Monday, September 29, 2008

Heretical Doctrines Do Not Develop

There is something to be said of the uniqueness of the Catholic Church in light of doctrinal development and the fact that it couldn't really be any other way.

The necessity of Doctrinal Development (hereafter known as DD) is made evident in the fact that errors cannot be built upon just as one cannot build a second story when the first already lay on a faulty foundation. When the heretics appear to progress in their doctrine, (and they often call themselves "progressive"), they are not in fact developing their doctrine; they are trading old errors for new ones. No heretical or erroneous doctrine can be seen to have developed in an organically successive manner. True DD is manifest when tradition is maintained, not abandoned and since those in error do not retain even their doctrines of yesterday (much less their starting point), they cannot be true developments.

Why then, since DD has occurred for 2,000 years (actually much longer), is the Catholic Church (if we say she alone is privy to it) not demonstrably superior to the alternatives? Or put another way, since Catholic "truth" has developed over thousands of years, how is it that an undeveloped error may seem even remotely reasonable while laid at its side? I answer in two ways:

1. The errors only have the flavor of novelty & smell as if they originate with man. In fact, they have been around from the beginning (Cain's argument is identical with a modern liberal's) and all errors originate with the father of lies in one way or another and are therefore (usually) quite clever. In summary, the errors (at least the most deceptive), while having such appearance, are at their root neither new nor find their origin in worldliness but in other-worldliness... "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood". It was not a man made lie that deceived Eve and the lie has long lost the right to be called novel.

2. There is only one truth while there are an infinite number of errors; ergo "we believe in one holy Catholic & apostolic Church". No outside group has maintained a particular error while developing it along its organic path. As soon as their error is exposed and defeated, they adopt another. Therefore, "as a dog returns to his vomit" the enemies will repeat errors which the truth has long since put asunder. So it seems the truth (the Church) is under attack from all angles all the time. This is true... all the more reason to recognize that she is the true Church. The errors have only their animosity towards truth as their common ground.

Error cannot be developed for long; only what is fully true may progress indefinitely. The truth will never run into a brick wall nor argue itself into a circle. The truth sails straight forward on an endless sea while error sails in circles close to the shore or makes a sharp left or right and immediately runs aground.

Error by its nature cannot develop (at least not indefinitely). All who have fallen victim to errors stop the development of their beliefs before they accomplish the irreparable damage they aim for. Calvin has to stop short of calling us robots, Luther has to stop short of calling post-baptismal sin meaningless, and modern liberals need to stop short of saying murder of any kind is a matter of free choice.

Reformers in general try to stop short of solo scriptura but if you challenge them on Tradition they will revert to that error. This also illustrates my point about the arbitrary switching between errors. If I told a Reformed Protestant "you don't believe in Church authority, you believe in Scripture alone" he'd say "I believe in sola Scriptura not solo Scriptura" but if I had said to the same Protestant "you deny the clear Tradition of the sacrificial nature of Christian worship" he'd say "we don't find that in the New Testament". Do you see how he trades one error for another depending on which suits his immediate need the best? Bryan Cross does.

But the point is that Catholics didn't need to stop short of calling Mary the "mother of God" nor did we need to stop short of saying she was immaculately conceived or that contraception is intrinsically evil. Right or wrong, there is a uniqueness about the Catholic insistence on development. If wrong, how is it that this doctrinal system has continuosly developed for so long without destroying itself?

Yes, there is something to be said of the uniqueness of the Catholic Church in this regard and in a host of others.


Rene'e said...

I so wish others could see what we see. To be able to look beyond the words and sins of men throughout history and truly see the Church that stands visible before them. The Holy Church, which Jesus himself gave us and the healing, saving, graces that she contains. To know the Spirit that guides her always to truth and each of us closer to God,and prays for all of those who are separated from her.

Our Beautiful Catholic Church.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I like that - "Our beautiful Catholic Church". Who else could be so beautiful except God's own bride?

Gretchen said...

you are absolutely right--heresy doesn't develop. That cleanly cuts its head off right at the start!

Kepha said...

Right or wrong, there is a uniqueness about the Catholic insistence on development. If wrong, how is it that this doctrinal system has continuosly developed for so long without destroying itself?

If Orthodoxy is wrong, how does it continue to survive without the papal claims, the marian dogmas, Treasury of Merit and Indulgences, and Purgatory? [Warning: you should not blur their beliefs, e.g., prayers for the dead, in order to support Catholicism, because they hate it when Catholics do this.]

After all my discussing and reading on it, you are right certaily about Catholic development being unique.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kepha, that's a great question. First, there is certainly a sense in which the Orthodox are not "wrong" per se. When Orthodox Churches come back into full communion, there is relatively very little they need to do or change (whether they hate to admit such or not). Their liturgy remains the same, their mode of approaching the sacraments, their methods of theology - even the original Nicene Creed remains without the Filioque. What they see as incompatible, Rome often does not.

So, the Orthodox have Christianity "right" and they are right insofar as they hold to what was delivered to them by the apostles. But they have not participated in the last 1,000 years of dogma and development.

I think the uniqueness of Catholicism here is that she goes on developing with or without the East but the East cannot do so without Rome. They have no new dogmas since the schism but we do.

So this is all to say that I don't properly consider Orthodoxy an "error" but do consider it under some level of divine protection just not completely. Compare 1,000 years since the schism with 500 years since the Reformation. Orthodoxy is far and above any Protestant branch of Christianity in terms of maintaining their doctrine (although in the last century it seems that is being strongly tested).

Phil Snider said...

I don't know, Tim. I'm just not with you on this one, mostly on historical grounds. It simply is false to say that heresies don't develop, especially if you're going to lump Protestants into the mix. A careful look at historical theology in the various Protestant groups will reveal development in doctrine, even if you think that it is error on error.

Really, you created a bit of a straw man by basically defining away any progress in doctrines by identifying anything that looks like development as trading old errors for new ones. Is there a surprise that you got the answer you expected?

Really, you must look at MacIntyre because I think his ideas about the nature of intellectual traditions would be helpful here. If we accept a tradition as being a coherent set of beliefs and teachings, it does make sense to talk about various Protestant traditions and still think that they are untrue traditions. However, the virtue of this concept is that it doesn't deny historically demonstrable development and still think these traditions are heretical and wrong.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, you say the same thing about every one of my posts. :)

I gotta think I've gotten at least one of these things right over the last couple years.

Rene'e said...

I read a post of Scott Hahn's, he said :

"Likewise, in looking at Matthew 16 and the unconditional guarantee that Jesus gives to Peter, the recipient of the keys, the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church which is built upon the Rock. The gates of Hades will not prevail against Peter and his successors. Well, the gates of Hades derive their power from error, from untruth, from falsehood, the father of lies. If one lie is allowed into the Church's pure, sacred teaching, that's like taking a window pane and putting one crack into it. I'll tell you what happens. I was driving down a highway in Milwaukee and a little pebble bounced up and just touched the windshield, a little crack. What happened? Over the next few months, my wife will tell you, that crack grew and grew, and we had to replace it because the whole thing could have been shattered."

Rene'e said...

Oops...I forgot to post the link.

Phil Snider said...

Yeah, I kinda do that on your site. The reason for it is that I think your instincts are generally good (even if I disagree sometimes), but my cunning plan (and teacherly instincts) is to push you to tighten up your arguments better to make your case as strong as possible. I can stop, of course, but the intent is to be helpful.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil - Yea I see. But let's suppose I take your advice and tidy up my arguments. Let's say your plan is wildly successful and I start making better and better arguments. Then I might be endanger of convincing you to become Catholic!

Or it could be that I'm wrong altogether about Catholicism. In which case, I'd think it would be best for me to stop arguing for Catholicism rather than making better arguments for her. I mean, R.C. Sproul could probably make a better argument for Protestantism than the average fundamentalist Baptist but they're both equally wrong and I wouldn't recommend the fundamentalist improve his ability to defend Protestantism because I think it's false regardless of how skilled one is at defending it.

So I'm not sure why you want me to get better at defending Catholicism.

I disagree that I've created a straw man though because I don't think I've represented or tried to represent anyone else's beliefs here. And I don't mean to say heresies don't develop at all... I used the illustration about the ships should show this - it isn't that the heretical ships don't move at all, they do move but not for very long. They either run aground or run in circles. Only the truth can sail straight and without stopping.

And Phil, don't misunderstand me - I always look forward to reading your comments.

Phil Snider said...

What is a debating opponent for, but to force us to improve our ability to argue well. If nothing else, it pushes me to get better.

That said, your teasing about whether I should want you to improve is predicated on an assumption that I think you can argue people into a denomination. I honestly don't think anyone can, so I'm not exactly worried. It matters more where God wants me to be. I'm really not inclined to give any apologetics, much less inter-denominatino apologetics that much power.

Really, all I'm asking you to be is a good Catholic, so, yes, I'm going to keep pushing you.