A quick follow up to yesterday’s post

In the course of the discussion about the development of doctrine, one can often be tempted to fall off the horse in the right side, climb back up, and then fall off the horse on the left. So in reaction to the Reactionary demand that we all return to the antisemitic canons of the Lateran Council and its bad prudential decisions about what to do about theological differences between Jews and Christians, it was almost inevitable that somebody would make the opposite mistake of tossing out, not just bad prudential judgments but permanent doctrinal developments too.

Accordingly, one reader remarked:

I think of it this way: no pope can tie the hands of his successors. I say that based on Jesus telling Peter (and his successors “Whatever you bind… Whatever you loose”. There have been those who have told me that only applies to sin

    I don’t buy that. No successor of Peter will ever be free to ignore Peter’s decree that the gospel is open to the Gentiles and that they are not bound by the ceremonial laws of Moses if they seek to be Christian. Nor can any future Pope ever say, “On second thought, Jesus is not the second person of the Trinity and did not rise from the dead”. There are real steps forward made in the development of doctrine that bind the Church for all time. But when it comes to prudential judgements about how to apply the tradition (and how to understand its subtleties) there is enormous freedom from one period in history to the next. That is what we are dealing with in the present hour. Spouting popinjays who want to make eternally binding lousy judgment calls from a millennium ago about the need to make Jews wear yellow stars or not go out in public during Holy Week have no idea what they are talking about and suffer from severe Dunning-Kruger Syndrome.

    My reader continued:

    The pope as I understand it is protected by the Holy Spirit to not teach error when it comes to core dogma. And those spouting popinjays is exactly what I’m talking about too. I think those teachings beyond the Apostolic era are what Jesus was referring too. It seems that if the church can’t change what previous popes after Peter decreed it’s like painting herself into a corner ever shrinking with paint that doesn’t dry.

    I disagree. The Church’s understanding deepens. There is no basis that I can see for declaring that the doctrine can only develop in the apostolic age and never after. Given that the Nicene Creed is three centuries after the apostles and is a crucial development, I see no way to buy that claim. Another, much more recent example is that the first time the Church definitively defined that slavery is gravely and intrinsically immoral was in 1965. That’s not painting the Church into a corner. It is making a definitive step forward in its grasp of the dignity of the human person. That is what all genuine doctrinal development does.

    A way to think about is to compare such development to other areas in which human understanding of reality has deepened. There was a time when the sphericity of the Earth was an open question. But eventually the day came when our species worked out that the Earth was a giant ball. That did not limit human understanding or paint us into a corner. It liberated us to think about and explore new possibilities, such as going to the moon. In the same way, the dogmatic developments of the Church’s doctrine allow us to explore reality in even deeper ways.


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