The last post discussed the theme of natural development with the emphasis on "evolution not revolution": that discontunity is unnatural and severs identity. Now we examine the same principle from the opposite perspective: continuity through change.
Vladimir Soloviov, a Russian Orthodox Christian who came into communion with Rome, wrote vigorously in defense of the Papacy. Here's a beautiful excerpt that compares the historical growth of the Church to the dvelopment of a tree.
Though the transformation of a stone into a mountain is only a symbol, the transformation of a simple, almost impreceptible seed into an infinitely larger and more complicated organism is an actual fact. And it is by just this fact that the New Testament foretells and illustrates the development of the Church, as of a great tree which began in an impreceptible grain of seed and today gives ample shelter to the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air.
Now, even among Catholics we meet with ultradogmatic spirits who, while justly admiring the vast oak which covers them with its shade, absolutely refuse to admit that all this abundance of organic forms has grown from a structure as simple and rudimentary as that of an ordinary acorn. According to them, though the oak tree arose out of the acorn, the acorn must have contained in a distinct and discernible form, if not every leaf, at least every branch of the great tree, and must have been not only idenitical in substance with the latter but similar to it in every detail [like the old homonculus theory].
Whereupon ultracritical spirits of the opposite school set to work to examine the wretched acorn minutely from every angle. Naturally, they discover in it no resemblance whatever to the entwining roots, the stout trunk, the leafy branches, or the tough, corrugated foliage of the great tree. "What humbug," they exclaim. "The acorn is simply an acorn and can never be anything else; it is only too obvious where the great oak and all its characteristics came from. The Jesuits invented it at the [First] Vatican Council; we saw it with our own eyes—in the book of Janus [a dissenting account of the Council]."
At the risk of appearing a freethinker to the extreme dogmatists and of being at the same time labeled a Jesuit in disguise by the critics, I must affirm the unquestionable truth that the acorn actually has quite a simple and rudimentary structure, and that though not all the component parts of a great oak can be discovered in it, the oak has actually grown out of the acorn without any artificial stimulus or infringement of the laws of nature, but by its own right, nay, even by divine right. Since God, who is not bound by the limitations of space and time and of the mechanism of the material world, sees concealed in the actual seeds of things all their future potentialities, so in the little acorn he must not only have seen but ordained and blssed the mighty oak which was to grow from it. In the grain of mustard seed of Peter's faith he discerned and foretold the vast tree of the Catholic Church which was to cover the earth with its brances.
Though Jesus Christ entrusted Peter with that universal sovereign authority which was to endure and develop within the Church throughout its existence upon earth, he did not personally exercise this authority except in a measure and in a form suited to the primitive condition of the apostolic Church. The action of the prince of the apostles had as little resemblance to modern papal administration as the acorn has to the oak; but this does not prevent the papacy from being the natural, logical, and legitimate development of the primacy of Peter.
The growth of an organism ties back to Aristotle's discussion of the meaning of natural:
The form indeed is 'nature' rather than the matter; for a thing is more properly said to be what it is when it has attained to fulfillment than when it exists potentially. (Physics II.1.193b7-8)
Thus an oak tree is more natural than the acorn from which it grew, since it more fully expresses its nature. So human societies, like the family or a larger community, are more natural than the individuals from which they grow and who bind together to form them. Humanity fully expresses its nature in community (contrary to the Enlightenment philosophers' postulation that the State of Nature is solitary).
Similarly, the Catholic Christian Church is a more perfect expression of the Body of Christ than individual, particular Churches, but it also more fully expresses the nature of that universal Communion in its mature state than in it did at birth.
Vladmiri Soloviev (Solovyov), The Russian Church and the Papacy, trans. Herbert Rees, ed. Ray Ryland (San Diego, California: Catholic Answers, 2001), 149-150.
Personal note: I will be travelling for the next couple weeks, so posts if any will be intermittent.