Andrew has a post showcasing the various views from within Rome concerning the development of theology – which very much is a historical fact.
The First View: (I’ll call it the Development of Doctrine)
Cardinal Newman and Tolkien and others tend to see theological growth in the Church as the Development of Doctrine. That doctrines existed in “seed” form and eventually grew. So that Mary’s Assumption was in seed form (in the gnostics?…not going to try to defend this one) and over time it became more obvious (don’t know how) but that basically enough people talked about it and so it then becomes Catholic dogma. This is the view when people tell you that the Church is like a tree growing gradually over time and expanding to higher and higher heights. Others would argue that doctrinal innovation and modernism could spring out of this view, yet strangely, this seems to be the view of the Anti-Vatican II Catholics. They didn’t want to go ad fontes because the early church was just an immature version of the current Church. (if that makes sense)
The Second View: (I’ll call it the “flight to antiquity” view in honor of Calvin’s attack that this is what Catholics do)
This seems to be the view of many of the “Nouvelle Theologie” people / ressourcement theology. A return back to Patristics and Scriptural exegesis. They focus on the fact that the faith was once delivered to the saints, and will continue in a constant return to the same old truths expressed in new ways. This seems to be a fairly “protestant” view (if you can call it that. Except that Patristics are almost on par with Scripture, as is generally the case in Catholicism. This view seems to be quite popular among Catholic-converts and in general with people who aren’t keen on new Marian doctrines and extended emphasis on things that have been recently emphasized.
The Third View: (Super-Traditionalist)
I do acknowledge a possible third view however, that of the super-traditionalists (as I’ll call them) who think every new definition was there from the beginning, just no one talked about it (kind of like when the Reformed tell you the Fathers all taught the 5 solas, but forgot to mention them except in their pseudo condemnations of them). Sometimes this becomes a mixing of groups one and two by saying that all the dogmas as we now understand them were there in the beginning. The oath against modernism that SSPX takes deliberately recants the idea that doctrine develops (how I don’t yet fully understand), and they seem to fall into this last view.
Unlike Andrew, I do believe that the Bible can stand the test for tough, theological questions, caring not if Paul passes the test of Chalcedon. Instead, we should see if Chalcedon passes the test of Paul. For me, either the words of the writers of the New Testament presented the perfect, once for all delivered faith of the Apostles, or they don’t.