How Easy it is to Fall: Father Aidan Nichols

Back in 2019, the popular and well published Dominican priest and theologian Fr. Aidan Nichols sign a document which accused Pope Francis of Heresy. The document is basically a list where the authors and signatory members – “… accuse Pope Francis of having, through his words and actions, publicly and pertinaciously demonstrated his belief in the following propositions that contradict divinely revealed truth…

Without diving into the document itself (Jimmy Akin does a great job at this) I would like to quote from a book written by Fr. Aidan Nichols himself as an introduction to Catholic Theology in 1991.

The Shape of Catholic Theology page 251-2 “… Catholic Christian faith in the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit justifies our confidence in the general reliability of the ordinary magisterium… From these considerations there derives the duty of Catholics to make a sincere, sustained effort to give ex animo assent to the teachings of the ordinary magisterium – teachings that are always more likely to be right than not. However, in a given case, they may find that, nonetheless, they are not convinced. Not only do they have difficulties with the teaching (the occurrence of difficulties would not in itself abrogate the duty of obsequium – religious allegiance). More than this, they find themselves in a state of moral certitude on some point in a manner that could not leave the magisterial teaching intact. Such persons may not be “un-Churched.” Having done all that they were capable of doing for achieving of faithful assent, they have fulfilled their ecclesial obligation of obedience. The Church can ask no more of them in the internal forum. This leaves as yet untouched, however, the issue of external or public dissent, whose legitimacy is a good deal more disputable. For public dissent from the ordinary magisterium involves values touching the common good of the Church, and not simply the conscience of the individual believer. Such dissent can undermine the welfare of the Church by polarizing the Church’s members, diminishing charity among the faithful, and damaging or even destroying belief in the apostolic origin of episcopate and papacy. Yet one could hardly say that in every case the risk of such consequences renders silence preferable to those truth-values that might emerge from the public criticism of bishops or pope in their nondefinitive teaching activity. Experience, and not least that of the postconciliar period in Catholicism, indicates nonetheless that where public dissent takes on an organized form, its effect on the common life of the Church is always deleterious, and embittering…

I ask how does a theologian go from writing the above to accusing the Pope publicly of heresy in presumably official documents covered under the Pope’s ordinary magisterial teaching?

How does this happen? How does one fall down from the guarded and narrow limits of walking with difficulty in understanding teachings towards accusations arguable against the very protection of the Holy Spirit towards the Pope?

The reader will have answer for themselves how they might fall into such actions. I need not write it.

I argue that for many it is a combination of piety, intellectual desires for answers, and the assumption they are called to do be the ones to correct the issue. This combination of attributes are all to common. (So says the author of a piece correcting something ironically) About time more of us, placed the intellect on hold, tell ourselves true insight takes time years even, and then pick up a useful tasks helping others (non-accusation form of helping).

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