At the FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM BLOG, a discussion concerning the development of doctrine (DD) as espoused by Bernard Lonergan in the book The Way To Nicea (a translation of the first part of Lonergan’s De Deo Trino by Conn O’Donovan), with John Henry Newman’s theory of DD has been taking place during the last few days. Yesterday, I received a request from Iohannes (John) to type up page 13 from the book; I am responding to that request, with this new thread, typing up not only page 13, but a also a portion of page 14, and adding some of my own reflections on the material.
From Lonergan’s pen we read:
In the first place, within ante-Nicene movement we have to recognize two distinct, though related, developments. There is no doubt that those early Christian centuries produced a development in trinitarian and christological doctrine, but this doctrinal development contained within it another, more profound development: the development of the very notion of dogma. But this latter development was implicit not explicit; the question was not sharply defined, methodically investigated and unambiguously answered. Yet somehow the question was both asked and answered within the process of development which, if it had not taken place, we could not now describe. Investigating that process now from our perspective, we can identify and isolate both the question and the answer in a way that the ante-Nicene authors themselves neither did nor could have done. For those early Christian writers, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, paved the way for the definition of dogma, without really knowing what they were doing. This is hardly surprising, since it is a feature of every significant advance in the field of intellect that it must first be accomplished before it can be reflected on, examined in detail, and accurately explained.
Secondly, there is an important distinction to be made between the type of doctrinal development that leads from obscurity to clarity, and the quite different type that leads from one kind of clarity to another. The emergence of the very notion of dogma, grounded in the word of God as true, was a movement from obscurity to clarity; on the other hand, the doctrine of the Christian Church concerning Jesus Christ advanced not from obscurity to clarity, but from one kind of clarity to another. What Mark, Paul, and John thought about Christ was neither confused nor obscure, but quite clear and distinct; yet their teaching acquired a new kind of clarity and distinctness through the definition of Nicea. But further dogmas had to follow, and then the historical investigation of dogmas, before the fact and the nature of dogmatic development itself could be clearly established.
7. For this reason the question of dogmatic development is a much more recent one. Athanasius neither wanted nor intended to bring about dogmatic development; on the contrary, in his profession of faith he would have preferred to use only the words of scripture, if “the malice of the Arians” had not rendered necessary another mode of speech. Cf. De decretis niciaenae synodi, 32; AW II, 28, 1ff. ; MG 25, 473D-476A.
Thirdly, we can now see how we have to go about investigating the ante-Nicene development. For we have to deal not with one, but with two distinct developments, and not with two developments of the same type, since one is from obscurity to clarity, the other from one kind of clarity to another. (Bernard Lonergan, The Way To Nicea, trans. by Conn O’Donovan, pp. 13, 14.)
[In the above quotation, one can discern an implementation of Hegelian dialectic: thesis-statements about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures; antithesis-development of the very notion of dogma; synthesis-Trinitarian doctrine (i.e the Nicene Creed).]
Newman too affirmed a certain sense of “clarity” concerning the Scriptural witness of the person of Jesus Christ, as attested in the writings of the ante-Nicene Church Fathers and “heretics”. In his Introduction of An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine he points out that there was a consensus among the CFs concerning the clear affirmations about Jesus Christ as found in the Scriptures; but then is quick to point out that:
The Catholic Truth in question is made up of a number of separate propositions [as clearly testified within the Scriptures], each of which, if maintained to the exclusion of the rest, is a heresy. In order to prove that all [ANY] the Ante-nicene writers taught the dogma of the Holy Trinity, it is not enough to prove that each still had gone far enough to be only a heretic—not enough to prove that one has held that the Son is God, (for so did the Sabellian, so did the Macedonian), or another that the Father is not the Son, (for so did the Arian), and another that the Son is equal to the Father, (for so did the Tritheist), and another that there is but One God, (for so did the Unitarian)…(John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Notre Dame Press 1989 ed., pp. 14, 15.)
Newman also wrote:
You have made a collection of passages from the Fathers, as witnesses in behalf of your doctrine that the whole Christian faith is contained in Scripture, as if, in your sense of the words, Catholics contradicted you here. And you refer to my Notes on St. Athanasius as contributing passages to your list; But, after all, neither you, nor I in my Notes, affirm any doctrine which Rome denies. Those Notes also make frequent reference to a traditional teaching, which (be the faith ever so contained in Scripture), still is necessary as a Regula Fidei, for showing us that it is contained there; vid. Pp. 283-431; and this tradition, I know, you uphold as fully as I do in the Notes in question. In consequence, you allow that there is a two-fold rule, Scripture and Tradition; and this is all that Catholics say. How, then do Anglicans differ from Rome here? I believe the difference is merely one of words…(John Henry Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt By Anglicans In Catholic Teaching Considered, vol. 2, pp. 11, 12.)
For the vast majority those who embrace the NT as the word of God, who argues over Jesus Christ as “the Son of God”; as the promised “Messiah”; as the “only-begotten God”; et al.—as such, one should be able to ascertain that the issue is NOT over whether or not there are “clear” teachings/statements concerning the person of Jesus Christ within the pages of the Scriptures (there are many), but rather, whether or not the clarity is such to bring the reader to the doctrine of the Trinity apart from development/tradition (it never has).
Grace and peace,