Development of Doctrine IV

Both here and at Sacramentum Vitae, I’ve been involved in a long-running debate about the development of doctrine with conservative scholars from each of the three major Christian traditions.  (By ‘conservative’ I mean those who believe that the “faith once given to the saints” is definitive, fully and publicly identifiable in Tradition and Scripture, and may neither be added to nor subtracted from.) Unsurprisingly, though for quite varied reasons, many of those scholars are hostile to the Second Vatican Council’s claim, in Dei Verbum (emphasis added), that the

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.

When I began writing about DD a few years ago, I believed that that a mutually fruitful understanding of DD could be reached across confessional lines on scholarly grounds alone. I now find that belief naïve. The purpose of this post is secondarily to explain why, and primarily to move the issue to the level I believe it needs to reach.

I.

Although it can be usefully clarified from a scholarly standpoint, the question whether DD in the above-described sense occurs cannot be usefully answered from a standpoint that is neutral with respect to the three main traditions of Christianity. As I argued in my most recent relevant post at SV, the question which of the three main Christian traditions to adhere to—Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—comes down to a choice between three “hermeneutical circles” (HCs). In a previous post to which I linked therein, I described the content and provenance of the concept of an HC, and briefly described the three HCs in question. I claimed: “Each such circle can be viewed as a set of criteria for identifying the objective content of the deposit of divine faith [DF] precisely as an object of divine faith not human opinion; as such and necessarily, each HC identifies an authority of ultimate appeal for distinguishing between true and false doctrine.”  The problem is that proposed instances of DD cannot be certified as authentic without some such authority of appeal—Scripture, Tradition, the confessing community, or some combination thereof—yet the nature and scope of such authority is itself conceived by each of the HCs in ways that are incommensurable with each of the others.  So it would appear that the question precisely which authority is that of ultimate appeal has to be settled prior to those of whether there is “authentic” DD and, if so, which specific instances of DD are authentic. History alone shows how unlikely it is that we will see peaceable consensus on answers to either question.

But things are not really as discouraging as that. For reasons I gave, the choice between traditions for the informed, dispassionate, uncommitted inquirer is best broken down into two: that between the Protestant HC on the one hand and the Catholic and Orthodox HCs on the other; and that between the latter two HCs themselves. I do not propose to discuss the latter here, for I believe that the choice between the Catholic and Orthodox HCs is less fundamental than that between the Protestant HC and the other two seen together as instances of a common principle. The most epistemologically significant choice is that between the Protestant HC on the one hand and those of the older traditions on the other. I say so because, as I see it, the main difference between the two lies in how they relate belief about the nature and authority of the confessing community itself to the deposit of divine faith (DF). And I believe it is both possible and useful to compare the two with respect to how well their ways of conceiving that relation respectively meet criteria that theories in general are expected to meet.

According to the Protestant HC, I wrote,

…given the material sufficiency and interpretive perspicuity of Scripture, any doctrine which is not explicitly stated in Scripture must be derivable therefrom by some form of rational necessity. The sole function of ecclesial authority is to bear and enforce faithful institutional witness to the Truth that can, in principle, be understood independently of such authority. Thus, such authority is not strictly necessary for assimilating divine revelation; it is only a disciplinary and educational convenience.

If that is the case, then the DF—i.e., the “faith once given to the saints,” beginning with the Apostles—contains no tenet, either explicit or implicit, to the effect that the confessing community constitutes or includes an authority-beyond-appeal for the purpose of interpreting the apostolic tradition. Interpretations of the DF are legitimate only when they arise by “rational necessity” from Scripture, whose content is taken as materially equivalent to apostolic “Tradition,” and thus as interchangeable salva veritate with the entire body of doctrinally significant, extra-scriptural “tradition.” Given also the essential publicity of Tradition, we can attain as complete an understanding of the DF as is attainable in principle simply by interpreting the parts and the whole of Scripture in light of each other. Although authority in the confessing community is ordinarily quite helpful for disseminating and preserving interpretations of that sort, in no sense is it necessary for reaching or authenticating them. Scripture is clear enough in itself to ensure that authentic DD can, at least in principle, be achieved by anybody of sufficient education and good will.

By contrast, the Catholic and the Orthodox HCs each insist that the confessing community, i.e. a communion of churches which they call “the Church,”

has received from the Lord the same degree (though not the same kind) of authority as the Apostles to teach in a manner binding all believers. That is because both traditions take such a self-understanding on the Church’s part to belong, itself, to the objective content of the DF….handed on to us through the apostolic succession of the bishops.

The question thus arises: by what criteria should the dispassionate, uncommitted inquirer decide which of the two—the Protestant HC, or the others seen as a pair—best facilitates identifying and assenting to the DF by faith as distinct from human opinion?

As I described it, the rational process by which the uncommitted inquirer should strive to answer such a question is essentially abductive, where the term ‘abduction’ is used, as some philosophers use it, to mean “inference to the best explanation.”  To many of those likely to read this, that is old news. For, regarding DD itself,

I have long argued that a species of induction, namely “abduction” or “inference to the best explanation,” is the standard form of DD’s context of justification-as distinct from its context of discovery, which cannot and should not try to eliminate the charismatic element. It is the quality of the abduction, seen in light of the analogia fidei and thus to some extent charismatically, which suggests the difference between mere theological opinions and development of the Church’s collective understanding of the DF.

Reacting to a suggestion by Jonathan Prejean, I endorsed the idea of kicking such a method of rational justification up a level. Thus, I proposed that the sort of process by which particular instances of DD come to be seen as rationally justifiable (not: rationally necessitated) is the same sort of process by which one can come to view one of the two HCs as more rationally justifiable than the other—at least as a way of defining the ambit of Christian orthodoxy. If that is right, then the question I framed above can be reframed as the following:  Understood as sets of criteria for organizing and interpreting the raw data of Scripture and Tradition, which choice yields the better explanation of said data? If one can be shown to be better than the other in that sense, then its way of identifying the content of the DF as an object of divine faith, as distinct from human opinion, is rationally preferable to the other.

Prima facie, such a method of evaluation is like that often used to decide between competing scientific theories.  Under such a method, the criteria for evaluation include, without being limited to, such qualities as internal consistency (Are all the statements of the theory logically compatible with each other and with the logical consequences of each?); capaciousness (Does the theory explain everything it’s meant to explain?); parsimony (Does the theory avoid multiplying entities beyond necessity?); and beauty (Is the theory harmonious and elegant?). If one of the HCs now in question can be shown to combines such qualities better than the other, then we can infer that one of the two is “the best explanation.”  And if so, then the “best” explanation is the one best suited to identifying the objective content of the DF as an object of divine faith rather than just human opinion. For even though inference to the “best” HC only can only yield a human opinion, and hence can never suffice by itself to elicit an assent of divine faith, such an inference can be used to show it more reasonable to make the assent of divine faith to the DF from within one HC as opposed to the other(s).

Of course, objections have come from various points on the theological spectrum. They mostly have to do with how I conceive DD relative to the process of deciding rationally between the two main HCs. I shall briefly describe and meet the two objections that I believe present the clearest challenges.

II.

First, a philosophical preliminary is necessary. Supposing that a certain body of doctrines S, formulated centuries after the Apostles in terms we have no evidence they used, point reliably to the same realities that the Apostles themselves experienced and proclaimed, it does not follow that the Apostles “would have” recognized S as doing so. (I use the rather vague phrase ‘point reliably to’ because it is unclear how certain familiar concepts in the philosophy of language, such as reference or description, can be applied to divine mysteries without substantial modification.) Let S be the set of Christological and Trinitarian dogmas formulated by the great ecumenical councils of the first millennium. Supposing arguendo that S is materially equivalent to the teaching of the Apostles on the relevant topics, it does not follow that S is formally equivalent to that teaching. For, as a general proposition: even if each of two sets of true statements, S1 and S2, express the same facts as the other, and are thus materially equivalent to each other, it does not follow that S1 and S2 mean precisely the same as each other, and thus are formally equivalent to each other. Hence, it does not follow that anybody who accepts one would accept the other. Indeed, that wouldn’t follow even if S1 and S2 were semantically equivalent; for one also would also have to know they are, which requires familiarity with all the terms used. Of course, if one accepts S as “orthodox,” one is committed to believing that, had the Apostles been exposed to S and had come to understand all its terms, they would have affirmed it. But even that assumes that S is not formally equivalent to the relevant teaching of the Apostles; for if such a formal equivalence did obtain, S would be entirely superfluous, and the question whether the Apostles would have understood it would not even arise. Hence, many doctrinal developments widely accounted as orthodox could only be materially not formally equivalent to the corresponding teaching of the Apostles. And so, if there are authentic instances of DD, they point reliably to the same facts revealed to and proclaimed by the Apostles, without thereby being limited to what the Apostles explicitly knew or affirmed.

Although, for reasons which will become obvious, that result is indispensable for the purpose of evaluating the two HCs against each other, it is neutral with respect to each. For it does not specify the authority-beyond-appeal for authenticating proposed instances of DD: whether that’s the “sources” themselves (typically Scripture), understood as proximate objects of faith but in a manner not dependent on the interpretations of ecclesial authorities; or the interpretations of the sources adopted by ecclesial authorities and proposed by such authorities as de fide. And so I believe the way I’ve characterized DD so far does not beg any interesting questions. Yet now is the time to introduce the two main objections to the terms in which I propose that the evaluation of the two HCs be conducted.

In a previous post here, my friend and colleague Dr. Scott Carson has argued that, given the nature of abduction and of doctrine respectively, DD itself cannot take place by means of abduction. The DD process is instead “merely authoritative” (my emphasis), where the relevant authority-beyond-appeal is that of the Church. His argument is an interesting one, even as his position stands at one extreme of the spectrum comprising those who admit some-or-other form of authentic DD. If he’s right, then I cannot justify applying abduction to the problem of evaluating the Protestant and non-Protestant HCs against each other. Now I happen to agree that the full authority of the Church, conceived in either Catholic or Orthodox terms, is necessary for making putative instances of DD binding as doctrine, as hence as proximate objects of faith, rather than merely justifiable as opinion. But I don’t believe that said authority is equally necessary for the process of development itself, and still less is said authority necessary for exhibiting the result as rationally “justifiable” in light of prior doctrine. Partly in defense of that position, I shall shortly describe and reply to Scott’s argument in more detail.

At the other extreme, Protestants such as Dr William Witt of Non Sermoni Res and Ioannes of Fides Quaerens Intellectum object that teaching authority in the confessing community is not and, indeed, cannot be necessary for authenticating doctrinal developments, such as the historic creeds. What authenticates putative instances of DD as doctrine, distinct from mere theological opinion, is simply their flowing by some form of rational necessity from Scripture. Ioannes argues in effect that, were that not the case, then there would be no way in principle to distinguish between authentic DD on the one hand and “new revelation,” which is ex hypothesi inadmissible, on the other. Indeed, there wouldn’t even be a logically decisive way to exclude actual negation of prior, supposedly binding doctrine. Dr. Witt goes even further, arguing that the “inherent intelligibility” of Scripture actually consists in its formal not just its material “sufficiency” for expressing the DF. That is quite similar to, if not identical with, the classic Reformed view that Scripture is altogether “self-interpreting,” i.e. fully intelligible without a wider, ecclesial interpretive context.

There’s no need to review the details of Scott’s argument that DD does not involve abduction. He shows quite convincingly that ‘abduction’, as an epistemological term of art, arose and remains within a philosophical matrix wherein abduction itself functions as a form of explanation suited only to essentially empirical phenomena. It must be admitted that truths of faith are not essentially “empirical,” at least not in the relevant sense of ‘uncontroversially observable’. Therefore, it’s a misnomer to call the process of rationally justifying certain instances of DD ‘abduction’. And if that’s so, then the process of rationally evaluating the two HCs against each other should not be called ‘abduction’ either. That’s just a point I’ll just have to concede.

But that leaves intact the main point I want to make: putative instances of DD can be rationally evaluated, without reference to ecclesial authority, in light of prior beliefs already assumed broadly as articles of faith. Concerning that point, the gravamen of Scott’s argument is that the process of DD, when its result is authentic, does not involve any process of “inference” at all. Thus (emphasis added):

Ultimately, then, the method, if it is one, by which the Church develops her doctrines is neither inductive, nor abductive, nor deductive, but merely authoritative. She makes proclamations, and the relationship between the semantic content of her proclamations, when they are authoritative, is always one of consistency, though not always one of full clarity, if by “full clarity” what one means is complete and full understanding on the part of the target audience.

The truth in that, at least from the standpoint of the Catholic HC, is that the de fide status of certain Magisterial pronouncements does not depend on the quality of reasoning, if any, that might have helped motivate them. But the fact remains that the Magisterium does not fashion “developed” doctrines out of whole cloth and then proceed to impose them on the faithful. The Magisterium merely puts the stamp of the Church’s full authority on certain doctrines which had already come to be understood by the Church as a whole as divinely revealed, not merely as opinions. That process of “coming to be seen” can be shown to be rationally justifiable, given what are taken as the relevant sources. But it is not the product of logical inference alone. Hence it cannot be the kind of necessitation characteristic of deductive inference.

The main example Scott discusses is the development of the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus, i.e. “outside the Church there is no salvation” (‘EENS’ for short). That phrasing originated in the third-century controversy between Rome and Cyprian of Carthage about whether Catholics who had abjured the faith under persecution should be readmitted to full communion after repentance. I am not now concerned with who was right in that particular controversy; I merely note that Cyprian was right to formulate and insist on EENS, which the Church of Rome herself came to define as dogma centuries later. But why were they right? Was EENS just an idea fashioned for polemical purposes at a certain time, which later happened to strike ecclesial authorities as an article of faith to be imposed on the faithful? Not at all. Rather, EENS was and remains a reasonable doctrine to affirm, given other, prior, consensual beliefs interpreted according to the mind of the Church as a whole. That’s a fact of which the even the Catholic Magisterium itself could not have failed to take note.

As far back as we have records, the consensus fidelium was that incorporation into the Church is necessary for salvation, because it was taken for granted that (a) incorporation into Christ is necessary for salvation, and (b) the Church is, in some sense, the Body of Christ. Both beliefs are firmly founded on Tradition and Scripture. Incorporation into the Church was seen as somehow equivalent to incorporation into Christ, so that the latter’s necessity for salvation was seen as correspondingly transferable to the former. EENS is the formal expression of the resulting equivalence, one that itself is materially the same as the faith of the apostolic church on the relevant issues. But EENS does not follow by deductive necessity from (a) and (b) on their face. To get there, (a) and (b) must be so interpreted as to make clear that incorporation into the Church qua Body of Christ is the only way to be incorporated into Christ. Until that is done, one cannot exhibit the relation between (a) and (b) on the one hand, and EENS on the other, as logically “valid” inference from premises to conclusion according to clear rules of any sort of inference. Yet it is equally clear that, given (a) and (b), EENS is a far more reasonable proposition to affirm than its negation. The way to explain that is to see how EENS does follow by deductive necessity from more precise versions of (a) and (b) that reflected the mind of the Church over time. But in that case, deduction is not itself the process by which the Church comes to believe and profess EENS. Deduction merely exhibits the logical fallout from interpretations of the premises-(a) and (b) themselves-which the Church as a whole came to make reasonably given her prior, normative beliefs. That’s rational “justification.” Rational “necessitation” of the “developed” doctrine only arises from interpreting its premises in a certain way; but it is precisely that way which constitutes the “development.”

Subsequent clarification and refinement of EENS within the Catholic Church over the centuries, culminating in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, exhibits another way in which the development of that doctrine is rationally justifiable. From roughly the time of the Emperor Constantine, in which Christianity become the state religion, to roughly the late 17th century, when the post-Reformation wars of religion were seen to have torn Western Christendom asunder, most Catholic prelates and theologians believed that full communion with the Catholic Church, attained before death, is necessary for salvation (save in certain carefully specified cases of baptism by “blood” or “desire”). There were understandable cultural and historical reasons for that belief. But as Scott shows, it is in no sense a logical consequence of those formulations which, taken together, circumscribe the binding sense of EENS. It is a theological opinion which, though understandably prevalent for a long time, is neither formally nor materially equivalent to EENS. For several reasons that can also be traced historically, the Catholic Church has come to believe that God consigns nobody to damnation who is inculpably ignorant of the Faith in its fullness. It is now professed that such people can be saved (LG §16); but the manner in which their incorporation into the Church takes place is up to God alone, and the Church does not profess to know it. That result is reasonable, given EENS together with a reasonable belief about God’s mercy. But such a result cannot be said to follow, by rigorous rules of inference, from prior doctrines taken as definitive. The way in which EENS is now understood by the Catholic Church is rationally justifiable, given those beliefs, but is not rationally necessitated by them.

The other main example Scott discussed is the Church’s teaching about usury. His concern, like mine, was to show that the Church’s DD on that topic, as well as that of EENS, does not negate formulations of the doctrine propounded in the past with her full authority. That is necessary because logical self-consistency is a necessary condition on reasonability. If the Church’s DD did not exhibit such consistency, at least within that body of doctrine propounded with her full authority, then the Magisterium’s claims for itself would be unreasonable and, with it, Catholicism itself. Since Scott and I both believe that the Magisterium can always be successfully defended on this score, and that we could not in conscience be Catholics if we believed otherwise, I shall not bring in other examples. The main point is that, whatever may be the historical context of discovery for instances of DD that the Magisterium has come to teach with its full authority, their context of justification, which is usually that of apologetics, can and ought to exhibit their reasonability given other, prior doctrines taken as givens.

But what could such “reasonability” consist in if, as I’ve already conceded, we cannot show allegedly authentic instances of DD to be rationally necessitated by what is cited, apart from magisterial authority, to justify them?  Although internal consistency is one necessary condition on such reasonability, it is by no means sufficient; so it’s important to supply an informative answer to the question I’ve just posed. For if one does not, then the challenges posed by such Protestants as Witt and Ioannes, standing at the other extreme of the DD spectrum, remains unmet.

III.

For reasons already stated, the norms needed for authenticating DD cannot supply a mechanical decision procedure for cranking out “developed” doctrines. Formally inferential procedures can be deployed to exhibit the results of authentic DD as rationally justified; thus, such procedures belong to the theological “context of justification.” But they do not typically dominate the process of DD, the “context of discovery.” At the same time, the needed, more flexible criteria for the context of discovery must be those which the confessing community can learn to apply to such instances. The general criteria are those which apply broadly to theories of whatever discipline: self-consistency, capaciousness, parsimony, and beauty. For the reason Scott gives, self-consistency rather than necessitation is the most important logical requirement. As more specific criteria, Newman proposed his much-discussed seven “notes” of development. Lately, and partly in response to my and Scott’s discussions of DD a few years ago, Prof. Brandon Watson has adumbrated his own: “richness, confidelity, creativity, and entelechy.” Lest ‘creativity’ sound like making things up, which it isn’t, by all means read Brandon’s account. I believe that all such criteria (the theoretical, Newman’s, and Brandon’s) are severally necessary and jointly sufficient for exhibiting the “reasonability” DD on any specific point. Much work remains to be done to systematize such contributions. But no systematization would or should yield a mechanical decision procedure that can be rigorously applied apart from the sensus fidelium.

That bothers some people. For, as is patent in the very formulation of such criteria, their application must be partly subjective. Scott says “largely” subjective in the case of the general criteria, and would doubtless say so a fortiori in the case of those enunciated by Newman and Watson. But I believe Scott is overlooking Brandon’s key point, one which I believe is unassailable:

Thus:

The inferences that an inferentialist account notes are very important for individuals in the process of accepting [e.g.] the truth of the Resurrection; but we are not merely individuals but a community, and it is as a community that we have our fundamental grasp of the truth. I think this is generally going to be the case. The inferentialist about development of doctrine identifies legitimate and important things — namely, guidelines about how individuals may guide themselves with respect to Church doctrine, and combine freedom of thought with fidelity to truth. But, while this certainly plays a role in development of doctrine, it is not what constitutes it as development. It is merely what makes it possible for us as individuals to go with the flow of it (so to speak). It’s as if we took a plant and tried to say that its life was a particular type of molecular motion.

Inference is something that anybody who grasps the rules can reliably do in the privacy of their study, a process which is not per se charismatic; whereas applying the more realistic criteria for evaluating proposed instances of DD is something only the confessing community can reliably do over time, and is in part charismatic. The former can be heuristically important for individuals wrestling to understand and accept this or that “developed” doctrine, assuming they share with the confessing community a rich set of common, consensually interpreted theological premises. But only the application of the more “subjective” criteria can work in the communal contexts of discovery and justification for authentic DD, where the doctrines in question come themselves to constitute articles of faith rather than human opinion. Thus, the application of the needed criteria of evaluation are intersubjective and diachronic. That is partly subjective inasmuch as it is charismatic, but it partly objective too inasmuch as various norms, both doctrinal and methodological, come into play. As such it is necessarily charismatic, but not merely charismatic.

If that is so, then with respect to facilitating the assent of faith (as distinct from opinion) to orthodox doctrines not formally equivalent to the teaching of the Apostles, the Catholic/Orthodox HC I’ve described is superior to the Protestant HC I’ve described. For if the Protestant HC were best, then some-or-other “inferentialist” account of DD (it hardly matters which) would be correct as an account of the process of discovery, and so proposed instances of DD could be reliably evaluated by any educated individual as inferences from Scripture, apart from the pronouncements of any authority purporting to speak for the Church as a whole. Yet there is little historical evidence that the writings that came to be seen as inspired “Scripture” actually functioned that way within the Church during her first several centuries any more than they do now.

IV.

To illustrate, I shall briefly describe the Church’s responses to two early heresies: the Gnostic-Marcionite, which peaked in the mid-2nd century CE, and the Arian, which peaked in the mid-4th century CE.

I speak of the “Gnostic-Marcionite” heresy because the key idea that the Marcionites and the Gnostics held in common was that the Creator of the physical universe is not the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ but rather a demiurge—and a jealous, ruthless one at that. That idea was plausible to many Christians at the time for three reasons: (1) it was an economical explanation for the apparent contrast between the character of the Old-Testament God, who on occasion would even order genocide, and that of the God whom Jesus called “Father”; (2) in the ancient Roman world, it was unclear to most Gentiles, including many Christians, that divinity is not a matter of degree but, rather, whatever may be called ‘god’ is the same God as whatever else may be called ‘god’; (3) the canon of the NT had not yet fully coalesced. Taken together, such facts precipitated a crisis of authority in the mid 2nd-century Church. So, rejecting the broad consensus of the bishops in apostolic succession, Marcion basically threw out most of what were by then being called “the scriptures,” meaning the Septuagint and other, “apostolic” writings typically read at the liturgies or synaxes. In effect, he argued that the only reasonable way to make sense of Jesus as loving Savior and supreme Revealer was to posit a radical discontinuity between the Jewish and Christian understanding of divinity.

There were two main responses to that crisis. The first was primarily authoritative. Sometime during the 140s, Anicetus, the Bishop of Rome, excommunicated Marcion and his considerable following as heretics, citing the baptismal regula fidei that, at the same time, came to be more richly formulated in what we now call “the Apostles’ Creed.” During the Marcionite period (roughly 130-145), Rome had also come, for the first time, to put together an NT canon that included the “four” gospels along with many of the epistles that would be comprised by the NT canon when, a few centuries later, the biblical canon was definitively closed by the Church. Rome certified only those gospels and letters, rather than other purportedly apostolic writings in circulation, as an authentic record of the divinely “inspired” teaching of the Apostles.

The other response was primarily apologetic: the Against the Heresies of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, written a generation after the Marcionite crisis largely as a polemic against the Gnostics properly so-called. Since I’ve already discussed Irenaeus’ approach in detail at my own blog, I shall only summarize the result here.

The main point of scholarly contention about my Irenaeus post was, in content, essentially the same as that between the Protestant and Catholic/Orthodox HCs quite generally. Thus the question was whether, for Irenaeus, the full “objective content” of the DF is reliably identifiable, as an object of faith, in a manner essentially dependent on its profession and interpretation by those who spoke for the “receiving subject” of the DF, namely those who were demonstrably the public successors of the Apostles as church leaders. Naturally, I argued that it was. My critics argued that, given Irenaeus’ methods and actual statements, no such belief about the teaching authority of the Church need be or should be attributed to him. I replied, in effect, that if Irenaeus had not been willing to make a materially equivalent affirmation, then he could only have presented “orthodox” doctrine as a better interpretation of the sources than those of the Gnostics, rather than as an exhibition of the DF precisely as an object of faith distinct from and beyond opinion. That would not have sufficed for carrying out his stated intent of showing the Gnostics to be heretics placing themselves outside the communion of the Church, as distinct from just believers who happened to adopt mistaken opinions.

Although Irenaeus would have been most suspicious of any explicit idea of DD, his work affords us what amount, in fact, to the first authentic instances of DD we know of. Relying on his personal knowledge of St. Polycarp, who had known the Apostle John and was bishop of the same city where Irenaeus had grown up, and following Rome on the question of the biblical canon, Irenaeus made certain aspects of the Church’s faith a bit more explicit than they had been before. Among those aspects was the role of the teaching authority of those church leaders who enjoyed publicly verifiable apostolic succession. That authority did not call for assent primarily because anybody with enough education and good will could see that those who held it had a better intellectual case for teaching “apostolic” truth than the heretics. Although Irenaeus did a commendable job of building such a case—mixed, of course, with his own theological speculations—its strength was ultimately secondary for him. For the kind of assent for which the common teaching called was of a fundamentally different kind from that of scholarly opinion or theological speculation. It depended more on faith than on human reason or alleged “knowledge,” and such faith was understood to take as its content precisely the public tradition of the Church as commonly interpreted by men who were publicly verifiable as successors of the Apostles-rather than by men claiming secret “knowledge” incompatible with the common interpretation. That is one of the main reasons why the Gnostics disdained it. It called primarily for obedience to a visible, living body of men understood by the common, public tradition as having divinely granted authority to guard and expound that tradition. Any gnosis one attained of God could only be attained on condition of such obedience.

Another problem calling for DD arose early in the 4th century, when Arius of Alexandria argued that “the Son” himself—not merely the humanity of Jesus—had to be a creature, albeit quite the highest of creatures, the “firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15). A lot of Christians found that plausible partly because they did not clearly distinguish between eternal and temporal causation. All agreed that the Father had “caused” the Son to exist by “begetting” him, but it just wasn’t obvious to a lot of believers that such an action was timeless within the Godhead itself, aside from and as a condition of its also becoming temporal, with the agency of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of Jesus’ mother. In my experience, many of the baptized still don’t quite get that. Nor can one blame them. The concept of an action that doesn’t take time, yet also has a temporal correlate, is very hard to grasp and no easier to explain. That is why, even today, I’ve met a fair number of formal Christians who are materially Arians. That is also why most people who accepted the Nicene Creed’s assertion that the Son is of “the same substance” as the Father did so primarily on the authority of the Church. That’s why a great many do today.

Given as much, it seems strange in later, “orthodox” eyes that a lot of people back in the early 4th century could hear the Scriptures and celebrate the liturgy, which both attested to the divinity of Christ, yet still find it plausible to think of the Son as a special sort of creature. But the Arians themselves believed they were interpreting Scripture correctly over against what they saw as the innovation of Athanasius: his favored formula homoousios, which had been rejected as late as 269 by the Council of Antioch. Although the bulk of ordinary believers were not Arian, and the monks in particular opposed that heresy, many of the educated were seduced by Arian exegesis not because they were knaves but because people had not quite got rid of the idea that divinity could be a matter of degree. In the Roman world, it was quite possible to speak and think of Christ as “divine” while still imagining him to be a creature because all sorts of (real or imagined) persons and entities were acclaimed as “divine” who could in no sense be put on the same ontic plane as “the One” posited by some Gnostic and Neoplatonic thinkers or even the “one God” of the Jews. The New Testament alone was just not enough to dispel such an idea even among those who revered it as divinely inspired. That is one reason why ante-Nicene Christology was not altogether free of “subordinationist” overtones. And so, the Arian slogan that “there was a time when he [the Son] was not” did not offend a good many of the more educated Christian ears.

On the intellectual level, the way the Church began to meet the challenge of Arianism can be found in the writings of St. Athanasius. By drawing out more clearly the connections between the Godhead, the Incarnation, and theosis, he and the Cappadocian Fathers who followed him exposed and rebutted the misconceptions that made Arianism seem plausible to so many Christians. They expressed the faith of the Church as brilliantly and creatively as those tumultuous times required. But even their best arguments were slow to convince the episcopate. Through much of the 4th century, there were times when the majority of bishops were Arian in substance if not always in expression. The coalescence of Nicene orthodoxy in the Church took several generations of conflict, political as well as theological, and in some corners of the Empire it took far longer than that. Once again, the intellectual cogency of Nicene orthodoxy, as an interpretation of Scripture and Tradition, was less of a motivator than authority, both imperial and ecclesiastical. And the way the authority was exercised was often not very pretty.

The pertinent DD ultimately achieved authoritative form in the decisions of the “ecumenical” councils of Nicaea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451). The majority of Christians still take for granted that the doctrines taught by those councils define orthodox belief, but many are unaware that they did not achieve such status back then because people just sat down, read their Bibles, and reached the “rationally necessary” conclusions. It took a century-and-a-half of debate and infighting to come up with a series of formulations that could win the approval of the majority of bishops; and even then, the last two of those councils precipitated schisms that have persisted to this very day. Scholars proposed, and rightly so; but it was authority that disposed.

Does my account of how such early heresies arose and were met mean, as Dr Witt has charged, that I reject the idea that Scripture itself is “inherently intelligible?” Of course not. I am happy to grant that the doctrinal content of Scripture can be understood by anybody equipped with the right cognitive tools. As Witt shows, St. Thomas Aquinas holds the same. But what are those tools?

For Aquinas, even the rather small minority of believers who can come to know and understand Scripture as competent scholars can assent to its doctrinally significant content as an object of faith only if they “adhere to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule.” That is precisely why, even though Aquinas shared the common belief in the material sufficiency of Scripture as an expression of the DF, and thus as a source of doctrine, he never asserted its formal sufficiency. Of course Witt appears to believe Aquinas should have asserted Scripture’s formal sufficiency, given his overall intent, just as I believe Irenaeus should have asserted the necessity of an interpretive teaching-authority-beyond-appeal in the Church, given his overall intent. But that is where the rhetorical symmetry ends.

For both Aquinas and Irenaeus, Scripture is properly understood only if it be read and interpreted according to the teaching of the Church. The canon of Scripture is vouchsafed to us by God through the Church, and may only be understood in conformity with the mind of the Church. But Aquinas was a bit more explicit than Irenaeus about the basis for such conformity. For Aquinas, the Church reached the “right understanding” of Scripture because she has divinely granted authority to teach the “First Truth” infallibly. When propounded as regulae fidei, such teaching is not independent of Scripture, by which the Church is divinely bound and binds herself, but is infallible as interpretation of the DF, of which Scripture was seen as the materially sufficient written expression. If Aquinas did not believe that, he would not have used the phrase ‘infallible rule’ for the teaching of the Church. He would have contented himself with pointing out that the Church’s articles of faith can be seen to be materially equivalent to Scripture’s doctrinal content just because any objective, competent study of Scripture would show that she managed to interpret Scripture rightly over time. Although he did believe that study could demonstrate as much, that was not his argument for the authority of Church teaching. For Aquinas, the Church’s regulae fidei are not “infallible” because they happen to be correct scholarly interpretations of an inerrant text. Such interpretations of Scripture, even when substantially correct, are fallible. Rather, the teaching of the Church qua rule of faith is “infallible” because, when propounded with the intent of binding the whole Church in matters of doctrine, it is divinely guaranteed to point reliably to the same divine revelation that Scripture does: the “First Truth.” That, not scholarly competence, is what makes the Church’s regulae fidei authentic interpretations of Scripture as an object of faith. Hence, for Aquinas the infallibility of the Church is not a derivative of Scripture’s inerrancy, any more than Scripture’s inerrancy is a derivative of the Church’s infallibility. Rather, both derive from a common source: the Holy Spirit himself. For that reason, they are mutually attesting and interpreting. That is why the canonical list itself—i.e., th list of books actually counting as Scripture—as well the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy are themselves infallibly propounded regula fidei of the Church.

That is also why Aquinas argued, e.g., that “we must rather abide by the pope’s judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians, however well versed he may be in divine Scriptures” (Quodlibetal Questions IX, q.8, C.). Abiding by the pope’s judgment, when such judgment is offered to resolve a doctrinal question definitively, is not a scholarly “gentlemen’s agreement” or even a purely disciplinary necessity. The former might hold only for a time, and the latter might involve just pretending to believe what one cannot believe as a scholar. Rather, it is a submission of the mind and will to the “infallible rule” of the teaching of the Church. Such a rule holds for all time, and adherence to it is an exercise of the virtue of faith not an expression of opinion, no matter how intellectually well-founded that opinion might be. Without accepting the divine authority of the Church to interpret and formulate said content infallibly, and without thereby assuming that the Church’s articles of faith are materially equivalent to what is found in Scripture, one can only hold what is “of faith” as an opinion, not by faith and thus not as a matter of faith.

So much is evident from the reply to Objection 2 in the very same article in which Aquinas uses the phrase ‘infallible rule’ for the teaching of the Church (emphasis added):

The various conclusions of a science have their respective means of demonstration, one of which may be known without another, so that we may know some conclusions of a science without knowing the others. On the other hand, faith adheres to all the articles of faith by reason of one mean, viz. on account of the First Truth proposed to us in Scriptures, according to the teaching of the Church who has the right understanding of them. Hence whoever abandons this mean is altogether lacking in faith.

To abandon “this mean” does not necessarily involve failure to perceive a great deal of the inherent, architectonic intelligibility of Scripture, and thus a great deal of the doctrinal content thereof. It means failure to believe it all on faith, and accordingly failure to perceive the entirety of the doctrinal content thereof. That is why disagreeing with the Church about the meaning of Scripture on even one point of faith is to abandon the mean altogether. If one conducts the interpretation of Scripture as though one need not be guided by the Church’s regulae fidei, one will not get the whole message of Scripture. Again, that’s not because the Church can antecedently be known, by scholarly inquiry, to have got Scripture right on every single point of doctrinal significance other than that of her authority. That is essentially a matter of opinion—an opinion I happen not to share, even though Aquinas appears to have shared it. It’s because one can only believe the Word of God with the virtue of faith, and thus get Scripture right, by reading and believing it with the mind of that Church which attests to it. And that is because it attests to the authority of the Church herself. That, for Aquinas, is why the Church’s teaching is indispensable to interpreting Scripture reliably.

Although we do not find in Aquinas the explicit, full-blown doctrine of the Magisterium that one finds in the two Vatican councils, any more than we find it in Irenaeus, that doctrine is materially equivalent to what Aquinas maintained. But that is, again, a purely scholarly question. The more fundamental issue is doctrinal.

V.

Writers such as Ioannes, an admirer of Witt, are unwilling to concede the necessity of a teaching authority that enjoys the same degree, if not the same kind, of authority that the Apostles did. For him, an alleged authority that is divinely authorized to speak “infallibly” for and to the Church as a whole is at best unnecessary because, given the inherent intelligibility of Scripture, any proposed instance of DD can be assessed in light of Scripture independently of authority. The reason for such reluctance, which is hardly idiosyncratic, is that the criteria for allegedly infallible teaching and authentic DD are not stated in such a way as to logically rule out substantive addition to or subtraction from the DF, whereas Scripture is perspicuous and self-authenticating enough to be the sole authority of ultimate appeal for doing that very job. That notion of Scripture’s authority, in contrast to the Church’s, is one of the more plausible versions of the sola scriptura principle.

There are two problems with that position. The first is that, given that it virtually defines one HC over against the others seen as a pair, it cannot be offered as a decisive refutation of the other, any more than the other can be offered as a decisive refutation of it. For, on either the Catholic or Orthodox HCs, the authority of the Church as receiving subject of the DF is, itself, contained by the objective content of the DF. So, assuming that Scripture is a materially sufficient expression of the DF, one cannot fully perceive its inherent, architectonic intelligibility without accepting the authority of the Church. The other problem is that, if a person holding the Protestant HC accepts authentic DD in any sense at all, then they are thereby committed to an essentially inferentialist account of DD. The “perspicuity” of Scripture, manifest without the authority of the Church, would thus be the basis of the much-desired “rational necessitation” of proposed instances of DD. Yet thanks to Scott Carson and Brandon Watson, I have come to see that DD just doesn’t work that way.

As we’ve seen, the “context of discovery” for authentic DD is the Church’s intersubjective, diachronic meditation over time on the central truths of faith contained, with varying degrees of explicitness, in Scripture and Tradition. The essentially apologetical “context of justification” for authentic DD utilizes various criteria for rationally justifying the claim that certain “developed” doctrines, formally distinct from what is contained in the sources, are materially equivalent to it. That can and does include rule-bound logical inference—but only as heuristic, not as original derivation. So the application of such criteria does not yield rational necessitation of “developed” doctrines, and a living ecclesial authority is therefore needed to authenticate certain developed doctrines as de fide rather than mere opinions. To that extent, I agree with Scott Carson. But that is a disadvantage only if one already assumes that inferentialism is the way to go, and that the Protestant HC is superior on that score. I believe that the actual, historical course of what is generally agreed to be authentic DD belies that assumption. I’ve cited only a few examples, but there are many others.

Accordingly, I believe that defenders of the Protestant HC would do well to abandon the very idea of DD altogether. An empirically defensible account of how “authentic” DD actually works makes theological sense only within the Catholic/Orthodox HC, which posits the authority of the Church qua receiving subject of the DF as, itself, part of the objective content thereof. From that standpoint, the interpretive authority of the Church is essential to Scripture’s inherent intelligibility, precisely inasmuch as affirmation of that authority is materially contained in Scripture.

For that very reason, some conservative Protestants do reject the very idea of DD. They maintain that the Church’s understanding of the DF over time is essentially static, so that even doctrinal propositions which are formally distinct from what is contained in Scripture do not increase the Church’s understanding of the DF; they merely rule out the misunderstandings to which foolishness or knavery may lead. I find such a result less plausible than the purely inferentialist account of DD that I once advocated and have been convinced to abandon. For, from the fact that the DF itself is complete, it by no means follows that our understanding of it is ever is. Although the Church’s understanding reaches stages that may never be abandoned or disavowed, it is never limited to any one such stage. Nor should we expect it to be, given that the subject matter is inexhaustible. And history offers us nothing to encourage such an expectation.

43 Responses

  1. […] Liccione’s Latest Jump to Comments Dr. Mike Liccione’s latest in his Development of Doctrine series is up at Philosophia Perennis. There are linked antecedents […]

  2. Are people not responding to Dr. Liccione’s latest entry here perhaps for one of the following reasons:

    a. The post is so long, readers have yet to finish reading it completely.

    b. The post is not only long, but incredibly replete with philosophical jargon (which, incidentally, in my own personal though perhaps narrow-minded view, seems like a good thing); the ordinary layman is unable to comprehend without first obtaining a degree in philosophy.

    c. Arguments raised in the post are so fantastically compelling for the Roman Catholic side, one finds inevitable (although not without great difficulty) the toppling of the fallen idol of Protestant hermeneutic and quite possibly need seriously consider a swim across the Tiber.

    d. One has yet to adequately construct a proper and equally compelling response.

    e. The post is too long, one hardly wants to read it even if compelling.

  3. As for me, honestly, reading this post now requires I go back and read all the preceding ones to get a fair sense of where the argumentation is coming from, how it’s changed over the course of the debate, etc. So, I guess I’d combine a. and b.: it’s quite long and replete with allusions to previous material I’ve not properly digested.

    End of guilty confession heheh.

  4. b., though I don’t think the degree in philosophy is necessary..

    I will say that there is an unwarranted boldness in asserting that the position that Liccione advocates here is THE Catholic position. Reading a catechism prior to 1960, one could conclude that the following sentence could apply to some Catholics understanding of these questions, just as much as it would apply to some Protestants:

    “They maintain that the Church’s understanding of the DF over time is essentially static, so that even doctrinal propositions which are formally distinct from what is contained in Scripture do not increase the Church’s understanding of the DF; they merely rule out the misunderstandings to which foolishness or knavery may lead.”

    Indeed, “static” would not have been such an offensive adjective to describe the depositum fidei, to the contrary. One hundred years ago, change and the Magisterium simply did not mix. It was only in the regime of Vatican II, and the general theological shuffling that took place afterwards, that “development” began to no longer be viewed as such a problematic term. (See the vague insinutaions in Dei Verbum).

    So I would say that Dr. Liccione’s opinions are well within the parameters of what a Catholic can believe on the subject, but they are by no means the last word.

  5. Arturo:

    “So I would say that Dr. Liccione’s opinions are well within the parameters of what a Catholic can believe on the subject, but they are by no means the last word.”

    That seems to me a rather fair statement; although, I must say that the comments that preceded it, while admittedly pointing to some valid points (yet, on the other hand, inadequately affording a just presentation of the facts which such a topic as large as this would seem to undoubtedly require), appears (however slightly) to wreak of a dismissiveness not unlike that from the rad-tradism of certain schismatics.

    It would be more helpful perhaps to make a distinction on what you, in fact, might consider a “development” or not.

    For example, was the formal Trinitarian view of the Nicene fathers be rightly considered such a development from the originally subordinationist views of the ante-Nicene fathers or were they more of a novelty?

    Of course, perhaps such a discussion, although tangentially relevant to the matter of development, may very well take us beyond the actual parameters of the immediate matter.

    elliotbee:

    Given all the thought-provoking entries you have written thus far on Philosophia Perennis, I can’t wait for your own thoughts concerning this entry!

  6. Arturo:

    Nobody disputes that the DF itself is static. John XXIII made that clear in his opening address to the Council, and I have repeatedly made clear that’s what I believe too. The question is whether our understanding of the DF is static. Dei Verbum answered that in the affirmative; nothing “vague” about it. You can call that an “opinion” if you like; after all, the Council did not anathematize anybody who rejects it. But I don’t think you want to join the progs in holding that only what is formally defined is binding.

    Best,
    Mike

  7. Granted, due to the fact that the post itself is so long, and perhaps has a lot of subtle points, any critique would have to be equally subtle. So I will just pose my difficulties as simply as possible.

    Maybe I am wrong, but what is basically being posited here is that the Catholic/Orthodox hermeneutic circle is something that relies primarily on authority since the issues that have been brought up (the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Old Testament God, etc.) were not self-evident and the only way to be able to make legitimate heads or tails out of it is within the infallible entity of the Church.The paradigm that all of you seem to be pushing, at least from my perspective, is one in which the Church is on a progressive march in history in which its knowledge of the truths of the Faith is increasing more and more, as the passage of Dei Verbum that I referred to would have us believe:

    “This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop 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 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.”

    That is all find and dandy, but I don’t think many Catholics sixty, one hundred, or five hundred years ago would think that we were moving any closer to “complete fulfillment” merely with the passage of time. Nor does it posit any specific question on which the Church has “moved forward”.

    I do think that this vision (if it is indeed one that is being described here) is hard to square with St. Vincent of Lerins’ “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” or many other passages of Patristic thought of maintaining the Apostolic doctrine (I don’t know if they would be keen on the whole “material” vs. “formal” distinction). Then again, we forget that in many of these questions, our historical consciousness (or prejudices, depending on how you look at it), are more finely tuned than theirs.

    We know that the Dionysius from Acts didn’t write On the Celestial Hierarchy, or that Paul didn’t preach the Immaculate Conception, or that there was no Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the fourth century. If they defended one position against another, I think it is at the very least arguable that they did so due to a sense of doctrinal conservatism, and not due to any sense of coming up with something that was better than what came before. Was there any ecclesial figure before Cardinal Newman who would admit to the idea of “to be perfect is to have changed often”?

    I think the other problem is one of scope. It is very easy to think that my heresies and issues are of the same scope and importance as those of the third century, and that the issues involved are the same. I would ask if a lot of this may just be our reading of things out of context. The issues involved in the consubstantiality of the Son are perhaps not the same as Dignitatis Humanae’s counter-reading of modernity in the face of Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors, to cite one example. There are too many issues on the table in the post-Vatican II “doctrinal developments” to simply equate them with such controversies as the essence of the Godhead and the Immaculate Conception. I think these conversations tend to suffer from a lack of concreteness. But then again, that may be my historian/ anthropologist/ cultural critic side talking.

    As for accepting things that are not formally defined, there are plenty of things that I accept that are not formally defined. That the Virgin was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth is something that I accept that has never been formally defined. Or that there are nine choirs of angels, or that there is a place called Limbo, or that the Virgin Mary appeared on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico in 1531. I just have a problem with certain novel positions that don’t seem to demand my complete assent that also seem to (materially, formally, whatever) contradict positions of the past that seemed pretty darn definitive. When in doubt, I make my choice. The present for me cannot have absolute dictatorship over how tradition must be defined. If that is the case, I think that the more liberal Catholics would have the best case of all. They, after all, along with Dei Verbum, have an unwaivering faith in “progress”.

  8. Arturo,

    I believe there may be a lurking prejudice behind your comments against the Church as you see her now that might well be the very cause of what’s likely clouding the objective lense through which you are presently viewing things here in what seems to me a rather egregious and misplaced context.

    (Although, to be fair, perhaps it is my own fervent devotion to the Church and towards Our Lord Himself that might very well be responsible for mine.)

    For example, such statements:

    “…in which the Church is on a progressive march in history in which its knowledge of the truths of the Faith is increasing more and more”

    “…and not due to any sense of coming up with something that was better than what came before.”

    …would lead me to believe that you are neglecting statements made by the Church herself in their entirety while concentrating only on select portions thereof which has led up to such a biased and negative reading, ignoring the fact that the Church acts only as Guardian of what was handed onto her (made evident not only in the very same set of documents mentioned but hitherto by her own historical record), and not in the innovative production of some “New Doctrine of the Week”, as if she is some doctrine-making machine interested in manufacturing novelties, as even our most fierce anti-Catholic detractors would themselves accuse the Church thereof (which you yourself seem to do the very same here as well, even if inadvertently).

    In any event, I would encourage you to read Dr. Carson’s post here, as he makes a quite apt illustration of just what is meant in the very quote you had cited above, a nicely explored (though perhaps rudimentary) instance of that “growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down” insofar as that “growth in the understanding” means in the context of his example as well as the how and why it occurs.

    The following is but an excerpt which includes some of his own subsequent comments on the matter in the comment section that followed:

    “[L]et’s look instead at one that is often cited in polemical contexts: the teaching on usury. This is a nice example because most Catholics can agree that God is a Trinity, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, but there are some Catholics who think that the teaching on usury has substantially changed over time, and in this they disagree with their own Church, which maintains rather that the teaching on usury has developed over time…
    This is where the real arguing starts. The Church used to say that charging any interest whatsoever on a loan was usurious and, hence, sinful. Now the Church says that there are certain forms of lending in which it would not be usurious to charge interest, just so long as the interest rate meets certain criteria, hence not all lending at interest is sinful. The critics who claim that the teaching has changed say that the Church went from saying “All lending at interest is sinful” to saying “It is not the case that all lending at interest is sinful”, and that is indeed a formal contradiction…

    The defender of doctrinal development says that the Church now teaches, and has always taught, that “All usurious lending is sinful”, but the prudential understanding (not the formal, de fide, teaching) of what the definition of “usurious lending” is has developed in response to the rise of a capital economy beginning in the 17th century. Hence there is no formal contradiction at all, only an explicit recognition of new historical conditions under which usuriousness is present only under certain empirically testable conditions, not all of which include the presence of interest on a loan…

    Lending at interest is only usurious if the interest rate represents an unfair burden on the debtor. Prior to the advent of a capital economy, any interest rate could reasonably be regarded as “unfair”, in the sense of placing an insurmountable burden on the debtor. This was true because, in a feudal economy, there were very few, if indeed there were any, means by which a borrower could hope to make some sort of a return on money he had borrowed. This is because money was not itself the kind of commodity that it has become. Since the advent of capital economies in the 16th-17th centuries, the function of money itself in the economy has substantially changed. The sin of usury, by contrast, is no different than it has ever been: just as in feudal times, so too today there is still such a thing as a sinfully large rate of interest, and it is still possible to make loans that are usurious: all you have to do is charge a rate of interest that nobody could reasonably hope to pay. This is something that I believe the mob is rather famous for. However, there are certain rates of interest that do not represent anything like that kind of unfair burden, at least in certain kinds of cases, hence it is not by definition usurious to lend money at interest.

    The point of the development is precisely this: historical conditions, including the intentions of lenders and economic viability of debtors, determines the conditions under which a particular rate of interest is to be regarded as “usurious”. Prior to the advent of a capital economy in the 16th-17th centuries, any lending at interest could be counted as usurious (sinful); but after the advent of a capital economy not all lending at interest was usurious because someone who borrowed money could treat his loan as a commodity and invest it for a return. In short, the burden on the debtor is not at all what it had been under a feudal economy. The sin of usury is not defined as a sin of charging a person a fee for giving him something (namely, money), it is rather a sin of placing an undue economic burden on another person. What has changed is not the sin of usury, but the economic conditions under which money is loaned.

    So what appears to be a contradiction turns out to be merely an appearance. Hence the content of the teaching did not change (there is now, and always has been, such a thing as sinful, usurious lending [namely, charging an unfair fee for a loan], and the Church opposes it), but historical conditions have arisen under which the application of that content will be affected (if, in a capital economy, you lend money to someone who is going to be able to invest that money and earn more, then it is not, in fact, unfair to charge a certain level of interest).

    This does not strike me as a particularly difficult problem (indeed, I have never understood why the Church’s critics have so often chosen this particular example to work with, when the explanation is so obvious). Indeed, it is true of many other sorts of cases. Take, for example, something as straightforward as the commandment that we are not to kill. Scripture itself makes it clear that historical conditions determine the application of this commandment, since Scripture itself commands the Hebrews to kill certain people who have committed certain crimes, and the Church has always accepted the legitimacy of killing in defense of the common good when serving in a duly appointed military capacity. Do we say that the teaching on “not killing” has changed, or that it changes from time to time based on what seems expedient? Not at all. We say that the meaning of the commandment depends upon certain empirically observable conditions, including intent, the nature of the threat, etc.”

  9. I’m still digesting what you wrote, Mike, and I may respond with a post. We’ll see.

    I’ll just respond to what Arturo said.

    He said:

    “…in which the Church is on a progressive march in history in which its knowledge of the truths of the Faith is increasing more and more”

    I think that’s just implausible. See Bonaventure:

    “Who can know the unlimited number of seeds which exists? For from one single seed, entire forests grow up; and they in turn bring forth innumerable seeds. So it happens that innumerable theories can arise from Scripture which only God can grasp in His knowledge. As new seeds come from plants, so also new theories and new meaning come from Scripture…Each of the theories which are derived from Scripture is related to the totality of those theories that are based on Scripture as a drop of water taken from the sea is related to the whole of the sea.” (Hex XIII, 2)

    For Bonaventure, to read Scripture means to read it in a historical way and within the context you are living in. It also predicts the future and as time goes by, the fulfillment of God’s plan are laid out. This is why, for example, he sees St. Francis’ role as necessary for understanding of God’s word. St. Francis, for him, was God’s unfolding of salvation history.

    St. Thomas Aquinas, in his epistemology, also speaks of increasing in divine knowledge, quoting Gregory the Great, “With the passing of time, growth in divine knowledge increase.” For Aquinas, the master does not give the learner the whole understanding all at once, but rather the master teaches him little by little. (Cf. Der. Ver. 14, 11)

    In fact, Garrigou-Lagrange, in Providence, speaks of the Unmovable Mover as someone not static but rather perfect. Perfection does not mean static at all. Also, in “On Faith,” he argues that there can be such a thing as development of doctrine.

    If I have time, I’ll post it.

    The problem with many rad-trads and even many faithful Catholics today, is that they see the Church in ahistorical way (see for example of catholic universities nowadays). There is always a reason why things happen in the Church and we must accept and embrace them.

  10. I think what I most fear from all of the methodology expounded upon here is the creation of a new Catholic “Hegelianism” by which we are always wiser, better, and more in touch with the Faith than our ancestors, and in which the Pope is made into something he really isn’t. Mr. Latar’s ideas of the Church seem to want to deify the actual concrete circumstances of the Church in any epoch in the name of Providence. One would wonder if he would have the same faith in any number of liberal cardinals or prelates. Is not the layman just as subject to his bishop and/or parish priest as he is to the Pope? Is not the Pope only infallible under certain circumstances according to Pastor Aeternus? I think here there is a maximalist view of Papal authority and a minimalist understanding of the role of tradition in the name of epistemological pessimism. Some may find the “rad-trad” approach problematic (and I must point out your penchant for labeling people), but I find this one far more problematic.

    Ultimately, it is an idea that ecclesiastical power, or more specifically, the power of the Pope (and in this I would say that the essay errs in including the Orthodox and Catholics in the same “hermeneutic circle”) is the only thing that can define tradition, and that any dissent whatsoever is to be considered “private interpretation”. Mr. Latar would like to say that the “rad-trads” have an ignorance of history. I think the opposite is the case, but I will allow him to do his homework on that.

    As I have said, the question is one of the increased consciousnesses of history within the modern context. Most of Dr. Liccione’s work in the past on these questions points to a number of historical issues which are due to a change in the political and social conditions in the past five hundred years: the rise of economies based on usury (finance capital), the discovery of the Americas (slavery and invincible ignorance), the decline of religious uniformity and the need for tolerance, etc. The nature and impact of these phenomena have been examined by theologians for centuries. The idea that these extraordinary circumstances unprecedented in the history of mankind allow us to know more about the nature of the Godhead, the Church, or anything else is a bit ridiculous and would have been offensive to many pious ears not so long ago. And I do not see much difference between this approach and that of Teilhard de Chardin. Many in the past would have attempted to see divine truth sub specie aeternitatis and not from the perspective of the 1960’s, 2000’s or 2300’s. Perhaps truth is not “static”, but that is the same shibboleth that the liberal Catholics use in their own agitations. For one on the outside, the difference between you and them would seem to be only a question of degree.

    But obviously we are talking past each other, so you will have to put me in yet another “hermeneutic circle”: orthodox Catholics who don’t agree with you. Your circle appears to be getting smaller and smaller. But the Internet is like that.

  11. Doesn’t look like my earlier comment went through; please delete if redundant.

    My agreement with Dr. Liccione in the main is so significant that it’s not clear to me that there is a disagreement worth exploring that wouldn’t just distract from the major issue. As my last post tried to make clear, I have no disagreement with Dr. Carson’s criticism regarding abduction, and that would now apply equally Dr. Liccione’s amended position. On the question of the semantic/propositional content viewed hermeneutically, I don’t see any disagreement worth having or even that there is any real disagreement to be had.

    Heck, what I had in mind regarding an abductive explanation for the operation of authority in the Church is exactly what Dr. Liccione did with respect to the function of Scripture in the Church. It is not a dispositive scholarly resolution, of course, but it is an explanatory principle for intersubjective and diachronic consensus (the sensus fidelium) that explains the dogmatic “facts” in terms of why people behaved as they did, why the historical events shook out in that particular way. It looks at the normative behavior of the Church in terms of explaining why they treated certain authorities as normative in the way they did. That is precisely the sort of thing that I thought could be abstracted from the issue of whether one accepted those authorities as dogmatic, and so it could serve as a reasonable justification even for unbelievers as to why one’s own belief was reasonable. It won’t provide a principle to justify each and every dogma, nor definitively or authoritatively interpret the semantic content thereof, but it provides insight into how and why particular statements were treated as authoritative. IOW, it is an empirical way of identifying what properly serves as justification for dogma rather than providing the individual justification for each and every case. As an explanation for why the dogmas are binding, it is necessarily inadequate, but no one would expect otherwise. It simply observes the dogmatic statements being treated as such.

    Incidentally, this is why I consider the responses to Newman by Goode and Salmon (and for that matter, to Bellarmine by Whitaker) more than a little stupid. Begging the question on authority and then basing one’s entire argument on the begged question without any attempt to examine what was considered as normative by one’s own sources is a slightly less than credible approach. For me, that was the real genius of Newman’s hypothetical account in DoD, leveraging strongly on his perspicuous account of submission to authority that is articulated well in Grammar of Assent.

  12. test

  13. My agreement with Dr. Liccione in the main is so significant that it’s not clear to me that there is a disagreement worth exploring that wouldn’t just distract from the major issue. As my last post tried to make clear, I have no disagreement with Dr. Carson’s criticism regarding abduction, and that would now apply equally Dr. Liccione’s amended position. On the question of the semantic/propositional content viewed hermeneutically, I don’t see any disagreement worth having or even that there is any real disagreement to be had.
    Heck, what I had in mind regarding an abductive explanation for the operation of authority in the Church is exactly what Dr. Liccione did with respect to the function of Scripture in the Church. It is not a dispositive scholarly resolution, of course, but it is an explanatory principle for intersubjective and diachronic consensus (the sensus fidelium) that explains the dogmatic “facts” in terms of why people behaved as they did, why the historical events shook out in that particular way. It looks at the normative behavior of the Church in terms of explaining why they treated certain authorities as normative in the way they did. That is precisely the sort of thing that I thought could be abstracted from the issue of whether one accepted those authorities as dogmatic, and so it could serve as a reasonable justification even for unbelievers as to why one’s own belief was reasonable. It won’t provide a principle to justify each and every dogma, nor definitively or authoritatively interpret the semantic content thereof, but it provides insight into how and why particular statements were treated as authoritative. IOW, it is an empirical way of identifying what properly serves as justification for dogma rather than providing the individual justification for each and every case. As an explanation for why the dogmas are binding, it is necessarily inadequate, but no one would expect otherwise. It simply observes the dogmatic statements being treated as such.
    Incidentally, this is why I consider the responses to Newman by Goode and Salmon (and for that matter, to Bellarmine by Whitaker) more than a little stupid. Begging the question on authority and then basing one’s entire argument on the begged question without any attempt to examine what was considered as normative by one’s own sources is a slightly less than credible approach. For me, that was the real genius of Newman’s hypothetical account in DoD, leveraging strongly on his perspicuous account of submission to authority that is articulated well in Grammar of Assent.

  14. Re: Arturo’s comments, I think he has a good point:

    Indeed, “static” would not have been such an offensive adjective to describe the depositum fidei, to the contrary. One hundred years ago, change and the Magisterium simply did not mix. It was only in the regime of Vatican II, and the general theological shuffling that took place afterwards, that “development” began to no longer be viewed as such a problematic term.

    The problem is that I think one hundred years ago was, to some extent, an extension of what happened more like 700 years ago, a strain of papal maximalism that was foreign to what had some before. That sort of “static” understanding was not the patristic understanding, and one problem is that the two versions are being crossed with one another. The older version (at least metaphysically) was actually a great deal like Garrigou-Lagrange’s notion, eternal but not unmoving. The attitude you’re talking about strikes me as one of the legitimately criticized examples of papal excesses, and I think Vatican II finally reclaimed a long intellectual history of thinking without the Pope. Without that intellectual legacy, the dependency on papal authority actually *increases*, and I would argue that is exactly what produced the Reformation.

    Nonetheless, in principle, even the Catholic view does not *require* that dogma is not static. Both Catholics and Protestants could take the view rejecting DD in their respective HCs, although I would consider it equally implausible in both cases.

    Re: Newman’s suggestion that perfection requires change, with which I agree, I must point out that it is clearly not Hegelian. No principle necessitates contradiction, unlike the Hegelian account. Rather, a purely contingent process of being removed in time from the Apostles and encountering new forms of error requires a response. As our personal distance from the time of the Apostles becomes greater, we have less and less ability to leverage the Apostolic deposit directly to answer new errors, so we have to have a process for responding to them accordingly, and we believe this was part of the gift of faith. Teilhard de Chardin’s evolutionary notion thought that we must necessarily have error that was killed off; that is clearly excessive. Error is not necessitated for progress, but the ability to respond to error is necessitated for survival.

  15. Dr Liccione,

    Just saw your post, thanks once again for advancing discussion on this topic. I am bogged down with other matters at present, and will remain bogged down well into the future, but I am grateful for our past discussions and hope to talk with you more down the road. Yet not so as to leave you entirely without feedback, I will say this, take it how you will: my ‘HC’, whatever it is, is probably a hybrid of what you have classed as the Protestant and Orthodox stances. Not because I am less than a full-blooded Protestant, but because that is what I understand classical Protestantism to be. Anyhow, I hope you are well, and wish you every blessing in Christ.

    –John

  16. “As our personal distance from the time of the Apostles becomes greater, we have less and less ability to leverage the Apostolic deposit directly to answer new errors, so we have to have a process for responding to them accordingly, and we believe this was part of the gift of faith. ”

    This seems to hint at the opposite of what others are arguing here, which would almost entail that the FURTHER we get from our beginnings, the more we understand (the more we “develop”). I would agree with the sentiment that you expressed.

    However, if the other “development-minded” people are correct, and we are “growing” in our understanding, error would no doubt be a key component in this process, the antithesis to the orthodox thesis leading to synthesis. And here I think is where the Hegel analogy holds.

  17. Arturo,

    “For one on the outside, the difference between you and them would seem to be only a question of degree.”

    And how, exactly, is your position any different from that of the Protestants? Or even of the Reformers themselves, for that matter?

    To me, it seems not even a question of degree — for yours seem exactly as theirs.

    Papal primacy has always been one of the core issues, just as it was then during the time of the Reformation.

    It seems to me that your position seems much more aligned with exactly that of the Reformers than with any one of the faithful Catholics (or, if you like, the papalists) at the time, such as divines like Cardinal Fisher or even a Sir Thomas More.

    If you read any of the works of Luther and Tyndale, many of the arguments they voiced are not unlike yours here.

    They, too, were outraged at the modern practices & beliefs of the Church during the time, referring to these then as dispicable novems of the Church, such as concerning popular Catholic rituals, pieties and practices of the day which ranged interalia from the treasury of merit, the cult of the saints and, above all, papal primacy itself; and found it all “a bit ridiculous” and further claimed that these “would have been offensive to many pious ears not so long ago”, more specifically, to the original followers of Christ himself, such as the Apostles themselves.

    Like you, the reformers were horrified at the very thought that the Church herself seemed to be claiming that “we [the Church] are always wiser, better, and more in touch with the Faith than our ancestors” as they had the audacity to impose many of the aforementioned novems as being a genuine part of Christianity itself.

    This is what fueled their fierce separation from the Church (i.e., their very heresy) because they sought to go back to even earlier days without all these so-called modern developments, the very “synthesis” you speak of yourself here and are, in fact, decrying even today.

    Thus, I ask you again: how is your position any different from the heretics of yesterday and, what’s more, how is it aligned (if at all) with the views of faithful Catholics even of former days?

    I ask not to offend you but to grasp an understanding of how exactly yours do not actually differ from those held by the enemies of the Church as your arguments seem more like a cry for Protestant Reformation than it is a voice for Catholic Orthodoxy.

  18. e-nonymous,

    What is the difference between my position and that of the Reformers? For one thing, I DO accept the judgments of the Church on DEFINITIVE pronouncements of the Magisterium, as is insinuated in Pastor Aeternus:

    “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”

    I do not consider the various positions of the current Magisterium on a limited number of issues to be binding in this way, or by no means “de fide” (limbo, religious liberty, “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”). Or will I go to Hell for preferring the position of Quanta Cura to Dignitatis Humanae? And if not, aren’t we just arguing about certain negotiable points anyway? I see no need for throwing around the “P” word, and I feel it is the lowest form of argumentation.

    Indeed, if my position is indeed Protestant, I would wonder what you would think of St. Vincent of Lerins’ ideas in the Commonitory:

    “What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

    But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in various times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation.”

    Faith is not determined by authority, and has a symbiotic relationship to it. I have always hearkened back in my memory to a traditionalist bishop whose name you will no doubt know who said that an eight year old girl with the Baltimore Catechism could correct a bishop, cardinal, or a Pope for that matter if he veers from the true Faith even in his rhetoric, just as Paul resisted Peter to his face (Galatians 2: 11). If that is really not the case, if authority is the only thing holding back error, and the only way to know what we are supposed to believe is by authority alone, then the girl would be wrong no matter what, catechism or no catechism. That is not truth. That would be the apotheosizing of the arbitrary opinions of VIP’s. That is Nietzschean wille zur macht.

    And as for purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and the rest, those developed over a period of hundreds of years, and are no means anything like the “about-face” that is what has taken place in many places over the last few decades in the Church. You are talking about apples and oranges here when referring in one instance to centuries or millennia, and another when referring to a few decades within one lifetime.

  19. Not only are rad-trads ignorant of theology, both patristic and medieval, they do live in ahistorical way. You cannot just impose a manualist theology in the modern world or think that just by going to the old mass, you can become a saint. The fact is, as every saint and great theologians know, everything happens for a reason and what is important is to see what Christ is proposing in every age. That Vatican 2 happened must be internalized and incorporated into the lives of all people, including the rad-trads. To simply reduce Vatican 2 to a pastoral council and therefore not obey, as if we simply obey infallible matters anyway, is not only false, but unChristian. Obedience requires that we engage with reality, asking for reasons and being open to be corrected.

    The difference between me and the liberal is that I believe in continuity and they do not. It’s that simple. I believe in unchanging truths and they do not. I believe, however, that our understanding grows and changes (as Aquinas and Bonaventure believed).

    What differentiates the Christian from the rad-trads and liberals is that the Christian embraces everything (evil is not a thing). He believes that, yes, he can experience the same Christ the apostles experienced. It is not that he has better knowledge of the apostles (it is possible that he has), but that even Christ comes to us the way He came then. To not see this point is to make oneself live in a utopia and follow an abstract Christ. You cannot follow Tradition without following a living person and rad-trads do not do that.

    There is also this notion that just because it is in the past, it is somehow better (liberals think that just becuase it is in the present, it is somehow better). Sorry, but Christ is the same in all ages and he must be accepted the same way: through the Church.

    I can rant on and on about rad-trads, but I have spent enough time with them to see that not only are many of them living in their messed up world, but they do not have any life after orthodoxy and the liturgy.

  20. Apolonio,

    I am not not a “rad trad”, and to assume that I am is quite presumptuous on your part. Besides, I don’t even know what a “rad trad” is, just as I am not quite sure what a “Neo-Cath” is or a “prog” for that matter. People are more complicated than their labels, and to automatically assume what people are because you feel that their arguments tend to such and such a position that you find objectionable… well, I would feel sorry for you if you have to go through life like that.

    Again, I think if you read over what I have said here closely, all of your concerns would be answered. There are a lot of generalizations that you are making (“rad trads” not following living people, totally rejecting Vatican II, etc.) that to address them all would mean that I would have to give up my day job. In the end, however, I would exhort you not to assume that you know what people think just because certain people have left a bad taste in your mouth in the past. But again, here I feel that I am spinning my wheels again, so I will this time withdraw from this conversation.

  21. Arturo,

    Thanks very much for your sincere response!

    However, even though you claim to believe in the doctrines of the Church, given even your latest arguments, there is much in it that would ironically justify the position of the Protestant (especially in light of your suspicions concerning a modernity that is sweeping the Church and may be endangering genuine Catholic Faith) rather than supporting the Catholic position.

    In fact, how are you to know that this modernity had not already taken over the Church back during the days of the Reformation which the Reformers themselves made plain even then?

    It still seems to me that even though you have no intention of backing the Protestant position, much of your arguments only seem to solidify it.

    For your protests against the modern developments of today is not unlike the protests of the Reformers then concerning what they deemed were modern developments of the Church in their days.

    Even further, how do you know if those developments which you have accepted are genuinely Christian?

    One can say that you’ve only deluded yourself into thinking so and that the very things you have accepted as such should actually be amongst those modern developments you are now opposing.

    To clarify, it just seems that other than your having said that you believe thus, your arguments do not really argue for these but rather, ironically, go against even them.

    Again, I know you don’t mean your comments to be taken in this manner; however, the general force of your arguments seem much more for Protestantism than it is for Catholicism.

    In fact, it is not a coincident that your friend Kepha had, in the past, even taken them as such.

    The conclusion it draws (or perhaps, better yet, what it appears to suggest) seems to strongly support the views of Protestantism as opposed to Catholicism.

    Thus, I am giving you the opportunity to refute Protestantism properly as you deem fit from your perspective as it seems you find Dr. Liccione’s attempt wanting.

  22. Arturo,

    Concerning your comments to Apolonia:

    “Besides, I don’t even know what a ‘rad trad’ is, just as I am not quite sure what a ‘Neo-Cath’ is or a ‘prog’ for that matter. People are more complicated than their labels, and to automatically assume what people are because you feel that their arguments tend to such and such a position that you find objectionable… well, I would feel sorry for you if you have to go through life like that.”

    This would have been much more meaningful (not to mention, genuinely sincere) had you not yourself actually accused me once of being a “Neo Cath”.

    Still, in spite of that inconsistency on your part, what you said here remains valid.

  23. […] from Father Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P., in the essay, Operative Points of View, in reply to this thread: […]

  24. For your protests against the modern developments of today is not unlike the protests of the Reformers then concerning what they deemed were modern developments of the Church in their days.

    ISTM that there is a world of difference between attempting to overthrow one authority with another authority (as Protestants did) and attempting to more clearly define the scope and continuity of one authority (as Arturo is doing with the Magisterium). Even the most liberal Catholic still aims at preserving the legitimate authority of the Church, where Protestants make that authority subservient to others. I share Dr. Liccione’s concern that excessively narrow definitions of infallibility are tactics used to undermine legitimate authority used by liberals and traditionalists alike, but the difference between that and Protestantism is precisely the difference between something and nothing.

  25. In fact, how are you to know that this modernity had not already taken over the Church back during the days of the Reformation which the Reformers themselves made plain even then?

    Personally, I think there is a difference between reforming an authority by opposing a superior authority to it and reforming an authority while maintaining it. The former is revolution; the latter is civil war at worst and true reform at best. That seems to be a distinction you haven’t made, and it’s one that I would use to argue that even liberal Catholics are different in kind than Protestants.

  26. Arturo,
    I read Fr. Ripperger’s essay on your website and found it somewhat problematic. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Fr. Ripperger’s ideas are Protestant or consistent with Protestantism. On the other hand, I fail to see how his views can be reconciled with the acceptance of even past magisterial doctrine let alone current magisterial doctrine. As an example, consider the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. One could make a good argument, I think, that it was either unheard of or denied by the vast majority of Fathers and Doctors of the Church of the past. St. Bernard of Clairvaux thought it an innovation, St. Thomas Aquinas denied it and it certainly seems clear that St. Augustine did not explicitly teach it. In the Fathers, at best, we only have a doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness, and even this is denied by some of the Fathers (e.g., St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom). Now Father Ripperger could argue that it was eventually defined by the magisterium. But does this not beg the question? Clearly, any Catholic living at the time of the definition could have argued that the papal teaching was contrary to Tradition, just as Fr. Ripperger argues w.r.t. some current teaching. And, I might add, such an individual could have drawn a lot of support for his thesis. Why then, according to Fr. Ripperger’s views, ought we to accept the IC doctrine? The same could be said about the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, the inclusion of the Filioque in the creed, and many other teachings that Fr. Ripperger himself would acknowledge as Catholic orthodoxy.

    Ed

  27. “On the other hand, I fail to see how his views can be reconciled with the acceptance of even past magisterial doctrine let alone current magisterial doctrine. As an example, consider the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception… Now Father Ripperger could argue that it was eventually defined by the magisterium. But does this not beg the question? Clearly, any Catholic living at the time of the definition could have argued that the papal teaching was contrary to Tradition, just as Fr. Ripperger argues w.r.t. some current teaching.”

    That was one of the very things I brought up at Arturo’s website, but he ended up deleting the entire comment.

    He, however unwittingly perhaps, doesn’t seem to grasp the very notion that all these “rad trad”-laced comments of his does nothing to bolster the Catholic position but, rather, seems to promote the Protestant one.

    Arturo criticized Dr. Liccione’s entry as inadequate and, therefore, I requested he provide one more satisfactory that would not only refute Protestantism but in a manner more accomodating to “Orthodox” Catholics (whoever, exactly, these may be — which seems just as enigmatic as Calvin’s “hidden” church).

    Yet, instead of doing anything of the sort, he just ended up promoting the likes of Protestantism.

    As my original (now deleted) comments at Arturo’s REDITUS blog stated:

    You can continue to make the false charge of straw men; however, it seems you keep losing track concerning what the main matter I was referring to was.
    You characterized Dr. Liccione’s attempts at refuting Protestantism as inadequate. In fact, you even went so far as to call it not even something that you so-called Orthodox Catholics would not necessarily cling subscribe to.
    Yet, when I ask you to provide your own refutation of Protestantism, all I get from you are a constant barrage of how the Church is succumbing to modernity and that it is in danger of being corrupted by modernism.
    Well, I’ve got news for you –
    That accusation against the Church is not at all original.
    Some guys popularly referred to as “Reformers” had the same thought many centuries ago — you know, there was something called the “Reformation”.
    If your only defense of Catholicism basically boils down to, “Well, I accept the dogmatic Teachings of the Church such as the Immaculate Conception, Papal Primacy, etc. because they [supposedly] developed over a period of hundreds of years”, then I hope you can (somehow) understand how I might myself find such a defense so incredibly lacking — since, you know, the Reformers thought in their days that Papal Primacy, the Treasury of Merit, Purgatory, etc. were as much an “about face” as you so now deem the current teachings of the Church are these days.

    It seems the worse enemies of the Church are those who are actually in it.

  28. Jonathan,

    “Personally, I think there is a difference between reforming an authority by opposing a superior authority to it and reforming an authority while maintaining it. The former is revolution; the latter is civil war at worst and true reform at best. That seems to be a distinction you haven’t made, and it’s one that I would use to argue that even liberal Catholics are different in kind than Protestants.”

    Were not the Reformers at first only attempting to reform the Church from within and, thus, merely interested in something like the latter?

    I don’t really think the reformers originally wanted to actually separate themselves from the Church initially and, in fact, it is my belief that they originally wanted to engage in the latter activity, not the former.

    At any rate, the point of my comments was that I did not find Arturo’s sufficient insofar as refuting Protestantism.

    On the contrary, much of what he says (and continues to say) seems to make a very strong case for it rather than against it.

    Can you explain to me how Arturo’s current claim of how the present teachings of the Church seem a corruption of authentic Church Teaching, disconnected from Tradition & Scripture, and are but modern developments, any different from how the Reformers themselves claimed something similarly as regarding those supposedly modern developments of the Church back in their days which, to them, likewise appeared divorced from both Tradition & Scripture?

  29. “Can you explain to me how Arturo’s current claim of how the present teachings of the Church seem a corruption of authentic Church Teaching, disconnected from Tradition & Scripture, and are but modern developments, any different from how the Reformers themselves claimed something similarly as regarding those supposedly modern developments of the Church back in their days which, to them, likewise appeared divorced from both Tradition & Scripture?”

    You’ve assumed two things that I think are both wrong. First, you’re arguing that the present teachings of the Church can’t be corruptions and modern developments. Given the Church’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal, it seems relatively obvious that the Church can be (and in fact was) corrupted by modernism in its disciplinary capacity. Second, you’re arguing that that attitude can be equated with “Protestantism,” but there is no necessary connection between the two. Opposing the Pope when he errs does not entail denial of his authority.

    You seem to have succumbed to the genetic fallacy. Much of what the Protestants said was *right*. That doesn’t justify their wrongdoing, but their wrongdoing wasn’t necessarily a matter of principle. Until they were in complete denial of the binding authority of the papal office, which didn’t follow from any of the principles you outlined above, they might still have been considered Catholic.

    This is why I said in response to an interlocutor at ML’s blog that the purpose of a Magisterium is not to prevent rebellion. One does not define Magisterial authority by the effect on those who deny it, which is what you seem to be trying to do by saying that Arturo’s view doesn’t adequately respond to Protestantism. Rather, one defines Magisterial authority by what those who follow it faithfully will do, and in that respect, you have yet to convince me (or, evidently, Arturo) that he is not following it.

    To put it succinctly: why does Arturo’s position have anything to do with Protestantism at all? Unless he is denying papal authority completely, the answer is that it doesn’t.

  30. Were not the Reformers at first only attempting to reform the Church from within and, thus, merely interested in something like the latter?

    Of course. That’s my point exactly. A revolutionary does not become a revolutionary merely by wanting reform.

    Can you explain to me how Arturo’s current claim of how the present teachings of the Church seem a corruption of authentic Church Teaching, disconnected from Tradition & Scripture, and are but modern developments, any different from how the Reformers themselves claimed something similarly as regarding those supposedly modern developments of the Church back in their days which, to them, likewise appeared divorced from both Tradition & Scripture?

    What I have trouble seeing is what the necessary connection is between those beliefs of the Reformers and Protestantism. You don’t need a hedge against Protestantism simply because you are advocating reform, because reform in and of itself doesn’t produce Protestantism. It depends on what reforms you are urging and how right you are about it. Catholicism doesn’t prevent people from urging authority, even in the face of the Pope. We certainly shouldn’t encourage an attitude in which a Catholic can’t disagree with Magisterial documents enjoying neither ordinary nor extraordinary infallibility out of fear of Protestantism.

  31. Jonathan,

    “We certainly shouldn’t encourage an attitude in which a Catholic can’t disagree with Magisterial documents enjoying neither ordinary nor extraordinary infallibility out of fear of Protestantism.”

    I’ll not dispute your point there.

    However, insofar as the original subject is concerned with regards to the yet unsettled matter of development and, in the general sense, Catholicism vs. Protestantism (at least, in this thread), the problem I find with Arturo’s sentiments (i.e., that these kinds of matters that do not similarly enjoy infallibility as those official matters on faith & morals and that the former, specifically, are up for grabs but, even further, in his view, amount to but modernist conceptions inconsistent with authentic Catholic Teaching & Tradition and, at worse, a corruption thereof); from the perspective of our opponents, if matters as these can be so easily corrupted, how much more those that actually do enjoy the character of infallibility?

    Could they not simply say that the only reason why we consider matters that are actually characterized as infallible is merely because we have deemed them as such, whether this is by manner of Magisterium or Pope?

    In which case, it would seem to me that the best formulation (although, perhaps somewhat unsatisfying but nonetheless both scripturally and spiritually valid in the sense of that faith of which it necessarily speaks concerning the Church herself & the Holy Spirit which ultimately guides it) submitted thus far which appears to account for (although leaves unexplained the actual mechanics) such an instance wherein corruption cannot occur as far as these go (i.e., that matters deemed infallible enjoy that property because they actually are and may, in all actuality, be genuine development within the immediate context of current times that nevertheless remains ultimately connected to both Scripture & authentic Tradition) seems to come from Dr. Scott Carson, who had concluded the subject entry thus:

    The work of individual pastors and theologians will certainly, on occasion, take the form of inductions, abductions, and deductions, but such work, all on its own, will never be authoritative and, hence, will never constitute any part of the process whereby the teachings of the Church develop.

    Instead, the corporate mechanism of the Church’s teaching authority, the Magisterium, will incorporate or not incorporate such work as the Spirit moves it.

    How that happens is entirely beyond me, but I believe that it happens, otherwise I would be acting irrationally to remain in the Church. That teachings such as those the Church proposes must be accepted by faith should come as a surprise to no one; it is a sad feature of human willfulness and pride that it does surprise many to learn that the Church’s authority to teach and to interpret must also be accepted by faith. “

  32. Could they not simply say that the only reason why we consider matters that are actually characterized as infallible is merely because we have deemed them as such, whether this is by manner of Magisterium or Pope?

    Of course. Indeed, they are certain to say that, no matter what it is that we say. You seem to be concerned with formulating the Magisterium in such a way as to be able to answer Protestants, which is what your description as “somewhat usatisfying” seems to suggest. Somewhat unsatisfying for whom? For Protestants?

    No account of the Magisterium will satisfy Protestants by definition; they are constitutionally incapable of doing so, And if you keep reading Dr. Carson’s post, the reason it is “somewhat unsatisfying” is that the expectations for more are unreasonable. You don’t craft your own position to answer unreasonable expectations; that makes no sense.

    So if you’re worried about how the position makes the case to Protestants, you yourself are taking an unreasonable position, which is exactly what I see you doing with Arturo. There is nothing in principle entailed in thinking that the Magisterium’s susceptibility to corruption necessarily entails error where it is infallible. Indeed, it seems that your critique accepts the premise of the Protestant argument as reasonable and deserving of a response, when it isn’t. Protestants are simply irrelevant for the Catholic development of doctrine; their hermeneutic of continuity makes them so.

  33. Jonathan,

    I suppose you’re right in that sense and I thank you greatly for both your patience and response.

  34. Arturo’s issue with me is not about DD per se, as is evidenced by his accepting developments such as the Immaculate Conception and papal infallibility. His beef is with the idea that recent developments which reverse certain long-established Catholic teachings should be viewed as (a) progress and (b) binding.

    As to (a), I must confess that I’ve never quite understood what the fuss is about. Since this is only a combox, I’ll take just one example.

    Dignitatis Humanae affirmed that religious freedom, which the Church demands for herself, extends to all in the same sense, as a fundamental human right. That certainly rejects the view, long held and taught, that other religions ought not to enjoy the same degree of freedom from political coercion as Catholicism. But it is no objection to that development to point out that “error has no rights.” Nobody says it does. Rather, DH affirms that people who are in error have the right not to be coerced in matters of religion—partly because faith cannot be coerced, and partly because punishing people for their freely held beliefs violates human dignity at a very basic level. I don’t understand why that is supposed to be erroneous, unless of course it is believed that the contrary view was somehow irreformable.

    Which brings us, I believe, to the real issue: (b). A lot of trads seem to believe that DH’s teaching is incompatible with something that had been irreformably, and thus infallibly, taught. That’s what Archbishop Lefebvre seemed to think. But I’ve never been able to identify what, exactly, in the older view we were supposed to affirm as belonging to the deposit of faith. The way DH affirms religious freedom as a basic human right is a much clearer candidate for such a teaching.

    Arturo is probably right to believe that my difficulties with Catholic traditionalism stem from a basic failure of empathy. I can understand unhappiness with certain aspects of Vatican II, such as ambiguous wording on some points and unclarity about the sense in which its teachings are binding. But I simply have never been able to understand why the genuine developments, on ecclesiology as well as religious freedom, are thought to be bad rather than good. They’ve always struck me as obviously true.

  35. “A lot of trads seem to believe that DH’s teaching is incompatible with something that had been irreformably, and thus infallibly, taught.”

    To be fair, Quanta Cura says:
    And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that “that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.”

    But as if often the case, interpreters underestimate the extremity of the heretical position being asserted. They were suggesting that the Church could not even in its private capacity as a civil institution assert its own religious doctrines. This should not be entirely surprising, since even in this country, it is at least potentially beginning in the health care industry. Moreover, they suggested that teaching the Catholic faith was unnecessary, and that it therefore should not be taught with any preference whatsoever but rather taught just as one possible option among many.

    With that context, it is obvious that what the Church was asserting for itself in both Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors was Her own freedom to be Catholic (what you describe as the freedom “the Church demands for herself”) and not any authority to dictate by the authority of the civil law to any other group. It was Her own intrinisic authority to do what the Church does with the things and property of the world and to be defended in Her right to do so that was being asserted.

    People today tend to completely neglect the idea that the liberals of that day were attempting to entirely override the public/private distinction: to seize the Church’s property, to disband the monastic orders, to end Catholic education. QC and the Syllabus were aimed at the restriction of the Church from preferring Catholicism even in Her private practice. They weren’t talking in the least about state-imposed civil or criminal laws against the practice of other religions.

    It’s the same thing with modernism; her opponents were asserting that the Church was not reasonably free to regulate scholarship. But just like the preference for Thomas among the schoolmen has sometimes been read as a positive requirement to be Thomist only, so has this claim not to be regulated by the scholars been viewed instead as a positive limitation imposed on the scholars.

    It’s all backward, unintended by the Popes themselves, but it’s just people trying to relate these documents to Catholicism as they themselves understand it, rather than in the real historical context they were delivered. It is easier for them to think that the Popes were saying this thing and that their view really has perdured in the Church than to admit that Vatican II was directed at correcting their errors on this point, that it was precisely intended to rebut this erroneous inversion that I described above.

  36. “They were suggesting that the Church could not even in its private capacity as a civil institution assert its own religious doctrines… Moreover, they suggested that teaching the Catholic faith was unnecessary, and that it therefore should not be taught with any preference whatsoever but rather taught just as one possible option among many.”

    Vatican II, in the Declaration on Religious Liberty, stated in § 1:

    “It [the Council or document] leaves untouched traditional Catholic teaching about the moral obligation of people and societies towards the true religion and one Church of Christ“.

    Now, there is that teaching inherited from the pre-Nicene Fathers themselves and even discussed by eminent scholastics as even Lombard himself; that is, teachings which comprise Catholic Tradition proper which preaches on the merits (and even the sheer necessity) of religious liberty; i.e., that conversion can only occur if done freely.

    This notion of religious liberty can be found in pre-nicene theology, such as in the implicit beliefs of great apologists as St. Justin Martyr or Athenagoras, whose whole arguments which lay in the defense of Christians from similar attacks in those early days of the Church relied mostly on a basic principle of religious liberty.

    More specifically, Patristic Tradition did not teach to go out and force conversions but rather the Fathers thought it part of moral obligation — indeed, that reaching out to people and spreading the faith required religious liberty and not a denial of it.

    Contrary to popular belief, the extreme position of forcing conversions upon others leading up to the notorious “Convert or Die” theme was, in all actuality, contrary to Church Teaching, not a part of it.

    Such a notion was routinely condemned in Christian History, such as in the De Pace Fidei of Cusana.

  37. D.L. Schindler’s article on Murray is helpful on the discussion of religious liberty:

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/MURRAY.HTM

  38. Apolonio: Thanks for the reference!

  39. e:
    Regarding your comments supporting religious liberty in the Fathers, I agree. Even those falsely charged with doing so (like St. Cyril with respect to the pagan Hyapatia) were often simply the victims of enemies of the Church with an axe to grind. See, e.g.,
    http://www.elfinspell.com/LiesandErrorsCyril.html

  40. Jonathan: Cool! More references! Thanks!

  41. […] Michael Liccione has continued the discussion on the Development of Doctrine over at Perrennis Philosophia. […]

  42. […] Dr Liccione Dr Witt has written the first post of what may become a series responding to Dr Liccione’s remarks at Philosophia Perennis concerning development of doctrine. Comments are closed here and […]

  43. I like the helpful info you provide on your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your blog and take a look at again here frequently. I’m quite certain I’ll be told many new stuff proper right here! Good luck for the next!

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