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Quote Archive: Development of Doctrine

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

This Quote Archive on the Development of Doctrine is part of the Becoming Catholic series. Each archive of quotes is intended to serve as a reference source on the various topics addressed in the articles. They are periodically updated as more research is completed.

Origen (c. 184-c. 253) (EAST)

Origen, De Principiis (Preface, §§2-3)

(§2) Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, as, e.g., regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, viz., the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points. For as we ceased to seek for truth (notwithstanding the professions of many among Greeks and Barbarians to make it known) among all who claimed it for erroneous opinions, after we had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God, and were persuaded that we must learn it from Himself; so, seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.

(§3) Now it ought to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to everyone, even to those who seemed somewhat dull in the investigation of divine knowledge; leaving, however, the grounds of their statements to be examined into by those who should deserve the excellent gifts of the Spirit, and who, especially by means of the Holy Spirit Himself, should obtain the gift of language, of wisdom, and of knowledge; while on other subjects they merely stated the fact that things were so, keeping silence as to the manner or origin of their existence; clearly in order that the more zealous of their successors, who should be lovers of wisdom, might have a subject of exercise on which to display the fruit of their talents—those persons, I mean, who should prepare themselves to be fit and worthy receivers of wisdom.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) (EAST)

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Discourse (Ch. 3, §§2-3)1

(§2) For in hypostasis the Spirit is one thing and the Word another, and another again is he to whom the Word and the Spirit belong. But whenever you understand the distinction in these, again, the unity of nature does not admit partition, so that neither is the might of the monarchy split, being cut up into differing divinities, nor does the discourse agree with Jewish teaching, but the truth passes through the mean of the two suppositions, casting down each of the heresies and accepting what is useful from each. For the teaching of the Jew is overturned both by the acceptance of the Word and by faith in the Spirit, while the Hellenists’ polytheistic error is destroyed, the unity of nature abolishing the fantasy of multiplicity.

(§3) And again, once more, from the Jewish supposition let the unity of the nature remain, and from Hellenism only the distinction of hypostases, each correspondingly healing the other’s impious conjecture: for just as the number of the Trinity is a healing for those in error about the one [nature], the principle of unity [is a healing] for those [whose thought is] scattered in a multitude [of gods].

St. Augustine (354-430) (WEST)

St. Augustine, Letter 137 (§6)

(§6) …Heresies bud forth against the name of Christ, though veiling themselves under His name, as had been foretold, by which the doctrine of the holy religion is tested and developed. All these things are now seen to be accomplished, in exact fulfilment of the predictions which we read in Scripture; and from these important and numerous instances of fulfilled prophecy, the fulfilment of the predictions which remain is confidently expected…

St. Augustine, City of God (Book 16, Ch. 2)

(Ch. 2) The things which then were hidden are now sufficiently revealed by the actual events which have followed. For who can carefully and intelligently consider these things without recognizing them accomplished in Christ?…And Ham (i.e., hot), who was the middle son of Noah, and, as it were, separated himself from both [Shem and Japheth], and remained between them, neither belonging to the first-fruits of Israel nor to the fullness of the Gentiles, what does he signify but the tribe of heretics, hot with the spirit, not of patience, but of impatience, with which the breasts of heretics are wont to blaze, and with which they disturb the peace of the saints? But even the heretics yield an advantage to those that make proficiency, according to the apostle’s saying, “There must also be heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). Whence, too, it is elsewhere said, “The son that receives instruction will be wise, and he uses the foolish as his servant” (Prov. 17:2). For while the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the Catholic faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction

These secrets of divine Scripture we investigate as well as we can. All will not accept our interpretation with equal confidence, but all hold it certain that these things were neither done nor recorded without some foreshadowing of future events, and that they are to be referred only to Christ and His church, which is the city of God, proclaimed from the very beginning of human history by figures which we now see everywhere accomplished…

St. Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 7 (§15)

(§15) But since he has said that the Lord has prepared not arrows only, but “instruments of death” too, in the bow, it may be asked, what are instruments of death? Are they, per-adventure, heretics? For they too, out of the same bow, that is, out of the same Scriptures, light upon souls not to be inflamed with love but destroyed with poison, which does not happen but after their deserts: wherefore even this dispensation is to be assigned to the Divine Providence, not that it makes men sinners, but that it orders them after they have sinned. For through sin reaching them with an ill purpose, they are forced to understand them ill, that this should be itself the punishment of sin: by whose death, nevertheless, the sons of the Catholic Church are, as it were by certain thorns, so to say, aroused from slumber, and make progress toward the understanding of the holy Scriptures. “For there must be also heresies, that they which are approved,” he says, “may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19), that is, among men, seeing they are manifest to God. Or has He haply ordained the same arrows to be at once instruments of death for the destruction of unbelievers, and wrought them burning, or for the burning, for the exercising of the faithful? For that is not false that the Apostle says, “To the one we are the savor of life unto life, to the other the savor of death unto death; and who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16) It is no wonder then if the same Apostles be both instruments of death in those from whom they suffered persecution, and fiery arrows to inflame the hearts of believers.

St. Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 55 (§21)

(§21) “And His heart hath drawn near” (v. 22). Of whom do we understand it, except of Him, by the anger of whom they have been divided? How “hath his heart drawn near”? In such sort, that we may understand His will. For by heretics hath been vindicated the Catholic Church, and by those that think evil have been proved those that think well. For many things lay hid in the Scriptures: and when heretics had been cut off, with questions they troubled the Church of God: then those things were opened which lay hid, and the will of God was understood. Thence is said in another Psalm, “In order that they might be excluded that have been proved with silver” (Ps. 68:30). For let them be excluded, He hath said, let them come forth, let them appear. Whence even in silver-working men are called “excluders,” that is, pressers out of form from the sort of confusion of the lump. Therefore many men that could understand and expound the Scriptures very excellently, were hidden among the people of God: but they did not declare the solution of difficult questions, when no reviler again urged them. For was the Trinity perfectly treated of before the Arians snarled thereat? Was repentance perfectly treated of before the Novatians opposed? So not perfectly of Baptism was it treated, before re-baptizers removed outside contradicted; nor of the very oneness of Christ were the doctrines clearly stated which have been stated, save after that this separation began to press upon the weak: in order that they that knew how to treat of and solve these questions (lest the weak should perish vexed with the questions of the ungodly), by their discourses and disputations should bring out unto open day the dark things of the LawThis obscure sense see in what manner the Apostle bringeth out into light; “It is needful,” he saith, “that also heresies there be, in order that men proved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19) What is “men proved”? Proved with silver, proved with the word. What is “may be made manifest”? May be brought out. Wherefore this? Because of heretics. So therefore these also “have been divided because of the anger of His countenance, and His heart hath drawn near.”

St. Augustine, Sermon 1 (§11)

(§11) What then do our adversaries say? If, says one, I shall discover a lie, surely you will not then believe it all; and such I have discovered. Let us see: I will reckon up the generations; for by their slanderous caviling they invite and bring us to this. Yes, if we live religiously, if we believe Christ, if we do not desire to fly out of the nest before the time, they only bring us to this—to the knowledge of mysteries. Mark then, holy brethren, the usefulness of heretics; their usefulness, that is, in respect of the designs of God, who makes a good use even of those that are bad; whereas, as regards themselves, the fruit of their own designs is rendered to them, and not that good which God brings out of them. Just as in the case of Judas; what great good did he! By the Lord’s Passion all nations are saved; but that the Lord might suffer, Judas betrayed Him. God then both delivers the nations by the Passion of His Son, and punishes Judas for his own wickedness. For the mysteries which lie hid in Scripture, no one who is content with the simplicity of the faith would curiously sift them, and therefore as no one would sift them, no one would discover them but for cavilers who force us. For when heretics cavil, the little ones are disturbed; when disturbed, they make search, and their search is, so to say, that they may yield as much milk as is sufficient for these little ones. They search then, because they are troubled; but they who know and have learned these things, because they have investigated them, and God has opened to their knocking, they in their turn open to those who are in trouble. And so it happens that heretics serve usefully for the discovery of the truth, while they cavil to seduce men into error. For with less carefulness would truth be sought out, if it had not lying adversaries; “For there must be also heresies among you,” and as though we should inquire the cause, he [St. Paul] immediately subjoined, “that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).

St. Augustine, Confessions (Book 7, Ch. 19, §25)

(§25) …But somewhat later it was, I confess, that I learned how in the sentence, “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:15), the Catholic truth can be distinguished from the falsehood of Photinus. For the disapproval of heretics makes the tenets of Your Church and sound doctrine to stand out boldly. For there must be also heresies, that the approved may be made manifest among the weak. [1 Cor. 11:19]

St. Augustine, Tractate 36 on the Gospel of St. John (§6)

(§6)…Many heretics abound; and God has permitted them to abound to this end, that we may not be always nourished with milk and remain in senseless infancy. For inasmuch as they have not understood how the divinity of Christ is set forth to our acceptance, they have concluded according to their will: and by not discerning aright, they have brought in most troublesome questions upon catholic believers; and the hearts of believers began to be disturbed and to waver. Then immediately it became a necessity for spiritual men, who had not only read in the Gospel anything respecting the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but had also understood it, to bring forth the armor of Christ against the armor of the devil, and with all their might to fight in most open conflict for the divinity of Christ against false and deceitful teachers; lest, while they were silent, others might perish. For whoever have thought either that our Lord Jesus Christ is of another substance than the Father is, or that there is only Christ, so that the same is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; whoever also have chosen to think that He was only man, not God made man, or God in such wise as to be mutable in His Godhead, or God in such wise as not to be man; these have made shipwreck from the faith, and have been cast forth from the harbor of the Church, lest by their inquietude they might wreck the ships in their company. Which thing obliged that even we, though least and as regards ourselves wholly unworthy, but in regard of His mercy set in some account among His stewards, should speak to you what either you may understand and rejoice with me, or, if you cannot yet understand, by believing it you may remain secure in the harbor.

St. Vincent of Lerins (died c. 445) (WEST)

St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith (§§48, 54-59)

(§48) This being the case, he is the true and genuine Catholic who loves the truth of God, who loves the Church, who loves the Body of Christ, who esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above everything, above the authority, above the regard, above the genius, above the eloquence, above the philosophy, of every man whatsoever; who sets light by all of these, and continuing steadfast and established in the faith, resolves that he will believe that, and that only, which he is sure the Catholic Church has held universally and from ancient time; but that whatsoever new and unheard-of doctrine he shall find to have been furtively introduced by some one or another, besides that of all, or contrary to that of all the saints, this, he will understand, does not pertain to religion, but is permitted as a trial, being instructed especially by the words of the blessed Apostle Paul, who writes thus in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, “There must needs be heresies, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19), as though he should say, “This is the reason why the authors of Heresies are not immediately rooted up by God, namely, that they who are approved may be made manifest; that is, that it may be apparent of each individual, how tenacious and faithful and steadfast he is in his love of the Catholic faith.”

(§54) But someone will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

(§55) The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

(§56) In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

(§57) For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church’s field. It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of corn, should reap the counterfeit error of tares. This rather should be the result—there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last. From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind—wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensue in the character of the plant. There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles. God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam, darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties.

(§58) For if once this license of impious fraud be admitted, I dread to say in how great danger religion will be of being utterly destroyed and annihilated. For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole? On the other hand, if what is new begins to be mingled with what is old, foreign with domestic, profane with sacred, the custom will of necessity creep on universally, till at last the Church will have nothing left untampered with, nothing unadulterated, nothing sound, nothing pure; but where formerly there was a sanctuary of chaste and undefiled truth, thenceforward there will be a brothel of impious and base errors. May God’s mercy avert this wickedness from the minds of his servants; be it rather the frenzy of the ungodly.

(§59) But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view—if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it; if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it; if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practiced with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils—this, and nothing else—she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

St. Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390-c. 455) (WEST)

St. Prosper of Aquitaine, Answers to the Gauls (Article 13)2

Even as regards the errors which God allows to arise in the Church [from heretics], we should understand how His goodness turns them to our good, not of course by fostering them but by fostering through them the zeal of His sons for the search and preservation of the truth. That is what the Apostle says: “There must also be heresies, that that also who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).

St. Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) (WEST)

St. Pope Gregory the Great, Letter 2 (Book 8)

Moreover, there is this by the great favor of Almighty God; that among those who are divided from the doctrine of Holy Church there is no unity, since every kingdom divided against itself shall not stand (Luke 11). And holy Church is always more thoroughly equipped in her teaching when assaulted by the questionings of heretics; so that what was said by the Psalmist concerning God against heretics is fulfilled, “They are divided from the wrath of his countenance, and his heart has drawn near” (Ps. 50:20-21). For while they are divided in their wicked error, God brings His heart near to us, because, being taught by contradictions, we more thoroughly learn to understand Him.

St. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) (WEST)

St. Isidore of Seville, Sententiae (Book 1, Ch. 16, §§5, 8) (c. 612)3

(§5) Because of the wickedness of heresy the Church has expanded the scope of its doctrines, for earlier it was flourishing only by a simple faith. Therefore because of the opportunity offered by the heretics, those learned in the faith have increased [cf. 1 Cor. 11:19], and through the acumen of the heresies, the teachers of the Church have grown in depth. For now the assertion of the truth is manifested more clearly whenever any dissension appears

(§8) The reason for heresy is that this reality might come to be, that is, the strengthening of faith [cf. 1 Cor. 11:19]. The power of faith is shown, for example, through that which may be an obscurity of the divine Scriptures, in which the mistaken heretics understand something other than that which it really contains; the heresies are not able to survive, because by the very fact that they are heresies, they already are not. But thinking wrongly, they do not acquire the essence; they tend toward nothingness.

Footnotes

  1. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Ignatius Green, trans., Catechetical Discourse: A Handbook for Catechists (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2019), 69. ↩︎
  2. St. Prosper of Aquitaine, P. de Letter, S.J., trans., Ancient Christian Writers, No. 32: Prosper of Aquitaine: Defense of St. Augustine (New York: Newman Press, 1963), 154. ↩︎
  3. St. Isidore of Seville, Thomas L. Knoebel, trans., Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 73: Isidore of Seville—Sententiae (New York: The Newman Press, 2018), 64, 65. ↩︎
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