Where Did All The Nice Come From?


St. Nicholas of Myra slapping Arius – (legend) of the Council of Nicaea 325

As I am working through the many preserved writings of the ancient and early Church on various theological and disciplinary disputes, such as the back-and-forth on the Nestorian controversy, the Monophysite controversy, or even the early dispute over which date to celebrate Pascha, I could not help but to be struck, from watching this brief interview of Bishop Robert Barron, by the stark difference in language from these ancient Saints and Doctors and the modern intellectuals of the Church when it comes to diversity in the Church. The men of old had strong, vivid, and what seems overly-presumptuous language which calls others out to stand condemned. Today, we are more worried about not stepping on anyone’s toes.

Even going back in to the New Testament is illuminating on this point. If you just pick up the Epistle of St. Jude, you can see that there is no shame in adding fancy language to describe dissident persons who lurk inside of Christ’s body:

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ….But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves….These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever….Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 1-14)

I would venture to say that for a contemporary theologian who wants to keep his meticulous non-threatening care to theology, this passage could take weeks to go through from stopping at each point of the way to clarify that there is no such thing as punishment. Rather, we condemn ourselves. Etc,etc. Those of you who keep your finger on the pulse of historical theology know what I’m talking about. And yet, this inspired writer just goes full blast. Why is it we don’t see this today, at all? At least, those who speak like this are often characterized as “fundamentalist” or “uber-traditionalist”. Eh, last time I checked Jude was not a 19th-century Protestant trying to argue for a literal rebuilding of the Temple, nor does he seem to be a trad who is trying to resurrect Baroque 17th century Tridentine Catholicism. He is an Apostle of the Lord, and lived as a brother to the Lord Jesus. He knew the Word of God. That was it.

Another piece which stuck out to me from this video other than the overly polite description of agreement and disagreement is the statement that disagreement within a context as delicate as the Synod, which includes attempts to bring in novel practices regarding how to deal with LGBT, trans-gender persons, and homosexuals who wish to join the priesthood, constitutes a sign of our good health. This could be taken as the need for division (1 Cor 9-11) for the sake of the growth of the Body. Doubtlessly, it should be assumed that is what is meant. But I dare say that on matters pertaining to the faith, as well as discipline, we’ve been far too relaxed in how to deal with these matters in our Church. I have never seen a single video, lecture, speech, book, or article written by a Catholic scholar or Bishop of today which can be likened to a St. Jude. Not even close.

I will end with yet another example of the older more straighforward (which today would be characterized as overly presumptuous) language on people who have different beliefs within the Church. Rather than being a sign of our health, St. Peter writes:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction [a]does not slumber.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)


1 thought on “Where Did All The Nice Come From?

  1. Excellent points: the style of communication has unquestionably changed. The issue is whether the change was prudential: it does not appear to have been.

    Moreover, the current approach represents a flattening: nice only. It used to be BOTH blunt (at times) AND nice (at times).

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