The Church Doesn't Create New Doctrine?!? What?!?

Starting a thread to discuss this instead of dropping it into another thread with a slightly different message. I didn’t want to hijack the thread.

Am I incorrect in thinking that the Church absolutely creates new doctrine over time?

For example, the dogmatic understanding of the Trinity was undefined in part until the Council of Nicaea. This is so because we agree it was observed differently by different Christian groups that, prior to Nicaea, had absolutely zero reason to think their views were officially heretical. Sure, Roman and Byzantine Catholics may have disagreed with you, but when was polite disagreement new? Especially between Roman and Byzantine Catholics? :smiley: Between the rites, even now there’s a cooled and passive disagreement over what kind of bread the Eucharist should be served with that has roots in the 4th century, if I’m not mistaken! :shrug:

When the newly, authoritative rulings on the Trinity was set forth by ecumenical councils, any “Christians” who would not submit to the new definition were deemed anathema.

That is undeniably the creation of new doctrine! Regardless of how widely an idea is held before canonization, differing views are implicitly tolerated until canonization occurs and differing views must then be snuffed out. That fact makes the canonized concept a new thing as it pertains to official canon. It simply was not canonical beforehand. It’s elevation was new. It had an actual date you could refer to! Thus a doctrine was born.

For example, prior to the first four ecumenical councils, you could be a Nestorian or Arian or Pelagian and still claim you were part of the Universal Church; literally hundreds of thousands did. After the councils, you could not. Why? A new doctrine was in place. This was not a matter of discipline. This was doctrine!

This is the point - it appears that the Church absolutely creates new doctrine. It’s super rare, but it totally happens. There may be folks who come in and say “That’s the way it always was everywhere, it was only formally defined” and that’s fine. But statements like that are really displays of confirmation bias on the part of the faction that “won”.

Because if there were sufficiently large communities that were alienated by the advent of the new official doctrine, schism reared its head. Like the creation of the Oriental Orthodox Communion after they rejected the innovations “that were always and universally taught” at Chalcedon. They represent groups that felt the new doctrinal definitions were not so common and universal. These churches survive today as the Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, Syriacs and a few others.

Shoot, the greatest of schisms is the division between Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, who superficially agree on the primacy of the Pope, they just disagree on what has “always and universally been taught” on what that primacy actually means.

To the outside observer, or someone recently arrived to the faith, these events (and a whole lotta others) look unambiguously like doctrinal expansion and development over time. There was an observable time before, and an equally observable time after where identifiable changes occurred (like at Chalcedon). How is it not the result of doctrinal innovation? :shrug:

The question is not whether or not there have been new doctrinal definitions. There have been, of course. The issue is whether or not these doctrines represent alterations to the “substance” of the Deposit of Faith.

For example, giving Mary the title Theotokos (God-bearer, “Mother of God”) was definitely a development. But does this official title change or add to Christian revelation? Not really, for it is an elaboration of what it means for Jesus Christ to be God. In this case, Theotokos underscores that Jesus Christ is a single person who is both fully divine and fully human. Because Christ is fully God – one divine person who assumed a human nature – then Mary can appropriately be called the Mother of God, for she truly bore God in her womb.

In other words, the church through the centuries is constantly deriving the implications of Christian revelation. It’s not as if the Apostles had all the subtle connections and consequences of doctrine figured out. That’s why Christ gave us the Holy Spirit – to lead the church into “all truth,” for Christ knew that the church in history would face challenges, new questions, and new circumstances.

Now, I would not necessarily say – as you did – that before the great councils, one could be a “Nestorian” or “Arian,” etc. Remember that these fellows were battling what ended up to be the orthodox position. But the orthodox position was already there. The absence of a more refined, official doctrinal definition (that would take place, say, at the Council of Nicea or Council of Ephesus) does not mean there was a free-for-all. Christians from New Testament times understood Jesus Christ to be God, after all. But it seems that Arius and others, for example, either (1) blatantly contradicted the apostolic teaching (as Arius did) or (2) did not understand the full consequence of the apostolic teaching (as did those who denied Mary the title Theotokos)

So if all these connections, subtleties, and consequences of prior teaching were not fully understood before their more official doctrinal definitions, then why do Christians have to follow these doctrinal definitions, in the first place? Simply, because once the church does determine the implications – once the church finally expounds upon what is true and what is false – then that decision must be accepted as binding. For it is the truth. Now, of course, many Christians today do not give the teaching church that kind of authority. But this is the Catholic position, and it is the understanding of the church in the early centuries.

In short: the Church makes explicit those various doctrines already implicit in the faith, by way of the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium.

Take a gander at Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. It’s online, free.


…seems you are not making a question but a statement…

…are you not a bit confused?

Defining and Declaring is not Creating:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we[a] have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work

. (2 St. John 1:7-11)
…we can see from Scriptures that heresies are being fought; true there is no mention of the Incarnation or that Jesus is truly God and truly man… but the Belief is the same; the Teaching is the same: those who reject Christ’s Incarnation (the Second Person of God Coming in the flesh) are heretics and must be removed from the Church.

Sadly, Arianism and other heresies are still being practiced today… the Church has defined and set canonicity on the very same Scriptural Teachings and Belief:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

(St. John 1:1-4, 9-13)
The Revelation that Jesus is God, that He Existed as God and with God from the Beginning is nothing new; however, as the heresy that denied Jesus’ Incarnation there were heretics that taught that Jesus is was not Divine (again, sadly, we have a massive movement on this front claiming to be the true and visible church of God while rejecting God’s Revelation about God!).

Defining theological Truth and setting canonicity does not make for creating “new” doctrine!

Maran atha!



You make some valid points. No doubt about it.

In the evolution of earthly law, which does change of course with the needs of society etc, from time to time moratoriums are imposed, injunctions and so on.

If there was ever a time time to impose a moratorium or a change in Church doctrine, it is now. I never really saw or that of myself as being conservative or traditional, but I have become one. Never saw that coming. The secular climate right now, and frankly the Universal Church climate seems to me to be too liberal to consider any doctrinal changes now.

Even with your stated points, I am not sure if those items you mentioned were truly doctrinal changes, or clarifications. What I WOULD like to see is some strong affirmation on doctrine we already have.

The Church does NOT create new doctrines.

What the Church does is define beliefs that have existed since the beginning as doctrine when the belief is challenged or disputed.

The theology of the body is just that, theology, which can change and be synthesized, for example. Theology students (I’ve never been one, formally) I think are challenged to investigate questions in scripture.

The Second Vatican Council declared that scripture is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

Thanks to everyone who has given me some of their time in formulating responses :stuck_out_tongue:

Concerning whether I was asking a question or making a statement, it was both - as it always is with someone seeking clarification. You start with “this is how I currently see it” and then ask, “why is this wrong?” Thus you have both a statement and a question from anyone who isn’t starting from “zero”.

This inquiry stemmed from someone telling me that the ancient church never creates new doctrine. As someone who has studied Church history in a collegiate environment and on my own time for years, I was completely blown away by the statement. Like floored. :eek: I would have been no less shocked if they guy tried to tell me St. Paul was really a space alien. I felt that he was essentially saying that the doctrines of the 5th century Church were identical to the 21st century Church. It has to be, as doctrine apparently cannot expand or contract…

I must admit, as someone who wasn’t born in the faith, I suppose I wasn’t raised with a need to defend the perfection of the Church in the same way as many I see on these forums. What I mean by that is that I view the Church as a perfect, holy institution whose episcopate is populated exclusively by men that have to go to confession just like the rest us (looking at you, Popes Honorius and Alexander XI).:o

I also see the Church as an institution that has both the ability and the obligation to address issues as they come up over the centuries. I sorta thought that was the advantage of apostolic succession. Our ability to authoritatively speak on new topics didn’t end when St. John wrote his last epistle and thus finished the New Testament.

So let me see if I understand; when a new doctrine is established by the Church, the orthodox Catholic view on the promulgation is that it is merely the canonization of what was always known and correct?

The issue of the clear difference in authority and enforceability of the doctrine pre-canonization versus post-canonization is ignored as a novel status change because identifying it as a change would make some feel as though the Church changed policies when a perfect Church changing policy implies errant doctrine at the start - which a perfect church can’t have. Any groups subsequently anathematized were simply always anathema. It was only made official with the canonization of a given dogma.

Is that a correct understanding from the orthodox Catholic perspective on doctrinal developments within the Church?:confused:

(As an aside, not many who accept the God-hood of Christ dispute his eternity - Arianism is virtually extinct. But there is a growing group that doubts the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as part of the Godhead - Pentecostalism. So if any examples from the ecumenical councils are continued to be given, it would be awesome if the innovations/clarifications of the councils as it pertained to the Holy Spirit were the primary material cited. We could have a double benefit for any Pentecostals who may be reading this.)

Go in Peace.

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