Dialogue on Development of Doctrine and the Papacy

From an Email Exchange with William Webster (Emails dated February 2000)

William Webster, an ex-Catholic turned Evangelical Protestant apologist claims the concept of development of doctrine (championed by such celebrated converts as Cardinal Newman in the 19th century) is incompatible with the language of Vatican Council I and denied by such encyclicals as Satis Cognitum (On the Unity of the Church) of Pope Leo XIII. I explain why this is simply not the case, and ask Bill a few cogent questions. I want to offer some ongoing replies to his Evangelical apologetics and perhaps will be added to his growing list of Catholics to which he must respond.

A couple of related links are the following:

Rome Has Spoken; the Case is Closed adapted from John Chapman

Orthodoxy and the Primacy of Rome adapted from John Meyendorff

The Full Text of Vatican Council I translation by Norman Tanner, SJ

The Full Text of Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Satis Cognitum

Subj: Bill Webster vs. Steve Ray: An Overview from a Cradle Catholic Apologist

To: WWebs84862@aol.com (Bill Webster)
CC: sray@rc.net (Steve Ray)

In a message dated 2/10/00 9:43:01 AM Eastern Standard Time, WWebs84862 writes:

BW>> I recently received your check and the enclosed card. In your card you mentioned the issue of doctrinal development and the papacy and the fact that you feel Steve Ray is more balanced in his approach. >>

Yes, compared with your book and the Scott Butler book, I think Steve Ray is more balanced in his approach to the topic. That is a matter of subjective opinion of course, but I see Steve trying to state both sides when he discusses an issue. Your book Matthew 16 Controversy no doubt contains as much or perhaps more raw "documentation" than Steve's book, and gives me much to research and consider. Thanks again for sending the books.

BW>> If you will notice in my book I do not deny that the papacy is a matter of historical development. I explicitly affirm that fact. But it was a long development and the church fathers did not espouse the teaching or practice of the papacy as formulated many centuries later by Vatican I. Yves Congar makes that clear. >>

Yes, but why does Yves Congar not leave the Church and convert to Orthodoxy, or worse, convert to Protestant Fundamentalism? I have to dig up the books and sources you use from Congar to see how you are quoting him and what else he says. If John Meyendorff is so correct (you quote him many times), why don't you yourself convert to Orthodoxy? These are mainly rhetorical questions. I know you have problems with Orthodox/Catholic theology in many areas since you interpret the Bible (let's be blunt) according to 20th century Fundamentalism which (to be blunt again) has nothing to do with the Church Fathers or the historic Church.

If you are so conversant with the Fathers, why don't you adopt a more historical Church theology, if not Catholic, why not Orthodox or Anglican/Episcopal? Where are your bishops, your priests? Where is your respect for tradition? Are you claiming that your particular Protestant church's doctrines and beliefs are those of the Fathers? Or do we simply dismiss the Fathers on Baptism, Eucharist, Church government, Bishops, priests, etc ? What church do you attend, anyway? It was a Presbyterian church back in 1990 (back cover of your first book), but I think you have adopted a more "baptistic" theology since then, is this correct?

Sorry for all the questions. Here's an idea for your Christian Resources web site: Write an article on "Why I am not Eastern Orthodox" or "Why I am not an Episcopalian." Might be more interesting than your articles attempting to refute specific Roman Catholic doctrines.

BW>> This is particularly clear from the fathers' exegesis of Matthew 16, Luke 22 and John 21. The problem is not whether or not there was development. The problem, for a Roman Catholic like Steve Ray who wants to promote the idea of development, lies in the fact that Vatican I and pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Satis Cognitum specifically state that there was no development of the papacy. >>

Disagree, but this would take some time to explain why this is not the case. The Councils when defining Catholic dogma are not denying that development has occurred. If Vatican I and Pope Leo XIII deny such development, where is their statement "there was no development." The language used such as "constant faith of the Church", etc is found in all the Ecumenical Councils when defining Catholic doctrine. This does not deny that some development of terminology and theology occurred, whether we are talking the Holy Trinity or the Papacy, etc. The term "development of doctrine" does not appear in the Vatican I documents (if I am mistaken, correct me). There is no statement, "we hereby reject development of doctrine, and anyone who believes development occured, let him be anathema." That is an interpretation you have read into the documents. It is not found there, nor is that issue discussed. That is not the purpose of the Ecumenical Councils; they were not called to discuss the details of theology or the Fathers [clarification: of course this goes on by the Council Fathers BEFORE the final definitions are made], but to DEFINE (once and for all) Catholic Christian truth in language precise and explicit enough to exclude heretical opinion and interpretations. This is what happened from the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea to Trent to Vatican I and II today.

Just as Vatican I defined the Papacy, so the Council of Nicaea defined the Trinity. I see no essential difference between the two. Same Catholic Church, but different century. One Lord, one Church, one faith, same in essence or substance. St. Vincent of Lerins (5th century) explicitly taught such concepts as development of Christian doctrine (in his Commonitories).

Another note: Cardinal Newman, the champion of development of doctrine from the 19th century, wrote and lived during this time period (Vatican I and Leo XIII, etc). Were they not aware of his work? Were they rejecting his work? I don't think so. Your claim that they reject "development of doctrine" makes no sense to me.

The question for Roman Catholic vs. Fundamentalist/Evangelical theology is of course whether these developments are "corruptions" vs. proper refinements or true developments of the "apostolic deposit of faith." You affirm and try to prove the former in your books (that they are corruptions), while Steve Ray and other Catholic apologists like myself believe and demonstrate the latter (that they belong to the faith and essence of original apostolic Christianity). You try to disprove the Papacy by bringing forth early evidence from the Fathers, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theologians, etc, and I've seen "scholarly" modern Arians attempt to do the same with the Trinity. They concentrate mainly on "evidence" and "historic facts" from the ante-Nicene Church along with the Bible to "refute" the Holy Trinity. I see no essential difference between your two approaches: both are "Bible only" and believe Sola Scriptura despite different interpretations of the Bible, different interpretations of the Fathers and various "evidence", etc.

All of us can produce our respective "evidence" and "historical facts." However, when we come to different conclusions, we have to ask the question: who is to decide the matter? Who decides which respective "case" is true? Who defines true Christian doctrine for you? For me? For us? Are we each to decide what "true Christianity" is for ourselves? Or did Christ establish a living authority for this purpose?

More rhetorical questions perhaps, but this seems to be your (and James White, Eric Svendsen, Rob Zins, etc) position: we each must decide what is true Christian doctrine for ourselves. Get out your Bibles, get out your Church history books, and re-invent "true Christianity" every century or every decade, etc.

BW>> To put it in Steve Ray's terms, there was no acorn, it was a full blown oak from the very beginning. I have an article on my web page documenting this fact. Scott Butler's book is an attempt to represent what Vatican I teaches. Its interesting to me that a theory of development must be proposed because of the historical reality. But Vatican I and Leo XIII disallow such a position for the Roman Catholic. Kindest regards, Bill Webster >>

Again, have to disagree. Come on Bill, are you saying the Council Fathers of Vatican I were ignorant of the Fathers? They had the writings of Clement, Ignatius, Cyprian, Augustine, Chrysostom and the rest of them just like you and me. MIGNE (the complete Fathers in Latin and Greek) was published back in the 18th century I believe. The writings of the Fathers existed then and Catholic theologians and Catholic patristic scholars were quite conversant with them. Perhaps I dare say even more than you. Bill, you seem again to be misunderstanding the purpose of Ecumenical Councils, including Vatican Council I. The issue they are called is for the DEFINING of Christian truth once and for all, not to delve into the subtleties of theology, Church history, "development" or the Fathers [clarification: of course this goes on by the Council Fathers BEFORE the final definitions are made]. For Vatican I and II this included defining the nature of the Church, the Papacy and Papal Infallibility. You reject those Councils, and I affirm them. Now what do we do?

You seem like a nice guy, Bill. I heard you on the James White radio program back in Jan/Feb 1999, in your older tapes and your debate with Gerry Matatics from 1992. The ultimate dinner guests would be you and Steve Ray sitting on either side of me. Maybe James White in front of me, and to his right and left Bob Sungenis, and Mark Bonocore. For about 5 hours all of us can discuss some of these issues. Hee hee.

I have copied this to Steve Ray for his files.



In a message dated 2/11/00 10:09:33 AM Eastern Standard Time, WWebs84862 writes:

BW>> Hi Phil: Thanks for your response. Its interesting to me that you don't reference the language of Vatican I or of the encyclical Satis Cognitum. The language of both leaves no room for development. The simple fact of the matter is, with respect to the papacy, neither Vatican I (the infallibilists at least) nor Leo XIII believed in the doctrine of development. >>

You didn't give me a quote, but I assume you are referring to statements such as the following. These are general statements ("ancient and unchanging faith," "always been understood," "known in every age," "the tradition received from the beginning", etc) that to me do not in any way deny development of doctrine. Could you please explain how such development is denied by Vatican I? Steve Ray and Cardinal Newman both affirm a development of doctrine concerning the Papacy, and both affirm with Vatican I that the primacy of Peter and the Popes is "the constant faith of the universal Church." I see no problem here. These are not mutually exclusive.

From Vatican Council I (1870), on the nature of Christ's Church, the primacy of Peter and Papal Infallibility (excerpts follow)

"This doctrine is to be believed and held by all the faithful in accordance with the ancient and unchanging faith of the whole church....To this absolutely manifest teaching of the sacred scriptures, as it has always been understood by the catholic church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the lord established in his church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction....

"For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our lord Jesus Christ, the saviour and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood....And so, supported by the clear witness of holy scripture, and adhering to the manifest and explicit decrees both of our predecessors the Roman pontiffs and of general councils, we promulgate anew the definition of the ecumenical council of Florence, which must be believed by all faithful Christians, namely that the apostolic see and the Roman pontiff hold a world-wide primacy, and that the Roman pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, true vicar of Christ, head of the whole church and father and teacher of all christian people....

"That apostolic primacy which the Roman pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This holy see has always maintained this, the constant custom of the church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it....Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour to the prince of his disciples...."

"Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the christian faith, to the glory of God our saviour, for the exaltation of the catholic religion and for the salvation of the christian people, with the approval of the sacred council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that...."

Then follows the Ex Cathedra definition for Papal Infallibility.


Bill, I fail to see where "development of doctrine" is denied or contradicted in the above statements. I affirm the same yet still believe there was development of doctrine, growth in theology, understanding, terminology, etc. Again, the two are not mutually exclusive (constant faith of the Church vs. development of doctrine).

From SATIS COGNITUM (On the Unity of the Church) Pope Leo XIII

Encyclical promulgated on 29 June 1896 (excerpts follow, see the FULL TEXT from the link above)

"The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium."

"Wherefore, from the very earliest times the fathers and doctors of the Church have been accustomed to follow and, with one accord to defend this rule...."

"Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own. As often, therefore, as it is declared on the authority of this teaching that this or that is contained in the deposit of divine revelation, it must be believed by every one as true...."

"For this reason the Fathers of the Vatican Council laid down nothing new, but followed divine revelation and the acknowledged and invariable teaching of the Church as to the very nature of faith, when they decreed as follows...."

"Jesus Christ, therefore, appointed Peter to be that head of the Church; and He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue. And so He made that remarkable promise to Peter and to no one else: 'Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church' (Matt. xvi., 18)."

"These declarations were preceded by the consent of antiquity which ever acknowledged, without the slightest doubt or hesitation, the Bishops of Rome, and revered them, as the legitimate successors of St. Peter. Who is unaware of the many and evident testimonies of the holy Fathers which exist to this effect?"

"This power over the Episcopal College to which we refer, and which is clearly set forth in Holy Writ, has ever been acknowledged and attested by the Church, as is clear from the teaching of General Councils."

"It has ever been unquestionably the office of the Roman Pontiffs to ratify or to reject the decrees of Councils."

"Indeed, Holy Writ attests that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given to Peter alone, and that the power of binding and loosening was granted to the Apostles and to Peter; but there is nothing to show that the Apostles received supreme power without Peter, and against Peter. Such power they certainly did not receive from Jesus Christ. Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age (Sess. iv., cap. 3)."


Throughout this encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the unity of the Church, numerous Scriptures, Fathers, and Councils are quoted as proof and supporting evidence. Thanks for directing me to this encyclical. It is a wonderful piece of writing. Steve Ray couldn't have said this better himself: "Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age" says Pope Leo XIII. That is not a denial of development of doctrine, growth in theology, understanding, language, terminology, etc. I would say the same: the primacy of the Pope is the venerable and constant belief of the Church from the beginning. Steve writes on the development of doctrine in Upon This Rock:

"And so the Church developed as she grew but did not change her organic nature or her Christ-established essence. The growth did not contradict what had gone before but rather complemented it in an essential unity with the Church's past stages of development. Under the pressure of increasing size, theological deviations, and persecution in the first century, leadership solidified and became layered, as is essential for the growth of any organization. This process was first developed and set in motion during the life of the apostles. It was a process of maturation that was fundamental to the organism and vital to its growth. The result of that growth in our age is still known as the Catholic Church and is essentially the same as the acorn planted two thousand years ago. The body is now in adulthood and bears the same marks as it did in the first century: oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity -- in short, the Catholic Church. The development of the Church and of doctrine and leadership is simply part of the expected growth of the organic structure." (Upon This Rock, page 118)

Yet, while clearly affirming a development of doctrine, Steve also says the following:

"If all Christians in the early centuries, even those who learned at the feet of the apostles, believed in a primacy of Peter and a primacy of his successors, why is it there are Christians today who so categorically denounce that primacy? Why should I trust the teaching of such opponents of the Papacy when I can trust the teaching of the whole early Church...The antagonists admit that the question at issue is not whether there was a primacy but how it was interpreted. Our study has shown it was interpreted very literally and very consistently -- in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church today. In fact, what we find is that the Roman Catholic Church is the only Church still within the apostolic tradition and functioning according to the principles and customs of the Fathers." (Upon This Rock, page 245)

So on the one hand, Steve clearly affirms there was a development of doctrine on the Papacy, and the other he affirms the primacy of Rome was the constant faith of the universal Church and only the Catholic Church of today holds to that primacy consistently in line with the Fathers and Councils, their practice, customs, and principles, etc.

BW>> You suggested that we Protestants do not conform with the faith of the Fathers. List a doctrine for me that is provided by Irenaeus in the rule of faith (Tertullian and Origen give the rule also) that the Protestant Church disagrees with. Again, thanks for your reply. Bill Webster >>

Bill, first: what IS "the Protestant Church" ? WHERE is "the Protestant Church" ? It doesn't exist. There are Protestant churchES (plural), yes, but no one single "Protestant Church." I ask you: whose authority are you under? Is it your pastor? But can you not reject his authority if you believe he is going against Scripture? It seems to me you really have no authority other than yourself as you interpret the Bible, as you interpret the Fathers, and define your own version of "true Christianity." When you left the Catholic Church, that's what you are left with, as I see it.

You ask about St. Irenaeus' "rule of faith" which is basically the elements of doctrine found in the ancient Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, etc). Sure most Protestants would adhere to those elements of the Creeds. So would Catholics, so would the Orthodox. Now why aren't we in unity? Basically, because Protestants have rejected much of the faith of the Fathers.

What do you do with St. Irenaeus on apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, Real Presence and Sacrifice of the Eucharist, the primacy of Rome (at least in a general sense), Bishops, priests, deacons (the three-fold hierarchy of ministry), a visible authoritative Church -- that Bishops inherit the teaching authority of the apostles and therefore have that "certain gift of truth", etc. The vast majority of Protestants do not believe in any of this. Only Catholics and Orthodox believe with St. Irenaeus on this.

Evangelical/Fundamentalist Protestants like yourself do not conform to the faith of the Fathers. That much we know. Some of the sacramental or more liturgical Protestants would conform somewhat generally to the Fathers, but that is because they inherited these teachings from the Catholic Church, which is undoubtedly the faith of the early Fathers. You admit as much in your book Church of Rome at Bar of History on Baptism (they were unanimous in agreement with Catholic/Orthodox doctrine on that), and I believe I have answered you on the Eucharist in the article at my site: Reply to Evangelical Protestant Critics on the Eucharist and the Fathers. As for the Papacy, Steve Ray has answered you on that. On Mariology, that will have to wait until my detailed review and rebuttal of your Church of Rome at Bar of History. There is too much you have omitted in your use of sources in that book.

Would love to see you come back home, Bill. The door is open. We'll leave the light on.



Bill, I didn't realize you already had a new article on development, Vatican I and the Pope Leo XIII encyclical on your site. I read your article and you are wrong. There is simply no conflict in the words of Vatican I, the encyclicals of Leo XIII (he has written many and they are available at EWTN or New Advent sites) and the concept of development of doctrine. ANY MORE than there is a supposed conflict with the Council of Nicaea stating the Faith of Christ and His Apostles is that the Son of God is "consubstantial" (a non-biblical word) with the Father, and the full-blown developed doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Faith of Christ and His Apostles and belongs to the original apostolic Deposit of Faith.

I can't believe you really see a conflict here. Why not put a link to the Leo XIII encyclical in BIG BOLD LETTERS so folks can read the full text of Satis Cognitum for themselves, so they can see all the supporting evidence and proof for the Papacy from the Scriptures, the Fathers and the Councils that Pope Leo XIII quotes. Direct them to the encyclical in your article. BTW, when you do a search in EWTN documents for "Pope Leo XIII" as author you get EIGHTY encyclicals. I suggest you check out more of this great Pope's writings.

Here is the link to the EWTN site for the encyclical:





Subj: A History of Vatican I
Date: 2/22/00
To: WWebs84862@aol.com (Bill Webster)
CC: sray@rc.net (Steve Ray)


Dave Armstrong has recently written a response to your new article on development, Vatican I and Pope Leo XIII. In Dave's article he mentions that St. Vincent of Lerins is actually quoted in the Vatican I documents, in the very section where Vincent affirms an early theory of development of doctrine from his Commonitories. Dave also notes that Pope Leo XIII is the one who made John Henry Newman a Cardinal. Could you comment on the following statement?


From Vatican Council I at the end of chapter 4 on Faith and Reason:

May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding [36] .

36 Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium (Notebook), 28 (PL 50, 668).


For a full history of Vatican Council I, you need to find the book The Vatican Council 1869-1870 by Cuthbert Butler. It is a standard source based on the first-hand account of Bishop Ullathorne. See also the link to chapter 6 of The Church and Infallibility by B.C. Butler at my site. I want the truth on the Council, Bill, and if you aren't going to give it to me in your articles, I'll have to go searching for it myself.


(This was from an Email exchange with Bill Webster, for more see the following links)

The Full Text of Vatican Council I translation by Norman Tanner, SJ

A Reply to Salmon on Vatican Council I by B.C. Butler

A History of Vatican Council I by Philip Hughes

See also Studies on the Early Papacy by Dom John Chapman
And The Primitive Church and the See of Peter by Luke Rivington

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