An Essay On The Development Of Christian Doctrine

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Even just a single idea, if it is sufficiently rich, can result in an entire ethical, political, philosophical, and liturgical tradition as its aspects and implications are drawn out and recognized.

Just like a living plant or animal, the idea grows into its fullest form based on a potential inherent to it.

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.

[13] It is, rather, weak and dead ideas which fail to develop because they never take hold of our minds.

In the case of Christianity, its idea or ideas are primarily a matter of revelation, which means that they are communicated by God to human beings at discrete historical moments and conveyed through the words and writings of their recipients.

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.

[11] In turn the multiplication of these propositions or statements fills the mind, giving it a thicker apprehension of the idea.

Without this kind of logical, analytic, or propositional contemplation of an idea, it may be possessed and even influential, but it will not be clearly understood.


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