Whenever Pope Francis ruptures the Church from traditional teaching he calls the about face a development of doctrine. Diane Montagna at Lifesite News has a very good article on this:
The Pope then expounded on the point, invoking the ancient saint whose thought played a pivotal role in Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s classic work, On the Development of Christian Doctrine. He said:
A fifth century French monk, Vincent of Lérins, coined a beautiful expression to explain how one can grow in faith, explain things better, and also grow in moral [understanding] but always being faithful to the roots. He said three words but they indicate the road: he said that growth in the explaining [esplicitazione] and awareness of faith and morals must be ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate, that is, growth must be strengthened through the years, expanded over time, but it is the same faith that is exalted over the years.
“This is how we understand, for example, that today we have removed the death penalty from the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the pontiff told journalists aboard the papal plane. “Three hundred years ago, heretics were burned alive. Because the Church has grown in moral understanding, and in respect for the person,” he said.
This is not the first time Pope Francis has invoked St. Vincent of Lérins.
In an interview with the Jesuit-run La Civiltà Cattolica six months into his pontificate (September 2013), he argued on the basis of the same statement from the 5thcentury monk that “the thinking of the Church must … understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the Church’s teaching.”
In November 2016, he cited the same passage as he questioned why young Catholics would be drawn to the traditional liturgy.
And in his ‘God of surprises’ homily, on May 8, 2017, he again had recourse to St. Vincent’s, inviting Catholics to pray for the “grace of discernment” so as not to “fall into immobility, rigidity and a closed heart.”
Inflight press conferences have no magisterial weight. Nonetheless, LifeSite asked one of leading experts on the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty, and a Dominican theologian, to weigh in on the Pope’s latest remarks and his invocation of St. Vincent of Lérins.
An expert weighs in
Renowned Catholic philosopher Edward Feser, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California, is one of the foremost contemporary writers in the Thomistic tradition, and a leading expert on the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.
He is the author of numerous works, including By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed (with Joseph Bessette) and the forthcoming Aristotle’s Revenge.
By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed is a study and defense of the perennial Catholic teaching on the death penalty as legitimate in principle and often advisable in practice even in contemporary social conditions.
In comments to LifeSite, Feser said:
It is odd for the pope to cite St. Vincent of Lérins in defense of the recent change to the Catechism, because St. Vincent was the opposite of sympathetic to innovative and ambiguous theological formulations of the kind represented by the new language. Indeed, his major theme was precisely to condemn, in harsh and unmistakable terms, all ‘novelties’ in doctrine, by which he meant teachings that were not true developments but reversals of what the Church has taught in the past.
Feser then explained that development is only legitimate if it logically follows what has already been taught in the deposit of faith. It is therefore is a legitimate development if it’s a logical conclusion of what the Church has taught in the past. If a given teaching is not a logical conclusion, it cannot be legitimate.
He said: “Suppose, to take an artificial example, that the Church had taught that ‘All men are mortal’ and ‘Socrates is a man.’ If she later explicitly taught that ‘Socrates is mortal,’ then this would not be a novelty in the sense condemned by St. Vincent, because this follows logically from what she had earlier taught.”
“Even if she had not taught it explicitly, she did teach it implicitly. Simply making this explicit would be a true development of doctrine,” he added.
The noted philosopher continued: “Suppose instead, however, that the Church later taught that ‘Socrates is not mortal,’ This would be a novelty, a corruption of doctrine and not a true development at all, because it would contradict what was implicitly taught earlier.”
Feser insisted that not only does St. Vincent of Lérins not support logical rupture but he is preoccupied with preventing such novelties. He said:
Now, St. Vincent absolutely hammers on the theme that Catholics must avoid novelties or even reinterpretations of past doctrine, and that when some new teaching or reinterpretation seems to conflict with antiquity, we must cling to antiquity. Quite rigidly, you might say. He is very, very insistent on this and very harsh even on people who would try to use ambiguous formulations to smuggle in novelties, let alone those who brazenly propose them.
Go here to read the rest. PopeWatch has long treasured these lines from A Man For All Seasons: