Jacques Maritain Center: Thomistic Institute

Apostolic Teaching and Development of Doctrine in Aquinas

Christopher Kaczor
Loyola Marymount University
http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/~ckaczor/


Among the sources of Thomas's thought, the teaching of Christ and the apostles must rank as the most prominent. It is from this source that the writings of the New Testament arise and the oral traditions of the early Church. But Thomas's reliance on apostolic teaching his insistence that public revelation ended in apostolic times, has been seen by some theologians as a grave limitation. According to some, his insistence of the completeness of revelation in Christ as well as his understanding of revelation lead necessarily to the exclusion of development of doctrine. However doctrinal development is demanded both by recognition of history and by the exigencies of presenting the Gospel in a way that can save contemporary people. This has caused not a few to abandon the Thomistic approach in theology.

Seldom is the name Thomas Aquinas associated with doctrinal development. Of course, Thomas developed Christian wisdom in significant ways, and as Jean Pierre Torrell pointed out,(1) Thomas's own organization and presentation of this wisdom changed in the course of his career. The autograph manuscripts show Thomas constantly revised and edited his work. Historical studies have indicated development of Thomas's views over time.(2)

However doctrinal development understood as a consideration of how Christian teaching changes and develops over time is usually thought to have arisen in the nineteenth century with Johann Adam Möhler and most especially John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and to have been reconsidered in the twentieth through the work of Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Avery Dulles. In fact, this attention to history and development in Christian teaching is often understood in opposition to medieval approaches since it seems to presuppose an historical consciousness arising in the 19th century.(3)

For instance, Jan Hendrik Walgrave writes: "[T]he problem of the development of doctrine or the problem of how to reconcile actual development with the claim of immutability inherent in the rule of faith did not arise in the mind of medieval theologians. Owing to the circumstances of its origin, nature, and scope scholastic theology could hardly be expected to raise the question."(4)

Making more plain what in the very nature of medieval thought excludes an account of development, Bernard Lonergan suggests that it is the understanding of theology as an Aristotelian science that dooms any such account to be insensitive to questions of history and development. Since truth cannot be understood apart from history and the constructing of history is an empirical rather than deductive exercise, philosophy and theology must be understood as empirical rather than deductive sciences. Lonergan expresses this point in a number of ways. In his article "Theology in a New Context," Lonergan sketches the situation following Vatican II:

[T]he old foundations will no longer do. In saying this I do not mean that they are no longer true, for they are as true now as they ever were. I mean that they are no longer appropriate. I am simply recalling that one must not patch an old cloak with new cloth or put new wine in old wineskins. One type of foundation suits a theology that aims at being deductive, static, abstract, universal, equally applicable at all places and at all times. A quite different foundation is needed when theology turns from deductivism to an empirical approach, from static to dynamic, from the abstract to the concrete, from the universal to the historical totality of particulars, from invariable rules to intelligent adjustment and adaptation.(5)

Philosophy and theology in the Catholic tradition, Lonergan suggests, were formerly deductive, abstract, and universal, in full accordance with the demands of an Aristotelian science. Contemporary Catholic thought must be thoroughly historical, arising from the concreteness of particulars rather than a priori considerations. It should be dynamic, ongoing, and open to new insights. Lonergan elsewhere characterizes the difference between deductive and empirical ways of doing theology as follows:

[T]heology was a deductive, and it has become largely an empirical science. It was a deductive science in the sense that its theses were conclusions to be proven from the premises provided by Scripture and Tradition. It has become an empirical science in the sense that Scripture and Tradition now supply not premises, but data. The data has to be viewed in its historical perspective. It has to be interpreted in the light of contemporary techniques and procedures. Where before the step from premises to conclusions was brief, simple, and certain, today the steps from data to interpretation are long, arduous, and, at best, probable. An empirical science does not demonstrate. It accumulates information, develops understanding, masters ever more of its materials, but it does not preclude the uncovering of further relevant data, the emergence of new insights, the attainment of a more comprehensive view.(6)

If we attend to the scientific method, we find that it is always open to revision, modification, and the emergence of new insights. The fruitfulness of this method may also be applied to other areas of human knowledge. "The key task, then, in contemporary Catholic theology is to replace the shattered thought forms associated with eternal truths and logical ideals with new thought forms that accord with the dynamics of development and the concrete style of method."(7) That is what Lonergan aimed to do; and that, according to him, is what the neo-scholastic method, linked as it is with Aristotle, can never do. For Lonergan, Thomistic method, joined as it is with Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, impedes the growth of knowledge by being insufficiently empirical. It would seem that an understanding of doctrinal development not only was not to be found among medieval thinkers but that the Aristotelian conception of science theoretically excluded such possibility.(8)

Nor is Lonergan alone in his criticism of scholastic thinkers in this regard. Armand Maurer summarizes such remarks:

The German historian Alois Dempf claims that history meant nothing to Aquinas, nor had he any need of it. Moving in a supra-temporal sphere, he saw only the supra-temporal side of truth and recognized no need of progress in the sciences. These harsh judgments of Thomism echo the statement of Nietzsche, that Aquinas and his work are situated outside of history, so to speak "six thousand feet beyond men and time" and Hegel's opinion that in the Middle Ages truth "remains a heavenly truth alone, a Beyond."(9)

These sentiments are widely circulated and contribute, I think, to certain misreadings.

In fact, the historical record of medieval thought is more complicated than these accounts recognize. This critique of medieval thought as deductive rather than empirical, as closed rather than open to development, applies I think much better to some other medieval thinkers both before and after Thomas than it does to Aquinas himself. For instance, Nicholas of Amiens (d.1203) developed a theology in his Ars fidei catholicae that employs a strictly Euclidian geometrical method. He formulates definitions, postulates, axioms, and deduces from this foundation the entirety of Christian theology.(10) Likewise, in the middle of the fourteenth century, the Augustinian Hermit, Gregory of Rimini in his Lectura super Primum Sententiarum (d.1358) "stressed that the habit of students developed in the theology faculty should be solely deductive. In other words, they did not need to bring reason to bear on the source or principles of the Christian faith."(11) There were strictly deductive theologians in the tradition though the actual representatives of this view are characteristically not cited by those critiquing scholasticism. In fact, the Franciscan Peter Aureoli (d.1322) in his Scriptum foreshadows modern critics by characterizing and criticizing Thomas' approach as a deductive rather than declarative theology.(12)

However, even Peter recognizes properly that even though Thomas' theology is in some sense deductive, it is not purely or merely deductive.(13) Though he did not use the term, Thomas in fact did have a notion of doctrinal development, an account of the change and explication of how the Church's understanding of the deposit of faith grows through the centuries.(14) This article describes various elements of Thomas's account and attempts to present and systematize his orbiter dicta remarks pertaining to the development of doctrine.

The question of doctrinal development arises within any Christian community that holds that public revelation ended after the death of the last apostle(15) and that theology is an ongoing project of discovering, understanding, and synthesizing God's revelation. How does one simultaneously be faithful to the original kerygma while at the same time adapting to existing needs and circumstances? How can one adhere to tradition but not stymied by it? What changes faithfully develop previous teaching and what changes undermine what was taught in the past? Unlike Newman, Thomas does not provide "notes" or other criteria for distinguishing true developments from corruptions of doctrine. However, like Newman, he recognizes that theology and doctrine is itself open to development. Although the substance of faith remains the same, the number of articles, the faith's explicit formulation and articulation, develops over time.

Thomas himself sets up the problematic. On the one hand, he holds that knowledge of the holy mysteries of God increased throughout time in preparation for Christ but "at last, at the consummate time, the perfect teaching of Christ [was] set forth on earth."(16) The apostles had the fullness of truth as those who were closest to Christ: "those who first handed on the faith most perfectly understood it since the Apostles were most fully instructed concerning the mysteries of faith."(17) On the other hand, he asserts that the Church's understanding of the truths of faith grows deeper over time. Later fathers of the Church had a more explicit knowledge of the articles of the faith than earlier fathers as expressed by the creeds of the Church: "it was necessary to promulgate confessions of faith which in no way differ, save that in one it is more fully explicated which in another is contained implicitly."(18) How can the more explicit, later expositions of the creed be reconciled with the apostles having the fullness of knowledge? Can a more implicit knowledge be a greater knowledge? If the later fathers of the Church teach more explicitly what the earlier Fathers taught implicitly, why should the Sacred Page be of greater importance than the writings of the Church fathers, which have only probable authority according to Thomas? There are a number of possible ways to answer these questions along with corresponding difficulties for each. These questions have led to various models of how doctrine develops.

Avery Dulles in his book The Resilient Church describes three prominent models of development. In the logical model, revelation is understood "propositionally" and further developments must arise through logical deductions from previous teaching. This version of doctrinal development Dulles attributes to Aquinas as well as more recent thinkers such as Bishop Bossuet, Luis De Moilina and Gabriel Vasquez.(19) In the early twentieth century, Dominican Father M.M. Tuyaerts and Jesuit Father C. Boyer exemplified the logical approach.(20) Although the logical approach enabled theologians to illustrate a tight connection between apostolic teaching and the contemporary doctrine of the Church in the development of some dogmas (i.e. that Mary is the Mother of God), it had difficulties showing that the Immaculate Conception and Assumption were logically entailed from anything in the ancient apostolic tradition. An organic approach to development exemplified by John Henry Newman and Johann Adam Möhler of Tübingen argued that more than mere logical analysis leads to the development of the Church's understanding of revelation. Various theories are given as to what constitutes this "more." Karl Rahner, for example, suggested that we abandon the "propositional" account of revelation and consider revelation a self-communication of the divine that the faithful understand through a kind of global intuition. Finally, there is what George A. Lindbeck calls "historical situationism" which views development of doctrine as reformulations of church teaching in each age to reflect the needs, concerns, and outlooks of each age. Lindbeck writes: "The Church's doctrines are thought of as the products of a dialogue in history between God and his people and as the historically conditioned and relative responses, interpretations and testimonies to the Word addressing man through the scriptural witnesses."(21) The needs of the Church in the moment and the concrete situation dictate the course of the unfolding doctrinal change. Unlike the previous two accounts, this model of development, in some versions at least, explicitly allows for "reversals" or "contradictions" of earlier teaching in later periods when the prior formulations no longer adequately respond to current needs. Thomas's treatment of development, if recognized at all, is usually characterized by admirers and detractors alike as merely deductive. In fact Thomas incorporates elements of all three approaches to development which he understands as an unfolding from implicit teaching to the explicit teaching.

Development of Doctrine as Logical Deduction

Interestingly, although Thomas does indeed describe development of doctrine as logical deduction, sometimes it is thought that he used the term in no other way.(22) Indeed, though a few neo-scholastics argued that logical deduction was the only way to preserve continuity with apostolic teaching, even most neoscholastic writers had a more rich notion of development.(23) Nevertheless, logical deduction is one aspect of development, an aspect Thomas does not overlook. Thomas gives a prime example of this use in the Prima Pars:

For regularly in sacred Scripture it should be held that what is said concerning the Father, should be understood concerning the Son, even if the exclusive speech is added, save only in those things in which the Father and the Son in opposite relations are distinguished. For since the Lord, in Matt. 11, says: No one knows the Son save the Father, it is not excluded that the Son knows himself. Therefore, when it is said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, even if it were to be added that he proceeds only from the Father, the Son in this way is not excluded because in this respect, that which is the principle of the Holy Spirit, Father and Son are not opposed, but only concerning this, that the former is the Father and the latter is the Son.(24)

Here we have a teaching that follows logically from what has been previously accepted. As Thomas notes earlier in the passage, the logically posterior teaching is implicit in the prior, explicit teaching: "We ought not to say about God anything which is not found in Holy Scripture either explicitly or implicitly. But although we do not find it verbally expressed in Holy Scripture that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son, still we do find it in the sense of Scripture."(25) As Thomas notes next, whatever predication applies to the Father, applies to the Son, except those predications that distinguish Father from Son. The procession of the Holy Spirit applies to the Father and is not a predication that distinguishes Father from Son. Thus the procession of the Spirit can be predicated of Father and Son. Another example of this type of inference may be seen in the declaration of Mary as Mother of God. From the prior teachings, "Mary is the mother of Jesus" and "Jesus is God," comes the now explicit teaching "Mary is the Mother of God." Thomas uses a deductive method also in his treatment of Christ's will. As Stephen Brown notes: "From the premises that Christ is God and man, for example, he deduced the truth that Christ has two wills, by adding the premise that every intellectual nature has its proper will."(26) Clearly, in Thomas's writing, the move from implicit to explicit in doctrinal development sometimes has this clear, deductive, logical meaning.

The Organic Approach to Doctrinal Development

In the organic approach, doctrine develops through the assimilation and incorporation of "foreign" elements as well as what Newman called "the growth of ideas" which lead to a deeper understanding and explanation of the Gospel message. Although the apostles had greater understanding of faith because of special graces received, in particular that of proximity to Christ, later Church fathers developed a more differentiated science of theology because of (1) the growth of philosophy, (2) the emendation of the liturgy, and (3) the evolution of language. These elements, not tied directly to historical exigencies like the situationist view, assimilated by the Church over time lead to deeper understandings of sacra doctrina.

In Thomas' account of theology, philosophical reason enters into this science by demonstrating the truth of the preambles of faith, by removing objections to the faith by showing them to be erroneous or at least unnecessary, by providing useful analogies to clarify what is difficult to understand, and by proving the truth of doubted articles of faith from undoubted ones.(27) The science of theology does not depend on other sciences for its first principles but uses other sciences as aids.(28) In this, theology imitates Scripture itself that employs secular traditions of wisdom. Thomas notes passages in Paul's letter to Titus, in First Corinthians, and in Acts which quote the words of pagans Epimenides, Menander, and Aratus.(29) Clearly, philosophy aids theology which in turn aids in the formulation of doctrine. As Thomas notes the deficiency of the human mind, and not the divinely revealed truth, leads theology to draw on other sciences to clarify its teaching and aid in human assent to this truth.(30)

Thomas clearly recognizes philosophic knowledge may grow over time. There is progress in understanding from the presocratics, to Socrates and Aristotle, and from them to Avicenna and Averroes.(31) As Thomas writes in his Commentary on the Ethics:

If someone should busy himself investigating the truth for a period, he will be aided in the discovery of truth by the passage of time. This is true in the case of the same person who will understand subsequently what he had not understood before, and also for different persons, as in the case of a man who learns the things discovered by his predecessors and adds something himself. In this way improvements have been made in the arts, in which a small discovery was made first and afterwards notable advances were made by the efforts of various men, each looking upon it as a duty to supply what is lacking in the knowledge of his predecessors.(32)

There is no reason to think that this process of growth cannot continue indefinitely. Thus we can say safely that theology, in so far as it uses philosophy or any other science in the ways mentioned earlier, may also increase in precision and clarity over time. And in so far as theology develops, our understanding of doctrine itself may become more complete. In so far as philosophical development may continually open new horizons, the process of development cannot, in this life, ever be said to be closed or complete.

Secondly, doctrine may also develop for Thomas through the liturgy. Although sometimes theology informs liturgical practice,(33) other times liturgical practice informs theology. The practice of the Church in worship is frequently used by Thomas as a sed contra authority.(34) For example, in considering the question of whether the Mother of Jesus was sanctified before birth, Thomas writes: "The Church celebrates the feast of our Lady's Nativity. Now the Church does not celebrate feasts except of those who are holy. Therefore even in her birth the Blessed Virgin was holy. Therefore she was sanctified in the womb."(35) The liturgy guides Thomas's theological reflection, especially on the sacraments.

Thomas is also historically aware enough to realize that the liturgy develops over time.(36) Walter H. Principe, C.S.B., in his article "Tradition in Thomas Aquinas's Scripture Commentaries," notes that ecclesiastical traditions are authoritative but not so authoritative as the Gospel itself by which these traditions are to be judged.(37) And yet as Principe points out, the early tradition of the Church establishes the form of the sacrament of the Eucharist, though this form is variously expressed in Paul, Matthew, and Luke. As Thomas notes: "For the Evangelists intended to recite the words of the Lord in so far as they pertain to history, not in so far as they are ordained to the consecration of the sacraments, which took place in secret in the early Church on account of the infidels."(38) The liturgy of the Church understood here as an aspect of the tradition coming from the Apostles and developed in the living ecclesial practice informs the reading of Scripture and establishes practices that are aspects of reflection for theology.

Thirdly, Thomas is also aware of the way in which language shapes the formulations of the articles of faith. In various passages, Thomas understands "implicite" in terms of figures of speech and signs. The move from implicit to explict is, in this instance, a move from figurative speech to literal speech. He writes:

Divine things ought not be revealed to man save according to their capacity: otherwise an occasion of a fall is given to them, for they condemn those things which they do not understand. And for this reason it was useful that divine mysteries be handed on to an unsophisticated people under a kind of veil of figures so that thus they might know these things at least implicitly while by these figures they were devoted to the honor of God.(39)

Thomas understands the meaning of implicit in terms of being known "under a veil of figures."(40) He characterizes the use of these figures, here and elsewhere, as a pedagogic tool for instructing the unlearned.(41)

Thomas is in the passages just mentioned referring to the development from the understanding of God accessible to Old Testament figures to a clearer revelation of God's triune nature in the New Testament. Yet, the development of language occurs not merely before but also after the apostles. Of this, Thomas was aware, and, indeed, he was a prime contributor to this shift. This shift is from true but undifferentiated language about God to language that is more exact and precise. Church Councils before him introduced non-scriptural terms such as homoousion, Theotokos, and Trinitas in order to clarify the meaning of Scriptural passages vis-a-vis rival interpretations. Thomas continues in this tradition appropriating in so many places Aristotelian terms, or terms such as transubstantiation that arise from Aristotelian roots, to clarify and differentiate positions that truly accord with Scripture and Church teaching from those that do not.(42) G. Geenan, O.P., notes that Thomas: "felt duty bound to show that, as a matter of fact, these new words [not of Biblical origin] corresponded in their own way to the words of Scripture."(43) Thomas is well aware of his extraliteral usage. Geenan continues:

"Tradition" has a real place in the theology of Aquinas, since at times it is due to Tradition alone that we can arrive at an understanding of the Scriptures and that we can demonstrate that, even Scriptural texts, which at first sight and secundum litteram seem to affirm the contrary of revealed doctrine, express in fact this revealed doctrine such as it is taught by the Church. The "Filioque" a formula of extra-scriptural origin, contains "expressly" and explicitly what was not found in Scripture except "per sensum."(44)

The shift from implicit to explicit is first the shift from figurative Old Testament language to literal New Testament proclamation and then the move from literal but less differentiated language to a more precise language that works to exclude rival interpretations of Holy Scripture.

Development as Historically Situated

Sacred doctrine proceeds from a revelation from God that is for the salvation of humanity.(45) For Thomas, sacred doctrine is a science that treats primarily God himself and creatures in so far as they are related to God, who is their efficient and final cause.(46) The articles of faith (articuli fidei) which are given by a higher science, the very wisdom of God, articulate the first principles of theology.(47) These articles (the Creed) express those things in the content of Sacred Scripture that are necessary for our belief.(48) It is important to note that this science, this wisdom of sacra doctrina is for a purpose: "I respond it should be said that what was needed for human salvation is a certain teaching concerning divine relevation beyond the natural knowledge investigated by human reason."(49) If sacred doctrine is to save individuals, it must be proportioned to the receiver, for everything received is received in the manner of the receiver. Revelation is intended to save singular, distinct persons living in diverse contexts, with various intellectual presuppositions. The expression of sacred doctrine must change so that it can save people in contexts that differ from the context of the apostles. Theology thus becomes an act of evangelizare in the medieval sense. Hence, our understanding of sacred doctrine develops, indeed must develop in history.

Perhaps the most powerful historical influence on the formation of doctrine, for Thomas are the heretici. It is often human weakness, misunderstanding, or doubt that prompts doctrinal development.(50) Thomas follows Augustine in describing the way in which heretics challenging the faith furnish an opportunity for the Church to clarify teachings and make explicit what was previously covert.(51) Thomas echoes this understanding in a number of places. In II-II, 1, 10 ad 1, he argues: "since perverse men pervert apostolic teaching and the Scriptures to their own damnation, as it is written in Second Peter 16; therefore there is need with the passage of time of an explanation of the faith against arising errors."(52) Doctrinal development is for Thomas, as for Augustine, an "explanatio fidei contra insurgentes errores" which means in effect that heresy influences the formulation of doctrine not merely as an occasion for reflection but also by substantial contribution, albeit a dialectical one.(53) Thus, doctrine develops in reference to highly specific and historically emergent circumstances.

Thomas also has an awareness of the influence of historical context on the shaping of doctrine.(54) Though it would be anachronistic to portray Thomas as having the "historical consciousness" associated with Hegel, Darwin, or Newman, a failure to recognize elements of these insights in the Thomistic corpus would be also be mistaken.(55) Thomas takes into account how the historical situation of the Church influences formulation of the Nicene and the Apostolic creeds:

The creed of the Fathers is declarative of the Apostles Creed, and was also fashioned when the faith was manifest and the Church at peace, for this reason it is sung publicly at Mass. However, the Apostles' Creed, which was drawn up at a time of persecution, when the faith was not yet public, is said privately in Prime and Compline, as if against the darkness of past and future errors.(56)

The Church, having peace at a later time, declares more publicly its credo (which explains, perhaps, its greater length) which during a time of persecution retained a greater brevity. Thomas is not unaware the temporal conditions of the Church influence the way in which the liturgy is performed and therefore doctrine presented.(57)

The Prooemium of the Contra errores graecorum exemplifies both Thomas's understanding of historical context and the effect heresy has on doctrine. Having been asked by Urban IV for an expert opinion of a Libellus de processione Spiritus Sancti et de fide trinitatis contra errores Graecorum published by Nicholas of Durazzo the bishop of Catrone, Thomas replied in his own work also entitled, Contra errores Graecorum.(58) Thomas notes that expressions that sound orthodox in Greek, often do not sound orthodox in Latin. Though the Greeks and Latins share the same beliefs, they do not share the same language in which those beliefs are expressed. One must then, in translating, preserve the meaning, but change the words or mode of speaking.(59) In other words, as the faith is put into the words of various cultures, its linguistic form may change. He writes:

Since errors arising concerning the faith gave an occasion to the doctors of the Church that matters of faith might be passed on with greater care for the elimination of arising errors; it is clear that holy teachers who were before Arius did not so speak concerning the unity of the divine essence as teachers who followed. And similarly it happens concerning other errors, not only among diverse teachers but even in that most excellent of teachers Augustine, it appears clearly. For in the works that he composed after the heresy of the Pelagians arose, he spoke more cautiously concerning the freedom of the will than he had in the books which he composed before the aforementioned heresy arose. In those books in which he defends the freedom of the will against the Manicheans, he said certain things which the Pelagians, opponents of divine grace, took up in defense of their errors. And so it is no wonder, after the rise of various errors, if modern teachers of the faith speak more cautiously and seemingly perfectly concerning the doctrine of faith so that all heresy might be avoided. Hence, if some things in the writings of ancient teachers is found which is not said with as much caution as maintained by moderns, they are not to be condemned or cast aside; but it is not necessary to embrace these things, but interpret them reverently.(60)

Many things in this passage deserve comment. Errors are the occasion of handing on the teaching of the Church regarding a certain matter with greater care (majori circumspectione). This care results in a difference in expression between those teachers writing before heresy versus those after the heresy. Thomas cites the example of the Fathers before and after Arius regarding the unity of the Divinity. In ST II-II, 1, 8 ad 3, he notes that that this event occasioned a new article of the creed to emerge: "For Arius believed in the omnipotent and eternal father: but he did not believe in the equality and consubstantiality of the Son with the Father; and therefore it was necessary to add an article concerning the person of the Son in order to settle this matter."(61) Of course, prior to Arius there was, so to speak, no matter to be settled. The clarified and developed teaching only emerges out of an historically contingent moment--the arrival of Arian teaching.

Thomas sees these shifts in presentation not only with respect to the Church's teaching as a whole but also in respect to individual fathers of the Church. The teaching of those earlier fathers that seem erroneous from a later perspective is not to be rejected, but interpreted reverently (reverenter). Thomas repeats this injunction in his Commentary on John: "Now although what is said here by these holy men is orthodox, care must be taken to avoid the reproach which some receive for this. For the early doctors and saints were so intent upon refuting the emerging errors concerning the faith that they seemed meanwhile to fall into the opposite ones. For example, Augustine speaking against the Manicheans, who destroyed the freedom of the will, disputed in such terms that he seemed to have fallen into the heresy of Pelagius."(62) Augustine's teachings about the will shifted when the encroaching heresy was Pelagianism rather than Manicheanism.

For Thomas, these developments are entirely appropriate for even the Scriptures themselves are partially in response to heretical errors arising in the early Church. Thomas shows an awareness that the Johannine Gospel responds to a particular crisis of Christian faith. In the prologue to his commentary he writes:

For while the other Evangelists treat principally of the mysteries of the humanity of Christ, John, especially and above all, makes known the divinity of Christ in his Gospelů. He did this because, after the other Evangelist had written their Gospels, heresies had arisen concerning the divinity of Christ, to the effect that Christ was purely and simply a man, as Ebion and Cerinthus falsely thought. And so John the Evangelist, who had drawn the truth about the divinity of the Word from the very fountain-head of the divine breast, wrote this Gospel at the request of the faithful. And in it he gives us the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and refutes all heresies.(63)

Thus, as long as false understandings of revelation occur, there will be a stimulus for understanding more deeply revealed truths. "And these errors, for all that, exercised the talents of the faithful toward a more diligent penetration and understanding of divine truth, just as the evils which occur in creatures are ordered by God to some good."(64)

Concluding Remarks

Although elements of these three models of development may be detected in Thomas, he does not adopt them in every respect. Unlike Lindbeck's account of development, for Thomas, a council in restating and reformulating Church teaching does not and cannot reverse or contradict earlier teaching but rather fulfills and makes explicit what was earlier implicit.

It should be said that in any council whatsoever some creed was instituted on account of some error that is condemned in the council. Hence a later council was not making another creed than the first, but that which is implicitly contained in the first creed is explained against the existing heresy through certain additions. Hence in the judgment of the synod of Chalcedon it was said that those who were gathered in the Council of Constantinople handed down the teaching on the Holy Spirit, not insinuating that there was anything lacking in their predecessors who had gathered together at Nicaea, but declaring their understanding of the Holy Spirit against heretics. What therefore in the time of ancient councils was not yet necessary is posited here explicitly. But later it was expressed, with the rising error of certain people, in a Council gathered in the West by the authority of the Roman pontiff, by whose authority the ancient councils were also gathered and confirmed. It was contained nevertheless implicitly when it was said that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.(65)

Those fathers of later councils hand down determinations which were "not implying that there was anything wanting in the doctrine of their predecessors who had gathered together at Nicaea, but explaining what those fathers had understood of the matter." The implicit is the unstated intention of those authors; the explicit is what the later councils, guided by the Spirit, judge the earlier councils would have said had they been confronted with the historical situation. "Reason sees immediately that those things which are per se nota, in which are contained implicitly certain other things which it is not possible to understand save through the work of reason, by explaining those things which are contained implicitly in the principles."(66) The Church judges the new teaching either a valid interpretation of Scripture or an earlier creed or a heresy in respect of these in light of previous precedent.(67) For Thomas, the particulars of history and the situation occasion the development of doctrine.

In conclusion, Thomas did have an account of the development of doctrine. Prima facie, there is a difficulty reconciling Thomas's belief that the apostles have the most full knowledge of the mysteries of faith and that earlier fathers have a more implicit faith than later fathers of the Church. Thomas acknowledges both truths. The apostles having intimate association with the Risen Christ as well as special graces allowing them to fulfill their vocation know Jesus in a privileged way. But reflection on the revelation recorded in Scripture offer believers the chance for a participation in the scientia of God, but this scientia is an imperfect participation.

The deep riches of Scripture, the primary source upon which Thomas's theology is based, both excludes reversals or denials of the text as well as open the possibility for ever deeper understanding of the truths and the Truth therein contained. Thomas, indeed, foreshadows aspects of the logical, organic, and historical approaches to development of doctrine elaborated by later theologians. There is no new public revelation but as Thomas notes in terms of understanding this revelation, "the faith is able to be better explained in this respect each day and was made more explicit through the study of the saints."(68) This needed explanation (interpretatio sermonum) by the saints is a gift of the Holy Spirit.(69) Though it would be exaggerated to suggest that Thomas handles the theme with the same sophistication or historical awareness as later authors such as Newman or Rahner, it would also be exaggerated to suggest he had no sense whatsoever of the development of doctrine.(70) Indeed perhaps Thomas could appreciate these words of Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind -


1. Alternations are visible sometimes even within one work as the manuscript evidence makes clear. See Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work. Trans. Robert Royal. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996) 101.

2. See, for example, A.F. von Guten, "In Principio Erat Verbum: Une évolution de saint Thomas en théology trinitaire" Ordo Saptientiae et Amoris: Image et Message de Saint Thomas D'Aquin. Ed. Carolos-Josaphat Pinto de Oliveira (Éditions Universitaires Fribourg Suisse, 1993) 119-141.

3. See, for example, Avery Dulles, The Resilient Church (New York: Doubleday, 1976) 46.

4. Jan Hendrik Walgrave Unfolding Revelation: The Nature of Doctrinal Development (London: Westminister, 1972) 114.

5. Lonergan, "Theology in a New Context" A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974) 63-64.

6. Bernard Lonergan "Theology in its New Context" in A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974) 59.

7. Lonergan, "Philosophy and Theology" in A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974) 202.

8. Lonergan's views of Aquinas himself suggest that perhaps Thomas avoids these neo-scholastic problems. "It should be noted, however, that Aquinas was as little influenced by the ideal of necessity as had been Aristotle himself." Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder) 280.

9. Armand Maurer, CSB, St. Thomas and Historicity The Aquinas Lecture (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1979) 31-32.

10. Mechthild Dreyer, "Hildegard of Bingen: Her Thought on the Horizon of the Theology of the Twelfth Century" Lecture at Loyola Marymount University, March 22, 1999, p.4.

11. Aquinas On Faith and Reason. Edited with introduction by Stephen F. Brown, (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co, 1999) 7.

12. Stephen Brown, "Declarative and Deductive Theology in the Early Fourteenth Century" Miscellanea mediaevalia 26 (1998) 648-655, at 651-52.

13. Ibid.

14. Pace, Per Erik Persson, Sacra Doctrina: Reason and Revelation in Aquinas. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969) 81 et passim.

15. Thomas remarks in places on the completeness of revelation of Christ in Scripture. ST III, 64, 2 ad 3; III Sent. 25, 2, 2, 1 ad 5. Revelatio, objectum fidei catholicae constituens, non fuit cum Apostolis completa. DS no. 2021.

16. Summa contra gentiles, IV, 55, [12].

17. ST 1-2, q.1, a.7, ad 4. illi qui primo tradiderunt fidem perfectissime eam cognoverunt [quia] Apostoli plenissime fuerunt instructi de mysteriis. Inexplicably, Walgrave does not cite this article that poses the question "Utrum secundum successionem temporum articuli fidei creverint," though he cites the following one. See too, Disputed Questions on Truth, II, q. 14, a.12 ad 6.

18. ST 1, q.36, a.2 ad 2. necesse fuit edere plura symbola, quae in nullo alio differunt, nisi quod in uno plenius explicantur, quae in alio continentur implicite.

19. Avery Dulles, The Resilient Church (New York: Doubleday, 1976) 47, 49.

20. M.M. Tuyaerts, L'Évolution du dogme. Étude théologique. (Louvain, 1919); C. Boyer, "Qu'est-ce que la théologie? Réflexions sur une controverse" Gregorianum 21 (1940) 264-65.

21. G. A. Lindbeck, "Doctrinal Development and Protestant Theology" in E. Schillebeeckz, ed., Man as man and Believer, Concilium vol. 21 (New York: Paulist Press, 1967) 138-39, as cited in Dulles, A Resilient Church, p.51.

22. See for instance Thomas Rausch "Doctrinal Development" in the New Dictionary of Theology. ed. Joseph Komonchak et al. (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1989): 280-283 and Jan Walgrave Unfolding Revelation: The Nature of Doctrinal Development (London: Westminister, 1972) 114 et passim.

23. As Henri DeLubac makes clear in his essay "The Problem of the Development of Dogma" the approach to development as involving logical deduction alone was never widely endorsed and had few adherents. The vast majority of neo-scholastic theologians agreed with Newman that a more "vitalisitc" approach was necessary. See DeLubac's Theology in History (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996) 248-280.

24. ST 1, q.36, a.2, ad 1. Regulariter etiam in sacra Scriptura tenendum est, quod id, quod de Patre dicitur, oportet de Filio intelligi, etiam si dictio exclusiva addatur, nisi solum in illis, quibus Pater, et Filius secundum oppositas relationes distinguunter. Cum enim Dominus, Matth. 11. dicit: Nemo novit Filium, nisi Pater, non excluditur, quin Filius seipsum cognoscat. Sic igitur, cum dicitur, quod Spiritus Sanctus a Patre procedit, etiamsi adderetur, quod a solo Patre procedit, non excluderetur inde Filius; quia quantum ad hoc, quod est esse principium Spiritus Sancti, non opponnuntur Pater, et Filius, sed solum quantum ad hoc, quod hic est Pater, et ille Filius.

25. Ibid.

26. Stephen Brown, "Declarative and Deductive Theology in the Early Fourteenth Century" Miscellanea mediaevalia 26 (1998) 648-655, at 649. See too his, "Peter of Candia's Hundred-Year 'History' of the Theologian's Role" Medieval Philosophy and Theology 1 (1991) 156-174.

27. ST I, q.1, a.8.

28. ST I, q.1, a.5, ad 2.

29. Thomas Aquinas, De trinitate, q.2, a.3, sc1.

30. ST 1, q.1, a.8, ad 2; ST I, 1, 5 ad 2.

31. "[A]ntiqui philosophi paulatim, et quasi pedetentim intraverunt in cognitionem veritatis. A principio enim, quasi grossiores existentes, non existimabant esse entia, nisi corpora sensibilia. Quorum, qui ponebant in eis, motum, non considerabant motum, nisi secundum aliqua accidentia, ut puta, secundum raritatem, et densitatem, congregationem, et segregationem...." ST 1, q.44, a.2. Thomas continues speaking about the progress of philosophy through Plato to Aristotle. See too, De sub. Sep. c.9.

32. Thomas Aquinas, Sententia libri ethicorum, b.1, lectio 11, 133.

33. ST 3, q.83, a.3, ad 6. "Formerly the priests did not use golden but wooden chalices; but Pope Zephyrinus ordered the mass to be said with glass patens; and subsequently Pope Urban had everything made of silver." Afterwards it was decided that "the Lord's chalice with the paten should be made entirely of gold, or of silver or at least of tin. But it is not to be made of brass, or copper, because the action of the wine thereon produces verdigris, and provokes vomiting. But no one is to presume to sing mass with a chalice of wood or of glass" because as the wood is porous, the consecrated blood would remain in it; while glass is brittle and there might arise danger of breakage; and the same applies to stone. Consequently, out of reverence for the sacrament, it was enacted that the chalice should be made of the aforesaid materials. Here the most ancient tradition is suppressed (drinking from wooden chalice) and modern ones preferred based on papal authority as well as the fittingness of having liturgical vessels that better take into account the reverence due and the care one should take with the Sacred Species.

34. ST 3 q.72, a.4; q.72, a.12; q.78, a.6, etc. See too, Liam G. Walsh, "Liturgy in the Theology of St. Thomas" The Thomist 38 (1974) 557-583 for numerous references as well as a treatment of Thomas's understanding and uses of liturgy.

35. ST 3, q.27, a.1, sed contra.

36. See ST 3, q.80, a.10, ad 5 and ST 3, q.80, a.12 for Thomas's account of historical practices with respect to reception of the Eucharist.

37. Walter H. Principe, C.S.B. "Tradition in Thomas Aquinas's Scripture Commentaries" The Quadrilog: Tradition and the Future of Ecumenism: Essays in Honor of George H. Tavard. Ed. Kenneth Hagen (Collegeville, Minn: The Liturgical Press, 1994) 43-60, at 49-50.

38. Super primam epistolam ad Corinthios, ch.11, v.25, lect. 6.

39. ST 1-2, 101, 2, ad 1. Divina non sunt revelanda hominibus nisi secundum eorum capacitatem: alioquin daretur eis praecipitii materia, dum contemnerent, quae capere non possunt; et ideo utilius fuit, ut sub quodam figurarum velamine divina mysteria rudi populo traderentur; ut sic saltem ea implicite cognoscerent, dum illis figuris deservirent ad honorem Dei.

40. For other examples see: ST 1-2, q.107, a.3, ad 1; ST 2-2, q.2, a.8.

41. ST 1-2, q.2, a.8 "et ideo eodem modo, quo mysterium Incarnationis Christi ante Christum fuit explicite creditum a majoribus, implicite autem, et quasi obumbrate a minoribus, ita etiam et mysterium Trinitatis; et ideo etiam post tempus gratiae divulgatae tenentur omnes ad explicite credendum mysterium Trinitatis."

42. See for instance, ST 3, q.73-81, on the Eucharist.

43. G. Geenan "The Place of Tradition in the Theology of St. Thomas." The Thomist 15 (1952) 133.

44. Ibid. pp.133-134.

45. "necessarium fuit ad humanam salutem esse doctrinam quamdam secundum relelationem divinam" ST 1, q.1, a.1 sc.

46. ST 1, q.1, a.3 ad 1.

47. "haec doctrina non argumentatur ad sua principia probanda, quae sunt articuli fidei: sed ex eis procedit ad aliquid ostendendum" ST 1, q.1,a. 8. "sacra doctrina non supponit sua principia ab aliqua scientia humana, sed a scientia divina, a qua, sicut a summa sapientia, omnis nostra cognitio ordinatur." ST 1, q.1, a.6 ad 1.

48. ST 2-2, q.1, a.9 ad 1.

49. ST 1, q.1, a.1, emphasis in the original. Respondeo dicendum, quod necessarium fuit ad humanam salutem esse doctrinam quamdam secundum revelationem divinam praeter physicas disciplinas, quae ratione humana investigantur

50. It should also be noted that doubt furnishes the occasion of distinguishing articles: "Et ideo ubi occurrit aliquid specialis ratione non visum, ibi est specialis articulus." ST 2-2, q.1, a.6.

51. Augustine in the Confessions writes: "Improbatio quippe haereticorum facit eminere quid ecclesia tua sentiat et quid habeat sana doctrina" (VII, 19).

52. quia perversi homines apostolicam doctrinam et ceteras Scripturas pervertunt ad sui ipsorum perditionem, sicut dictur II Petr. ult., 16; ideo necessaria est, temporibus procedentibus, explanatio fidei contra insurgentes errores.

53. A repeated theme in his teatment of this subject, Thomas repeats this elsewhere: "in doctrina Christi, et Apostolorum veritas fidei est sufficienter explicata; sed quia perversi homines Apostolicam doctrinam, et caeteras doctrinas, et scripturas pervertent ad sui ipsorum perditionem, sicut dicitur secundae Petri ultimo; ideo necessaria fuit temporibus procedentibus explicatio fidei contra insurgentes errores. ST 2-2, q.1, a.10 ad 1.

54. Pace, Walgrave for instance who writes: "[For medieval theologians,] the 'authorities' of antiquity were not viewed in their historical setting and succession, but ony as building blocks for their dialectical constructions or doctrinal systems" (114).

55. The topic of the existence or lack of an 'historical consciousness' among medieval intellectuals and common folk depends in great part on what is meant by the term. A discussion of the possible meanings of the term and its application or lack of application to persons in the Middle Ages is however beyond the scope of the present discussion.

56. ST 2-2, q.1, a.9 ad 6. symbolum Patrum est declarativum symboli Apostolorum, et etiam fuit conditum fide iam manifestata et Ecclesia pacem habente, propter hoc publice in missa cantatur. Symbolum autem Apostolorum, quod tempore persecutionis editum fuit, fide nondum publicata, occulte dicitur in Prima et in Completorio, quasi contra tenebras errorum praeteritorum et futurorum.

57. See also, Super primam epistolam ad Corinthios, ch.11, v.25, lect. 6.

58. For greater contextualization and interpretation of this work see James A. Weisheipl, Friar Thomas d'Aquino, rev. ed. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1983) 389; and Mark D. Jordan's "Theological Exegesis and Aquinas's Treatise 'against the Greeks'" Church History 56, No. 4 (December 1987) 445-456; and Leo J. Elders, "Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of the Church" in The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West ed. Irena Backus (E.J. Brill, New York, 1997).

59. See prologue of Contra errores Graecorum 45-71.

60. [Q]uia errores circa fidem exorti occasionem dederunt sanctis Ecclesiae Doctoribus ut ea quae sunt fidei, majori circumspectione traderent, ad eliminandos errores exortos; sicut patet quod sancti Doctores qui fuerunt ante errorem Arii, non ita expresse locuti sunt de unitate divinae essentiae, sicut Doctores sequentes: et simile de aliis contingit erroribus: quod non solum in diversis Doctoribus, sed in uno egregio Doctorum Augustino expresse apparet. Nam in suis libris quos post exortam Pelagianorum haeresim edidit, cautius locutus est de potestate liberi arbitrii quam in libris quos edidit ante praedictae haeresis ortum: in quibus libertatem arbitrii contra Manichaeos defendens, aliqua protulit quae in suis defensionem erroris assumpserunt Pelagiani, divinae gratiae adversantes. Et ideo non est mirum, si moderni fidei Doctores post varios errores exortos, cautius et quasi elimatius loquuntur circa doctrinam fidei, ad omnem haeresim evitandam. Unde, si aliqua in dictis antiquorum Doctorum inveniuntur quae cum tanta cautela non dicantur quanta a modernis servatur, non sunt contemnenda aut abjicienda; sed nec etiam ea extendere oportet, sed exponere reverenter.

61. ST 2-2, q.1, a.8 ad 3. Arius enim credidit Patrem omnipotentem, et aeternum: sed non credidit Filium coaequalem, et consubstantialem Patri; et ideo necessarium fuit apponere articulum de persona Filii, ad hoc determinandum.

62. Thomas Aquinas, On Faith and Reason, ed. Stephen Brown (Indiana: Hackett, 1999) 259. In Johannem lecture 7, 174

63. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Part I. Trans. J.A. Weisheipl and F.R. (Larcher. Albany: Magi Books, 1980) 26.

64. Summa contra Gentiles, IV, ch.55, [9].

65. ST 1, q.36, a.2 ad 2. Ad secundum dicendum quod in quolibet Concilio institutum fuit symolum aliquod propter errorem aliquem, qui in Concilio damnabatur. Unde sequens Concilium non faciebat aliud symbolum, quam primum, sed id, quod implicite continebatur in primo symbolo, per aliqua addita explanabatur contra haereses insurgentes. Unde in determinatione Chalcedon Synodi dicitur quod illi qui fuerunt congregti in Concilio Constantinopolitano, doctrinam de Spiritu Sancto tradiderunt, non quod minus esset in praecedentibus, qui apud Nicaeam congregati sunt, inferentes, sed intellectum eorum adversus haereticos declarantes. Quid igitur in tempore antiquorum Conciliorum nondum fuit necessarium, quod hoc explicite poneretur: sed postea, insurgente errore quorumdam, in quodam Concilio in occidentalibus partibus congregato expressum fuit auctoritate Romani Pontificis, cuius auctoritate etiam antiqua Concilia congregabantur, et confirmabantur. Continebatur tamen implicite in hoc ipso, quod dicebatur Spiritus Sanctus a Patre procedere.

66. Disputed Questions on Truth II, q.11, a.1, ad 12. statim quaedam videt, ut quae sunt per se nota, in quibus implicite continentur quaedam alia quae intelligere non potest nisi per officium rationis ea quae in principiis implicite continentur, explicando.

67. The final arbiter is revealed in what Thomas says in ST 2-2, q.1, a.10: "nova editio Symboli necessaria est ad vitandum insurgentes errores: ad illius ergo auctoritatem pertinet editio Symoli, ad cuius auctoritatem pertinet finaliter determinare ea, quae sunt fidei, ut ab omnibus inconcussa fide teneantur: hoc autem pertinet ad auctoritatem summi Pontificis."

68. Sent III. 25, 2, 2, 1, ad 5: quantum ad hoc quotidie potest fides explicari et per studium sanctorum magis explicata fuit.

69. Quodlibet XII, q.16, a. unicus [27].

70. Thanks to Tom Rausch, S.J., John Jenkins, CSC, Mark D. Jordan, Matthew Levering, and James K.A. Smith who made helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper.