There are two religious bodies calling themselves Christian that advance the notion of ongoing revelation. These are the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” a.k.a., the Mormons, and the “Religious Society of Friends,” a.k.a., the Quakers. The former organization holds that the president of the LDS is always a prophet who can receive revelations from God, such as the very convenient one that polygamy should end, which coincided with Utah’s effort to obtain statehood — a status it would not have gotten had its laws protected polygamy. The latter, a more democratic entity, has it that all those at their meetings may receive revelations at any moment. In both these sects, the notion of a permanently sealed “sacred deposit” is foreign.
What is the Catholic teaching?
It is clear. Public revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle (Saint John), ca. AD 100. This means that the depositum fidei the “deposit of the faith,” was complete at that time, nevermore to be added to with new articles of the Faith. It is entirely sealed.
The twenty-first “condemned and proscribed” point of Pope Saint Pius X’s Lamentabile Sane was the Modernist heresy that, “Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles.” It’s always important, when reading such documents, to distinguish between what’s being taught and what’s being condemned. Here, we have a Modernist heresy being condemned. To render the statement as an affirmation, we may put it this way: “Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was completed with the Apostles.”
The First Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, teaches us that,
The Holy Ghost has not been promised to the successors of Peter that, under His revelation, they might make known a new doctrine, but in order that, with His assistance, they sacredly preserve and faithfully set forth the revelation transmitted by the Apostles, that is to say, the Deposit of the Faith. [D.H. 3070]
Even the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is quite clear on the point. We read there, under the explicit heading, “There will be no further Revelation,” that,
“The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [footnote text: 28 Dei Verbum 4; cf. 1 Tim 6:14; Titus 2:13.] Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.
Here, the CCC only affirms tradition.
The Bavarian theologian, Rev. Dr. Ludwig Ott (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pg. 7), explains the doctrine in a way that gives us a better appreciation of both the definitive character of Christian revelation and Our Lord’s passing on the Faith to us through His hand-picked Apostles, who consequently have a completely unique role in salvation history as teachers of the entire Church:
With Christ and the Apostles General Revelation Concluded. Pope Pius X rejected the liberal Protestant and Modernistic doctrine of the evolution of religion through “New Revelations.” Thus he condemned the proposition that: “The Revelation, which is the object of Catholic Faith, was not terminated with the Apostles.” D 2021.
The clear teaching of Holy Writ and Tradition is that after Christ, and the Apostles who proclaimed the message of Christ, no further revelation will be made. Christ was the fulfillment of the Law of the Old Testament (Mt. 5, 17; 2, 21 et seq.) and the absolute teacher of humanity (Mt. 23, 10: “One is your master, Christ”; cf. Mt. 28, 20). The Apostles saw in Christ: “the coming of the fullness of time” (Gal. 4,4) and regarded as their task, the preservation, integral and unfalsified, of the heritage of Faith entrusted to them by Christ (1 Tim. 6, 16; 6, 20; 2 Tim 1, 14; 2, 2; 3, 14). The Fathers indignantly repudiated the claim of the heretics to possess secret doctrines or new Revelations of the Holy Ghost. St. Irenaeus (Adv. haer III 1; IV 35, 8), and Tertullian (De praesc. 21) stress, against the Gnostics, that the full truth of revelation is contained in the doctrine of the Apostles which is preserved unfalsified through the uninterrupted succession of the bishops.
If it constitutes a dogma of the Catholic religion that there are no new articles added to the Sacred Deposit after the Apostles died, it is no less true that the Church can (has, and — hopefully — will) get a clearer understanding of the contents of that Sacred Deposit. That is what the Popes and the Bishops of the Church have done for two millennia, employing their Solemn Magisterium, as well as their Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. It is the Holy Ghost who assists them in this task.
Contrary to the Modernist contentions of “evolution of dogma” or “ongoing revelation,” we orthodox faithful adhere to a true, inherently conservative concept of “development of doctrine.” To call it “inherently conservative” is not to practice some form of partisan Church politics, either. To call it so is radically, fundamentally true, for to “to conserve” is “to protect from loss or harm; preserve” (American Heritage Dictionary), and the task of the Magisterium is not only to explain and clarify the Sacred Deposit, put to conserve it as one conserves a great treasure, for such it is! The Fathers of Vatican I said that the Roman Pontiff has the promise of the Holy Ghost so that he might, “reverently guard and faithfully explain” (custodirent et fideliter exponerent) the sacred deposit handed down through the Apostles.
Let us continue to contrast the Modernist from the Catholic notion of doctrinal development.
The greatest pope of the twentieth century, Pope Saint Pius X, condemned the Modernist contention that “the formulas which we call dogma must be subject to these vicissitudes [i.e., those “of varying human conditions”], and are, therefore, liable to change. Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma.” He said this was part of “an immense structure of sophisms which ruin and wreck all religion” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis).
Earlier, Pope Leo XIII had condemned the Americanist approach to dogma, which was similar to what the modernists would teach later, since both heresies were “progressivist” in nature: “certain topics of doctrine are passed over as of lesser importance, or are so softened that they do not retain the same sense as the Church has always held” (Testem Benevolentiae).
And before that, during the reign of Blessed Pius IX, Vatican I taught this:
For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated.
Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.
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” (Dei Filius, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith,” the last paragraph of which is from the Commonitorium of Saint Vincent of Lerins).
Here, then, is the true Catholic notion of doctrinal development — it is a homogeneous development of doctrine which retains the sense of all the ancient dogmas, but adds to them greater clarity and understanding. Centuries of ecumenical councils and papal teachings have given us this. Dom Prosper Guéranger and other great Catholic theologians explain that this kind of orthodox doctrinal development takes place under the influence of the Holy Ghost and by the authoritative dogmatic interventions of the Church’s Magisterium. This true doctrinal development will never contradict either tradition or what the Church has taught us from her highest levels. With the Church, we must all reject the heterogeneous development of doctrine, condemned by Pope St. Pius X as the “evolution of dogma.”
Grasping these authentic notions relating to the preservation, elucidation, and transmission of Catholic doctrine, both on questions of dogmatic Faith and Christian morals, is absolutely essential in our day, when wicked or ignorant ecclesiastics seek to undermine the Sacred Deposit. Learning and treasuring these truths will help us to accomplish what Saint Jude exhorts the faithful to do in his canonical epistle: “to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). If this seems like an impossible task in our day, we should take heart and recall that Saint Jude is, along with Saint Rita, the patron saint of the impossible!