Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Development of Doctrine

In a recent discussion on Facebook, I suggested that one of the tasks still before the Lonerganian tradition is the construction of an adequate account of the development of doctrine from ancient Israel, through Second Temple Judaism, and into early Christianity, thus to connect with accounts that move from the apostolic era onward. This is related to my interest in overcoming what I call the "Rupture Hypothesis," i.e. the hypothesis that Christian origins is defined by a double and radical discontinuity: first, between Judaism and Jesus, and second between Jesus and Christianity (this double discontinuity, given methodological apotheosis in the criterion of dissimilarity within historical Jesus studies, has the double effect of alienating Christianity from its Jewish heritage as well as its dominical roots). When writing about the "development of doctrine," I explicitly have in mind John Henry Newman's landmark Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, although of course the Essay is 172 years young and thus predates the considerable advances in both historical and theological (the latter defined more narrowly as doctrinal and systematic theology) studies over the last two centuries. Biblical scholarship provides the groundwork for the historical corrections necessary, perhaps most notably but not exclusively facilitating access to the tremendous trove of new textual and archaeological discoveries that have redefined our understanding of the ancient Near East, ancient Judaism, and ancient Christianity. Lonergan and those who came after him provide a great deal of the groundwork for the theological corrections that must take place, perhaps the most notable of which would be recognizing that one must respect that the history running from ancient Israel through Second Temple is as much "preparatory" for rabbinic Judaism as it is for early Christianity (I use the term "preparatory" as it is Newman's, who reckons Judaism to be effectively obsolete from the advent of Christianity. On this side of the Shoah, such nonsense needs to be firmly relegated to the trash fire of history. The term "preparation" can only be used now if it refers to rabbinic Judaism as much as Christianity, or not at all).

But there is a deeper problem, a conceptual one, antecedent to the very work of a history of the development of doctrine in ancient Israel and Second Temple Judaism. Sean McEvenue, one of the very few Hebrew Bible scholars to have extensively engaged with Lonergan and Lonerganian thought, helps us identify this problem precisely, arguing that the material in the Hebrew Bible can only most loosely be described as "doctrinal." There are of course doctrines in the Hebrew Bible, in the loose sense of "teachings," but we get a sense of what McEvenue means if we compare, say, Amos to Augustine. One finds in Amos oracles and divine utterances which aim towards the entirety of human consciousness, compared to the more focused aim towards the intellect that we find in, say, De Trinitate. This is neither critique nor praise of either Amos or Augustine, but merely description: there is a place for writings aimed at the whole of consciousness, and a place for writings aimed more specifically at the intellect. Amos aims to move the whole person in a way that Augustine's De Trinitate does not, whereas Augustine's De Trinitate aims to specifically form and inform the intellect in a way that Amos does not. This has to do in large part with their respective locations in the long temporal sequence under discussion.

Thus can we take a lead from Lonergan, who in Way to Nicea argues that alongside the development of the dogma of the trinity, the ante-Nicene church had to develop the very idea of dogma. We can for our purposes substitute "doctrine" for "dogma," and suggest that a history of the development of doctrine from ancient Israel through Second Temple Judaism and beyond would have to address first and foremost the development of doctrine itself before it can adequately address specific doctrines. One would want to look at signal moments in this history, such as Ben Sira and Paul, neither of which can be adequately apprehended as doctrinal or systematic theologians avant la lettre (although there is no lack of trying, especially with regard to the former), but who certainly represent later moments in the development of doctrine qua doctrine than does Amos. One would also need to recognize that the history of development is not simply one of writings that begin to more fully approximate doctrine (in the specialized sense used here) displacing what came before. At roughly the same time that Ben Sira is writing, we find thoroughly non-doctrinal (in the specialized sense used here) Book of Daniel and 1 Enoch being produced. At roughly the same time that Philo is producing his great treatises in Alexandria, the early Christians are producing their again quite non-doctrinal gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Revelation. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Christians produce great systematic treatises, and they also produce stories set in fantasy worlds such as Middle-Earth, Narnia, and the Wizarding World. But it is precisely the fact that we can today recognize that there is a world of difference between the very Christian Catechism of the Catholic Church and the equally Christian Lord of the Rings that speaks to the fact that the heuristic distinction between doctrinal and non-doctrinal writings apprehends a genuine, authentic difference. The historical inquiry becomes one of thinking through how such difference came to be in the first place.

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