Saturday, July 07, 2007

Development Question

Here's a quote from Karl Adam's The Spirit of Catholicism:

"We Catholics acknowledge readily, without any shame, nay with pride, that Catholicism cannot be identified simply and wholly with primitive Christianity, nor even with the Gospel of Christ, in the same way that the great oak cannot be identified with the tiny acorn. There is no mechanical identity, but an organic identity. And we go further and say that thousands of years hence Catholicism will probably be even richer, more luxuriant, more manifold in dogma, morals, law and worship than the Catholicism of the present day."

The question I have for my Roman Catholic readers, how do you know when a doctrine has fully developed?


Kepha said...

My question is: Upon what basis do modern Roman Catholics proudly embrace the Doctrine of the Development of Doctrine, if the only inspired, and therefore infallible, inscripturated Apostolic Tradition, i.e., the New Testament, does not teach that the teaching of the Apostles develops? Is the (recent and famed)Development of Doctrine itself a development of doctrine?

I can just imagine the ancient scene: a successor of a successor of a successor of a successor of an Apostle one day realizes that doctrine develops. He announces this "new discovery" (not a "new revelation," mind you) to his congregation.

Father: I've just realized, by my special guidance of the Holy Spirit, that doctrine develops. And, only I can tell you what that development is.

A faithful member from the congration humbly asks, "Father, can you please show us where in the writings of the New Testament, or where in the Apostolic Tradition this teaching of the development of doctrine is?"

Father: How dare you question my apostolic authority! We don't believe in that everything has to be found in the writings of the New Testament!

Faithful: Of course, of course, Father. I did not mean that. Please forgive me for my ignorance. We most certainly believe that the Faith is partly in the Scriptures and partly in the Tradition. I simply want to know where in the Tradition, if not in the Scriptures, is this apostolic teaching that doctrine develops.

Faher: You presume to teach me? "Gird up your loins like a man and I will instruct you"! The apostolic teaching that doctrine develops is not in Scripture and not in the Tradition, in the way that you think. "One day is like a thousand years to the Lord"! "Your ways are not His ways"'!

Faithful: In what way then, Venerable Father, is this teaching partly in Scripture and partly in Tradition?

Father: Implicitly!

Faithful: What??

Father: "Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing"! The right hand represents the New Testament writers, while the left hand represents the work of the Holy Spirit in the development of doctrine. Listen again: "New wine cannot be placed in old wine skins"! The old wine skins burst because they are insufficient; these, my son, are the only inspired writings we have, namely the Word of God. The wine is the development of doctrine.

Faithful: Praise God that we have you as our infallible interpreter, Father! And what of the Fathers and your predecessors, Father? You said they believes this apostolic teaching "implicitly"?

Father: Yes, and ignorantly.

Faithful: "Ignorantly"??

Father: Yes, they had no idea they believed this teaching.

Faithful: But how do you know that they believed this?

Father: Curse your rebelliousness and doubt of my apostolic authority! The "foolishness of God is wisdom for men"! Did not the Lord say, "there are sheep not yet in my fold"? The "fold" is the truth in all its development; the sheep not yet in the fold are the members of the Church who have yet to know the fullness of the truth.

Faithful: I understand! The evidence is always ambiguous to the people. We are like the soilders who accompanied the Apostle Paul, we hear but do not understand the voice from Heaven.

Father: Now you are aquiring holiness and wisdom my son.

Faithful: And we need you, our infallible ruler, to tell us what the evidence is and what it means!

Father: Give thanks to God, my son, "for many longed to see what you now see." Like Doubting Thomas, who demanded evidence for the Resurrection, you demanded evidence for the development of doctrine. When you saw that there was no evidence in Scripture or the Tradition, you then, like Abraham who dared to speak yet once more to God, dared to demand evidence for why their wasn't evidence for the development of doctrine in Scripure and Tradition. Now you see and believe, but "blessed are those who do not see and believe."

On another note, James, your question reminds me of a recent conversation with a very good friend of mine (a Catholic who is converting to Orthodoxy), wherein I said that it seems as though the infallible certainty hailed by Catholic apologists as the chief characteristic of Catholicism is really only a temporal infallible certainty. In other words, I can have "infallible certainty" right now that the Magisterium doesn't infallibly teach that Mary is Co-Redemptirx and Mediatrix of All Graces. However, I cannot have "infallible certainty" that these unofficial and popular marian teachings are not infallible truths, for at some point in the future they may be declared to be such!

Tim said...

That is an excellent question, James. It's one thing to say an acorn develops into an oak while you're holding an acorn in your hand, but it's another thing to know what the oak is supposed to look like when you don't yet see it. The development argument appears so impressive only because the advocate BEGINS with BOTH a visible acorn (say, the patristic Church) AND a visible, well-developed understanding of what the oak looks like (say, the 19th century Catholic Church), and then goes back and extrapolates from intervening data how the changes occurred. He then imputes necessity to the developmental process, treating it as if it was simply inevitable and a matter of basic logic.

But, change the understanding of either the acorn or the oak, or, alternatively, deny that you can know what the oak is "supposed to" look like, and the look of the argument is either fundamentally changed or else it collapses. I have yet to see any responsible answer to any of these points from any Catholic apologist with whose work I am familiar.

Carrie said...

Ah, the church that never changes but the doctrine always does.

pilgrim said...

Hmm, I've always wondered if they made it up as they went along...

Of course, you'll find RC's who will disagree with this quote.
(They're not as united as they want us to believe.)

Apolonio said...

"The question I have for my Roman Catholic readers, how do you know when a doctrine has fully developed?"

Doctrines are signposts to the beyond, to the unspeakable, to that which surpasses words. Doctrines are that which we know things about God and His economy of salvation. They really are the way we know God. How much do they develop? When do we know when they are fully developed? That is like asking, when do we fully know God? Augustine said that if we understand God, then He is not God. God is beyond all understanding. To ask when we will know when doctrines are fully developed is similar to asking, "how do you know when your wife has loved you enough?" Love has no limits. You know the story (or legend) of the boy and Augustine. The boy was trying to pour the ocean to the hole he has made. The boy told Augustine that trying to understand the Trinity is like trying to empty the ocean into this hole. We constantly try to know (in the biblical sense) God and who He is. God is a mystery and we on this earth are stretching forward to our goal, who is Jesus Christ. I would suggest Gregory of Nyssa's epektasis as similar to this question.

And kepha's comment is just plain nonsense and stupid. A person who studies Catholic theology should know a little bit more on this question. I'm pretty sure he's getting better education than what he is manifesting here. A Catholic with a good education on what Tradition is would not make up such a bad conversation.

L P Cruz said...


The love of your wife is not a doctrine to be practiced, this is not the same category as the Development of Doctrine Doctrine by the RCC. It is category mistake and not analogically correct.

To reflect on the doctrine that is already there, there is no end. But this is the point, the skeptics are saying where is the proof of the doctrine that the Virgin Mary was bodily assumed? Is there an explicit statement from Scripture? Before you reflect you should first establish it otherwise, I could be reflecting on the beauty of a cubical moon.

If the bodily assumption as an example has already been established you may reflect on it, by all means to the height of ecstasy. But it is not proven from Scripture.

I just noticed that in conversing with loyal RCs, they tend to dismiss the questions of questioning RCs as simply ignorant and nonsense.

Calling such comments with names, does no good in winning that questioning RC back to the RC fold.

For example in the subject of Motu Propio, there are priests who think these moves are a regression, are the questions of these questioning RC priests to be called stupid?


Apolonio said...


i would recommend balthasar's piece on dogma which says it better than i do that the criterion of dogma is love. anyway, as for loving your wife, what i was saying is that doctrine are things we know about God and His economy. i cannot imagine that doctrine X says it all about God and His economy. in other words, since God is inexhaustive, we really cannot speak of a "fully developed doctrine." again, doctrines are signposts to that which are beyond words. even in heaven we cannot fully know God. it is "end without an end." and since we believe that lex orandi-lex credendi, then it is analogous to the wife scenario i gave.

as for your question on the proof of assumption and such, that is not the question asked by james. i was responding directly to what he asked. maybe if i was younger and didn't go through these arguments over and over again i would probably bite to the temptation.

finally, as for my criticism of kepha, that is well justified. asking for evidence is a good thing but if kepha is receiving all that good education in college and getting all those half-priced books and cannot even understand what the nature of Tradition is, then that conversation is really stupid. a person with a decent knowledge of Catholic theology would not have said that.

theo said...

James asked:
"The question I have for my Roman Catholic readers, how do you know when a doctrine has fully developed?"

Returning to your valid question, I believe the short answer is:

Until Christ returns, I don't.


The long answer is something like this:

One cannot know beyond doubt when a doctrine is fully developed, because God's infinite nature is *infinitely* beyond our understanding. Some 9000 or so years after the first theophany, we're still learning from it and refining our understanding about what we learned.

But even if we can't "know" when a doctrine is fully developed, we are to follow and believe with the understanding that we're to be held accountable for obedience to what we know.

The best we can do is teach and do the best we know; and indeed, we are so commanded. Please reconsider Apolino's observation:
"Doctrines are signposts ... to that which surpasses words. Doctrines are that which we know things about God and His economy of salvation. They really are the way we know God. How much do they develop? When do we know when they are fully developed? That is like asking, when do we fully know God?"

Doctrine means "that which is taught." Of course doctrine develops. It always has. The truths behind them are the unchanging eternal, infinite realities of the unfathomable God Almighty. Our ability to understand and relay them is limited--for now.

Moses understood God's proclamation," The lord your God is one Lord" without recognizing God's triune nature. Indeed the Church didn't definitively settle the doctrine until decades after Jesus' resurrection. Now we see through a glass. Someday we shall see face-to-face. Maranatha!

Humbly, I remain your servant and brother in Christ,