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.

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More Scattered Thoughts On Obedience

God does not ask of us virtue, moralism, blind obedience but a cry of assurance and of love from the depth of our hell–Paul Evdokimov

It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. I have a couple of friends who keep insisting that Rome should take care of many things, such as liturgical abuses or implementing her decree on the Old Latin Mass. Recently someone asked me why the Church does not define such and such a doctrine. For example, the question of in vitro and frozen embryos are very important and it would be great to hear from Rome about these issues. Someone recently asked me why the Magisterium has not defined anything about ensoulment. I wonder, however, whether there are tendencies to substitute reasoning with the Magisterium. The response I gave to the person who asked me about ensoulment was, “Who cares?” The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.

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Development of Doctrine III

John of Fides Quaerens Intellectum has replied to my post Development of Doctrine II, primarily with a 1,700-word comment thatis longer than the post itself.  As supporting material, he has posted two entries at his own blog: one consisting chiefly of quotations from the late Prof. JND Kelly and Fr. John Behr on St. Irenaeus; the other consisting chiefly of quotations from Klaus Schatz, SJ’s Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present. Given that each exchange in our discussion—one which stretches back to old comboxes at Sacramentum Vitaeis longer than its predecessors, I find myself wondering with some amusement how many faculty and students will stick around for the seminar. At least the seminars in real academic departments have scheduled beginnings and ends! But even if the education ends up being John’s and mine alone, I think the discussion well worth pursuing. Speaking for myself, I come off every online discussion of DD better equipped to carry on the next one—and there always seems to be a next one, even when that’s not the plan. Who knows whom I might thereby reach? It might even be somebody here. And so I proceed with my latest reply as a productive exercise in what contemporary Catholic theologians term “fundamental theology.”

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Development of doctrine II

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

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


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

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

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Obedience and Development

Last night my friends and I were discussing about how obedience is never mechanical. It is not simply being told what to do and doing what we are told. Sometimes we want to be told what to do because we are having a hard time understanding what we should do, what we should believe. But notice how moralistic and systematic that is. Life cannot be reduced to a system or laws. In the end, such a view of life will suffocate you. I find that this tendency to reduce life into a system is manifested in many ways. For example, a person thinks he is called to the priesthood. He enters the seminary, does what he is told, and then thinks he can pursue his self-appointed mission. Many times we just want to get things “right.” In this case, it may very well be that he did his chores in the seminary, went to confession, etc. but is still immature. Again, it is because life is not about getting this right. Even if we know which things are “right,” what beliefs are true, we can still fall short. My friend said, “Suppose life B is good. Then you did it. So what?”

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Development of doctrine: it’s that time again

It has often been remarked, starting with C.S. Lewis I believe, that traditional Christians of differing ecclesial affiliations have much more in common with each other than with liberal Christians of the same ecclesial affiliations as they. That is not only true but offers the firmest basis for the sort of “ecumenism” enabling traditional Christians to work together toward common goals affecting the public weal. Intellectual leaders among traditional Christians are well-placed to recognize that and act accordingly. Some do. But I have found that, among those leaders, the biggest obstacle to greater ecumenism and cooperation is, surprise-surprise, an essentially theological disagreement. I don’t mean disagreement over this-or-that particular doctrine; those are well-known and needn’t inhibit the cooperation I’m talking about. Prescinding from any such particular doctrine or laundry-list thereof, what I have in mind is disagreement over the very nature of orthodoxy as opposed to heterodoxy. In practice as well as theory, that is a very serious problem indeed. I see my main contribution to ecumenism as that of addressing it constructively.

Among the people who read this blog because they care about my stuff, most know that I have spent a great deal of time, at my other blog, on the issue of development of doctrine (DD). I have done so because, over time, I have become convinced that DD is the issue separating traditional Christians from each other on the question of the nature of orthodoxy. And that seems to me a great shame. The whole topic is rife with assumptions that often aren’t clarified enough to be assessed properly, so that arguments based on them end up begging the question and the interlocutors end up talking past each other. In this post I want to start dealing with that.

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