It has often been remarked, starting with C.S. Lewis I believe, that traditional Christians of differing ecclesial affiliations have much more in common with each other than with liberal Christians of the same ecclesial affiliations as they. That is not only true but offers the firmest basis for the sort of “ecumenism” enabling traditional Christians to work together toward common goals affecting the public weal. Intellectual leaders among traditional Christians are well-placed to recognize that and act accordingly. Some do. But I have found that, among those leaders, the biggest obstacle to greater ecumenism and cooperation is, surprise-surprise, an essentially theological disagreement. I don’t mean disagreement over this-or-that particular doctrine; those are well-known and needn’t inhibit the cooperation I’m talking about. Prescinding from any such particular doctrine or laundry-list thereof, what I have in mind is disagreement over the very nature of orthodoxy as opposed to heterodoxy. In practice as well as theory, that is a very serious problem indeed. I see my main contribution to ecumenism as that of addressing it constructively.
Among the people who read this blog because they care about my stuff, most know that I have spent a great deal of time, at my other blog, on the issue of development of doctrine (DD). I have done so because, over time, I have become convinced that DD is the issue separating traditional Christians from each other on the question of the nature of orthodoxy. And that seems to me a great shame. The whole topic is rife with assumptions that often aren’t clarified enough to be assessed properly, so that arguments based on them end up begging the question and the interlocutors end up talking past each other. In this post I want to start dealing with that.
Of course I’d really like to write a book about all this, and certainly have enough of my own and others’ material to do so already. Thus I’ve sent my little Development and Negation treatise to several Catholic publishers as a teaser, seeking a contract for a book of apologetics that would be suitable for adult catechesis in the Church. The answer I consistently get is that the material is more suited to an academic than a popular audience. But if I do an academic work, it would be worse than useless to stop with the sort of thing I do in that treatise. Without a full-scale, philosophically sophisticated treatment of the very concept of DD that is realized in the Catholic Church’s DD, such a work would only raise more and deeper questions than it answers, and wouldn’t even deal with some of the instances that are directly relevant. I’m not in a position to supply such a treatment just yet. So in this post I shall simply adumbrate one of the key points that would have to be, as it were, developed in such a treatment.
The point has been percolating in my head for some time now, but I needed a stimulus to force myself to formulate it clearly. I have found that stimulus in a post by Dr. William Witt, an Anglican theologian and seminary professor whom I’ve debated on occasion before. What WW does, in effect, is summarize the argument made in a book by John Henry Newman’s brother-in-law, J.B. Mozley, against the theory of DD that Newman had famously fashioned in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. (For my awareness of the post and the book I have “Ioannes” of Fides Quaerens Intellectum to thank.) Entitled The Theory of Development (‘TD’ for short), Mozley’s book has been largely ignored for a long time. Newman himself ignored it, apparently because he and Mozley decided to ignore each other’s stuff after Newman’s conversion, which deeply disappointed Mozley, a man whom Newman said didn’t have a Catholic bone in his body. I haven’t read enough of TD yet to discover truly good reasons for its having been largely ignored for over a century; so far, I’ve only read those sections which WW directly summarizes. But I certainly know what WW has got out of Mozley, and have read enough of Mozley already to be convinced that what WW has got out of him is there to be had. So in this post I shall stick to WW’s post, reserving any detailed treatment of Mozley for the book I’m wondering whether I’ll ever get a chance to write.
The part of WW’s post that most interests me comes right after he acknowledges, with Mozley, that there really is a legitimate kind of DD. That acknowledgment is important; in my critiques of Orthodox writers on this subject, I find that they often deny there is such a thing as legitimate DD, only to go on and concede substantively what they deny verbally. What they concede is what JBM and WW call “Development 1” and I shall call ‘DD-1’. Thus:
Mozley speaks of this kind of development in terms of what I will call “Development 1.” Development 1 adds nothing to the original content of faith, but rather brings out its necessary implications. Mozley says that Aquinas is doing precisely this kind of development in his discussion of the incarnation in the Summa Theologiae.
So DD-1 adds only “brings out the necessary implications” in the deposit of faith.
Now as a philosopher, my first question about that phrase ‘necessary implications’ is whether said implications are taken to be deductively necessary or something weaker. The use of the adjective ‘necessary’ suggests the former. That suggestion is reinforced by what comes next:
There is another kind of development, however, which I will call “Development 2.” Development 2 is genuinely new development that is not simply the necessary articulation of what is said explicitly in the Scriptures.
Classic examples of Development 2 would include the differences between the doctrine of the theotokos and the dogmas of the immaculate conception or the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the former, Marian dogma is not actually saying something about Mary, but rather something about Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly God, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is truly the Mother of God (theotokos). She gives birth, however, to Jesus’ humanity, not his eternal person, which has always existed and is generated eternally by the Father. The doctrine of the theotokos is a necessary implication of the incarnation of God in Christ, which is clearly taught in the New Testament. However, the dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption are not taught in Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly. They are entirely new developments.
The same would be true, of course, for the doctrine of the papacy. The New Testament says much about the role of Simon Peter as a leader of the apostles. It does not say anything explicit, however, about the bishop of Rome being the successor to Peter. The Eastern fathers, e.g., Cyprian, interpret the Petrine passages that Rome has applied to the papacy as applying to all bishops.
Other examples of Development 2 would include purgatory and indulgences.
Strangely enough, all the “classic examples” of DD-2 happen to be Catholic “distinctives” that Anglicans as such either reject outright or accept only as tolerable theologoumena rather than binding doctrine. It is said that those are not necessary “articulations” of anything “said explicitly in the Scriptures.” So I believe myself justified in concluding that JBM/WW call such developments “genuinely new” inasmuch as they are not deductively necessary consequences of what is said explicitly in the Scriptures. Accordingly, JBM/WW regard them as additions to the deposit of faith. By general agreement, even Newman’s, addition to the deposit of faith is not legitimate DD.
Now for some reason, JBM/WW (I know, I’m yoking them together the way Obama tries to do with Bush/McCain, but that’s OK for now) think that this result suffices to make their next move plausible. Thus:
Newman presents his argument for development as a dilemma. Anglicans (and Protestants in general) accept the dogmas of Nicea, of the Trinity, of Chalcedon, etc., but these are not taught explicitly in Scripture. They are developments. But Anglicans do not accept the doctrines of the papacy, the Marian dogmas, etc., which are also developments. Anglicans are accordingly inconsistent. To accept one development is logically to accept the others as well.
Mozley’s response is that Newman conflates two quite distinct kinds of development. Development 1 adds nothing new to the content of faith. Development 2 does. Accepting Development 1 is a necessary consequence of taking seriously what the New Testament actually says. Development 2, however, adds something genuinely new to the content of faith. Nicea is an example of Development 1, not Development 2. The infallibility of the papacy is an example of Development 2, not Development 1. Accepting Development 1 does not logically entail accepting Development 2. By not distinguishing between the two kinds of development, Newman commits a logical fallacy, and his argument collapses.
But if isn’t clear already, It ought to be clear that such a putative rebuttal only works if two assumptions be granted: (1) Legitimate DD consists, and can only consist, in inferences from what Scripture explicitly says; and (2) those inferences are deductively necessary consequences of the explicit Scriptural premises. By themselves, both assumptions beg all the important questions, and require support by argument to avoid doing so.
(1) begs the question whether everything God has revealed is recorded explicitly in Scripture. According to the Catholic and Orthodox churches, Sacred Tradition as a bearer of divine revelation is both wider and temporally earlier than the canon of the NT. It was Tradition that the Holy Spirit used to guide the NT writers in their compositions, and it was Tradition that he used to guide the Church in forming the NT canon by distinguishing authentically from spuriously “apostolic” writings. Catholicism and Orthodoxy both grant, indeed insist, that once the precise content of the NT canon became clear enough as such to function as a rule or “canon” of faith, Scripture came to constitute a norma normans for both Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. But it does not follow that Scripture alone is either exhaustive or supreme as a rule of faith. Hence, it does not follow that legitimate DD must consist in deductively necessary inferences from what Scripture explicitly says.
That remains the case even if one believes, e.g. with Aquinas, that Scripture is “materially sufficient” for expressing the deposit of faith. Even if Scripture is materially sufficient, it does not follow that formal expression of everything materially contained in Scripture would consist solely in deductively necessary inference from what Scripture formally says. There are other forms of inference, and they might well be justified in other ways. That is the principle operative, e.g., in much of the allegorical interpretation of Scripture of which the Fathers were so fond. Much of that kind of interpretation contributed to DD; e.g., in his book Mary Through the Centuries, Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, an Orthodox convert from Lutheranism, brilliantly demonstrated how the process worked in the case of Marian DD during the first millennium. So (2) would beg the question even if (1) were true—and the truth of (1) is not something Newman would in any case have conceded.
In a series of posts we bounced off each other a few years ago, Scott Carson and I discussed the concept of “ampliative” DD. I argued that ampliative DD is more than deduction but less than innovation; there is a “third way” between the two, and thus between the two models of DD that JBM/WW consider. What makes that discussion so pertinent here is that Scott himself, arguing for a purely deductive model of legitimate DD, was able to do so plausibly just by taking Tradition and early magisterial statements, as well as Scripture, as the inferential basis for later, distinctively Catholic dogmas. The lesson, I think, is that one can always adduce a purely deductive model of DD if one interprets Scripture and/or Tradition retroactively, by treating key terms they use as logical equivalents of terms that came later. But that isn’t even particularly explanatory, never mind persuasive. Were Arius, Nestorius, and other heresiarchs just too dull, or too blinded by ill will, to see the necessary deductive consequences of the explicit words of Scripture? I can find no reason to believe that. Rather, by reflecting on all the sources taken collectively—those of Tradition, such as liturgy, oral tradition, and popular piety, as well as Scripture—the Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries were able to come up with a orthodox hermeneutic which then enabled the Church to interpret the words of Scripture as though the conciliar dogmas followed from the words of Scripture.
Newman was the first to give a detailed account of what that looks like. His account was by no means perfect. But with the argument I’ve analyzed, JBM/WW have done nothing to undermine it.