Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
November 22nd, 2014 by Joel Watts

St. Vincent of Lerins on Development of Faith (Orthodoxy) v. Alteration

Thomas Oden looks to St. Vincent as a way to give rebirth to orthodoxy. I would like to explore St. Vincent and Clement of Alexandria’s focus on the true Gnostic. For now, here is St. Vincent:

A simplified chart of historical developments ...

A simplified chart of historical developments of major groups within Christianity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale. Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the Faith, not alteration of the Faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another. The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.

The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person … If, however, the human form were to turn into some shape that did not belong to its own nature, or even if something were added to the sum of its members or subtracted from it, the whole body would necessarily perish or become grotesque or at least be enfeebled. In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age. In ancient times our ancestors sowed the good seed in the harvest field of the Church. It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap, not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error. On the contrary, what is right and fitting is this: there should be no inconsistency between first and last, but we should reap true doctrine from the growth of true teaching, so that when, in the course of time, those first sowings yield an increase it may flourish and be tended in our day also.1

  1. St Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium 23.28–30: ed. R.S. Moxon (Cambridge, 1915), pp. 88–92.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

2 Responses to “St. Vincent of Lerins on Development of Faith (Orthodoxy) v. Alteration”
  1. Thank you for this post. I find St. Vincent’s analogy of the development of th human body from birth to be enlightening. Now what gets me jazzed is his thoughts in light of evolution. Had he understood the plan of God regarding biological life might he make the same analogy? That as an incarnational species has finally emerged so evolves the church? From the first life form, and following the specific branch of development that eventuates homo sapiens, I think it’s consistent w St. Vincent’s analogy above to say that our development was one of ever advancing to our telos. Our telos (or at least a milestone in the path to our telos) was to become an incarnationable species. I think his sentiment, “Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person” still holds true in regards to the evolution of homo sapiens in that up to this point we have always been transitional beings, and therefore similar to his “one and the same nature, one and the same person” analogy. When he referred to “one and the same nature” he had no understanding of the extent of our nature given evolution, might he then intuit a greater understanding of the development of the Church? Perhaps we should as well?

    Just thinking aloud there…

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