Development of doctrine II

[As I had hoped, my post “Development of doctrine: it’s that time again” elicited some very interesting discussion. The purpose of this sequel is to reply to the last comment that John of Fides Quarens Intellectum addressed to me. That’s the comment that got my mental juices flowing well. As I wrote my reply to John and prepared to post it as a comment, I realized that it had become much too long for a combox. So here goes.]

[Update: On September 24, I made a few editorial revisions in light of reactions from readers. There will be no further revisions.]

John:

OK, I’ve read the material at the links you’ve provided. Thank you.

I would formulate the key assumption made by Owen Chadwick (in criticism of Newman) and by Henri de Lubac’s opponents thus: If some form of rational necessitation isn’t identifiable as operative in the context of discovery for a given doctrinal development D, then D’s context of justification cannot supply reason enough to accept D as de fide. My response is that the antecedent clause of that claim does not necessitate the consequent. In other words: from the fact, if it is a fact, that the context of discovery fails to show that D was somehow rationally necessitated by premises drawn from commonly accepted data, it does not follow that the context of justification must now fail to afford reason enough to accept D as de fide. Therefore, the assumption in question is false.

If only as a pole of contrast, your analogy of the U.S. Supreme Court and Roe v Wade is actually quite useful here. You claim that a reasonable person, knowing all the data that would be relevant within a common-law framework, can attain rational certainty that Roe was not rationally justified by the conjunction of the literal text of the Constitution and settled precedent. You conclude that such a person is justified in rejecting Roe and wanting to see it overturned. Of course the defenders of Roe would reply roughly like this: given how the doctrine of judicial review has developed and become established over time, we ought to conclude that what the Constitution means, when its meaning is plausibly disputable, just is what the Supreme Court says it means. Therefore, Roe is justified by appeal to legitimately established authority even granted that the decision in no way follows from the conjunction of the literal text of the Constitution and settled precedent. On this analogy, the Supreme Court is the Magisterium, Roe is a proposed instance of DD, and the defender of Roe is the Catholic who relies on a maximalist view of magisterial authority to defend the proposed development. Now for the conservative Protestants and Orthodox who read this blog, and who presumably oppose Roe, yours is quite a seductive analogy. But it breaks down at precisely the crucial point.

Nobody, not even the most ardent “living-Constitution” liberal, claims that the Supreme Court is infallible. Modestly, SCOTUS itself does not claim to be infallible. Yet according to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium is infallible, at least when invoking its full authority. Of course that doctrine is a development, just as the doctrine of judicial review assumed by Roe is a development. For greater clarity, one should even call them ‘meta-developments’. So one might think that the question becomes whether, in the absence of appeal to the meta-development about Magisterial authority, distinctively Catholic dogmas can be seen to rationally necessitated by premises drawn from the commonly accepted data of revelation. The answer to that question, I should think, is pretty obviously no. But that’s only the beginning, not the end, of the story.

It would be the end of the story only if the absence of rational necessitation, apart from some appeal to authority, meant that there wasn’t reason enough, in the commonly accepted data, to accept the distinctive developments proposed by that authority. But I’ve already indicated that the general premise licensing such a conclusion is false. Moreover, if Catholicism is true, then something called “the Church” is infallible when invoking her full authority, such that there is a visible authority within the Church which can and does thus speak for the Church. So if there is reason enough to believe that particular doctrine of the Church’s, then there is reason enough to believe whatever is proposed by the Church’s full authority, such as distinctively Catholic developments—even when one cannot, as an individual, recognize any other good reason to believe what is thus endorsed.

For the purpose of inquiring whether there is reason enough to accept the doctrine of the Magisterium, a lot of people adopt, as a general heuristic principle, the premise that we must consult only those sources and precedents which all parties to the discussion accept as a rule or “canon” of faith—chiefly Scripture, but not necessarily limited to Scripture. They assume further that such a consultation must be guided by a rational, objectively applicable method that would enable us to draw from the sources all and only those inferences which would be relevant. I grant that many Catholic apologists make those assumptions as well as certain of their opponents. It seems to me that you also make those assumptions. But I see no reason at all, never mind good reason, to accept them. Consulting such sources is certainly necessary, and employing such a method can sometimes be useful. But if they were jointly sufficient, then all disagreement about the question which doctrinal developments are warranted by the agreed-upon sources could be settled simply by applying a neutral, perspicuous “rational” method to the agreed-upon sources. The Magisterium could, in principle at least, be replaced by a computer. But such a result would, precisely, beg the question.

For one thing, and as I’ve said before, it is idle to argue that the orthodox christology and triadology which developed in the first millennium, and which crystallized in the decrees of the seven ecumenical councils of that millennium, are deductively necessitated by the explicit words of Scripture. The “context of discovery” for Christian orthodoxy (i.e. for what C.S. Lewis misleadingly called “mere Christianity”) consisted in a collective, centuries-long ecclesial meditation on and battle about what all the relevant sources—those of Tradition as well as Scripture—actually meant. Once the issues were definitively settled, precipitating major schisms some of which persist to this day, orthodox theologians were then able to interpret the “explicit words” of Scripture so as to make orthodox conclusions follow deductively from them. But such a procedure, taking place within a “context of justification,” does not demonstrate that the doctrines in question are true given the truth of those explicit words of Scripture which function as statements with truth-values. All it demonstrates is that one can reasonably interpret the words of Scripture by means of a hermeneutic regulated by the doctrines in question. I believe such a result gives us good reason to accept orthodox christology and triadology. But if it gave us actual proof, then remaining a heretic after being learning such a “proof” could only be explained by stupidity or malice. And that, I should think, is manifestly contrary to fact.

What goes for orthodox christology and triadology goes a fortiori for the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to be infallible under certain conditlions. Whatever reasons might, collectively, constitute reason enough to accept that claim, they cannot themselves constitute proof for such authority, if by ‘proof’ one means a certifiably valid deductive argument based on premises that all parties to the discussion would accept. If the agreed-upon sources were, in general, semantically perspicuous enough to yield proofs of dogmas that in no way rely on a hermeneutic shaped by those dogmas, such proofs would retorsively obviate the need for that very authority which, in this case, they would be meant to support. So if there is some sort of rational justification for the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to authority, it cannot, in the very nature of the case, yield a result that is intellectually compelling. It can only yield a result which can be seen, retroactively, to cohere with and illuminate the agreed-upon data, and thus to supply reason enough to make an act of faith in the Catholic Magisterium—an act that would thus be one of informed faith, rather than blind faith.

Accordingly, the question whether there is reason enough to accept distinctively Catholic dogmas as de fide ultimately hinges on that of whether there is reason enough to accept the Magisterium’s claim to authority. Unless and until that question is settled, everything must remain purely a matter of opinion—a lame result when the question is what to affirm as de fide. But the claim in question cannot be fairly or usefully assessed in the sort of terms you seem to think apply, indifferently and in general, to proposed instances of DD. The relevant considerations must range far beyond that. In my view, it was because Newman saw as much that he insisted: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given,” and gave essentially epistemological arguments for that insistence. Newman saw that one cannot speak of making an assent of faith, as distinct from natural knowledge on the one hand or mere opinion on the other, to any article of faith without some visible, abiding, divinely appointed authority to settle disputes about how to interpret the sources. If so, then one cannot usefully discuss the general question of DD without discussing the Catholic Church’s particular claim to authority precisely as an instance of such DD. And for the reasons I’ve outlined, one cannot, without totally begging the question, discuss that claim to authority within the strictures you’ve so far taken for granted.

Best,
Mike

26 Responses

  1. What goes for orthodox christology and triadology goes a fortiori for the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to be infallible under certain conditlions. Whatever reasons might, collectively, constitute reason enough to accept that claim, they cannot themselves constitute proof for such authority, if by ‘proof’ one means a certifiably valid deductive argument based on premises that all parties to the discussion would accept. If the agreed-upon sources were, in general, semantically perspicuous enough to yield proofs of dogmas that in no way rely on a hermeneutic shaped by those dogmas, such proofs would retorsively obviate the need for that very authority which, in this case, they would be meant to support. So if there is some sort of rational justification for the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to authority, it cannot, in the very nature of the case, yield a result that is intellectually compelling. It can only yield a result which can be seen, retroactively, to cohere with and illuminate the agreed-upon data, and thus to supply reason enough to make an act of faith in the Catholic Magisterium—an act that would thus be one of informed faith, rather than blind faith.

    That’s it, the heart of whole matter. The fallible proofs for the infallible Magisterium. But doesn’t this work in reverse, professor. You say that if the data were perspicuous, then there would be no need for an infallible Magisterium. I ask you, though, if the fallible proofs are sufficient enough to get to the infallible, then what need is there for more?

  2. […] Liccione said: What goes for orthodox christology and triadology goes a fortiori for the Catholic Magisterium’s […]

  3. John,

    “I ask you, though, if the fallible proofs are sufficient enough to get to the infallible, then what need is there for more?”

    Are you saying here there is no longer a need for a magisterial authority? That it has become obsolete?

    That we are to rely simply on our own individual (fallible) gloss and what we individually consider sufficient proofs for our own decisions in matters we encounter now and those we are to encounter in the future?

    Incidentally, do you know how many versions of Christian doctrines I found amongst my original fellowship at university?

    Each had gleaned their own set of Christian doctrines they considered infallible. They could provide you lengthy proofs as to why they believed these to be so. And, believe me, these folks were very bright individuals in their own respective fields of study.

  4. kepha:

    …if the fallible proofs are sufficient enough to get to the infallible, then what need is there for more?

    You’ve missed the point. I have maintained that there are no “proofs” for any article of faith, if by ‘proof’ is meant what I specified in the paragraph you quote. And that is precisely how things should be if the articles in question are articles of faith as distinct from items of either “natural knowledge” or “mere opinion.” Accordingly, the fact that there is no such proof for the infallibility of the Magisterium is not a reason to disbelieve that doctrine, any more than the absence of such proof for any other article of faith is a reason to disbelieve them.

    Nonetheless, and for reasons I’ve given, that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason enough to accept any article of faith. All it means is that “reason enough” won’t be rational necessitation and yet, all the same, renders the assent of faith reasonable. That goes for the infallibility of the Magisterium as much as for any other article of faith.

    Best,
    Mike

  5. But that “reason enough” that one thinks they have for believing the Papacy’s claims about itself is fallible. The same goes for the atheist who thinks he/she has “reason enough” to believe the Baptist evangelist at his door. The examples can be multiplied infinitely. I’m just saying, I don’t understand what the relevance of an infallible teacher is in llight of the sufficiency of one’s own fallible reasoning. We’re a slave to our fallibility nonetheless.

  6. kepha:

    Nobody claims that the reasoning which would dispose one to make the assent of faith is infallible. But it does not follow that the assent of faith one makes when led by such reasoning is, itself, fallible. For faith is a divine gift of grace enabling one to assent to that which is infallibly presented for our assent by Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. The choice we thereby make by the power of the Holy Spirit, even if confused or poorly informed, is accordingly a share in the infallibility of the Church whose faith we have come to share. Such infallibility is not a quality of one’s reasoning or person, but of God’s own agency assisting both the Church’s profession and our assent to it.

    Best,
    Mike

  7. “I’m just saying, I don’t understand what the relevance of an infallible teacher is in llight of the sufficiency of one’s own fallible reasoning. We’re a slave to our fallibility nonetheless.”

    Please forgive me for butting in, but wouldn’t this be the same as saying that there’s no use something being true if your knowledge of it was fallible?I mean, I don’t think you mean to advance a general skepticism here, but when you say that we are “slaves to our fallibility,” it sounds sort of like a general skepticism, doesn’t it? What would you mean by “slaves?” There is a passage in Grammar of Assent in which Newman says something to the effect (off the top of my head) that he is confident that 2+2=4, even though he sometimes makes mistakes when doing sums. You can have certitude on a particular occasion (pro hac vice). It’s all in pt. II ch. 7 sect. 1.

    Then again, if I’m confusing the issue, just ignore me, I won’t be offended.

  8. “I’m just saying, I don’t understand what the relevance of an infallible teacher is in llight of the sufficiency of one’s own fallible reasoning.”

    I believe you are making the conclusion that because you believe the ‘infallible teacher’ fallible: why not rely simply on one’s own fallible reasoning?

    If you haven’t learned the many ways an individual’s own fallible reasoning can go wrong, just think of how many well-intentioned and even well-informed individuals have gone wrong to the extent of even re-formulating Christianity altogether that even the great Reformers such as Luther would recognize as Christian.

    I feel Luther himself would become horrified at what extent his church had significantly deviated from the original course he initially laid out during his time.

    Protestant denominations even as a body has gone wrong on such issues as that regarding abortion.

    For example, the congregation of Southern Baptists who originally supported abortion in the seventies.

    In every age, members of The Church will meet entirely new challenges that necessitates the guidance of an infallible teacher in those times; the absence of which could only lead to disaster such as the ones I’ve alluded to earlier.

  9. Dr Liccione,

    I admire how tightly argued this post is. Having the evening mostly free, I hope to get a response to you (as well as to Philos and Brandon) soon. In the meantime I will post, as a sort of prolegomenon to my answer, something at FQI about St Irenaeus on Scripture and Tradition. If you wouldn’t mind, please wait for my reply before responding to the material on Irenaeus.

    Best,

    John

  10. Sure, John. But I must say it’s not easy for our readers to follow what amounts to one discussion on two different blogs.

    Best,
    Mike

  11. […] to my response to Dr Liccione’s recent comments at Philosophia Perennis I think it may be helpful to provide excerpts from two scholars’ […]

  12. John,

    Speaking strictly for myself, I look forward to it!

    — sorry to have confused you with Kepha earlier here —

    As I’ve mentioned in the other thread, although I don’t necessarily agree with you, I admire at the very least that aspect of independent thought, which I believe is significant even when it comes to matters of the Christian Faith.

  13. Dr. Liccione & John:

    “Sure, John. But I must say it’s not easy for our readers to follow what amounts to one discussion on two different blogs.”

    DITTO THAT!

    Can we have one central area of discussion rather than having to leap from one place to the other in order to follow a commenter’s train of thought?

  14. Dr Liccione,

    But I must say it’s not easy for our readers to follow what amounts to one discussion on two different blogs.

    I completely agree. For that reason I will respond to your post only at this blog. When in a response I need to draw from resources beyond what can fit in a blog comment, my practice is post these resources elsewhere (as at FQI) and then to link to them in my comments here.

    Best,

    John

  15. Quoting Mike:

    “Nobody claims that the reasoning which would dispose one to make the assent of faith is infallible. But it does not follow that the assent of faith one makes when led by such reasoning is, itself, fallible. For faith is a divine gift of grace enabling one to assent to that which is infallibly presented for our assent by Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. The choice we thereby make by the power of the Holy Spirit, even if confused or poorly informed, is accordingly a share in the infallibility of the Church whose faith we have come to share. Such infallibility is not a quality of one’s reasoning or person, but of God’s own agency assisting both the Church’s profession and our assent to it.”

    Exactly.

  16. What’s so remarkable about what Mark said about what Mike said which was actually about what Dr. Liccione said in his reply to Kepha — is how exquisitely precise as well as profound his comments were, captured in such a neat, bite-sized, less-filling concision of a paragraph.

  17. Philos,

    I thought the concision helped to facilitate the discussion.
    🙂

  18. […] Klaus Schatz & Papal Primacy (Posted by Iohannes for possible use in a reply to Dr Liccione’s post on development. Comments are disabled; relevant comments should be directed to the thread of discussion at Philosophia Perennis.) […]

  19. Dr Liccione,

    I am grateful for your response to my comments. By its thoughtfulness it does much to advance the conversation. To me it now seems that what divides us is partly how to conceive of the stages of development. I see basically three.

    The first stage is the emergence of a putative development as an historical phenomenon. This process, so far as it is historical, need not follow any recognizable pattern of formal logic. All that matters is that the alleged development come to the attention of the Church’s Teaching Office. To return to an earlier example, consider the title ‘Theotokos’. Just how this came to be a feature of Christian piety before Ephesus is difficult to trace (for an interesting if tentative treatment see Maxwell E Johnson’s recent article). What is crucial for dogmatics is that circumstances eventually required to Church to make a judgment about this development.

    The second stage is the judgment by the Magisterium. After careful scrutiny the Church’s teachers reach one of three main conclusions: (a) the proposed development contradicts truths from the apostolic deposit and so must be condemned; (b) to deny the proposed development would be itself to contradict the deposit, wherefore positive approval is called for; (c) neither the affirmation nor the denial of the development affects the deposit’s integrity, for which cause the development is neither expressly approved nor condemned.

    The third stage is the reception of this judgment by the faithful. Once it is promulgated, the orthodox are expected to receive the decision of the Magisterium.

    To apply the distinction of discovery and justification as you have attempted, it appears that we must combine either stages 1 and 2 or stages 2 and 3. Because your response focuses on whether the faithful Catholic has warrant to accept the Magisterium’s pronouncement, it seems you go the former route. For since the faithful believe the Magisterium to be infallible when using its full authority, this belief justifies their reception of what the Magisterium declares. This holds quite apart from whether believers can themselves discern what reasoning justified the Magisterium in making its decision. I will come back to this issue later.

    A counterargument to my position is that the process of reasoning from scripture (in which the deposit’s content is transmitted) presupposes an extra-scriptural interpretative context that develops over time. Only after the context takes sufficient shape can it be determined that a given doctrine follows necessarily or inevitably from the apostolic teaching. This context arises from the “collective, centuries-long ecclesial meditation on and battle about what all the relevant sources—those of Tradition as well as Scripture—actually meant.”

    Although I value tradition highly, I disagree with this outlook. It does not correspond, for example, to what one finds in St Irenaeus. For Irenaeus, the primary interpretive key to scripture is the traditional canon of faith, framed on the triadological baptismal profession. If a man prudently observes this canon, he will avoid the egregious interpretive pitfalls of the heretics. Irenaeus faults the heretics because, disregarding the canon of faith, they articulate erroneously what scripture says.

    This much is widely recognized. What is often overlooked is that Irenaeus is confident he can demonstrate the heretics’ error from scripture itself without recourse to any extra-scriptural doctrinal content communicated only by tradition. JND Kelly and John Behr describe how this works [tinyurl.com/42zzzd]. The central theme of their presentation is that the tradition encapsulated in the canon of faith is a trustworthy guide to accurate interpretation. If we stray from this guide, we are apt to make scripture incoherent by losing sight of how Christian truths fit together. However, to demonstrate that an interpretation so made thus falters it is not necessary to go beyond scripture. Demonstration from scripture suffices because to refute such an interpretation one can point out how it is at variance with other parts of scripture.

    Several times it has been suggested that on my view heretics must act in stupidity or malice. I find this a false alternative. There is a plausible third option, namely, that heretics pick up on some truth and then, mis-evaluating its place and proportion in the apostolic faith, they come to distort the larger body of Christian truth. (It may be fruitful to compare this with St Augustine’s account of how, even when sinning, men seek some good.) As an example, let us take Adoptionism.

    When read in isolation, St Paul in Philippians 2 may appear to support this doctrine. One does not need to be foolish or evil to gather this impression. As it is, the fact of Christ’s humiliation and obedience and subsequent exaltation is a great truth of the faith. But if we so run with this as to threaten or deny the deity of Christ, our interpretation goes dangerously awry. This can be seen from how such an interpretation fails when we turn to other parts of Scripture. Look, for instance, at Isaiah 45. There is a definite parallel between the words of the prophet and the apostle. What is said of Jesus as Lord is what was said of Jehovah as LORD (and in a passage the thrust of which was that Jehovah is Lord alone, beside whom there is no other to share in his glory). For Christ to be merely a creature, even a highly exalted creature, would seem to make Paul’s words clash with the very passage to which he alludes. This is one example, but to provide others would not be difficult. For a start I would recommend chapter 4 of NT Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. Wright at one point confidently expresses the opinion that “if the early Fathers of the church hadn’t existed it would be necessary to invent them” (p. 66). This is more or less what I have stressed about necessity in the sense of inevitability. Given their circumstances, for the fathers to have preserved faithfully the apostolic faith they would have needed to produce the kind of doctrinal formulas they did.

    As promised, I return now to the stages of development. The “crucial point” at which the SCOTUS analogy is alleged to break down is the fact that, unlike a secular court, “the Magisterium is infallible.” Although I am, of course, quite aware of that difference, I do not believe it impairs or undermines the argument. The reason is that I distinguish three stages in the process of development.

    What critics like Fr Boyer say is that “The development of a truth can only follow a logic, and this path, at least the point of arrival, must be perceptible.” This is a judicious turn of phrase. The claim is not that the phenomena of stage 1 need to be historically observable as following a strict pattern of logic. To impose such a requirement would be artificial indeed. Rather, the claim is that “at the point of arrival” (or after the fact) we must be able to perceive and scrutinize the rational bond between the original revelation and the development.

    That the Magisterium is infallible and that the faithful can therefore trust its decisions once announced does not argue against this claim. For the Magisterium, when evaluating a putative development that has come to its attention, must somehow decide whether to approve, condemn, or pass by the development. If tradition is public, then during this process of examining and evaluating a development the Magisterium can in principle see no more than any informed individuals can see. The problem then is: how does the Magisterium arrive at a justified conclusion that a given development is certainly part of the deposit if the publicly available evidence is insufficient for a rational demonstration of this fact?

    Appeal to the charism of infallibility does not solve the problem because we are at stage 2, not stage 3. This is why I asked previously whether the Magisterium has access to a special, supernatural intuition or consciousness that enables it to discern that a development is authentic to the deposit even when this is in no way rationally demonstrable.

    De Lubac [tinyurl.com/54o7na] appears to come very close to saying just this. Yet if tradition really is public, I do not see how this can be. And if the Magisterium operates in this way, then it seems that the Church’s definition is in effect equivalent to further revelation in all but name. For though based on tradition as publicly available before the definition it was not, even in principle, possible to reach a certain or necessary conclusion about a proposed doctrine, after the intervention of the Magisterium such a conclusion is not only possible but obligatory. If something is knowable afterwards that was not knowable before, then the public content of the tradition has as it were expanded, just as would have happened had an angel come and revealed the certainty of what before was at most a probable speculation.

    Regarding the emergence of the Roman Magisterium as a meta-development, I would be curious as to why we should by faith acquiesce in this phenomenon as legitimate. I am no expert on church history but have given this topic some study. I largely agree with the facts presented in Jesuit Klaus Schatz’s historical survey of papal primacy, although I naturally differ over the interpretation. He opens his book by saying, among other things, the words provided here [tinyurl.com/3zkkcw].

    Do you agree with Schatz? I apologize for the length of the quotations and assure you I am not playing a game. The question is not so much whether you agree about the accuracy of the statements as descriptive of historical fact, but whether you agree with Schatz’s interpretation that such facts can be reconciled with the modern papal doctrine through a theory of development. In other words, I am asking how flexible your understanding of development is.

    The historical claims of orthodox faith expose us, at least to some degree, to the vulnerability of history. We surely never can, in an absolute sense, overcome history with dogma. If the bones of Christ were to be uncovered in Palestine, traditional, orthodox Christianity would simply become untenable. The nature of this kind of paradigm-shattering of scenario is what I am asking about in connection with the meta-development of the Roman Magisterium.

    Best,

    John

  20. Well John, at over 1,700 words, your comment on my post is even longer than my post, which I had made a post because I felt it was too long as a comment.. To deliver any sort of fair reply, I’m going to have to refer to Schatz, whom you quote at length on your own blog post, as well as quote parts of your comment. So it looks like it’s time for me to do another post.

    Hopefully it will get done at some point tomorrow.

    Best,
    Mike

  21. John,

    I loved the case that you devoted to your subsequent comment here — even though I don’t, as before, necessarily agree with them.

    However, I would like to get a grasp on an aspect of your thoughts on the ecumenical council v. magesterial teaching office of the Church.

    You had said:

    “This is why I asked previously whether the Magisterium has access to a special, supernatural intuition or consciousness that enables it to discern that a development is authentic to the deposit even when this is in no way rationally demonstrable.”

    Yet, even in your comments, you seemed to have acknowledged the need for the historical ecumenical councils in dealing with developments such as in the case:

    “What is crucial for dogmatics is that circumstances eventually required to (sic) Church to make a judgment about this development.”

    What I am attempting to understand is if you consider the ecumenical council themselves having had “access to a special, supernatural intuition or consciousness that enables it to discern that a development is authentic to the deposit even when this is in no way rationally demonstrable.”

    If not, by what specific means do you believe such ecumenical councils were able to arrive at (what I believe you’ve even accepted as) such valid developments.

    In addition, what makes you think that what was operating then that had enabled the ecumenical councils at those times to formulate/clarify/interpret a necessary development to the Christian Faith could not also be present as far as the present Magisterium is concerned?

    Thus, I take to heart Mt 18:17-18.

    As the usual, I look forward to your response.

  22. Dr Liccione, I regret the length of my comment. Although I aim for economical expression, in the end it did not seem feasible to provide you a fair reply without writing something of comparable length (mine was, after all, only 190 words or about one-eighth longer). Since you made the very reasonable suggestion that the discussion stick to this blog, and since I am not a contributor, I had no option but to submit the response as a comment. I apologize if I have inconvenienced you. By using links I tried to furnish the most relevant resources so that you would not need to hunt down books. Please do not by any means feel obliged to hurry in answering. Speaking only for myself, I have enough ado right now that a little break would not be unwelcome.

    God bless,

    John

  23. Philos,

    I appreciate how charitable both you and other commenters here have been. Because it may be helpful for understanding my response above, I will try to sketch a response specifically for your concerns. This will, however, be my last comment until Dr Liccione gets an opportunity to reply. It seems prudent to avoid getting ahead of ourselves in this way.

    You are correct that I accept the doctrinal developments of the early ecumenical councils. Not to go too far afield, but in the magisterial reformation tradition of the English and Scottish churches (to a branch of which I belong) this commonly means the first 4 or 6 councils, with the status of the seventh unresolved.

    These councils functioned as proper actions of juridical ministerial authority by officers whom Christ appointed over his Church. My views on the nature of Church office are similar to those put forward by JB Lightfoot in his Dissertation on the Christian Ministry.

    The council fathers arrived at their decisions based on the Church’s public tradition. So, on my view, there was no special, supernatural consciousness or intuition at work, such as described before. The reasoning employed by the fathers when making their judgments was not different in kind from the reasoning that, in principle, other informed individuals could perform.

    The council decisions, once announced, were strictly enforceable in the churches represented at the council. Therefore the ministerial authorities of the churches would proceed against dissentients through means up and including to excommunication (the formal severing of communion).

    A council decision also establishes a precedent. If a council is recognized by the church as ecumenical (and not all councils claiming to be so are–e.g. the Iconoclast council), then this is a very weighty precedent, much as a Supreme Court judgment is. I do not believe that any organ of the Church’s teaching office is de jure infallible. However, by virtue (positively) of the fact that abiding consensus and unity is a token of Spirit’s work and (negatively) of Christ’s promise of indefectibility, I would acknowledge that some decisions in the Church’s tradition amount to precedents so supremely weighty as to be, in practice, de facto infallible. And so, for example, it is inconceivable that the Nicene Creed (apart from the filioque) could be in error. That something is in theory reformable does not mean it is so in practice; given the historical experience of the Church, not everything is up for grabs.

    As for whether what happened with the ecumenical councils in the past could still happen today, I see no reason why it couldn’t. The difficulty today is that the Church’s constitution is as it were unsettled, which makes it for the time being hard to see how an ecumenical council might come about. History provides many examples of how a kingdom’s constitution can be unsettled without the kingdom itself being annihilated (a Yankee might think of the US Civil War). One of my friends has half-jokingly suggested that what we really need is a new Emperor to force Christendom to reunite. At any rate, on my view ecumenical councils do not participate in a sort of Platonic ideal before which other councils are diminished as radically different in kind. Whether the councils after Chalcedon and the Monophysite schism are “as ecumenical” as the earlier councils may impact the weight of their precedents, but in a precedent based system there is no need for a clear cut method of distinguishing an ecumenical from a sub-ecumenical councils. Precedents can still be rationally scrutinized today, so if the ruling authority concludes in a current controversy that a widely but not universally accepted precedent from the past was correct, the fact that a minority dissented will not necessarily undermine the value of the precedent. Precedents are valuable not so much in themselves but as well established pointers to truth that is beyond them. This is a venerable and important part of the Western legal tradition–the idea that laws are found, not made, and so exist, and in principle are discernable, independently of what the rulers say.

    Since philosophy of science came up earlier, I think it might be good to express my criticism this way. To those who disagree with me this will perhaps sound terribly presumptuous, but I honestly suspect that the apparatus of the modern Roman Magisterium and the Newman-style theory of development succumb before the principle of parsimony. I do not think they are necessary to make sense of the Church’s experience both historically and today; and based on the historical record as publicly accessible, I honestly do not see the justification for them.

    I would not present myself as an expert in any field, but I have some familiarity with economics, and from this will try to give an example. An economics undergraduate at a modern university may, in the swelter of complicated mathematical utility functions and indifference curves and such like, fail to grasp the basic fact that the conclusions of classical microeconomics require only that utility be ordinal (a ranked list) not cardinal. There is no need to assume that utility comparisons are ever made, or even can be made, through evaluation of magnitudes of preference; ranking of preference is all that matters (assuming Lionel Robbins was right). Because economists have grown accustomed to use utility functions that express utility in numbers whose magnitudes can be compared, it is often quite tempting to do just this. But to do such would produce a conclusion both unnecessary and, it seems, scientifically invalid (e.g. if the function assigns X a utility value of 5 and Y a utility value of 10, we can conclude that Y ranks ahead of X, but we cannot in a meaningful sense call the utility of Y twice that of X). Not that I aim to be unduly provocative, but I wonder whether a simple mistake like this may lie beyond the grand, impressive edifice of the Roman system. If ordinal utility is not enough, then we of course need to postulate something further beyond it, together with a method of processing this something further. Yet if ordinal utility suffices, we should be wary of making indifference curves and utility functions not merely useful but essential to our theory.

    Goodness, that was too long. Sorry; I hope it is helpful in some way.

    Best,

    John

  24. John,

    Thanks once again for another one of your carefully-written elaborate replies.

    Out of respect for your request, I shall suspend further inquiry & response until such time Dr. Liccione himself has advanced his arguments on the matter so that there stands a common plane from which to engage the matter on equal terms & understanding.

    I appreciate once again your efforts & hospitality.

  25. […] The Eucharist as the Church…Elliot B on The Eucharist as the Church…Simply Philos on Development of doctrine I…Iohannes on Development of doctrine I…Simply Philos on The Eucharist as the […]

  26. […] of any organ of the Christian ministry. This is more or less what I have proposed through applying the common law paradigm to the authority of ecclesial tradition. Also, it was argued that if there were rational warrant of […]

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