April 17, 2009

Development of Doctrine (Next Session)

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Preview of L&L, Session XIII, for Friday May 1st, 2009 at 7:15 pm (see link above) ... wherein we might discuss the fact of doctrinal development in the Catholic Church and at least one theory whereby to account for this fact.

I make bold to develop L&L doctrine along the lines of writing an article for which to preview our upcoming Session. Key and, perhaps, controversial assertions and questions of my own are numbered (these are the things upon which I hope to hone). I hope to come back with a more specific reading list, highlighting those sections in the linked documents which I really like, or really do not like.

My own rough and ready understanding of the phenomenon in question is that:

A development of doctrine occurs when the Church Catholic defines as a matter of Faith some doctrine that had not previously been so defined and which can only be deduced from Scripture and hitherto received Apostolic Tradition by a series of inferences (whether more or less obvious), said doctrine (so defined) not being explicitly articulated in the deposit of Faith once, and once only, delivered to the Church.

(1) I want to make clear at the outset that the question of Development of Doctrine has much to do with the identity of the Church, hence, it ought to be brought to bear upon where you will go on Sunday morning and what you will do there.

As for me and my house (that would be me), we will go where latreia is offered to the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit; where the Son is confessed as homoousian with the Father; the Spirit likewise acknowledged a divine Person, worshiped and glorified; the Son true God and true man, the natures hypostatically united in one Person, that Person fully human and fully divine, having two complete natures, human and divine; consequently, two wills, human and divine, his incarnation rendering holy the images of the holy, which are to be venerated by all the faithful; where hyperdulia is rendered to the Ever-Virgin and All-Immaculate Mother of God; where saints and angels are invoked; where Scripture, such as Tobit and 1 Maccabees and Hebrews, is read, indulgences are made available, the Eucharist is worshiped, the Sacrifice re-presented, Our Lord really present (in the full sense of transubstantiation) upon the Altar and in the Tabernacle; the "Our Father" prayed, and the Pope acknowledged Shepherd under Christ of every Christian on earth, having the charism of infallibility by virtue of his own office, and not only with the approval of or in conjunction with an Ecumenical Council.

Now, I know that none of this doctrine, stated in just this way, can be easily found in the 73 books of Scripture (the written record of prophetic and apostolic doctrine) or the earliest Fathers (who presumably remembered and handed on those doctrines which the Apostles handed to them by word of mouth).

(2) But I believe that it is all the word of God, the deposit of faith, once delivered to the saints. The theory of the development of doctrine has helped me to understand how what I certainly believe to be the case is in fact the case.

(3) In short: The subsequently "developed" doctrines are already there, in the very earliest Apostolic Tradition (written and unwritten), albeit in undeveloped, seed-like form. The tree has grown somewhat since.

However, there are all sorts of fellows who object to this notion. For example, the "undevelopers" supremely love to quote St. Vincent of Lerins to the effect that authentic doctrine does not and cannot develop. Developed doctrines are, by definition, not "Catholic" doctrines.

(4) Now, I take it as a plain fact that Catholic doctrines have in some important sense "developed" in the Catholic Church.


The undevelopers, however, boldly say that the notion of doctrinal development is an obtrusive innovation of that dubious (as judged from a variety of standpoints) fellow Newman.

(5) Interestingly enough, some idea of Development of Doctrine seems to have been advanced by St. Vincent of Lerins himself.

In this case, the idea of "development" was merely developed rather than invented by the Venerable John Henry Newman.

Anyway, no dogmatic decrees to the contrary, any notion of development stands or falls on intellectual merit.

(6) For example: Does the development theory make sense of the facts of dogmatic and ecclesial history?

(7) Should we expect, given those most ancient and extant records of the body of Christian teaching, any subsequent development of that teaching?

And so forth.

Newman famously makes his case in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine . (Here is something for those of you who would rather listen.)

In the interests of equal time for the undevelopment theorists, here is the considered thought of a gentleman who objects to Newman's Essay: Criticism of Newman's Theory. Towards the end, he even goes so far as to quote Papists to the effect that doctrine does not develop.

(8) So we (Catholics) may also have an in-house debate on our hands.


(9) The basis of the theory of undeveloped doctrine is supposed to be this bit from St. Vincent,

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.


(10) It is also customary to cite this bit from Trent,

Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, —wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established. (Session IV)


together with this bit from Vatican I,

In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers. (Session III, Chapter 2.9)


to the effect that Newman's theory is on shaky grounds from the standpoint of at least two Ecumenical Councils (as reckoned by the Church).

Thus, the the theory of doctrinal development might not even be Catholic in the everyday sense of Papist.

(11) In addition, some go so far as to say that the theory of Development of Doctrine has been quite definitely adopted by the Papal Communion , not only at the expense of internal consistency, but as a quite transparent, last-ditch effort to find some sort of theoretical footing for her many doctrinal innovations.


Modern Roman Catholic historians (so it goes) have finally agreed with the "rest of Christendom" that innovations such as Marian devotion (well, strike the Orthodox on that as well), substantial change of elements in the Eucharist (strike two on the Orthodox) and veneration of saints and images (strike three Orthodox) have no basis in early Christian Tradition, let alone anything like "the unanimous consent of the Fathers."

(12) So.... Has doctrine genuinely developed in the Catholic Church? ("Genuine" in sense of, developed as per the will of Our Lord.)

(13) If not, what do Catholics make of the fact that some of our distinctive doctrines seem to find little explicit support in Scripture and the Ante-Nicene Fathers, or even for some time after?

(14) If, on the other hand, doctrine does develop, what constitutes a genuine development versus an illegitimate corruption?

(15) Interesting related question: And who says so?

(16) By what means does doctrine develop?

(17) Finally, what would the undevelopment theorist point to as undeveloped doctrine? Is there really such a thing?


We should all spend some time looking into Newman's Essay on Development. He really digs in here and makes an articulate case, then promptly goes all Papist on the Brits.

(18) There is a lesson in that.