Saturday, February 07, 2004

Preliminary Dialogue With an Anglican on the Nature of Legitimate Development of Doctrine (vs. Edwin Tait)

It's hard for me to come up with propositions on this topic I'm willing to defend. Most of them would be negative, as in:

There is no clear and objective test to distinguish between developments and corruptions by which Anglicanism can be shown to be a corruption of Christianity and Catholicism, in the West at least, the only true development thereof (i.e., of primitive Christianity).
Or, more positively speaking:
The development of doctrine can go in any one of several directions none of which can be shown to be corruptions by any inherent and discernible principle that would not condemn the other branches as well.
This sentence is not entirely clear; I am not saying that no "developments" can be shown to be corruptions, but that it's quite possible for several lines of development to be equally legitimate as true developments of the original idea.

Okay. For my part, I would defend Newman's theory. The following is the most precise statement of it in relatively brief terms, I have come up with, including the "seven notes," which constitute his criteria for determining legitimate developments vs. corruptions.

If that is agreeable, we can proceed with your "opening opposing statement." Or if you would rather defend one of your two general, "negative" possible proposals, that would be fine, too.

John Henry Cardinal Newman:

Granting that some large variations of teaching in its long course of 1800 years exist, nevertheless, these, on examination, will be found . . . to proceed on a law, and with a harmony and a definite drift, and with an analogy to Scripture revelations, which . . . constitute an argument in their favour, as witnessing to a superintending Providence and a great Design. 1

It becomes necessary . . . to assign certain characteristics of faithful developments . . . the presence of which serves as a test to discriminate between them and corruptions . . . I venture to set down Seven Notes . . . as follows: -- There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last. 2

Principle is a better test of heresy than doctrine. Heretics are true to their principles, but change to and fro, backwards and forwards, in opinion; for very opposite doctrines may be exemplifications of the same principle . . . Thus Calvinists become Unitarians from the principle of private judgment. The doctrines of heresy are accidents and soon run to an end; its principles are everlasting . . . Protestantism, viewed in its more Catholic aspect, is doctrine without active principle; viewed in its heretical, it is active principle without doctrine. 3

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 . . . A true development . . . is an addition which illustrates . . . the body of thought from which it proceeds . . . it is of a tendency conservative of what has gone before it. 4

Dissolution is that further state to which corruption tends. Corruption cannot, therefore, be of long standing; and thus duration is another test of a faithful development . . . A corruption . . . is distinguished . . . by its transitory character. 5

If it be true that the principles of the later Church are the same as those of the earlier, then . . . the later in reality agrees more than it differs with the earlier, for principles are responsible for doctrines. Hence they who assert that the modern Roman system is the corruption of primitive theology are forced to discover some difference of principle . . . for instance, that the right of private judgment was secured to the early Church and has been lost to the later, or again, that the later Church rationalizes and the earlier went by faith . . .

As to Protestantism it is plain in how many ways it has reversed the principles of Catholic theology. 6


1. Newman, John Henry, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845; revised 1878), edition published by Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, vii-viii. Preface to the Edition of 1878.
2. Ibid., 170-171. Part 2, chapter 5, nos. 2, 4.
3. Ibid., 181-182. Part 2, ch. 5, section 2, no. 3.
4. Ibid., 199-200,203. Part 2, ch. 5, sec. 6, nos. 1, 5.
5. Ibid., 203,205. Part 2, ch. 5, sec. 7, nos. 1, 3.
6. Ibid., 353-354. Part 2, ch. 7, sec. 6, nos. 1, 3.

I will obviously have to have another look at the Essay on Development before I can come up with an adequate "opening opposing statement." It will primarily address Newman's remarks which you cite above, and will argue that traditional Protestantism (Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and "Calvinism") can legitimately claim to be a development from early Christianity, rather than a corruption thereof.

Does that mean developments and corruptions according to Newman's definitions of same, or do you wish to argue against the truthfulness of his criteria, and then show how the above is true? If the latter, then you would have to show how and why Newman's criteria are faulty, and proceed to create definitions of your own, which in turn will have to be backed up with abundant historical verification in order to hold up under scrutiny.

I don't know how you want to proceed after that. It might be instructive to go through Newman's seven "notes" and discuss them in detail.

I would say it would be good to deal with various doctrines (of your choosing), according to Catholicism, and other groups, and see how the non-Catholic doctrines can be defended, using whatever criteria of legitimacy you prefer, Newman's or your own. In other words, your task would be exactly the opposite of Newman's: to show how and why non-Catholic distinctive doctrines are consistent with the criteria, and how and why Catholic distinctive doctrines are not. I don't think it can be done at all, which is why this discussion will be so much fun, if you believe otherwise. I'm really looking forward to it.

I think it would be best to make our starting-point the areas of Newman's theory that we basically agree upon, lest we get caught up in theoretical and philosophical matters for which you have little time, and I, little desire. If we can agree on those things, then we can go on to discuss particular doctrines, which is what I would like to get to. I hope this is an agreeable plan. From what I can tell, that is your greatest interest in this regard, too. We have to restrict ourselves somehow, with such a complex topic.

My reply, however, will probably be less full and thorough than the subject deserves, so please pin me down and interrogate me with regard to anything I say that's vague or unsubstantiated.

Will do! :-)

When citing Newman's Essay on Development, I'll use chapter, section, and subsection numbers rather than page numbers. I am, however, using the same edition you are.


As you pointed out, I need to clarify whether I agree with Newman's definition or not. Hopefully this will not so embroil us in philosophical debate (for which I for one am not well prepared) that we won't get to the real point of the discussion. I really don't want to argue about the merits of Newman's position, partly because he's a very subtle thinker and it's quite possible that (as you once claimed) where I disagree with him I'm just not getting his point.

Well, I had this in mind in proposing what I did above.

My basic problem with Newman's definition is what seems to me his extravagant realism (in the medieval sense). That is to say, while he distinguishes between ideas and things (presumably material things), he speaks of ideas as if they were in some sense things--as if an idea, as he himself puts it, has a life of its own (1.1.4). Now in some sense this may be true--I'm not that fond of nominalism. But I don't think it (i.e. Newman's notion of ideas) is particularly verifiable.

I would say that this is true of an "idea" insofar as it is also true of legitimate Christian doctrines and beliefs: whatever they may be deemed to be. In other words, a true development would partake of that same inherent power and "truthfulness" that apostolic Christian doctrine possesses. But these are very deep waters. This is just a brief thought that I had. I believe Newman would be classified as more of a Platonist than a Thomist (if we are to choose). For him, particulars "serve" the universals, rather than vice versa. Hence, the grand, ambitious scope of his theory of development.

That is to say, I don't think that it's possible to have objective tests of whether the ideas held by two people on some topic are in some sense the "same" idea under different forms or two fundamentally different ideas. Rather, I think the question we need to ask is whether we can in fact discern an underlying similarity.

Okay; but if we are analyzing similarity, why not also fundamental dissimilarity? I think they are two sides of the same coin. It's like saying that studying polluted water has no relation to the question of clean, pure water.

We have no guarantee that this is in fact the "same" idea, except insofar as we believe that God has revealed His truth to us, and thus will preserve it through all the permutations it may undergo. In other words, I don't think that it's very useful to distinguish between true developments and corruptions with regard to false or purely rational ideas. I would argue that such a distinction only makes sense with regard to something we believe to have been divinely revealed.

Fair enough. But bear in mind that Newman is looking back at the facts of history and trying to discern a pattern or a design, rather than trying to construct an arbitrary theory and force the facts to fit into it (as in, e.g., Reformed soteriology or Baptist ecclesiology).

Thus, Newman says (5.1.5) that "no one can doubt that Eunomianism was a true development, not a corruption of Arianism" even though Eunomius and Arius held two diametrically opposed views regarding the Son's knowledge of the Father. I not only doubt the truth of this statement, but I don't have the slightest idea what might possibly give Newman the right to make it. Two different theologians both hold that the Son is subordinate to the Father and created by Him, but hold fundamentally different positions regarding the Father's knowability.

It seems to me (without looking at the passage again) that the matter of "knowability" is quite secondary and of lesser importance (as is, I humbly dare to say, even the filioque dispute) than the supremely important question of whether Christ is a creation or an eternal Being. A development of a corruption is different than a development of a true development (using the word "development" in two different senses). For (Newman would argue), the former is merely and inevitably following the flawed premises inherent in the original false position.

In that sense it develops it - by following the flawed premise through to its logical end result. But in any event, false developments (i.e., corruptions) are no strangers to contradiction. I have long contended myself that various corruptions of apostolic Christianity, such as sola Scriptura, or the canon of Scripture viewed within that flawed framework, are self-refuting and internally incoherent.

Yet Newman somehow "knows" that the former is the fundamental "principle" or "type" that remains unchanged, while the latter is comparatively unimportant. This manner of reasoning makes no sense to me whatever.

As I said, it is his attempt to make sense of the facts of theological history, and to discern patterns therein. It is analogical reasoning, not Thomistic. Whatever category that fits into (presumably Platonic in some broad sense), it is a different mode of thinking than Thomists or post-Enlightenment modern men are used to. Newman's mode of thinking was highly influenced by Bishop Joseph Butler's Analogy of Religion (1736), which David Hume regarded as the best defense of Christianity that he had ever read. Biographer Ian Ker wrote:

In the Apologia, Newman explained how in his Anglican writings he had 'tried to complete' Keble's version of Bishop Butler's famous dictum that 'probability is the guide of life', with 'its tendency to destroy . . . absolute certainty', by arguing that 'absolute certitude' in religion is 'the result of an assemblage of concurring and converging probabilities'.

{John Henry Newman, Oxford Univ. Press, 1988, 621}

According to Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm:
Butler placed himself within this Lockean empirical tradition with its emphasis upon the limitation of knowledge . . . Butler renounced both rationalism and idealism . . . He defends a strict empiricism, and a strict inductionism . . .

Butler follows the pathway of common sense, a reserved agnosticism, and a rejection of speculative metaphysics. He seeks to ground religion . . . in brute fact . . .

According to Butler no absolute proof for anything exists. The prudential man acts on the slope of the evidence, and when he detects the direction towards which the evidence slopes, he acts accordingly.

{Varieties of Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962, 111-113}

And again:
For Butler probability has to do with the uncertain and unpredictable routine of life which while not yielding absolute knowledge does yield trends which are reliable guides for conduct. These trends may be faint at first and upon many repetitions they may achieve practical certainty . . .

If the function of probablity is to detect trends within a range of experience, analogy permits us to cross from one universe of discourse to another.

{Ibid., 117}

He clearly indicates how the method of analogical reasoning proceeds. It commences with the observation of facts and then moves on to others 'that are like them,' from that part of the divine government which we already know (i.e., the known course of nature) to 'that larger and more general government of God' (i.e., religion), and 'from what is present to collect what is likely, credible or not credible, will be hereafter.'

{Ibid., 119}

Newman was clearly profoundly influenced by this line of thought, particularly in his philosophical treatise Grammar of Assent, but also most assuredly in his notions of development of doctrine. He believes he has discerned the laws which govern true developments, by virtue of various analogies to natural law (what might be called the "sacramentalism of nature") and other entities.

On the other hand, if an idea is divinely revealed, then certainly it can be said to have a life of its own--or rather not of its own, but of God, who revealed it (this might be another way of saying the old adage that truth is one but error diverse). It is important that we should know whether the doctrine of the Eucharist held by Reformed, or Catholics, or both, is a true development of that given by God tot he Apostles.

Absolutely. This is what I hope to discuss, concerning this and many other doctrines.

It is not important (or, in my opinion, possible or even meaningful) to know whether the doctrine of the Eucharist held by modern Baptists is a true development of that held by Zwingli (assuming for the moment that both are false). Historians rightly point out that there are important differences--that Zwingli was not quite the "mere memorialist" many make him. But unless one or both of the given doctrines retain, even under corrupted form, the essential outlines of the original divinely inspired truth, the differences or similarities are purely empirical.

I agree. And that is Newman's primary concern (if he does get sidetracked here and there): which doctrines have the qualities of true developments of the original apostolic deposit.

To take a more clearly non-divine idea, one could argue that various 20th-century forms of Marxism are not "really" Marxism at all. But does it really matter, except perhaps to Marxists? What matters is that Marx said X, and that Lenin or Mao or Habermas, in at least partial reliance on Marx, said Y. That we can determine. But is there a fundamental "idea" of Marxism? I wouldn't even know how to formulate, much less answer, such a question.

Yes, good point. But you seem to agree that revelation gives us a ground for certainty and a standard of truthfulness to work with, with regard to the question of "development vs. corruption."

Newman himself, in his preface to the 1878 edition, almost seems to agree with me. At least, in the passage you cite, he refers to Providence as in some sense the guarantor of the unity of Christianity throughout its manifold changes. At the very least, he is describing a view of development with which I entirely agree:

Granting that some large variations of teaching in its long course of 1800 years exist, nevertheless, these, on examination, will be found . . . to proceed on a law, and with a harmony and a definite drift, and with an analogy to Scripture revelations, which . . . constitute an argument in their favour, as witnessing to a superintending Providence and a great Design.

(preface, vii-viii).

Yes, but he goes on to posit particulars of this Design, many of which you deny.

On that basis, then, I proceed briefly to comment on Newman's seven "notes" pointing out first that the passage you first quote rather supports my position rather than that which Newman seems, in the rest of his work, to hold. It's interesting that this passage comes from the preface to the 1878 edition. Possibly Newman had, without even realizing it, seriously modified his earlier position (but was it a "development" or a "corruption"? That question we can leave aside).

Newman's first test is faithfulness to "type." But I find him frustratingly vague as to what "type" is . . . Newman has chosen things which were objected against the Catholic Church in 19th-century England but which applied equally well to the early Church. But this hardly constitutes a coherent, comprehensive "type" that can be taken as the standard for discerning the true Church, especially since many of Newman's descriptions are vague and subjective. Furthermore, a great many of Newman's descriptions would apply just as well to the Mormons and other religious groups today. In short, his "type" is highly subjective and selective, chosen precisely to suit his argument. It works well as a polemical counterblast to the silly charges made against Catholicism by the complacent Anglicanism of the 19th century. But as a formal "note" to discern true from false developments it's highly flawed, in my opinion.

Duly noted.

I don't find Newman's second note, the continuity of principles, much more enlightening. Newman distinguishes the two by saying that principles are abstract but doctrines concrete (5.2.1), but he goes on to say that this difference is subjective and relative. And so I find it. I also don't see how he's so sure when he's found a principle, particularly when he is speaking of positions with which he disagrees. For instance, he calls private judgment one of the principles of Protestantism. Leaving aside the fact that he doesn't define private judgment, I'd like to know how he knows that it is a fundamental principle of Protestantism?

Simply as a contrary to apostolic succession and binding Church authority, and a necessary corollary of sola Scriptura. I suppose Anglicanism is somewhat different, but not enough so for me to buy its self-claimed supposedly unique status as a "via media."

Maybe it's just an unfortunate notion many Protestants happened to defend in his day. Thus, I don't think his second note is very useful either, because like the first it's hopelessly subjective and can be used to defend just about any arbitrarily selected concatenation of "principles."

I could put up a vigorous argument against this contention of yours, but for the sake of the larger discussion I will desist.

Thus, some Christians today would say that nonviolence is a basic principle of Christianity. Newman presumably would disagree. But who's to say he's right?

The mainstream just war tradition, and clear indications in Scripture, such as Jesus' non-rebuke of the Roman centurion, suggestion that the apostles purchase a sword, and St. Paul's granting of the sword to civil governments in Romans 13.

Perhaps Newman's most striking remark about principles is the following:

Thus Calvinists become Unitarians from the principle of private judgment. The doctrines of heresy are accidents and soon run to an end; its principles are everlasting. (5.2.3)
What this means, as I see it, is that Newman can pick out some abstract similarities between different groups of which he disapproves, and thus can argue that these common themes, which the "heretics" themselves may or may not regard as central (certainly I know of no Calvinists who would say that private judgment is more central than the doctrine of the Trinity), somehow constitute the true identity of the respective groups. This sounds to me a lot like the common Protestant anti-Catholic argument that Catholicism, Mormonism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses are all similar because they all claim infallible leadership.

No, it's more involved than that. He is simply showing how certain internal premises lead groups to become even that which they would at one time disavow, due to the logical working-out in history of the principle. It so happens that I dealt with this particular objection previously:

The evolution of Unitarianism in New England is an indisputable fact of history. You can only attempt (legitimately) to deny the direct causal connection. The same thing happened to English Presbyterianism at the same time. I cite in my defense no less a reputable scholar of Puritanism than Perry Miller:
By the middle of the 18th Century there had proceeded from it [Puritan philosophy] two distinct schools of thought . . . Certain elements were carried into the creeds and practices of the evangelical religious revivals, but others were perpetuated by the rationalists and the forerunners of Unitarianism . . . Unitarianism is as much the child of Puritanism as Methodism . . . Descendants of the Puritans who revolted against what they considered the tyranny and cruelty of Puritan theology . . . substituted taste and reason for dogma and authority.

{The Puritans, New York: Harper & Row, vol. 1, rev. 1963, 3-4; from Intro. by Perry Miller}

It is a fact that New England was predominantly Puritan in the 17th century, but largely Unitarian by the early 19th. Harvard was controlled by Unitarians by 1802. So Newman was perfectly justified in making such a connection. No less an authority than Puritan scholar Perry Miller explicitly backs him up. As a general rule, Protestant denominations tend to go increasingly liberal as time goes on.
I think everything depends on our agreeing first what certain principles or basic doctrines of Christianity are (we don't have to agree on all of them) . . .

Yes. In my second (soon-to-be-published) book, More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, I have a chapter about the so-caled "perspicuous apostolic message." It contained a dialogue with a Protestant, loosely-based on an actual encounter, which went as follows:

P: Protestants, too, firmly accept what the apostles taught. And this is much of the reason why we cannot embrace the teachings of Catholicism. Indeed, maintaining the original, apostolic message is a powerful argument against the corrupt innovations and unbiblical additions of Rome over time.

C: Why not boldly tell us, then, precisely what "the apostles taught"? In particular, I am curious as to their teaching in those areas where Protestants can't bring themselves to agree with each other; for example:

2. Baptism
3. The Eucharist
4. Church Government
5. Regeneration
6. Sanctification
7. The Place of Tradition
8. Women Clergy
9. Divorce
10. Feminism
11. Abortion
12. The Utility of Reason
13. Natural Theology
14. The Charismatic Gifts
15. Alcohol
16. Sabbatarianism
17. Whether Catholics are Christians
18. Civil Disobedience

In order to have "fidelity" to an "apostolic message" one must define what it is. And if you don't know, then you illustrate my point better than I could myself: either your case collapses due to internal inconsistency, or because Protestant sectarianism makes any such delineation of "orthodoxy" impossible according to your own first principles; or if theoretically possible, certainly unenforceable in practice. Jesus commanded His disciples to, ". . . [teach] them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20) -- not just the "central," "primary," "essential" doctrines.

P: That's easily answered, Dave. We have the New Testament, which is filled with the apostle's teaching. One such teaching is that we are justified by faith, giving us peace with God (Romans 5:1).

C: We agree in large part. But why, though, if sola fide is true, did "scarcely anyone" teach imputed righteousness or forensic justification from Paul to Luther, according to Protestant apologist Norman Geisler, in his latest book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences? Very strange, and too implausible for me.

Note 5, anticipation, is I think one of the most useful, because it is in some sense discernible. Thus, Protestants and Orthodox object to papal infallibility because it can't be found in full-fledged form before perhaps the 14th century. Yet anticipations can certainly be found, possibly as far back as the Apostolic Fathers (if not, as you would argue, in the NT itself).

I certainly would argue that (and have)! Papal infallibility is far more indicated in Scripture (if only largely implicitly) than sola Scriptura, which, I would strenuously argue, is not to be found at all. The same would hold for purgatory, penance, merit, the Immaculate Conception, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and any number of other "distinctive" Catholic doctrines.

Similarly, it's quite true that St. Augustine's doctrine of the Eucharist is not the same as the later Reformed view. Yet it is in some sense an anticipation thereof, with its stress on spiritual eating and its denial that unbelievers genuinely eat the Lord's Body.

One can't maintain the essence of a view of the Eucharist by going from literal presence to merely spiritual presence. That is a change in essence. St. Augustine's frequent stress of the "sign" of the Eucharist is not at all inconsistent with his sacramental realism (for a real thing can also be a sign, just as Jesus talked about the "sign of Jonah" - referring to a thing that actually happened in concrete history, not a solely "spiritual" - non-material - thing). Therefore, the Reformed view is certainly a corruption of Augustine's belief, as well as that of the entirety of the Fathers. I have written about this elsewhere too.

Note 6 is also, I believe, essentially sound. Any complete repudiation of what has gone before constitutes a renunciation of the claim to be a genuine development. However, I do not entirely accept Newman's characterization, which I think biases his argument toward Catholicism. There are two kinds of conservation, one that resists change and the other that tries to restore what has been wholly or partially defaced. Thus, cleaning soot off a window is a conservative act. It constitutes a repudiation of the soot, but it doesn't break the window. The difficulty here is to discern which is soot and which is window. Obviously cleaning the window is a "corruption" of the process of accumulation of soot, which was itself a corruption of the purity of the window. Therefore, I would argue that a genuine development may at times not be conservative of everything that has gone before.

Yes, I noted this Protestant characterization of Church history in my published conversion story (Surprised by Truth), by describing my former view as the Reformation "scraping the barnacles off the ship" of true doctrine. I don't buy it, because the Holy Spirit preserves the Church from that sort of serious error.

Finally, I think duration is perhaps the most objective of Newman's criteria. The chief problem here is determining how long a duration should count (as Newman points out, Arianism lasted a long time) and what "vigor" is. Vigor can be very deceptive. Newman clearly thought Protestantism had more or less lost its vigor, and not so many years before Protestants were proclaiming the same about Catholicism.

This would have to be applied in tandem with the other notes, because, as you note, some heresies such as Nestorianism have survived for the long-term.

Let me try to summarize what I think is valid in Newman's seven notes.

Any doctrine that cannot be shown to have a logical connection with the preceding tradition is to be rejected. At quarter to eleven in the evening, I can't think of an example where the lack of such a sequence can be shown. But I am prepared to defend the logical connection between Protestantism and the preceding Catholic tradition, though the details of how that works will have to be further discussed.

That's what I am most interested in. Please do! I maintain that this can't be done - not where Protestantism departs from received Catholic doctrines. It was my own former view also, but that was when I was relatively ignorant of Church history, and before I read Newman. :-)
Not to imply that you are ignorant (), but I say it can't be done, and more power to you if you think you can pull it off.

For a doctrine to be true, it must have anticipations in the preceding tradition. The presence of such anticipations does not prove it to be true, of course. Insofar as a given doctrine repudiates rather than building on the entire trend of Christian tradition throughout history, or for that matter the universal consensus of Christians at the moment preceding the appearance of the doctrine in question, it is a false doctrine. Insofar as it can be shown to build on that consensus, it is defensible. A doctrine that has been proclaimed in a form not conservative of what went before can be restated so as to make it a legitimate development, in my opinion (here I think I differ from Newman).

I will await your exposition of individual doctrines, according to this criteria.

Any view whose defenders died out many generations ago should probably not be revived. Any doctrine that has found continuous upholders over the generations since first proposed may in fact be a genuine development of the original tradition.

"May" is the key word here . . .

Hence, I think that Nestorianism and Monophysitism cannot be condemened in the same way that Arianism can. Obviously this is not a fool-proof principle, since by it Arianism would have been legitimate after it had survived for a few generations, which it did.

Well, Arianism has been revived in the Jehovah's Witnesses, The Way International, and Christadelphianism . . .

I'm not arguing that Catholicism is a corruption of early or Biblical Christianity. I'm arguing solely that Protestantism is not.

I understand that. I say (with Newman) that the latter is, insofar as it departs from Catholic received doctrines.

That is to say, I'm arguing that in its essential doctrines Protestantism is a development of the original deposit of faith,

If by "essential" you mean, e.g., the tenets of the Nicene Creed, that would be a non-issue, as all trinitarians pretty much agree on those. My interest in this dialogue would be in the disputed doctrines such as the eighteen I listed above, and any others you might wish to suggest, where Protestants and Catholics disagree.

and that where it violates one of the notes above it can be reformed without in turn violating the principles of development (thus, it's true that sola fide and sola scriptura were originally proclaimed in a way that violates Note 6; but they also have aspects that are true developments and, by emphasizing those aspects, they can be "redeemed" from their corrupting tendency).

Absolutely not. I would love to see you try to do that. I think here is where you are most confused in your thinking. And it's the heart of this dispute vis-a-vis the controversies of the 16th century - these being the two main "pillars" of Protestantism.

The assumption of the above is, of course, that a given body of Christians can be corrupt in certain respects but sound in others. This is a Protestant assumption, and runs counter to Newman's whole way of thinking.

And the Bible's, and the apostles' way of thinking. :-)

Finally, I'd point out that Newman himself says in the 1878 preface that his Essay is intended merely to show how certain Catholic doctrines could be defended--it isn't a comprehensive proof of the truth of Catholicism.

No, since he was Anglican when he wrote it. :-)

Similarly, I don't think that a debate over Newman's theory will lead us to determine what the true principles of Christianity are. Rather, I hope to argue that Protestantism is not necessarily a corruption of those principles which both of us would agree are central to Christianity. Like Newman's own argument, mine is fairly limited in scope.

Please try to make this attempt. That's fine with me.

I apologize again for the incoherent nature of the above. It is late and I have a lot on my mind, and I should be working on my dissertation instead of having these long discussions.

I appreciate your work. It was a brilliant, provocative piece, if a bit incoherent (but not all that much).

But I can't get away from the question of development, and however unsatisfactory my remarks have been as a contribution to a debate, at least they've helped me further the development of my own ideas (and hopefully not their corruption!).

A most worthy goal. I hope to gain the same benefit from your insights, and perhaps you may glean a new opinion or two here and there from my observations.

I'm glad that you made some sense out of my rather disorganized thoughts, and I agree that we
could easily get bogged down.

The only point to which I do want to respond immediately is the issue we
discussed some time ago about the relation of Calvinism to Unitarianism. I agree
entirely that historically the one "develops" out of the other, but as you
yourself noted this was in the form of a reaction. That is to say, Unitarianism
was quite obviously and self-consciously a rejection of aspects of Calvinism
which traditional Calvinists would have considered essential. So to call it a
"development" in the sense that implies that there's some "principle" in
Calvinism that lends itself to Unitarianism--that seems rather problematic to
me. As far as I can tell, if you think Unitarianism "develops" out of Calvinism
then you've completely sold the fort with regard to Protestantism developing out
of medieval Catholicism. Because Unitarianism was at least as radical a
rejection (I'd argue far more of one) of Calvinism as Protestantism was of
Catholicism. Also, it isn't true that Congregationalism was largely Unitarian in
the 19th century. The Unitarians by the 19th century were a distinct
denomination, who had been clearly rejected by Congregationalism (who says
Protestants can never deal effectively with heresy?). Of course the story didn't
end there, and today most (but not all) Congregationalists are part of the UCC,
which while by no means officially Unitarian has no effective barriers against
it that I can tell.

In short, the fact that large numbers of the heirs of one way of thinking adopt
a very different one does not necessarily make the view later adopted a
legitimate "development" of the former. If so, then my point about Protestantism
being a "development" of the Catholic tradition would be proved. And of course
many Catholics have argued that Protestantism was indeed a sort of development
of the nominalist tradition--but that only puts the problem one step back--what
was nominalism a development of?

This brings me to the basic principles of my view of development which I'll try
to articulate some time next week with regard to specific doctrines (probably
the relationship of Scripture to Tradition and the nature of the sacraments).
These are, as succinctly as possible:

1. In some sense any view that historically follows another is a "development"
of the former.

2. Development in the theological sense involves only true doctrines. To say
that B develops from A in this sense is to say that both A and B are legitimate
expressions of the faith once delivered to the saints.

3. Development in sense 1 is generally a process of fragmentation and branching
out. As Newman put it, no idea can be understood in all its aspects at once, and
it's hard to understand all the aspects together.

4. Development in the theological sense sometimes involves development in sense
1--the enunciation of a variety of possible refinements of the original idea.
Hence, within the Catholic tradition various possible solutions to the problem
of predestination have been proposed, several of which remain legitimate for
orthodox Catholics. I recognize that it's possible to argue that in fact only
one of them is a legitimate development of the apostolic Tradition, but I would
argue that it's also possible--and quite likely, given the inability or refusal
of the Church to come to a final decision on the subject--that at least from the
point of view of the revelation given to us both Thomism and Molinism, with
their various subdivisions, are legitimate expressions of the Christian Faith.

At other times, however, development involves the rejection of all but one
branch of the many historical developments of an idea. The doctrine of the
Trinity (though there remains some variation possible) is a good example of
this, as one after another possible theory of the Godhead was rejected by the

5. The point I propose to argue is that certain important doctrines at issue
between Protestants and Catholics fall under the first and not the second
class--that they are like the controversy between Thomists and Molinists, not
like the controversy between Niceans and Arians. Behind this argument is the
belief that far more doctrines are capable of many legitimate interpretations
than the Catholic Church allows, while of course I admit that some doctrinal
positions are genuinely contrary to the deposit of faith and need tob e
condemned as heretical.

Being wrong may not mean that the gates of hell have prevailed. The Catholic Church
declares, for no good reason I can see, that being doctrinally wrong would be a victory
for the gates of hell but being morally corrupt wouldn't. All churches have some degree
of moral corruption. That does not mean that the gates of hell have prevailed. Why all
churches should not also have some degree of doctrinal error has never been satisfactorily
explained to me. Why this privileging of doctrine? We aren't saved by doctrine, though
doctrine is vitally important. We are saved by union with Christ, which we can have even
if we're wrong on some points.

The distinction is a very clear one drawn by Scripture itself. That's where we get it, not from an arbitrary decision to think in this way (as many Protestant sects apparently operate).

Moral corruption follows from the human condition. There are tons of Scripture passages which teach us about the wheat and tares in the Church and so forth. I have a whole paper on that topic. I don't think anyone can deny that we are to expect this in the Church, or Christianity.


Now, as to why we insist on doctrinal conformity, this is equally clear in Scripture:

1. John 17:20,21:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in
me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me
and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have
sent me.
Elsewhere I engaged in a discussion where I think I showed that this "oneness" included doctrine. I would be happy to dredge that up if you want to take that tack.

2. "one body, . . . one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:4-5)

3. Matthew 28:19-20 (RSV):

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
4. John 14:23-26:
23 Jesus answered him, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
25 "These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you.
26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you ALL THINGS, and bring to your remembrance ALL that I have said to you.
5. 2 Peter 2:21:
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
6. Jude 3:
Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
7. 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
8. 2 Timothy 1:13-14:
Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
(cf. 1 Cor 11:2, Col 2:8, 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6, 1 Tim 3:15, 2 Tim 2:2)

The question is not whether unity includes doctrinal consensus. Obviously it does (though we would both agree, I think, that that doesn't imply holding the same opinions on all points--Thomists and Molinists can both be faithful Catholics in union with each other).

The question is rather, why do you think that Christ's prayer will be fully accomplished before the Eschaton? When I raised that question to [name], she accused me of reducing unity to a "pipe dream." I can only presume that she didn't think through what she was saying, because implicitly she was calling the Second Coming of Christ a pipe dream.

I don't mean, of course, that we should not work toward unity. Of course we should. But you guys don't believe in working towards unity; you think you've already achieved it!

I'm sorry, Dave, but you're going to have to do what I ask Protestants who proof-text to do--explain how the Scriptures you've cited show that absolute doctrinal correctness and unity are a requirement. I agree entirely that we should preserve the faith delivered to the saints, and I believe that in essentials Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, have done so. But we have not done so perfectly--none of us--and I don't see how any of the Scriptures you cite rule out that possibility. Similarly, I grant that the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, but that can mean one of two things:

1. It can refer to Pentecost and the subsequent apostolic preaching, which we all agree was a period of continuing public revelation that ended with the death of the last apostle (or Protestants might say, with the writing of the last book of the NT canon). In that case, the Holy Spirit led the Church into all truth, and all that remains is for us to understand it (as Ralph McInerny is reported to have said about the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas!). I believe--and I suspect you do too--that it refers to more than this, namely

2. to the continuing "development of doctrine" as the Church comes to understnad more fully the implications of the faith once revealed to the saints. Here again, I would claim that this is an ongoing process that will not be completed until the return of Christ. Obviously you agree that it's an ongoing process--as long as it's possible that another dogma might be defined, it remains likely that the Holy Spirit has not finished leading us into all truth. Therefore, I don't see how you can use this text to refute the Protestant claim that, in our current imperfect state, the Holy Sprit has led some of us to emphasize one aspect of the deposit of faith and others to emphasize other aspects.

You seem mystified as to how the Catholic Church could possibly derive such a notion! I submit that it is the Protestant completely unscriptural nonsense of "primary and secondary doctrines" which cannot be found in the Bible.

I don't think that the Bible really addresses the issue. But I do think (though I'd have to do some research to prove it) that this notion is found in the Fathers.

I contend that this tenet is a rationalization for existing separations and dissensions and doctrinal relativism, and the rejection of apostolic succession, whereby one believes that there is "one faith" - a "deposit of faith" or "apostle's teaching" (Acts 2:42) which is truly one and unified: not a "mere Christianity" or "lowest-common-denominator" Christianity.

With the same force (which is to say not very much), I could argue that the Catholic position is a rationalization for the entrenched power of the hierarchy and the refusal to admit the obvious truth that human sinfulness affects our understanding of truth and not just our behavior. I don't think these ad hominems do a lot on either side.

How do you variously explain the above biblical data? You can simply deny that it has to do with doctrine (the usual answer given), but I don't think that can be sustained for a moment.

Of course I don't deny that it has to do with doctrine. I simply don't see how any of the texts you cite address my claim that full unity, like full sinlessness, will not be achieved by the Church until the Eschaton. All your texts prove is that Christ wants us to be united and to maintain the deposit of faith in its fullness and integrity, and that the Holy Spirit guides into the full understanding of that deposit. I agree entirely. I just don't think the process is finished, or will ever be finished short of the Second Coming.

Therefore, I maintain that there is indeed "one faith" and one true Church. Other Christians may be implicitly part of it, but there is only one Church and one unified apostolic doctrine, because the Bible simply permits no other position on this. That's one reason I am a Catholic, because I see no other Church which has a credible claim to have upheld apostolic doctrine in its fullness, uninterrupted, throughout history. The Orthodox Church is the next best option, but its waffling on contraception, divorce, and now even abortion to some extent makes any claim to being the one true Church (i.e., over against the Catholic Church) quite implausible, given the history of Christianity and biblical teaching.

I agree that if such a church exists it's probably the Catholic church, and that the Orthodox are the runners-up. I'm not sure that the Orthodox waffle on abortion at the hierarchical level, or for that matter on contraception either--I think it's more that they turn a blind eye. I recognize that the Orthodox practice "economia" with regard to divorce, but that doesn't seem obviously worse to me than the quasi-Donatist understanding of marriage ("we didnt' really know what we were doing, so it isn't valid") implied in the current practice of granting annulments because of deficiency of intention.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 4 November 2001, from public list discussions.

No comments: