Good article on doctrinal development vs. change

Oh Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!

From Catholic World Report by Eduardo Echeverria:

During the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican, the phrase “doctrinal development” was bandied about by some bishops. For instance, Reinhard Cardinal Marx of Germany, responding to a question at a press conference last Friday, said that church doctrine can change over time: “Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things…” The Church’s doctrine, Cardinal Marx added, “doesn’t depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time.”

There is, unfortunately, a lack of clarity in Cardinal Marx’s statements, for he seems to identify development with change. Is development of doctrine the same as a change in doctrine? Can Church doctrine change over time?

More precisely, does doctrinal development mean that doctrines may change over time in the sense of being substantially transformed, implying a change in the very essence of the teaching? For instance, could so-called “same-sex unions” one day be seen as a legitimate development of the Church’s teaching on marriage? If so, would this development really be legitimate? Rather, wouldn’t it be a corruption of dogma since it asserts the contrary of the teaching’s essence on marriage that regards sexual differentiation as a fundamental prerequisite for attaining the two-in-one-flesh union of marriage (Gen 1:27, 2:24).

The issue is not whether doctrines can develop. For instance, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is not arguing against doctrinal development, as some of his critics have implied. In his just published book, The Hope of the Family (Ignatius, 2014), he affirms that “dogma develops and is evolving.” Yet, he rightly sees that doctrinal development has to be homogeneous with the essential principles of the teaching. Thus, doctrinal development, according to Müller, cannot be legitimate when it occurs “in a way that contradicts basic principles [of the teaching] [. . .] that would conclude or affirm the contrary.” This important point has been obscured or even lost in the recent discussion about doctrinal development.

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