Benedict Seraphim Replies (He Says in the Third Person)

Dr. Michael Liccione’s ecumenical project has recently centered on a couple of things: that the filioque can be retained within Orthodox norms, and that the Roman Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine (DD) can be mapped on to Orthodox theological understandings without contradiction. He argues the latter thusly .

In terms of authentic DD, as Dr. Liccione defines it, we must be clear: he distinguishes between dogma and doctrine. That is to say, there is no development in the faith (dogma) but only in its articulation, expression and understanding (doctrine). Dr. L writes:

[Fr Dr Andrew] Louth insists that development of doctrine is “not an acceptable category in Orthodox theology,” so that, presumably, authentic development would not be either. In context, it is clearly a Newmanesque account of development, using predominantly organic metaphors, that is being rejected; yet even on that account, authentic development consists not in addition to the deposit of faith but rather in ever-greater articulation and understanding of what is already given in the deposit.

Dr. Liccione goes on to criticize Fr. Andrew (in the article Dr. L is examining) for inconsistently rejecting a Newmanesque organic growth, but then employing at least the schema of such a growth for his own (Fr. Andrew’s) account of what it is the Orthodox Church has done over the centuries with regard to responding to the various heresies.

Dr. L continues:

If, as is granted all around, authentic DD does not consist in addition to the truth contained in the deposit of faith, then it can consist only in new articulation of the material, as distinct from the formal, content of the truth fully given in the faith-once-delivered. New articulations that are authentic thus served, and would serve, as the recovery and revitalization of which Louth speaks. And that is what “deepens our understanding of the Scriptures,” [here Dr. L is citing Fr Andrew] something whose possibility and desirability both the Fathers and Louth take for granted. In achieving that, we do not “surpass” Scripture and the Fathers in the sense of discovering more truth than they together did. We surpass them when, taking Scriptures and their interpretations of it as points of departure we formalize the same material content they did, but in ways that exhibit it ever more fully. Now unless that augmented the Church’s understanding in ways in which mere repetition of canonical and patristic writings would not, there would be no point in doing it. But there’s always been such a point. And that, as far as I can tell, I just the kind of authentic DD that Newman and Vatican II advocate.

Now, as a concrete example of authentic DD, Dr. Liccione has, of late, affirmed that absolute divine simplicity (ADS) is authentic DD on Roman Catholic terms, and that the Orthodox-dogmatized essence/energies distinction (EE) is also such an example. After all,

We do not find the [essence/energies] distinction in so many words before St. Basil in the fourth century; under the spur of the Barlaamite controversy, it was only dogmatized by the Orthodox Church in the 14th century, and in the more specific sense that St. Gregory gave to the words. But it is inarguably implicit in much that the Church has always believed.

In light of the above, the helpful work of Perry Robinson and Photios Jones over at Energetic Procession is illuminative. They have provided citations from various of the Church Fathers on the essence/energies distinction, among them the likes of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Basil the Great, and St. Athanasios, among others. (For what it’s worth, they also have several posts on absolute divine simplicity.)

Dr. Liccione is careful in his verbiage: “we do not find the distinction in so many words” and “it is inarguably implicit in much that the Church has always believed” and so forth. One begins to wonder, then, what does Dr. L mean by “development of doctrine.” If it is not a development of the dogma, and if the new articulations must be something more than restatement of previous verbiage, then it must be that one of the essential qualities of DD is that is demonstrates an increased understanding of former doctrine.

This, however, is untenable, since it presumes that the Apostles, whom Christ promised the Holy Spirit to lead into all truth, somehow had a deficient understanding compared to us who come later.  I would be surprised if Dr. L really wants to argue that. 

Returning to Dr. L’s earlier post:

Two issues stand out: in what sense is there such a thing as authentic development of doctrine (‘DD’ for short); and whether those distinctively Catholic doctrines which have developed over time are compatible with what both sides profess in common, thus meeting what is rightly assumed to be a necessary condition of authenticity.

Now one of Dr. Liccione’s beginning presuppositions here (i.e., that “distinctively Catholic doctrines . . . are compatible with what both sides profess in common”) is the backbone to his argument. In other words, if “distinctively Catholic doctrines” do not, after all, prove “compatible with what both sides profess in common” then those distinctively Catholic doctrines that are incompatible and that he affirms are authentic instances of development of doctrine are not, in fact, authentic. That is to say, if compatibility is the irreducible quality of authenticity in terms of development of doctrine, then it simply remains to refute the compatibility to also refute the authenticity. Or, at least, in the narrow limits of this particular argument. Authenticity might be argued another way (papal infallibility or what have you), but it cannot be predicated upon compatibility if such does not exist.

Now, Dr. L contends that ADS is an authentic instance of DD, on Roman Catholic terms, and that since EE agrees, he asserts, with ADS, and since EE is only implicit pre-the Cappadocians and the fourteenth century, then EE must also be an instance of authentic DD, and given the compatibility, he claims, between ADS and EE, then Orthodox ought not shy away from DD. And presumably by accepting DD, this can pave the way to other more troublesome (for Orthodox) doctrines, such as papal supreme jurisdiction and papal infallibility.

Now such Orthodox internet worthies as the aforementioned Perry and Photios have done yeoman’s work in demonstrating the incompatibility of Thomistic ADS with Palamite EE. My own philosophical training is in ancient philosophy, not medieval (whether scholastic or Byzantine), and so while I might be able to discuss the arguments as arguments, I don’t have the training to discuss the particularities of the evidence brought forth. As a nonspecialist in medieval philosophy, and without disguising my Orthodox proclivities, I have to give the upperhand to Perry and Photios.

Let’s just say that the compatibility for which Dr. Liccione argues is not persuasive. And therefore I do not yet think it has been demonstrated.

Which is fine, for Dr. L returns the sentiment in a recent comment.

The issue in this thread is whether the Orthodox dogma of EED is compatible with the Catholic dogma of ADS. I have argued that it is, and I’ve never seen a remotely persuasive argument that it isn’t. Yet most Orthodox who care about matters such as this seem to go on assuming that it isn’t. That’s the sort of attitude which Catholics such as James find so frustrating.

I have had the same reaction as he over the filioque issue, whose details I do not wish to discuss in this thread, having already done so in posts and threads devoted to that purpose. I have labored long and hard to demonstrate, logically, that the filioque as dogmatically defined by the councils of Lyons and Florence is compatible with affirming the monarchy of the Father. No refutation of that claim has been seriously attempted in the ensuing discussions.

(For what it’s worth, Photios gives his own rejoinder.)

So Dr L assumes a bit more than is proper to assume; i.e., that he has made his case for compatibility between ADS and EE, and therefore that the Orthodox EE is an instance, just like ADS, of authentic DD. And since he has failed, Orthodox cannot follow him on his ecumenical direction since it would take them from what they are.

Dr. Liccione concludes the post lastly herein under consideration with some evident frustration:

It’s a shame that Louth and some of his colleagues seem so averse to that. There’s enough in what he’s willing to allow, it seems t me, to comprise what the Catholic Church would consider authentic DD that does not constitute addition to the deposit of faith. I would prefer not to think that he and others reject the idea of authentic DD all the same merely because the Catholic Church affirms it.

No doubt he is frustrated. As an Orthodox I share in a mirror of that frustration. He makes assumptions about the Orthodox position that just aren’t true, and then argues from those false premises. His argument may be valid, but it isn’t sound. This is the Orthodox complaint.

But I hope he keeps trying, because it is a worthy project.