Let’s Contrast and Compare

Let me sketch a hypothetical that might help clarify this point. Suppose that a new pope were elected and immediately began elevating bishops and theologians who preached in favor of making more room for alternative Christologies within the Catholic Church, and particularly more room for Arianism, the famous fourth-century rival (periodically revived since) of the orthodox understanding of the trinity and Jesus Christ. These bishops and theologians argued that so long as the church didn’t technically change the language of the creed, there was no reason not to allow Arian ideas to be taught in seminaries, preached from the pulpit, and accepted as a kind of younger brother of orthodoxy, lesser in authority but equal in respect. They claimed (plausibly) that if you press them on theological questions about Jesus’s nature, many American Catholics are effectively Arian already, and deserve a church that’s more open to their perspective; they argued that many Christological debates now seem like theological nitpicking, and that a Catholicism that seemed a little more flexible on such points would be opening itself to fruitful ecumenical dialogue withthe Oriental Orthodox Churches; they noted that versions of the Arian position were endorsed by ecumenical councils, and surely those endorsements should carry at least some weight notwithstanding their later repudiation; they plucked out scriptural passages and post-Nicene theological speculations that seemed to incline in an Arian direction, etc. This argument led to a vigorous debate at a synod in Rome, which produced a divided vote, and a proposal to study the question further in advance of another, larger synod … in advance of which the pro-Arian party consistently insinuated, not without evidence, that the pontiff himself was on their side.

In this scenario, would it be reasonable to suggest that Catholics who consider themselves orthodox should put aside any and all anxieties, refrain from public criticism of the drift of the ecclesiastical authorities, and simply prepare to submit themselves with docility to the authority of the church? I don’t think the answer can be yes, and indeed I think that to answer yes is to basically vindicate a common Protestant critique of Roman Catholicism: That it’s just a purely sola ecclesia communion, in which Rome could say that black is white tomorrow and Catholics would have to tug their forelock and start repainting crosswalks outside their churches. (Source)

I think that puts things in perspective.

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