Introduction:The Importance of the Question
In the first place: for Catholic theology, the issue of doctrinal development is vital to the justification of specifically Catholic Christian doctrinal insights, vis-à-vis the serious objections to these which other historic Christian communities can lodge. For it may be said that certain elements met with in Catholic teaching today, such as, for example, the doctrine of Purgatory, were not found in the early Church, or, at any rate, can be found there only with difficulty. But if an aspect of the public faith of the Church today was not a constitutive part of the original apostolic preaching, at least not in any obvious sense, how can this aspect be supported, or even tolerated?
Put negatively, in terms of apologetics, this is a matter of defending the Catholic Church against the claim that it has corrupted the Gospel by adding to it elements which are not divinely revealed, being of merely human devising. The classic case against Catholicism in just such terms was made by John Henry Newman in his Anglican period. Writing in 1837, in pursuance of the theme of Anglican identity, Newman wrote:
Nor should it be supposed that such objections to Catholic belief are no longer met with in the contemporary period. Thus in the wake of the proclamation of the dogma of the Bodily Assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary in 1950, the Lutheran Friedrich Heiler commented that, in the matter of dogmatic evolution:
Or again, R. P. C. Hanson, one of the most classically Anglican theologians of recent times, had this to say:
And pointing out that the Church must consider itself bound by its original tradition, expressed in Scripture, Hanson maintains that such apparent doctrinal advances as the affirmation of the Son's consubstantiality with the Father, made at the First Council of Nicaea, are not development of that tradition, in the sense of adding fresh articles to its faith. Rather are they measures of defence expressed in the thought-forms of a period, and constructed in such a way as to meet some particular attack on an original identity.
Nor are such gravamina confined to individuals, perhaps isolated or in some way atypical. At the time of the promulgation of the Assumption dogma, the Evangelical-Lutheran faculty of theology in the University of Heidelberg issued a joint statement to the effect that the Catholic Church now claims in practice:
Put positively, in the context of ecumenism, the same problem presents itself as an invitation to the other historic churches to share the Christian religion in a fuller form, a form which amplifies but does not distort what we may call 'New Testament religion'. The ecumenical importance of the theme of development has been well expressed by the American Jesuit John Courtney Murray, best known for his part in the marking of the Second Vatican Council's declaration on religious freedom. Murray wrote:
It was in this more limited context of justifying - whether defensively, in apologetics, or,
more eirenically, in the ecumenical context, specifically Catholic doctrines (and
A sufficient explanation can be offered by pointing to two factors. First, by the mid nineteenth century, the Catholic Church was undergoing a marked revival in comparison with the low ebb to which it had sunk during the years of the Revolutionary period. As a result of this renaissance, Catholics were more willing to put forward their claim to be, in some unique sense, the Church Christ founded. Secondly, the nineteenth century was not only a century of advance in historical studies but a century which naturally thought in an historical manner. People regarded historical explanations as, of all explanations, the most illuminating where ideas, events or institutions were concerned. The combination of the Catholic revival and this historical mind-set led, in predictable fashion, to an apologia for Catholicism by appeal to the idea of development.
So much for the more limited segment of discussion in which concepts of doctrinal development are important. The wider context to which the theme belongs concerns, not the justifying of specifically Catholic doctrines, but of the entire ensemble of mainstream historic Christianity as a religion genuinely founded on the original message of Jesus. Here what is in question is the whole pattern of faith, ethics, worship and Church order on which all historic Christian churches are agreed. Who are the groups that constitute such 'historic Christian churches'? They are all those who accept that the original Gospel is found today in a visible community, defmed dogmatically by the faith of the general councils of the undivided Church, worshipping through liturgical forms with a strong family resemblance amongst themselves, and governed through a three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons in an historic succession from the apostles. All such churches, and above all the Catholic and separated Eastern churches, but also Old Catholics, together with the 'high church' portions of Anglicanism and Lutheranism, share a fundamental perception of the nature of Christianity. The religious structure which emerged in the patristic period is, they hold, that structure which was intended by Jesus Christ and his apostles, so that, between the original Gospel preaching and the Church that emerged from the somewhat obscure period known as the 'sub-apostolic tunnel', there is, fundamentally, continuity and not discontinuity.
The belief that between Jesus and the later Church there stretches a basic continuity was rudely shaken by the exegetical and historical enquiries of later nineteenth century scholars, especially in Germany. The 'History of Religions' school, found in a number of German universities as the nineteenth century drew to its close, approached the study of Christian origins in a purely scientific, value-free, spirit - or, at any rate, this was their methodological ideal. Many of their results were at variance with the traditional picture of Jesus and the primitive Church. The encounter between this radical exegesis and historiography on the one hand, and traditional orthodoxy on the other, provoked, once transferred to the Catholic environment, that crisis which would soon be notorious as 'Modernism'.
Modernism's characteristic tendency was to use the idea of doctrinal development so as to justify the emergence from primitive Christianity of the classical Christian pattern of the patristic era and beyond, but at the same time to suggest that what had once changed so drastically might well change drastically again. So far as the Catholic authorities were concerned, neither the Modernists' manner of defending the Great Church of late antiquity, nor their proposals for an imminent transformation of Catholicism were acceptable. Nevertheless, the scholarly charge that the religion of Jesus and the primitive community was very different from later Christianity still stood, mulishly refusing to go away, and continuing to provide the wider context in which notions of doctrinal development retain their importance today.
It may be useful at this point to give some idea of what those alternative accounts of Christian origins were, or are, to challenge the historic Christian churches' self-understanding so profoundly. Four principal contending versions may be mentioned, all produced, it is perhaps worth noting, by German or Swiss-German scholars.
First in time comes that of Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), probably the most eminent patristic scholar of his time, especially in matters of the ante-Nicene Church.  After holding chairs at various German universities, Harnack became professor at Berlin in 1889, director of the Prussian Staatsbibliothek in 1905, and in 1910 president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft for the promotion of learning and science. A founder of the important series Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur,  he used his own numerous contributions to the series in order to compose his great Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, Englished as the History of Dogma,  which traces the history of Christian doctrine as far as the Reformation, but with emphasis on the late antique age. For Harnack, dogma is 'a creation of the Greek spirit added to the apostolic faith'.  What the Gospel would look like once shorn of patristic doctrine, he attempted to show In his Das Wesen des Christentums, in English, What is Christianity?  which, by its overwhelmingly ethical presentation of Christianity, attracted more popular attention. His mature views on the emergence of doctrine were summarised in Die Entstehung der christlichen Theologie und des kirchlichen Dogmas. 
Harnack stressed that the earliest Church preached a message of salvation to which the appropriate response was an act of faith, expressed in a new way of life. But, in superfluous, indeed damaging, addition, the Church soon acquired a formulated doctrine, assent to which was deemed a necessary condition of her membership. Referring to the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Trinity, Harnack wrote:
Or, as he put it pithily by way of summing up: 'Dogma in its conception and construction is a product of the Greek spirit on the soil of the Gospel'. If Gnosticism represents an acute form of the invasion of Christianity by Hellenism, the Church's orthodoxy implies a more gradual and low-grade infection by the same germ. In the official Church, reliance upon the Spirit of Jesus and his unpredictable gifts was replaced by dependence on a machinery of episcopal government. The Gospel was not, however, fully lost to view: at the Reformation, as events proved, it could be recovered. But it was deeply damaged by philosophically-derived formulations which wove into its fabric many of the preoccupations of contemporary secular thought. In particular, through the work of the early Christian Apologists, the Greek philosophical idea of the Logos was assimilated to the person of Jesus.  The attraction of this was that the Logos concept hypostatised God's creative rationality without endangering his unity: it allowed him to be active in the world without calling into question his transcendence. But the price was too high. When, on the analogy of the divinity of the Son, Godhead was also ascribed to the Spirit of Jesus, the resultant doctrine of the Triune God was nothing but a Begriffsphantaise, 'conceptual fantasy', the result of wild and whirling speculation, uncontrolled by historical reference. 
The second radically heterodox but highly influential construal of Christian origins which should be mentioned here is that of Martin Werner (1887-1964). In his Die Entstehung des christlichen Dogmas, Englished as The Formation of Christian Dogma,  Werner began by accepting Albert Schweitzer's account of the original Gospel, namely, that the preaching of Jesus was through and through eschatological. According to Schweitzer, Jesus had predicted the imminent end of the present world-order and went to his death believing that his sacrifice on the Cross would bring this about. The earliest disciples lived, therefore, in the kind of immediate expectation of the Parousia which Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians exemplifies. When hope of the Second Coming faded, the Church, according now to Werner's book, pushed through a process called by him Enteschatologisierung, 'de-eschatologising', which turned Christianity into a totally different kind of religion. Later orthodoxy, therefore, has little or no continuity with the faith of the New Testament. Thus the Father of the original preaching became the Absolute of Greek philosophy; the Son of Man, a supernatural angelic agent, was transmuted in the divine Logos, the substantial 'Word' produced by the Absolute. The New Testament Christ, a victor over host cosmic powers, became the agent in the creation of a tame universe. The New Testament idea of salvation incorporation into a community of elect persons who only will be safe when the turn of the ages comes was replaced with a theory of redemption by deification operating through sacraments. The formless charismatic community of the apostolic Church became a hierarchically ordered a hierurgically orientated society. Thus the Christian Church became what Werner calls
A third theory of Christian origins subversive of traditional faith is that of Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). The two ( principal texts to be considered are his Theologie des neue Testaments rapidly translated as Theology of the New Testament and the slightly later Das Urchistentum im Rahmen der antiken Religionen, Englished as Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting.  Bultmann's theory is, in different respects, both more radical and less radical than those 0f Harnack and Werner. It is more radical in that, for Bultmann the invasion by alien elements of the original message about Jesus - the proclamation of a new quality of existence made possible by the Easter events - has already taken place in th New Testament itself. Gnosticism, according to Bultmann, antedates the New Testament, and the trace-elements of its cosmological and cultic concerns have sullied the waters at their source. However, Bultmann's account is less radical in that, unlike at any rate Werner, he did not subscribe to this view that the primary religious declaration of Christianity - its kerygma - was ever wholly dominated by alien factors. Rather did the two struggle together for mastery. Though the process of transition, through the New Testament writings, to the life, teaching and organisation of the later Church was outwardly smooth, inner continuity with the original Gospel was at all times under threat. The Church, the bearer of the Gospel, had but a fluctuating hold on her own spiritual treasure. While she might damage the Gospel by the inappropriate forms of expression which she used to communicate her message, she did not, however, wholly destroy it.
Finally, there is the theory of Walter Bauer in his study Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei in ältesten Christentum which English-speaking readers may consult under the title Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.  Bauer's study is the most erudite and detailed of the four, at least as regards the patristic material under consideration. Basically, Bauer maintains that in the first two centuries there was no clear cut distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. Both orthodoxy and heresy arose simultaneously in the Church, and the traditional view is mistaken in regarding error as later than orthodoxy. Should orthodoxy be understood in any formal, or self-conscious, sense, it was, if anything, subsequent to heresy. Bauer held that formal orthodoxy began as a splinter group under episcopal leadership, only slowly achieving a dominant position in the life of the Church. It was the Roman see which imposed its own standard of orthodoxy on the rest, using the church of Corinth as its spring-board. Such churches as those of Syria and Alexandria were to begin with quite heterodox, and only gradually did they come to accept the belief-system later hailed as true Christianity. Bauer himself, so it has been suggested, regarded the unity of primitive Christianity as sheer, simple relationship with the one Lord. 
Giving such a primacy to the existential over against the historical links Bauer's theory, evidently, to that of Bultmann.
All four theories postulate a marked contrast between the original gospel message and the faith of the fourth century golden age of the patristic Church, although they disagree about the point at which the rupture between the Gospel and the later Church occurred. The assessment of these theories will depend to a large degree on exact scholarship: for instance, on what one thinks of Werner's understanding of New Testament Christology, or again whether one can believe Bauer's re-construction of the early Alexandrian church. In so far as detailed scholarship turns out to destroy their theories, then the problem they create disappears with them. But on the other hand, to the extent that their writings are based on what look like facts, we do have a real problem on our hands, namely that of describing the kind of continuity which may be said to link the original Gospel to the Great Church of later centuries. And for this task we need some view of doctrinal development.
To sum up, the two great questions which cannot be answered without some consideration of doctrinal
development are: How is the confession of the Catholic
From this account of what seems important in the issue of doctrinal development it is possible
to construct a picture of the course we shall be following. Essentially, this study is a history of the problem
of doctrinal development from the 1840's to the present day. As such, it will fall into four sections. First, we
will look at the full-scale emergence of the idea of development in Newman. Secondly, we will examine a variety
of attitudes to development among the Modernist writers. Thirdly, we will investigate the Neo-Thomist - or, more
widely, Neo-Scholastic - theory of doctrinal development as well as a 'sport' in the orthodox reaction to Modernism, the lay theology of Blondel. Finally, our focus will be upon
a number of authors who, from the 1940's onwards, have contributed to the construction of a theological synthesis
on this issue in near-contemporary Catholicism. Though the approach is primarily historical, the aim is to identify
elements of enduring value in the writers discussed. An 'epilogue' to the story will suggest how, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the play of three notions
-pluralism, hermeneutics (or interpretation theory) and reception -
has so widened its scope as to imperil the admirably balanced position which immediately pre-conciliar theology
so painstakingly occupied, and the Council itself, in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei
Verbum, on Divine Revelation, beautifully mirrored.
But as orthodoxy is nothing other than the right rendering of public doctrine, any question of the legitimate development of that doctrine - as distinct from the mere happenstance of a multiplicity of trajectories for praxis, is here ruled out of court.
Avis' account is, in part, an apologia for what he takes to be the typical, and permanently valuable, reverent agnosticism of Anglicanism on all matters involving inerrancy and infallibility. The Catholic view that revelation permits the definitive distinguishing of truth and error in a way which is determinative for all succeeding generations, as for all contemporary cultures, is, he tells us, profoundly inimical to the Anglican tradition. In this regard, he finds a
It is not, perhaps, for a Catholic author to question the reading of Anglican sources made by so highly placed an Anglican theologian. Yet prima facie, the notion that such foundational doctrines of Christianity as the Incarnation and the Trinity would have been regarded by central figures in the Anglican tradition, from the English Reformers to the late Arthur Michael Ramsey, as simply interpretative models whereby constructive theological reason offers a tentative or exploratory reading of the tacit dimension to the Jesus event, seems little convincing.
More widely, Avis' criticism of the agreed doctrinal statements produced by bilateral dialogue between the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions is based upon a particular epistemology, which plays off imagination - with its own distinctive resources of mythopoeic story-telling, symbolisation and concrete image, against intellect in its propositional mood. 'The more precise and formalised statements become, the less they tell us.'  But this is a false dichotomy: it does not identify a choice which needs to be made. Imagination plays a vital role in our grasping the event of revelation, and as such is necessarily prior to the rational interpretation and, in part, justification of that revelation.  Yet as Dr Julius Lipner has pointed out, by way of reviewing Avis' book:
The story of the idea of doctrinal development from Newman to Congar shows an oscillation between an exaggerated respect for the non-intellectual factors in faith among the Modernists, to a over-enthusiastic embrace of the intellectual elements on the part of the Neo-Scholastics. But the position which Catholic divinity reached on the eve of the Second Vatican Council was well-tempered not least because its best practitioners - the Rahner, Schillebeeckx and Congar of that period - were sensitive to the demands both of imagination and of reason in the formulation of what it is, on the basis of a revelation which is at once trancendent beauty and divine action, that the Church knows to be true. 
2. F Heiler, 'Katholischer Neomodernjsmus. Zu den Versuchen emer Verteidigung
4. lbid., p. 102.
5. Cited by Heiler in his 'Das neue Mariendogma in Licht der Geschichte und im Urteil der Oekumene,
2' in Oekumenische Einheit II. 3 (1951). pp. 240-55.
6. J. Courtney Murray S.J., The Problem of God Yesterday and Today
7. For the work of the Tubingen school, see, above all, J. R. Geiselmann, Die katholische Tübingen Schule: ihre theologische Eigenart (Freiburg 1965); its chief theorist of development was Johann Adam Möhler, on whom see H. R. Nienaltowski, Johann Adam Möhler's Theory of Doctrinal Development. Its Genesis and Formulation (Washington 1959), For the Roman teaching, see especially J. B. Franzelln, Dc Traditione at Scriptura (Rome 18823), pp. 263-315; and, more widely, W. Kasper, Die Lehre von der Tradition in der Römischen Schule (Freiburg 1962). In his foreword to this study, Geiselmann declared that in Franzelin, Möhler had been present at the First Vatican Council, ibid., p. viii.
9. 1882 ff.
11. P. Schrodt, The Problem of the Beginning of Dogma in Recent Theology (Frankfurt am Main 1978), p. 3.
15. A. von Harnack, Dogmengeschichte 1. p. 20.
17. lbid. II. pp. 292-3.
18. Die Entstehung des christlichen Dogmas (Berne
1941); Et The Formation of Christian Dogma (London 1957).
On this writer, see M. U. Balsiger, 'Un thélogien méconnu: Martin Werner', Etudes
théologiques et religieuses 64.1 (1989), pp. 23-44.
20. Theologie des neuen Testaments (Tubingen
1948-53); Et Theology of the Neu
21. Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei in ältesten Christentum (Tübingen 1934); Et Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia 1971).
22. W Schneemelcher, 'Walter Bauer ala Kirchenhistoriker', New Testament
23. R. Williams, 'Does it make sense to speak of pre-Nicene orthodoxy', in idem. (ed.), The Making of Orthodoxy. Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick (Cambridge 1989), pp 4-5.
24. P. Avis, Ecumenical Theology and the Elusiveness of Doctrine (London 1986).
25. C. Davis, Theology and Political Society (Cambridge 1980), p. 8.
26. P Avis, Ecumenical Theology and the Elusiveness of Doctrine, op., cit., pp. 56-7.
27. lbid., pp. 26-7.
28. See especially on this J. McIntyre, Faith, Theology and Imagination
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This Version: 18th July 2009