No Development of Doctrine?


I must first issue a notice of my ignorance. I have never read Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Thus I am at a distinct disadvantage in discussing it. I know that Newman is a great favorite of my dear friend, Fr. Alvin Kimel, over at Pontifications. I do, however, suspect that it is a place that I might part company with my friend.

Does doctrine develop?

I am going to take a small quote from Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ and work from there. Let the conversation be gentle and remember, I am an ignorant man.

Fr. Behr notes that for St. Irenaeus there are four main elements in the theological framework for Orthodox, Catholic Christians (by this I mean Christians of the 2nd century, and would add Orthodox Christians of the 21st). First, there is Scripture (in the 2nd century this was still largely Old Testament, although St. Irenaeus is the first to make extensive use of the New Testament); then there was the “canon of truth,” meaning a basic structure of the gospel such as one would find outlined in, say, the Apostles’ Creed; third, there was the appeal to Apostolic Tradition and finally Apostolic Succession. All of these bore witness to one and the same understanding of the “Gospel:” that we are saved by the Crucified and Risen Savior who is none other than God made man (that’s a cursory summary).

Indeed, I would point out (though Behr does not), that the Canon of Truth, as embedded in various local creeds and Baptismal instructions, can be found in small portions and in various places of the New Testament itself. St. Paul’s quoting of Tradition (Paradosis) in 1 Corinthians11:23 and in 1 Corinthians 15:4 (both of which contain the “what I received, I delivered to you” formula, using the technical term paradosis or tradition, are examples of this early use of the Canon of Truth. Their are portions of creeds – which, indeed, are older than the New Testament.

This same “Canon of Truth” was taught everywhere by the Apostles and maintained by their successors. It is this absence of the Canon of Truth in works such as the so-called Gospel of Thomas that prove it belongs to a community other than that of Jesus. There is no Passion of Christ to be found within it. It is indeed, “another gospel.”

What Irenaeus will also note, after stating the canon of truth:

The Church…though disseminated throughout the world, carefully guards this preaching and this faith, which she has received, as if she dwelt in one house. She likewise believes these things as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; she preaches, teaches and hands them down harmoniously, as if she possessed one mouth. For though the languages of the world are dissimilar, nevertheless the meaning [or force] of tradition is one and the same. To explain, the church which have been founded in Germany do not believe or hand down anything else; neighter do those founded in Spain or Gaul or Libya or in the central regions of the world. But just as the sun, God’s creation, is one and the same throughout the world, so too , the light, the preaching of the truth, shines everywhere and enlightens all men who wish to come to a knowledge of the truth. Neither will any of those who presice in the churches, though exceedingly elequent, say anything else (for no one is above the Master); nor will a poor speaker subtract from the tradition. For, since the faith is one and the same, neigher he who can discourse at length about it adds to it, nor he who can say only a little subtracts from it.

Fr. John Behr then states: As the faith is the same, those who can speak endlessly about it do not add to it, any more than those who are poor speakers detract from it, for the meaning or the content of tradition is one and the same. While Christians are called to live in this tradition, and to give it ever new expression, the tradition itself does not “grow” or “develop” into something else. The Church is to guard carefully this preaching and this faith, which she has received and which she is to preach, teach, and hand down harmoniously.

In a footnote, he observes that W.W. Harvery, in his edition of Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies, which was printed twelve years after Newman’s famous Essay, points out in a note on this passage (1.10.2): “At least here there is no reserve made in favour of any theory of development. If ever we find any trace of this dangerious delusion in Christian antiquity, it is uniformly the plea of heresy” (Cited on pg. 72 of the Mystery of Christ, note 22).

Orthodoxy does not speak of a development of doctrine, as has become common in Catholic theology, but continues, with Irenaeus, to hold fast to what was “once and for all delivered.” It must be lived and must be translated, but it does not become anything other than what it is. For though it was at the beginning, it is also the same at the end. It is the gospel for men everywhere at all times. It is the good news of the Crucified and Risen Lord who has saved us and makes all things new.

What can develop? Do Catholics believe that the Truth becomes something other than what it was if it Develops? Orthodoxy tends to see doctrines such as those that surround the developments of the Roman Church in the modern period (and immediately before) as “new” things rather than developments. Am I wrong to see things this way? If someone says, “Read Newman,” all I can say is, “Sure.” But the questions remain.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





38 responses to “No Development of Doctrine?”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo is of a Chi Rho carved in stone from an early Roman villa in Britain, some of the earliest evidence of Christianity in that part of the world.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have spent an evening reading bits and pieces of Newman stuff – enough to make it seem as though he means to say no more than that the doctrine once given, has been more fully expounded. That’s not much more if anything than is said by Orthodox. But for Newman fans, such as Fr. Alvin Kimel, would you state anything more refined on Newman’s Development notion. Would you see a difference between RC approach and EO?

  3. Scott Lyons Avatar

    “The doctrine once given, has been more fully expounded.”

    Fr Stephen, as a Catholic this has been my understanding of the “Development of Doctrine.” I don’t know if there is a difference between this and the EO approach. Obviously the RC is far more cataphatic, more definitive, than the EO. Perhaps that is what is seen as going further than simply expounded doctrine. I personally love that the EO are less worried about defining, and more willing to befriend a truth as mystery. But I embrace both – if that’s not too much a contradiction.

  4. Reid Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for another lovely post. Certainly in the Protestant world — and even among Evangelicals — one of the great divides is between those who believe doctrine develops and evolves over time and those who believe theological innovation is never legitimate, that our obligation as Christians is simply to submit to the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” and to pass it on faithfully to the next generation. This awareness of being faithful to preserve a trust is one of the qualities I appreciate most in Catholic and Orthodox writers.

    It was a great revelation to me some years back when I realized that the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed was not an innovative attempt by ivory tower theologians to explain the mystery of Trinity but, on the contrary, an attempt by Christian leaders, living “in the trenches” and facing heretical opposition, to set limits on what one could say about God without going beyond what the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostles had together revealed. I wonder if sometimes people perceive a development of doctrine when new sins, heresies, and false philosophies provoke the Church to speak directly to a matter she had never realized anyone could question.

  5. Scott Carson Avatar

    I think the position I staked out in a series of posts at An Examined Life on what I called “non-ampliative development of doctrine” might be congenial to most Orthodox; I found that it was not as congenial to some Romans as I would have liked, but I’m beginning to think that in some ways the objections they raised were tempests in a teapot.

  6. Jeff Lee Avatar
    Jeff Lee

    “This is readily suggested by the analogy of physical growth, which is such that the parts and proportions of the developed form, however altered, correspond to those which belong to its rudiments. The adult animal has the {172} same make, as it had on its birth; young birds do not grow into fishes, nor does the child degenerate into the brute, wild or domestic, of which he is by inheritance lord. Vincentius of Lerins adopts this illustration in distinct reference to Christian doctrine. “Let the soul’s religion,” he says, “imitate the law of the body, which, as years go on, developes indeed and opens out its due proportions, and yet remains identically what it was. Small are a baby’s limbs, a youth’s are larger, yet they are the same.” ”

    Newman takes this stance, and then argues that all development that has occurred in the West is merely of this sort. As I read his book, however, it became evident to me that as long as the doctrine bore some similarity to some ancient belief, he could argue that it was legitimate development. It seems to me that his system allows almost any belief as long as it resembles something in the past. That, at least, was the impression I was left with.

  7. Fatherstephen Avatar


    That’s a very valid point. Development can open up a very serious “can of worms” and can justify many things. The larger debate between East and West has been the East’s contentions that the developments in the West were other than “development.”

  8. Mark Avatar

    One of my greatest concerns with some construals of development has to do with the arrogance implicit in the claim that we’ve somehow grown beyond the “backward” and “infantile” beliefs of our ancestors in the faith. In my experience, this perspective is much more common among liberal protestants who hijack Newman to legitimate various bizarre innovations that are equally unacceptable to traditional Catholics and Orthodox.

    I’m always reminded of T. S. Eliot’s comment in “Tradition and Individual Talent:”

    “Someone said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.”

    Or as Fr Andrew Louth phrases it, “There is no development beyond seeking, again and again, to deepen our understanding of the Scriptures in the light of the mystery of Christ.”

  9. Jack Avatar

    Dr. Carson may well be right. The exact word homoousia is not in the deposit, but its entire content clearly is. The Son is divine in essence with the same divinity as the Father but he is not the Father. Dr. Carson may not be arguing for any greater “development” than is indicated here.

    The difference between Catholics and Orthodox might be simply that they disagree over whether such doctrines as papal infallibility or the filioque, as currently understood by the Roman Catholics, are part of the content of the apostolic canon.

  10. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    “non-ampliative development of doctrine” Nice phrase, Scott.

    My take on this is that doctrine doesn’t develop as much as it is applied. How it is applied depends on one’s method. In the West, we do theology dialectically. A dialectical approach moves ideas forward by the introduction of new angles or innovations. Sometimes the trajectory heads far from the Apostolic Tradition. In the East, doctrine is received and applied according to the Apostolic Tradition. This has preserved Orthodoxy from some of the pitfalls of Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.

  11. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course, one of the difficulties of the word “development” is the baggage it carries in the modern world, implying “progress,” etc., which has been a very false philosophy. It certainly makes Orthodox nervous to hear a phrase like “Development of Doctrine.”

    That kind of problem makes me wonder if development is the right word that the Romans want to use, or would something else be better? It’s a dangerous word in our world.

  12. Mark Avatar

    What Catholics used the term “development” before Cardinal Newman?

    The nineteenth century Romantic emphases upon progress seem looming in the background…

    Fr John Behr prefers the term “formation:” the form always serving the function of clarifying access to the Faith once Delivered.

  13. Scott Lyons Avatar

    Perhaps you’re right, Fr – there may be a better word than development, especially in the light of post- or premodernity.

    From my understanding, the Development of Doctrine is not about the maturation and change of the doctrine, but rather the maturation of the Church as it grows in its understanding of the doctrine.

    Thus the Catechism says the following about it:

    Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church:

    – “through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts”; it is in particular “theological research [which] deepens knowledge of revealed truth”.

    – “from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which [believers] experience”, the sacred Scriptures “grow with the one who reads them.”

    Furthermore, we adhere to the faith we have received, that has been passed on to us, penetrating it more deeply with right judgment, and applying it more fully in daily life (CCC, 93).

    In these statements, the RC is not speaking about changing doctrine, but of our growth in understanding the deposit of faith, once for all delivered to the saints.

    So the question may not be whether the RC believes the doctrine can change, so much that some of us believes that the RC acts as if it can. Which happens, I suppose, as we view any other tradition than our own. Therefore, it is important for us to continue to approach one another with humility and love.

  14. Fatherstephen Avatar

    The Orthodox contention is that some things have “changed” that should not have changed. But that is the subject for sober discussion.

  15. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Some things have changed indeed. One can see this when doing a detailed study of material in the Old Testament that the Fathers would have understand through Apostolic teaching, but which have come to be interpreted through German higher criticism. Both Roman Catholics and Anglicans have been influenced by 20th century theological developments. This is not to say that there is no value in critical approaches to Scripture. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one who trusts that the written Word is true can discover a great deal, but what is discovered agrees with the Apostolic witness. That has been my experience over the past 25+ years with the book of Genesis.

  16. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Some things in higher criticism I don’t mind, but that approach will not yield much revelation if any. It’s assumptions have nothing to do with the Christian faith. They’re interesting but that’s all.

    Indeed, a great deat of higher critical work is built on such a house of cards that it’s silly that anyone takes much of it seriously.

    On the other hand, certain forms of Biblical literalism actually make me feel ill. That comes from a childhood where crazy dispensationalism was allowed to run entire parts of the culture. It’s crazy and I don’t like to be around it. Now that’s part of my confession. If I stay up too late (like tonight) I start to write things like that. Time to go to bed.

  17. Fr John Bostwick Avatar
    Fr John Bostwick

    For what it’s worth my understanding of “development”, what I was taught, is a deepening of understanding, an unpacking of the Tradition, a “development” of what is implicit in the Tradition itself – it is definitely not intended as the invention of something new. That said, the question still remains of whether some Catholic teaching does, in fact, stand in continuity with the Tradition or is it importing something new and foreign.
    Fr John

  18. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    When Arius challenged his Bishop on the relation of the Son to the Father and began teaching another doctrine, it became necessary to define his heresy OUT of the Church by the inclusion of “of the same essence” to the Nicene Creed. When Nestorius and Eutychius tried to redefine the relationship of Christ’s human and divine natures, it became necessary for the Church to define the hypostatic union of the two natures with the word Theotokos and His relationship to her; thereby excluding heresies from the Church. When the iconoclasts tried to remove icons from Christian worship, it became necessary to defend the icons by their relationship to the Incarnation. It is not that doctrine developed from thin air, but new expressions were needed in reaction to heresies seeking to invade the Church. This is a dangerous hypothesis…….. but I’ll offer it…….. the heretics of history helped us to see what the Church believes more clearly because it became necessary for us to say what we do NOT believe in reaction to them, thereby clarifying and establishing boundaries of the faith once delivered. It’s fair to call that development, I guess.

    Newman is complex. Orthodoxy had no presence in England during his lifetime to speak of, so it was either Rome or the Church of England for him. His great issue was over the doctrine of justification. His question, which caused his conversion to Rome, was (I paraphrase); “How can I let St. Leo define my Christology at Chalcedon, yet not let his successors define justification for me?”

    His quote from The Development of Christian Doctrine is priceless; “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

  19. Fatherstephen Avatar


    I readily agree that heresies have forced us to stretch language at times. What fascinates me when I think of the conciliar and theological process is, first off, the rejection of certain words. You can’t reject a phrase unless you already know what you believe (even if you have no words for it yet). The process continues until the Church is able to say, “This I believe!” But again, this can only happen because we, on some deeper level, already know what we know.

    In that sense, there is no development, only a search for words to give expression to what has yet to be expressed. Vladimir Lossky offers this in his essay on Tradition – I also have in in an earlier article on the blog (October 31, 2006):

    If again we wished to oppose (Tradition) to all that belongs to the reality of the word, it would be necessary to say the the Tradition is Silence. “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence,” says St. Ignatius of Antioch [to the Ephesians, XV,2]. As far as I know this text has never been used in the numerous studies which quote patristic passages on the Tradition in abundance, always the same passages, known by everyone, but with never a warning that texts in which the word “tradition” is not expressly mentioned can be more eloquent than many others.

    The faculty of hearing the silence of Jesus, atributed by St. Ignatius to those who in truth possess His word, echoes the reiterated appeal of Christ to His hearers: “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The words of Revelation have then a margin of silence which cannot be picked up by the ears of those who are outside. St. Basil moves in the same direction when he says, in his passage on the traditions: “There is also a form of silence namely the obscurity used by the Scripture, in order to make it difficult to gain understanding of the teachings, for the profit of readers.” This silence of the Scriptures could not be detached from them: it is transmitted by the Church with the words of the Revelation, as the very condition of their reception. If it could be opposed to the words (always on the horizontal plane, where they express the revealed Truth), this silence which accompanies the words implies no kind of insufficiency or lack of fulness of the Revelation, nor the necessity to add to it anything whatever. It signifies that the revealed mystery, to be truly received as fulness, demands a conversion towards the vertical plane, in order that one may be able to “comprehend with all the saints” not only what is the “breadth and length” of the Revelation, but also its “depth” and its height.” (Eph. 3,18)

  20. Jack Avatar

    Perhaps the “silence” of which St. Ignatius speaks is not so much an absence but a richness that transcends articulation?

    One of the fears I have with “kenotic” Christology is that it stresses only the absence and self-emptying side of things. We aren’t striving for mere emptiness, or even for absolute silence, but only to be emptied of noise and filth of sin and death in order to be filled with the Father’s love particularized love for each of us which is what we really are. God made me to be really who I am, not the me I tried to create, and not mere emptiness. Behr is good on this when he observes that Christ didn’t lower or empty himself to become man, rather he raised man to himself.

  21. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    “I readily agree that heresies have forced us to stretch language at times. What fascinates me when I think of the conciliar and theological process is, first off, the rejection of certain words. You can’t reject a phrase unless you already know what you believe (even if you have no words for it yet). The process continues until the Church is able to say, “This I believe!” But again, this can only happen because we, on some deeper level, already know what we know. ”

    A great example of this is the inclusion of “homoousis” (same essence) in the Creed itself. Paul of Samasota was excommunicated (rightly so) a half century before Nicea for using the same word, but he used it in a different sense than the Church. Arius was excommunicated (rightly so) for NOT using the same word. IOW, words express the faith, but the faith itself is beyond words.

  22. Steve Avatar

    I remember one of the major things that helped in my journey to Orthodoxy was considering the earlier ecumenical councils: if they could get the Trinity right, maybe they got the Theotokos right.

  23. Kirk Avatar

    I think the development of doctrine takes a troublesome turn when new revelations are allegedly received. Take, for instance, the visions of St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart, Fatima, and other examples. Are there any instances of similar events in Orthodox tradition?

  24. Fatherstephen Avatar


    The only comparison I might be able to draw to that would be the way some Orthodox treat the question of “the toll-houses” which are based almost solely on dreams or visions. They are not dogma, though you occasionally find someone who would treat them that way. They are images of the “particular judgment” and not descriptions of how things are.

    But normatively no doctrine would be based on such criteria.

  25. Scott Lyons Avatar

    Kirk, the revelations you speak of are called private revelations in Catholicism – and even when the Catholic Church recognizes them as valid (or authentic), the Catholic Church explicitly states that they do not add to or change the Deposit of Faith. They are usually for those people who have received them, though they are often seen by the greater Church as a call to Christ.

    (Perhaps it goes without saying, but there are abuses in the practice of some Catholics just as there are in the practice of some Orthodox. It is important that the exceptions are not understood as the rule.)

    The Catholic Church does not accept revelations that are contrary to the Deposit of Faith, and cannot – for Christ is God’s definitive Word, and nothing can be added to Him.

    I understand that Orthodox and Catholics disagree on important issues, just as Catholics and Protestants disagree (though of a different kind of disagreement). But sometimes it amazes me how much of our disagreement is due to our misunderstanding of the other community, and a misunderstanding of what the other community is saying. In love of and obedience to Christ, we ought to be pressing toward unity. And it is encouraging to see such attraction during our lives.

  26. Kirk Avatar


    Thank you for the clarification. Forgive me.

  27. Scott Lyons Avatar

    Oh, Kirk, there’s no need to apologize. I am thankful for the group of Orthodox Christians who meet here; I have even directed a Protestant friend of mine who lives in the Knoxville area toward St Anne’s (whether he’ll go …). Perhaps I should not have done so as a Catholic, but I appreciate and respect Fr Stephen. It’s easy to see Christ here.

  28. Michael Liccione Avatar

    Vatican II says (Dei Verbum §8; emphasis added):

    This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

    Newman made such pronouncements possible; they would not have been made before him, and would have made even Pius X uncomfortable. Thus the recognition of development is itself a development. I believe that such a recognition has a hard time making headway in Orthodoxy, despite the work of men like Pelikan and Zizioulas, because “development” is often taken reflexively to mean “addition” to the deposit of faith. In some mouths, to be sure, that’s exactly what it does mean. But not in that of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

    In a way, this issue between Catholics and Orthodox reminds me of that between Protestants and Catholics about the “sufficiency” of Scripture. Well before the Reformation, Aquinas acknowledged that Scripture contains “materially” the entire deposit of faith, but denied that it did so “formally.” That is my view too, and I don’t think any other is consistent with fidelity to both historical and theological truth. But to hear even sophisticated Protestants such as William Witt tell it, that amounts to saying that Scripture on its own is “incoherent” and thus in need of something more, i.e. addition—which in turn is taking to mean that Scripture isn’t even materially sufficient. Orthodoxy, of course, doesn’t make that mistake. The notion of Tradition is very much alive and rich in Orthodoxy, unlike Protestantism; and once again, the Catholic Church can acknowledge that Tradition, i.e., all that is “handed down” from the Apostles, is materially sufficient. From that standpoint, one can view Scripture as simply the most normative written expression of Tradition. But Catholic doctrine about the role of the magisterium, as expressed e.g. in DV §10, implies that not even Tradition is formally sufficient. Magisterial “developments” are taken as also necessary. Again, that seems pretty clear to me given what happened not only at but after each of the ecumenical councils of the first millennium. There can be no set limit to the sort of “growth in understanding” that such councils exemplified and facilitated. And so I have a hard time understanding what the problem is, other than that Orthodoxy dislikes certain particular Catholic developments that have taken place without it and in despite of it.

    It seems to me, then, that the real problem is not so much the idea of development as taught by the Catholic Church, but the question by what authority certain developments are to be either certified or rejected. The Catholic answer to that, of course, depends in part on a development of its own: the doctrine of the papacy. So the most interesting question, at least to me, is whether the understanding of authority in the Church can develop in such a way that the authority by which other developments are to be judged can itself be seen as connatural with what it developed out of.

  29. Steve Avatar

    That’s part of the problem. As soon as one thinks one is adequately discussing the development of doctrine the goalposts are moved and the discussion becomes about authority. Which is what it was about all along. So why go through all the work of DD?

    Which comes first, DD or authority? Maybe it’s just my perception (flawed as it is) but it seems as soon as one comes upon an issue with authority, the DD is trotted out. As soon as DD becomes inadequate, authority is trotted out. It seems circular to me. Perhaps it isn’t but trying to pin things down seems more difficult than it ought to be for a reasonable religion like Catholicism.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar


    ” the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”

    This is the notion of development that I find close to absurd and contrary to the deposit of the faith. There is no evidence whatesoever that adding (developing) doctrines, Papal or otherwise, has yielded a single better Christian. The Church is not today somehow closer to its fulfillment, except in time.

    Indeed, the deposit of the faith teaches that there will come a great Apostasy.

    St. Paul does mention our growing up in the fullness of the stature of Christ, but this is done primarily in love. Not in developing doctrine.

    Do you think the Church is truly growing, developing towards its fulness?

    Some of that statement sounded almost gnostic.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar


    A little further reflection. I spent some time with the Ephesians 4 passage, “Til we come to the stature of the fulness of Christ,” which could be read eschatologically, or could simply be read as coming into proper church order.

    I have known Pentecostal groups, very into a development model, who used this passage precisely in a gnostic manner. They were to be perfected by revelations.

    We do, in some sense, stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, but saints of the 20th century, as far as I can see, knew no more in truth than saints in the 1st or second. Indeed, I would argue, that even with the various “Developments” within Rome, the Church is in worse shape today than in many centuries.

    Each man has to know Christ, indeed, within the Body of Christ, but nobody can grow for me. I finally have to fight sin, repent and cling to Christ (with the help of my brothers and sisters, the saints, and by grace above all). But I know that I do not have greater insight than St. Basil the Great even though I’ve read him, and people who came after him. Just because I can read a doctrine doesn’t mean I even understand it, much less have communion with God through it.

    Nor does it seem that the Curia and the guardians of the magisterium are further along than in previous centuries. The quote you offered sounds like simple modernism, a notion that we grow into perfection.

    Surely this is not the vision of the Church? Particularly not as something brought about through a development of doctrine.

    Thus far, though Rome has added new understandings to various dogmas, it has, weakend the asceticism and worship of the Church to its lowest level in all of history. How can Christians assimilate new understandings if in fact they pray and fast less than any previous generation and are in Church for less time than many protestants?

    I don’t mean this as an attack on Rome – but on the notion of Development of Doctrine as a growth into perfection. The evidence is overwhelmingly against such a notion.

  32. Michael Liccione Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    Saints of the 20th century, as far as I can see, knew no more in truth than saints in the 1st or second.

    That’s the concern I was addressing by distinguishing between material and formal sufficiency. Materially, the Church in her infancy knew the entire deposit of faith, and hence no less of it than the Church does now. But much has been more fully and clearly articulated since then; hence the term ‘articles of faith’ as applied, e.g., to conciliar definitions and the expanded creeds of Nicaea I and Chalcedon. That’s development; and as far as I can tell, you accept such developments. As I understand development, then, it’s not the idea itself that you object to, but rather certain other instances of it.

    Just because I can read a doctrine doesn’t mean I even understand it, much less have communion with God through it.

    I’m sure everybody can agree with that. But I don’t see what’s supposed to follow. Nobody is suggesting that authentic developments suffice to improve anybody’s understanding in particular; rather, they express the Church’s greater understanding.

    Indeed, I would argue, that even with the various “Developments” within Rome, the Church is in worse shape today than in many centuries.

    The more I read about Church history, the more I disagree with that. To be sure, there are grievous problems in the Catholic Church today. But there always have been, and not just in the Catholic Church. These things ebb and flow.

    Nor does it seem that the Curia and the guardians of the magisterium are further along than in previous centuries. The quote you offered sounds like simple modernism, a notion that we grow into perfection.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘modernism’; nor am I sure what you’re objecting to when you object to the idea of growth into perfection. I know what Pius X meant when he denounced Modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies,” but Vatican II is not asserting anything like what he rejected. And if all you mean to reject is the idea that new automatically equals better, I would agree. Not every instance of “development” is an improvement over previous understanding. History shows pretty clearly that heretical developments are more frequent than orthodox ones. But I don’t believe you want to rule out the possibility that some developments are orthodox. Those are the ones that contribute to the growth of the Church’s understanding, and are preserved.

    Thus far, though Rome has added new understandings to various dogmas, it has, weakend the asceticism and worship of the Church to its lowest level in all of history.

    I think we need the bigger picture here. In the millennium or so between the fall of the Western Empire and the Council of Trent, liturgy was frequently awful, superstition was rife, the papacy laid exaggerated claims to temporal authority, and the persecution of heretics and Jews was often violent. Things improved between Trent and Vatican II; since Vatican II, liturgy and ascesis have indeed backslid. In my opinion, Paul VI made serious mistakes in those areas. But there’s no reason to suppose that is permanent, and still less that it has anything to do with doctrinal development.

    …on the notion of Development of Doctrine as a growth into perfection. The evidence is overwhelmingly against such a notion.

    I don’t think Vatican II is saying that the arc of authentic doctrinal development constitutes, or even parallels, improvement in the Church’s life generally. That would indeed be false. All they meant, it seems to me, is that the collective articulation of revealed truth in the Church develops over time, in such a way that God’s Word becomes, objectively speaking, ever more manifest to us. If that were not the case, then mere repetition would suffice to forestall heresies and theology would have nothing to offer beyond ascetical instructions. The history of Orthodoxy alone shows that neither is the case.


  33. Michael Liccione Avatar

    (The other) Stephen:

    The feeling you get when I discuss development and authority is the same feeling I get when Orthodox discuss the particular development known as the filioque and papal authority. In each case, the two issues seem inextricably bound up with each other, so that discussion seems to oscillate back and forth between one topic and the other without any resting point that allows one to get one’s bearings.

    There is a very good reason for that problem. The filioque/papal authority issue is but the most obvious instance of the more general issue of development and authority. One cannot address either pole of the general issue without addressing the other. And no matter how well one does it, one is not going to win any debates or resolve any disagreements by such means. All it does is illuminate the different paradigms, so that one is better positioned to decide which is the more plausible.


  34. Steven Todd Kaster Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I commend you for writing such a wonderful post.

    Now, what I do not like about the Western view of “doctrinal development” is the idea that the Church of today understands the faith better than the Apostles did, or understands it more deeply than those who lived during the first few centuries of the Christian era. The fullness of truth was given and understood fully by the Apostolic Church, and to say otherwise implies some type of ignorance of the truth on the part of the Apostles, which is clearly false. Fr. Florovsky addressed this issue in his treatise entitled “Revelation, Philosophy and Theology,” and I tend to agree with what he had to say on this topic:

    “Dogma is by no means a new Revelation. Dogma is only a witness. The whole meaning of dogmatic definition consists of testifying to unchanging truth, truth which was revealed and has been preserved from the beginning. Thus it is a total misunderstanding to speak of ‘the development of dogma.’ Dogmas do not develop; they are unchanging and inviolable, even in their external aspect — their wording. Least of all is it possible to change dogmatic language or terminology. As strange as it may appear, one can indeed say: dogmas arise, dogmas are established, but they do not develop. And once established, a dogma is perennial and already an immutable ‘rule of faith’ (‘regula fidei;’ o kanon tis pisteos, ο κανων της πιστεως). Dogma is an intuitive truth, not a discursive axiom which is accessible to logical development. The whole meaning of dogma lies in the fact that it is expressed truth. Revelation discloses itself and is received in the silence of faith, in silent vision — this is the first and apophatic step of the knowledge of God. The entire fulness of truth is already contained in this apophatic vision, but truth must be expressed. Man, however, is called not only to be silent but also to speak, to communicate. The silentium mysticum does not exhaust the entire fulness of the religious vocation of man. There is also room for the expression of praise. In her dogmatic confession the Church expresses herself and proclaims the apophatic truth which she preserves. The quest for dogmatic definitions is therefore, above all, a quest for terms. Precisely because of this the doctrinal controversies were a dispute over terms. One had to find accurate and clear words which could describe and express the experience of the Church. One had to express that spiritual Vision’ which presents itself to the believing spirit in experience and contemplation.” [[Fr. Georges Florovsky, “Revelation, Philosophy and Theology,” this article originally appeared as “Offenbarung, Philosophic und Theologie” in Zwischen den Zeiten, Heft 6 (München, 1931). Translated from the German by Richard Haugh]

    Clearly, for a man who holds the Orthodox faith, it is important to remember that the “experience of the Church” is immutable, and so, it does not go through a process of development or growth, because it is in fact an eruption of the uncreated divine energy in the life of the believing community, and the individual believer. It is an experiential reality, and because it is an uncreated encounter with the tri-hypostatic God, it cannot be reduced to a conceptual definition.

    God bless,

  35. Fatherstephen Avatar


    I have to confess that when you quote Fr. Florovsky, you’ve said all that needs to be said. Very solid.

  36. Michael Liccione Avatar

    On the whole, I like what Florovsky says. My only problem would be with the idea, if indeed it is the idea, that dogma is only a matter of terms. It is, to be sure, a matter of terms. But finding the right terms improves expression, which improves communication, which improves such understanding as can be had by means of such communication. And that’s pretty much what authentic DD consists in.

    I must confess, however, that I find the following almost absurd:

    …the “experience of the Church” is immutable, and so, it does not go through a process of development or growth, because it is in fact an eruption of the uncreated divine energy in the life of the believing community, and the individual believer. It is an experiential reality, and because it is an uncreated encounter with the tri-hypostatic God, it cannot be reduced to a conceptual definition.

    The experience of the Church is not immutable. The Church is a temporal entity, whatever else she may rightly be said to be; any experience undergone by a temporal entity is both temporal in itself and entails a change, within that entity, from one state to another. What’s immutable, rather, is that which the relevant sort of experience is experience of: the revelation of, in, and through Jesus Christ. That revelation is passed on to us through that Tradition which hands down the “faith-once-delivered.” But DD is not, and is not presented by the Catholic Church as, a change in divine revelation or the deposit of faith. It is a change in our conceptual assimilation thereof. And DD is authentic when it is a change for the better in the Church as a whole.

    The paragraph quoted above confuses the human experience of divine revelation, which is multi-faceted and temporal, with that unalterable divine action of which it is the experience. We shall, to be sure, “become like God, because we shall see him as he is.” But that does mean we can have something called “an uncreated encounter.” It means that we shall have, and are already having, an encounter with the Uncreated that will enable us to participate in the divine life, and thus make us more like the Uncreated than we are by nature.

  37. Steven Todd Kaster Avatar

    Mike Liccione said: “The paragraph quoted above confuses the human experience of divine revelation, which is multi-faceted and temporal, with that unalterable divine action of which it is the experience. We shall, to be sure, ‘become like God, because we shall see him as he is.’ But that does mean we can have something called ‘an uncreated encounter.’ It means that we shall have, and are already having, an encounter with the Uncreated that will enable us to participate in the divine life, and thus make us more like the Uncreated than we are by nature.”

    There is no confusion at all, because the encounter with God through the reception of His uncreated energies (i.e., theosis), is an uncreated and eternal participation in God’s own life and glory. In other words, each man’s experience of theosis is eternal, because the deifying energy is eternal, and that is why there is no such thing in Eastern theology as “created” grace. Here is what Palamas said in connection with this topic:

    “Do not think that God lets Himself be seen in His superessential essence, but rather according to His deifying gift and according to His energy, according to the grace of adoption, the uncreated deification, the enhypostasized illumination. [. . .] The saints clearly say that this adoption which has become a reality through faith, this deifying gift, is enhypostasized. Barlaam alone considers the principle of deification and the deifying gift to be merely the imitation of God and he affirms that it is not enhypostasized; but this is quite different from the deification which the fathers knew and professed. The divine Maximos says that this deifying power is not only enhypostasized, but also uncreated; that it is not only uncreated, but also beyond the limits of space and time and that those who possess it become thereby uncreated and beyond the limits of space and time, although in their own proper nature they are still creatures who have come from non-being.” [St. Gregory Palamas, “The Triads,” III, I, 29 and 31]

    The experience of God received in the Church, is an eternal and uncreated gift; and so, there can be no development or change in connection with it, and to even posit the idea that there is such a change, is to misunderstand the nature of grace and the gift of theosis.

    Now, with the foregoing information in mind, let me clarify something I said in my original post: when I spoke of doctrine as the “experience of the Church,” I was referring to the gift of theosis (i.e., the experience of the triune God), and not to the temporal experiences of the members of the Church in their mundane daily lives. Certainly, the Church exists in time, but the gift of grace given to the Church is an eruption of eternity into created existence, that is, it involves the vision of the uncreated light of Tabor, which transfigures the Church (and each of her members), so that she enters existentially, but not essentially, into the divine eternity.

    Finally, as I indicated above, there is no “created” grace in the Eastern tradition, because a created reality cannot impart divinity to anyone. Thus, theosis is a real participation, and not merely a virtual one, in the enhypostatic energies of the three divine persons, in which the energies of God become the personalized energies of the redeemed man, and, as Fr. M. Edmund Hussey said in his book on Palamas, it is “Because the energy is transmissible from one person to another, [that] there exists for man the possibility of a personal communion with God that does not confuse natures.” [Fr. M. Edmund Hussey, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Theology of Gregory Palamas,” Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services, 1972, page 42]

    God bless,

  38. Sean Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I hope you shall forgive the lateness of my comments on these early posts, I am just discovering the hidden treasures of your blog.

    Having read the post and some comments, I should say that the most accurate definition of the difference between Catholics and Orthodox regarding the “development” of doctrine I have read, is, absurdly, not by a theologian, but by a lay historian, Sir Steven Runciman. What he says is, roughly, this:

    Due to the inherent nature of eastern and western theology, Eastern Christians tend to see the doctrine in a context of mysticism, in an apophatic way, while Western Christian have a more legalistic aspect, they approach doctrine in a cataphatic way. Thus, for an Orthodox Christian, for the Doctrine to be expounded or ‘developed’ there must be an apologetic reason, ie to protect the doctrine from delusions, heresies, misunderstandings and invalid arbitrations. In the West, however, doctrine is expounded or ‘developed’ in the frame of ‘clarification’ or ‘integration’ in the theological compendium of the Faith.
    In a few words, Orthodox do not see any reason in developing doctrine when their Faith is unassailed. Catholics (and maybe Protestants) feel that it is necessary to develop doctrine so that it always fits the theological context of their Faith in every era in a kind of legalistic way.

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