You know the conversations.
There are all manner of arguments people make to assert that the Catholic Church should evolve with the times to stay modern, to gain proselytes lest followers depart and the cranky old religion ceases to exist. “Change or perish!” they say.
And they’ve been saying it for 2,000 plus years.
It’s sensible to reply, “Well, Truth does not change.” It’s easy to then launch into an explanation about the objectivity and immutability of Divine Revelation, until the inquisitor asks you about, say, the sacraments.
People both inside and outside the Church argue that dogma has in fact evolved over time and the evolution of the sacraments are often cited as evidence. They’ll say marriage wasn’t originally a sacrament and penance was just developed to control people; they’ll point out that Christ said nothing about there being seven sacraments and, rather, those rituals just evolved as part of a complex rubric to make Christianity relevant to changing cultures. And so forth. It’s the same type of argument made for other issues as well, and the intent is to prove that religion is subjective.
You may counter with the objective dogmatic definitions put forth at the Council of Trent articulating the Seven Sacraments instituted by Christ: “If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or less than seven…let him be [ahem] anathema.” Your opponent, hopefully interested in sincerely understanding this question, will then be quick to remind you that the Council of Trent wasn’t held until 1547 and the Didache from the first or second century only mentions the precepts of Baptism and the Eucharist.
And you might be stumped. Does dogma evolve?
Dogma is Latin and it refers to the tenets or doctrine authoritatively laid down by God. In other words, it is God’s Law. I struggled with this question, yet it seemed so familiar. Then it hit me. Science! This question is relevant to the modern scientific mind, believer or non-believer, because it’s the same as asking whether the laws of physics evolve.
Those are God’s laws too. The honest scientist knows he is not the author of scientific truth; he is the discoverer and communicator of it. God is Author of all Truth. The mysteries of nature are there for us to discover and use to better the conditions in our temporal life. The mysteries of faith were revealed to us by God in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the sake of our salvation, to better our condition in eternal life, so to speak.
St. Thomas Aquinas says at the very beginning of his Summa Theologica that theology is the sacred science that seeks to discover how to articulate those divinely revealed truths more purely, guided by the Holy Spirit, over time. The very word “science” implies a systematic study of something objective. Theology is the highest science.
So, it isn’t dogma that evolves; it’s man’s understanding of it that develops.
There always were seven sacraments, even in the earliest days of Christianity before the Church fully articulated them. Even before mankind understood them, the sacraments announced and prepared the Divine Revelation of Christ to be given to the Church. The mystery of the Incarnation, true man and true God, was the foundation for the sacraments and the “powers that come forth” from the Body of Christ as the “masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant. (CCC 1115-1116)
Anyone who thinks dogma should evolve with changing times and cultures so that it is more acceptable to the masses, needs to be reminded that protons and electrons existed before we learned to draw them on paper; that even when no one understood that a microorganism can convert carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohol, we made bread and wine using live yeast; that before Sir Isaac Newton explained the relationship between objects and their motion, the acceleration (a) of a body was still directly proportional to the force (F) and inversely proportional to the mass (m) of it; and that even before a child knows the mathematical proofs to show why you shouldn’t stand in the crosswalk while a school bus is heading right for you, he knows why you shouldn’t argue with objective truth — because you’ll lose.
Truth is truth. All that evolves is the clarity with which we see it.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen