Development of Doctrine: How this often denigrated process is unavoidable

In my experience, when the dialogue between Catholics and Protestants (as well as Orthodox) gets past the initial stages, you will find that the more perceptive Protestants (or Orthodox) often come to an “aha!” moment wherein they feel they have found the real crux in all the disputes. That crux being that oft-used and popularly denigrated concept of the “Development of Doctrine” (DoD). Often enough, people think that DoD to be simply an artificial bridge to connect the wide chasm that exists between the beliefs of early Christianity with the late Medieval Catholic Church. No one, I think, disputes that there is, prima facie, a chasm between these two. Protestants are quite ready, at the drop of a hat, to exclude Fathers, Doctors, Theologians, and Councils (for they can all err when plainly shown to be from Scripture), and so don’t really care (ultimately) if a chasm exists between them and the early Church (at least it doesn’t debilitate their confidence if such a chasm were to exist).

On the other hand, some will take advantage of this unquestionable chasm between early Christianity and the late Medieval Catholic Church in order to exemplify how the Catholic Church *added* foreign additions and innovations to the Apostolic deposit. That much seems quite obvious to them. This is why the appeal to DoD just looks like pathetic and willful ignorance of what is plain as day for any rational observer. I’m not here to respond to this accusation. However, I am here to observe some irony. The Calvinistic Reforms (here I mean the breadth of Calvin’s soteriological effect) all claimed to be returning to the pure teaching of salvation by their apprehension of monergistic models (thereby preserving sola gratia). But it is just on this matter that the best of the Calvinistic school shows just how unavoidable the development of doctrine really is. Which of the historical theologians who follow in the Presbyterian (WCF) or English-Baptist (1689) line of thinking ever said that the full fledge doctrine of predestination even had a interpretative community before the 5th century? Even then, St. Augustine’s interpretations came under rigid examination, and even revision. No, I’m not saying there were no avid promoters such as St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, but no one denies there was some hesitations and tweaks (see Weaver, R. Divine Grace and Human Agency: A Study of the Semi-Pelagian Controversy, CUP). (And please spare the “But it is in St. Paul!” commentary). Theologians in the Greek East seemed to be unashamedly settled on the side of free-will, and it will be that or death. Not much has changed, either.

We all know very well that St. Thomas Aquinas carried on the Augustinian reading of Romans 9 (that’s not to say they agree on every jot and tittle on overall subject) and that predestination in scholastic thinking well synthesized a variety of options, some of which could be adequately reconciled with the Genevan reformer. But even then we aren’t exactly given such a clear and cut idea such that it was unmistakable that predestination is either symmetrical or asymmetrical for the elect and the reprobate, respectively. Nor was it clear for everyone whether the model should be concieved in supralapsarian versus infralapsarian terms. Are the reprobate passed over, or are they in some sense influenced in the direction of evil, in order to realize God’s purpose? Is there a compataibility between sovereignty and human freedom, and if so, how so? Does Molinism, Arminianism, Báñezianism, or some other coinage (even to be) better explain the mystery? Even the Catholic Church has been satisfied with a stand-still since the days of the Congregatio de Auxiliis.These debates continue on to this very day, and it seems as though final answers never materialize as crystally clear for all subscribers to even the common confessions of the 16th century Protestants. And so it would almost appear as though the crystal clarity of Predestinarianism is something that appears on one side of a chasm that is bridged by, *gasp*, a process of theological development. Any process where an idea undergoes a transition from obscurity to clarity is a certain kind of rational and intellegible development of the idea. The idea in substance remains the same (yes, it is all substantially in St. Paul.. get it out of your system), but its un-fleshing and un-packing opens up what appears to be a new world of thought as time goes by. Catholics would say the Apostolic Deposit, in substance, remains one and the same forever from St. John (the last Apostle) until the end of this age. Ironically, then, the Calvinistic theologians known by experience what St. John Henry Newman wrote about in theory. Now, we can respect the fact that a Protestant might say, “Well, I accept the concept, nay, the reality of theological and doctrinal development, but I think Catholic doctrines exceed the principle of cause and effect, since the effect has more than what is in the cause.” I can respect this. That’s a fair critique, even if I disagree with it. What I can’t respect is the out in out denial of the reality of doctrinal development, as if Christ handed to the Apostles everything that would have made null and void Protestant squabbles such that went on between Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer and his foes, Cranmer, Fisher, More, Sebastian Franck, Whitefield, Wesely, and all the way up to the present day.

In fact, one could almost perform an exercise which would be a sort of Newman-in-reverse. That is to say that perhaps a Protestant can adopt a similar argument (for it can’t be precisely the same) as Newman constructed in his famous essay, but argue the opposite direction, namely, that the kernels for Protestant religion were there in Scripture and in early Christianity, and it took the watering and growing through the weeds of sacerdotalism, clericalism, conciliarism, Imperialism, Papalism, and Christendom until it flourished atop in a clean and precise maturity with the Westminster Confessions or the London Baptist Confessions, or what have you.

Roman Primacy – Appellate or Immediate? Both

One of my FB friends has recently brought up the subject of the early Church’s use of Roman Imperial geo-political structures to organize Church jurisdiction. One of the take aways, by way of testing ideas, was that the primatial jurisdiction of the early Roman Church could have derived its organization, and perhaps even essence, from the secular world. A sort of non-divine post-Apostolic creation of the Church in order to better manage ecclesial affairs. Here below is a snip of my comments on this, and I figured it could be shared at large for further dialogue, as I know this is a common discussion in recent exchanges. Let me put my cards down here. I think that the origin of power in St. Peter the Apostle and his successor is the transaction that was made between St Peter and Christ Himself when He stood in the flesh before him. There was no Roman geo-political structure that was factored in at the time nor in the means of said transaction. Therefore, St. Peter enjoys immediate and direct jurisdiction over every baptized sheep in the fold of Christ simply by the direct word of Christ.Now, it would have been more than silly and stupid to organize the primacy of the Church of Rome according to an immediate structure, such that everyone answered directly to Rome, or that proximate and local regions were powerless to manage their own affairs. Not even did the Ceasar Augustus operate the Roman Empire this way. Even St. Paul, when he stood before Porcius Festus, the procurator of Judea, said “I appeal to Ceasar” (Καίσαρα ἐπικαλοῦμαι), c.f. Acts 25:11, because he knew that he could be examined by a higher court than that of Jerusalem. Everyone knew that appellate jurisdiction was the only way both charity and proper order can be had. This is social philosophy 101, and the principle of subsidiary has been supported by the Catholic Church’s social doctrine, even with regard to the Church. Therefore, the primacy of Rome was modeled in the appellate structure, and it was best to be maintained ONLY in this way. Only in extreme circumstances should it be that it is otherwise. If this restriction is not based on divine law (though I would argue it is), it is certainly based on practical government. If Rome was the sole judge, like Moses was initially thought to be, then as problems mount, no resolutions would be reached in time for there to make it worth anyone’s time. A hierarchy is logically and naturally necessary .However, when we get under the skin of such a structure, the power of St. Peter’s successor is not something that came through the Roman imperial system that the Church adopted for canonical organization. Nor is it that St. Peter received a part of the power of primacy, only then to be further managed by Councils which adopted the geo-political principles. On the contrary, as the 1st Vatican Council taught, following Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439), “full power” (plenitudo potestas) was given directly from the mouth of Jesus to St. Peter, and such investiture flows directly to his successors. And so while the Church may have temporally adopted Roman geo-politics as an outward garment to implement the essential apostolic governance of the Church, this doesn’t mean that their origins collapse together as if they were both from the same principle. So what we have here is a distinction between the power of the Petrine office (officium) and the way it it is operative (munus) in the real life of the Church… which I think should always be under the limit of appellation in ordinary and normal circumstances. I understand this is not exactly how things are done today, despite the fact that appeals still go through nunio’s unto the Rome, and is often first heard either in the Apostolic Signatura or the Roman Rota or the CDF (etc,etc), and so I’m sure there is plenty of room for reform. But I wanted to say all of this to show that the immediacy, directness, and ordinary-ness of jurisdictional authority over the universal Church does not entail that appellate structures are not necessary. On the contrary, it is necessary. That being said, the Petrine jurisdicition retains its prerogative in case when the safety and security of the Church requires an immediate action.

Revisiting St. Paul’s Message on the Gift of Justification to Mankind

I would like some feedback here from some of my Protestant readers on a previous article wherein I offer a reading of Romans 4 which might be a reasonable alternative to the Lutheran reading. Often times, Catholics or Orthodoxy try to say that since “works” in the context refers to Jewish boundary markers, we can safely say that when St. Paul says that we are justified by faith “apart from the works o the Law,” he simply means that while man is justified by faith apart from “ceremonial rituals” he is justified by a combination of faith and moral works, such that flow from loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. However, it seems to me that when St. Paul excludes “works” from human justification, he means to exclude all human working of any kind, even if the Jewish boundary markers are his emphasis. Now, lest I trigger the physicists, chemists, and biologists reading this, I don’t mean to say that St. Paul envisions the exclusion of quite literally every single human work imaginable, such that even the process of hearing, thinking, contemplating, and the choice of commitment (which are all technically a work in ontology). Even so, their movement is still grounded in the immanent God who grounds all being and its function. To a natural and supernatural level, God always grounds the movement of even the soul’s movements.
In any case, exegetically speaking, it can’t be denied that in his letter to Rome, St. Paul clearly understands all of human sin to have disqualified everyone from being recognized as “just” or “right” in the eyes of God. Therefore, attempts at making onself “just” or “right” in God’s eyes through outward ceremony certainly won’t be successful (indeed, this is Paul’s emphasis), but neither would the soul’s attempt to strive for moral perfection since it is impossible (Rom 3:9-20; 7:1-25). A successful human justification, therefore, must be through a means which is neither a prescription for outward ceremony (for an outward effect) nor an assignment to commit one’s life to moral perfection. The Mosaic Law, seeing as it requires both (Gal 3:10-12), cannot give life because its demand can’t be met by humanity marred by the sin of Adam (Rom 5:12-21).

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