In a previous blog post in which I listed a number of theological principles I hoped someday to discuss further, I had written the following:
On the question of doctrinal development, the fundamental choice is between Newman’s and Barth’s understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. The issue of continuity between (1) God’s revelation in the history of Israel, Christ, the apostolic Church: (2) the canonical Scriptures; and (3) the post-apostolic Church, must be decided theologically, in terms of the inherent intelligibility of the subject matter of revelation, not by alien philosophical criteria rooted in such historical conundrums as the relation between the one and the many, or problems of epistemological skepticism.
At some point I hope to come back to this discussion, especially as it touches on Barth. In the meanwhile, this is an ongoing contribution to a series of discussions on doctrinal development, and, particularly on John Henry Newman’s own contribution. (For previous discussion, see here, here, here, and here.) In what follows I intend to focus on Newman’s shorter essay entitled “Faith and Private Judgment,” to which I find contemporary Roman Catholic apologists regularly appeal, to show how it casts doubt on the coherency of the claims Newman makes about development in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine. (John Henry Newman, “Faith and Private Judgement,” Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1897), pp. 192-213; An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920).)
My argument in what follows is that Newman’s approach is philosophical, primarily having to do with a concern for epistemological certainty, rather than a properly theological argument based on the nature of revelation, and the continuity between God’s revelation in Christ, the canonical Scriptures, and the post-apostolic church. Moreover, as a philosophical argument, Newman’s position is incoherent. (more…)