Development of Doctrine

I was hoping that someone could explain the Catholic position on the development of doctrine, and provide relevant quotations. My impetus for asking this is a podcast I recently listened to where an Orthodox priest lectures on Catholicism and states the following:

“Roman Catholic doctrine develops, such that new doctrines appear which are absent from previous centuries. Because the Roman Catholic faith is not “backwards compatible”, to borrow a computing term, that means that a good Catholic from 200 years ago could be in danger of excommunication were he alive today. As an example, papal infallibility was denied by many Catholics including bishops until the official definition of the dogma in 1870; they all remained good Catholics until 1870, now they would be excommunication… Rome teaches that Christ only gave a seed of faith to the apostles, which has grown and changed over time. The Vatican teaches that the Roman Catholic Church of today understands the truth and has a higher level of knowledge than the Church of yester year. Thus, the Fathers had a higher level of knowledge than the Apostles, the medieval scholastics understood better than the Fathers, and so on. This is the theological background of all the innovations in Roman Catholic doctrine which differ from Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, by contrast, believes in the development of the expression of Christian doctrine, but not of its operative substance.”

Thank you for your assistance and I look forward to hearing your responses,

Don

I won’t address the Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine - that’s been discussed here about a million times, and there are some great tracts in the library.

However, I will address the substance of this statement:

That is just plain silly. No Catholic layperson is expected to know all the Doctrine of the Church (I certainly do not!). You don’t need to travel in time to be ignorant of some Doctrines. You could be a perfectly good and faithful Catholic (today) and be completely unaware that the Church teaches Papal infallibility.

You may freely debate against it, up until the point that someone informs you that it is a defined Doctrine. At that point, you must at least give the assent of the intellect - if you continue to deny the doctrine (once becoming aware of it) THEN you can be in hot water.

Hi DC,

Catholic Answers has a good article on this subject :

catholic.com/library/Can_Dogma_Develop.asp

Verbum

"Roman Catholic doctrine develops, such that new doctrines appear which are absent from previous centuries. Because the Roman Catholic faith is not “backwards compatible”, to borrow a computing term, that means that a good Catholic from 200 years ago could be in danger of excommunication were he alive today. As an example, papal infallibility was denied by many Catholics including bishops until the official definition of the dogma in 1870;

Foolishness! The Orthodox priest is IGNORANT and has the slighest clue what he is saying and believes about Catholicism. Development does not EQUATE into “innovations” as many tend to believe. Does the Orthodox priest bother to mention when the Trinity was ratified by the universal church? The year 325 A.D. Would he claim the belief of Trinity appeared later? Doctrines are defined and ratified when questioned,challenged and violated. The doctrine of papal infallibility was NOT invented in 1870,but merely defined and made official as ALL previous doctrines. The year it was made official does not negate a doctrine or prove it is a late invention.That Orthodox priest has a lot to learn about doctrinal development as well.

Simply not true. First, these doctrines are not “absent from previous centuries,” otherwise what would these Catholics from 200 years ago be denying? Second, good Catholics would not deny a dogmatically defined doctrine. So 200 years ago they had the perfect right to debate the doctrine of Infallibility (for example) but, after Vatican I dogmatically defined the doctrine, it would no longer be debatable.

The concept is not that confusing. And, yes, Catholic doctrine is “backwards compatible,” despite what this Orthodox priest might write.

I think that defining a dogma is in effect an innovation at least in adding something that must now be believed. When Vatican 1 defined papal infallibility it was defining it as something that had to be believed.

Was it declaring it as something that it had always been necessary to believe? If so, what happens to those people did not believe it and died before it was defined. They did not believe it and did not know it had to be believed because it had not been formally proposed for belief.

If it was defining something that had to be believed from then on, why did the requirements change? Why did a person after 1870 have to believe it and someone in 1869 did no? If you say because he didn’t know it was required, you would appear to be making an argument that leads to the conclusion that it is better to remain ignorant because you are not culpable if you do.

That’s not an innovation, it’s clarification. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility goes back to Matthew 16. If you want to call that an “innovation,” then Christ was the “Innovator.”

Was it declaring it as something that it had always been necessary to believe? If so, what happens to those people did not believe it and died before it was defined. They did not believe it and did not know it had to be believed because it had not been formally proposed for belief.

Those of good will who sincerely doubted the doctrine are not guilty of any sin. Once the doctrine has been dogmatically defined it must be believed. It’s that simple.

If it was defining something that had to be believed from then on, why did the requirements change? Why did a person after 1870 have to believe it and someone in 1869 did no? If you say because he didn’t know it was required, you would appear to be making an argument that leads to the conclusion that it is better to remain ignorant because you are not culpable if you do.

No, it’s not better to remain ignorant. To remain willfully ignorant when you have doubts is, in itself, a sin. The key here is willful ignorance.

This is false, at least the way it’s worded it looks that way. The way I would explain it is like this: When you were a young child you may have known about Jesus in a certain way but, as you got older, you would know Him in a deeper way. The way you knew Him when you were younger wasn’t wrong but your understanding grew. This is the way it is with the Church. All of our beliefs come from the apostles and we call this Apostolic Tradition but the understanding and the ability to explain these beliefs grew. The Church is a living organism - like a person that grows.For example, many would say we “Invented” the Doctrine of Purgatory in the 14th century but the church clearly taught it before that. The same with the Trinity which was defined at the Council of Nicea in 325ad. Of course, the Church believed and taught it before that. If the Council had made it up in 325, there would have been a massive protest. This is a start and I hope it helps.

"By development of doctrine, we mean that some divinely revealed truth has become more deeply understood and more clearly perceived than it had been before. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promised to send to teach us, the Church comes to see more deeply what she had always believed, and the resulting insights find expression in devotion of the faithful that may have been quite uncommon in the Church’s previous history. The whole spectrum of Christology and Mariology has witnessed such dogmatic progress. Adoration of the Eucharist, therefore, is simply another, though dramatic, example of doctrinal development.

Always implied in such progress is that, objectively, the revealed truth remains constant and unchanged. But through the light of the Holy Spirit, the subjective understanding of the truth becomes more clear, its meaning becomes more certain and its grasp by the believing mind becomes increasingly more firm."

The History of Eucharistic Adoration
Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
[/FONT]http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/manual/section1/sec1_12a.pdf

Rome teaches that Christ only gave a seed of faith to the apostles, which has grown and changed over time.

Develope good. Change bad. It is impossible for the Church to change or invent a doctrine.

The Vatican teaches that the Roman Catholic Church of today understands the truth and has a higher level of knowledge than the Church of yester year. Thus, the Fathers had a higher level of knowledge than the Apostles, the medieval scholastics understood better than the Fathers, and so on.

The Body is one, and so the episcopate is one, and the unity of the episcopate is achieved through solidarity with the prime source of Episcopal power, the Bishop of Rome. In the Catholic vision the pope teaches in the name of the episcopate and the episcopate teaches in the name of the Church and the Church teaches in the name of Christ, and Christ teaches in the name of God.

Conflicting teaching seems to be given by the same or successive popes. But it is wrong to use one set of statements as indicative of the papal policy without referring to the other set. The popes word their doctrine with extreme precision for a definite historical context, so that the doctrine will not necessarily take on meanings beyond those needed for the question to be treated here and now.

Conclusions must not be drawn out of given propositions with the aid of premises, which the individual believes in but which are not admitted by the original author of the propositions.

To interpret the popes in the light of premises, which they expressly repudiate, is hardly an honest interpretation of their teaching. At times Catholics themselves fall into the same trap. By projecting the papal message, they produce statements which are not the affirmations of the popes but which seem to the interpreter’s logically inevitable conclusions.

Another element is that Catholicism insists that it teaches the preaching of Christ, and only that. The Catholic believes that his beliefs are identical with those of the Apostolic Church, without a jot or title changed.

However, he knows that the syntheses made in an earlier day are shorter and more meager than the syntheses made now. The affirmations of the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) are fuller affirmations concerning the constitutional structure of Jesus than the original New Testament statements.

However, the Catholic insists that the doctrine of Nicaea is the identical doctrine of the New Testament. Nicaea detailed formally and clearly what was implicit in the scriptural formulas. Cardinal Newman called this the development of dogma.

Now when the theologian interprets the perennial expressions counter to the living consciousness of the Church, the magisterium, i.e., the teaching authorities, will reformulate the old expression so that the innovator’s interpretations will be excluded. The new expression is obviously longer than the old one, but it is not a different one.
**This must be understood correctly. **

The reformulation does not occur by linguistic analysis of the earlier expression.
The earlier was linguistically ambiguous. They must ultimately use some principle of interpretation other than mere linguistic analysis. Catholic theory holds that the doctrine of Christ lives in the Catholic Church.

At any moment, because of the abiding indwelling Spirit of God, the doctrine is known by the total Church, just as a man knows his total knowledge. If you quote to such a man a phrase he used on a former occasion, he can tell you what he meant by it and what he did not mean by it. He does not at all feel bound to understand his mind by literary analysis of his own words.

(When you say something to me, a literal analysis of your own words does not explain your mind) So it is with the Church… Again: “at any moment, because of the abiding indwelling Spirit of God, the doctrine is known by the total Church, just as a man knows his total knowledge.”

The development of doctrine is a question of growth - the growth of the whole Church. The magisterium does not alone produce this development; it only formalizes it in due time. The whole Church is involved in the process, for it is in the whole Church that the Spirit works.

Significant in this is the work of theologians. Theologians formulate. They do more than merely repeat the authentic declarations in new words; they compare them with the other sources of doctrine; they systematize their findings; they talk the language of their time and are very much under the influence of history.

Dear brother Don,

It is always a pleasure to have conversations with you.

Thank you for your question. I really, really do appreciate it, for it demonstrates a humble willingness to let the horse speak about the horse, instead of the cow. There’s a lot in the EO presentation of Catholic belief that is wrong.

"Roman Catholic doctrine develops, such that new doctrines appear which are absent from previous centuries.

I can understand that this is how a non-Catholic might view Catholic dogmas. But that is not what the Catholic Church teaches about doctrine and dogma. The Catholic Church explicitly teaches that there can be no new doctrine:
…the Holy Spirit was promised to the Successors of St. Peter not that they might make known new doctrine by His revelation, but rather, that with His assistance they might religiously guard and faithfully explain the revelation or Depost of Faith that was handed down through the Apostles.” (Pastor Aeternus, Vatican 1)

However, the Catholic Church does affirm that there can be new dogmas.
The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or having a necessary connection with them, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith.” (CCC 88)

So any new dogma is simply an authoritative affirmation of an existing doctrine.

Because the Roman Catholic faith is not “backwards compatible”, to borrow a computing term, that means that a good Catholic from 200 years ago could be in danger of excommunication were he alive today. As an example, papal infallibility was denied by many Catholics including bishops until the official definition of the dogma in 1870; they all remained good Catholics until 1870, now they would be excommunication…

I think others have sufficiently answered this question. I would only add that even though there were those who denied “papal infallibility” prior to the definition of 1870, it cannot be doubted that the teaching existed prior to the definition of 1870. The earliest explicit affirmation of the teaching (aside from Scripture) of which I am aware is St. Ignatius (A.D. 30 - 107) in his Epistle to the Romans, who affirmed that the Church in Rome was “filled inseparably with the Grace of God.;” St. Cyprian (A.D. 200 - 258), who, in writing to Pope St. Cornelius, asserted that the Church in Rome possessed a Faith that “could not” (i.e., there was no possibility) be infected by heresy.

Many also believe that St. Irenaeus’ (A.D. 120 - 202) teaching that all must be in agreement with Rome “of necessity” on matters of Faith at least implies an affirmation of “papal infallibility.”

Rome teaches that Christ only gave a seed of faith to the apostles, which has grown and changed over time.

I’ve never heard of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Development of Doctrine expressed this way. Normally, the “seed” analogy is used to explicitly affirm that the ESSENCE of doctrine always remains the same, though its outward appearance might change over time. Understood that way, I don’t see it as any different from what you stated Orthodoxy teaches “by contrast” - i.e., a development of expression, but not of its operative substance. Is there really a contrast?

The Vatican teaches that the Roman Catholic Church of today understands the truth and has a higher level of knowledge than the Church of yester year. Thus, the Fathers had a higher level of knowledge than the Apostles, the medieval scholastics understood better than the Fathers, and so on.

Do you see the sophism in the claim by the EO gentleman? The CC does indeed admit that what actually develops and grows is the understanding of the Church.

Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of Faith is able to grow in the life of the Church…” (CCC 94)

But nowhere does the CC claim that the post-apostolic Church had a greater understanding or knowledge of the Faith than the Apostles did. What is asserted is that the Church at various times in history gives a fuller expression of what the Apostles already knew and intended. For example, though nowhere in the Scriptures does it explicitly state that the Holy Spirit is God, or that God is One in three Persons, we know that what the Church later expressed in its Ecumenical Councils is something the Apostles already knew and understood. Using the example of “papal infallibility,” the Catholic Church believes that from the beginning, the Apostles already knew and understood that Christ had given a unique responsibility to their coryphaeus (St. Peter), that this unique responsibility would be maintained by Christ’s own unique prayer for St. Peter, and that this responsibility with Christ’s unique prayer for its maintenance would be handed down in the Church for the benefit of the Church through the centuries until Christ’s return.

I hope that helps.

Blessings,
Marduk

Thank you very much for the replies! My inclination was that Catholics are saying the same thing that we are in different terms, but your clarifications have made that clear, in particular the quotations from “Pastor Aeternus” as I always like to refer to official dogmatic sources. I’m going to check this one off the list :thumbsup:

I think that defining a dogma is in effect an innovation at least in adding something that must now be believed. When Vatican 1 defined papal infallibility it was defining it as something that had to be believed

So I guess you would apply the same principles to the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation in 325 A.D.? Innovations that HAD to be believed?

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