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The Spirit versus the letter: Responding to a false view of doctrinal development

Sergio Centofanti’s recent essay for Vatican News claims that the Church teaches, “It is necessary to follow the Spirit, rather than the strict letter.” This opposition could not be further from the truth.

he recent Vatican News article by Sergio Centofanti titled “Development of doctrine is a people walking together”, gives a brief account of doctrinal development. Centofanti’s account, however, is troubling and lacking for many reasons.

The Holy Spirit versus the letter? 

One serious problem is that it opposes the “Holy Spirit” and the “letter” of the text. Doctrinal development, states Centofanti, is a work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church involving “Fidelity to Jesus [meaning thereby] fidelity to His people, the people of God walking together toward Christ, united with His Vicar and with the Successors of the Apostles.” Twice Centofanti explicitly opposes the work of the Holy Spirit to the “letter” of the text. He never tells us what the “letter” of the text is, but of course the “letter” of the text is the literal sense, meaning thereby the sense intended by the author and expressed in language. Centofanti states:

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