Development of Doctrine? Fr. Hunwicke breaks it down barney style.

Fr. Hunwicke, at his esteemed page, has a cold look at what “development of doctrine” might mean over the last few years.   Accepting, of course, that doctrine can develop, one can ask the question: how much time does it take?

How and how speedily does the Teaching of the Church “develop”?



(1) Familiaris consortio was published in 1981; it repeated the Biblical precepts which for centuries had underpinned the Church’s conviction that the Holy Euchatist ought not to be administered to “remarried” divorcees.
(2) Sacramentum caritatis, 2005, repeated this teaching.
(3) Amoris laetitia is dated 19 March 2016, and was released 8 April 2016.
(4) On 5 September 2016 ‘Guidelines’ published by a group of Argentine bishops reached PF. These guidelines are commonly interpreted as allowing some ‘remarried’ divorcees to approach the Sacraments.
(5) On the same day, PF replied to this group of bishops praising their ‘Guidelines’ and saying “There is no other interpretation”.
(6) On 5 June 2017, PF formally instructed Cardinal Parolin in audientia to have these texts published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis as being “Authentic Magisterium”.
(7) They duly appeared in AAS together with the Rescriptum ex audientia Sanctissimi.
(8) Cardinal Kasper, a Great Theologian, subsequently explained that the question was now authoritatively closed. Roma locuta est …


… gave a rather different, and more painstaking, historical perspective. I expect he was a Silly Fellow, too.

” … the Church of Rome has originated nothing …

” … all through Church history from the first, how slow is authority in intervening! Perhaps a local teacher, or a doctor in some local school, hazards a proposition, and a controversy ensues. It smoulders or burns in one place, no one interposing; Rome simply lets it alone. Then it comes before a bishop; or some priest, or some professor in some other seat of learning takes it up; and there is a second stage of it. Then it comes before a university, and it may be condemned by the theological faculty. So the controversy proceeds year after year, and Rome is still silent. An appeal perhaps is next made to a seat of authority inferior to Rome; and then at last after a long while it comes before the supreme power. Meanwhile, the question has been ventilated and turned over and over again, and viewed on every side of it, and authority is called upon to pronounce a decision, which has already been arrived at by reason. But even then, perhaps the supreme authority hesitates to do so, and nothing is determined on the point for years; or so generally and vaguely, that the whole controversy has to be gone through again, before it is ultimately determined.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Can any expert in doctrinal history confirm my suspicion that Francis is the first Pope to use the phrase (or even the concept of) “my magisterium?”

    And if it is “his” magisterium, so much the better: it dies with him.

  2. Hidden One says:


    The notion of the magisterium of a particular pope has occurred regularly for a long time, usually under the form (in English) of “the magisterium of Pope X.” The precise phrase “my magisterium” appears in an address of Pope St. John Paul II from 1995: I have not found other occasions, but I suspect that that’s because I haven’t looked much.

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    The Holy Father has reportedly clarified a bit more what he means by ‘development of doctrine’ in his reported comments on the magisterial teaching on the death penalty. ‘Development of doctrine’ appears to be ‘correction of doctrine.’

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