First, “What happens in the church matters more than anything that happens in the world.

Reply: what have 2kers been saying but only to hear that Christianity must go beyond the church parking lot? And is it not a tad rich to hear about the importance of the church at a website that puts the RA in parachurch? In other words, a high church Calvinism would help Mr. Wax restore the visible church to its proper significance.

Second, “The church changes the world by being the church.”

Reply: don’t go empire building without referring to your Constantinian playbook. Heck, would the church even have a Trinitarian theology to wind up the complementarians without the emperor calling an ecumenical council? Don’t forget either that the conversion of emperors and kings gave a plausibility to Christianity that made the evangelization of medieval Europe more plausible than it would have been with Christianity as a minority and persecuted faith. Do remember as well that the number of Christians spiked in the first half of the fourth century — from 10% of the population in 300 to 50% in 350 — undoubtedly because Christian politicians made the faith respectable and even remunerative.

Meanwhile, as kind as it is to regard Anabaptists as making a difference, overlooking the enormous influence of magisterial Protestants in so many of the aspects of Christian life we take for granted is unfortunate. Whether you like Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, a Bible in every hotel room, or parachurch foreign missionary enterprises, the evangelicals who read and take heart from the Gospel Allies would have a dry and parched religious landscape if they had had to depend on Anabaptists who went before.

Third, “The church is strongest in its witness when it occupies the margins.”

Reply: another kind and generous assertion, but is anyone going to tell me that the OPC has been incredibly strong — compared to Tim Keller, the Gospel Allies, the hipper portions of the PCA, and the behemoth Southern Baptist Convention — because Orthodox Presbyterians have ministered on the margins? Please.

So before anyone tries to buy a farm next to an Amish family, take Mr. Wax’s recommendation of Anabaptism with a grain of salt. If you’re really Reformed, you can chase it with a shot of Rye.