Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Development of Doctrine

There was recently some very interesting discussion of doctrinal development at several blogs that I wanted to say something about, but lacked the time to do so. And it took quite a bit of effort to get this post out, as it turns out; Blogger was killing me, since it kept doing weird things when I had time to work on it. However, I've finally got it out. The discussion deserves at least to be skimmed in full, so the course of the discussion seemed to be:

1. Doctrine and the Deposit of Faith at "An Examined Life"

2. And the Son at "An Examined Life"

3. Ampliative and Clarificatory Inference at "Sacramentum Vitae"

4. That homoousious again at "Sacramentum Vitae"

5. Development of Doctrine East and West at "An Examined Life"

6. Further Notes on Ampliative and Non-Ampliative Inference at "An Examined Life"

7. Ampliative Development of Doctrine at "Sacramentum Vitae"

8. Again with non-ampliative inference at "An Examined Life"

9. Sola Deduction at "Zippy Catholic"

10. Ampliative Development of Doctrine II at "Sacramentum Vitae"

11. Just what is the principle of the development of doctrine, anyway? at "An Examined Life"

12. Carson and Liccione Argue the Development of Doctrine at "Pontifications"

13. Back to the (for me) source at "An Examined Life"

14. It Isn't a Shotgun at "Zippy Catholic"

15. Not Just an Empty Suit at "Zippy Catholic"

My comments fall into three parts.

I. The first comment I want to make is that it's perhaps not so clear what the discussants mean by 'doctrine' when they talk about 'development of doctrine'. A doctrine, after all, is just something taught; but necessarily there are different modes or levels of things taught, differentiated by how they are taught, and what the properties of the teaching are. For instance, a doctrine like the Chalcedonian definition is rather different from a doctrine like the limbo of children, and necessarily so; they are both things taught, but what is being done in teaching them is radically different. I think any discussion of development of doctrine has to make very clear what sort of doctrines are being discussed; althought I think everyone above knows what's being discussed, some of the comments suggest that others might be finding it a bit more fuzzy. I can think of four things offhand that legitimately can be called development of doctrine, and what you can say about the subject depends crucially on which one you chiefly have in mind.There is no reason to think that the sort of development involved will be the same in each of these different cases; indeed, there is good reason to think that it will not be so.

1. Articulation of the Faith. Both Liccione and Carson give examples -- homoousios at Nicea, Filioque, Immaculate Conception -- that at least suggest that they have in mind the articulation of the faith into 'joints' (the metaphor whence we get the term 'article' in 'article of faith') of dogma. However, articulation of the faith is a very peculiar process, in the sense that it is both extremely unusual and quite unique. It is not the usual process by which the Church teaches anything. What gives it its importance is that the result of articulation is, as it were, the core, the key, the fundamental doctrines that we share in virtue of our common faith. There is no articulation without dogmatic definition; dogmatic definition is purely a matter of authority in teaching. Moreover, as Thomas Aquinas (and many others) have noted, articulation is defensive, in the sense that it has to be provoked. The faith is inexhaustible in its potential ramifications and commonly recognized to be so; so articulation of it only occurs in response to controversy. Strictly speaking, of course, it need not be a direct response to controversy -- the articulation can in principle happen after any of the relevant controversy has happily been resolved, and perhaps there are a few cases where this is arguably what happened. But the controversy has to be there. What makes a listing of the articles of the faith, such as the full Nicene Creed, adequate is not that it conveys everything in our common faith, but that it covers all the broad categories under which further articulation might occur. Further controversy might provoke further articulation as, for instance, it certainly did at Chalcedon or III Constantinople.

If the dispute is about articulation, however, it's hard to see how the discussion could have taken the turn it did. Early in the discussion, Michael noted:

I happily grant, as indeed I must grant, that the (true) assertion that the Son is homoousios with the Father added nothing to what had been revealed to the Apostles. That is not at issue. The question is whether the formula amplified the Church's collective understanding of what had been revealed to the Apostles. Of course it did. It does not merely tell us what is "not in line with revelation"; it gives a more formal, and thus clearer, meaning to what was always materially the faith of the Church. That is precisely what made it useful in defense of orthodoxy. It is not merely apophatic, either syntactically or semantically. It would have been neither necessary nor useful if it had been so intended.


While I don't know that he would agree with every aspect of how this is formulated, I find it difficult to imagine that Scott would disagree with the substance of this; the sense of 'amplification' here need not be taken to say anything about the Principle of Non-Ampliation, because saying that the formula amplified the Church's collective understanding of what had been revealed is just to say that the formula was a development, and no one in the discussion disagrees, I think, about this. But speaking about articulation of the faith as such, which is what the conciliar affirmation of homoousios certainly is, there doesn't seem much more that can be said from the perspective of development of doctrine than what is said in the above passage. At least, if the dispute were about articulation, one would expect it to focus in on dogmatic authority and infallibility.

2. Explication of the Articles. So perhaps the later discussion has not so much to do with articulation as itself a way in which the Church teaches as it does with the further teaching of what is articulated. Articulation is in its own way one of the ways the Church teaches; but, having articulated, the Church must then further unfold what has been articulated. And a great deal of the discussion suggests this; synonyms and circumlocutions for unfolding, for instance, keep coming up. This process of explication is messier and less clear-cut than articulation itself is; it often follows from articulation, it often leads up to articulation, and so it is intimately connected to it. In explication we take what we have and carefully reason out what conclusions we should draw from this. I take it that the dispute over induction vs. deduction, or ampliative vs. non-ampliative inferences, which we see in the late part of the discussion is about precisely what is being done when we are reasoning out what conclusions we should draw from the faith as it has been articulated to this point.

So I'm fairly certain that this is what is being debated; the comments late in the discussion about 'de fide propositions' make it virtually certain. But I do want to mention very briefly two other forms of development of doctrine, because I think they hover in the wings in discussions like these; and they are like the poles in pole chess: they sometimes jump in unexpectedly and confuse everybody. So it's good at least to note them in order not to be baffled by them if they show up suddenly.

3. Progress of Elucidation. It is often forgotten, I think, that much of Christian doctrine is not rigorously authoritative; but it is nonetheless taught as being valuable for understanding the articles and their explications. It's not quite the case that things that are proposed in the process of elucidation are not authoritative, or are not essential to the faith. They sometimes can be; but we are talking about the process or development here, and the point is that there is nothing in the process of elucidation that requires that it be so (unlike articulation or explication). Something developed through elucidation might unintentionally turn out to be equivalent to something already articulated, or to some explication of it; it's just that elucidation is neither articulation nor explication but something auxiliary to both. The point is that when the Church teaches, say, the Trinity, it does not merely lay out the articles on the Trinity and carefully show what conclusions can be drawn from them. It pours out a torrent of analogies, icons, metaphors, neologisms, approximations, practices, and the like, because its teaching does not merely involve laying out the faith but also bringing people to an understanding of it that illuminates their lives. These things develop through time, as any teaching for this end would in the hands of even a merely adequate teacher. It's unfortunate that this aspect of Christian doctrine is so neglected merely because the process itself doesn't carry compelling authority; for much of what is very powerful about what the Church teaches -- much of its beauty, much of its positive presence in the world -- has been discovered by Christians struggling not to articulate the faith, not to explicate the faith, but to elucidate it.

4. Plausible and Pious Speculation. A fourth important thing that can be considered development of doctrine is the growth of plausible & pious speculation. An example is the ongoing dispute over Molinist accounts of providence. Most of this are easily distinguished precisely because they are disputed; but the process can't be dismissed out of hand. For instance, Catholics regularly recognize a case in which plausible and pious speculation turned out to lead, perhaps a bit unexpectedly, to an articulation -- namely, Scotus's speculations about instants of redemption, which opened the way for the eventual definition of the Immaculate Conception. Other examples can be found. It's also important because people are often willing to concede a development as a plausible and pious speculation (whether they agree with it or not) but not as an explication of the faith.

II. While the dispute has been framed in terms of the nature of development, it seems to me that this is not quite the right way to frame it. After all, the nature of the development is purely historical, and to discover it you simply look at how the doctrines did, in fact, develop it. Rather, what the discussion has been looking at is the nature of anticipation or intimation in development of doctrine. To see what I mean, let's go back to basics for a moment and think about development of ideas.

We are taking a historical view of the matter, so the most general feature of what we are discussing is that it has a before and an after, a prior moment and a posterior one. The mere transition from before to after is not, however, enough to characterize development; it constitutes a mere difference. What we are interested in is change, and to have change you need not merely a difference between before and after but something connecting the two, so that you can say, "This before is relevant to this after." Think of a sudden shifting of scenes in a movie. Within the movie this is a mere difference: first we're over here, then we're over there. If this were all that were involved, there would be nothing to make one relevant to the other; it would be somewhat as if we shifted from a scene in one movie suddenly to a scene in another movie. The two have no real connection, and thus the difference between the two would not be a change (within the movies). However, in fact, a change of scenes within a movie is a genuine change because the scenes have a commonality make them parts of one changing thing: that is, they are both scenes within one movie, so the change from one to another has intelligibility as a single change in which before and after are relevant to each other.

So we are thinking not just of differences between before and after, but of differences involving relevances, i.e., changes. But even this is not specific enough. We are talking about developments, and what distinguishes a development from other changes is that what we have before internally anticipates or intimates what we have after. The change is not imposed from without, and the relevance between before and after is not merely a common substrate. A stump and a chair hacked out of it are relevant to each other as the termini of a single change, a before and after that shares a common substrate (the wood). But we do not say that the chair developed out of the stump, because the stump does not internally anticipate or intimate the chair that came from it. This differs from, say, the relevance linking an acorn to an oak tree; the acorn really does internally anticipate or intimate the oak tree that comes from it, despite the rather heavy differences in what Newman calls their 'external images'. Even if the chair looks roughly like the stump, and even though an oak at first glance looks nothing like an acorn, there is a sense in which the connection between the acorn and the full-grown oak is more intimate than that between the stump and the chair, because the acorn intimates, anticipates, within itself what it will become, whereas the stump does not. This link of relevance between the before and the after in a case of development I will call, for lack of a better term, intimacy.

However, even intimacy is not enough to make a development in the strict sense, because there is another form of change involving intimacy (that therefore is development in a broad sense of the term) that is not development in the strict sense. This is deterioration, or decay, or corruption. In deterioration or decay, the before internally anticipates the after; but the change is not progressive. It is, so to speak, the development of the dying rather than the development of the living.

It is noteworthy that virtually the whole of Newman's discussion in An Essay on the Development of Doctrine is devoted to this distinction between development and deterioration. The reason is not hard to find; Newman is not so much interested in development of doctrine for its own sake, as for the light it sheds on an important question: Why is it important and worthwhile to consider the history of the Church from its origin to the present time in order to clarify current matters of dispute? Or, to put it more crudely but more vividly: Why does it really matter what the Church Fathers taught about, say, the Trinity? The answer to the general question is the development of doctrine, and the importance of the Church Fathers (or the scholastics, or Church teachings since the time of the apostles) lies in the difference between progressive development and other kinds of change. It is for this reason that Newman denotes so much time and space to the seven notes of development: they provide "tests" or signs (albeit "of varying cogency, independence, and application") that help us decided when something is development or decay. (It is also why it doesn't matter to Newman's discussion which development of doctrine we have in mind.)

The discussion here, however, seems to me to be very different; the focus is on the nature of the intimacy between the beginning and the end of legitimate development, or, to put it in other terms, the question is: given that B is the result of A, what constraints on A's anticipation of B make A's growth into B a development rather than a deterioration of some sort.

III. Michael's basic idea is that the process of understanding divine revelation recapitulates (in at least a general way) the unfolding of divine revelation. The unfolding of divine revelation, however, is ampliative -- new revelation does not merely clarify or work out the implications of the previous content, it (also) adds new content. His standing example is the way in which Isaiah's prophecy about an almah, became understood as about a parthenos, and this as suggesting a virgin birth. However, Scott has argued that the unfolding can't be ampliative: nothing can be contained in the conclusions that is not contained in the premises collectively. He argues that the Isaiah 7:14 example shows not an inference at all but an interpretation; and interpretation is common to ampliative and non-ampliative inferences alike.

I'd like to get two superficial difficulties out of the way, and point to a lacuna in each account that makes it more puzzling than it need be; and then say why I think neither can be quite right.

The chief superficial difficulty of Michael's position, and a point at which I think many people will balk, is that it seems to require something like prophecy in the development of doctrine: and this seems to come very close to claiming that something radically different from development is actually going on, because it becomes unclear how we can have anticipation or intimation of something entirely new. It allows progress, but the change admitted seems too strong for intimacy. This is not, I think, insurmountable. To return to the Isaiah 7:14 example, this is clearly a development, and clearly involves internal anticipation, although it is tricky to say how it actually works. Just as the oak doesn't have to be a mechanical unfolding of an acorn, so the end result can be clearly different from the beginning while still preserving intimacy. But, again, this is a matter that is very tricky to elucidate; it can't just be any change that works this way.

The chief superficial difficulty of Scott's position, and the point at which many people seem to be balking, is in some ways the reverse. It seems to make the change too weak: 'development of doctrine' just turns out to be saying things you've already said. Again, it seems very close to being a claim that something radically different from development is going on, because it becomes unclear how you can have not just intimacy but progress. I think, again, that this is not insurmountable. Take a fairly clear case of the sort of domain in which conclusions are only accepted as authoritative if they follow by rigorous deduction, mathematics. It's clear that mathematics develops -- sometimes in extremely surprising ways. After all, mathematics in this sense is not a formal system but a study and a discipline pertaining to formal systems; and likewise Scott is not committed to saying that Magisterium could be replaced by a computer; since teaching and the authority to teach are not formal systems even if what is taught is. What seems tricky here is how we explicate by deduction premises whose precise nature we (at least apparently) can only determine by explication.

Where I think a problem arises with both accounts is that they both end up talking about development of doctrine as if it were an inference. Clearly it is not; development of doctrine is a dialogue involving many different people, and what is more, it is an extremely complicated dialogue involving hundreds of thousands of inferences of many different kinds relating to each other in many different ways. This is not a trivial point; you can have both ampliative and non-ampliative inferences reaching the same conclusion, for the obvious reason that whether the inferences in question are ampliative or non-ampliative has nothing to do with the conclusions reached but only with the principles with which you started, which may be different in different contexts in which the conclusion in question is important. So the intimacy involved in actual development of doctrine can't simply be one or the other, but must be characterized in a different way; it must be as much richer than inference as the reasoning of a wild, living intellect is richer than paper logic.

Of course, what is tricky here is how we should characterize it if we are not going to characterize it inferentially. I hope to say more about my (somewhat embryonic) ideas about that in some future post.

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