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Author Topic: Development of Christian Doctrine  (Read 689 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: October 23, 2009, 01:43:31 AM »

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.
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« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2009, 04:06:58 PM »

but  the overall feeling upon finishing the book is one of disappointment.

I've not read the book, but if your observation is correct, a rare swing and a miss from the late Dr. Pelikan.
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2009, 04:43:23 PM »

Admittedly, it's possible that I was simply too caught up in my expectations of what I would find. I was thinking it'd be something more along the lines of expanding on something like this:

"The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun's light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated." - Gregory the Theologian, Oration 31, 26

I thought maybe we'd get a little history of the gradual development of certain ideas or concepts or doctrines. Mr. Pelikan's did give examples of doctrines which showed up at a later time that weren't around at an earlier time, but it was the process and details of how they came to be that I missed. But I could be wrong, I'll have to reread the book a year from now (or whenever) and see if I can approach it with different expectations.
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Tags: pelikan  development  doctrine  revelation 
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