MOSAIC Spring 2015 - Page 10

THE SOURCES OF REVELATION How do we know that Catholic teaching truly represents the faith of the ancient Church? Dr. M. Katherine Tillman A s Divine Revelation advances through time, the Spirit guides us into a deeper understanding of unchanging truths. This is how Catholic doctrine develops. Doctrine does not “change.” In change, the form of a thing is different in substance from that of another preceding thing: the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Nor does doctrine “evolve,” in the modern sense of the term. In biological evolution, the form of a thing is new and different, arising out of a previous form: a dog evolves from a wolf. What doctrine does is “develop.” In development, the thing remains the same but, invested in history, it is further unfolded, articulated, delineated, and intensified. For example, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception lately affirmed of the Blessed Virgin Mary fittingly enunciates and further develops the declaration of her as Mother of God. As Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, the nineteenth century English scholar and convert from Anglicanism writes, “It changes . . . in order to remain the same” (Dev, 40). What Is the Difficulty? Newman’s two main writings on the subject of development are his 1843 Oxford University sermon, “The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrines” (US), and his 1845 book, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Dev). Although Newman was not the first to formulate this principle, which, he wrote, “has at all times, perhaps, been implicitly adopted by theologians” (Dev, 29), he was the first to argue with such studied detail and to test this “hypothesis to account for 8 all but a Catholic in early 1845. How Does Doctrine Develop? Newman begins the great Essay by stating what no one can deny: that Christianity is an objective fact in the world’s history; that Christianity has long since passed beyond the thoughts of individual minds, making the entire world its home and public property of its sacred words. Roman Catholicism, he argues, is the historical heir of the Christian tradition in its fullness. The Protestantism of the Reformation is not a historical religion, he states, in the sense that it forms a Christianity from the Bible alone and falls back on the private judgment of the individual as the sole expounder of its doctrine (Dev, 6). Rather, maintains Newman in an oftenquoted phrase, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” (Dev, 8). a difficulty” (Dev, 30) with such originality, subtlety, and permanent influence. The difficulty for which Newman sets forth his hypothesis is this: From the words and half sentences of a few simple fishermen of Galilee two millennia ago, we have the creeds and confessions, doctrines and dogmas, the systems of theology, forms of worship, and varied institutions of worldwide Christianity today. How did all of this come to be? The question being raised here is whether the Catholic faith, as now held, is logically, as well as historically, the representative of the ancient faith. The Sermon on development deals with the implicit, tacit, or mental locus of the The theory of development is based on huChristian Idea before and as it becomes man nature and its embeddedness in history. explicitly expressed . . . From the nature of the verbally, either in the human mind, time is neces“Time is necessary individual’s own mind sary for the full comprehenor speech, or in the for the full sion and perfection of great language and doctrine of comprehension and ideas; and . . . the highest the Church, whereas the and most wonderful truths, perfection of great Essay on development though communicated to deals more with the ideas.” the world once for all by inexplicit development or spired teachers, could not be realization of the Christian Idea in the comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, public, historical life of the community. as being received and transmitted by minds not The Sermon is more concerned with how inspired and through media which were human, developments emerge from and relate to the have required only the longer time and deeper Revelation of Scripture. We might even say thought for their full elucidation. (Dev, 29-30) the Sermon is in search of Tradition, for Newman is still an Anglican in 1843. The development of an idea, from its The Essay, on the other hand, is more inward contemplation in the individual or focused upon Tradition itself, Tradition in the bosom of the Church, to its external as made up of the actual continuity of expression and formulation in doctrines doctrinal development, for Newman is and creeds is thus “the germination and Sacred Heart Major Seminary | Mosaic | Spring 2015