Divorce and Remarriage, True Development of Doctrine?

holy-spirit-saint-peter-basilica-romeIn a forth coming article for the Catholic World News Report I will be discussing the subject of development of Christian Doctrine to show that Communion for persons divorced and remarried is not authentic development of Christian doctrine. The Church is concerned for those who are in these situations but as Mark Brumley has written we must avoid the “misrepresentation and false choice either of standing for truth or standing for mercy” (National Catholic Register, 10/21/14).

Christian doctrine develops over time in the Church with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the discernment of the Church’s Magisterium. This is a truth clearly put forth by St. Vincent of Lerins in the 5th century yet it is one that is a source of misunderstanding for many and misconstrued by others for their purpose.

John Henry Newman wrote an important work titled An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), which remained unfinished when he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism on October 9, 1845. His essay was a historical analysis of doctrinal development in the Catholic Church which led him to the conclusion that what Protestants labeled as corruptions of early Christianity were in fact authentic development. This and other developments convinced Newman to be received in the Catholic Church.

Newman explained that growth is a sign of life, and that this naturally occurs in the Church. In the essay he writes: “Taking this analogy as a guide, I venture to set down seven Notes of varying cogency, independence and applicability, to discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows:—There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last.”

The application of these tests bears out that Communion for divorced and remarried persons cannot be considered true development of Catholic doctrine. In any event those who mistakenly think it is should not appeal to Cardinal Newman’s teaching on the development of Christian doctrine.

(More in the upcoming article)

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