John of Fides Quaerens Intellectum has replied to my post Development of Doctrine II, primarily with a 1,700-word comment thatis longer than the post itself. As supporting material, he has posted two entries at his own blog: one consisting chiefly of quotations from the late Prof. JND Kelly and Fr. John Behr on St. Irenaeus; the other consisting chiefly of quotations from Klaus Schatz, SJ’s Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present. Given that each exchange in our discussion—one which stretches back to old comboxes at Sacramentum Vitae—is longer than its predecessors, I find myself wondering with some amusement how many faculty and students will stick around for the seminar. At least the seminars in real academic departments have scheduled beginnings and ends! But even if the education ends up being John’s and mine alone, I think the discussion well worth pursuing. Speaking for myself, I come off every online discussion of DD better equipped to carry on the next one—and there always seems to be a next one, even when that’s not the plan. Who knows whom I might thereby reach? It might even be somebody here. And so I proceed with my latest reply as a productive exercise in what contemporary Catholic theologians term “fundamental theology.”
It is actually in still another comment, appended this morning to my first post on DD, that John poses explicitly one of the most important questions that the wider discussion has, in effect, been addressing. Thus (emphasis added):
‘Revelation’ is one of those tricky abstract nouns derived from verbs that my Latin prose comp professor (quite vigorously) advised his students to avoid. His reason was partly that with words like this distinctions often get blurred. Here I would suggest thinking in terms of three separate but related categories: (a) the object of revelation, i.e. the object that is being or having been revealed; (b) the revelation of the object, i.e. the unveiling or revealing of the object; (c) the apprehension of revelation, i.e. the subject perceiving and apprehending the object that has been revealed or unveiled.
We might agree that (a) is the Incarnate Word of God and as such the object is fixed and stable. (b) for those on this side of glory was objectively completed with the apostles. (c) goes on to this day in the experience of Church as illuminated and guided by the Spirit. Yet what the Church as subject perceives and apprehends must as object already have been revealed or unveiled (perception presupposes that the object is there in such a way as to be perceived by the subject). The center of the difficulty proposed by Boyer and others concerns how the Church can (c) subjectively perceive, based on what has (b) been objectively revealed, that a putative development authentically pertains to (a) the object of revelation.
That seems right to me. The distinctions John makes above need to be made, and in fact are made in Catholic fundamental theology. Let us call revelation in sense (a) ‘Ra‘, revelation in sense (b) ‘Rb‘, revelation in sense (c) ‘Rc‘, and a proposed instance of doctrinal development ‘D’. Accordingly, and as I see it, the “difficulty” to which John alludes may be framed with the following question:
If D need not be logically necessitated by the explicit content of Rb, but need only cohere with and help to illuminate that content, then how can the Church apprehend, in the sense of Rc, that D is a de fide truth of Rb as opposed to a human opinion about Ra?
I pose the difficulty that way knowing full well that, hitherto, John has posed it rather differently. Until now, John has challenged me to explain how those distinctively Catholic doctrines which we both agree are instances of DD can be reliably distinguished from “new” or “ongoing” revelation, an idea which by general agreement is supposed to be inadmissible given that revelation was “closed” with the death of the last Apostle. Well, thanks to John himself, the answer is now before us.
Although the disputed instances of DD are formulations of belief that are proposed as objectively true, and thus as items of Rb, the difference between their content and that of earlier formulations is to be explained by progress in the Church’s “apprehension” of Rb. Thus, if legitimate, the proposed instances of DD are formulations of “new” or “ongoing” revelation in the sense of Rc. But given how Rc is distinguished from and related to Rb, it does not at all follow that the disputed instances of DD have been, or could legitimately be, proposed as new items of revelation in the sense of Rb. And that is as it should be, since we all agree that the latter would be inadmissible. In fact, assuming that ‘Rb‘ be taken to refer to the deposit of faith “given once-for-all to the saints,” positing new items of Rb would actually be incoherent. Given as much, I believe I am fully justified in reframing the question as I have above. It is quite a fair question in itself. For there are many theological opinions which, to some degree, “cohere with” and “help to illuminate” the deposit of faith, but which nobody says must be themselves understood as belonging to said deposit.
Accordingly, in the rest of this post I shall do three things: (1) give a general answer to John’s question; (2) explain why I frame my answer as I do; and (3) defend it in general terms which I believe are applicable to the specific objections John offers in his really long comment and the posts of his offered to support it. To avoid taxing the patience of readers, I shall leave those specifics to the combox, where they will surely be brought up.
1. My general answer is the following argument:
A. That doctrinal meta-development by which the Catholic Church authoritatively describes Ra, Rb, and Rc in the broadest of terms, and relates them to each other in those terms, is at least a reasonable way to do so.
B. Ergo, it is reasonable to make an assent of faith in the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself-which includes the claim that it is infallible when proposing some doctrine with its full authority as belonging to Rb.
C. Rb is equivalent to the deposit of faith given “once-for-all to the saints.”
D. Ergo, whatever instances of DD are taught by the Magisterium’s full authority as a truth of Rb, and thus as a truth of the original deposit of faith, may be reasonably taken as such, rather than as a human opinion about Ra. (from B, C)
2. Obviously, the most important statement in that argument is the first premise, namely A. Once A be granted, the rest of the argument falls right into place. But in order to understand A well enough to evaluate it fairly, one should read in its entirety Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. Some of you have doubtless done so long since; others can do so at the link provided. For convenience, though, I present the most important three sections in full (footnotes omitted, emphasis added):
8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3). Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).
9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.
10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission; and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that one must keep all that in mind as we proceed to the defense of my argument given in (1) above. It must especially be noted that the Council, though speaking mostly of Rb, also speaks of Rc in the second paragraph of §8 and relates it to Rb. That, I believe, is the key aspect of the doctrinal “meta-development” to which I referred in step (A) of my argument.
3. The broadest point I want to make in defense of that argument is one that I already adumbrated in my previous post. If the argument is logically valid, and it is, then a critic would only beg the question against it by insisting that D’s rational necessitation by the explicit content of Rb is the only reasonable basis for accepting D as an item of Rb—i.e. as a truth of the deposit of faith, rather than as a mere theologoumenon. Given how the argument is constructed, one could only undermine it by showing that the argument is unsound even though logically valid—i.e. that at least one of its premises is false, even though the conclusion follows from the premises. In this case, that would effectively mean showing A to be false. One would need to show, in other words, that the Catholic Church’s official way of characterizing Ra, Rb, and Rc for purposes of relating them to each other, as expressed in DV, is unreasonable.
To that end, there are a number of avenues that the Catholic Church’s opponents can and do take. I shall consider the three most pertinent to this discussion, and shall do so in what I believe to be ascending order of importance.
The first is to argue, in effect, that there is no good reason to believe that anything other than the explicit propositional content of Scripture is a medium of Rb. That is a favorite thesis of Protestant sola scripturists. If that claim is correct, then there is no good reason to believe we need either the Magisterium or a “Tradition,” where those are understood as binding rules of faith distinct from Scripture and conditioning our reception and interpretation of Scripture. But the evidence of history runs strongly against such a claim. The undivided Church of the first millennium is replete with elements of Tradition that were neither explicitly in Scripture nor understood to be incompatible with Scripture. As I argued in my previous post, it was those elements of Tradition to which, e.g,, the Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries often had recourse in order to fashion a normative hermeneutic for Scripture, which was then used by ecumenical councils to exclude as heretics those who interpreted Scripture in other ways. The Fathers and Ecumenical Councils didn’t get their conclusions primarily by drawing out the deductive consequences of the explicit words of Scripture; rather, Tradition was for them an indispensable resource for interpreting Scripture on plausibly disputed points. But that process would have been the triumph of mere opinion, or at the very least question-begging, if Tradition had not been a medium of Rb. So, Church history affords good reason to believe that the explicit words of Scripture are not the sole medium of Rb—i.e., of the deposit of faith.
The second main line of attack concedes as much but cites the fact that, once the NT canon crystallized, it became unacceptable in the Church to treat the wider and earlier Tradition as a source of doctrine independent of Scripture. The relevant degree of canonical crystallization appears to have occurred under Rome’s auspices between the time of Marcion and that of St. Irenaeus, i.e. by the latter third of the first century. Hence, granted that Scripture and Tradition are distinct, it was not long before they had become so closely related that no doctrinally significant content would be identified in the latter that was not readily identifiable in the former. So, even if Scripture alone is not the sole medium of Rb, it is so closely related to Tradition that nothing doctrinally significant which cannot be inferred from Scripture alone can be inferred from Tradition in conjunction with Scripture. Hence, there is no need to posit, as a component of Rb, a Magisterium as the sole “authentic” interpreter of Rb. DV §10 is therefore unreasonable.
Now the close unity of Scripture and Tradition is acknowledged in DV’s assertion that Scripture and Tradition, “flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.” Thus DV acknowledges that Rb is a complex unity of the two, and a public one at that. On historical grounds, let us grant that such unity was achieved by the time of St. Irenaeus at the latest, who had known St. Polycarp, who had known St. John the Apostle. But from that fact, it does not follow that it would be unreasonable to claim that “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church,” All that follows is that said office, which is identifiable in some form in both the NT and Tradition, may neither contradict Scripture and Tradition nor treat some pet theory or private tradition as though it were just as important for Rc as Scripture-and-Tradition. Since the Magisterium is exercised by fallible human beings, there have been occasions when, in my opinion as a Catholic, it has failed in this regard. In that sense, Scripture and Tradition jointly act as a check on the Magisterium. But the Magisterium does not claim to be infallible under any and all conditions; it claims infallibility only under conditions it specifies, and only by divine power. And if, as is held by Scripture and Tradition, the Church as a whole is indefectible by the promise and power of Christ, then it is not unreasonable to believe that her teaching authority, which claims to speak for and to the Church as a whole, would be prevented by the Spirit from using its full authority to bind the Church as a whole to what is incompatible with or unwarranted by Scripture and Tradition, i.e. by the universally received Rb.
The third and most important avenue of criticism, however, takes our results so far for granted. Offered in various forms, the substance of the criticism is this. Assuming not only that Scripture and Tradition were already identifiable as a unified Rb before 200 CE, but also that a “living teaching office” of the Church was essential for its transmission and interpretation, there is no reason to believe that the Magisterium has the degree of authority it now claims for the sake of facilitating Rc, even granted that such a claim is not, logically, incompatible with Rb. Or: “That doctrinal meta-development by which the Catholic Church authoritatively describes Ra, Rb, and Rc in the broadest of terms, and relates them to each other in those terms,” is unwarranted, inasmuch as there is nothing in what had long been broadly acknowledged as the public content of Rb to require the Magisterium’s self-understanding today. To put it in yet simpler terms: the first-millennium Church didn’t have anything approaching the understanding of the Magisterium that it has of itself today; but the Church even then had, and benefited from, the faith-once-delivered and a teaching office to facilitate its reception; therefore, there’s no reason to believe that the Magisterium as it understands itself today is necessary for Rc. It is accordingly unreasonable to hold, as DV does, that “sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church,” as the last understands itself today, “are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others.” The fact is that the first two can stand quite nicely without the third, if the third be understood as the Magisterium understands itself today. My very first premise, namely A, is thus false.
Basically, my reply is that the above criticism is a non-sequitur. From the fact that Rb had been received by the Church whole and entire, partly by means of a living teaching office, well before the Catholic Magisterium’s self-understanding had attained its own distinctive form, it does not follow that the Magisterium so understood was ever unnecessary for Rc. All that follows is that, if the Magisterium so understood was necessary for Rc, and as such was always an item of Rb, it took time for that fact itself to become Rc. Hence, the amount of time it took for “the living teaching office of the Church” to formulate its self-understanding is irrelevant to the question whether what came to be thus understood does, in fact, belong to the deposit of faith. And given what DV says, I feel obliged to go further: if the Magisterium’s self-understanding today is correct, then we may infer straightaway that any attempt, based on Scripture and Tradition, to argue against that self-understanding is methodologically incoherent. For there would be no such entity as “the” Church, other than the Catholic Church, to whose faith (in the sense of Rb) one could appeal against that authority which speaks definitively for the Church by divine authority.
Needless to say, such a reply on my part needs to be elaborated and defended in response to specific objections, such as some of the ones John has copiously supplied and will no doubt continue to supply. That’s what the combox is for, assuming either of us can limit ourselves therein to less than 1,000 words per comment, as I devoutly wish. But I believe I’ve already presented in nuce the resources for answering such objections.