Fruits of Study 4: The Development of Doctrine
Rather than being a clear and distinct idea that we possess and comprehend, then, the Gospel is more like an active principle within us that comes to define who we are and how we live. As we go through life, the Gospel, this ‘active principle’ that organises our lives, is continually re-applied and re-expressed in the new contexts and situations that we face. In this process of re-application of the Gospel in the lives of Christians and Christian communities, the doctrinal and liturgical tradition of the Church is deepened as new perspectives on the Incarnation of Christ are uncovered.
For Newman, then, doctrinal and liturgical development is not a sign of contamination or decay, it is a sign of life. We do not live our Christian life in a vacuum. We live our Christian lives in a world that is continually changing. Fidelity to the unchanging content of the Gospel, then, means developing and changing ways of expressing and articulating that same Gospel. As Newman himself puts it: ‘To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often’. To put this same point another way, Newman is offering us a quasi-organic understanding of doctrinal and liturgical development. The Catholic Church is the tree that grew from the mustard seed. Whilst it may now look very different to its first manifestation, there is a direct correspondence between its primitive state and its contemporary state. The Protestant sects and Chapel congregations of Newman’s day, in contrast, whilst they may have superficially looked more like the early Church than nineteenth century Catholicism, were in fact fundamentally as different from the Church of the apostolic age as a mustard seed is from an acorn.