History & Doctrinal Development (long & complicated)

Dear Friends,

I’m Catholic but struggling very deeply with the legitimacy of the Church’s development over the last 2000 years: whether it is truly faithful to the Gospel, or just politics.

Reading the history of the development of papal power, especially, has really been challenging my faith. The main reason I’m skeptical about trusting The Church is the complication of history. My question is this:

**Developments: how far are they legitimate, and how far is too far? **

Here’s what I mean: when Theodosius made Catholicism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380, the Church seems to have gone from Persecuted to Persecutor. It started destroying temples, defacing art, chopping off the hands of those who copied pagan manuscripts. Burning came later. Augustine theorized that it’s okay to imprison, torture, or potentially kill heretics. By the time of Justinian, heretics had no civil rights.
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So, how far is too far? How many centuries does it take to declare something infallibly as to Morals? Can even universal bad practice be infallible?**

Secondly, as far as I can tell, as the Western Roman Empire died away, the Popes – who already held the primacy and canonical authority – gradually assumed to themselves what remained of the imagery of the Empire, and extending claimed political power into theological claims. See the forged “Donation of Constantine”.

Surrounded by Arian Goths in Italy & Spain, pagans in Britain, and a single Catholic Kingdom far away in France, there was chaos. Popes were chosen by Byzantine Emperors for 200 years, from 535 to 740, and seem to have had little “supremacy” rhetoric during that time. But I see a gradual elevation of the Papacy’s spiritual authority based on secular politics. When Charlemagne’s father granted conquered Italian territory to Rome in 752, the Popes shifted their full spiritual weight to Western politics, and within 100 years, the supremacy theology of Pope Nicholas I was in high gear.

So, was this a legitimate way for papal episcopal supremacy to become worked out, or was the resulting supremacy illegitimate because it originated in politics?

But it used to be different, didn’t it? Weren’t the first 7 Ecumenical Councils called by the Christian Emperors and nobody else? That was considered the prerequisite, not Papal approval. Even the first synod called by a Pope with the intention of having an ecumenical council (the Lateran Council, 649 AD), failed to attract enough bishops to become an Ecumenical Council

Could Charlemagne’s breaking of ecclesiastical practice have created a new faith and morals, more firmly rooted in the Papacy? Even if so, is that necessary illegitimate? How can we trust so deeply political an entity as the early/high/late Medieval Papacy not to warp things in its favour, creating a theological framework lasting to today?

**Again: developments. How far are they legitimate, and how far is too far? **

I have not found answers to these problems. If I could resolve them, I would be even happier than the day I was baptized. I’m hoping my fellow Catholics might have some ideas or thoughts. :slight_smile:

I don’t really see the issue of “Development” in your post. If anything, it’s about shifts in political power, for better or for worse, but not so much doctrinal. In Daniel 2 there is a fascinating prophecy listing a succession of Empires from the Babylonian down to the Roman Empire. The prophecy concludes by saying that when the Roman Empire divided a huge Rock would come from heaven and come crashing down upon the Empire, and the Rock would grow to cover the whole world. This prophecy was clearly fulfilled around the time of Nicea in AD325 when the Catholic Church miraculously emerged from being small to become the new super-power.

Thanks for the input, Catholic Dude. :slight_smile:

My worry, in a nut-shell, is that shifts in political power influenced doctrinal development.

I wasn’t aware of that interpretation of Daniel 2. As with all prophecy, the prophecy of Daniel is murky and mysterious. Saying it was “clearly” fulfilled by one event seems suspect to me. The servant-Church became a political entity with political privileges, bishop-judges, and great wealth. It just doesn’t exactly seem to mesh with the Lord’s commandment that it shall not be with us as it is with the Gentiles, who lord things over each other; nor with the saying that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, etc.

I’m not saying, by the way, that the Church needs a perpetual “Francis moment”, and give everything away! No, I’m just asking whether all that stuff influenced the doctrine. Great power always tends to make people inflated – popes too.

Again, the question of “what’s too far?” is the central one.

I don’t really see any “doctrinal development” in your question/comments.

I wasn’t aware of that interpretation of Daniel 2. As with all prophecy, the prophecy of Daniel is murky and mysterious. Saying it was “clearly” fulfilled by one event seems suspect to me. The servant-Church became a political entity with political privileges, bishop-judges, and great wealth. It just doesn’t exactly seem to mesh with the Lord’s commandment that it shall not be with us as it is with the Gentiles, who lord things over each other; nor with the saying that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, etc.

What about the prophecy in Daniel 2:31-45 is murky and mysterious? Daniel clearly links the Bablyoninan Empire with the first phase of the timeline, which was then immediately followed by other distinct Empires that took over successively. Either Daniel’s prophecy was bogus, or else the Catholic Church around AD325 is what was meant. There is no future situation that matches Daniels claims, at least nothing as plain as the Catholic one.

Again, the question of “what’s too far?” is the central one for me.

Morals can be applied differently depending on the situation. For example, a society that cares about the Truth will hold Error in great contempt and see Error as one of the greatest threats to society. This would entail greater punishments for sins that cause the greatest harm to society, e.g., heresy. But for societies like our own, and most of the world today, where Truth is not important, then of course it sounds harsh to punish heresy. That’s why new “enemies” have to be found, such as Smoking, and these become the new persecuted types of people.

God is in control, always. If you believe that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in the believers (and all Christian churches are supposed to be), then it will be made apparent to you. We can see God’s hand in that the Church wasn’t destroyed in Europe despite all of the chaos and drama with the Holy Roman Empire after Charlemagne IV, etc.

Also, Arian Germanians held dominion over all of Italy at Ravenna for a long time. Yet, the Church never caved in.

The doctrinal development I’m referring to is a movement from primacy/authority/supreme canonical appeal (1st-8th centuries) to total supremacy over all bishops (9th century onward) and, ultimately, to infallibility itself (as defined in 1870).

For example, one can read infallibility into 1 Clement, how the Holy Spirit was speaking through him to Corinth. One can also see mere primacy/canonical authority. One can also see that early gift of the Holy Spirit given to almost all the believers, as we can see in St. Paul’s enumeration of gifts given to all. The Church may interpret 1 Clement as pointing to papal supremacy, but that’s only in the light of the developments of history. Does that make sense?

What about the prophecy in Daniel 2:31-45 is murky and mysterious? Daniel clearly links the Bablyoninan Empire with the first phase of the timeline, which was then immediately followed by other distinct Empires that took over successively. Either Daniel’s prophecy was bogus, or else the Catholic Church around AD325 is what was meant. There is no future situation that matches Daniels claims, at least nothing as plain as the Catholic one.

Please forgive my hasty application of weasel-word labels like “murky”. I find claims of this prophecy or that prophecy very frustrating at times, given how mysterious prophecy itself tends to be. In this case, however, Creed/Code/Cult makes a pretty good case. Thanks for the article.

Morals can be applied differently depending on the situation. For example, a society that cares about the Truth will hold Error in great contempt and see Error as one of the greatest threats to society. This would entail greater punishments for sins that cause the greatest harm to society, e.g., heresy. But for societies like our own, and most of the world today, where Truth is not important, then of course it sounds harsh to punish heresy. That’s why new “enemies” have to be found, such as Smoking, and these become the new persecuted types of people.

Morals can be applied differently, but they do exist absolutely, and independent of time and place. Murder is always an evil, even if it is sometimes justified – capital punishment in unstable times, for example. But something like burning a heretic (especially after having promised him safe passage, like with Jan Hus) seems particularly egregious to me in light of the post-Vatican II focus on the “Dignity Of The Human Person” so strongly pushed by the Church. This is actually a crucial part of what I’m asking:

It just seems to me that the Church loved using power and violence against heresy when most of the world was politically traditionalist-conservative-monarchist, and now the Church is all for meekness and humility and accepting all sorts of heretics with religious tolerance/freedom in an age of widespread political progressivism-liberalism-democracy.

Can we not say that the Church has totally changed its stance and even its teaching on what is moral because of political change?

Thanks for furnishing a great subject in which to clarify the question!

What I’m really trying to understand is precisely whether the Holy Spirit is guiding us at all, or if it’s just a big mess of human error. I have a hard time believing the inspiration in our dark and harsh world. But yeah, good point.

Also, Arian Germanians held dominion over all of Italy at Ravenna for a long time. Yet, the Church never caved in.

Very good point. From 476-535 it was all Arians, and again from 550 until 568, when the Lombards came, who remained mostly Arian into the 700s – yet the Papacy did remain Catholic. Catholicism won out, politically, only with the coming of Charlemagne’s Papal States.

My question really pertains to the time after Charlemagne, I guess, when there were no Arians to keep the Papacy “in check”, as cynical as that sounds.

The poor response to the pope’s invitation, if such was really the case, reminds me of the poor response to the king’s invitation in the parable of the marriage feast:
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come." (Matthew 22:1-3)

Because the invited did not come, does that mean the king lacked kingly authority? I don’t think so. In the same way, I don’t think a poor response to a pope’s invitation to council means he lacked papal authority.

That’s a nice analogy, Todd. It could still go both ways, though.

Think of the basic purpose of the papacy (and Holy Orders in general)… It is a little bit like spiritual babysitting.

Imagine a long-term babysitter who has some neighbors helping out, but mainly has to figure out her responsibilities, rights, and powers on her own, with only the basic information left by the parents… “Can I change the kids’ bedtime? Yes. Can I change where they go to school? Hmmm, probably not.”

As the kids and neighbors say and do all kinds of odd things, our babysitting friend needs to see how far those basic principles and common sense will go. There isn’t necessarily a clear line.

Remember, the parents trust the neighbors, but they put the babysitter directly in charge, having the “last word” in their absence.

Does this help?

It’s a somewhat helpful analogy for me, yes. I’m not sure I like the imagery of the parent, whom the babysitter can really call up at any time and ask for permission to do things. I doubt very much whether the Pope or Curia have that power. :wink:

I wonder about this sometimes too, especially considering the times we live in today, One strange thing I have noticed, and its not just with the CC, its basically all churches, no matter what denomination they are, I know in my city and state, the secular leaders (govt) seem to get along great with all the churches, whether its state or even the smallest rural city, they seem to be extremely ‘buddy-buddy’ in a time when really, they should be in a constant ‘at each others throats’ over quite a few things.

If you believe the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Christ and given authority to teach in maters of faith and morals then you know it cannot be in error in its teachings because they have the full authority of God supporting them.
Any Catholic who has doubts about doctrine must have doubts about the Church.

[quote=Praedicare]My worry, in a nut-shell, is that shifts in political power influenced doctrinal development.
[/quote]

I don’t believe that was ever the case. Shifts in political power may have had an effect on Church organization, just as centuries of persecution had a different effect. But doctrine is a whole different matter.

Very good point. From 476-535 it was all Arians, and again from 550 until 568, when the Lombards came, who remained mostly Arian into the 700s – yet the Papacy did remain Catholic. Catholicism won out, politically, only with the coming of Charlemagne’s Papal States.

My question really pertains to the time after Charlemagne, I guess, when there were no Arians to keep the Papacy “in check”, as cynical as that sounds.

Your questioning sounds like you have already made some assumptions (which themselves may not be true.)

Your difficulty may actually be with the Pope’s temporal power. This is not a doctrine of the Catholic Church, but was a real belief for many centuries.

from Wikipedia:

For practical purposes, the temporal power of the popes ended on 20 September 1870, when the Italian Army breached the Aurelian Walls at Porta Pia and entered Rome. This completed the Risorgimento.

On 20 September 2000, an item in the Catholic publication Avvenire stated:

That in 1970, precisely on 20 September 1970, Pope Paul VI sent Cardinal Angelo Dell'Acqua, his vicar for Rome, to Porta Pia to celebrate the "providential" significance of the loss of the temporal power. Since then, at least since then, Porta Pia has also been a Catholic celebration!

Formally, the temporal power was restored in 1929 with the treaty between the Vatican State and Italy (Concordat), when the papacy accepted to have no more interests on Italy, its closest neighbor, and therefore on any other country. Some small degree of temporal power persists in the formal government of the Vatican City as an independent state.

That is an optimistic assumption about human nature which I’m not ready to grant just yet.

Your questioning sounds like you have already made some assumptions (which themselves may not be true.)

Well, that’s life. I’m not ashamed to have assumptions, because it’s part of being human. If you can point out the wrong ones, and help me replace them with right ones, I’d be grateful to you.

Your difficulty may actually be with the Pope’s temporal power. This is not a doctrine of the Catholic Church, but was a real belief for many centuries.

Herein lies the rub, actually. Yes, the old temporal power is a big issue for me, especially given how contrary it seems to be to Christ’s commandments, yet how consistently it was taught and exercised as a necessity for 1000 years. That’s not a short span of time. More importantly, if any Catholic living during that 1000-year period said “this temporal power isn’t a doctrine of the Church”, what would happen to him? That person would be considered a heretic, or would at least be treated ill. Today he wouldn’t be considered a heretic, due to changes in temporal politics and the imagery of papal power. It’s a change in substance of what is taught about morals and politics and human social life, isn’t it?

Can the Magisterium be said to have pronounced infallibly that persecuting heretics, limiting freedom of speech, and extending temporal power, etc., was good and moral and Catholic, because of the universal agreement and practice of these things by all bishops and popes for a millennium? Seems reasonable to me, given what the Church teaches about the Ordinary Magisterium.

Well that’s what I’m trying to establish via history, whether I believe that. :slight_smile:

Any Catholic who has doubts about doctrine must have doubts about the Church.

Very true.

The New Testament tells you that Jesus established the Church AND gave it authority.
What more do you need than that or are you saying you doubt the Bible as well as the Church?

It’s not a question of doubt, but of seeking. I’m not some atheist apologist. Sorry if I gave that impression…

If the Church’s authority to speak for God is established by its own integrity, then so is the Bible’s authority established. But the Church has to come first, because the Bible is a book (“The” Book) of the Church. We can’t appeal *to *the Bible to prove the authority/authenticity of the very institution that produced the Bible, right? So, my questions are for and to the Church.

[quote=Praedicare]Well, that’s life. I’m not ashamed to have assumptions, because it’s part of being human. If you can point out the wrong ones, and help me replace them with right ones, I’d be grateful to you.
[/quote]

Right. First principles are founded on assumptions which can’t be proved. However, those first principles can be wrong. E.g. It is a first principle with Islam that the New Testament is corrupt. They can’t prove it, but a lot of their argumentation against Christianity extends from that first principle. Another: Many Protestants believe as a first principle that the Catholic Church is the anti-Christ. Therefore nothing the CC says can be trusted or believed.

So it is human to have assumptions, like you say, but they can be wrong nonetheless. It is not impossible to dig down to the Truth. :wink:

Can the Magisterium be said to have pronounced infallibly that persecuting heretics, limiting freedom of speech, and extending temporal power, etc., was good and moral and Catholic, because of the universal agreement and practice of these things by all bishops and popes for a millennium?

That is a very loaded question, filled with assumptions again.

But the short answer is an emphatic NO! :smiley:

Infallibility of the Church is a very nuanced and difficult doctrine. It is NOT as black and white as many suppose. For one thing persecuting heretics and limiting of speech was NEVER a Church function, not even in the darkest of the Middle Ages. It was always a function of the Secular government. E.G. The Spanish Inquisition was carried out by the state of Spain (with the help of the clergy it’s true) but for the settlement of state affairs and general domestic peace.

I respect your logic, AmbroseSJ. It is very true, especially on assumptions and first principles. I agree that truth can be found, and such presumptuous things undermined by sincerity.

I do think it’s a bit of a cop-out to say that the Church never persecuted anyone, and left it solely to the State. There’s such a thing as being complicit with, inciting, and aiding & abetting crimes. The Church regularly gave heretics over to the State, and rejoiced in their destruction for the health of the State and Church.

Just see the way the Mérindol Massacre of Waldensians in 1545 was applauded by Paul III, and the mastermind given great honours and a papal knighthood. It was, in fact, the secular French king Francis I who investigated the massacre and tried the principal ringleaders in court.

I’m not saying the bad actions of one Pope can invalidate the Faith; I’m asking whether the consistent, concerted actions of a political sort can influence the way the Faith is seen, and thus practiced, and thus taught, and thus is.

Is there no danger here at all?

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