This week's extracts from Newman will be from his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine which was published in 1845. He began it whilst still an Anglican, and by the time it was published, he was a Catholic. We have run extracts from this volume before, most notably back in October, but in the light of the discussions taking place before the Synod on the Family reconvenes in the autumn, it is worth taking another look at Newman's argument. Before doing so for the rest of the week, a short preface might be in order.
The notion of the developing understanding of doctrine has been a gift to those in the Church who wish to adapt its teachings to the spirit of the age; it has become a vade mecum for everyone who wishes to 'update' Catholic teaching. Newman would not have been amused, one suspects. As an historian of the Arian controversy, he was well-acquainted with those who argued that their understanding of Scripture allowed them, through proof-texting, to show in which direction the Church should go - and he was equally well-acquainted with the arguments against this. It is precisely because the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ, and thus guided by the Spirit, that it possesses a Magisterium which is able to discern whether a 'development' is, or is not, authentic and part of the Apostolic deposit of faith.
St Augustine once wrote that he believed in Holy Scripture because of the authority of the Church; this is worth our dwelling upon for a moment. All of Scripture is, of course, God-breathed and fit for instruction; but Scripture does not identify itself for us. There is nowhere a list of what books should and should not be included in the canon. The early Church itself included books which we no longer count as canonical, but it came to the view that edifying though Clement's letter was, it was not part of the Apostolic deposit; it came to the same conclusion about the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. In this process of discernment we believe the Church to have been guided by the Holy Spirit; that being the case, it is reasonable to suppose that the same Spirit guides the Church in its reading. In so doing it uses the crooked timber from which God alone can build straight. In his study of the Arians, Newman shows how the pride and stubbornness of Arius was instrumental in wrecking his own cause, whilst the persistence of St Athanasius and his writings, helped to guide the Church to a Christology grounded in the truths of Scripture. Thus it was, is, and will be until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Men will reflect upon Scripture in prayer, and they will bring to that their own experiences, and it has often been the case that, seeing as through a glass darkly, they will mistake their own views for the direction in which the Spirit is guiding the Church. It was the desire to know as much as God which corrupted our first parents, and it persists in ourselves and in every generation. Mankind is proud, and seldom more stubborn than when, in some deep and secret place, it knows it is speaking against the Divine will. The Devil not only has the best tunes, he lends his eloquence to those who would subvert the Divine will. The notion that vox populi is vox Dei, is not one which, unqualified, the Church has adopted. Its Magisterium exists to sift the wheat of sound development from the chaff of the false. In this short series, we shall be examining the seven signs which Newman thought were those of genuine development.