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Cardinal Newman’s Theory of Development of Doctrine and the Synod

 

 

Back during Lent in 2010 I did a series looking at Cardinal Newman’s theory regarding the Development of Doctrine:

 

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, among his many other services to the Church, clarified the concept of development of doctrine as opposed to corruptions of doctrine that occasionally fasten on the Church and are shed off by the Church over time.

Newman posited seven notes, I would call them tests, for determining whether something is a development of doctrine or a corruption.

1.  Preservation of Type

2.  Continuity of Principles

3.  Power of Assimilation

4.  Logical Sequence

5.  Anticipation of Its Future

6.  Conservative Action upon Its Past

7.  Chronic Vigour

Each of these notes are explained by Newman in detail.  The concepts aren’t simple either in theory or in application, at least to me, but Newman does a first rate job of explaining them. 

I posited that Newman’s seven tests could be used to look at various teachings of the Church to see if a particular teaching was a development of doctrine or a corruption that had crept temporarily into the Church.  Now Father Juan R. Velez has taken the seven tests and applied them to the giving of communion to people divorced and remarried whose first marriages have not been annulled by the Church:

 

Newman’s seven tests are as follows:

1. Preservation of the type or identity happens when a doctrine or belief retains its type from start to end. Newman gives as an example the external development of Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church. Throughout the ages it has maintained its identity as “a religious communion claiming divine commission,” a well organized and disciplined body” which faithful to its founder is considered as fanatical, superstitious and ignorant by its persecutors. The Church remains true to its type in the view of the world, and this unity of type serves as a guarantee of its development.

2. By continuity of principles, Newman explained: “A development, to be faithful, must retain both the doctrine and the principle with which it started.” He enumerates various Catholic principles such as: dogmas as irrevocable supernatural truths, the principle of faith, the sacramental principle derived from the doctrine of the Incarnation, the mystical interpretation of Scripture also derived from the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the principle of grace (325-326).

3. Assimilative Power refers to interpenetration of doctrines. “A living idea becomes many, yet remains one” (186). Newman referred to doctrines and rites, which were assimilated slowly and carefully and with much difficulty over time.

4. Logical Consequence does not refer to a syllogism, but to a gradual growth that, although unintentional, has a logical character, and an “evident naturalness” (191).

5. Anticipation of its future means that there are “early intimations of tendencies which afterwards are fully realized (…) in accordance with the original idea” (196).

6. Conservative Action requires new doctrines to protect earlier doctrines. In the words of St. Vincent quoted by Newman, it is profectus fidei non permutatio (progress in faith not its change into something else). He gives as an example devotion to St. Mary that, far from corrupting doctrine about Christ’s unique mediation, “subserves, illustrates, protects the doctrine of our Lord’s loving kindness and mediation” (202).

7. Lastly, chronic Vigor (or vigorous action from first to last) refers to the duration of ideas whereas something corrupt cannot be long standing.

Applying these tests, Newman came to believe that Catholic doctrine on Purgatory, original sin, devotion to the saints, prayer for the deceased is true doctrine. He was aware that there were disagreements between the hierarchy before a teaching was settled. He explained in support of the existence of doctrinal development:

I grant that there are ‘Bishops against Bishops in Church history, Fathers against Fathers, Fathers against themselves,’ for such differences in individual writers are consistent with, or rather are involved in the very idea of doctrinal development, and consequently are no real objection to it; the one essential question is whether the recognized organ of teaching, the Church herself, acting through Pope or Council as the oracle of heaven, has ever contradicted her own enunciations. If so, the hypothesis which I am advocating is at once shattered; but, till I have positive and distinct evidence of the fact, I am slow to give credence to the existence of so great an improbability. (120-121)

One example of true doctrinal development is the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. We can verify this by applying to it the seven tests Newman described:

1. The Role of Mary is not changed; there is preservation of the type or identity.

2. Mary is honored because she is the Mother of God, which is a continuity of principle of the honor given to God.

3. Although Christians believed early on that the saints intercede in heaven for their brethren on earth, the belief in the Virgin Mary’s special intercession as the Mother of God grew among Christians.

4. It stands to reason that Christ would honor his mother. The dogma is a logical consequence of Christ’s teaching and example.

5. The Archangel announced to Mary her mission, and at the Visitation Elizabeth and Simeon praised her. In this, we see an anticipation of future honors given to her.

6. Celebrating this Marian privilege reminds us of Mary’s Role. Thus, the liturgy has a conservative action on its early beliefs and practices.

7. Chronic vigor or vitality can be observed in the celebration of Mary’s life and her union with Christ, which exerts new energy in the life of the faithful of all ages.

The question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics

Having examined Newman’s tests, we now examine if they apply to the doctrine that Communion for divorced and remarried persons is an authentic development. In other words, what would Cardinal Newman have said in his intervention at the Synod for Families?

First, however, we should reaffirm, as Pope John Paul II did in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, that divorced and remarried Catholics remain part of the Church. As members of the Church, they should be accepted and helped to live the faith. They should be encouraged to pray and to seek a path of reconciliation with God. Those who have a just cause should be helped to obtain a declaration of nullity of the previous bond and helped to receive the sacrament of marriage. All should be understood and supported with prayer and friendship.

It should also be mentioned that in the Church’s history there have been doctrinal developments in matters regarding marriage. A notable one is the doctrine on the canonical form of marriage. The Council of Trent mandated that a sacramental marriage should have as witness a qualified representative of the Church, normally the pastor of the parish church.

Although marriage situations vary, the following is an application of Newman’s tests to the general consideration of the proposed doctrine of Communion of divorced and remarried persons.

1. Acceptance of Communion for divorced and remarried persons does not preserve the type of marriage, which entails indissolubility. The type of marriage with Christ’s permanent love for the Church, his bride, is broken.

2. This new doctrine establishes a new principle, namely that in some cases marriage is dissoluble; marriage is not permanent. There is thus a discontinuity with earlier doctrine.

3. The proposed doctrine seems to assimilate the Christian practice of mercy and forgiveness, but it contradicts others such as justice with regard to the obligations that derive from the nature of marriage. It is doubtful that it can pass the test of assimilative power.

4. Communion in these circumstances does not follow the penitential practice present since the early Church by which a person in a state of sin must leave the situation of sin and follow a path of conversion before being reconciled to the Church, thus coming into Communion.

5. Christ’s teaching about the permanence of marriage and the sin of adultery does not anticipate in any way this new doctrine of divorce and remarriage, and less of Communion for those who are sadly in this situation.

6. Admission to Communion of divorced persons who have entered a second bond does not have a protective action on the practice of marriage in the Church. Instead of having a conservative action, it weakens marriage by removing one of the consequences to divorce and remarriage.

7. Newman would also argue that the proposed doctrine would not add vitality to the Christian reality of sacramental marriage. On the contrary, the practice of divorce and remarriage, and in some places of Communion for persons divorced and remarried, have become more accepted.

Given this analysis, it is very doubtful that the doctrine on Communion for divorced and remarried persons proposed by Cardinal Walter Kasper can be considered authentic development of doctrine. Fr. Juan José Perez Soba has pointed out the doctrinal errors of Cardinal Kasper’s position on the marriage bond (Zenit.org, March 25, 2014). It is in no way the doctrinal development that St. Vincent of Lérins and Blessed Cardinal Newman envisioned. At the Synod Newman would instead argue how Sacred Scripture and Church Tradition uphold the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

Furthermore, Newman would caution against haste in questions of possible doctrinal development: “The theology of the Church is not random combination of various opinions, but a diligent, patient working out of one doctrine from many materials. The conduct of Popes, Councils, Fathers, betokens the slow, painful, anxious taking up of new truths into an existing body of belief” (366).

Go here to read the rest at The Catholic World Report.  One of the many distressing aspects of the Synod was the fact that the arguments made often had little reliance on Catholic teaching and thought that has been built up over 2000 years.  It is little surprise that the proponents of change wished to ignore the accumulated wisdom of 2000 years as it is almost entirely negative to what they were attempting.  It was very surprising that their opponents in most cases did not come to the Synod better armed intellectually from the vast corpus of Catholic teaching and thought at their disposal.  I very much hope that some of them read the post of Father Velez.

 

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

9 Comments

  1. “It should also be mentioned that in the Church’s history there have been doctrinal developments in matters regarding marriage. A notable one is the doctrine on the canonical form of marriage. The Council of Trent mandated that a sacramental marriage should have as witness a qualified representative of the Church, normally the pastor of the parish church.”
    That was a matter of legislation, not doctrine. The only doctrinal statement was to declare clandestine marriages valid, when not rendered invalid by Church legislation.
    The decree takes its name from its first word, Tametsi (Although): “Although it is not to be doubted, that clandestine marriages, made with the free consent of the contracting parties, are valid and true marriages, so long as the Church has not rendered them invalid; and consequently, that those persons are justly to be condemned, as the holy Synod doth condemn them with anathema, who deny that such marriages are true and valid;”
    It then goes on to provide for the future (but only in those places where the decree is promulgated) that “Those who shall attempt to contract marriage otherwise than in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest by permission of the said parish priest, or of the Ordinary, and in the presence of two or three witnesses; the holy Synod renders such wholly incapable of thus contracting and declares such contracts invalid and null, as by the present decree It invalidates and annuls them..”
    The requirement of canonical form could be abolished tomorrow, without involving any change of doctrine. I believe it would be a very bad idea, but that is by the by.

  2. What does it matter how well prepared those who wish to preserve Biblical marriage come prepared to the 2nd part of the Synod if the final report includes paragraphs supporting those who do not want to maintain Biblical marriage–with Pope Francis’ blessing? As you can tell, I am completely disgusted with the sham process that was the first Synod. 🙁

  3. I don’t anyone to think that we should simply throw in the towel because of the evil, manipulative games taking place at high levels, I am just disgusted with those games. However, my encouragement is to “never, never, never give up!”

  4. First, thank you F. Baron, as always for the breath of fresh air.
    Secondly, are we not including in the option the basic development alternatives that might arise in the process of declaring nullity?

  5. Genesis 2: “And the rib which the Lord took from the man, He made into a woman, and brought her to him. Then the man said, “She is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, for from man she has been taken.” For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.” But only through the action of God.
    There cannot be a civil marriage without the action of God.
    .
    The Catholic Church must tolerate the divorced and remarried. The divorced and remarried have excluded God. The Catholic Church cannot celebrate their condition.
    .
    The Priest in Confession acts only in the person of Christ, in persona Christi, when the priest says the Absolution. To lay the responsibility for the determination of nullity on one person, the priest, is akin to a capital one crime court with no jury. The Church in her wisdom has created a tribunal of (three) canonists to determine the validity and the application of the Pauline Privilege to married and divorced people. Pope Francis is proposing to remove the three canonists and replace them with one priest in the confessional. A judicial fact is predicated on the testimony of two or more witnesses. Jesus said to test everything.

  6. Don’t worry yourselves folks. Cardinal Dolan in his interview with Raymond Arroyo doesn’t know “what happened” and is not aware of any of this. Everything is just great in the Holy Roman Church. Kind of like our president. What?

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