I must first issue a notice of my ignorance. I have never read Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Thus I am at a distinct disadvantage in discussing it. I know that Newman is a great favorite of my dear friend, Fr. Alvin Kimel, over at Pontifications. I do, however, suspect that it is a place that I might part company with my friend.
Does doctrine develop?
I am going to take a small quote from Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ and work from there. Let the conversation be gentle and remember, I am an ignorant man.
Fr. Behr notes that for St. Irenaeus there are four main elements in the theological framework for Orthodox, Catholic Christians (by this I mean Christians of the 2nd century, and would add Orthodox Christians of the 21st). First, there is Scripture (in the 2nd century this was still largely Old Testament, although St. Irenaeus is the first to make extensive use of the New Testament); then there was the “canon of truth,” meaning a basic structure of the gospel such as one would find outlined in, say, the Apostles’ Creed; third, there was the appeal to Apostolic Tradition and finally Apostolic Succession. All of these bore witness to one and the same understanding of the “Gospel:” that we are saved by the Crucified and Risen Savior who is none other than God made man (that’s a cursory summary).
Indeed, I would point out (though Behr does not), that the Canon of Truth, as embedded in various local creeds and Baptismal instructions, can be found in small portions and in various places of the New Testament itself. St. Paul’s quoting of Tradition (Paradosis) in 1 Corinthians11:23 and in 1 Corinthians 15:4 (both of which contain the “what I received, I delivered to you” formula, using the technical term paradosis or tradition, are examples of this early use of the Canon of Truth. Their are portions of creeds – which, indeed, are older than the New Testament.
This same “Canon of Truth” was taught everywhere by the Apostles and maintained by their successors. It is this absence of the Canon of Truth in works such as the so-called Gospel of Thomas that prove it belongs to a community other than that of Jesus. There is no Passion of Christ to be found within it. It is indeed, “another gospel.”
What Irenaeus will also note, after stating the canon of truth:
The Church…though disseminated throughout the world, carefully guards this preaching and this faith, which she has received, as if she dwelt in one house. She likewise believes these things as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; she preaches, teaches and hands them down harmoniously, as if she possessed one mouth. For though the languages of the world are dissimilar, nevertheless the meaning [or force] of tradition is one and the same. To explain, the church which have been founded in Germany do not believe or hand down anything else; neighter do those founded in Spain or Gaul or Libya or in the central regions of the world. But just as the sun, God’s creation, is one and the same throughout the world, so too , the light, the preaching of the truth, shines everywhere and enlightens all men who wish to come to a knowledge of the truth. Neither will any of those who presice in the churches, though exceedingly elequent, say anything else (for no one is above the Master); nor will a poor speaker subtract from the tradition. For, since the faith is one and the same, neigher he who can discourse at length about it adds to it, nor he who can say only a little subtracts from it.
Fr. John Behr then states: As the faith is the same, those who can speak endlessly about it do not add to it, any more than those who are poor speakers detract from it, for the meaning or the content of tradition is one and the same. While Christians are called to live in this tradition, and to give it ever new expression, the tradition itself does not “grow” or “develop” into something else. The Church is to guard carefully this preaching and this faith, which she has received and which she is to preach, teach, and hand down harmoniously.
In a footnote, he observes that W.W. Harvery, in his edition of Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies, which was printed twelve years after Newman’s famous Essay, points out in a note on this passage (1.10.2): “At least here there is no reserve made in favour of any theory of development. If ever we find any trace of this dangerious delusion in Christian antiquity, it is uniformly the plea of heresy” (Cited on pg. 72 of the Mystery of Christ, note 22).
Orthodoxy does not speak of a development of doctrine, as has become common in Catholic theology, but continues, with Irenaeus, to hold fast to what was “once and for all delivered.” It must be lived and must be translated, but it does not become anything other than what it is. For though it was at the beginning, it is also the same at the end. It is the gospel for men everywhere at all times. It is the good news of the Crucified and Risen Lord who has saved us and makes all things new.
What can develop? Do Catholics believe that the Truth becomes something other than what it was if it Develops? Orthodoxy tends to see doctrines such as those that surround the developments of the Roman Church in the modern period (and immediately before) as “new” things rather than developments. Am I wrong to see things this way? If someone says, “Read Newman,” all I can say is, “Sure.” But the questions remain.