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The development of doctrine - John Charmley - 10-11-2006 03:00 PM

Peter and I, on another site, are enagaged in a series of what promises to be ultimately frustrating discussions about the relationship between Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. We have another thread on that specific theme here, so I don't want to expatiate on that one here. But as part of it, we have begun discussing the idea of doctrine and development.

This is a thorny question, not least for many of the BOF who are Anglicans. I would hazard a guess that there is not one of us who thinks that recent (last 30 years!) developments in Anglicanism are to be welcomed. So the question arises of how we perceive the notion of deveopment.

The Orthodox Church teaches the faith that was revealed in completeness by the Incarnate Word, and it is not at liberty to add or subtract therefrom. However, that does not (or does it?) mean that we fully understand what was fully revealed. The very early Church, pre the Cappadocian Fathers, had a very incomplete expression of the doctrine of the Trinity; the same was true of the Christological issues. It needed a series of Councils to bring out a better understanding of these things.

What I think I am suggesting is that our understanding of the Faith develops, but it remains itself, unchanged and unchanging.

If this seems on the right lines (and please say if it is not), then what the canons of the Church, the teachings of the Fathers, and Holy Tradition do for us, is to help our dynamic understanding of the Faith.

Or is this just introducing Newmanite 'development' theory by another route - and we can see where that went!

On the other hand, it seems a fact that our understanding of the Faith has developed.

Any views?

In Christ,

John
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Development of Doctrine - Michael Kennedy - 13-11-2006 05:56 PM

Fr Matta El Meskeen (Matthew the Poor) writes in his introduction to the second edition of Orthodox Prayer Life, 'The facts of faith are as firmly established as is God himself. However, our experience only intensifies their clarity and throws them into sharper relief, for God is truly revealed in his saints. Thus we know God , and always will know him only in proportion to the experience of his saints, those who fear him throughout the ages.'(Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, SVS Press, 2003, p.13)
By this I think he means that doctrine doesn't develop so much as be progressively revealed through those who live a life of deep holiness. It is impossible therefore that doctrine should simply evolve in accordance with the preoccupations of a secular society, inclusiveness, political correctness, and so on. Rather the development of doctrine is a mystical affair that leads the faithful 'into all truth' and is something carried out in the monastery and in the desert, wherever these two are found. For me this is a profoundly Orthodox understanding and is the one of the major differences between Orthodoxy and the rest of Christendom.