Somebody posted a link to this article on the forums recently: nytimes.com/2005/05/22/books/review/22STEINFE.html
It’s a review of a book called “A Church That Can and Cannot Change” that unless I’m misunderstanding it, is pro-Catholic. But the article is certainly not sympathetic to the church. The charge is that:
Historically, Catholicism solved the problem of change simply by denying it.
Here are some snippets:
In ‘‘A Church That Can and Cannot Change,’’ Noonan drives home the point that some Catholic moral doctrines have changed radically. History, he concludes, does not support the comforting notion that the church simply elaborates on or expands previous teachings without contradicting them.
In 1888, after every Christian nation had abolished slavery, the Vatican finally condemned it – with a kind of historical rewriting and self-congratulation that palpably offends Noonan’s sense of honesty.
Noonan’s other exhibits deal with usury, religious freedom and marriage. Lending money for interest, long condemned as usury, became accepted as lawful. In certain cases, modern popes have claimed the power to dissolve marriages once considered indissoluble. And instead of insisting on government’s imposing legal penalties, including death, to uphold religious truth, today the church positively forbids it.
Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty reversed a long-held position that ‘‘error has no rights,’’ despite the fact that only a few years previously a theologian like John Courtney Murray, the Jesuit whose defense of American separation of church and state laid the groundwork for the decree, had been silenced.
NOONAN’S four case studies demonstrate beyond question the fact and the extent of change. But do they offer insights that might aid Catholics in distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate developments in doctrine? In a negative sense, yes. Noonan believes in an unchanging element in Catholic teaching, a core continuity from Jesus to today. But from his cases he can deduce no rules of thumb to determine what falls within this continuity. His cases contravene the organic image of a gradual unfolding of latent truth. Nor does he find that categories like ‘‘unnatural’’ or ‘‘intrinsic evil,’’ meant to sort out the immutable from the mutable, make solid sense of past changes.
My question: Is the article correct? Does the church pretend to “develop” when they are really just arbitrarily changing their position? Where is objective truth?