Returning to that can of worms, the “development of doctrine”, I noted an interesting post a little while back on the blog of the President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Pastor Matt Harrison (can anyone tell me – is it “Doctor” Harrison?). Matt is an expert on the Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse, and this piece comes from him:
[T]he question of infant baptism is a theological question, not merely one of practical sociology. Neither is it a question that is to be answered from history. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica III Quaestio, 68:9) meets the objection that intention and faith are necessary for baptism with a quotation from the last chapter of the “Heavenly Hierarchy” of Dionysius the Areopagite, according to which the apostles approved the baptism of infants. But that is, to say the least, a tradition that cannot be verified.
Sasse follows this, however, with a good run down of the actual historical evidence for the apostolicity of the practice of infant baptism, then this conclusion:
It is obvious from the above that the historical question whether the church of the apostolic age knew and practiced infant baptism must be answered in the affirmative with a very high degree of probability. But that fact in no wise decides the theological question concerning the right of infant baptism. After all, the church of Corinth in the days of the apostle Paul practiced a vicarious baptism for the dead [I Corinthians 15:29]. It is possible, therefore, that we are dealing here with a very ancient abuse. Theologically, infant baptism can be grounded only on Scriptural evidence which proves it to be a legitimate form of Baptism.
The Catholic Church would never consider the possibility that a practice which can be fairly convincingly shown to have been in the Church since the time of the apostles and which has been practiced continuously ever since with the full authority and approval of the Church to be “a very ancient abuse”. We are more than happy to provide the theological reasoning for the practice, but the tradition alone is sufficient for us to say that it is a dogma of the Church that the sacrament of holy baptism is not to be denied to infants. We do not require “Scriptural evidence which proves it to be a legitimate form of baptism”. Of course, if there were actually a clear Scriptural injunction against the practice, that would be a different matter.
The differing ways in which Lutherans and Catholics approach tradition in this matter is similar to the question of the ordination of women. The Catholic Church holds that the ancient and continuous tradition that women are not ordained to holy orders sufficient to decide the matter. We are happy to provide theological reasoning for this, and we also note that the few Scriptural passages that have relevance to the matter seem to point in the direction of affirming this tradition. Nevertheless, we do not believe that the Scriptural witness alone is conclusive on the matter, and we regard this very inconclusiveness of Scripture – coupled with the protestant requirement for specifically Scriptural proof – part of the reason why there has been so much variation in practice among the protestants themselves.
It is an interesting comparison in theological method, to say the least. Of course it all goes back to the fact that Catholics recognise God’s revelation in both Scripture AND Tradition, whereas for Lutherans, the latter will always remain suspect.