Scientific Knowledge and the Development of Doctrine in Holloway

Kevin Douglas FAITH Magazine July-August 2009

In this tenth anniversary year of Fr Edward Holloway's death Fr Kevin Douglas delineates the character of the 'new synthesis' which Holloway spent much of his life trying to foster. As he used to argue over five decades of writing: we should today expect God to be inviting the Church to receive something along these lines. We think that the urgency of such a development has only increased over the last decade. Fr Douglas is assistant priest of Craigshill parish, Livingston.

A recent editorial in this magazine examined the relationship between Thomism and the thought of Fr. Edward Holloway, the founder of the Faith movement. Though acknowledging significant divergences between the Thomist schools and Holloway's thought, the editorial argued that Holloway had remained faithful to both the intentions of the Magisterium, which looks to St. Thomas as the theologian and philosopher par excellence, and to the essence of St. Thomas' project because he had attempted to synthesise theology with the scientific culture of his day. The editorial advocated a re-evaluation of Thomas' thought in the light of the discoveries of modern science and suggested that in such a work of re-evaluation and realignment Holloway's contribution was eminently worthy ofconsideration.

Any such realignment presupposes the process by which the content of Revelation is passed on: how is the unique reality of what God shows us of Himself in Jesus Christ made incarnate in the hearts and minds of each new generation of believers given the inescapable background of a shifting culture and worldview? {Editor: see first item in our current Notes From Across The Atlantic for a related thought) Insofar as the editorial left this knot of issues unaddressed it left questions hanging. Clearly a single article will never be the final word on so far-reaching a matter as the transmission of Revelation, but a thumbnail sketch of how this theme might play out in relation to Holloway's work may help to clarify and advance the discussion somewhat.

Most commentators acknowledge that Dei Verbum marked a transition in the Church's approach to Revelation from a propositional to a more personalist perspective. Holloway is clearly concerned that what is handed is a living, personal relationship as well as a series of propositional truths. But when he calls for a new synthesis his primary focus is the relationship between what God reveals about Himself and the truths man discovers about the universe. In short, how are the truths of the Catholic faith to be synthesised with the leaps forward in our knowledge yielded by modern science?

John Rist in his recently published What is Truth? gives an account of the transmission of Revelation in which he draws attention to the distinction between saving truth and universal truth. The truths given to us by Divine Revelation are those necessary for our salvation. As such these truths are certainly the most important truths in our lives. Moreover the Church teaches that Jesus Christ is "the Revelation of the fullness of divine truth" (Dominus lesus 5): Revelation is complete in Jesus Christ. Yet no Catholic would claim that Revelation contains every true statement that can be enunciated about reality. Divine Revelation does not contain truths about DNA or Particle Physics or the source of the River Nile for example. Nonetheless a truth, of itsvery nature, must always be compatible with another truth.

Therefore revealed saving truth, while not containing the truths of modern science, will not be at odds with them either.

In this paradigm the new truths discovered and grasped by the human intellect necessarily stand in a non-contradictory relationship to the one who said "I am the way, the truth and the light." (John 14:6) This is why the Second Vatican Council speaking of those who did not know Christ positively evaluated those truths known to them:

"Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life." [Lumen Gentium 16).

Holloway, however, would go further. The Lumen Gentium passage accords a positive value to professed truths which are not specifically of the Gospel. It asserts that these truths even serve as a preparation for the Gospel. This is not sufficiently explicit for Holloway because the above quotation might feasibly imply that these truths have an autonomy from the truth of Christ. Holloway contends that Jesus Christ is the master-key to the whole universe. The universe is for the sake of Jesus Christ: God creates precisely so that He can step into what is His own in the Incarnation. Not only is there a complementarity between the truths of modern science and the truth of Revelation in Jesus Christ, but rather the laws of physics and chemistry, the patterns of evolution, the truthsscience discovers about the cosmos and every kind of truth cry out for Jesus Christ as their fulfillment and meaning. All knowledge comes from our self-conscious encounter with reality. Modern science is no different. As has been argued in the pages of Faith before, as most scientists intuit, scientific knowledge is no more provisional or functional in character than all knowledge of the physical.

The realities which science discovers are not independent of Christ. Holloway argues "The aspiration of human knowledge is to attain as closely as possible to the unity of the wisdom of God." and "There will be no 'autonomies' in the unified field of God's knowledge".

This doesn't mean that independent of Christ these truths are untrue; it means that without Christ these truths, or any truth, is radically incomplete and hence not fully intelligible in its truthfulness.

Interestingly, although Holloway's assertion of the Christocentric nature of reality in the light of science might appear very bold, this insight has a long pedigree in the tradition of the Church. St. Maximus the Confessor describes the same reality in terms of the logoi or the rationale of created realities having their origin in and finding their meaning in Jesus Christ who is the one Logos of God.esus Christ."

Arguably Holloway is doing no more than drawing out the implications of St. Paul's claim that in Christ God has "made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph 1:9-10)

Ever Deepening Knowledge

Holloway's assertion that Jesus Christ is the master-key to the universe has a necessary corollary concerning the relation of every aspect of reality to Christ. Every advance in our knowledge of reality, every new truth discovered, impinges upon how we understand the truth given to us in Revelation. Every newly discovered truth in some way deepens our knowledge of Jesus Christ and His working out of our salvation. This process of ever deeper penetration into the mystery of Christ does not mean a quantitative adding to our knowledge of Christ; it does however imply a qualitative development.

The history of the Church is marked by a growing conceptual clarity regarding Christ and the things of God. For example when the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus calming the storm: in his human nature Jesus is tired and falls asleep in the boat, but in his divine nature when he awakes he commands the elements. (Mark 4:35-41) Certainly Mark believes that the single individual Jesus is both human and divine but this does not mean that Mark has arrived at a definition of the hypostatic union in the way the Council Fathers at Chalcedon in 451 did. The conceptual clarity of Chalcedon is in no way contradictory to the Gospels, but the concepts used in the definition presuppose Christianity's appropriation of and transformation of the legacy of Hellenic philosophy. In the wake of the council ofNicea the Arians had objected to the term 'Consubstantial' precisely because it was not found in Scripture. Nonetheless the term is now definitively a part of the Church's patrimony. Hellenic philosophy is assimilated and purified. What is true and good in it is used to articulate and clarify the Church's understanding of Christ. What occurred in the almost four centuries between Chalcedon and the writing of Mark's Gospel is a process in which truths with a provenance outside of Revelation are drawn into relationship with the truth of Revelation and illuminate the central truth of Jesus Christ. If this takes place with the truths of Hellenic culture then there is no a priori reason to suppose it cannot happen with the truths uncovered by modern science.

If one holds that during the course of human history a process of development and refinement in the Church's understanding of Christ has taken place, this does not mean that one is rushing headlong into a position of historical relativism that is ultimately corrosive of the objectivity of our faith. One can find a scriptural precedent for the development of doctrine in Christ's claim that "when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth." (John 16:13) Notice that Christ uses the future tense and sees "the complete truth" as a goal yet to be reached. All of which implies a process of development. Furthermore there are sound reasons why this process of development would be in harmony with the objectivity of our faith.

Drawing out the Deposit of Faith

Firstly we are not saying that the content of the Christian faith fluctuates according to the culture and historical period. Revelation is complete in Jesus. This is an unchanging given but how we understand that Revelation does admit of development. Moreover the Holy Spirit's guidance exercised through the Magisterium and the presence within the Church of Scripture and Tradition means that the Church can avail itself of both well defined yardsticks and an authority competent to judge this process of development. Secondly the process is not arbitrary: it is an ever deepening appreciation of the given truth that the Catholic faith is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Finally this process of development takes place within history, but history itself is not arbitrary. Though wemay not see it, history is under the guidance of God's providence and is moving towards a very definite goal: Christ's second coming.

Although Holloway maintains the fundamental convergence of all truth in Jesus Christ, nonetheless he is not naively optimistic. He is not one of those thinkers so enamored of modernity that they assume any novelty necessarily entails progress. Holloway is well aware that the attempt to synthesise what is authentically of value in modern culture with the perennial truths of the faith is as equally replete with dangers as it is with promise. In various passages within his oeuvre (e.g. see the conclusion of the last editorial of this magazine) he alludes to the grounds, well articulated by Cardinal Newman, by which one can discern whether the synthesis made between the doctrines of Catholicism and the state of modern learning is authentic or a blind alley. In one such passage Holloway makesthis revealing observation:

"There will be found a power in the full, orthodox doctrine of Christ to evince for every era a new synthesis of divine and human knowledge. The power to evince new levels of synthesis will depend upon orthodoxy, as a rising cathedral grows naturally so to speak out of the foundation laid to take it."

A Proportionate Openness

Holloway argues that an orthodox (by which we imply true) understanding of Christ, and as a corollary the whole of the Catholic faith, will be capable of synthesising itself with the truths present in any culture or body of learning with which it comes into contact. The cathedral simile is illuminating because it suggests the kind of synthesis Holloway has in mind. The new synthesis of which Holloway writes is an encompassing structure that builds upon what has gone before. If, therefore, the new synthesis is to follow Holloway's blueprint it will necessarily be marked by four qualities, themselves a development of Newman's criteria. It will truly be an orthodox synthesis embracing the whole truth of who Jesus is. There will be an openness about the synthesis; in so faras it is a true synthesis it will be open to and capable of accommodating new learning. There will be a real continuity in content between the new synthesis and what has gone before: to use Holloway's image, the new synthesis will be built on the foundations of what has gone before. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, there will be an element of novelty. A "rising cathedral" though it is entirely continuous with and conditioned by its foundations is not identical with those foundations.

Holloway lays great store by "the full, orthodox doctrine of Christ". In order that a new synthesis be built upon the true identity of Christ a number of pitfalls must be avoided. Firstly this new synthesis cannot be based on a philosophy that in an a priori fashion excludes the possibility of Revelation or is in any way systemically opposed to the given facts of Scripture and Tradition. Secondly such a synthesis cannot exclude anything in the Church's understanding of Christ that seems unpalatable or that modernity finds difficult to give an account of. Moreover, because Christ is a person and not a concept, we are called to more than a simple assent of the mind to certain truths. We are called to a relationship with Christ: a relationship that like any other authenticrelationship affects the way we live and our morals. The new synthesis that Holloway called for and spent his life trying to build up was one radically faithful to Christ and his Church and which embraced the fullness of Catholic truth including matters of both "faith and morals".

Holloway is adamant in his choice of words: he calls for a new synthesis. He even uses this as the title of his book. By synthesis he means more than a repackaging or a new spruced up, more media friendly presentation of the Catholic faith. He means literally a synthesis, that is a whole which is formed out of the new elements of learning now made available to theology through the advances made in modern science. In Holloway's view then such a synthesis must be open to new learning. The discoveries of modern science are real advances in the knowing of God's creation and so have an impact upon theology. By implication Holloway's new synthesis cannot be built upon a metaphysics that holds itself aloof from the natural sciences. A metaphysic that is a closed system incapable ofdialoguing with science is, in Holloway's view, a blind alley.

Risk of Imperfection

Holloway's new synthesis presupposes an overriding continuity between itself and the preceding tradition within the Church. Christianity is a revealed religion so of its essence there is a given, a revealed something or someone that cannot be replaced or superseded. It is, therefore, a cause of great concern to the Church that the truth of Christ be handed on authentically and integrally to each generation: He is our salvation and without Him we perish. Consequently any perceived deviation from what has gone before is rightly viewed with suspicion. As noted above Holloway stressed that "the full, orthodox doctrine of Christ" is quite simply the condition of possibility of any new synthesis. Moreover his simile of a cathedral rising implies a real continuity rising up through thefoundations to the spires of the cathedral. However, and here it is important to note Rist's distinction, it may be that in one period of the Church's history she, in grasping a particular aspect of saving truth, has combined it with a non-essential proposition. Alternatively it may be that the circumstances of one period have led to one facet of saving truth being emphasised at the expense of another facet of the same saving truth.

For example one may thoroughly applaud St. Augustine's defence of the primacy of grace in our salvation while at the same time being wary about the apparently arbitrary nature of divine justice as he describes it. Each age must indeed evaluate what has been handed on to it. However, fidelity to the saving truth which God has entrusted to His Church in the Revelation of Jesus Christ necessitates a continuity that precludes any contradiction between the new synthesis and what has gone before.

Developments Necessary

Not only does this continuity exclude the notion that there might be a contradiction in essential matters of the faith between one period and another, it also presupposes a progressive development. As in Holloway's image, when building a cathedral one storey can only be built upon the preceding one. It may be that in the course of history certain dimensions of saving truth become obscured and must be recovered but it is impossible for a theologian to stand apart from tradition and begin his work ab initio; to do so would be to cut himself off from the Church, which is the source sine qua non of theology, and to deny the historical givenness of Revelation. Each subsequent age contributes something (even if it be only through errors to be confuted) toward a deepening ofour understanding of the truths of the faith. The progressive nature of this development would be violated if one were to try to turn the clock back or absolutise one single period as the epitome of what is authentically Catholic. In spite of the vicissitudes of human history the developing sequence of events that constitute the history of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is simply non-negotiable.

Finally notwithstanding the fact that there must be continuity in the truths that are handed on, that no new synthesis can be orthodox whilst contradicting the saving truth in what has gone before, a new synthesis will be new: it will contain an element of novelty. Holloway talks of a growth in "the degree of union with God in love". He argues "the new knowledge of man must be regathered into a greater vista of God and in God." [my italics]

Any true advance in knowledge will shed light upon Christ. This is universally true though it holds especially good for modern science because Holloway contends material creation is for Jesus Christ who is the Master-key to the universe. In Holloway's perspective the truths of modern science do not corrode the truth of Revelation nor do they add new elements to Revelation. They should deepen our understanding of and appreciation for what God has graciously chosen to share with us and consequently they should make us grow in our love for God. In Holloway's view the theories of the Big Bang and evolution far from being at odds with the Catholic faith actually should increase our awe and wonder, should make us fall prostrate in loving adoration, in the face of God's "purpose which he setforth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph 1:9-10)

Faith Magazine

July - August 2009