Where do the developments in doctrine come from?

Protestant here, so forgive me if this is a dumb question.

The Catholic church teaches that doctrines can develop over time, and the church achieves a “fuller” understanding of previous, less well-defined doctrines.[1] Correct?

I’m wondering what the source of the developments are. The Holy Spirit?

It can’t be Papal Infallibility, because the Pope hasn’t extended his infallible authority to most doctrinal developments.[2]

Phrased differently, a doctrinal claim can be thought of as a kind of information. “Jesus died on the cross” is a historical claim. “Purgatory cleanses you of Venial sin” is a factual claim.

Since the Apostles never specifically said, “Purgatory cleanses you of Venial sin”, where did that information come from?

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_doctrine

Thank you for your post

Let me try and give you an analogy. You are taking a math class, do you start with the complex issues? You are taking a basic math course do you dive into complex trig on day one? No you develop your understanding of math in order to get to complex trig or calc. No mathematician doesn’t understand basic math when dealing with long complex mathematical equations.

Another analogy you read a book for the first time, you get many ideas about this book. When you go back you say oh look I have a deeper understanding about this one idea. For example, you noticed the main characters midway through the book had issues with making friends, when you went back to read it you see oh hey when he was a child this happened to him so this is why he struggles with making friends. As you go back over things again and again and get deeper and deeper understanding about it.

The same goes with the church and doctrine.

For example we know that there is one God, we have also understood that Jesus is called God, the Holy Spirit is called God and the Father is called God. The understanding of this has been developed for thousands or years. To think we can ever fully know this mystery is absurd, but to also say that we know everything about this mystery when Christ reveled this to us is also absurd. We grow in our understandings of things.

You are taking a math class, do you start with the complex issues? You are taking a basic math course do you dive into complex trig on day one? No you develop your understanding of math in order to get to complex trig or calc.

But all higher-level math is based on simple math, and only simple math. Calculus is just simple math, used to do more complex things. You can prove the fundamental theorem of Calculus using simple math.

This isn’t really an example of new information being developed to understand complex math. It’s just more complex structures based on the old information - and only using the old information.

Maybe I’m just fundamentally misunderstanding the concept of development. Is new information being introduced? Or is the doctrine that “Purgatory cleanses you of venial sin” simply a logical deduction from Apostolic Tradition and the Bible? (and no sources except Apostolic Tradition/Bible)

you read a book for the first time, you get many ideas about this book. When you go back you say oh look I have a deeper understanding about this one idea.

But in that case, I simply had an incomplete understanding of the book, and used something the author had written to find a fuller understanding. So, the doctrine that “Purgatory cleanses you of Venial sin” would have been taught by the Apostles, and the Church didn’t notice it until later.

That doesn’t seem consistent with the concept of development Wikipedia had (I’ve read similar definitions on Catholic sites). If I misunderstand the concept, please refer me to a thread or website that would give me a better understanding.

If you want a good overview, you can find the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or The Vatican websites. Look up **sections 84-95 **for info on The Magestrium of the Catholic Church and its authority and how Dogmas of the Church are formed. For Purgatory go to sections 1030-1032.

Thanks, I read it, although it didn’t really answer my question.

Exactly. The deposit of faith that Jesus handed to the Apostles is whole and entire. Everything that follows comes from that “old information.”

I think the clearest example of this is the doctrine on the Trinity (and it is one that all Christians share). Nowhere in the New Testament is the word “Trinity” used. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Look, I’m the Second Person of the Godhead” or “There are three of us Persons in the one God.” All that language to articulate the great mystery came over subsequent years. And yet, it is there in Scripture in seed form.

That reminds me of the analogy I like with regards to the development of doctrine: the acorn and the oak tree. Everything that is necessary to produce a gigantic adult oak tree is present in that tiny acorn. Any yet, superficially, they look quite different. Even a sapling looks much different than a full grown tree. But the acorn cannot help but blossom into an oak tree. It’s not going to grow up to be an elephant or a cloud.

I think the Orthodox would argue that it was Apostolic teaching. Just because it’s not in the Bible doesn’t imply it was a development, correct? It could be Holy Tradition. I don’t know the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, but it appeared quite early in the Church, so it seems credible to me.

But the acorn received water, nutrients in the soil, sunlight, et cetera. And if you gave it certain things (i.e. little sunlight) it would grow differently and weirdly. Maybe I’m taking the analogy too far, but the acorn-to-tree seems to imply new information is being added, and mixed with the original teaching (which, in this analogy, is the Tree’s DNA?)

Are you saying that there are no new information is being introduced? Can we logically deduce Purgatory from the Bible and Holy Tradition? (and ONLY the Bible/Holy Tradition) Or is there some other source for the doctrinal claims about Purgatory? Like the Holy Spirit guiding the church?

I don’t know how deeply you want to go into this issue. It happens to be one of my favorites, so forgive me if go into it too much.

Let’s start with two things.

In exploring it one needs to address the issue of the explicit formulation of truth from what is implicit.

Truths–revealed ones included–have consequences. If they are valid consequences from revealed truths, they are by definition also true and revealed. If God has revealed truths to us His creature, who He knows can draw valid consequences, He has revealed the consequences to us as well.

So if something is truly implicitly contained in the deposit of faith, how early does it have to be given formulation, i.e., made explicit or emerge, for one to consider it to have been revealed?

Is there an expiration date on when valid theorems can be drawn from Euclid’s postulates?
Is there, similarly, an expiration date on when valid and true consequences can be drawn from the deposit of faith?

Can one put a time table on when, how, and under what contingent circumstances of history a valid and true consequence of the deposit of faith will be drawn out and made explicit?

II. Required reading

St. Vincent of Lérins, Commonitory, Chapter 23.

John Henry Cardinal Newman -
Fifteen Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, Sermon 15.

Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

Vatican II,Dei Verbum, #8. Below

“And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3). Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”

As an aside, the doctrine of Purgatory is not that it removes venial sin, rather that it removes the temporal punishment due to sin, i.e., it is the inner correction, discipline, necessary to restore what was disordered in us due to sin. All sin involves a disordered pursuit of creatures over God and therefore a disordered orientation toward them. That state of character in our soul, our (conscious and unconscious) self, doesn’t just magically disappear when we die. As we enter God’s presence we, as a conscious self in relationship with God, will be reoriented to the love of God above all things. And that is not an easy experience even here on earth.

Very deeply. I’ve concluded that Protestantism is bunk, and am in the process of choosing between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. The idea of development seems central to this debate - if development is legitimate the Orthodox have very incomplete doctrines, if development is illegitimate the Catholics have introduced a bunch of bad innovations.

When you say “implicit”, what exactly do you mean? For example, Papal Infallibility seems to be first explicitly discussed in the middle ages. But you would presumably say it existed implicitly before that, correct? Which church practices, Traditions or Bible verses imply the Pope is infallible?

Obviously not. Although I’d certainly wonder why nobody seemed to explicitly discuss certain (very, very important) doctrines before the middle ages. Papal Infallibility could have resolved a bunch of problems in the pre-Medieval Church.

And, it seems quite, well, convenient. If someone wants to solidify their authority in the Church, declaring themselves Infallible is a good way to do that. If a doctrine gives someone a lot of power, it seems reasonable to be suspicious of it, especially if it’s not explicitly present in the early church.

I’m in the process of reading your recommended material.

This very wise granny says that there are no dumb questions. :smiley:

The wisdom of the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church.

Sources used for Catholic documents are found in the footnotes in the *Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. *

When using this Catechism, it is important to first read Paragraphs 20-21. Small print indicates observations of an historical nature or an apologetic type source. The information in small print is usually seen as supplementary doctrinal explanations.

Regarding “Purgatory cleanses you of Venial Sin.” This is not exactly a Catholic claim because it is God Who forgives Venial sin and thus removes the sin or cleanses the person by removing the sin. Purgatory serves as the final perfection of souls headed to heaven, but their “wedding garment” needs a bit of washing due to the residue of the forgiven sin.

Catechism paragraphs 1030-1032 on Purgatory have a mixture of interesting footnote sources. When a particular Church Council is cited, we need to remember that the protocol for any doctrine (CCC, 66) demands a long, very intense preparation which includes re-researching Holy Scripture, re-studying the works of the Early Church Fathers, writings of the saints, previous teaching of the popes, etc. Even liturgies and poetic writings can be examined because these sources reflect the early teachings on Divine Revelation.

The footnote citation of a Council basically refers to the conclusion of the discussion on a particular item. As Christ promised in chapter 14, Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is present within the Catholic Church to guide it in its preservation of Divine Revelation.

For a general look at the extensive sources for Catholic teachings, check out the Catechism’s “Index of Citations” pages 689-752. Enjoy!

Link to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition


On Papal Infallibility!


Is that book about Papal Infallibility? The description seems to indicate it’s about Papal Primacy, which is accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church.

Right. That was poor phrasing on my part.

To be frank, developments in doctrine come from heresy and heretics.

It’s when Montanus denied God the Father as the “evil god of the Jews” as opposed to Jesus and thus denied the inspiration of the Old Testament and much of the NT Scriptures that the Church was forced to reconfirm them and the relationship between the Father and the Son.

Its when the gnostics denied Jesus’s humanity that the Church was forced to elaborate and develop the doctrine of the Incarnation.

When Nestorius further denied the Incarnation by denying that Jesus received His humanity from Mary it forced the Church to reaffirm the contrary as well as to reaffirm her as the Mother of God(its called the communication of idioms, meaning that whatever is said about either of Christ’s natures-human or divine-must be said about the “whole Christ” because He is not two persons in one body but a divine person who assumed a human nature).

When Arius denied Jesus’s divinity it forced the Church to reaffirm His divine Sondheim and to further explain the nature of the Incarnation and how Jesus’s Sondheim to yhe Father is relational and not generational.

More recently it was Luther and Calvin with their peculiar doctrines.

Over and over again it is heretics and heresy which forces the Church to re-examine an reaffirm the Sacred Deposit of Faith that we received from the Apostles.

All truth and knowledge has already been shown to us by God there is nothing new. What seems new is simply us understanding something that was a mystery to us before. The information was there we just couldn’t comprehend it before

Really? What heresy was Purgatory a response to? The First Vatican Council?

Perhaps heretics just force the Church to dogmatically affirm developments from previous centuries.

FYI: The issue between the EO churches and the Catholic Church has a little to do with the Papal infallibility but more to do with the overall authority of the See of Rome. They reject the Roman see’s universal jurisdiction over the Church.

Yet the problem is that they accept the ecumenical councils where the Pope exercised such universal jurisdiction.

And when it came to the major issues after the East-West schism, such as the rise of protestantism, while Rome and other bishops in Western Europe were responding to it with sound theology the EO churches were basically silent. They could have held councils and theologized and presented their own exposition of doctrine and assert their authority on the true Christian Faith, but they frankly were silent on the matter.

Which many theologians even in EO circles see as an implicit abdication of the authority of the EO churches to Rome.

Purgatory was a reaffirmed at Trent against the denials of it’s existence by protestantism.

Vatican I was in response to the Enlightenment and Rationalists. It reaffirmed the natural relationship between faith and reason and that they are not opposed to each other.

Yes, but if Papal Infallibility is a correct dogma, that pretty much sinks the EO boat (if only because the Pope has Infallibly supported the Immaculate Conception). And if Papal Infallibility is an incorrect dogma, then the Catholic church is way, way off the reservation.

Yet the problem is that they accept the ecumenical councils where the Pope exercised such universal jurisdiction.

Primacy, or universal jurisdiction? Can you provide a source for the idea that they accepted his universal jurisdiction?

And when it came to the major issues after the East-West schism, such as the rise of protestantism, while Rome and other bishops in Western Europe were responding to it with sound theology the EO churches were basically silent.

There weren’t many Protestants in the Eastern Orthodox countries. It doesn’t seem like it was as big a problem for them, as it was for Rome.

Plus, most of the issues Protestants raised was either blatantly wrong (i.e. Sola Scriptura), or in opposition to Catholic-only doctrines (i.e. Purgatory).

That does make sense. Thanks for clearing that up.

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