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Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Original Rad-Trads

"It is outrageous! The Vatican Council was so imprecise that anyone could use the conciliar documents to promote heresy if they wanted! And Pope Francis is even worse! I don't even want to read what he says anymore, because it doesn't make any sense!"

This is the mating call of the rad-trad. They use it to find dates, rally their families, and collect beer-drinking buddies on the back porch. It is an old call that goes all the way back to 325 AD.

Yes, if we use rad-trad principles, we can see that the first failed council was the Council of Nicaea, the first failed Pope was St. Sylvester I. Why? Well, we need look no farther than that dastardly word "homo- ousion".

In 300 AD, the "normalcy bias" for that word was that it stank of heresy, which it did. While the word had at first been used in a licit sense, Paul of Samosata had used it to argue that the Father and the Son are one Person, not two distinct Persons. He was condemned for the idea, and the word fell into ill odor as a direct result. In fact, the word was a touchstone for the Arian heresy, the heresy which built upon Paul of Samasota's error, and the very heresy which the Council was called to discuss. Yet, despite its bad reputation, this arguably imprecise, heretic-associated word was used in the Nicene Creed. Worse, to add injury to insult, not only was the word considered imprecise because of its heretical past, its use also constituted the first time a creed had ever used a non-Scriptural word. It was a complete mess.

But the council didn't stop there. It also dared to make changes to the ancient liturgy, laying its conciliar hands even upon the dating of the mother of all feasts, the date of the Easter celebration! What new craziness was this?  The Council of Nicaea ruled that all churches should follow a single rule for Easter, which should be computed independently of the Jewish calendar, as at Alexandria. However, in its typically imprecise way, the council did not make any explicit ruling about the details of the computation. It was several decades before the Alexandrine computations stabilized into their final form, and several centuries beyond that before they became normative throughout Christendom.

"Why did the Council even go there? Why did the Pope sign off on such foolishness? Why couldn't they have been precise, so there would be no confusion?"

The rad-trads of the 300s were the Coptic Christians. Their dislike of the documents and distrust of the Pope became so great that the Copts would schism off within less than a century, Although they eventually accepted the liturgical changes, they couldn't stand the - from their point of view - virtual heresy of the Christians who used this nonsense word in the liturgy and the creed.

So, like today's traditionalists, the Coptic Christians refused to trust the council and the Popes. As a direct result of their obstinate refusal to submit to ecclesial authority and use a little Christian charity in their dealings with Rome, they suffered some rather disturbing consequences. Within 300 years of their rejection of the council, they were overrun by Muslims and are, today, barely hanging onto Christian Faith in Egypt. More than one historian has argued that the Muslim takeover of North Africa was due in no small part to the immobilization of the Copts that resulted from their inability to deal with theological heresies following their split with Rome. Though they are closer to unity with Rome than any of our separated brethren, to this day they are still separated from the Church.

We have the world we live in today because the rad-trads of the 300s simply couldn't find a way to accept a new way of phrasing ancient truths. They refused to have faith in a Pope and a council who used language they weren't comfortable with.

It is normal for every council to have its "rad-trad" community. Let us hope that the 21st century group fares better than the Copts have.

1 comment:

Fr PJM said...

Didn't the Arians use the very similar word homo-ou-i-sion rather than homo-ou-sion, their word meaning of like substance with the Father?