April 9, 2010

Growth Rather than Radical Reworking

Justin Katz

The following passage, from an autobiographical essay by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, from 2002, caught my eye, because it strikes me as a generally applicable principle for organizational growth, as opposed to continual redefinition:

The Church's teaching lives forward; it is not reconstructed backward—whether from the fifth century or the sixteenth or the nineteenth or the twenty-first. But through all the changes of living forward, how do we know what is corruption and what is authentic development? Recall Cardinal Newman's reflection on the development of doctrine, a reflection that has been incorporated by magisterial teaching. He suggested seven marks of authentic development: authentic development preserves the Church's apostolic form; it reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown by the known; it demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it; it follows a logical sequence; it anticipates future developments; it conserves past developments; and, throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority. And thus it is, said St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church's old age that was not latent in her youth. Such was the truth discovered by Augustine, a truth "ever ancient, ever new."

Basically, the idea is to define what is essential in both principle and structure and to measure all changes by that. In the case of the United States, for example, we could say that we have the Declaration of Independence for principle and the Constitution and other documents for structure. It will risk a wayward path to pursue the principles of the Declaration by subverting the structure of the Constitution, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, both for the Church and the nation, people love the idea of expediency. With healthcare, the motivation is to simply declare that all will have it. With our evolving sense of personal freedom, the flawed mandate is to simply grant it, structural considerations be damned. Neither is possible, because the idea behind our national founding and the Idea behind the Church's founding is a holistic kernel in which the forward-moving history was contained.