Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Development of Doctrine


A very interesting, and timely THREAD, was brought to my attention yesterday via a new participant (Kepha) here at AF.

Though Michael Liccione’s opening post primarily focuses on inconsistencies he perceives to exist among Orthodox theologians concerning the issue of the development of doctrine (hereafter DD)—with, of course, the Catholic concept of DD in focus—a good portion his reflections also to apply to the various concepts of DD that exist within the Protestant paradigm.

Dr. Liccione brings to our attention certain Orthodox theologians (e.g. Behr, Louth, and Reardon) who deny that DD actually exists. But the Orthodox communion is not only branch of Christendom with theologians who reject the notion of DD, for we find such denials within Protestantism and among pre-Vatican II Catholic theologians. Since Dr. Liccione does such a masterful job of refuting those Orthodox theologians who deny DD, I shall focus on Protestantism. Within the Protestant paradigm one will find various positions concerning DD that range from those who in essence deny that DD truly exists, to those who hold to a position that approaches Newman’s view. An example of the former is John Nelson Darby, who penned the following:

What finally led Dr. Newman to be satisfied with Romanism, which has confessedly a multitude of doctrines unknown to the primitive Church, was the principle of development. He was far down the hill, no doubt, long before, but that plunged him into its waters. Now in the person of Christ, and the value of His work before God, there can be no development. He is the same—and so is the efficacy of His work—yesterday, today, and for ever. I or Dr. Newman may grow in the knowledge of Christ. Faithful zeal may resist and dispel errors which arise, and by which Satan seeks to cloud the truth and overthrow faith; but there cannot be development of the infinitely perfect and completely revealed person of the Son of God, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Dr. Newman may find, in spite of Bishop Bull, and as Pettau has admitted, that the ante-Nicene fathers were worse than obscure as to the divinity of the blessed Lord; but Paul is not, who declares that the fullness of the Godhead (theotēs* not theiotēs* that is, proper Deity, not divine character simply) dwells in Him bodily; John is not, who declares, He is the true God, was with God, and was God; and the New Testament, so plainly and blessedly making Christ known to us, is not. There He is Immanuel, Jesus, —Jehovah the Saviour. He may rejoice that the Nicene council reaffirmed this truth. But to say that this was development, and that the Church of God for three centuries did not know the true divinity of Christ, is high treason against Christ and the truth. It is the folly of a mind who, to excuse itself, and make out a point, gives up all fundamental truth—does not possess it. It may lead to Romanism—I dare say it does; I am sure it does not lead to God. (John Nelson Darby, Analysis of Dr. Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, pp. 27, 28).

Now, my readings and interactions with so many of our Protestant brothers strongly suggests to me, that though willing to affirm some sense of DD, the foundation of their paradigm (formal sufficiency/perspicuity of scriptures, coupled with doctrinal corruption immediately following the death of the apostles), in essence, affirms Darby’s position.

Proceeding on with the above in mind, I cannot help but think that though Darby certainly raises some important questions concerning Newman’s view of development that need to be addressed, Darby’s own view of DD presents even greater difficulties—difficulties that are inherent to any Protestant concept of DD.

Have I missed something in the overall equation?


Grace and peace,

David

*Note: I have transliterated the Greek for my readers.

14 comments:

Ben said...

Does Newman make the assertion that Darby accuses him of? Does Newman in fact claim that the divinity of Christ was "up in the air" until Nicene? I have never read such a thing, though my reading of Newman is light. It seems to me Darby is attacking a straw man.

I have always liked the analogy of DD as an organic process, like a tree. Though the branches may fill out and bloom, nothing foreign to the tree will suddenly "develop." In other words, no truly new thing may develop that wasn't there in the "DNA" to begin with.

Potential protests to this view:

'That's only useful in retrospect.'

'That puts you on the same epistemological footing as fundamentalists.'

Kepha said...

I think it is the implicit aspect, which is constituitive of the Catholic understanding of doctrinal development, that is the biggest problem for Orthodox, Pre-Vatican II Catholics and Protestants (as well as myself). In other words, as I stated to Dr. Liccione, the Orthodox perspective (which Photius confirmed) seems to be, if the Apostles themselves did not teach "it," then there cannot be a doctrinal development of "it." There can be theological speculation and pious beliefs, but not doctrinal development, and certianly not dogmatic pronouncements of "it."

Chris said...

Hi David,

My reading of the Darby quote you provided is that Christ in and of himself is and always has been divine, and that the claim of divinity is made for him in the New Testament. Since the New Testament declares his divinity, the Nicene reassertion of it does not constitute a development.

One problem with this view, of course, is that the Trinitarian doctrine enunciated at Nicea asserts much more than just Christ's divinity. It endeavors to elaborate precisely how Christ is divine. If Darby thought that the full Trinitarian formula that came out of Nicea did not constitute a development, he was wrong. But I would be a little surprised if he really thought such a thing. Darby was anti-creedal, was he not? Do you happen to know whether he considered the formal doctrine of the Trinity to be part of the body of "fundamental truth" revealed in the Bible?

David Waltz said...

Hi Ben,

You posted:

>>Does Newman make the assertion that Darby accuses him of? Does Newman in fact claim that the divinity of Christ was "up in the air" until Nicene? I have never read such a thing, though my reading of Newman is light. It seems to me Darby is attacking a straw man.>>


Me: I suspect that Darby had in mind the following from Newman:

“Now let us look at the leading facts of the case, in appealing to which I must not be supposed to be ascribing any heresy to the holy men whose words have not always been sufficiently full or exact to preclude the imputation. First, the Creeds of that early day make no mention in their letter of the Catholic doctrine at all. They make mention indeed of a Three; but that there is any mystery in the doctrine, that the Three are One, that They are coequal, coeternal, all increate, all omnipotent, all incomprehensible, is not stated, and never could be gathered from them. Of course we believe that they imply it, or rather intend it. God forbid we should do otherwise! But nothing in the mere letter of those documents leads to that belief. To give a deeper meaning to their letter, we must interpret them by the times which came after.

Again, there is one and one only great doctrinal Council in Ante-nicene times. It was held at Antioch, in the middle of the third century, on occasion of the incipient innovations of the Syrian heretical school. Now the Fathers there assembled, for whatever reason, condemned, or at least withdrew, when it came into the dispute, the word “Homoüsion,” which was afterwards received at Nicæa as the special symbol of Catholicism against Arius.

Again, the six great Bishops and Saints of the Ante-nicene Church were St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, and St. Methodius. Of these, St. Dionysius is accused by St. Basil of having sown the first seeds of Arianism; and St. Gregory is allowed by the same learned Father to have used language concerning our Lord, which he only defends on the plea of an economical object in the writer . St. Hippolytus speaks as if he were ignorant of our Lord's Eternal Sonship; St. Methodius speaks incorrectly at least upon the Incarnation; and St. Cyprian does not treat of theology at all. Such is the incompleteness of the extant teaching of these true saints, and, in their day, faithful witnesses of the Eternal Son.

Again, Athenagoras, St. Clement, Tertullian, and the two SS. Dionysii would appear to be the only writers whose language is at any time exact and systematic enough to remind us of the Athanasian Creed. If we limit our view of the teaching of the Fathers by what they expressly state, St. Ignatius may be considered as a Patripassian, St. Justin arianizes, and St. Hippolytus is a Photinian.

Again, there are three great theological authors of the Ante-nicene centuries, Tertullian, Origen, and, we may add, Eusebius, though he lived some way into the fourth. Tertullian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's divinity, and, indeed, ultimately fell altogether into heresy or schism; Origen is, at the very least, suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian.” (An Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Introduction, section 11.)


Now, though the above may clear Darby from the “straw man” charge, Newman’s words (confirmed by my own personal patristic studies of over 20 years now), should cause one to question the perspicuity of the Scriptures; for if the Scriptures are truly clear on the “essentials”, and the doctrines of the Trinity and FULL divinity of the Son are “essentials”, then why is it that we have no early Church Father who taught an orthodox view the doctrines?

The following two renowned patristic scholars accurately summarize the pre-Nicene theological landscape: Bettenson writes, “‘Subordinationism’, it is true was pre-Nicene orthodoxy”; and Hanson penned, “Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.” [See Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers (London, England: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978 4th impression) p. 239; and R.P.C. Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153.]


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello Kepha,

Thanks again for the link to Dr. Liccione’s thread!

You posted:

>>I think it is the implicit aspect, which is constituitive of the Catholic understanding of doctrinal development, that is the biggest problem for Orthodox, Pre-Vatican II Catholics and Protestants (as well as myself).>>

Me: I suppose my first question would be, “Is the doctrine of the Trinity and the FULL deity of the Son ‘explicit’”? (See my above comments to Ben for indications that it was not.)

>>In other words, as I stated to Dr. Liccione, the Orthodox perspective (which Photius confirmed) seems to be, if the Apostles themselves did not teach "it," then there cannot be a doctrinal development of "it." There can be theological speculation and pious beliefs, but not doctrinal development, and certianly not dogmatic pronouncements of "it.">>

Me: An excellent point. But, I am sure you are quite cognizant of the fact that there are numerous/differing views as to precise content of what was taught by Christ and the Apostles; and this is why I maintain that the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures is highly suspect.

Now, I think I am on pretty safe ground when I state that ‘doctrine develops’; my question concerning this apparent fact is: “Which particular view of development is the true one”?

Before answering the above question, ask yourself this: “Has the Holy Spirit protected the Church from error as She marches down through history”? In other words, can one point to historic doctrinal decisions with the assurance that we can deem those who reject such decisions as heretics?


Grace and peace,

David

Kepha said...

Let me make some clarifications:

The implicit aspect of the Catholic understanding of doctrinal development is problematic because it seems to be utilized on only those controversial teachings, e.g., Treasury of Merit or the Bodily Assumption. Why is it that Catholics never say that God as Creator of heaven and earth is only implicit in Scripture? Or why don't they say that Jesus as God's Son is only implicit in Scripture? Or why isn't His being born of a virgin only implicit in Scripture? Why is it that the entire, what we today call, the Apostles' Creed not something that is only implicit in Scripture? Why is it that the only teachings that are "implicit" in Scripture happen to be the ones that we need an infallible Papacy for, teachings such as the one I've mentioned above?

This is what I mean by the implicit aspect of doctrinal development being problematic for many Christians. As for the excplicit aspect, yes, I believe the Apostles' Creed is explicit in Scripture. What Nicea did, as Chris mentioned above, was to venture into how Christ is divine. This is the crux of the issue for me, for in this instance the Council Fathers did not go from Jesus was a miracle-worker to Jesus was the Son of the living God, second Person of the Godhead. No, they went from "My Lord and my God," "the Word was God," "the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell," etc., to their formulation. That is a massive difference from the marian dogmas, wherein the Pope, not even a Council, went from silence of the New Testament concerning Mary's end to we infallibly know Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul. The former is a consistent, explicit doctrinal formation of something that was said by the Apostles themselves. Hence, the Eastern contention that there cannot be development of something that the Apostles did not teach.

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

You asked the following:

>>If Darby thought that the full Trinitarian formula that came out of Nicea did not constitute a development, he was wrong. But I would be a little surprised if he really thought such a thing. Darby was anti-creedal, was he not? Do you happen to know whether he considered the formal doctrine of the Trinity to be part of the body of "fundamental truth" revealed in the Bible?>>

Me: I happen to own “The Collected Works of J. N. Darby” (32 vols., plus index). I have only read small portions of this collection, but the index is quite excellent, so I was able to go to those sections were Darby articulated his views on the Trinity. Darby clearly affirmed the doctrine the Trinity. In one letter he writes:

“The Archbishop [Anglican] of Dublin is a Sabellian…Sabellianism may be considered some questionable opinion or difference. But you must know, sir, that it strikes at the root of all vital as well as orthodox Christianity, by neutralizing the distinction between the Father and the Son…A Trinity of character, but not a Trinity of persons, in the essential force of that word, may ease the proud mind of man of that which is beyond its natural powers, but takes away, at the same time, the whole basis on which a sinner can rest by faith. Men may be guilty of Tritheism, and Sabellians may avoid this. But they also undermine the faith in another way.”

In a short treatise he stated:

“I affirm that the only full revelation of the one true God is the revelation of Him in the Trinity.”

There is much more, but I hope the above answers your question. If not, let me know…


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

Thanks, David. In that case, Darby does appear to have seriously undermined the foundations of his own orthodoxy in the quote you provided in the OP.

Ken Temple said...

Tertullian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's divinity,

How is that? I thought he was only "heterodox" in his Montanism, and considered a heretic in his views on Mary and Joseph having a normal marriage after Jesus was born; and less than orthodox on his statements on infant baptism; and schismatic and heretic because of Montanism.

David Waltz said...

Hello Kepha,

Thanks for responding. You wrote:

>>Why is it that Catholics never say that God as Creator of heaven and earth is only implicit in Scripture? Or why don't they say that Jesus as God's Son is only implicit in Scripture? Or why isn't His being born of a virgin only implicit in Scripture? Why is it that the entire, what we today call, the Apostles' Creed not something that is only implicit in Scripture?>>

Me: Because those above mentioned doctrines were also contained in the Regula Fidei. The Regula Fidei was sufficient enough to combat the earliest heresies, but with the rise of Arianism, something more detailed was needed, for the Arians had no problem affirming all of the above doctrines that you mentioned. There is no question in my mind that heresy has played an important role in the development of doctrine.

>>Why is it that the only teachings that are "implicit" in Scripture happen to be the ones that we need an infallible Papacy for, teachings such as the one I've mentioned above?>>

Me: As Lane (and so many other patristic scholars) understands the early Church Fathers, they believed that the Regula Fidei was infallibly protected by the Holy Spirit. This same view later came to be believed of the Ecumenical Councils, and finally of ex cathedra Papal decrees.

>>This is what I mean by the implicit aspect of doctrinal development being problematic for many Christians. As for the excplicit aspect, yes, I believe the Apostles' Creed is explicit in Scripture.>>

Me: Once again, so did the Arians.

>>What Nicea did, as Chris mentioned above, was to venture into how Christ is divine.>>

Me: Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Son of God is “divine”. IMHO, the Apostles Creed was not enough to create sound orthodoxy, and I think history proves this out.

>>This is the crux of the issue for me, for in this instance the Council Fathers did not go from Jesus was a miracle-worker to Jesus was the Son of the living God, second Person of the Godhead. No, they went from "My Lord and my God," "the Word was God," "the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell," etc., to their formulation.>>

Me: Once again, the Arians accepted and affirmed all of the above. If you were to argue that an orthodox view of the Trinity is not an “essential”, then I would say that your line of thought as entirely consistent. However, if you believe that an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is an “essential” of the Christian Faith, then I must, with all due respect, maintain that your line of thought is not a consistent one.

I would been very interested in your thoughts concerning the following I that wrote in the opening post of this thread:

“Now, my readings and interactions with so, many of our Protestant brothers strongly suggests to me, that though willing to affirm some sense of DD, the foundation of their paradigm (formal sufficiency/perspicuity of scriptures, coupled with doctrinal corruption immediately following the death of the apostles), in essence, affirms Darby’s position.

Proceeding on with the above in mind, I cannot help but think that though Darby certainly raises some important questions concerning Newman’s view of development that need to be addressed, Darby’s own view of DD presents even greater difficulties—difficulties that are inherent to any Protestant concept of DD.”

I am preparing a new thread that is going to contain a short paper I wrote about a decade ago (a good 3-4 years before my entry into the RCC) that certainly raises some questions in my mind about the “orthodoxy” of the ECFs. I am also going to post some salient thoughts on development and perspicuity by Raymond Brown and Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.

Looking forward to your comments.

Grace and peace,

David

Kepha said...

Mr. Waltz, you wrote:

"The Regula Fidei was sufficient enough to combat the earliest heresies, but with the rise of Arianism, something more detailed was needed, for the Arians had no problem affirming all of the above doctrines that you mentioned. There is no question in my mind that heresy has played an important role in the development of doctrine."

And,

"IMHO, the Apostles Creed was not enough to create sound orthodoxy, and I think history proves this out."

I think this get us closer to the problemactic issue of the Catholic understanding of doctrinal development. I have no problem with saying that the teaching of the Apostles becomes more precise and systematic over the centuries in response to erroneous teachings. The problem lies in what is being developed. I see no essential different between the New Testament writings, the Apostles' Creed, and the Regula Fidei, that is to say, I don't believe that while Mary's immaculate conception or Indulgneces are not the New Testament, they are neither in the Apostles' Creed or the Regula Fidei. The New Testament, the Apostles' Creed and the Regula Fidei all bear the same explicit Truths. Where there is ambiguity in the details of these Truths, e.g., just how is the divine and human related in the person of Christ?, there is development. Again, these are developments of what the Apostles' taught. To go back to the Eastern understanding, there can be no development on issues that the Apostles' didn't teach.

This is all I can say for now; I gotta head out for work. God bless.

Kepha said...

Correction.

I wrote, " . . . that is to say, I don't believe that while Mary's immaculate conception or Indulgneces are not the New Testament, they are neither in the Apostles' Creed or the Regula Fidei."

It should read:

" . . . that is to say, I don't believe that while Mary's immaculate conception or Indulgneces are not the New Testament, these teachings are in the Apostles' Creed or the Regula Fidei."

Ken Temple said...

IC of Mary and Indulgences -
they were not in the apostles creed nor the regula Fidei in Irenaeus, Tertullian, or Athanasius. That is reading them back into earlier church history; they came much much later. This is called being anachronistric.

they are clearly not in the NT either
Respectfully submitted
Ken Temple

David Waltz said...

Hello Ken and Kepha,

I did not mean to convey that the Marian dogmas were in either the Apostles Creed or the Church’s early Regula Fidei, for those dogmas are a much later developments. The question I ask is this: Are the accepted later developments of the Catholic Tradition consistent and true developments that, of course, do not negate the earlier ones, but rather, help to clarify them?

With that question in mind, I found Dr. Liccione’s recent comments quite interesting:

>>The upshot of distinctively Catholic Mariology is that Mary sums up in her person pre-eminently what every believer is called to be in lesser degree. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception tells us that Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, what each believer is at the moment of their baptism; the Assumption tells us that Mary, from time her earthly life ended, has enjoyed proleptically that fullness of resurrection which all the saved will enjoy on the Last Day. For those and other reasons, Mary is by far the most powerful intercessor on believers' behalf. Indeed, Mary is not only Mother of God but Mother of that Church which is the Mystical Body of her divine Son, in virtue of being one body with him in a unity of which Christian marriage is a sacramental sign. And that Church is necessary for salvation, even when the grace offered to the world in and through her works outside her visible boundaries. So if the economy of salvation really does include all the things about Mary that the Catholic Church teaches, then Mary is indeed "Mediatrix of all Graces"—although, for reasons I gave a few days ago, it would not be helpful now for Rome to dogmatize that doctrine. Yet, if the Catholic Marian doctrines are true, they tell Christians things which it is quite helpful for salvation to know.

Of course it is possible to be saved without such knowledge, just as it is possible for some people to be saved without ever having heard the Gospel. But to argue from that premise to the conclusion that the Catholic Marian dogmas do not belong to the deposit of faith would be like arguing that the doctrine of the necessity of baptism, which has long been taught in both East and West, does not so belong either. Such an argument would be obviously fallacious, and I don't believe Behr would make it. That's why he begs the question by simply assuming that the Catholic Marian dogmas do not "pertain directly to the Gospel.">> (SEE HERE.)

Grace and peace,

David