Thursday, 18 April 2013

Development versus Mutation

We often see, today, the changes and novelties which have been introduced into the Church justified in the name of “the development of doctrine.” Traditionalists are accused of denying this principle, namely that the Church can and does experience a legitimate development as it lives through the ages, since traditionalists are often openly critical of the novelties introduced after the Second Vatican Council. So it is often claimed that the changes which have been introduced since the council are just a few instances of the development which occurs within the Church.

But I think what modern Catholics fail to see is that the changes since the council are objectively of a different nature than the development which occurred in the Church for the previous 2000 years. Before the council, there was a gradual, organic, homogenous development, in which there was in fact no substantial change, no mutation. But the council introduced many substantial changes, actual mutations, actual breaks away from the previous tradition. This is the distinction that modern Catholics fail to see: on the one hand there is a homogenous development, and on the other hand there is mutation.

A good analogy is that of a plant – say, a tree. It starts off as a small sapling, and over time it grows, develops, organically and homogenously, becoming larger and more beautiful all the time – and yet ever remaining the same plant. Its substance never changes: there is no mutation, but there is a development.

Given this distinction, it just doesn’t work to justify the Novus ordo, for example, on the claim that it represents a development of the Roman liturgy. But this is easily falsified just by looking at it, and also by reading the testimony of Bugnini himself (the main Novus ordo architect), and his henchmen. The Novus ordo is not a development, but an actual substantial change, a mutation.

Again, it doesn’t work to justify the modern beliefs about religious liberty on the claim that they represent a development of the previous teaching. Development doesn’t bring about such an opposition between two teachings. Hence the opposition can only have arisen from an actual substantial change, a mutation. (Whether this mutation is actually contained in Vatican II is a different question... The point is that there are novelties which are held by modern Catholics today.)

Again, it doesn’t work to justify the modern beliefs about “ecumenism” on the basis that there has been a development of the previous teaching. Modern ecumenism is really quite contrary to the previous teaching; hence it is not the product of a development, but a mutation. (Again, whether this mutation is actually contained in Vatican II is a different question. The point is that there are in fact false and novel beliefs held by Catholics today.)

One could say the same of many more examples of novelties which exist within the Church today. The novelties after Vatican II do not truly represent a development, but a mutation, a break away from tradition. Wherever there is a discord with previous teachings, there has not been a development, but a mutation. And it is this mutation – not development – that traditionalists oppose so strongly, and rightly so.


  1. Maestro,

    You note an essential distinction that, when overlooked, is a source of grave confusion.

    Of course in mentioning the “development of doctrine” one can hardly fail to think of Bl. John Henry Newman and his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. All but forgotten now is that the great American convert to Catholicism of the day, Orestes Brownson published an essay at the time critical of certain points of Newman’s thesis.

    The late Michael Davies was a great admirer of Cardinal Newman, and I recall him invoking Neman’s work at times in defense of the position of traditional Catholics. Yet there are those who do not think Newman’s essay was of service to the Church:

    “Brownson foresaw the future danger should Newman’s theory become accepted in the Church. Unless his theory was renounced, Brownson affirmed, it would either ultimately lead Newman himself out of communion with the Church or, much worse, be wrongly absorbed into the Catholic Church.

    “In fact, the latter happened. His ‘pioneer’ work established the idea of the development of dogma as a principle later held by the Modernists. Taken up by the Progressivists, it was consecrated at Vatican II, invoked in both the Declaration of Religion Freedom and the Constitution on Revelation.”

    I confess that I have not taken the time to make much of a study of this. If you have the time and inclination, there might be some strong insights to be gained by taking the time to examine the finer points of this largely forgotten controversy and sharing them in a post.

    Just a suggestion. I enjoy what you are doing at this blog.

    Brownson’s essay can be linked to here:

    A summary of Brownson’s review of Newman’s essay by Margaret Galitzin can be linked to here:

  2. Thanks for your comment and suggestions. It would be a very interesting thing to study, and perhaps I might take it up. Just need to find some more spare time!

    God bless.