P.J. Smith notes at First Things how the Pope’s view of development of doctrine clashes with that of Newman:
These remarks provide an interesting window into how the pope thinks about doctrine, and about his relationship to doctrine. Such windows have been hard to come by since Amoris laetitia was issued in the spring of 2016. Francis has so far refused to answer the dubia submitted by some cardinals about Amoris laetitia. And, while Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, and Gerhard Cardinal Müller, formerly prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have called for dialogue in the wake of the filial correction released a few weeks ago, it is unlikely that Francis would participate personally in such a process. The speech to the Catechism conference may be, for now, the clearest vision we get from Francis about the developments he favors.
Perhaps showing how closely he follows the debates that have exploded over his various pronouncements, Francis devoted some time in his remarks to demonstrating that his new position on the death penalty is part of a “harmonious development” of doctrine. Francis explains that, when the Church’s traditional doctrine is “clearly contrary” to a “new understanding of Christian truth,” we have a duty to “cease to defend” that doctrine. Francis argues that, today, we understand that any taking of human life is contrary to the dignity of life, and therefore we can now say that it is contrary to the Gospel. The argument is simple enough, but its implications are profound.
How profound? For that we need to turn to Bl. John Henry Newman. The pope’s remarks come just a couple of days after Newman’s feast. It is a little surprising that Francis did not mention Newman, since Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine has long been the locus classicus for an orthodox discussion of the development of doctrine. Or maybe not so surprising. In the Essay, Newman identifies several “notes” (he does not go so far as to call them “tests”) of an authentic development of doctrine. Among these notes is “conservative action” upon a doctrine’s past. Newman writes that a true development “is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.” In other words, Newman tells us that an authentic development will never result in black becoming white or up down.
When Francis talks about doctrine becoming “clearly contrary” to a “new understanding of Christian truth,” it seems that he rejects Newman’s notion that a development of doctrine is conservative of the doctrine’s past. He seems to believe that authentic developments can correct, not corroborate, the body of thought from which they proceed. Perhaps this approach reflects the principle articulated in Evangelii gaudium, the programmatic exhortation he issued in 2013: “Realities are more important than ideas.” Recall that Francis taught that “angelic forms of purity,” “objectives more ideal than real,” and “ethical systems bereft of kindness” were all “means of masking reality.” One could, therefore, read Francis’s theory of development as an implementation of this principle. Realities can change, and therefore the idea can become contrary to the reality. Under these circumstances, the idea—especially if it is an objective more ideal than real—gives way.
Go here to read the rest.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, among his many other services to the Church, clarified the concept of development of doctrine as opposed to corruptions of doctrine that occasionally fasten on the Church and are shed off by the Church over time.
Newman posited seven notes, I would call them tests, for determining whether something is a development of doctrine or a corruption.
1. Preservation of Type
2. Continuity of Principles
3. Power of Assimilation
4. Logical Sequence
5. Anticipation of Its Future
6. Conservative Action upon Its Past
7. Chronic Vigour
Each of these notes are explained by Newman in detail. The concepts aren’t simple either in theory or in application, at least to PopeWatch, but Newman does a first rate job of explaining them. The note that has always fascinated PopeWatch is number six, no doubt because PopeWatch has always found history fascinating, and the history of the Church especially so.
Newman is quite clear that under the Sixth Note a Development of Doctrine does not reverse what has gone before:
A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments being really those antecedents and something besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.
As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.
Go here to read more about Newman’s seven notes regarding development of doctrine.