Author Topic: Feser on Doctrinal Development  (Read 98 times)


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Feser on Doctrinal Development
« on: January 03, 2018, 09:03:55 AM »
The Thomist Dr. Ed Feser's work is typically self-relegated to natural philosophy, particularly contra naturalism, scientism, etc., but here is a good and short engagement with the notion of "doctrinal development" from him.

A salient snippet:

Quote from: Ed Feser
[Doctrinal] development is properly spoken of in the passive voice rather than the active voice.  It always drives me crazy when Catholics, including churchmen, go around talking about whether a pope will or will not “develop” this or that doctrine.  Development is essentially something that happens.  It is not an activity that a pope or anyone else decides to carry out when he gets some bright idea into his head.
Through the course of the centuries, the Church faces various doctrinal crises – involving Arianism, Pelagianism, or what have you – and has to make a decision as to what orthodoxy requires.  In hindsight, we can see how doctrine developed as these decisions were made.  Naturally, the decisions involved conscious deliberation, but they were essentially reactive rather than proactive.  The question was: “We’re faced with this new idea; what does the deposit of faith force us to say about it?”  The question was not: “We’ve come up with this new idea; can we get away with saying it, given the deposit of faith?”

In a blurb on the back cover of E. Christian Brugger’s book Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition, Germain Grisez notes that Brugger “explores and defends the proposition that the Catholic Church could teach that capital punishment is always morally wrong” (emphasis added).  But development is not a matter of looking for loopholes by which the Church “could teach” some novel doctrine you’ve come up with.  The Church either already teaches something, at least implicitly, or she does not.  If she does, then naturally she could teach it.  But if she doesn’t, then she can’t teach it.  As the First Vatican Council taught:

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

And as Pope St. Pius X exclaimed: “Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty!”
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Re: Feser on Doctrinal Development
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2018, 09:21:26 AM »
I'd likewise recommend blogger Pat Smith's articles on Newman and what qualifies as an authentic doctrinal development:

Sure, it’s great to mention Cardinal Newman in an essay. The mere mention of his name evokes all sorts of warm feelings of theological brilliance and English charm. Unfortunately, one does not always want to let Newman say very much. Why? Well, it turns out that Newman was just as ready to find corruptions of doctrine as authentic developments. Readier, perhaps, when one goes through the seven notes carefully. Newman’s project, at least superficially, was to show that the faith of Leo XIII and the faith of St. Peter were indistinguishable, not to open the door to communion for bigamists or same-sex “marriage.” Therefore, while Newman is a fine mascot, he’s by no means as tame as the progressives would like; accordingly, they are leery of giving him too much say. However, without Newman the proponents of development are left in a sticky situation.
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