Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Behr, Louth, Hanson, Newman, Giles and the development of doctrine


In the comments section of the LAST THREAD here at Articuli Fidei, Iohannes (John) provided a quote from John Behr’s book, The Nicene Faith – Part 1 which is critical of certain reflections made by R.P.C. Hanson in his book, The Search For the Christian Doctrine of God, and his essay The achievement of orthodoxy in the fourth century AD (important pages missing in the “limited previews”; I own all three books, and can provide further quotations if requested).

Behr argues that, “Christian theology, at least as vindicated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, has been shown to be very much, and in a very specific manner, an exegetical task” (p. 16). And again, “Christian theology, as established as normative by the end of the second century, on the basis of the way the gospel was proclaimed from the beginning, and then reaffirmed by Nicea and Constantinople, is an exegetical enterprise, reflecting on the revelation of God in Christ through the engagement with the Scriptures, understood as having been spoken, by the Spirit, of Christ, and so to be read in a reciprocally ‘spiritual’ exegesis” (ibid.).

Now, what Arian would argue against the notion that “Christian theology…is very much…an exegetical task”? Further, the assumption that “Christian theology”, was “vindicated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople”, would be hotly contested, via an exegetical method, by Arians. Behr’s ‘method’, IMHO, solves little; and his criticisms of Hanson stem from the faulty notion that doctrine does not develop. Dr. Liccione has thoroughly exposed Dr. Behr in his thread, THIS TIME, FR. BEHR. (Dr. Liccione’s previous thread, DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE, FR. LOUTH, AND ECUMENISM, addresses Dr. Louth’s skewed concept of DD.)

Despite Dr. Behr’s and Dr. Louth’s pleadings to the contrary, doctrine does develop—the real question is this: how does one determine authentic development from corruption? So, with this introduction of sorts in place, we can now examine Iohannes recent comments on DD; JOHN WROTE:

To make an end of this rambling on my part, if the question is whether Scripture is clear enough "to bring the reader to the [substance of the] doctrine of the Trinity apart from development/tradition," I think it indeed is, but in this sense: when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained, we can see for ourselves that it is correct, even independently the Church's say-so. The tradition is public, and is amenable to investigation by all, with no one set up as a privileged interpreter (someone who can see more in principle than others can see). Thus St Athanasius defended Nicaea and knew it was right, not because a duly constituted ecumenical council had promulgated it, but because he could look at what Nicaea said side by side with what was taught in Scripture, and could see the correspondence between them. He saw for himself the truth of the Church's doctrine. Hence he stood up for it, even when he faced opposition from others in the Church.

Here is the ‘rub’: “when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained, we can see for ourselves that it is correct, even independently the Church's say-so”. Yet without the “Church's say-so”, the vast majority of Christians were subordinationists; without the “Church's say-so” (creeds, confessions, catechisms, seminaries, et al.) many do not embrace one of the forms of Trinitarianism.

Once again, doctrine develops. A fairly recent book illuminates this point even further; Kevin Giles in his, JESUS AND THE FATHER, raises some very interesting (and controversial) issues concerning the ‘revival’ of subordinationism among conservative Evangelical theologians. Dr. Giles believes that many of his Evangelical brothers are not only misreading the Church Fathers, but also, the Scriptures! (Dr. Giles book sheds some further light on the controversial issues I reflected on in the JOHN CALVIN: A TRI-THEISTIC HERETIC? thread.)

Yet one more time: doctrine develops (and still is developing). The implications of this fact raises not only serious questions concerning the very nature of DD, but also over the doctrine of sola scriptura.


Grace and peace,

David

4 comments:

Chris said...

Hi David!

What about the people who, "when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained," can see for themselves that it is incorrect? Certainly there are and have been many such people, and there might be many more if not for the pressure exerted by the Church. This is even truer in the case of Chalcedonian Christology than of the Trinity. It seems to me that since private judgment and Roman Catholic authority have often demonstrably disagreed at basically every point of doctrine, the task of verifying development must either belong exclusively to one or the other or must not be necessary at all.

Best,

-Chris

Iohannes said...

Hi David,

Happy New Year, and thanks for your thoughts. I'm sorry I can't say much. I am tied up with some work that needs to be finished over the next several days.

For now, I don't think that Dr Liccione has 'exposed' Fr Behr. The latter's position still looks stronger to me. I fear that what Dr Liccione proposes comes dangerously close to a gnostic theory of development. As such, I do not think St Irenaeus would be pleased with it. This is in short what Behr asserts about Newman. Besides giving his own judgment as a scholar of Irenaeus, Behr has pointed to what other scholars have said. Among them is Denis Minns, OP, whose remarks are available here (and here). At Conscious Faith there are other materials related to Behr's take on Irenaeus, and on scripture and tradition more generally. If you'd like, they can be pulled up with the search feature.

BTW, if you haven't seen it, I think you'd find this post by Dr Witt interesting. He looks at the problem of New Testament Christology and whether it corresponds to later orthodoxy. His approach reminds me of Wright's comments about Paul's Christology.

God bless,

John

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

So good to see you back; you wrote:

>>What about the people who, "when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained," can see for themselves that it is incorrect? Certainly there are and have been many such people, and there might be many more if not for the pressure exerted by the Church.>>

Me: Agreed. IMHO, an objective reading of history shows that without use of secular/political force, Arianism would probably have continued to flourish well beyond the 4th century.

>>This is even truer in the case of Chalcedonian Christology than of the Trinity.>>

Me: Once again, agreed.

>>It seems to me that since private judgment and Roman Catholic authority have often demonstrably disagreed at basically every point of doctrine, the task of verifying development must either belong exclusively to one or the other or must not be necessary at all.>>

Me: Interesting thoughts; if you get chance, could you elaborate a bit more on this…


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi John,

Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to respond to my musings (sincerely hope they were not too cavalier). You posted:

>>I'm sorry I can't say much. I am tied up with some work that needs to be finished over the next several days.>>

Me: No problem. I am slowly working my way through the blog material again, so I am in no rush; when time allows, I hope you can make it back…

>>For now, I don't think that Dr Liccione has 'exposed' Fr Behr. The latter's position still looks stronger to me. I fear that what Dr Liccione proposes comes dangerously close to a gnostic theory of development.>>

Me: I guess that we will have to agree to disagree. In Dr. Liccione’s thread on Fr. Behr that I linked to, we read the following thoughts of Behr:

>> From an Orthodox perspective, there simply is, therefore, no such thing as dogmatic development. What there is, of course, is ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanations elaborated in defense of one and the same faith -- responding, each time, to a particular context, a particular controversy etc. But it is one and the same faith that has been believed from the beginning -- the continuity of the correct interpretation of Scripture.>>

Dr. Liccione’s response to the above is worth posting:

>> That confusion is between the material and the formal content of the deposit of faith. Materially, the deposit of faith may not and indeed cannot be augmented by any process whatsoever. Since it is in and by Christ, the Truth himself, that we are given the definitive revelation of God for us, there is nothing materially to add to what is revealed in and by Christ. But it does not thereby follow that there can be no formal elaboration of teaching thereon that develops over time. A good deal of that formal elaboration is what Behr acknowledges by claiming that "[w]hat there is, of course, is ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanations elaborated in defense of one and the same faith -- responding, each time, to a particular context, a particular controversy etc." But as I have often argued before, that is precisely what authentic DD consists in. When it is claimed that there is such a thing as authentic development of doctrine, the term 'doctrine' means 'teaching', from the Latin doctrina. It is undeniable that there has been development in teaching over the centuries in the East as well as the West, if by "teaching" we mean the elaboration and transmission of true and normative statements about the content of divine revelation. Development of doctrine is a fact, and it remains a fact even though putative addition to that which doctrine is about—i.e., the deposit of faith—is neither desirable nor ultimately possible. The development of "dogma" is just the development of doctrine into formulations that the Church proposes to us with her full authority, such as the homousion. And so, pace Behr, there is such a thing as development of dogma—so long as we realize that such development adds nothing to the material content of the deposit of faith, but only formally elaborates that content in ways helpful within this or that historical context.>>

Me: Perhaps Dr. Liccione in other postings exhibits what you termed “a gnostic theory of development”, but I see no evidence of this in the above quote, which is pretty much my own take on the issue/s at hand.

>>As such, I do not think St Irenaeus would be pleased with it. This is in short what Behr asserts about Newman. Besides giving his own judgment as a scholar of Irenaeus, Behr has pointed to what other scholars have said. Among them is Denis Minns, OP, whose remarks are available here (and here). At Conscious Faith there are other materials related to Behr's take on Irenaeus, and on scripture and tradition more generally. If you'd like, they can be pulled up with the search feature.>>

Me: Thanks for the links; I ordered Minns book yesterday. Now, I own the work referenced by Behr and Minns: W.W. Harvey’s Sancti Irenaei libros quinque aversus haereses. IMHO, Harvey’s take on Irenaeus is anachronistic; I cannot help but think that you would disagree with his assessment of Irenaeus’ view of the Eucharist, church government and soteriology, and this, carries with it important implications for Harvey’s off-handed critique of DD.

Moving on, last night I was rereading Warfield’s masterful essay, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, and could not help but see elements of Newman’s theory of DD underlying the basic thrust of Warfield’s own reflections: it was not until Calvin that “the lurking leaven of subordinationism” was truly eradicated. Is this not clear case of development? Does not the fact (despite pleadings to the contrary) that the pre-Nicene CFs were all subordinationists support the theory of DD? My whole argument/theory concerning DD uses the development of the doctrine of the Trinity as a model for how one is to approach the subject. IMHO, this model speaks against Behr, and vindicates much of Hanson’s reflections.

Enough said for now; once again, I sincerely hope to see you back when you have more time…


Grace and peace,

David