I've been thinking about this elegant and careful phrase with which Blessed John Henry Newman, not writing theologically but factually as an historian, described the period of the Arian ascendancy. I take it in the sense in which he subsequently clarified his use of it, and not otherwise.
I suppose we had a good example of this phenomenon of 'suspense' in the pontificate of Blessed Paul VI, in the period between his setting up of a Commission to consider the question of Contraception, and his very courageous subsequent reaffirmation of the Church's Magisterial Teaching with the publication of Humanae vitae.
I presume we are in another such period now. The question of the admission of adulterers to Holy Communion was magisterially dealt with as recently as 2007 in Sacramentum Caritatis para 29; it had received synodical and papal clarification in each of the last two pontificates; and is embedded in the Catechism. But a 'suspense' began when it was opened up to synodal debate; and that 'suspense' will end when this or a subsequent Roman Pontiff or an Ecumenical Council reasserts the teaching of the Magisterium (or possibly when the error, having run its course, dies a natural death).
It puzzles me that so little theological work appears to be offered on the implications of this phenomenon of 'suspense'. Would it help to identify other historical examples? Does anybody have any suggestions?
Our learned Patron Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman made clear that he in no way implied the cessation of the Magisterial teaching or office during a 'suspense'. The Dogma of Nicea remained de jure fully in force; but was simply not treated as such by many bishops and so did not 'function'. The bishops remained ex officio guardians and teachers of the Faith; but de facto failed to guard and to teach it.
Things now are very similar. The teaching of the Magisterium is still, obviously, formally still vigore pleno; but numbers of unfaithful or negligent bishops behave as though it were not.
After a 'suspense' has been brought to an end, do the precedents available from the Arian period suggest that canonical penalties (or the removal of their names from succession-lists) ought to be considered for the worst of those prelates who chose to pull down rather than to build up the Lord's Household?
And lastly: during a 'suspense', does the episcopal ministry of those bishops who are heterodox on this one point still call for religiosum obsequium on other matters? Or is one obliged to consider their entire episcope vitiated by just one point of formal heterodoxy? I suspect and suggest that a rereading of Blessed John Henry's work on the Arians would, again, afford guidance on this and similar practical matters.
What is called for here is a subtle combination of historical and doctrinal skills, far beyond my capacity. But I do not think I am the only Christifidelis to be (merely) asking questions about the possible problems of Christian discipleship in certain (widely-anticipated) possible situations.