Early Church Fathers Agree: Doctrine Develops

Early Church Fathers Agree: Doctrine Develops

Vincent of Lerins

[54.] But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged [in] itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

Gregory Nazianzen

. . . in the case by which I have illustrated it the change is made by successive subtractions; whereas here perfection is reached by additions. For the matter stands thus. The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory,the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated. (Fifth Theological Oration: On the Holy Spirit, 26; NPNF2-7)

First Vatican Council, Sess. 3, Chap. 2 on Revelation, 1870, ex cathedra: “Hence, also, that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be a recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.

Pope Pius X in Lamentabili Sane, July 3, 1907, # 21: Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles. –condemned.

I don’t think dogma can develop. It could get reinstated though.

What do you mean by doctrine can develop?

I understand; this can be confusing.

Let me use a simple example.

Early on, the Church knew two things to be true:

A. Mary was the mother of Jesus.
B. Jesus is God.

One day, someone put those two truths together to come up with:

C. Mary is the Mother of God.

Boom! Doctrine just developed.

Nothing added. But what was always true is finally seen.

Ok that makes sense.

or finally defined. Doctrines are usually not defined until they are contested. The Church’s members may be well aware of a truth, but if everyone believes it and no one’s challenging it, there’s no need for the Church to put her foot down.

Points well worth remembering when discussing just about anything with non-Catholics. :stuck_out_tongue:

That is true …it was the heresies around the two nature’s of Christ and the discusions around that which led to Mary being the mother of Jesus and ergo the mother of God. So many think without reading the early extant writings the ECF were defining who Mary was in a vacuum …no …who Mary was (the mother of God) was a growth in understanding and defending who Jesus is … Fully Human and fully Divine …two Natures

Great thread. :thumbsup:


75 "Christ the Lord, in whom (a living person) the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate **(ongoing)**the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline."32

77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority."35 Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous (teaching authority can have no rupture) line of succession until the end of time."36

78 This living transmission (because Christ lives), accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."37 "The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer."38

79 The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: "God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church - and through her in the world - leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness."39

Growth in understanding the faith

94 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:

How can it be compatible with the Christian faith to believe the expression of God’s revelation has been set in stone at a point in the past, or that the expression of God’s revelation is subject to discontinuity? To say such is to say that Christ is dead, or is not truly the head of a Church, and his guarantees are null and void.

I don’t think most disagree with the reality of on-going definition of doctrine. I don’t see where it ever stopped. and east or west. I don’t think it will stop. And I honestly believe there will always be individuals who won’t see this in public revelation, just as the EO doesn’t see it in tradition without very long conversations.

We already have received all the truths that we need. The truths aren’t going to evolve into something else.

Also you bolded that the understanding has grown, not the the truth.

We can certainly understand something better over time, but it doesn’t mean that the truth changes over time.

right, exactly what it says. :shrug:

So does the RCC have a list of topics that are in the middle of being developed and are awaiting some sort of official clarification? Or does the RCC wait for theological heavyweights to start disagreeing publicly to consider making a formal pronouncement? Or what?

We have already been given all the truths we needed. It is only when a doctrine has been challenged by someone, then the Church clarifies, not changes, the correct doctrine and most likely excommunicate the person who opposes it.

Today, the Church is very clear about it’s doctrines.

So, has the RCC period of doctrinal development formally ended? Or are there some doctrines that will be better understood at some point in the future?

The catechism passages I posted above explain it better than I could in a recap.
God reveals himself fully. Human understanding and expression develops. The Church is living not static, because Christ lives and we are his mystical body.

Good question. Yes, there are indeed topics as yet not fully developed, and/or not defined by the Magisterium (something can be defined under some aspects, while other aspects are yet to be developed). Many such topics are under discussion by theologians.

To make a list of them would be practically impossible because they are too numerous, and because new concepts arise with new social situations, technologies, etc. It is easier to look at the list of defined teachings, probable opinions, etc. and work from there. (See, e.g., Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, which systematically lists teachings and opinions and their level of certainty.)

You may remember the recent discussion of the existence of the Limbo of Infants (where unbaptized babies might go if they die). A document was issued several years ago by the International Theological Commission (an advisory body), but to my knowledge the Church hasn’t yet made a definitive statement on the findings.

To give another example, the Church has not solemnly defined when the human soul is joined to the body. It is widely held (and almost certainly true) that the soul and body are joined at the moment of conception (and not, e.g., weeks later when the fetus looks human), but this is not a dogma of the faith. At least I don’t know of any statement which explicitly defines it as such. (Nevertheless the Church defends human life from the moment of conception.)

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