On Glosses From an Old Manse, Pastor Henderson is having a go at Blessed John Henry Newman’s theory of the “development of doctrine”.
Has the belief that doctrine develops always been the norm in the church’s history, or is it in fact a novum (a new thing, an innovation…itself a development!)? Your answer to that question probably turns on whether you are a Roman Catholic or not, for modern Roman Catholicism is, as far as I am aware, the only church body to officially work with the notion that doctrine can be developed…
I suspect this is in response to a comment I posted on his blog a little while ago, to the effect that to deny that the doctrines of the Church have developed is to deny plain reality. In this post, he does admit that:
“1) there has been growth in the church’s subjective understanding of the apostolic deposit of faith. This growth in understanding has come about particularly as the church has had to confront various heresies, disputes occasioned by the erroneous public interpretation of aspects of the deposit of faith whose resolution called for more specific definitions of doctrine than had hitherto existed (the Christological definitions are the classic case).”
2) “various heresies” have required “more specific definitions of doctrine than had hitherto existed (the Christological definitions are the classic case)”
3) And (although he makes this affirmation by rejecting the negative) he also accepts that “actual new doctrines…explicitly contained or logically implicit [my emphasis] in the apostolic deposit of faith could develop or grow out of these confrontations” with heresy [Nb. he rejects the possibility that such developments could arise apart from confrontation with heresy, ie., through the “a normal process in the life of the church”]
So, it would be worth asking if in fact Pastor Henderson protests too much, and whether the theory of the “development of doctrine” is not, in at least some sense, also assumed by the Protestant theologians? But let us take him at his word, and agree that this is a peculiarly Roman notion. Why would it be that only Catholics have taken to this idea of “the development of doctrine”? Is it in order that we might have our cake and eat it too (eg. by proclaiming “actual new doctrines” such as the Assumption of Mary) (while claiming that we preserve the apostolic faith in its purity)? Pastor Henderson, like a modern day Charles Kingsley, certainly accuses Blessed John Henry of such duplicity, and even goes to the length of quoting Aidan Nichols in defence of this proposition.
Or is there another reason? I would like to suggest one for your consideration.
A singular difference between the Catholic Church and other Christian Churches and Communions is that we have a real, living, effective Magisterium. I don’t mean just the extraordinary magisterium of the pope, of course; I mean that ordinary magisterium that is exercised by the bishops of the Church in communion with the Successor of Peter. I would hold that apart from a true Magisterial voice, it would be impossible to speak of the “development of doctrine”.
For in order to demonstrate that doctrine has developed in the first place, it is necessary to demonstrate that a given doctrine once authoritatively taught is now – in its contemporary form – authoritatively taught in a different way – that is, in a “more developed” way – from what was taught in former times. This “development” cannot, of course, be an entirely “new thing” (Pastor Mark’s “novum”). Newman himself outlined the requirements of what kinds of “changes” may be regarded as authentic “developments”.
My point is that if your communion doesn’t have an authoritative, living magisterial voice, there is no way in which you could measure whether or not “development” has actually taken place! This is demonstrated by the fact that Pastor Mark is willing to accept the “developments” of Christological doctrine, because, like a good Lutheran, he accepts the magisterial authority of the first four Ecumenical Councils. Otherwise, he would be a Nestorian, or worse, an Arian (both Nestorius and Arius are condemned in the Augsburg Confession, if I remember correctly).
Do you think there is merit in this idea? I mean, if the Church has the authority to declare and define doctrine in reaction, not only to specific heresies, but also in the “normal process in the life of the church”, then some kind of theory of “the development of doctrine” is absolutely necessary. But if it hasn’t, then it would naturally mean that the only admissible form of doctrine would be that originally expressed by the Church in her earliest authoritative documents, aka, the Scriptures, and that every theologian, every pastor, would have the problem of determining exactly what was (and was not) originally contained in that “apostolic deposit of faith”.
And here I would like to make another observation. Pastor Henderson also runs a blog called “Lutheran Catholicity” on which he delights in finding snippets of the Church Fathers which seem to contradict present teachings of the Catholic Church. I wonder if he discovers such “snippets” as a result of his personal reading of the Church Fathers, or if he is not using some list somewhere (possibly from early Lutheran theologians such as Martin Chemnitz) which has amassed such “snippets” for his convenience. It was certainly the practice of early Reformed and Lutheran theologians to compile such “evidence” in support of their own peculiar “new doctrines” (cf for instance, the work of Ester Chung-Kim, Inventing Authority: the Use of the Church Fathers in Reformation Debates over the Eucharist).
My thought here is that his conclusions about the witness of the early Church Fathers might be quite different were he actually to immerse himself in the reading of the Church Fathers themselves, and to see these comments in their original context.
It is just a thought. I could be entirely wrong.