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(LifeSiteNews) — In a previous article, I examined what is meant by the phrase “the deposit of faith” and what truths are included in this sacred deposit. Now I will consider the immutability of the deposit of faith, that is, the unchanging and constant nature of the truths of divine revelation or the permanence of the meaning of these truths. In so doing, we will see that the contrary opinion, namely, that the deposit of faith can change, is a condemned proposition of the heresy of Modernism. 

The meaning of the truths of revelation are clarified by the Church – but do not change 

The sacred deposit of faith, handed on once and for all to the Church by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, can neither err nor change. Over the centuries, it becomes more clearly drawn out and articulated. And although the articulation of what is contained in the deposit of faith continues in the Church until the end of time, this is a matter of a more explicit and clearer stating of what God has already revealed once and for all in His Son. This is true, whether the revelation of a particular truth was clear in the Gospel, such as Christ’s claim to divinity, or whether it was more obscure when revealed, such as Mary’s Immaculate Conception, contained in the Angel Gabriel’s greeting when he calls her “full of grace” and in the Apostles’ reverence toward her as toward one who is perfectly sinlessness. 

The more explicit defining of such truths later in the Church’s history is not a new revelation of a new truth, but the more explicit teaching of what God revealed previously through Our Lord and the Apostles. What is new is the Church’s clearer understanding of what was revealed and her clearer expression of that same revelation.

READ: The deposit of faith: What it is and why Catholics should know about it

Concerning the unchanging nature and meaning of the truths contained in the deposit of faith, the First Vatican Council taught, “The doctrine of faith which God revealed has not been handed down as a philosophic invention to the human mind to be perfected but has been entrusted as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence, also, that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding ‘Therefore […] let the understanding, the knowledge, and wisdom of individuals as of all, of one man as of the whole Church, grow and progress strongly with the passage of the ages and the centuries; but let it be solely in its own genus, namely in the same dogma, with the same sense and the same understanding’ [Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 23, 3].” (Vatican I, Dei Filius, ch.4). 

Similarly, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), in Mysterium ecclesiae, 1973, declared that the dogmatic definitions of the Church signify revealed truths in a determinate way and always remain true and constant, neither changing over time nor ceasing to be true. The CDF condemned the contrary opinion as dogmatic relativism, declaring: 

“As for the meaning of dogmatic formulas, this remains ever true and constant in the Church, even when it is expressed with greater clarity or more developed. The faithful therefore must shun the opinion, first, that dogmatic formulas (or some category of them) cannot signify truth in a determinate way, but can only offer changeable approximations to it, which to a certain extent distort or alter it; secondly, that these formulas signify the truth only in an indeterminate way, this truth being like a goal that is constantly being sought by means of such approximations. Those who hold such an opinion do not avoid dogmatic relativism and they corrupt the concept of the Church’s infallibility relative to the truth to be taught or held in a determinate way.” 

“Such an opinion clearly is in disagreement with the declarations of the First Vatican Council, which, while fully aware of the progress of the Church in her knowledge of revealed truth, nevertheless taught as follows: ‘That meaning of sacred dogmas… must always be maintained which Holy Mother Church declared once and for all, nor should one ever depart from that meaning under the guise of or in the name of a more advanced understanding.’ The Council moreover condemned the opinion that ‘dogmas once proposed by the Church must, with the progress of science be given a meaning other than that which was understood by the Church, or which she understands.’ There is no doubt that, according to these texts of the Council, the meaning of dogmas which is declared by the Church is determinate and unalterable.” 

So the Church’s definitive articulation of the revealed truths contained in the deposit of faith clearly and accurately expresses such truths and cannot change. 

The deposit of faith is complete

The ultimate reason why the deposit of faith cannot change is that God has revealed in a complete way Who He is and what His plan of salvation for man is. Essentially, this boils down to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity and the mystery of redemption. Knowledge of the former includes all the basic truths there are to be known about Who God is in Himself: He is three persons in one nature – the Father who is the origin, from whom the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed, the Son who is the Eternal Word proceeding from the Father, and the Holy Spirit who is the love of the Father and the Son, proceeding from both, all within the one divine nature.

The mystery of redemption includes the Incarnation of God the Son, His saving death on the Cross, His resurrection, ascension, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the establishing of the Church, the institution of the sacraments, and the whole living of the supernatural moral life of grace and the virtues.

Who God is does not change, nor does man’s participation in the divine life through grace and the virtues change, nor will there be another “economy of salvation” in which souls are saved through something other than the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ and incorporation into His Body, the Church, through the sacraments. So divine revelation is definitive and immutable because it is complete. God has revealed all the basic truths there are to know about Him and all that He wills as the means of our salvation.

Even in heaven, in the beatific vision, the happiness of the saints consists in seeing nothing other than the divine essence of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. The knowledge of God that we have in this life of faith is imperfect, to be sure, but there still a certain completeness to it. God has revealed all the basics truths about Himself that there are: He is three persons in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Modernist idea of doctrinal ‘evolution’ is incompatible with the Catholic faith 

Any claim to add to or take away the slightest truth contained in the deposit of faith amounts to a denial of some truth that God has revealed and is therefore a sin against the virtue of faith. The claim that the Holy Spirit is inspiring new truths of revelation today is a condemned proposition of the heresy of Modernism, exposed for its incompatibility with Catholic doctrine by Blessed Pius IX and Saint Pius X. As the latter noted in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, such an evolution of revealed doctrine is little more than theological subjectivism.

Denouncing the Modernists, Pius X wrote: First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself.” 

“For the Modernists, both as authors and propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church. Nor indeed are they without precursors in their doctrines, for it was of these that Our Predecessor Pius IX wrote: ‘These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts.’ On the subject of revelation and dogma in particular, the doctrine of the Modernists offers nothing new — we find it condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX, where it is enunciated in these terms: Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the progress of human reason.’” Pius IX condemned this position as erroneous. 

So to hold that the deposit of faith changes in meaning over time or evolves such that what was held to be true by faith yesterday can be rejected in good faith today is to fall into the theological subjectivism of the heresy of Modernism. It is to deny the objective reality and completeness of supernatural divine revelation. And ultimately it is to posit either that God Himself changes or that His plan of salvation through Christ and the Church has changed.  

None of these are possible, and none will be found acceptable to one who has divine and Catholic faith. Rather, such a one will believe what the Holy Spirit has said through the prophet, “I am the Lord, and I do not change” (Mal 3:6) and what that same Holy Spirit declared through the Apostle concerning salvation through Jesus Christ, “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). 


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