Doctrinal Development in Orthodoxy?…Uh NOT!

From Fr. George Florovsky,

“Dogma is by no means a new Revelation. Dogma is only a witness. The whole meaning of dogmatic definition consists of testifying to unchanging truth, truth which was revealed and has been preserved from the beginning. Thus it is a total misunderstanding to speak of “the development of dogma.” Dogmas do not develop; they are unchanging and inviolable, even in their external aspect — their wording. Least of all is it possible to change dogmatic language or terminology. As strange as it may appear, one can indeed say: dogmas arise, dogmas are established, but they do not develop. And once established, a dogma is perennial and already an immutable “rule of faith” (“regula fidei;” o kanon tis pisteos, ο κανων της πιστεως). Dogma is an intuitive truth, not a discursive axiom which is accessible to logical development. The whole meaning of dogma lies in the fact that it is expressed truth. Revelation discloses itself and is received in the silence of faith, in silent vision — this is the first and apophatic step of the knowledge of God. The entire fulness of truth is already contained in this apophatic vision, but truth must be expressed. Man, however, is called not only to be silent but also to speak, to communicate. The silentium mysticum does not exhaust the entire fulness of the religious vocation of man. There is also room for the expression of praise. In her dogmatic confession the Church expresses herself and proclaims the apophatic truth which she preserves. The quest for dogmatic definitions is therefore, above all, a quest for terms. Precisely because of this the doctrinal controversies were a dispute over terms. One had to find accurate and clear words which could describe and express the experience of the Church. One had to express that “spiritual Vision” which presents itself to the believing spirit in experience and contemplation.”

Kudos for Steven Todd Kaster for the citation.

[Fr. Georges Florovsky, “Revelation, Philosophy and Theology,” this article originally appeared as “Offenbarung, Philosophic und Theologie” in Zwischen den Zeiten, Heft 6 (München, 1931). Translated from the German by Richard Haugh]

5 Responses to Doctrinal Development in Orthodoxy?…Uh NOT!

  1. thebyronicman says:

    I’m of the mind that Newman would agree with the understanding of the term ‘development’ as put forth by Fr. Florovsky. In his ” Essay On Development”, he does not intend to mean that what he calls “development” should be construed as merely the product of logical process. If I could put Newman on a t-shirt with one quote it would be this one: “The Church cannot know more than the apostles knew”. This assertion, I believe, is in perfect harmony with Fr. Florovsky’s understanding. To speak of dogmas “arising” seems entirely in keeping with the spirit and letter of Newman. He only intends to point, I think, in his use of the term ‘development’ to a direction in the thinking of the Church, a story if you will, that culminates in the formulation of a precise dogmatic expression but that was present in consciousness of the Church all along. That Newman believes all dogmas of the Church are contained in the Deposit of Faith and latent and implicit, if not fully expressed in the mind of the apostles goes without saying.

    Almost O – We do not doubt that Elizabeth understood “Her Lord” to be the Incarnate Word. But wouldn’t it be anachronistic to imagine that she would have an idea in her mind identical to that of the conciliar definitions? Lest we insist on different understandings of the term ‘development’ in this context in order to protect our respective positions, do you agree then that Newman, and therefore Latin Catholicism (as Newman has become the de facto standard-bearer for the Western Church on this subject) has not in mind merely logical inference, but the apostolic mind clarified and established? Otherwise I fear a bible-only mentality which reads dogmas back into scripture in order simply to read scripture outside of the context of the Church.

  2. Death Bredon says:

    I think you are correct William — to spread the Gospel to “all nations,” the Gospel must be expressed in the various idioms of the nations. The historical Creedal and Conciliar process is largely about “trans-iterating” the Gospel into Greco-Roman idioms without actually conflating or reducing it to pre-existiant pagan catagories.

  3. almost o says:

    I am so tired of the Theotokos pointed too as a “development.” Anybody want to quess what a Jew understands by Elizabeth’s phrase “mother of my LORD”? The Trinity is in Ireneaus’s skopos. Nor is Palamas foreign to Paul’s friend Apollos who was “boiling with the Spirit.” I’m still waiting for evidence of a “development.”

  4. Could we say then that terminological development grants easier epistemic access and fuller clarity to the unchanging apostolic deposit?

  5. Death Bredon says:


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