Devopment of Doctrine East and West
Update. In deference to my Orthodox readers, whom I greatly respect and whose good wishes I earnestly seek, I have changed my characterization of Fr. Reardon's position. My initial description was written in haste and with insufficient sensitivity. Thanks to reader Rob Grano for bringing this matter to my attention.There's an interesting and important post up at Dr. Mike Liccione's Sacramentum Vitae. Mike quotes from an essay by Fr. Patrick Reardon, editor of Touchstone (a very nice journal, by the way), in which the bizarre views of Dan Brown (of The DaVinci Code fame, for those who have already forgotten him, now that his 15 minutes are over) are replaced by views about doctrinal stasis within Christianity that I have trouble making any sense of. As something of a fan of Blessed John Henry Newman I am, of course, somewhat biased in my affection for his views about the development of doctrine, but even if I had never heard of Newman the scholar in me would find it wildly implausible that Ecumenical Councils really do nothing at all other than to say out loud what everybody has always been thinking.
In fact, the Church has always been marked by internal disputes over praxis and belief, starting with the Council of Jerusalem. The kind of unity imagined by Fr. Reardon has never existed, and re-describing teachings on the Trinity as nothing more than condemnations of heretics will not make the disputes go away.
As Aristotle was fond of remarking, however, there is often a grain of truth even in a false opinion, or, as Aristotle preferred to put it (perhaps more diplomatically), Fr. Reardon is in one sense right, but in another sense he is not right. Clearly he is at least partly right in this, for example:
It is important to observe that the use of the word homoousios did not “clarify” anything about God. It added no new light or intelligibility to what was already revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The purpose of dogmatic definitions is not to throw further light on what is, after all, the fullness of revealed truth. The purpose of dogmatic definitions is, rather, to confound heretics. Dogma serves to “focus” revelation in the sense of declaring what is “not in line” with revelation. Of itself, however, a dogma adds nothing new. Hence, it is wrong to imagine that Nicaea’s declaration clarified revealed truth. It did not. Nicaea told us absolutely nothing beyond what the Apostles had declared. Indeed, the Nicene Fathers went to some lengths to insist on this point.This is just a statement of what I have called the Principle of Non-ampliative Inference. But he is clearly wrong if he thinks that all of this adds up to a proof that doctrine itself does not develop over time in any sense. The Greek term, homoousios, is all that one need point at to prove him wrong: the word is a coinage of the Church, a word invented for precisely the reason that Fr. Reardon says it cannot serve, to clarify what it means to say that the Father and the Son are co-eternal. The only way in which any sensible metaphysical scheme could make sense of such a remark would be if the two things, Father and Son, have the same essential nature, the same ousia, in Greek. To speak in terms of properties such as co-eternality, or divine filiation, or what have you, is one thing; to speak in terms of ousia is quite clearly something else, although, as Fr. Reardon is right to say, non-ampliative. It is not something new or different from what had always been believed, but it adds a nuance that was not present before--it is a development of the doctrine. Sometimes one gets the impression that writers such as Fr. Reardon would not understand the claim that there is a real difference in meaning between the expressions "the morning star" and "the evening star"--one begins to imagine them saying things like "But both expressions refer to the same thing! They don't say anything different at all!"
And so it goes. Mike does a nice job of pointing out the difficulties with the anti-doctrinal-development position.