Saturday, May 28, 2005

The development of doctrine

Once again, an individual agitating for women's ordination at the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society website, has posed a challenge. He writes, "The Church, as an institution, moves slowly toward any change, probably as it should in most instances....By suggesting that women could be priests, one is not suggesting that Jesus got it wrong; rather, it is suggesting that Jesus and the Holy Spirit may have thought it was not the right time to have women priests, but that we've now advanced to the point where we can handle it."

The problem with this line of thinking is that while doctrine does indeed develop, it does not do so in the same way as knowledge in other fields. Divine Revelation and faith are unique. They do not originate in human observation and reasoning, and their truth transcends the cultural forms in which it was first expressed.

The linguistic expressions used by the Church in her dogmatic formulations do not exhaustively encapsulate the revealed truth. Therefore, while individuals on their own authority may not set aside the language the Church uses, the Church from time to time improves on such language. And such improvements can even become necessary to defend the faith against errors and to expound it in fresh social and cultural contexts.

And, to be sure, Christians today are in a position to articulate revealed truths in ways which were not available to the Apostles and this because the Church not only faithfully safeguards and hands on all that God revealed, but infallibly interprets it. So, as Vatican I and Vatican II teach, the Church grows in her understanding of the realities and words which have been handed down (see DS 3020/1800; Dei Verbum, No. 8).

But the Church may not contradict the truth which she has received from God. So, as Vatican I definitively teaches, the Church's dogmatic formulae should never be taken in a meaning different from the one the Church understood and understands in using them (see DS 3043/1818; Gaudium et Spes, No. 62). It follows therefore that legitimate and necessary development and reformulation of doctrine can never call into question anything which Catholics as a whole once have held with faith.

For a further explanation of the criteria of authentic development of doctrine, I would point readers of this blog to a work written by John Henry Newman (for whom the website mentioned above is named) and entitled "An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine" and published by Westminster, Md Christian Classics, 1968.

And what of this individual's assertion that "we've now advanced to the point where we can handle it" (meaning women priests)? Is this not the conceit of Famulus Wagner in Faust, who exclaimed joyfully "how marvelously far we have come"? This is not the attitude of Pope John XXIII, who said that the Church must leave her mark on every epoch and every land - and not vice versa. This is the perverse interpretation of Aggiornamento, an interpretation which means that the Church must be reformed in order to do justice to the "great progress" of our times, and to speak the "right language" to modern man, who has "come of age."

There are Bishops, priests and laymen who, blinded and overrun by various heresies, want to swim with the times and who fear the judgment of the world more than they fear God. For such people, all the current and modern tendencies and developments (in science, medicine etc) are progress and each and every change demanded by "progressives" who wish to build a church in their own image and likeness also constitutes "progress." These confused souls have forgotten (or choose to ignore) that truth is essentially unchangeable.

Lastly, the individual agitating for women priests at the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society website told another visitor to that forum that, "I don't think that you can say that no women are called to be priests because you don't know what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do." This is an obvious falsehood. We know that the Holy Spirit is not calling women to the Priesthood because the Magisterium, led by that same Holy Spirit, says that they are not.

But notice that whereas this individual asserts that the other visitor to the HCCNS forum doesn't know what the Holy Spirit is saying to women (a patent falsehood since the Magisterium speaks the truth in that same Spirit), he nevertheless feels confident in suggesting that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit "may have thought" that 33 AD "was not the right time" for women's ordination but that now (because Catholics are supposedly more "advanced") these two Divine Persons may now feel the time is right since we're at the "point where we can handle it."

God preserve us from such nonsense.

Until next time,
God love you all
Paul Anthony Melanson

No comments:

Site Meter