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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The toils of ecumenism – a new doctrine or an old policy?

The problem

A source of perplexity for many Catholics is their Church’s continuing commitment to ecumenism.  The reason is obvious.  The commitment sometimes seems to come with a degree of troubling ambiguity, even at the highest level, and even under the papacy of Benedict XVI.  A case in point has been Cardinal Kasper’s puzzling recent statement in Osservatore Romano on the strange ecclesial identity of Brother Roger – supposedly both Calvinist and Catholic – after Brother Roger’s reception of communion at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, from the hands of the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Yet among those Catholics perplexed about ecumenism, there has been an important division. So-called Traditionalism bluntly rejects ecumenism as a bad business; and does so in the name of the continuing validity of Pius XI’s Mortalium Animos of 1928.  Accordingly Traditionalism condemns Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism of 1964, Unitatis Redintegratio, and later documents as modernist departures from past Catholic teaching as well as practice.

Whereas so-called Conservatism shares Pope Benedict’s continuing espousal of the Council and its ecumenical commitment – a commitment that, it is regretfully admitted, may have led to excesses, but is in essence sound.  Sound, indeed, because it seems the Conciliar magisterium has taught the pursuit of Christian unity to be divinely mandated.  And how can a divine mandate be ignored, or the magisterium disregarded?

But the problem facing Conservatism is obvious: how can a hermeneutic of continuity reconcile Mortalium Animos and Unitatis Redintegratio?  How can what is now supposed to be a divine mandate, to pursue ecumenism, have been rejected and condemned, in 1928, by Christ’s then reigning Vicar, and in the most blunt and forthright terms?

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Are Non-Catholics Blind?

Alvin Plantinga has argued that Christian beliefs such as the existence of God, incarnation, etc. can be warranted in a properly basic way. Those who do not believe in the existence of God have some kind of impairment in their cognitive faculties which is a result of original sin. In other words, there is something wrong with those who do not believe in God; they are blind. Can we apply them to the Catholic Church and other religions? Suppose that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ. The Church proposes:

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