Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Development of doctrine, Dignitatis Humanae, and the Christianizing of paganism vs. the paganizing of Christianity


This new post has its genesis via the seeds planted from my reading—and related research—of THIS RECENT COM BOX POST by Rory, and his subsequent posts in the same thread. Rory has brought to my attention—what appears to be— contradictions concerning the issue of Church and State relations as delineated in the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, with contributions from previous Popes, theologians, and Catholic kings—e.g. Pius IX, Pius X, Augustine, and Louis IX, Though not mentioned by Rory in his posts, one could add Pope Leo XIII’s, Immortale Dei—On The Christian Constitution of States, to his list of previous documents which seem to be contradicted by Dignitatis Humanae.

Now, after reading Dignitatis Humanae; Augustine’s Letter to Boniface, On the Treatement of the Donatists (#185), and his Letter to Vincent (#93 – also concernng the Donatists); Louis IX's Letter to his son [link]; Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei; Ratzinger’s “EPILOGUE – ON THE STATUS OF CHURCH AND THEOLOGY TODAY” (pages 365-393 in his book, Principles of Catholic Theology); and a number of germane online contributions, I have reached somewhat of an impasse—both sides of the issue have strong arguments for their respective positions. I have become convinced that the side one chooses between the two polarized positions depends on one's understanding of the development of doctrine.

As such, I have once again turned to John Henry Newman’s, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. This new reading has raised some concerns that went unnoticed in my past readings. I started this new reading using the original 1845 version that I had downloaded to my tablet, and the following caught my eye:

Now there was this cardinal distinction between Christianity and the religions and philosophies by which it was surrounded, nay even the Judaism of the day, that it referred all truth and revelation to one source, and that the Supreme and Only God. Pagan rites which honoured one out of ten thousand deities ; philosophies which scarcely taught any source of revelation at all; Gnostic heresies which were based on Dualism, adored angels, or ascribed the two Testaments to distinct authors, could not regard truth as one, unalterable, consistent, imperative, and saving. But Christianity started with the principle that there was but "one God and one Mediator," and that He, "who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, had in these last days spoken unto us by His Son." Hence Christianity, and it alone, revered and protected the Divine word which it had received, as both sacred and as sanctifying. It was grace, and it was truth. (1845 - p. 338)

So far, so good; I fully affirm all the above. But in the paragraph that immediately follows the above, a ‘red-flag’ went up:

In other words, Christianity has from first to last kept fixed principles in view in the course of its developments, and thereby has been able to incorporate doctrine which was external to it without losing its own. Such continuity of principle, and such assimilating power, are each of them incompatible with the idea of a corruption, as was laid down in an early part of the Volume. The two special principles which the foregoing paragraph introduces, may be called the Dogmatic and the Sacramental, and their assimilating power shall now be illustrated. (1845 - pp. 338, 339)

The notion that Christianity, “has been able to incorporate doctrine which was external to it without losing its own”, seemed a bit out of place to me, so I pulled the 1878 edition off of the shelf, and found the above paragraph missing. I also noticed that the first paragraph I cited above was altered, substituting, “Hence Christianity, and it alone, revered and protected the Divine word which it had received, as both sacred and as sanctifying”, with:

He had never left Himself without witness, and now He had come, not to undo the past, but to fulfil and perfect it. His Apostles, and they alone, possessed, venerated, and protected a Divine Message, as both sacred and sanctifying; and, in the collision and conflict of opinions, in ancient times or modern, it was that Message, and not any vague or antagonist teaching, that was to succeed in purifying, assimilating, transmuting, and taking into itself the many-coloured beliefs, forms of worship, codes of duty, schools of thought, through which it was ever moving. (1878 – pp. 356, 357)

The 1878 edition in the above section has expanded the notion that developments had the ability, “to incorporate doctrine which was external to without losing its own”, to include, purifying, assimilating, transmuting, and taking into itself the many-coloured beliefs, forms of worship, codes of duty, schools of thought, through which it was ever moving.

Unlike my previous readings, I was now quite focused on identifying those, “many-coloured beliefs, forms of worship, codes of duty, schools of thought”, that Newman had in mind. Just a few pages later we read, “St. Augustine might first be opposed to the employment of force in religion, and then acquiesce in it” (1878 – p. 367). In essence, the Church which had been outlawed and persecuted, had now adopted the “code of duty" of Her persecutor. [Is this a case of the Christianizing of paganism, or the paganizing of Christianity—more as this issue later.]

Newman follows the above with:

Confiding then in the power of Christianity to resist the infection of evil, and to transmute the very instruments and appendages of demon-worship to an evangelical use, and feeling also that these usages had originally come from primitive revelations and from the instinct of nature, though they had been corrupted ; and that they must invent what they needed, if they did not use what they found ; and that they were moreover possessed of the very archetypes, of which paganism attempted the shadows; the rulers of the Church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class. (1878 – pp. 371, 372.)

Newman then goes on to provide a number of actual examples of the above outlined principles:

In the course of the fourth century two movements or developments spread over the face of Christendom, with a rapidity characteristic of the Church ; the one ascetic, the other ritual or ceremonial. We are told in various ways by Eusebius, that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own. It is not necessary to go into a subject which the diligence of Protestant writers has made familiar to most of us. The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness ; holy water ; asylums ; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields ; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church. (1878 – p. 373 – bold emphasis mine.)

I shall now end this post with two questions: first, if all the above pagan elements can be, “sanctified by their adoption into the Church”, why not the secular humanistic elements found in Dignitatis Humanae? And second, is it possible that a number of the pagan elements that have been adopted by the Church are corruptions rather than true developments—i.e a paganizing of Christianity rather than a Christianizing of paganism?


Grace and peace,

David