Opinion: Yesterday’s Council of Nicaea and today’s “Synodism” – Catholic World Report

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Councils and synods are what the Church does, not what the gifted and Eucharistic Church already is—one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Opinion: Yesterday’s Council of Nicaea and today’s “Synodism” – Catholic World Report
Detail from an icon depicting the Emperor Constantine and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. (Image: Wikipedia)

The year 2025 will be the 80th anniversary of George Orwell’s Animal Farm; the 60th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes; and the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. Animal Farm denies who we really are by removing the Ten Commandments from above the barn door, but Gaudium et Spes then restores us to who we really are:

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…Christ the Lord…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22).

And, the Council of Nicaea and the later Nicene Creed also remind us of the four gifted marks of the Catholic Church—that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

What then of these four marks when paired with the four “principles” of renewed evangelization as proposed in Evangelium Gaudium (2013)? And, when is the synodal Church at risk of synodism, as an ideology? What, really, is the “endless journey?”

The Church is OneBut, when is “unity prevails over conflict” at risk of clericalism (the adventuresome triad of Marx, Batzing, Hollerich & Co.)?The Church is Holy? But, when is “realities are more important than ideas” at risk of nominalism (mouthed moral norms cohabiting with absolute exemptions)?The Church is Catholic? But, when is “the whole is greater than the part” at risk of Globalism (the fundamental option, proportionalism/consequentialism)?And, the Church is Apostolic? But, when is “time is greater than space” at risk of Historicism (the “paradigm shift” and relativism)?

Do we sense the ghost of Karl Rahner between the lines?

Religion understands itself and can be understood only by reference to the future, which it knows as absolute and as coming to both individual man and all mankind. Its interpretation of the past occurs in and through the progressive disclosure of the approaching future, and the sense and meaning of the present are based on a hopeful openness to the absolute future’s imminent advent…

Thus, the real nature of man can be defined precisely as the possibility of attaining the absolute future—not this or that particular state of affairs which is always encompassed by another and greater future still unrealized…and which, therefore, is relativized and known to be such. In this sense, Christianity is the religion of becoming, of history, of self-transcendence, of the future. …For it…everything is understandable in relation to what is still unrealized. (Rahner, “Marxist Utopia and the Christian Future of Man;” cited in Thomas Molnar, Christian Humanism, 1978, emphasis added).

Overall, when is “walking together” in synodality at risk of tripping into synodism—with the event of Christ, as witnessed in the Gospels, is eclipsed by the more fluid “gospel values” of Jesus?

The institutional question is: Was Nicaea was more an act of consensus and decision, or firstly and instead, a forthright and deeper judgment of fidelity and exclusion? Was Nicaea the result of a voted synodal consensus while “walking together,” or was it the rejection of a false consensus, while standing together? Some historians estimate that prior to Nicaea, eight out of ten Catholic bishoprics had succumbed to the Arian apostasy. Does this lingering secular-ecclesial “consensus” best account for the forced exile of Athanasius, five times after Nicaea, between 335 and 366? Too rigid? Too bigoted?

The toxic error, proposed by the priest Arius in 319, was whether the Second Person of the Trinity is consubstantial with the Father from before all ages, or instead, originated in time and, therefore, is slightly less than the Father (later homoousios versus homoiousios, “of the same substance,” or only “similar”). With Arianism, the Redemption of human fallenness and suffering evaporates, and the nihilism of our present age—or any age—receives no answer.

At Nicaea, then, the judgment of the Church as the Body of Christ is expressed without ambiguity, in the eventual Nicene Creed. The self-disclosing God is not an inaccessible monolith, but is relational and even present—three distinct “persons” within the Triune Oneness. And the incarnate and resurrected Christ is fully this divine nature, who then elevates intact our human nature into the divine life of His person. Christ is not an Arian hybrid or “quaternary” (Augustine, Newman) as a good and more manageable example whose gospel values are to be imitated, more or less.

The Council of Nicaea reaffirmed an existing fidelity by questioning whether Arius’s innovation was consistent with what had been received, from the beginning, by the believing, witnessing and universal ChurchProvidentially, the affirmation of Nicaea (325) already had been articulated in detail in 318 by the deacon Athanasius in his De Incarnatione.

At Nicaea, devotion to the mysteriously unified three equal Persons in the Triune Oneness was at risk. Threatened today is the mystery of the unified human person—both soul and body, both faith and reason—as providentially affirmed in necessary clarity, already, in Veritatis Splendor (Pope St. John Paul II, 1993). In contrast, the uncontested poster-child of synodality—now synodism?—is Germany’s “synodal way.” Will its sacramental and moral contradictions be tacitly accepted under a malleable and “fraternal collegiality”? Or not? This within a polyglot Synod on Synodal “consensus” in 2024?

Nicaea and the entire Magisterium are our acquired immunity against not only Arianism, but the complete litany of viral ideologies mutating through history like the many COVID variants. Examples: the opposite error of Arianism, which discounted Christ’s full divinity, was Monophysitism, which sidestepped Christ’s full humanity. Later, Nestorianism posited a schizophrenic Christ with two minds and two wills. In response, the Council of Ephesus in 431 affirmed that Mary is the Mother of the unified and whole Christ—Theotokos—rather than anything less or, say, a neutral “birth-person” as the “synodal way” and gender theory might eventually imply!

More beckoning than even an accurate theological consensus or speculation is the concrete and singular event of Christ, at a specific time and place within human history, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger stated several decades ago in Introduction to Christianity:

For the Christian, the interplay of faith and reason is most evident in the doctrine that a Trinitarian God is revealed by a definitive encounter with Christ in human history. The doctrine of the Trinity did not arise out of speculation about God, out of an attempt by philosophical thinking to figure out what the fount of all being was like; it developed out of the effort to digest historical experiences… (2004 and 1968, emphasis added).

Now, 2025 years after the event, and 1700 years after Nicaea, the Church is confronted by an Arian-like denial—the reductionist redefinition of the human person. The discounting and then denial of natural law. But, providentially, as also with the writing of Athanasius shortly prior to Nicaea, St. Pope John Paul II fully incorporates the permanence of our inborn natural law directly into the Magisterium of the Church:

The relationship between faith and morality shines forth with all its brilliance in the unconditional respect due to the insistent demands of the personal dignity of every man, demands protected by those moral norms which prohibit without exception actions which are intrinsically evil …. The Church is no way the author or the arbiter of this [‘moral’] norm.” (Veritatis Splendor, VS, n. 90, 95)

This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching [‘Christian moral teaching’], and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial. (VS, n. 115, emphasis added).

To pontificate that the needed harmonization consists simply in reaffirmed formal teachings while signaling and enabling disconnected contradictions in action does not qualify as honest reconciliation or evangelization. Pope St. John Paul II anticipated and rejected this con-fusion (the alleged “new paradigm” revelation) in this way:

A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid and general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision [not moral judgment] about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called ‘pastoral’ solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a ‘creative’ hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept [thou shalt not]. (VS, n. 56)

Likewise, this from the fathers of the Second Vatican Council:

The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf 1 Tim 6:14, Tit. 2:13). (Dei Verbum, n. 4)

In 2025 we have the opportunity to celebrate the Council of Nicaea as a consensus, but first, within the clarity of the perennial deposit of faith. Under legitimate synodality, then, how to leaven the apostolic Church as a “hierarchical communion” of the papacy and bishops together with the laity also under the “universal call to holiness”? How, too, to achieve the Second Vatican Council’s aggiornamento or engagement with the world, without falsifying ressourcement or the return to stable sources? Mercy, but not at the expense of faith and reason—discontinuity within continuity.

On the eve of Nicaea, the Holy Spirit already supplied the deacon Athanasius and a clarified understanding of the Triune Oneness (in De Incarnatione)—even prior to the novelty of Arius. Likewise, in our time the Holy Spirit already supplied Pope St. John Paul II and a clarified understanding of the unity of the human person (in Veritatis Splendor)—even prior to the novelty of Marx, Batzing, Hollerich & Co.

Synodality becomes ideological synodism especially when it turns a blind eye to the most recent workings of the Holy Spirit. Councils and synods are what the Church does, not what the gifted and Eucharistic Church already is—one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

(Image: Wikipedia)

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