An Essay On The Development Of Christian Doctrine

An Essay On The Development Of Christian Doctrine-23
[10] In other words, because an idea may be contemplated under many different aspects, from many different angles, and in relation to many other ideas, it is possible for it to be continually growing or filling itself out in the mind; more accurately, this process of contemplation under different aspects is precisely what is meant by speaking of its growth.

[10] In other words, because an idea may be contemplated under many different aspects, from many different angles, and in relation to many other ideas, it is possible for it to be continually growing or filling itself out in the mind; more accurately, this process of contemplation under different aspects is precisely what is meant by speaking of its growth.

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We summarize Cardinal Newman's "An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine." The word count of this summary is: 4,385 words (7 total pages)PDF download of the contents of this lesson is available in English only.

* An earlier version of this essay was presented at a seminar on “The Thought of John Henry Newman” hosted by the Lumen Christi Institute at Oxford University in July 2018.

This exploration of Newman’s thinking on development illuminates not only Newman’s own view but also provides a way of understanding the theory of doctrinal development in the Church today.

First, in a key passage in the Essay on Development, Newman states his central thesis that the developments in Christian doctrine and practice: are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended dominion…from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas…and…the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients.

Critics of doctrinal development contend that the Roman Catholic Church’s modern dogmatic pronouncements (on questions such as the Immaculate Conception or papal infallibility) are genuine doctrinal novelties.

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[3] Moreover, the objection continues, because such doctrines are proposed as divine but are contained neither expressly nor substantially in the revelation of Scripture, they can only be defended on the basis of a claim to new revelation.

[6] Here, Newman explains that doctrinal development is simply the natural consequence of the fact that Christianity is a living idea, an idea that takes root in human minds and society and thereby becomes alive.

Newman understands an idea as a kind of mental object or image which resides in the mind as a “simple intuition” (as opposed to a “wordless feeling”).

Especially after the beginning of the Modernist controversy in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Newman’s ideas were not widely embraced because it was difficult to distinguish his theory of development from a theory of doctrinal evolution or continuous revelation, wherein God uses the church as an instrument to reveal new ideas.

Newman’s thinking on development proved highly influential at the Second Vatican Council, which nonetheless emphatically rejected any form of progressive or continuous revelation: “Jesus perfected revelation” with the result that “we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [2] And yet, concerns persist about how any doctrine which is developed can carry full divine authority and not be the result of fresh revelation.

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