Sometimes facts are just too big to see. I think the position of "Ecumenical Councils" in the Church is a fine example. We had Vatican I, which gave us a dogmatic definition of Papal Primacy and Infallibility. We had Vatican II, which, as episcopal shop-stewards comfortably explained to us, "redressed the balance" by saying some rather wonderful things about Episcopacy. But we have never had a Council which went properly into the theology of Ecumenical Councils. Throughout Church history, there has beem more than a tendency for 'Conciliarism' to be a political weapon of power-groups in Christendom anxious to down-play the role and status of the Papacy or the Local Church or both. We had that in the late Middle Ages; that committed Conciliarist Henry VIII was not above playing the 'Council' card; and Byzantine Orthodox use it as an argument against Papalism and an alibi for their own lacunae in the area of Magisterium. They always seem to be on the point of having a Council but never quite to have it; non-Orthodox might be forgiven for suspecting that they dare not actually have a Council because it would reveal too starkly the fault-lines in their own community. So, in theory and in terms of their liturgical commemorations, Councils are highly important ... but there hasn't been one since the Seventh. I know there are historical reasons which would have made it difficult for them to have a Council; but it remains a plain fact that their conciliar rhetoric and theorising seem out-of-sync with reality.
There is little Biblical evidence for Concilarism. The Council of Jerusalem is sometimes cited; but S Paul seems so unaware of its status and authority that the first two chapters of Galatians leave biblical scholars wondering whether he is actually referring to it or not. If he is, it seems that S Peter had forgotten about it, or perhaps understood its decrees differently from S Paul. As for the Ecumenical Councils of the succeeding centuries, some of them, as Joseph Ratzinger once pointed out, were such a right old mess that one wonders if they did more good or harm. I have some vague recollection ... perhaps readers can fill my gaps ... that in some cases we are not quite sure what degrees they did pass ... if they did ... And that same Joseph Ratzinger wrote very critically about the post-Vatican II notion that the combination of Council+Pope is so potent that it can do more or less anything and ride rough-shod over Tradition.
This is where we Anglican Catholics can help. Dom Gregory Dix pointed out, in 1938, the ad-hoccery which lay at the basis of Conciliarism.
"The Council of Nicaea is a landmark in the history of dogma, and it is no less so in the history of Church institutions and law. But it is essential to remember that its contemporaries hardly saw it in that light. After ages could revere in it the first and most august of a whole series of Ecumenical Councils, all divinely inspired for the infallible vindication of fundamental Christian truths. But Nicaea came before the Christian world of its own day with no background of theory concerning the infallibility of "General Councils" as such (such a thing had not even been dreamed of in pre-Nicene times), without precedent or even any real preparation of Christian opinion, and without ... any clear and universally accepted theory of the binding nature of any Conciliar authority in matters of belief or practice.In pre-Nicene times Councils were an occasional device, with no certain place in the scheme of Church government. The local church under its bishop might be expected to give weight to a Council's decision, but acceptance and carrying out of that decision was still not so much a duty as a matter for the local church itself to decide.
The ultimate effect of Nicaea was decisive in more than one direction, but for the moment it did not look as though it would be so. A century later it has become "the great and model synod" ... but in its own generation local churches which were unconscious of any presumption did not boggle at emending out-of-hand its dogmatic symbol for their own purposes - what of those unknown persons who constructed our "Nicene Creed" out of the Council's Symbol, omitting the ek tes ousias tou Patros ..."
I hope to return to this.