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ITS PROCESS EXAMINED.

It is, indeed, very noteworthy, that in the various controversies that have successively arisen within the Catholic Church -- whether between particular Churches, or amongst theologians -- e.g., on the Paschal question, heretical baptism, and penance, the homoousion, the Filioque, the Immaculate Conception, and Papal Infallibility, Rome has uniformly proposed and defended that view of the question, which in course of time has with universal sanction been approved as the truth, or has been so decided by a General Council. With regard to other particular Churches, one portion of Apostolic teaching might survive in vigour, but not another, whereas in Rome the entire original tradition of faith entire has remained intact. Hence, when speaking of the doctrinal authority of Rome, Tertullian exclaims: --

"That Church, how happy! into which the Apostles poured out all their doctrine together with their blood."*

The doctrinal judgments of individual Fathers and Doctors, arrived at by theological discussion and scientific analysis, are of themselves fallible. The Church alone, through the voice of her chief Pastor, or in General Council, can pronounce infallibly a definitive sentence as to their truth, and on their relation to the deposit of faith. These judgments she sifts, some of them she approves and accepts, others she condemns and rejects. In this way the former make part of that normal and true doctrinal development which must necessarily have place in the teaching of a living moral body, such as the Catholic Church is.

An authoritative definition of some particular scientific analysis of a doctrine, that is to say, of the right mode of scientific thought on a theological truth, as, for example, the homoousion, or the Immaculate Conception, is no new dogma in an accretive sense. It is to be regarded as an infallible exposition of an already divinely revealed truth, necessary for its protection from erroneous teaching, and inseparable from its right mode of belief. Whilst it is an addition to the knowledge of very man Christians, it is no addition to the original deposit of faith. This was delivered entire to the Apostles, and has never changed. What the Church does by her progressive teaching, is to elucidate its contents, as occasion demands, for the profit of the faithful. For such authoritative development on the part of the Church, the opinions, discussions, controversies and teachings of Fathers, doctors and theologians prepare the way. When the Church has once given her decision on the point in dispute, the matter is set at rest for ever and can never again be brought into question. All the diverse views of particular doctors, and the fluctuating judgments of individual theologians are then at an end. The doctrine is removed from the sphere of theological opinion to be a dogma of faith. The infallible Church of Christ can never reverse her ruling. Her negative can never become an affirmative: what she has once affirmed cannot again be denied. Thus though her definition there is made a formal accession to doctrinal development, and to the explicit faith of Catholics. That such development is her own proper office, and has been from the beginning her constant care, is expressly declared in the Bulls, Ineffabilis, which defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Aeterni Patris, which summoned the Vatican Council.


* De Proescript. 36.

 

 

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