Sunday, April 19, 2015

Newman, Weigel, "Development"

George Weigel, "Newman and Vatican II" (First Things, April 15, 2015):
That Blessed John Henry Newman was one of the great influences on Vatican II is “a commonplace,” as Newman’s biographer, Fr. Ian Ker, puts it. But what does that mean? What influence did Newman have on a Council that opened seventy-two years after his death? And from this side of history, what might we learn from Newman about the proper way to “read” Vatican II, as we anticipate the fiftieth anniversary of its conclusion on December 8?

... That Newman had considerable influence at Vatican II is ... evident in the Council’s seminal Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). There, the Council Fathers teach that the Great Tradition “that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit ... as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing toward the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her.” Thus did Vatican II vindicate Newman’s great work on the development of doctrine, which grew from a theological method that brought history, and indeed life itself, back into play as sources of reflection and growth in our understanding of God’s revelation.

That Newman could make this contribution to the Catholic future was due to the fact that he was neither a traditionalist, who thought the Church’s self-understanding frozen in amber [I have yet to meet someone who fits this description - G.N.], nor a progressive, who believed that nothing is finally settled in the rule of faith. Rather, Newman was a reformer devoted to history, who worked for reform-in-continuity with the Great Tradition, and who, in his explorations of the development of doctrine, helped the Church learn to tell the difference between genuine development and rupture.
Even as a substantial devotee of Cardinal Newman, I confess to having become a trifle suspicious regarding how his notion of "development" has been used in recent decades, if not also regarding Newman's own understanding of the matter. Our understanding of the Apostolic Deposit of Faith may gain in profundity over time, but may just as easily slacken and grow more forgetful and superficial and confused. I'm not at all convinced that all that passes under the attribution of "development" today is at all credible. Orestes Brownson has written extensively about this in the 14th volume of his collected works, where he takes to task Newman's own theory of doctrinal development. One of the projects to which I've promised to devote myself in the months ahead is a personal study of this issue.

I was therefore forcibly struck by the note that accompanied the message sent to me by my trusted correspondent, Guy Noir, along with the link to Weigel's article. Noir wrote:
My bone of contention with modern Church apologists -- or apologists for the modern Church -- has always been this: they talk and talk and talk about Development of Doctrine, but do not give concrete examples of it positive demonstration or of its abuse in contemporary circles.

Is condemnation of capital punishment a DOD? Because it seems like a reversal. And if it is not, why can't gay marriage be another DOD? And so on, and so on. The modern Church does not seem to be able to expand on doctrines without reversing previous policy, and that is what I think makes the whole appeal to Newman seem vague and unconvincing. If Dei Verbum and the Two Sources Theory is what Development of Doctrine is about, I think it affects most laity very little. If downplaying Hell and condemning capital punishment are examples of DOD, I think it confuses the faithful quite a bit. Everyone talks about change and development, but no one will give clearly defined illustrations. Instead it is used to justify excursions into ambiguity. As a convert from Protestantism, I very much embrace Development of Doctrine. As a concerned Catholic, also I don't see any modern instance where it is convincingly invoked.

"The trials that lie before us are such as would appal and make dizzy ... courageous hearts." And I really [question whether] "development of doctrine" as it is now understood does anything other than add to the disorientation. I guess when you allow development of something that is already generally distorted, you can't expect to like the hybrid new thing.




It's a puzzling and fraught area.

I remember a few years ago, reading something about Christology by Clement of Alexandria. I was left with my mouth hanging open: "He's an ARIAN!", I thought to myself.

Shocked, I talked to a very orthodox popular patristics scholar. He agreed and said that Origen was pretty much along the same lines.

Later on, I found that Eusebius had defended Arius and he was far from the only one.

In the eyes of many, Nicene/Athanasian Christianity seemed like a departure from what everyone had been saying up til now.

In other words, it must have seemed like a great lurch in a very different direction.

I think this helps to understand the quotation from some early Father that Pope Benedict passed on about the post Nicene period seeming like one of fog and confusion.

I worry about this same topic of development, and from a number of different perspectives.

But perhaps most of us accept it because there seems no reasonable alternative.

The very existence of Christianity is a kind of massive development of doctrine. We can now worship a man because God became a man? God is One but God is three?

These things MUST have SEEMED at the very least like obvious contradictions of what came before.

Which still leaves the question of how we tell a legitimate from an illegitimate development wide open.

Pertinacious Papist


Scripture has both "subordinationist" and "equality with the Father" passages. A selective reading can land you in Arianism (or Jehovah's Witness-type reading) or a Docetic reading of the text.

The transition from Adoptionism to Hypostatic Union is a move in the direction that makes clearer sense of the Deposit of Faith, particularly Scripture, taking into account both emphases -- on the subordination of Jesus to the Father and His equality with the Father as to their shared Divine Nature.

A seminary professor once related to me (when I was at Westminster Theological Seminary) that a move from generality to specificity is a move in the right direction, as vice versa would not be. My biggest complaint with some of the more contemporary statements of the Catholic Faith is that they seem more ambiguous, capable of being read in conflicting ways, as Cardinal Kasper, for one, has admitted about some of the Vatican II documents, because, he said, they were the results of compromises in committees with rival factions working on getting their views included.

Raider Fan


In his great book on the bestest council ever, Msgr. Gherardini ends his study by making this most reasonable request - he says there have been enough declarations of continuity but not enough demonstrations of such (paraphrase, too lazy to look it up right now).

G.N. is absolutely right. These claims are never spelled-out and what rankles we rebarbative atavists is the uncountable numbers of columns/posts/opinion pieces about Pope John 23rd to Pope Francis that focus on their "programs" and "agendas" and "personalities" and Pet projects and/or pet peeves but it is ALL political and personal and those uncountable columns/blog posts/newspaper articles NEVER describe the DUTIES of every single Pope and whether or not the Pope under discussion discharged his duties faithfully or whether he sloughed them off or shirked them for a political/pastoral praxis.

The next time you read a piece about any Pope note that his duties are never described; ever.

It is all celebrity/political/poll-generated superficiality that keeps the faithful flummoxed.



Is what has undergone "Development" is the very idea of Development of Doctrine, meaning something its originator would not have understood?



From the great St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.

An addendum: Pray more. Dialogue less. Be still and know you are not God.

Pertinacious Papist


R.F., Msgr. Gherardini's volume is on my shelf and reading list. From an initial scan, it looks first-rate.

Chris, I think that may be part of it, but it could be that the original concept is flawed too, as Brownson suggests.

Anonymous, thanks for the good thoughts. See also this, in case your were wondering.



"...there’s an assumption that a distinction between practice and doctrine is sustainable, or at least sustainable over the decades or centuries required for conservative opposition to diminish. Indeed, many liberal Catholics would say that’s how the Church always changes. A teaching or an idea (the prohibition against usury, say, or the theological speculation that unbaptized infants who die go to Limbo) gradually becomes vestigial: Catholics ignore it and churchmen stop talking about it, and then eventually the hierarchy comes up with some official-sounding explanation (one that starts, “As the Church has always taught …”) for why it’s no longer really in force. The rest of Catholic teaching holds together just fine during this transition; there’s no danger of a Jenga effect, no thread-pulling that ends up unraveling the whole.

This view is widespread without always being made explicit. Sometimes it gets a full airing, though: in his new book, The Future of the Catholic Church With Pope Francis (in which the pontiff himself appears mostly in extremely selective quotation), the longtime papal critic Garry Wills offers a vision of the Catholic future in which the Church’s understanding of natural law, its opposition to abortion, and even the sacrament of confession are all destined for the same fate as the Latin Mass. (Wills already dispensed with the priesthood itself in Why Priests? A Failed Tradition, so disposing of a sacrament is relatively easy work.)

His view of Catholic history is ruthlessly consistent. The “development of dogma” really just means that doctrines come and go at history’s whim, and no idea or institution—save some kind of belief in Jesus’s divinity, presumably—is necessarily essential. Instead there’s just one damn thing after another, and if the Church teaches one thing in one age, reversing itself in the next is no big deal." --Ross Dothan

Paul Borealis


Thanks to all for your comments. Much food for thought. Appears the so-called 'development of doctrine' doctrine/dogma, has, strange to say, become one of the most recent, and fashionable, of doctrines.

Pertinacious Papist (?) wrote: "One of the projects to which I've promised to devote myself in the months ahead is a personal study of this issue."

Good idea. I hope you share some of this with us, or encourage discussion.

Recently I have been thinking about this more, especially since 'stage one' of the family synod, re: the issue of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion.

It appears to be key for those pushing for changes. For example:

Cardinal Kasper "noted that the church has often changed, or "developed," over the centuries, and quite recently in the 1960s when, for example, the Second Vatican Council reversed long-standing teachings against religious freedom and dialogue with other believers.

Kasper reiterates that he's not advocating a change in the church's dogma on the sanctity of marriage, but a change in the "pastoral practice" about who can receive Communion. "To say we will not admit divorced and remarried people to holy Communion? That's not a dogma. That's an application of a dogma in a concrete pastoral practice. This can be changed.""

And, re: "Adultery and the “Development of Doctrine”

Kasper also attempts to make a case for allowing Communion to the divorced and remarried based on what is called: “development of doctrine.” Pentin asked him:

The teaching does not change?

Kasper answered: The teaching does not change but it can be made more profound, it can be different. There is also a certain growth in the understanding of the Gospel and the doctrine, a development. Our famous Cardinal Newman had spoken on the development of doctrine. This is also not a change but a development on the same line. Of course, the Pope wants it and the world needs it. We live in a globalized world and you cannot govern everything from the Curia. There must be a common faith, a common discipline but a different application."

Pertinacious Papist


I always appreciate substantial and provocative comments. Thank you all, for these and any others that may come our way.