Rahner On The Development Of Dogma -- By: Stanley N. Gundry

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 15:4 (Fall 1972)
Article: Rahner On The Development Of Dogma
Author: Stanley N. Gundry


Rahner On The Development Of Dogma

Stanley N. Gundry*

One of the most distinctive features of the Roman Catholic theology of the past was its concept of doctrinal change, and briefly put, that concept was that doctrine did not change. As a matter of fact, the history of dogma was not generally discussed by Roman Catholics until the 19th century.1 The reason is not difficult to discover, for there was an inbuilt suspicion of the whole idea of development or history of dogma. As Cardinal Gibbons asserted, “The Church proposes the doctrines of faith… which know neither variation nor decay.”2 The argument was that the Christian religion is unchangeable in all its revealed doctrines so that no article of faith may be added, subtracted, or changed as to meaning from that given by Christ. The church cannot make new dogmas, but can only hand down the sacred deposit that was entrusted to her. That deposit was completed with the death of the last of the Apostles and is contained in both the written and unwritten tradition. This means that the dogmas are not added to the sacred deposit, but are contained in it or grow out of it. The Church only has the power to declare a truth to be revealed by God and to give it an infallible interpretation, thus dispelling uncertainty. The dogma itself does not develop and therefore has no history; there is development only in the subjective apprehension of it and outward expression of it.

But this view is no longer held by “progressive” Roman theologians. In fact, it is particularly embarrassing for them because they not only recognize that later dogmatic pronouncements do at least seem to be real developments, but they also are reinterpreting so radically past dogma that the contemporary meaning hardly seems inherent in the original statements. Consequently, recent Roman theologians have begun to speak of the development of dogma, but only with certain limitations placed upon the discussion. In such discussions, one thing cannot be surrendered by the Roman theologian, namely, the insistence that a defined dogma is without error with regard to its objective content (at least, this is the theory). This means that whatever the nature of the development of dogma the theologian is willing to admit, this development may never contradict the objective content of a dogma that has been infallibly set forth by the teaching church.

°Mr. Gundry is on the Faculty of Moody Bible Institute, teaching in the departments of Bible and Theology.

This gives rise to a two-fold problem, a problem which Karl Rahner states aptly and with which he wrestled in great det...

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