June 20, 2005

Newman and Development -- briefly

Blogger Rather Not Say has made the following comment concerning something I said on another blog. He wrote:

It has been explicity suggested that permission of homosexual relations comes under the heading of the "development of doctrine," and the name of Newman himself has been invoked (by none other than Tobias Haller himself). Apart from the extreme irony of invoking Newman in defense of an innovation, it is forgotten by those who use the idea of "development of doctrine" that Newman's argument presupposed an infallible authority to sort out legitimate evolution from theological error, or true development from corruption. How many of those who promote same-sex "unions" as an example of "development" want any of the infallible authorities (Orthodoxy, Rome, sola scriptura, etc.) currently on offer? And if they don?t want any of these, what alternatives do they suggest?

RatherNotBlog ? Blog Archive ? Well Said

However, in the citation referenced, I made the point RNS accuses me of "forgetting," concerning who has the final word on the limits of the development of doctrine, in Newman's eyes. In my response to Pontificator's "Hermeneutics of Private Judgment" I said:

'And you[r] final point summarizes exactly my question as to the limits of "revision" as you call it, or as Newman did, "development" -- which he felt only was possible when Rome did it.'

The point is that Newman recognized that doctrine developed. He rejected the concept behind the Vincentian Canon. To this extent he is doubtless correct. But in his moving beyond this point, to the opinion that only Rome could offer the final word, that is where I disagree. In short, I reject the notion of some "infallible authority" not as a matter of preference but in principle. In doing so I embrace the Anglican principle that even a Council may err -- and that the church finds its way in hope and not in certainty.

For those who prefer to align themselves with an infallible authority, I say well and good. Pontificator (Al Kimel) has already made his decision on this matter, and I wish him well. I have nothing but respect and admiration for many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox folks, who should, I think, act in accordance with their beliefs. But I confess that I do not believe as they do concerning either papal or conciliar infallibility. This is, in my opinion, one of the things that distinguish Anglicanism from these traditions. It is, ultimately, one of the reasons Newman left England for Rome. That I can agree with Newman on some of his evidence, but disagree on his conclusion, is, I hope understandable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"That I can agree with Newman on some of his evidence, but disagree on his conclusion, is, I hope understandable."

For a lot of traditionalists, it seems to be all or nothing, with little room to recognize that people can be partly right and partly wrong. One must either accept in toto the authority in question (Newman, the Bible, whatever) or in their eyes you've rejected it in toto.


The claim that there exists a set of one or more people capable of infallible judgment would seem to be amply refuted by history. It'd be hard even to count how many times we've thought we had Life, The Universe, And Everything all figured out — and then something came along for us to observe that called our nice, tidy models into question. Dark matter/energy is just one recent example.