Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Development of Doctrine and Humanae Vitae

"When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13)

"Development of Doctine" is defined by Catholics as the increase in understanding - by means of the Holy Spirit, prayer, theological study, and the reflection of the Body of Christ as a whole - of
Christian doctrines that originated from the Lord Jesus himself and which have been passed down through the Apostles, the Fathers, the councils, and the Catholic Church in general (Catechism # 94, 158). Catholics call it the "Deposit of Faith". The meaning of doctrines unfolds over time, but the essence or substance of any particular doctrine remains unchanged. Our extent of knowledge or subjective grasp of any given dogma is what changes. The bible is not "absolutely clear", and requires the interpretative wisdom of the Church.

The Church's teaching against contraception provides a case in point. Throughout the whole history of the Church, it has been been clear and constant in its position on contraception. In fact, all Christian churches were united in their opposition to contraception until as recently as the early decades of the 20th century. It was not until 1930 that the Anglican Church went on record as saying that contraception was permissible, for grave reasons, within marriage. The first clamoring for change appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the widespread availability of the birth control pill. Some Catholic theologians began to think that the pill might be a legitimate form of birth control for Catholics because, unlike other kinds of birth control, it did not break the integrity of the sexual act. Amidst such controversy, the landmark encyclical "Humane Vitae" was released by Pope Paul VI in 1968. It clearly defined the intrinsic evil of contraception and even provided prophetic views that has since materialized. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II affirms Humane Vitae with his "Theology of the Body". On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae this month, Pope Benedict XVI states: "The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change. Quite the contrary, in the light of new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more relevant and stimulates reflection on the intrinsic values it possesses."

And going back to development of doctrine, it is noteworthy to cite St. Thomas Aquinas:

"Regarding its substance then, Faith does not grow with the passage of time, for whatever has been believed since was contained from the start in the Faith of the ancient fathers. With regards to its explication however, the number of articles has increased, for we moderns explicitly believe what they believed implicitly."

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