Doctrine, Development of
DOCTRINE, DEVELOPMENT OF
Although the development of dogma is closely connected with the development of theology (the first is usually elaborated in the second), "doctrine," when it is used in the phrase "development of doctrine," is not understood in a generic sense, as including theology, but in a specific sense, as the objective correlative of faith. However, it is preferable not to define doctrinal development at the beginning of a discussion on the subject, for it is about the very nature of development that the discussion must turn. It is necessary, nevertheless, to indicate the elements of the problem.
(1) The objective correlative of faith, if not exclusively, then at least in an essential aspect, is understandable truth, which can be communicated in human language. (2) The historical revelation of that truth was given in a definite epoch, closed, as is generally admitted by orthodox Christianity, at the end of the apostolic generation. (3) Since that moment points of doctrine that were not explicit in the primitive deposit of faith have, nevertheless, emerged in dogmatic tradition. Thus defined, the problem is posed for all forms of Christianity that accept its terms: the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox as well as those forms of Protestantism and Anglicanism which allow that in the creed there may be points of doctrine which, although agreeing with Scripture, are not explicit in it.
General History of the Problem. The Fathers of the 4th century, engaged in elucidating the central dogmas of Christian faith, were clearly aware of the fact of development. In a letter concerning the admission into the Church of those who denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, St. Basil declared that, according to Athanasius and the practice of many bishops, they were to be admitted if they held the true Nicene faith (Epist. 204.6; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 32:753). And Gregory of Nazianzus asked that the divinity of the Holy Ghost not be affirmed in the presence of the weak because that point of doctrine was still beyond their power (Or. 41.6–8; Patrologia Graeca 36:437–39). He justifies this attitude by a theory of development: in His manifestation of truth God does not proceed by violence but by conviction, gradually integrating truth up to its fullness. Mankind first had to realize the divinity of the Father, next that of the Son, and now that of the Spirit (Or. 31.25–26; Patrologia Graeca 36:160–64). Such attitudes and utterings are unthinkable if the Fathers had in their minds that an explicit statement of the Trinity did belong to the deposit of faith.
Later, however, after the great dogmas of Christian doctrine had been firmly established and commonly accepted, awareness of development began to wane. The idea prevailed that the Church was to differentiate between true and false traditions by means of the triple test of vincent of lerins' canon: "quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est —what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all" (Commonitorium 1.2; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 50:640). In the controversies of the 17th century between Catholics and Protestants, the Vincentian rule was still admitted by both parties without qualification. Bossuet only voiced the general sentiment of his age when he wrote: "if at any time someone says that the faith includes something which yesterday was not said to be of the faith, it is always heterodoxy.There is no difficulty about recognizing false doctrine. It is recognized at once, whenever it appears, merely because it is new" ["Instruction pastorale sur les promesses de l'Eglise," Oeuvres completes (Paris 1828) 30:419–20]. Of course heresies often compelled the Church to express her truths in clear technical language. But these explanations declare only what the Church has always explicitly and consciously believed.
Soon after Bossuet the problem of development became topical, and by the end of the 19th century it had become the most urgent and difficult problem posed for Catholic apologetics. The reasons for this change are various. From leibniz on, German thought elaborated the idea of development and progress as the inner meaning of history. In addition, the success of darwin's theory of evolution led to its acceptance as a general hypothesis to explain the origin of things and ideas. More particularly, modern historical investigation set forth with increasing evidence the fact and range of development. Finally the dogmatic definitions of the 19th century were beset by special difficulties.
Types of Solution. Doctrinal development is explained in three ways: as a process of logical unfolding (logical theories), historical transmutation (transformistic theories), or supernaturally guided continuity (theological theories). The second is considered as heretical by all orthodox Christians. It does not accept the elements or terms of the problem (see above), but it has to be carefully examined if one is to grasp the all-important difference between it and the theological theory. Each of the three solutions is connected with a different conception of the nature of revelation and faith.
Logical Theories. The logical explanation of doctrinal development supposes an exclusively propositional conception of faith and revelation. Through His Prophets God has publicly communicated to mankind a set of truths about Himself and salvation. Divine faith is an assent to these propositions because of the authority of God, who has revealed them. If so, development itself cannot but be propositional, i.e., logical. Logic provides at the same time the way and the test of true development.
Most of the logical theories were already elaborated by the scholastics of the 16th and 17th century in order to answer the question whether and how one could accept a theological conclusion with an assent of faith. After the Modernist crisis, contemporary scholastics took refuge in these theories in order to solve the problem of development. In order to understand the different shades of logical theory some distinctions must be grasped. (1) Propositions are formally revealed when they are contained in the verbal expression of primitive faith, either explicitly or implicitly. Implicitly revealed propositions are those that follow from a logical comparison of propositions that are explicitly revealed. The reasoning by which the implicitly revealed becomes explicit is said to be a mere explanatory syllogism, and the conclusion is not properly an inference. (2) Propositions are only virtually revealed when a premise of natural reason has to intervene in order to deduce them from a revealed proposition. In this case one has to do with inferential syllogisms and real theological conclusions. (3) Some theological conclusions produce a necessary quality of revealed truth, and then their inclusion in revealed truth is said to be "virtual-identical"; others produce only something connected with revealed truth by reason of historical contingent facts, e.g., that this person is a saint on account of an infallible declaration of the Church, and then the inclusion is said to be "virtual-connected" (see revelation, virtual).
One group of theologians (Cardinal Franzelin, R. Schultes, R. Garrigou-Lagrange), considering that true inference leads to new insight, excluded the virtually revealed from the deposit. The Church cannot define it as dogma, to be held by divine faith, but only as truth, to be held by ecclesiastical faith. Others, considering that the foregoing theory does not cover the facts, extended the range of possible dogmatic development to the virtually revealed: either without any limitation (M. Tuyaerts), so that theological conclusions of all kinds may be defined as divine truth and ought individually to be held by divine faith even before the definition, if one sees the logical sequence; or with the limitation that only conclusions that are virtual-identical can be defined, thus excluding virtual-connected conclusions and leaving room for a kind of ecclesiastical belief; or with the limitation that theological conclusions become objects of divine faith only in virtue of ecclesiastical definition (F. Marin-Sola). Many early twentieth-century writers admitted that the logical connection between the new definition and the formally revealed doctrine need only be probable, but then they already inclined to the theological theory.
Transformistic Theories. All transformistic theories profess that unchangeable doctrine is not of the essence of Christianity. They draw a sharp distinction between doctrine that is nonessential and something else that they consider to be the essence: the Bible, freely to be interpreted according to the general evolution of thought (latitudinarianism); religious experience, general or specifically Christian [liberal theology (see lib eralism, theological)]; faith as an existential decision (see existential theology). Since this article is not considering transformistic theories for their own sake, it may dispense with the treatment of all of them except that based on religious experience.
General Structure. This theory supposes an exclusively experiential conception of revelation and faith. Revelation is always at work in human experience, slowly creating, purifying, and clarifying a consciousness of communion with God in the individual and in humanity. Faith is an inner disponibility for that revelation, leading to a growth of intimate conviction, self-surrender to God, reformation of all sentiments and attitudes. Propositional doctrines are no more than creations of the mind, inspired by faith, but by no means containing the truth of revelation, which by its necessary in order to guide one's religious reflection. They change with the general evolution of culture. The identity of contemporary faith with that of the Apostolic age is an identity not of doctrine but only of inspiration.
German Proponents. The origin of this theory lies in German pietism. According to P. J. spener (1635–1705) one is not a Christian by virtue of his acceptance of orthodox doctrine but by virtue of the inner disposition of his heart. J. S. Semler (1725–1791) already sees an opposition between private religion, which is true religion, and public religion, which is but a condition of the historical continuation of private religion. Public religion must create a uniform doctrine for the use of the community, and this inevitably leads to different confessions, degrading compromises, and historical transmutations according to the evolution of culture. According to schleiermacher (1768–1834), Christianity is a spirit, the spirit of Christ, who through the Holy Ghost bestows upon Christians a participation in His perfect experiences of the redeeming love of the Father and this unites them into one invisible community. This intimate participation leads to a slow transformation of the public norm of doctrine and behavior. The Church is "a whole in motion, capable of progress and development," but this may never be thought of as directed "towards a perfection beyond that which is established in Christ" [F. Schleiermacher, Samtliche Werke (Berlin 1884) 12.1:72]. It is a genuine development because the perfection at which it aims is not implicitly given in the apostolic doctrine, but only in the Person of Christ Himself, who continually inspires His Church with His living spirit. Throughout history, the Church expresses with increasing fullness and purity the spirit of the Lord. This conception, according to Schleiermacher, is specifically Protestant, because the Catholic Church does not admit any evolution in doctrine itself but only in its formulation.
Schleiermacher, and after him A. ritschl and his school, hold to a specifically Christian experience and present one with a rather optimistic view of doctrinal history. Not so A. von harnack (1851–1930): he reduces true religion to an interior experience and attitude that, although they reached their purest expression in Christ, are as old as religious humanity. True interior religion is a matter of the heart. In this essential respect Christianity is beyond history or development. But religion cannot live without a body: a visible society with creeds and social norms. It creates, then, according to its needs and to historical circumstances, the forms of life that it cannot dispense with. On that level it is subject to development and successive transformations, in which, however, the essence of Christianity is not at stake. All historical forms, Protestant as well as Catholic, are in part failures. They are respectable only insofar as they convey the Gospel message and foster the interior life of religious experience. They are not objects of any science of faith, but only of historical investigation.
Loisy, Tyrrell. Modernism in the Catholic Church was born from an ambiguous reaction against liberal Protestantism. A. loisy presented his first essays as a refutation of Harnack, but at the same time he was deeply influenced by liberal ideas. He rejected the individualism and dualism of Harnack. There is nothing in Christianity that is not historical and social. Its essence is to be found in the fullness of its social and historical life. The Church is not opposed to the Gospel but is its continuation. If the kingdom of God is not the Church, it is to become the Church. In the development of its organization, doctrine, and cult, the essence of Christianity manifests itself with increasing clearness. But the historian can only describe the outward appearance and historical sequence of doctrines and cultural forms in which the mystery of a supernatural intuition clothes itself in accordance with the general development of human consciousness. That intuition, however, has not a separate life in souls. It lives and thrives in its historical forms. For each age the divine authority of the Church gives the sole genuine interpretation of the gospel. The error of Loisy seems to have been that the norm of development is exclusively conceived by him as a mysterious intuition. Doctrine is not the translation of the truth of that intuition into human concepts, but a mere symbol, pointing to it and changing according to its cultural surroundings. The identity of doctrine through its manifold development is not so much of a problem, because the identity of Christianity does not lie on that level. Liberal dualism persists, but the relation between its two terms is conceived otherwise. Apart from his Catholic stress on church and authority, Loisy is nearer to Schleiermacher than to Harnack, but in his acceptance of Christ as an absolute norm, Schleiermacher was a more genuine Christian than Harnack or Loisy.
The clearest statement of the Modernist theory was given by G. tyrrell (1861–1909). One is to choose between old and new theology. According to the first, the Church speaks from memory of a revealed truth once given in the past; then identity of doctrine can only be warranted by logical reduction of present doctrine to antiquity. According to the second, the Church speaks from an always present vision that defies conceptual translation. That vision works as "a spiritual force or impetus." It creates an intellectual embodiment varying with the history of human consciousness. Tyrrell identified that vision or spiritual force with "the mystical element in religion" analyzed by his friend F. von hÜgel.
Theological Theory. The third theory is called theological because it introduces in the process of development and in the guarantee of its faithfulness a supernatural factor that can only be accepted by faith and elucidated by theology.
General Structure. It supposes a conception of revelation and faith that combines intimately a propositional and a nonpropositional moment. God not only gives to His Church a doctrine of salvation, expressed in human words, but also a light to enter into living communion with the reality of the saving God. This inner light does not make Christians see or know explicitly anything independent from the message but enables them to attain in the message itself the mystery about which it speaks. The integral concept of revelation, then, not only comprises the public prophetical revelation, given and closed in a definite epoch (revelation in the strict theological sense), but also the inner unveiling of its truth by the light of faith. Faith, in consequences, is an assent to propositional doctrine; but through these propositions it is in touch with the ineffable reality of divine mystery, so that, according to Thomas Aquinas, the propositions are not so much the object of faith as "the means through which faith tends to its object" (De ver. 14.8 ad 11). The starting point of development, then, is an imperfect and partial verbal expression of the divine mystery of salvation together with an abiding supernatural grasp of the mystery as a whole. If a few words may introduce a man into the inner world of someone who speaks to him, why should the imperfect utterances of primitive doctrine not introduce men into the inner world of God, if He speaks to men through His Prophets and enlightens men through His Spirit?
It follows that the deposit of faith is not only a set of propositions about God but the divine mystery as communicated through a partial expression to the mind of the Church, enlightened and guided by the indwelling Spirit. As the mystery of God and salvation is a coherent whole in which all aspects are intimately connected, the implicit aspects are already indicated in the explicit. Doctrinal development, then, is a process of explication, historically conditioned but guided by the light of the Spirit. In that process new aspects emerge from the depths of the mystery into the consciousness of the Church, but always in connection with what is explicitly believed. The Church, consulting that ripening consciousness, declares from time to time, under the pressure of circumstances, that some point or other, which formerly was not explicitly believed, belongs to the original treasure of revelation. The process partakes of the mysterious character of its object. Hence it is often impossible to show in an entirely satisfactory way by means of history and reasoning that the new is included in the old. Therefore ecclesiastical definition is not only the instrument by which a development becomes objective, i.e., imposing itself on all believers, but it is also the conclusive guarantee that it is divinely true, i.e., that its content belongs to the original revelation (see definition, dogmatic).
Beginnings. The first traces of this theory are to be found in the works of two Catholics theologians of Tåbingen, J. S. von drey (1777–1853) and J. A. mÖhler (1796–1838). They are greatly influenced by contemporary idealistic philosophy. Their central idea is a conception of the Church as an organic whole, animated by the Holy Ghost and subject therefore to growth in all respects, doctrine being one of them. The history of the Church is the reality of that growth. Sometimes their conception is called "organistic." Indeed, the metaphor of the organism enhances the unity of the starting point of development (against logicism) and the identity of doctrine throughout the process (against transformism). Drey and Möhler think that the kingdom of god is the allinclusive idea of Christian dogma. Möhler describes how, through the activity of the Spirit, the Christian message sinks into the Church so as to become there the inmost foundation of conscious life (intimus conscientiae fundus ) in which the object of faith is rather lived as a whole and directly contemplated than reflected upon or analyzed. Under the pressure of heresy that living whole becomes an object of reflection, and in this way the unconscious focus of faith is gradually broken down as it were by refraction into its various aspects, and its riches become more distinct and explicit. Möhler does not, however, analyze the process of development itself, nor does he verify his idea by a careful study of the facts. He is rather vague in his statement of the nature and the range of development.
Solov’ev. The thought of V. solov'ev (1853–1900) betrays the same influences of German philosophy. He too has a predilection for organistic imagery. He likewise stresses the extrinsic influence of heresy and the inner character of wholeness. But in accordance with the main idea of his Christian philosophy, he considers the incar nation as the all-inclusive revealed reality. The Incarnation is the point at which God inserts Himself in mankind, and the universal Church is the historical reality of that progressive Incarnation. Development takes place on the human level of that incarnational reality but under the influence of the divine principle, which contains the whole of truth in an unchangeable way. There is always a logical link between the new dogmas and the all-inclusive idea. Development is an objective process because truths that formerly were not to be professed explicitly by the Christian community become obligatory dogmas by virtue of the legitimate exercise of the infallible teaching authority of the Church.
Cardinal Newman. The contribution of J. H. new man (1808–1890) is unique owing to his originality, his minute knowledge of facts, and his comprehensiveness. To him development is a necessary characteristic of all living truth in human society. If revelation is entrusted to historical mankind, it can only conserve its living identity by faithful development. The deposit is no mere list of articles, but a rich idea "all parts of which are connected together so that he who really knows one part, may be said to know all" [letter to J. S. Flanagan (Feb. 15, 1868), Gregorianum 39 (1958) 5941]. The Apostles perceived the whole per modum unius through a knowledge that was only partly explicit. Tradition is a handing over of a creed but with the supernatural gift, bestowed upon the Church, of knowing its true and full meaning. Together with the historical continuity of the message, divine grace "fosters in the bosom of intuition" (Fifteen Sermons ), "an intimate sense" (Newman-Perrone paper), a "real apprehension" (A Grammar of Assent ) of the divine mystery. Development, then, is a historical process: all that makes the history of the Church conditions the process of development.
Newman analyzes the different roles of heresy, theology, the faithful, ecclesiastical government, dogmatic authority, national pluralism. The process that results from all this is a supernaturally guided unfolding: new aspects of the mystery emerge from the unconscious (not reflectively conscious) idea or vision of faith, but apprehended in connection with explicit doctrine. The transition is not an act of logical deduction but rather a perception of how the new point fits within the total pattern, synthetically apprehended as a whole in its explicit and implicit fullness (analogy of faith). An analysis of the process would bring to light a multitude of convergent logical relations between the new points and other doctrines, but the new points do not "become logical, because theologians afterwards can reduce them to their relations to other doctrines" (letter to Flanagan, op. cit. 596).
That later dogmas are original parts of the deposit that can only be finally warranted by a supernatural organ of the supernaturally enlivened body of the Church: infallible authority. It is possible however to defend the general consistency of the Catholic doctrine throughout its history on a broad rational basis: the general notes of healthy development. Newman sets down seven of them: "There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and if later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last" (Essay on the Development ). It is significant that the notes regard at the same time the whole and the parts of the process.
Blondel. In his "Histoire et dogme" (1904) the French philosopher M. blondel (1861–1949) supplied another original contribution to a theological understanding of development. What nexus is there, he asks, between the facts of primitive Christianity and present doctrine? He repudiates two solutions: extrinsicism, which simply admits that all present dogmas must be primitive, because the Church is admittedly infallible on the ground of her being divine, as may be demonstrated by external miraculous facts; historicism (Loisy), which reduces the reality of Christianity to its historical appearances and ignores its organic unity and its supernatural experience, nourished by the love for Christ and the efforts of sanctification. The object of that experience is Christian truth as a whole, concentrated in the reality of Christ. Although partly expressed, it is entirely possessed and acted upon from the beginning. There is much in it that is only "subconscious, unreflected, provisionally and partly irreducible to explicit thought" (210). Development is a passage from "implicitly lived" (implicite vecu ) to "explicitly known" (explicite connu ). The whole life of the Church enters into the process. There are definite connections between recent dogma and previous doctrine, but they are not reducible to Aristotelian syllogisms. "Infallible authority is the superior and truly supernatural guarantee" (216).
20th Century. For a long time the theological solution did not make its way in ecclesiastical circles. In the times of the Modernist crisis, the ideas of Möhler, Newman, and Blondel were confounded with those of the Modernists. Of course, there were theologians, such as M. de la Barre, who fully grasped and prudently adopted the theological solution. But on the whole they found but little understanding. Later, theologians such as Marin-Sola tried to interpret Newman's thought in the sense of their own logical conception. The cause of that misunderstanding was clearly the deep-seated, exclusively propositioned conception of revelation and faith, and the general influence of rationalism on theology since the beginning of the modern era. Rationalism, which separates reason from the living whole of human personality, is by its very nature unable to understand any legitimate progress of knowledge that is not reducible to formal deductive inference.
Two factors contributed to the general change of intellectual climate: for one thing, the historical evidence that an exclusively propositional conception of revelation and faith was entirely alien to antiquity and to the great theologians of the Middle Ages; and second, the predominance of personalist and existential trends in contemporary thought. According to personalism, "man moves as a whole," as Newman said, and as embedded in the wider totality of historical and contemporary mankind. Rationalism is an illusion. Reason should not and simply cannot cut itself off from the total movement of conscious life. Man should critically take into account the personal and social roots that secretly help to determine his viewpoints and his first principles. This is the only way of freeing reason and attaining to true rationality. Existential thinking stresses the fact that all reflection is reflection upon a prereflective self-conscious existence and a spontaneous experiential thought, thriving upon a direct, unexpressed and subconscious awareness, the riches of which cannot be exhausted by reflective analysis and objectivation (see existentialism). It is clear that such views fit in with the presuppositions of the theological theory.
Since Vatican Council II, two movements have developed: one toward relativism, another toward a reconciliation of relativity and irreformable truth. The former has been influenced by the first generation of the philosophers of linguistic analysis. Paul Van Buren, for instance, applied to the question the so-called principle of verification to religious doctrine and concluded from this that no theoretical propositions about an extramundane reality could have any meaning. Christ for example was no more than the purest realization of man "existing for others" and His Resurrection means only that the contagious power of His example continues after His death. Theologians such as P. Tillich were also influential. According to him, dogmas are symbols that as logical propositions do not enounce a truth about God but are occasions for a personal revelation of the divine in ecstatic experience. Such symbols, as accepted by the community, are valuable as long as they work; but they may die and be replaced by others.
The encounter with contemporary hermeneutics is very important for this question. The problem with the development of dogma is now seen to be the way in which the hermeneutical question was asked within traditional Catholic theology. Hermeneutic interpretation, as Hans-Georg Gadamer explained in his now classic Truth and Method, demands that the text to be interpreted be confronted within the horizon of worldview of both the ancient writer and the contemporary critic (fusion of horizons).
The advances in analytical philosophy are also important. According to these developments, different "languages" or methods of conveying meaning, each with its own logic, co-exist and sometimes overlap. As applied to theology, this theory would hold that dogmatic and theological statements belong to a different "language." Acceptable change in theology, therefore, would not be limited by dogmatic formulations which, according to this perspective, would be written in terms of such elementary, common sense concepts that their obvious meaning would remain unchanged and unchangeable even in the midst of theological evolution.
In Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973) the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith made a distinction between the meaning of a dogma, which always remains true, and the dogmatic formulas of the Church, which also are simply true for those who understand them but are perfectible and replaceable when changed historical conceptions make it desirable or necessary.
It is the merit of contemporary theology to have revalued the ancient conception of revelation and faith as the supernatural focus from which development of doctrine proceeds.
See Also: dogmatic theology; methodology (theology); reasoning, theological; relativism; revelation, theology of; symbol in revelation; theological terminology; tradition (in theology).
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[j. h. walgrave]