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THE DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE

In Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine he acknowledged that the Church of Rome different from the Early Church but held that Protestantism was not identical to the Early Church.
 
According to him the Early Church was the same religion as Roman Catholicism and that the Church learned more about the gospel through time and eventually it came to teach modern Roman Catholic doctrine. The primitive Catholic Church evolved into modern Roman Catholicism but both are the same Church.
 
Newman gave seven tests to show when a genuine development has taken place for it can happen that some developments are not developments at all but errors.
 
There must be a basic doctrine that implies other ones so that they can be developed from it and that another.
 
This basic doctrine must come from the apostles to be a real development. This is impossible for we have very little indication of what the apostles taught. We have plenty of hearsay but that is all. 

The development must fit the other revealed doctrines. Who can prove that everlasting torment in Hell fits a God who loves sinners? 

The development must be logically derived from the basic root doctrine.  

The development be the only possible one for trouble would ensue if a doctrine implied two or three different things. The idea that Jesus needed a sinless mother doesn’t prove the Catholic doctrine that she had to be conceived without sin. Why couldn’t she have been cleansed of sin later in life? 

The development must have taken the simplest road to be genuine. For example, the simplest implication of a doctrine should be the accepted one. This is ignored in practice. Is it simple to say that when Jesus said bread was his body that he meant it literally not symbolically? 

The developing be done by or validated by the legitimate authorities in the Church. This proves that Newman doesn’t believe in the other six reasons at all. If a doctrine implies something logically it implies it whether the Church recognises it at all. Here we have Newman virtually admitting that the only thing that makes a doctrine a development is the arbitrary decision of the Church. 

The doctrine must have meant to have been developed as well. The Church argues that since God kept Mary from sin that he would not have let her body decay but would have taken her to Heaven. Hence in 1950 Pius XII proclaimed that Mary was taken bodily to Heaven. They think that the doctrine of the sinless conception implies the assumption. This is nonsense. Perhaps God doesn’t want to reveal the fate of Mary’s body or doesn’t feel he needs to. And besides God could preserve the body without raising Mary to life if she died.

Despite the opposition when they first came out, Newman’s ideas were locked into the Church’s official stance at the Second Vatican Council (page 210, The Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought).

It is a fact that few if any of the Catholic developments are in harmony with these rules. For example, if you say that the doctrine of original sin implies baptism is necessary for infants to get rid of it then the problem is proving that original sin meant to imply that. Perhaps God wipes the sin after it appears without baptism or perhaps it will not be pardoned until the child is able to renounce sin or perhaps if the child dies God will send it to Limbo from where it can go to Heaven if it chooses. For a doctrine to be really open to development it would have to explicitly say that it is just a root. The example we have given fits absolutely none of the rules and yet it was a “developed” doctrine that is one of the foundation stones of Roman Catholicism. It proves that Roman Catholicism is wrong.
 
The Church says it has to understand doctrines better all the time meaning that the way a doctrine was stated before could be inaccurate so it has to be improved. When Hell used to be thought of as a fire with demons with horns in it under the earth that could have led to the development of misleading doctrines, say that Hell will one day break out on earth and that demons have bodies and that the sinners there deserve to burn as if their despair is not enough. The rules are useless except for exposing the sham of Roman Catholicism.

The Development of Doctrine is a meaningless hypothesis for it opens the way to invent new doctrines. For example, the early Church insisted that sin committed after baptism had to be paid for in penance. Newman argued that the Church when dealing with this idea came to discover that it implied that indulgences, merits, purgatory, prayers, and masses for the dead should be believed in. But it could be argued that death is the punishment that deals with the debt. The Bible says that is what death is for (Romans 6:23). And it could be that God will be strict and instead of sending you to purgatory he will miraculously and secretly amplify your last agony at the point of death to pay off the debt in full. And it could be that we can’t help the souls in Purgatory for they help themselves or that the saints have already taken care of it. And when religion is full of mystery – it cannot explain evil what sense does it make to say that the debt of penance infers these things for what it infers may be beyond our grasp of logic and inconceivable to our human earthly logic?
 
Newman was lying.
 
Newman knew that if the early Church taught salvation though the blood of Jesus and that anybody who is a sincere Christian and accepts Jesus as Lord and Saviour is in his Church which is an invisible communion that that was enough to identify it with Protestantism for that is Protestantism reduced to its bare essentials. Though they deny it, even Catholics have an invisible true Church like that the Protestants believe in so it is nonsense to point to an organisation and call it the true Church for it could be run by secret apostates. Yet Newman needs an infallible visible true Church organisation to make his system of development work.
 
He needs to prove that the system directs one to faith in the Catholic Church. It doesn’t. It makes the Romish faith totally unconvincing.
 
Jesus said that the Church would never be destroyed. Catholics believe he meant that the true Church on earth would never pass away. The Vatican could apostatise meaning that those who are true to the Church as it used to be would be the true Church though they no longer have an infallible head. The Church says that infallibility belongs to the Church as a whole though it is only exercised through Episcopal councils of the Church so a break-off of laypeople could then function as infallible if they are the true faith. So pointing to an organisation like Newman did as the holder of the true developments does not work for he is begging the question: he assumes the Catholic hierarchy are the guardians of the faith which need not be right. The Catholic Church has been frequently accused of apostasy by its own. Even by Newman’s standards, the Church must have left the faith and the true Church in the middle of the nineteenth century when it made the Immaculate Conception a dogma for it is neither in early tradition or implied by it.
 
The Development of Dogma idea suggests that a new dogma can occur to a school in the Church and if the Church won’t exalt that dogma to dogma-hood then the school can leave the Church and do it itself and become the true Church. Church means a teaching body and community. The idea of a true Church is impossible to accept for a part of the Church will have greater closeness to the truth than will the official heads for there are many things not definitively settled. The section will be a truer Church or body of teaching than the mainstream Church.

The Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought gives a good refutation of Newman’s views. I repeat them here with my own observations.

The first problem is that Newman never justified the developments adequately and ignored the fact that the early Church could have been mistaken say in the matter of penance following forgiveness doctrine which denied that God is generous with his forgiveness. It could be said the doctrine was heretical though the Church accepted it and should have known better for it was not an offshoot or anything of its doctrine that God was love and mercy and generosity themselves but contrary to it.

Second, Newman does not think about the Eastern Orthodox claim to be the true infallible Catholic Church even though its system is older than the Catholic one. Catholics will say that perhaps it did not develop enough so the oldness proves nothing. But it is itself-sufficient and that is the refutation of the Catholic reply. If the Church has a sufficient system for getting revelation from God and being a Church of God why should it need to develop into a papal system?

To make the Church the one that has the divine guidance to say what scripture means could and will lead to the Church stopping the Bible from being able to speak for itself. The Church becomes the real authority and the Bible is its subject. It is just like the New Testament doctrine that the Old Testament must be read the Christian way. Without the New Testament our interpretation and understanding of the Old will be radically different. If the Catholic Church officially decides that John 6 is all about the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus and uses its infallibility to see that then we are not allowed to wonder if the doctrine is really taught by the scripture at all. Newman even said that just as the Old Testament has no authority except as interpreted by the New Testament which is the supreme authority giving the Old only a relative authority so the New Testament has only a relative authority because the Church and the pope have the power to decree what it means by the power of the Holy Spirit in them. This is blasphemous. It is a mistake for a Catholic to go to the Bible to prove the papacy when the book is no good without the pope for that is seeing the Bible not as it is or might be but as the pope says it should be seen.

Apparently, the only trace of a development of doctrine in the early Church was its recognition of the view that that ordinations administered by heretics were valid (page 57, Roman Catholic Claims).

The Catholic Church was not revealed lock, stock and barrel by Jesus and the apostles which everybody admits therefore all its new doctrines are not developments but corruptions and should be discarded.

In Anthony Kenny’s Religion and Reason we read a good rational assessment of the Catholic Church’s new doctrine that she developed over the centuries after Jesus died. This is a summary.

He noted that from the start the Church taught that instead of developing and improving the faith of the Church is unchangeable and complete.

He quoted Paul who condemned anybody who taught anything different from what he taught as implying that people who added to the gospel were doing wrong and changing the gospel even if they never contradicted it (Galatians 1:8).

Some centuries later, Pope Simplicius said that the apostolic doctrine has not changed from the time of the apostles to his time. The syllabus of Pius IX in 1864 censured the view that doctrines can develop. Kenny said that this position was completely contradicted by history. To me that shows what an untrustworthy and shifty religion Roman Catholicism is.

He observed that the Church defining doctrines as belonging to the faith of the apostles does not constitute development of doctrine because the idea was that the Church had always held these doctrines and used her infallibility to show that they were binding when they were being challenged. The Church has never defined infallibly that Jesus was a male but if a heresy comes along claiming that Jesus was a woman it will do it then. To me this suggests that the Church is to be believed by Catholics to be always right even when it does not employ its alleged infallibility.

Kenny finds that it is impossible to find any doctrine that was believed until a heresy came along to attack it thus requiring an infallible statement that the doctrine was true.  Yet the Church says that it needs infallibility just to safeguard God’s truth when it is questioned to prove that it really is revealed by God. It says it usually uses it then.
 
Kenny wrote that many theologians agree with St Vincent of Lerins that that truth is whatever the whole Church has believed before heresy appeared. This would mean that the only truth we can find is in the Apostles’ Creed. The Church cannot admit that. We have to ask: how are we to know what Christians believe? Do a census? Vincent’s theory implies that Church infallible declarations are invalid unless there has been worldwide census taken first.
 
Kenny criticises Vincent’s view because the Church officially accepted many doctrines that were not unanimously accepted before and today’s orthodoxy is tomorrow’s unorthodoxy. I would add that since the Church and Christ said that only a tiny number would be true brethren that it makes no sense to talk about the unanimous faith of true Christians being right for nobody knows who they are.

Kenny observed that there has been no unanimous agreement on the Trinity, three persons in one God, until after the Ecumenical Councils which made the doctrine binding and official. Even Newman admitted this for he observed that even when the early writers called Christ God or said that the three persons were equal nobody knew if the writers believed that the believers in the divine Christ believed that the Father Son and Spirit were really one person and not three or if the person who declared them to be there persons but equal believed they were three Gods who were somehow entitled to be called one God in some way like a man and woman can be called one flesh. Newman confessed that St Hippolytus probably did not believe that Jesus was always God the Son. St Methodius erred on the incarnation.

Pope John XXII denied that the saved go to Heaven immediately after death which was the majority belief in the Church some time before. St Bernard of Clairvaux had taught the same thing. The Church rejected this doctrine under Pope Benedict XII.

The Church strongly taught that usury was forbidden, for centuries. It was sanctioned against far more strongly than birth-control is in our day. Even as late as 1745 it was still teaching it. Nowadays that doctrine is gone.

Kenny observes that the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary was not known before the fourth century and since 1950 Catholics are bound to believe it. This doctrine is one of the worst threats to the idea of an unchangeable faith.

Kenny admits that the idea that the apostolic doctrine might imply new doctrines that the apostles never thought of but he sees that Rome has used this as an excuse to make doctrines that were never really implied at all. They cannot be deduced from what has gone before. Catholics might say that you can deduce from the fact that Mary gave birth to the Son of God that God would raise her body and soul to Heaven to give her special treatment. But what about those people who did as much good for God and did not give birth to him? The deduction idea implies that God ignored the fact that he has to let bad things, like letting Mary rot, happen for his greater purpose to do that for her though it may thwart it. Thus it is blasphemous. This is my observation.

Kenny then cites the teaching of theologians who say that the deduction process works not through logic as we know it but through God’s logic which is different to ours and which makes little sense to us for we are not as intelligent as him. He calls this dangerous. It opens the way for the Church to change whatever it likes as long as it pretends it has not changed truth but that God sees how its contradictory doctrines can be reconciled even if we can’t or the Church is left able to command whatever evil thing it likes.

Catholics say that if there is no record of a doctrine being ancient it does not matter for it was in oral tradition that was passed down from one generation to the next. Kenny writes that for the fathers and all the great Scholastics the truths necessary for salvation are all in the Bible. Tradition was declared by them not to be a new source of revelation but only a help in interpreting the Bible. The first person to come up with the oral tradition idea was William of Ockham who died in 1349. How could the idea be true when it took that long to appear? Kenny mentions Cardinal Pole attacking with the approval of the Catholic Church the doctrine of Henry VIII which claimed that both scripture and tradition were parallel sources of revelation. Kenny write that third century and later Christians never appealed to oral traditions and made a little use of liturgical traditions for liturgy was a fixed thing and apparently all believed that the Bible alone had the information about the doctrine the Church of Christ should follow. Origen could not depend on tradition to learn the identity of the true author of the book of Hebrews so he examined its writing style and contents. No good God would use a medium for the transmission of revelation that could not be proven. Anybody could invent a doctrine and say it was known in the early days and was not written down.

Kenny says that the pope can only make infallible doctrines relating to matters which are necessary for salvation. He says there is no way of knowing if a pope only thought he was using his infallibility but was mistaken for the doctrine he was defining was not necessary for salvation. I say then that the popes and Church have no right to say that doctrines like the assumption of Mary into Heaven or whatever are necessary for salvation for if any are, the most basic ones like the deity of Christ, the atonement he offered for us, the resurrection of Christ, Heaven and Hell are the only doctrines necessary. To say that God cares about whether or not we believe that Mary was taken up into Heaven bodily is foolish and blasphemous for it makes him really petty.
 
To say the pope is right that he can only make new dogmas that are necessary for salvation is to say that the pope must infallibly know what is necessary for salvation first. The pope can make a dogma anytime. Thus he needs to know what doctrines are needed for salvation all the time just in case. This knowledge would be a gift to him from God. So the pope is automatically infallible all the time for if he knows a doctrine is necessary for salvation he knows the doctrine is true. He knows how a doctrine is needed for salvation and why. He knows what the doctrine is.
 
And then he must infallibly know that he really knows this and is not mistaken. So before the pope can tell us infallibly that Mary was taken bodily up into Heaven he has to infallibly know himself and also know how the dogma is necessary. This requires a vast amount of infallibility as to his own psychological processes and the intricacies of theology. He would need to be very infallible indeed. The Church of Rome would never dare teach such a foolish doctrine but it does teach it by implication.

It is also worth remembering that the Church has always insisted that there were doctrines necessary for salvation. Nowadays it is said that you will lose your salvation if you know that a doctrine is true and refuse to believe it. But that could not possibly have been what the Church meant. The Athanasian Creed for example condemned anybody who denied any of the several articles of faith in it to hell and excommunication. If it had just meant that it would have said so. It meant that sincere or not you would not get into Heaven if you denied anything it said. The Church officially taught for most of its existence that error excluded from Heaven and it was the belief that sincerity was not good enough that led to the persecution of heretics.

The Church often said that certain doctrines were necessary for salvation. This could only mean that sincere disbelief after initial religious belief would cost one one’s salvation for otherwise it would just say that any doctrines true or false that you believe to be true and then reject will exclude from salvation. The Church never went that far for it encouraged pagans and atheists to abandon their doctrines. So doctrines necessary for salvation means exactly what it says, that sincerity is not enough and is in fact often dangerous.

APPENDIX: CRITIQUE BY BRAND BLANSHARD https://www.giffordlectures.org/books/reason-and-belief
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THE THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT

Apologists sometimes maintain that when such doctrines have at last been defined they represent not an addition to the creed but merely a ‘development’ of it. Revealed truth was not at first understood, and hence lay unrecognised for generations before the interpreters gathered its true sense. ‘Finally scrutinizing with fresh care the deposit of revelation, they there discovered the pious opinion, hitherto concealed, as far as they were concerned, in the more general formula, and, not satisfied to hold it as true, they declared it revealed.’30 The best known defence of this theory is Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Newman wanted to believe that all the teachings now held by the church to be essential were included in the deposit of faith given to the Apostles and espoused by the fathers. When he came to examine the writings of these persons, however, it became plain to him that over and over again—on purgatory, on the adoration of the Virgin, on transubstantiation, on the books to be accepted as inspired, even on the Trinity—the convictions of the early writers were not those of the present church. ‘There are three great theological authors of the Ante-nicene centuries,’ he noted, ‘Tertullian, Origen, and, we may add, Eusebius, though he lived some way into the fourth. Tertullian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's divinity, and, indeed, ultimately fell altogether into heresy or schism; Origen is, at the very least, suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian.’31 Such discoveries were deeply disturbing. The question of immediate importance, however, was not whether the fathers agreed among themselves—they did not—but whether the dogmas now held by the church had been held by the fathers at all. Here the idea of development seemed to provide a saving bridge. The oak is not identical with the acorn, yet as a development of it is in some sense the same. The green shoot and the ripened wheat, the child and the man, are not the same, yet we do call them the same. May we not continue to say that the present creed of the church, different as it is from that of the primitive church, is still the same in the sense of being a continuous development from it?

Between the two Vatican Councils there has been a singular change in the Catholic estimation of the essay and its author. At the first Council he was considered by Monsignor Talbot, the English private secretary to the Pope, as ‘the most dangerous man in England’. At the second, his theory was appealed to as a valuable support by ‘the new theologians’; indeed his spirit, according to one observer, Christopher Hollis, seemed to dominate the proceedings. But the famous essay does not give a very firm base for the doctrine of the unity of the church.

For (1) what it does is not so much to explain that unity as to explain it away. If all we mean, for example, by asserting a recognition of the Pope's authority from the first is that the gradual concentration of power in his hands was a natural development from the position and organisation of the early church, then the original meaning of ‘unity’ has disappeared. Such unity would not preclude our holding that neither the authority nor the belief in it was present in the early church at all. As C. D. Broad has said: ‘You have no right whatever to say that the end is just the beginning in disguise if, on inspecting the end as carefully and fairly as you can, you do not detect the characteristics of the beginning in it and do detect characteristics which were not present in the beginning’

(2) The theory therefore tends to nullify the dogma of infallibility. How can one hold that any doctrine warranted by the church at a given time is true until one sees the riper form into which it will develop? If the primacy of Peter was potentially present and infallibly true in the minds of persons who did not suspect its being there and even supposed they meant the opposite; and if, when the church now promulgates an infallible truth, its real meaning is as remote from our present sense of it as the present meaning of Roman primacy is from that of the primitive church, then what exactly is it that at a given time is to be taken as infallible? We cannot certainly know, and what we accept as infallible truth may be a mistake.

(3) The theory is bound to end in question-begging or self-refutation. If, for example, only those dogmas are selected as true developments that belong to the Catholic branch of the church, as opposed to those of the Greek and Anglican branches, which have grown from the same trunk, one will hardly convince these other branches that no parti pris has entered in. On the other hand, if the teachings of these other branches are also accepted as true ‘developments’, some of them, e.g. the denial of Roman primacy, will cancel those of the Catholic line, and then a genuine ‘development’ of the primitive creed may be false. The theory is unsatisfactory in either case.