Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, among his many other services to the Church, clarified the concept of development of doctrine as opposed to corruptions of doctrine that occasionally fasten on the Church and are shed off by the Church over time.
Newman posited seven notes, I would call them tests, for determining whether something is a development of doctrine or a corruption.
1. Preservation of Type
2. Continuity of Principles
3. Power of Assimilation
4. Logical Sequence
5. Anticipation of Its Future
6. Conservative Action upon Its Past
7. Chronic Vigour
Each of these notes are explained by Newman in detail. The concepts aren’t simple either in theory or in application, at least to me, but Newman does a first rate job of explaining them. The note that has always fascinated me is number six, no doubt because I have always found history fascinating, and the history of the Church especially so.
Newman is quite clear that under the Sixth Note a Development of Doctrine does not reverse what has gone before:
A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments being really those antecedents and something besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.
As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.
Newman sums up the Sixth Note as follows:
And thus a sixth test of a true development is that it is of a tendency conservative of what has gone before it.
We live in a time of massive change for the Church. Change there has always been in the Church, but change on the scale since the calling of the Second Vatican Council is unprecedented. Newman gives us an analytical tool in his theory of Development of Doctrine to try to discern what changes represent true developments of doctrine and what changes are mere corruptions fastened upon the Church due to popular intellectual and political movements and prejudices of our time, or reactions to such movements and prejudices, rather than organic developments from the past history of the Church.
An example of an organic development of doctrine and what I think is a corruption will now be given. An organic development is illustrated by Pius XII’s proclamation of the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. In Munificentissimus Deus Pius XII took pains to show how the doctrine had developed over the centuries. An example of a corruption I think is the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX. Although a defense of the Syllabus can be mounted, and I have done so in the past, and there is much in the Syllabus that is still held by the Church, it is also fairly obvious that Pio Nono was writing largely in reaction to intellectual and political trends in his time with which he was not in sympathy. Pio Nono was deeply wedded to an intellectual and political world view that was dying before his eyes. He sought to enlist the Church in support of what he cherished. Time has demonstrated that, great Pope though he was, the attempt of Pius in the Syllabus of Errors to outline how the Church should deal with the modern world has proven transitory and a corruption that the Church today merely ignores. Pope Benedict, before he became Pope, referred to Gaudium et Spes as a “counter-Syllabus”. What new bedrock doctrines and teachings of the Church, which have made an appearance over the last few pontificates, will be totally ignored by popes a century or more hence, only time will reveal, although Newman and his Development of Doctrine analysis may give us hints. Read the rest of this entry »