"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, December 19, 2016

On the Development of Doctrine

With all the controversy swirling around the shambolic and sprawling Amoris Laetitia, even to the point of drawing a rare commentary from the Ecumenical Patriarch, my students in the spring semester are in the happy position of being able to examine that vexed document and its apologists' claims for it to be an instance of the development of doctrine. We will do so in a course devoted to the topic of doctrinal development, and naturally enough we will, inter alia, be reading John Henry Cardinal Newman's landmark treatment, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

To understand the context of that work in Newman's life, we will begin with the wonderful work of Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography. That is a richly detailed and compelling scholarly biography by the world's leading Newman scholar.

The concept of the development of doctrine is sometimes sneered at in the Christian East. Even so sober and venerable a scholar as Andrew Louth pours cold water on the notion in his essay in the 2006 Festschrift, Orthodoxy And Western Culture: A Collection of Essays Honoring Jaroslav Pelikan on His Eightieth Birthday.

Others, however, dispute that the East rejects development. Daniel Lattier, e.g., in his essay in Pro Ecclesia in the fall of 2011, "The Orthodox Rejection of Doctrinal Development," has unearthed compelling evidence to suggest that (as in so many things) the East rejects a caricature of what it takes the West to believe. (Cf. Lattier's essay, "Orthodox Theological Receptions of Newman" in the new collection, Receptions of Newman.)

The literature on doctrinal development is, as I discovered more than a decade ago now, when I was working on a draft proposal for the dissertation that became the book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, vast indeed. The best place to begin--as with so many things in Christian history--is with one of the Chadwick brothers: in this case, with Owen's invaluable From Bossuet to Newman: the Idea of Doctrinal Development.

My early drafts looked extensively at Newman and the concept of development. (These were later excised for the book.) It was fascinating to me that, as the Greek Orthodox scholar George Dragas demonstrated, Newman was the only 19th-century Catholic figure to be translated into Greek and studied by Greek scholars during his own day.

Regardless of what one thinks of development--as I always say to people when asked--one should read Newman for the sheer loveliness of his prose. Rightly regarded as the master stylist of 19th-century letters, Newman--whether in his Essay on Development, or perhaps even more his Apologia Pro Vita Sua--is a delight to read.

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