Sunday, November 25, 2007

Newman on Bible as Authority

I'm not very far into it, but John Henry Cardinal Newman's famous An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine has already given me much to ponder. Consider his discussion on the Bible as infallible authority.

Pardon the long quote, but if you are interested in church authority, it will be worth your time.

"The common sense of mankind... feels that the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one; not a mere abstract declaration of Truths unknown before to man, or a record of history, or the result of an antiquarian research, but a message and a lesson speaking to this man and that. This is shown by the popular notion which has prevailed among us since the Reformation, that the Bible itself is such a guide; and which succeeded in overthrowing the supremacy of Church and Pope, for the very reason that it was a rival authority, not resisting merely, but supplanting it. In proportion, then, as we find, in matter of fact, that the inspired volume is not adapted or intended to subserve that purpose, are we forced to revert to that living and present Guide, who, at the era of our rejection of her, had been so long recognized as the dispenser of Scripture, according to times and circumstances, and the arbiter of all true doctrine and holy practice to her children. We feel a need, and she alone of all things under heaven supplies it. We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian's reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: "How can I, unless some man shall guide me?" The Church undertakes that office; she does what none else can do, and this is the secret of her power...

"The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation given, and other authority there is none but she. A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given. In the words of St. Peter to her Divine Master and Lord, "To whom shall we go?" Nor must it be forgotten in confirmation, that Scripture expressly calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the Truth," and promises her as by covenant that "the Spirit of the Lord that is upon her, and His words which He has put in her mouth shall not depart out of her mouth, nor out of the mouth of her seed, nor out of the mouth of her seed's seed, from henceforth and for ever." [citing 1 Tim. 3:16* and Isa. 59:21] (from Chapter 2, Section II, emphasis added)"

* I believe this should be 1 Tim. 3: 15.

12 comments:

Canadian said...

I think the Orthodox would concur with the gist of this quote except where the word "development" is used. They see themselves as the "living and present guide" but not in Newman's mode.

Newman says:
"The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation given, and other authority there is none but she. A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given."

Newman sees the (Roman) Church as having authority over both "questions" about, and "development" of revelation given. So instead of just holding to and passing on the original revelation, she carries the ability to bring forth new and previously unknown ideas under the banner of development. I think Schaaf might have a similar idea in order to justify Protestantism itself when he says that the Reformation was the greatest act of the Catholic church. The Vincentian canon would not agree with either of these uses of development I wouldn't think. I might be in over my head now...

Principium unitatis said...

The Vincentian canon is not in Scripture. Therefore, if the VC does not allow for development, then the VC is self-refuting.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

Of course, the VC is not itself authoritative dogma and therefore not itself a doctinal development, but a hermeneutical principle attempting to refute the "proof texting" methods of heretics. It's goal was to retain Apostolic doctrine established from the beginning, though a doctrine can be newly explained and expounded. (Incarnation, Trinity)
So in that sense the church "developes" what was believed from the beginning, but but docrine should not mutate into something new under the premise of being developed.

The true tradition is what was "taught by us" or "received from us", Paul says:

2 Thessalonians 2:15
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

Bryan, I'm not sure here, but does Rome believe that she has authority for interpretation and also for innovation (maybe not the right word?!) Or how does that work? Thanks.

Joseph said...

Forgive me all if I am off track, and I don't mean to speak for Bryan, especially if I am wrong, but I think what Bryan may have been conveying in a respectful way is that Canadian might be comparing "apples and oranges". I truly mean no offense at all.

But, the post was about an excerpt of Newman's on the Sacred Scriptures as authority. Canadian's response seems to me as an proposed argument on Tradition and Church teaching as a whole, not the revelation in Scripture.

I'm a little slow, but I think that's what drew Bryan's response that "The Vincentian canon is not in Scripture. Therefore, if the VC does not allow for development, then the VC is self-refuting".

I don't think that this excerpt from Newman is contradictory to St. Vincent. Am I missing something?

Canadian said...

Newman proposes submission to Rome's authority over the revelation.
What he seems to be saying is that the scripture is insufficient to act as a "rival authority" to the church. Fine. But he feels the church has authority over the scripture not just to answer questions of proper interpretation but also to develope the revelation itself. I am not questioning the church's place in interpreting the existing revelation, but I am questioning the extent to which the church can develop that revelation. That is why I brought up the VC , because it is/was used as a guide to restrict the extent of development to the clarification of what had always been agreed on by the whole church. Submission to the ecumenical church's authority is what Vincent is after; submission to Rome's authority is what Newman is after because he believes that she IS the ecumenical church.

Principium unitatis said...

Canadian,

You appealed to the VC as something opposed to Newman's view of development. You wrote: "The Vincentian canon would not agree with either of these uses of development".

But the VC itself is "new and previously unknown", not being in Scripture. So if the VC does not allow development, then the VC rules itself out; it has no authority, and it shouldn't be treated as having any authority. On the other hand, if the VC does allow development, then the VC is not incompatible with what Newman is saying. (From the [Roman] Catholic point of view, the VC is part of the deposit of faith, though not stated explicitly as such in the Scriptures.)

The [Roman] Catholic position is that the deposit of faith was given once and for all. See, for example, #65 and #66, and #84 in the Catholic Catechism. That does not mean that there is no growth in understanding, or in making explicit what is implicit in it.

Newman proposes submission to Rome's authority over the revelation.

Not exactly. The magisterium is authoritative with respect to interpreting and explaining the deposit of faith. That is the point of #85. But that does not mean that the magisterium has greater authority than the Word of God which was entrusted to the Apostles. That is the point of #86.

So there is no innovation in the sense of declaring as dogma something that was not implicit in the deposit of faith. Development of doctrine is always organic (as a living organism grows). In the growth process, it brings out what was implicitly there, and never contradicts what was already there. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, and the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." (St. Matthew 13:31-32)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

Thanks all for this great discussion.

Darrin, you said: “Newman sees the (Roman) Church as having authority over both "questions" about, and "development" of revelation given. So instead of just holding to and passing on the original revelation, she carries the ability to bring forth new and previously unknown ideas under the banner of development… The Vincentian canon would not agree with either of these uses of development I wouldn't think.”

I haven’t kept a blog long enough to get to do this much, but this seems like a good place to note my post on St. Vincent here. I did not discuss the Vincentian canon in that post. I noted his analogy of doctrinal development to the growth to the human body, “which in the course of years develops and unfolds, yet remains the same as it was”. In this way, I think the Vincentian canon would agree with the view that the Catholic church bring forth ‘new ideas’ under the banner of development, but only so far as they are a development and unfolding, so long as they are the same body, the same essence. His fear is a change of essence: “You have received gold; give gold in turn. Do not substitute one thing for another.” Developing an idea or unfolding a truth implicit in the Church’s (closed) public revelation would not be a change in change in essence. It would not be a substitute of one thing for another.

You expressed agreement that doctrines can be newly explained and expounded by the church, and you gave the examples of Incarnation and Trinity. I will do a horrible job if I try to summarize Newman’s work. Perhaps you’ve read it yourself. But my impression is that you might have a narrower view of “explained and expounded” than he would. He used these examples extensively to show that there was doctrinal development early in the church. Actually (and interestingly) he started by describing doctrinal development that occurred in the early church as recorded in Scripture (recalling Paul challenging Peter over a particular doctrinal point). His view was that the development properly unfolded within the Church there and onward. One can’t find a time where the Church’s officers were to stop thinking through the implications of theology.

I too have felt concern over “innovation”. This is hard to talk about in the abstract. With the Doctrine of the Trinity, we all would be inclined, I think, to say that was a permissible development by the Church. From the debates that occurred before, during, and after that doctrine’s articulation in the early ecumenical councils, it is clear to me that the definition was more than a mere re-explanation of a universally known truth. It was a formal development, perhaps innovative in aspects (e.g., using a term like “homoousis” to describe the Godhead). But it was not an essential development (or innovation) – not a change in essence, not a substituting of one thing for another.

Does my form/essence distinction hold water or even make sense? I don’t think it’s even the right language. Bryan used “organic”, and that almost certainly is the right language to use. It fits nicely with Vincent’s description of doctrinal development being like a human body too.

Applying this to the Marian doctrines (which may be where you are going, and is certainly something on my mind as I read through Newman) puts it in plain relief. There is a fair argument either way, I suppose. The Catholic can say that the Marian dogmas, being Christological in nature, were natural developments of doctrine pertaining to Christ’s nature – that he was placed in the sacred Ark of her womb, that His –God’s- blood could not co-mingle with sin-stained blood. Et cetera.

If the test is passed so long as the development is not a substitution of a "truth's" essence, then who judges whether the test is met in the case of the Trinity or Baptism or Right Worship or Mary?

These are hard matters.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Canadian said...

Development may very well be organic--growth of something complex out of a genetic blueprint contained in an original seed. However, if the original seed (to use a poor analogy) is actually a tare that blew into the field some time later from Hell's half acre next door, the fact that one of the farmers can trace the new plant (doctrine) to a seed in the field is irrelevant. So if the farmers get together and compare the seeds that come from the new plant with the seeds they all planted together from the beginning, they see that the new plant was not seeded during the original planting, but grew up in the field sometime later. So four out of five farmers call the new plant a weed while the other nurtures what has developed from a seed known only to himself.
(Did I just write that wierd analogy?)

Canadian said...

Bryan,
You said:
" So if the VC does not allow development, then the VC rules itself out; it has no authority"

The Vincentian canon is not an authority at all. It is simply a signpost reminding sojourners who the authority is....the worldwide, apostolic, ecumenical church.

Principium unitatis said...

Darrin,

If the VC has no authority, then it can be ignored. If it has no authority, then it has no more authority than, say, the gnostic gospels, or, say, the opinion of any random person who calls into a radio talk show. It is only because signposts are authoritative (to the degree that they are) that they should not be ignored.

As for "So four out of five farmers call the new plant a weed", something similar could have been said about Nicean orthodoxy in the fourth century. The Arians were the majority for a while. There is no principle that says that orthodoxy is determined by majority vote. If there were such a principle, then the number of Catholics (1.1 billion) would ipso facto falsify Orthodoxy, whose adherents number about 225 million.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

Bryan,
Thanks for your response.
In the next chapters, St.Vincent adresses the very issue you raise regarding Arianism. He says;

"What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty."

He continues;

"So also when the Arian poison had infected not an insignificant portion of the Church but almost the whole world, so that a sort of blindness had fallen upon almost all the bishops of the Latin tongue, circumvented partly by force partly by fraud, and was preventing them from seeing what was most expedient to be done in the midst of so much confusion, then whoever was a true lover and worshipper of Christ, preferring the ancient belief to the novel misbelief, escaped the pestilent infection."

That is what I mean about the canon not having authority (I guess in an infallible way) because a part of the "everywhere, always, and by all" may not be present at a given time. When the "everywhere, and by all" was missing, the "always" or as he says "ancient belief" will provide the correction.
I really appreciate your interaction on this stuff as I learn.
Darrin

Principium unitatis said...

Darrin,

What Newman says about Scripture needing an authoritative interpreter applies no less to the VC itself. Whose determination of what was believed "everywhere", "always", and "by all" is authoritative? Whose determination of who gets numbered among the "all" in the "by all" is authoritative? The VC does not circumvent the authority question; it merely pushes it back a step.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan