I recently received the book Development of Christian Doctrine: Some Historical Prolegomena by Jaroslav Pelikan. First published in 1969, this book was primarily based on lectures given at Yale and Woodstock College in 1965, and conversations of Mr. Pelikan with Gustave Weigel, S.J. The primary topic covered is, as one might guess, the development of doctrine.
For Mr. Pelikan, there is no doubting that this doctrine is a valid one. "The fact of development of doctrine, therefore, is beyond dispute" (p. 41) However, the book is not so much a defense of the doctrine as a historically-based exploration of it. What exactly is this development of doctrine? What do theologians mean when they speak of such a concept? Mr. Pelikan is not looking to engage in innovative or speculative theology. Rather, he wants to investigate:
"what is legitimate development, what is organic growth in the understanding of the original deposit of faith, what is warranted extension of the primitive discipline of the Church, and what, on the other hand, is accretion, additive increment, adulteration of the deposit, distortion of true Christian discipline?" (p. 1)
After a short preface (pp. vii-ix) and introduction (pp. 1-6), Mr. Pelikan first outlines Newman's Criteria for authenticating developed doctrines (pp. 12-24, 33-36), and he also spends some time discussing certain conclusions of a fellow named Dewart (pp. 25-33). This is followed by a section exploring problems with Newman's doctrine of development, especially in light of the Roman Catholic Church making the assumption of the Theotokos a dogma (pp. 37-43). After that we get a lengthy exposition on the role of historical study in considering the development of doctrine (pp. 43-69).
For concrete examples of the development of doctrine, Mr. Pelikan begins with a chapter titled Cyprian on Original Sin. The argument is that Tertullian held to a form of original sin, which was passed on to St. Cyprian of Carthage, who modified the doctrine, and that modified doctrine was then passed on to Bl. Augustine. Mr. Pelikan sufficiently shows that the writers relied on each other. However, the actual part of the doctrine developing is less adequately demonstrated, in my opinion. Mr. Pelikan also spends a few pages on the fact that the eastern Fathers had a different conception than certain of the western fathers, but this part of the discussion is rather short (pp. 73, 75, 91-94).
The next chapter is titled Athanasius on Mary, and discusses the origin of calling Mary ever-virgin and theotokos (pp. 95-119). Mr. Pelikan seems to argue that St. Athanasius made a leap from the Bible to such concepts with little or no patristic support in between. I'm not sure whether Mr. Pelikan sufficiently demonstrated his point or not. Upon initially reading the book I was unconvinced. However, as I write this review, I think I may have looked past certain of his argumenation too quickly. The jury is still out on this particular example for me.
The final chapter that brings up a case of doctrinal development is titled Hilary of Filioque (pp. 120-141). What I encountered in this chapter was largely more of the same: I wasn't sure that I really saw evidence for a doctrinal development. Maybe I did, and maybe I didn't. I suppose part of the problem is that, when I think of development of doctrine, I am thinking more along the lines of what was suggested by St. Gregory the Theologian (Oration 31,26), or perhaps St. Vincent of Lerins (The Commonitory, 23). However, such outlooks on what might be better termed a progressive revelation, held by these two saints, is not what I found in this book by Mr. Pelikan.
The book then ends with a short conclusion (pp. 143-146). I must admit that I was very let down by this book. I had high expectations for it, and I was hoping for something solid to grab on to. The St. Athanasius example is perhaps a glimmer of light, which will require further reflection, but the overall feeling upon finishing the book is one of disappointment.