26
ITS PROCESS EXAMINED.

"Some writers use terms which imply that the first steps in the process of doctrinal development must be despicably small. Of course, such expressions as germs and seed are perfectly allowable; but, if they are employed to exaggerate the imperfection of Christian theology, they are dangerous and false. The very peculiarity of Christian development is, that the stream is broadest at its source. No theologian to the end will know more than the Apostles. Nay, there is nothing in the nature of the case to prevent the knowledge possessed by their immediate successors from beig better in kind from that of subsequent theologians. This is historically borne out by the facts of the progress of Christan dogma. The enunciations of the early writers on our Lord's Godhead are more downright and unequivocal than those of the Fathers who followed them. Who ever found fault with S. Clement and S. Ignatius? It is with the Apologists that the difficulties begin. So it is with Our Lady. The doctrine of S. Irenaeus and of the author of the Second Epistle to Diognetus is far higher than that of Origen."*

"Doctrines," writes Fr. Dalgairnus, "were delivered whole, and their growth is a process of evolution by which the hidden harmony of the parts is rendered visible, though all those parts were previously taught or implicitly held. The development consists in bringing to light by reflection what was spontaneously believed before. It is the unfolding of an idea, which was given as a whole. Christian truths were thus planted whole like the trees in paradise; they grew, they unfolded blossoms, and they developed into fruit, but they never sprang from seed. If the principle is to be of any scientific use, we must not be content with indistinct germs, any more than we could hope to satisfy a man who asked for an oak, by showing an acorn."+

Here a difficulty at once arises. How are we to account for the fact, that individual Fathers, some of them of great name and weight, have expressed themselves on certain point of doctrine now believed as of faith, and consequently from the beginning forming part of the revealed deposit -- in terms quite inconsistent with subsequent definitions of the Church? For thus did not only suspected writers like S. Hippolytus and Origen, but even S. Dionysius of Alexandria, with regard to the Consubstantiality of the Divine Word, and, later on, S. Bernard and S. Thomas, with regard to the Immaculate Conception.

Our explanation is, that the hesitations and conflicting statements of such Fathers were scientific; that is to say, they are not from a false idea of the truth of faith as a whole, but from difficulty in harmonising a certain mode of conceiving it -- or the concept they had formed on some point of it -- with some other concept, or portion of the whole. Thus S. Dionysius denied the homoousion as the mode of conceiving truly, and as a term rightly expressing the idea of faith, viz., the Godhead of the Divine Word, though, as such, it was afterwards solemnly defined by the Church. Here his scientific theology was at fault, not his implicit faith in the mystery as a whole. He did not see how the concept of Consubstantiality could accord with the real distinction between the Father and the Son, and with the whole idea of the Divine Truth of the Trinity. In like manner the hesitation of S. Thomas was scientific: he could not understand how Mary's Immaculate Conception could be reconciled with her real redemption.


* Dublin Review, Jan., 1869, p.38.

+ Lives of the Fathers of the Desert, Introduction, p. xlix.

 

 

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