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.