Friday, October 16, 2009

Different Views of the Catholic Church & The Development of Doctrine

As I've read Catholic ecclesiology I've noticed two distinct traditions of understanding Church Dogmatics. In a weird way they seem counter-intuitive, as the Traditional Catholics seem to advocate the development of Doctrine, and the Nouvelle Theologie seems to advocate a Reformation-style jump backwards.

The First View: (I'll call it the Development of Doctrine)

Cardinal Newman and Tolkien and others tend to see theological growth in the Church as the Development of Doctrine. That doctrines existed in "seed" form and eventually grew. So that Mary's Assumption was in seed form (in the gnostics?...not going to try to defend this one) and over time it became more obvious (don't know how) but that basically enough people talked about it and so it then becomes Catholic dogma. This is the view when people tell you that the Church is like a tree growing gradually over time and expanding to higher and higher heights. Others would argue that doctrinal innovation and modernism could spring out of this view, yet strangely, this seems to be the view of the Anti-Vatican II Catholics. They didn't want to go ad fontes because the early church was just an immature version of the current Church. (if that makes sense)

The Second View: (I'll call it the "flight to antiquity" view in honor of Calvin's attack that this is what Catholics do)
This seems to be the view of many of the "Nouvelle Theologie" people / ressourcement theology. A return back to Patristics and Scriptural exegesis. They focus on the fact that the faith was once delivered to the saints, and will continue in a constant return to the same old truths expressed in new ways. This seems to be a fairly "protestant" view (if you can call it that. Except that Patristics are almost on par with Scripture, as is generally the case in Catholicism. This view seems to be quite popular among Catholic-converts and in general with people who aren't keen on new Marian doctrines and extended emphasis on things that have been recently emphasized.

The Third View: (Super-Traditionalist)
I do acknowledge a possible third view however, that of the super-traditionalists (as I'll call them) who think every new definition was there from the beginning, just no one talked about it (kind of like when the Reformed tell you the Fathers all taught the 5 solas, but forgot to mention them except in their pseudo condemnations of them). Sometimes this becomes a mixing of groups one and two by saying that all the dogmas as we now understand them were there in the beginning. The oath against modernism that SSPX takes deliberately recants the idea that doctrine develops (how I don't yet fully understand), and they seem to fall into this last view.

My View: I tend to go with the first people like Newman. I generally hate people who think Left Behind was basically Revelation word for word just in a modern context, and others who think Jesus taught Adam Smith's wealth of nations, or that Extrinsic imputed righteousness was in the Bible even though it wasn't. But a part of my detestation for such a historical ignorance is people who try to say that the Immaculate Conception is a clear biblical doctrine. There are a few proof texts you could bend to try and make say that, and some patristic phrases that seem to possibly indicate something like the sinlessness of Mary, but by and large it's a construct of scholasticism. But my argument would be: so is everyone elses theology.

I've said it a thousand times, and I'll say it again. You can't know what the bible means for complex theological questions. I don't know if Paul was made to pass the test on Chalcedonian orthodoxy if he would get it correct. My argument would be that you either have faith in Pentecost and Christ's Church with all of it's developments, or you become a Quaker. Of course most people try to make some wacky mix of the two, but to me, those are the only two totally logical perspectives.

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