Monday, 6 June 2011

The Roman Way : Dogma Trumps History

For several decades since Vatican II it has been a common refrain in Protestant circles that Rome has changed. Therefore ecumenical engagement and ecclesial rapprochement were to be actively sought. Of course, in a sense Rome has changed; no earthly institution, not even the Papacy, can remain unmoved by profound changes in the tenor of the world in which it must exist. Rome has certainly adjusted the face it shows to the 'modern world', at least cosmetically. But that Rome has changed substantially is a claim of which I have never been convinced.

Certainly, there was a move at the time of Vatican II towards a more conciliar ecclesiology, and a beginning made in dialogue with other Christians; but a sober reading of the documents of that Council reveals that in actuality Vatican II re-affirmed all of the prerogatives traditionally claimed for the Papacy, including those promulgated as de fide centuries after Luther had pointed to the late medieval Papacy as the clearest manifestation of the spirit of Antichrist in the church. Vatican II does not resile from the claims of Vatican I; in fact the documents of Vstican II cite the claims of that Council (claims which made even Cardinal Newman uneasy) in support of the continued Papal right to universal jurisdiction and unfettered power in the church.

Such assertions of Papal supremacy are a triumph of dogma - in the Roman sense - over history (in fact, none of the peculiar Roman additions to the apostolic deposit of faith can be justified at the bar of history, but for the present time we are focussed on the Papacy; for a convenient summary of the history and falsehood of Papal absolutist claims see von Döllinger's 'The & Pope and the Council'). But as the churches 'genetically' descended from the magisterial Reformation increasingly succumb to doctrinal and moral disintegration, such unhistorical claims to absolute jurisdiction and power by a church which presents itself as creedally and morally orthodox have a mysterious and for some a seemingly irresistable appeal (ironically, most Roman Catholics born within the fold whom I have spoken to view such absolute claims through a jaundiced eye; however, a liberal Catholic does not a Lutheran make!). Especially is this the case for doctrinally and morally conservative Protestant Christian intellectuals. "Is not a return to Rome the obvious solution", they plead, "to the problem of the disintegration of Christendom?" Only Rome can save the world!

Thus we observe the oft-commented on trend among Protestant intellectuals of converting to Rome, much like a panicked sailor on a sinking ship in the midst of a storm who spies land and concludes he has little to lose and much to gain by swimming for it. One can cite, to mention only the most recent example I have heard of, the case of the moderator of the 'Reformed Church in France' who announced his intention to become Roman Catholic immediately after the synod of his church voted to open holy communion to the unbaptised. The reverend gentleman may well be sincere, and we cannot fault his principled objection to the lamentable decision of his synod, but on the face of it his conversion to Rome on such a basis strikes me as fundamentally irrational - his decision is based on a massive non sequitur, namely that because the Reformed Church of France is sinking into apostacy the claims of Rome to be the one, true church of Christ and the thus the only refuge for the storm-tossed Protestant Christian must be true. But how can one be Reformed one day, and Roman Catholic the next? Surely only someone under great duress, or mightily confused about what he believes, can adopt such a course?

I have made a study of the conversion stories of many such people, and the thing which strikes me most is how they 'swim the Tiber' blindfolded, as it were, or half asleep, as if stupefied by the promise that awaits them on the other side. There seems in most cases to be no extended period, away from the tumult of ecclesiastical life, given to reasoned searching out of Roman Catholic claims with the light of history or indeed scripture (the view of the authority of scripture in such cases demands a separate post). Or, when there is, it stands out as the exception that proves the rule. Instead it most often seems that a single doctrinal issue engaged in the heat of ecclesial warfare, be it the ordination of women and/or active homosexuals, or the above-mentioned opening of communion to the unbaptised, or a single question of conscience, such as the morality of birth control, acts as a fulcrum which propels the Protestant intellectual Rome-ward (right over the Tiber, if you will, no swimming required!). Only then, when the decision to convert has effectively been made, is a formal study of Roman doctrine begun, by which time the convert has too much invested emotionally in the decision to reneg. Time and again one reads in such conversion accounts of how difficulties with this or that Roman doctrine are suspended in the interest of being "received into the church", after which the difficulties are expected to melt away. It would seem that Pascal's phrase aptly describes the state of such people: "the heart has its reasons which reason doesn't know."

I therefore view this contemporary trend as yet more evidence of the growing irrationality of our time both within and without the church. Just as the non-confessing Protestant churches sink deeper into a-historical neo-Gnosticism, some of their supposedly "best and brightest" surrender their judgment in religious matters to an authority which has an equally tenuous relation to history. In my judgment, then, this 'home to Rome' movement seems to be only the flip side of a coin minted by post-Enlightenment, liberal Protestantism. And it is essentially a reactionary movement which, because it jettisons so much of value from the legacy of the Reformers (again, note the a-historical tendency), does not present a real option for confessing and confessional Evangelicals struggling in these stormy times. We do better, if our ecclesial ship actually is sinking, to prepare to take to the boats and navigate our way out of trouble. Take heart, we have the heavens to guide us.


Which is all by way of extended introduction to the following scholarly opinion which has appeared in a new ecumenical study on the Papacy (click on the post title for an Amazon page)

In the first millennium there was no question of the Roman bishops governing the church in distant solitude. They used to take their decisions together with their synod, held once or twice a year. When matters of universal concern arose, they resorted to the ecumenical council. Even [Pope] Leo [I], who struggled for the apostolic principle over the political one, acknowledged that only the emperor would have the power to convoke an ecumenical council and protect the church.

At the heart of the estrangement that progressively arose between East and West, there may be a historical misunderstanding. The East never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West. It never accepted that the protos in the universal church could claim to be the unique successor or vicar of Peter. So the East assumed that the synodal constitution of the church would be jeopardized by the very existence of a Petrine office with potentially universal competencies in the government of the church.

Just how far is this history from the Roman claim, promulgated at Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 22) and repeated in the current Catechism that "the Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire church has full, supreme and universal power over the whole church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered"? The amazing thing is that this opinion comes from the pen of an eminent Roman Catholic theologian, namely Archbishop Roland Minnerath, and can be found in his essay 'The Petrine Ministry in the Early Patristic Tradition', in How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? (James F. Puglisi, Editor, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©2010, pgs. 34-48). Not that we should expect this admission of profound ecclesiological diversity in the ancient church to lead to a revision of the claims of Rome or her Protestant converts. Remember: in Rome, dogma trumps history every time.


Schütz said...

You just knew that I would bite, didn't you?

First let me thank you for the reference to this new work, which I have not yet come across, but will certainly purchase for our library.

Next, I have read only one other work by Archbishop Minnerath, his "Ceasar's Coin" lecture at Notre Dame. As a member of the International Theological Commission and a graduate in history from the Sorbonne, he is certainly no lightweight.

However, at the same time, the "Primacy in the First Millennium" problem, as it is known, is (both theologically and historically) a very hotly debated issue, with very few "certainties". It is an "on the one hand… on the other hand" sort of game to play. I have several volumes and essays in my library which would question some of the Archbishop's assertions as you have reported them in this post. One particularly fine series was published in the journal Ecumenical Trends recently, detailing all the cases in the first millennium in which Eastern Churches and bishops actually did acknowledge the primacy – and, when it suited them, the power of intervention in their local affairs. It is an impressive the list.

Be that as it may, the fact is that there is no agreement from theologians either of the East or of the West on exactly what the primacy of the Bishop of Rome meant or exactly how it functioned in the first millennium. Many Eastern theologians today are quite prepared to accept the Primacy of the See of Rome in one form or another. But there is no agreement. The standard Western narrative (if I may use such a term of relativity) is certain one possible reading of the history; the various Eastern narratives are just as possible. Often it comes down to your own preference and judgement in how you deal with the historical material.

Thus, there are those who are saying today in the dialogue between East and West that we will not solve the problem by looking only at the first millennium, or by trying to "go back" to the situation as it stood in the first millennium – for even then there appeared no consensus in the matter. The question is: how do we move forward into the new situation of the third millennium? Pope John Paul II himself proposed a brotherly dialogue on precisely this matter in Ut Unum Sint. The volume you reference here is a part of that ongoing discussion.

So it isn't a matter of historical dishonesty here. Whichever narrative one chooses to tell, one approaches it with historical honesty or not at all. But honest historians and theologians may disagree.

What you will not find in either the theologians of the West or the East is an historical defence of the situation of the Protestant communities, which lie entirely outside the communion of the universal church as historically understood by either East or West. In arguing this case, you are sawing away at the branch upon which you are sitting!

(continued in the next comment - too long for one comment!)

Schütz said...

(continuation of previous comment)

So much for that. As for the honesty of converts – I believe John Henry Newman wrote a very famous rebuttal of that charge in his Apologia.

You know well that I have said in other places that I fell in love with the Catholic Church and greatly desired to act upon that love by a formal commitment. This should not be allowed to underplay the fact that I came to recognise this love by actually reading deeply in the Lutheran Catholic dialogue statements. I realised as I was reading these documents that whenever the documents came to the section "Lutherans say… Catholics say…", I found myself agreeing more with the Catholic statement than the Lutheran one. Few people would describe me as a man who is ruled by his heart over his head. The opposite charge is usually made. I entered the Church in the full knowledge of her teaching – yes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was instrumental in this. When I gave assent to all that the Catholic Church teaches at my confirmation, I meant it with every fibre of my being.

This does not, of course, mean that I stood over the teaching magisterium of the Church as a judge. In large part, it came of recognising (as I studied) that here I had found a Church which indeed had the authority to teach, and to which I owed a duty of docile obedience. My three reasons for being Catholic are summed up as "continuity, authenticity and authority". We are all "called to communion" (as the title of book by Joseph Ratzinger, very influential in my conversion, stated it). The call to be in communion with the Roman Pontiff is an ancient one, going back to the early Church Fathers.

As for the moderator of the Church in France, I rather suspect that the hot button issue of his community choosing to offer communion to the unbaptised (a thing absolutely forbidden by Catholic and Orthodox teaching) was only the last straw for him. I would be surprised if he himself did not already have a clear sense of his call to communion with the Roman Pontiff before this. In every conversion story, there will be something that finally pushes us to act despite our desire to remain where we are. For me, it was the experience of the General Synod of the LCA in 2000. These things only hasten the inevitable. They are not the cause of the desire to answer the call to communion.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for your response, David. I wasn't baiting you, btw - not even sure you were still reading the blog - but yes, your own account of your conversion makes for v. interesting reading, and it did contribute a lot to my conclusions.
I don't question the honesty or sincerity of converts, David, just their reasoning. I think I communicated this to you on your conversion blog. Being a convert of sorts myself, I will always defend a person who acts on conscience on religious matters, even if I disagree with their decision. But when converts put their conversion process into writing, it invites critique. What I have written is but a preface, or rather a conclusion to what could be a much larger project, but I doubt I will ever have the leisure to pursue it. In any case, I'm afraid your response only confirms my conclusions :0(
Enjoy the book.

Frank said...

I agree with you that most of Rome's changes are external. She undergone a sort of "extreme makeover." There is one area, however, where she has truly changed, and this change is most bothersome. It is in the area of divine revelation. Vatican II's Dei Verbum represents the triumph of Rome's new view of divine revelation, which had been spreading and developing in Roman Catholic thinking for a hundred years 'til then.

The unanimous understanding of Roman Catholics concerning divine revelation from the 16th century to the 20th was that it was transmitted by Scripture and Tradition. This was known as the partim-partim theory or two-source theory. If a teaching of Rome could not be found in Scripture, then, it was boldly asserted, it is in the oral tradition handed down by the Apostles. Indeed, one of the main arguments of Roman Catholics against Protestants was that they had broken from the continuous, immutable apostolic tradition preserved by Rome. Protestants, it was argued, were introducing teachings that were consciously unknown in the Church's history.

With the dawn of modernity in the 19th century, however, Roman Catholics began quickly recognizing that many of their authoritative teachings could not be found in Scripture or Tradition. The answer that came has become the article upon which the Roman church stands or falls.

The development of doctrine. This was not, and is not, simply a growing understanding of teachings received. No, this is a positing of a dynamic revelation existing non-propositionally in the "organic" "life of the Church," which is to be extracted over the course of centuries by the charismatic and ecclesiastical functions of the Church. So, contrary to traditional Roman Catholic belief, we know that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven not because this teaching was handed down in Scripture or Tradition, but because the Church has discerned this over time; it has arisen out of the "subconsciousness" of the Church; it's gone from a "gut feeling" in the Church to an infallibly known truth of divine revelation.

One of the most dangerous consequences of this is that now the Roman church has been freed from both Scripture and Tradition. For example, while traditional Roman Catholics would appeal to oral Apostolic tradition for support for, say, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, modern Roman Catholics gladly acknowledge that Tradition knows no such teaching. "It's a development!" they say, "Like the Trinity."

Schütz said...

This was not, and is not, simply a growing understanding of teachings received. No, this is a positing of a dynamic revelation existing non-propositionally in the "organic" "life of the Church,"

You are wrong, Frank. The "development of doctrine" doctrine does not posit new revelation. The Catholic Church teaches that the fullness of God's revelation was in Christ, and transmitted to the Apostles as what is commonly known as the "deposit of faith". The "Development of Doctrine" concept is about deeper apprehension of that deposit, not about "new revelation", a concept which the Church absolutely rejects.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You are quote correct, Frank, that is one area where Rome definitely has changed, and not for the better. As you no doubt know, this was John Henry Newman's great legacy to the modern Roman Catholic church. I view Newman as in many ways the archetypal Protestant convert to Rome. A brilliant man in some ways, particularly as a prose writer, but as a scholar he was either careless or intellectually dishonest. Let's be charitable and assume the first. And I'm not just thinking of his flawed argument for the development of doctrine (which the Orthodox have never bought, btw); Newman grievously misrepresented Luther on justification by misquoting and 'verbalising' him. The magnetism that has drawn so many to Newman and thence to RCism over the years is a mystery to me.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

There you go again, David, jumping over history. You are certainly entitled to your own beliefs, but not your own historical facts. The evidence, scriptural and historical, just doesn't support your claim. The peculiar Roman doctrines are 'novums' by any reasonable judgment. Even the Orthodox agree, at least on the immaculate conception and infallibility. Why, even Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas are lined up against the Papacy on the immaculate conception of Mary. Surely, if these doctrines were legitimate developments of the deposit of faith, they wouldn't have brought about so much controversy and argument?
Actually, the whole Roman notion of development of doctrine is suspect, cf. Florovsky:
" Dogma is by no means a new Revelation. Dogma is only a witness. The whole meaning of dogmatic definition consists of testifying to unchanging truth, truth which was revealed and has been preserved from the beginning. Thus it is a total misunderstanding to speak of 'the development of dogma.' Dogmas do not develop; they are unchanging and inviolable, even in their external aspect — their wording. Least of all is it possible to change dogmatic language or terminology. As strange as it may appear, one can indeed say: dogmas arise, dogmas are established, but they do not develop." A Lutheran could agree with that, but a Roman Catholic would have considerable trouble doing so, yes? The history...the history gets in the way, man! You can't overcome it.

Stephen K said...

Another interesting topic, Pastor Mark. And Frank’s contribution was particularly interesting. Garry Wills, in his book “Papal Sin”, writes that Newman “had been forced to work out a theory of doctrinal development in order to justify his own move to Rome” (p.203) He goes on to say however that he had serious objections to the definition of Infallibility, not because it was untimely (as Christopher Hollis, in “Newman and the Modern World” says on page 161) or simply because it was neither wise nor often necessary to make doctrines binding, but because he thought the Spirit involved the whole church and that it was the church that was indefectible, so that infallibility could lie as much and as often with the laity as with the Pope or bishops. That’s also interesting. Perhaps you have a view on that description.

But it leads me to this idea of development of doctrine. Frank talks about “modern” Catholics, particularly in the context of accepting a doctrine like the Assumption on the basis of some kind of insight into an abiding subconsciousness. He appears to be making a distinction between modern Catholicism being grounded in a kind of Newmanite way of regarding Tradition, and pre-modern but post-Reformational Catholicism being grounded in a much more straightforward regard that Tradition was fixed like Scripture. To this I make two comments: (1) this characterisation suggests to me that pre-reformational Catholicism or perhaps pre-Hildebrandian Catholicism might have been readier to regard both Tradition and Scripture as fluid well-springs of meaning than has been apparent since the Council of Trent; and (2) it is important to keep in mind that today’s traditionalist Catholics are probably - as modern Catholics - mostly firmly in the Newman school, which explains why they can so easily accept, not only the doctrines of Assumption and Infallibility and so on, but also the notion that a Pope, or a Catholic-only Council can pronounce them as dogmas. A ‘modernist’ Catholic - if I can use what traditionalists would no doubt call an oxymoron - would be far more inclined to see both Tradition and Scripture more like the fluid well-springs of meaning I spoke of above. Thus they would accept the Assumption as a meditation, but not as a dogma.

Finally, before posting, I had the opportunity of reading David’s third post about the development of doctrine. I must say that I did always think the way he expresses it is how I always understood it, and that Frank’s characterisation sounds incorrect. I have a book by Gunter Biemer “Newman on Tradition” (1966). Have you heard of it? On page 33 he writes, describing Newman’s formula for the doctrine “In the light of (his) criteria each developed Christian doctrine can be seen in its intrinsic connexion with the original “idea” of Christianity.”

But I’ve also now had the opportunity of reading your reply to him. An ultramontane Catholic would no doubt allude to the universal character of the truth expressed by the dogma and say, ‘of course a dogma cannot develop, it is the expression of what is already there implicitly’. But in saying that they must reject the notion of development of doctrine, and so they must end up in a tangle of sorts. This is something I find is the case frequently with traditionalism: it appeals to literalness when it finds that more convenient, and to metaphor when the former does not allow it to make sense of defined teachings.

I’d be interested if you have any comments on these ideas.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for your comment. It's a bit difficult for me to engage fully in this discussion at the moment - this is the busy end of my week! I would say though, from my reading of the Fathers and study of church history, that Newman's doctrine of development - if I understand it correctly and as I perceive it to have impacted modern Roman theology - is itself a novum. The Orthodox have preserved the formal view of the ancient church, and a Lutheran can concur with them even while having reservations about their practice of the rule of faith. For a Lutheran, there can be development of insight into doctrine, but there can be no development of doctrine in the sense of new doctrines previously unknown being promulgated. The historical evidence is that Rome has done this several times, even in the face of objections from its own best theologians. As much as he may try - and Newman's effort is a subtle but flawed attempt - a RC cannot escape the history, which is against him. As the Germans say, "you cannot escape your own shadow".
Interesting too that part of this shadow for Rome is its own previous vociferous opposition to any notion of development of doctrine!
Another thing to observe about Newman's development theory is that it must be seen against the background of the age, which was pre-occupied with theories of development, progress and evolution.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

One more thing :0)

From what I observe in RC circles, it appears that acceptance of Newman's theory ahs driven a wedge -in some cases even a schism has occurred - between traditionalist Catholics who hold to the old Trentine faith (Trent is where Roman Catholicism begins as a distinct "confession") and conservative modernist Catholics like Ratzinger who have synthesised modernism with the old faith (the latter are to be distinguished from liberal or progressive Catholics, who I suspect are not Catholics at all in anything but name and who live in dissent). Newman is the patron saint of the conservative modernists ;0)

Stephen K said...

Gosh! Some more stimulating ideas! I appreciate you’re busy but for what it’s worth, if I may make just a couple of further comments.

Firstly, it seems clear - to me at any rate - from not only what you have said and other reading that Catholicism has been changing in various ways from whichever point it first became identifiable as a Christian communion-as-opposed-to-another. Such changes may have been on the surface a mixture of theological and jurisdiction and self-concept - and the filioque might fit in here (and the Synod of Whitby stuff?) - but each change always affects, I would say, the organism, rather like adding different ingredients to a cake: if you add enough, the chocolate cake you began with ends up something else. Some people see that a huge change occurred in Catholicism because of the Reformation. So in one sense, the conviction by Catholics that today’s Catholic Church is essentially identical to the first Christian communities can only be supported with some strain. [A well-worn (but no less valid for that) suggestion - made even by such scholars as Fr Jerome Murphy O’Connor - is that Jesus would not recognise today’s Church as anything He imagined in Galilee.] Thus, your point about history dogging theology strikes me as an important corrective to the way formulations of any age are attributed authority.

Secondly, I was a little taken aback, at first, to read your description of Benedict as a conservative “modernist” since that is not how most people - conservative or liberal - would characterise him. However I have not really read much by him, a lacuna I must fill, and I can see that in a way Newman might be accurately said to have hovered near the modernism of Loisy and Tyrell. The books I’ve cited deal with this idea in various ways.

Stephen K said...

To conclude my previous post, may I say that more to the point is your interesting division between the traditionalists and the conservative “modernists”. There is indeed a perception within the Catholic Church of a difference between traditionalists and conservatives, but the former has become very closely associated with restorationist groups particularly around the Tridentine Liturgy. In Cath-speak, a “Traddie” is one who more or less insists on the Latin liturgy and connected forms of devotional piety. Within this collective are subsets - those we might call mediaevalists, animated by attachment to monastic spirituality or religiosity, and those we might call “Romaniores” (more Roman than the Romans) etc.

The conservatives are a broader spectrum, from those merely maintaining the parishes and trying to abide by the general norms to those actively seeking to do in the vernacular what the Traditionalists do in Latin.

Categorisations like this are of course generalisations and we know these always fall short of the nuances possible. But, to my way of thinking, a form of ultramontanism pervades both groups. And none of the above would be pleased to hear themselves described as modernists, which they regard as the heresy of heresies.

Speaking of which, when you say that liberal or progressive Catholics are not Catholics at all, that may be right but only if you reduce - like the militant traditionalists/conservatives do - Catholicity to complete submission to magisterial teaching and the identity of Catholicism with Christianity. Those liberal progressive Catholics would argue that if that were carried through logically, there would have never been any place for the sorts of theological re-formulations behind Chalcedon and later through the scholastics so beloved by the traditionalists, and that faith would be totally dependent on the understanding and acts of each of the Popes - a blank cheque if ever there was one. So they would argue probably that Catholicism must constantly ensure it is Christian, rather than presuming Christianity must constantly ensure it is Catholic. Does that make sense? Is that Modernism? Protestantism? Gnosticism?

I used to think myself that Catholicism consisted in accepting religious truth because it was taught by the Church, not for any other reason, and by the way many still think, this notion is still pervasive. But traditionalists do not hesitate to resort to arguments on purely philosophic or other grounds, and so I conclude that there is something of a disjunction or dissonance operating here. I sometimes think that we are at heart all “protestants”, that is, lending our assent to the religious treasure-chest - including our choice of authority - that we see as of most spiritual value. But don’t say that to a “Traddie”!

Pr Mark Henderson said...


You write well. It's a pleasure to read your comments; I only wish I had the time to engage with you more deeply, but as a working pastor I am limited in time and resources - I can't afford to buy all the books you mention. I try to read judiciously.

Now, I'll happily admit my characterisation of Ratzinger as a "conservative modernist" is provocative, but then this is a blog! Of course, my intention in is merely to point out that Ratzinger has made a compromise with modernity, in particular with the rise of historical consciousness as it applies to Roman dogma. One can almost sense this compromise being worked out in his mind behind his writings as he almost seems to be in dialogue with himself on these matters. That's my perception, anyway. I do wonder if, when he was Cardinal Prefect for the CDF, he had a look in his own file!?

Frank said...


Rome officially states that Revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle (cf. Pius X’s condemnation of on-going Revelation in Lamentabili, no. 21), but the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith to gradually grasp its full significance over the course of centuries” (CCC, para.66). It is my contention that the way in which Rome goes about this centuries-long discovery of the contents of Revelation is in effect on-going Revelation. Indeed, the only thing that distinguishes Rome’s gradual “grasp [of Revelation’s] full significance over the course of centuries” from on-going Revelation, is the fact that the Papacy says it’s not on-going Revelation.

C.S Lewis hit the nail on the head when he said:

The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Roman Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say. (essay on Christian Reunion)

Frank said...

Stephen K,

Unfortunately I don't have time to write a sufficient response, but I would like to at clarify how I'm using my words.

When I say "modern Roman Catholics," I don't mean liberal Roman Catholics. I mean, rather, modern orthodox Roman Catholics. In contrast to this, I refer to traditional orthodox Roman Catholics. Historically, the century that divies them is the 19th century.

Modern orthodox Roman Catholics embrace Newman wholeheartedly, whether they know it or not. Modern "traditionalist" Roman Catholics do not think favorably of Newman, at least for the most part. Indeed, at Vatican II there was a huge clash between the traditionalist Roman Catholics and the newer Roman Catholics during the debates over what Dei Verbum should look like.

Terry Maher said...

God bless me sideways. I am about to agree with Herr Schuetz about Catholicism on a Lutheran blog.

But before I do that, let us be clear about that raving neurotic, John Henry Newman, the real key to whom is not this or that interpretation of his writings but rather than as he staggered from pillar to post religiously the RCC finally appeared to him as a solution to it all, a deus-ex-ecclesia so zu sagen which at last makes faith possible.

The RCC of his imagination is nothing more than a solution to his own faith problem. Unfortunately, the RCC of his imagination has become, and not starting with Vatican II, the RCC itself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is neither a catechism nor Catholic, but it is entirely representative of what has become of the RCC. PH's characterisation of Benedict XVI is entirely accurate. He is no spokesman whatever for the traditional Catholic faith, but rather the normative conservative side of the Brave New Church, which indeed seeks to clothe itself in the former church to preserve the illusion of continuity, while the more liberal side otherwise derives a notion of continuity.

Herr Schuetz is right about this though, while it has been variously expressed, it is the teaching of the RCC that there is one deposit of faith and it is complete. There is not Scripture and Tradition. There is only Tradition, which is transmitted in two forms, one written, Scripture, and one aural, Apostolic Tradition. Nothing in its development will ever be new doctrine.

In this mindset, therefore, the Immaculate Conception for example is not a new doctrine, but rather a promulgation of a doctrine -- hence no previous promulgation --
in fact reserved in the plan of God until the time when the immaculate conception of everyone and hence their ability to achieve a perfectibility themselves came front and centre in human thought with On the Origin of the Species and the Communist Manifesto, the Church then stating only one person was conceived without sin and even she was so conceived by the merit of her Son whose sacrifice remains the only source of perfection and salvation.

In same way as the Trinity is not new, but was reserved in God's time for formulation when the Arian heresy arose. Or so I was taught by the RCC. Pre Vatican II.

Vatican II is a great gift to the church, in which the church can recognise what a preposterous caricature of the church of Christ the RCC is, and in fact always has been since it was defined and instituted by the Roman Empire in the Edict of Thessalonica.

And now, having outlasted its Empire and successor states, it seizes upon this deus-ex-ecclesia to maintain, via phenomenology rather than its traditional props, a raison d'etre and support its one article of faith -- I believe in the RCC, and therefore, believe whatever it says or has said re anything else, and know that is, because it by definition must be, continuous.

Stephen K said...

Frank, thanks for your clarification. I understand the distinctions you're making. I think your quote of C S Lewis is very relevant here to a key point in this discussion, namely that to be an approved Catholic these days one has to be prepared to accept any teaching that is issued simply because it comes from and via the Pope and hierarchy, not because of any separate criterion.

I am persuaded that this is a pervasive position amongst Catholics - at least those you termed "modern orthodox Catholics" - because independently I came to this view myself many years ago, so it must have been transmitted to me subliminally in my earliest formation. There used to be a prayer taught to schoolchildren which I learnt called "The Act of Faith" and it went something like this: "O God, I believe all the truths that the Catholic Church believes and teaches, because You have revealed them to her and Thy word is true.” This epitomises for me the subtle transposition of the Church in the place of Christ in the everyday Catholic psyche: it is the Church that one is required to believe in, and in effect, Jesus by virtue of the Church rather than believing in the Church by virtue of one’s direct experience and understanding of Jesus. Of course this is not how it would be theologically explained but my perception is that this is the practical effect in many Catholics’ minds and thinking operation.

Your distinction between modern “Traditionalist” Catholics and modern “orthodox” Catholics probably needs, in my view, some qualification. If you are saying that traditionalists today are identical to those who, like Ottaviani, resisted the Vatican II emphases and directions, and share pre-19th century theology, I’m not sure that’s totally right. Pre-19th century Tridentinism is, to my way of thinking, better represented by the Society of St Pius X and sedevacantists like Bishops Daniel Dolan and Donald Sanborn. Traditionalists behind the post-Ecclesia Dei restoration regard them these groups as protestant or schismatic not because of the nuances of their particular theological reasoning but more broadly because they do not subscribe to the ultramontanism and papalism characterising the former. There was always an element of Gallicanism in Archbishop Lefebvre’s ecclesiology. Today’s traditionalists - within the Church - are equivalent to what I would call the modern orthodox, because they see themselves as fully orthodox, as opposed to what I would call the merely modern conservative, those who are not consciously part of the restoration but attempt to conform to the general official norms.

I hope I have not misapprehended the points you were making.

Lvka said...

I fail to see how Lutheranism or Protestantism respected the Church's conciliar nature: it was rejected in both East and West (and Orient).

But, that again, you don't really care about consistency, do you? Much less about church councils.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, it seems the living room of the 'old manse' is suddenly alive adn full of discussion! And it is usually such a lonely place. Welcome all and thanks for your comments. You may continue the discussion as long as you wish, but keep it civil. Port and brandy are in the liquor cabinet.

Ummm Lucian...
You may want to bone up on Lutheran history so as to at least be able to make informed comments here. Fyi, the Lutherans begged for a Council to resolve the issues between them and Rome, but when one was finally called a generation after the 95 Theses were posted, they were excluded from it. You must understand that the way the Lutherans were treated by Rome explains a lot of the subsequent history. Come to think of it, as an Orthodox, why are you on the "side" of Rome anyway? Do you subscribe to the "branch theory" of ecclesiology? Along with Newman's theology, that's another highly questionable novum Anglicanism has bequethed to the world!

Schütz said...

What can I say in response to all this from an iPhone? Only that Blessed JHN has been accused of dishonesty ("intellectual" or otherwise) before and he didn't take kindly to the charge. Also thanks Terry for you backhanded defense of my assertion that the Catholic Church does not claim "new revelation" - whatever it may look like to others. As for the doctrine of "the development of doctrine" - it is somewhat a parallel to the doctrine of evolution, I agree. Most simply in that it is a theory which best explains the facts, and I would suggest that the rejection of the theory flies in the face of objective reality: this is simply how doctrine in the church has come to be today what it was. The only real question - the question that occupied Newman - is not whether doctrine develops ( it obviously does) but what the criteria are for authentic development. We could disagree on whether this or that development is authentic or not, but to deny the "development of doctrine" as such would seem to me to be truly denying the historical facts.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I must say I admire your tenacity in commenting via iPhone.

A couple of comments in reply:

1) Note I suggested we should regard Newman as careless rather than intellectually dishonest, D.v. I will supply proof of this in an upcoming post on Newman's creative misreading of Luther in the interests of his own agenda to propose Angicanism as a via media. I think he was so committed to his cause that he allowed himself to be careless in his scholarship (I also have a post in the works on Ratzinger's misreading of Luther, which you may be interested in).

2) On 'development', I think we have a semantic problem. In so far as we are talking about development of understanding, which may include development of terminology and concept in order to explicate that developemnt in understanding, I think we are all agreed such has happened, it is "a historical fact" as you say; Christology is a classic example.

But, as you also say, the real question is how do we judge such developments? This brings us back to the authority question. I suggest that as long as 'development' is 'controlled' by scripture, we have legitimate development. But when development goes beyond scripture, we have doctrinal 'novums' which can never be given the authority of dogma because they lack scriptural support. That, I claim, is the essential difference between the early church's "development" of the Trinitarian and Christological dogmas and Rome's promulgation of the Marian and papal dogmas. It is in regard to the latter that I, at least, am saying "there is no such thing as development of doctrine in such a sense". Think about it; in the meantime I'll have another look at Newman's theory.

Terry Maher said...

That will be the problem PH. In the RC mindset, both the one I was taught and the later one David was taught, Scripture cannot be that by which alone anything is done since it does not exist alone but as one of the two streams of Apostolic Tradition, and thus its written stream known as Scripture must necessarily be misunderstood if not understood within the Apostolic Tradition both aural and written upheld by the teaching authority of the RCC.

Terry Maher said...

And just a side thought, if Catholics paid to Cardinal Manning the smallest fraction of the attention paid to ruddy Newman they'd be much better off.

What one finds in Newman's writings is exactly what was found a few years ago when they dug up Newman's grave to add him to the miserable relic trade --nothing!

Frank said...

Terry, have you read Mark E. Powell's Papal Infallibility: A Protestant Evaluation of an Ecumenical Issue? He has a chapter dedicated to Newman and a chapter dedicated to Manning, on how they approached the issue of papal infallibility. A book worth the read.

RE: development. We cannot approaching this issue only from the perspective of what does Rome teach today. We must ask what did Rome teach about development in the 16th cent, 17th cent, 18th cent, etc. We must, in other words, move forward in historical thinking. The development of the development of doctrine in Roman Catholic thinking is very interesting indeed!

In the 17th century the Roman Catholic Jacques Bossuet boldly against the Protestants that they were clearly seem to be heretics because their teachings represented development. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, preserved the true faith, that is, that which was believed everywhere and by all. Two centuries later Newman would change this proud Roman Catholic boast with his development theory.

His theory, and Rome's embrace of it, is tacit recognition that the Reformers were right, Rome had embraced teachings that did not come from the Apostles (contrary to her 16th and 17th cent apologists). The development theory, whichever one a Roman Catholic embraces, is a way of salvaging papal orthodoxy in light of the obvious.

Look, Liberalism in the 19th century challenged Christian orthodoxy across the board. Rome's response was to embrace the development theory, at least eventually because there were many "conservatives" in Rome who fought fiercely against it. The development theory is something Rome desparately needs. It is the article upon which she stands or falls. Do other Christians need it as badly, and in the way that Rome needs it? No. We have not embraced all these extra teachings while claiming to be infallible that we know have to account for.

Roman Catholics try to force us to say that we do in fact need the development theory if we wish to be orthodox. They say, "You believe in the Trinity, don't you? Well, then, you see, you need the development theory too!" This is nonsense. The Council of Nicaea did not proclaim Jesus fully God and fully man because their thinking developed! They did not say, "The Apostles did hand down a teaching about this, so let's figure this out." They defended that which was handed down to them in the pulic witness of the Church. The understanding that the early Church had of divine revelation is sufficient for us. We catholics who are not papal catholics need no organic development within the life of the Church to discern teachings in the deposit of faith that were unknown to the Apostles.

Unfortunately, I must bow out of this conversation, brothers. But know that I have not bowed out of the bigger conversation. A couple of works worth buy are Br. Gabriel Moran's Scripture and Tradition: A Survey. Since writing this work Br. Moran has become very liberal, but this really doesn't matter since his work is only a survey. In a 100 pages he surveys the debates between the Roman Catholics who were fighting so hard for the traditional Roman Catholic view that doctrine did not develop, and those newer Roman Catholics who were all for it. Another work worth having is Owen Chadwick's From Bossuet to Newman. Amazing work! Chadwick played an important role in me leaving Rome.

I wish I had time for more extended Internet conversations, but I am so swamped with life right now. Sigh.

christl242 said...

Yes, in Rome dogma does trump history every time. A short way to put it is: God could do, it is reasonable that God would do it so God did it."

Whether it agrees with Scripture or not.


Pr Mark Henderson said...

Many thanks for your contributions, Frank. We are thinking along the same lines - you have expressed what I have not had time to put into writing. I hope we have at least helped our Roman friends to see the issue in a different light. There is so much ignorance -and re-writing - of history today -sigh!

Terry Maher said...

It may be difficult for those outside of the Roman mindset to understand how it works.

To return to my earlier example, the Immaculate Conception, it would be in this mindset precisely the same as with the Trinity -- defending what was handed down to them in the public witness of the church. New situations call forth new formulations to address them, but what is formulated is not new.

The problem is, if there were ever a slippery slope, this is it, and there isn't anything at all that can't be claimed though it appears new or different to be the same but in a new formulation.

Which is exactly where Newman's deus-ex-ecclesia falls apart. One may invoke the teaching authority of a church to settle the various claims of those who say they teach straight from the Bible, but, the pronouncements of that teaching authority become subject to the same "What Does It Really Mean" as the Bible itself. The RCC is in the throes of this now and has been for several decades, as Vatican II attempted to address the same truths in a new way to a new world no longer grounded as it was, yet there are various versions of what that is just as one finds among those claiming Scripture alone.

Sola ecclesia, by church alone, in no way overcomes the issues of sola scriptura that some see in it and then flee to Rome or sometimes Constantinople. It simply transfers the locus of the issues.

Sola scriptura was never meant to stand the book against the community, but to call the community back to fidelity in its own book!

Sola ecclesia in the end is always just what it was for poor Newman, a short cut to faith when one is troubled about what is the true object of faith.

Stephen K said...

I'd like to express my own thanks to Frank and Terry for their interesting and concise explanations. Terry's summation of sola ecclesia and its inherent contradictions hits the nail on the head, I think.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I sense that the discussion is drawing to a close. Many thanks all for your contributions - the old manse is only rarely such a lively place! Our discussion has inevitably gravitated toward the development of doctrine. I would dearly love to hear more from David on this; I'm not sure he grasps the nature of ou robjections. In the meantime D.v., I shall be posting something on that topic soon, along with a post on 'Misreading Luther with John Henry Newman' and 'Misreading Luther with Joseph Ratzinger'. Nothing brilliant, mind you, just some simple observations about how these two great minds have failed to let Luther be Luther. Still, I suppose he long since gotten used to serving as the theological whipping boy for Catholics everywhere.

Lvka said...

Come to think of it, as an Orthodox, why are you on the "side" of Rome anyway?

Oh, that's the nice part about being Orthodox, Father: you get to `play` people on both sides of the law... :-) [By "law" I mean the Catholic-Protestant divide, of course].