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ON THE PRINCIPLE OF THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS.
It can hardly be doubted, that one of the most important theological questions of the day, on which many of our detailed controversies will be found to hinge, and into which they must ultimately be re solved, is that of developments in Christian belief. From failing to recognise this great law of revealed as of scientific truth, thousands are prejudiced against dogmatic Christianity altogether, while others hold it with but a feeble and uncertain grasp. Nor can we look with any confidence for the return to unity of separated religious bodies, while some rigidly adhere to the principle of a lifeless and unfruitful tradition, and others insist on an exclusive appeal to the bare letter of Scripture. This question will accordingly be found, if I mistake not, to lie at the root of half our religious disputes, and some understanding upon it is an indispensable preliminary for their appreciation or adjustment.
There is of course a broad line to be drawn between matters of faith, and of theological opinion, between what is put before us as a portion of the revealed deposit, and what may be reasonably, or probably, or piously believed as an inference from it. But there are also theological inferences, which come to be so clearly ascertained in the course of ages, that they are at length fixed by authoritative decisions, and accepted as part of the original revelation, which, though not explicitly contained in the words of Apostles and Evangelists, is felt to be involved in the general scope of their teaching, and to supply the right key for its harmonious interpretation.
It is natural, then, to prefix to a work occupied with tracing the history of a particular doctrine some observations on this principle of growth and development in Catholic theology, though all that can be attempted within our present limits is to sketch out roughly some main outlines of thought on the subject. And as the method of the Treatise is not controversial but historical, so will it be my aim in this Introductory Essay to speak as little controversially as the subject admits. A statement of principles cannot be made too clear, but it is never less persuasive than when thrown into a polemical shape. Most earnestly would I desire to take for my motto in all that I may say that noble maxim of Christian antiquity, which, if not verbally stated in the works of St. Augustine, has ever been held to express the mind of that great Saint and Teacher in the Church of God; In necessariis unitas, in dubiis litberas, in omnibus caritas.
The development of doctrine, it can hardly be needful to observe, does not mean that there is a constant succession of fresh revelations in the Church to supplement or to supersede the revelations of Christmas and Pentecost. Still less does it mean, as others have objected, that Christian doctrine receives, as time goes on, a series of fresh accessions, from the admixture or fusion of heterogeneous elements. Let me illustrate my meaning by an example. Supposing, as has sometimes been maintained, that the invocation of Saints had originally sprung from a gradual adoption of polytheistic practices, as the converted heathen began to multiply and dominate in the Church, instead of being the natural outgrowth of a deeper view of the Incarnation; or suppose, as others have urged, that the doctrine of the Trinity was imported from NeoPlatonism into the Gospel;—that would, in either case, be an accretion, but not a true development. What is meant is simply this—that the Christian revelation once, and once for all, delivered to the Saints,' through the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, and from the lips of His inspired servants, though fully apprehended from the first for all necessary ends, has grown, and was intended to grow, by degrees on the consciousness of the Church, illumined by the abiding presence of the Divine Comforter.2
· Kuhn therefore (Die christl. Dogmatik I. 19.) rightly rejects Studenmaier's statement, “ dass der heilige Geist als Princip der Weisheit nicht nur das von Christus ausgegange götliche Wort erhalte, sondern auch Jurch fortegehende Inspirationen Wahrheiten aufs Neue immer erzeuge.”
? I subjoin all the more readily the following apposite passage from the
The question may indeed be asked, though it is quite impossible to answer it, how far the Apostles themselves comprehended in its fulness and its details the revelation of which they were the organs.
That they did not teach it in all its details, though they taught it sufficiently for the needs of the Church in their own day, and that not the whole even of what they did teach orally has come down to us, is certain; and that is the only point which properly concerns our present inquiry. That in the light of divine inspiration they appreciated the bearings of what they did teach far more clearly than their uninspired contemporaries, and that they knew much more than they were commissioned to impart, we can hardly doubt. But it does not follow that the whole range of revealed truth in all its future, or all its possible developments, lay open like an illuminated scroll before their gaze, nor does such a view commend itself to one as the most probable. At the same time the principle of a gradual development of doctrine in the Church is no more affected by their possessing such fulness of
Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins, as his famous quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, has been frequently, but most incorrectly, quoted, in opposition to the theory of development altogether; “Nullusne ergo in Ecclesia Christi profectus habebitur religionis ? Habeatur plane et maximus. Nam quis ille est tam invidus hominibus, tam exosus Deo, qui istud probibere conetur ? Sed ita ut vere profectus sit ille fidei, non permutatio. Siquidem ad profectum pertinet ut in semet ipsum unaquæque res amplificetur ; ad permutationem vero ut aliquid ex alio in aliud transvertatur. Crescat igitur oportet, et multo vehementerque proficiat, tam singulorum quam omnium, tam unius hominis quam totius Ecclesiæ, ætatum et sæculorum gradibus, intelligentia, sapientia, scientia : sed in suo duntaxat genere, eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu, eademque sententia."
knowledge, if they did possess it, than the gradual unfolding of her history is affected by St. John's inspired prevision of its course in the revelation of Patmos. It must be remembered, however, that there are traces of a gradual development even in the New Testament, and that there were some matters, as, for instance, the duration of the present dispensation, on which the inspired writers were not only left in ignorance but in error. Even Scripture has its human side. And this leads to a further and
very important observation in reference to the subject of
In the process of development, as in Scripture, in sacraments, and in everything which concerns our relations with the unseen world, there must be two factors, an earthly and a Divine. The human element is here supplied by the labours of theologians, the meditations of Saints, and even by the external, perhaps antagonistic, speculations of men of science, men of the world, heretics and unbelievers. Even from the Positivist we may have something to learn; when he boasts of the moral superiority of his faith to ours, and points to his conception of an universal brotherhood of mankind, as a new revelation, he is but reminding us—to our shame be it spoken-of our own forgotten lore.
All these last are in truth unconsciously serving a common end, as the Gibeonites of old were hewers of wood and drawers of water to
1 On the combination of Divine and human elements in the Church, see Möhler's Symbolism, Pt. I. ch. v. sect. 36.