In the 1990’s Richard Neuhaus wrote a longish explanation of the path he followed as he went from being a Missouri Synod Lutheran to becoming a Roman Catholic. As he followed his path he came to questions about the development of Church Doctrine in a way similar to that of John Henry Newman.
Here are Neuhaus’s thoughts on Augustine’s words “securus judicat orbis terrarum” (the secure judgement of the whole world) which is the same passage that Newman claimed pulvarized the Via-Media:
The question of authority, the question of Who says so?, has been with the Church from the beginning. In Corinth some invoked Peter, some Paul, some Apollos, and some Christ. And so it was later with the Montanists, the Arians, the Nestorians, the Valentinians, the Donatists, and on and on. A sure mark of a heretical and schismatic community, said St. Augustine, is that it names itself by a man or an idea rather than by the simple title “Catholic.” Also centuries later, for example in the sixteenth century, those who had sense enough to know that the Church did not begin with their new theological insight tried to reconstruct Christian history to fit their views. Thus the Lutheran Matthias Illyricus Flacius compiled the Magdeburg Centuries; thus followers of John Knox claimed to have reestablished the polity of the New Testament Church; thus the “Landmarkist” historiography of American Baptists who trace the lineage of the one true Church through Cathari, Waldensians, Lollards, Albigenses, and all the way back to Jesus himself. All such efforts attempt to answer the question of authority. Some are less ludicrous than others, but none is plausible. As St. Augustine and all Catholic teachers have known, the teaching of the Church is lived forward, not reconstructed backward.
St. Augustine appealed to the securus judicat orbis terrarum—the secure judgment of the whole world, by which he meant the Catholic Church. Yes, but what do you do when that judgment is unclear or in heated dispute? Augustine’s answer is that you wait, in firm communion with the Catholic Church and in firm confidence that the Holy Spirit will, as promised, clarify the matter in due course. The point is that apostolic doctrine cannot be maintained over time without apostolic ministry, meaning ministry that is both apostolic in its origins and apostolic in its governing authority. This argument is brilliantly advanced in his polemic against the Donatists, who appealed to St. Cyprian as precedent for refusing to recognize the sacraments of the traditores, those who had lapsed in time of persecution. Yes, answered Augustine, the holy Cyprian was confused, and admitted as much; but he awaited clarification by the securus judicat orbis terrarum. The one thing he would not do, unlike the Donatists, was to break communion with the Catholic Church.
The Church is holy in practice and correct in doctrine, said the schismatic Donatists, and therefore it cannot exist in communion with the unholy and erring. It follows that the Donatists are the true Church. To which Augustine replied:
If, therefore, by such communion with the wicked the just cannot but perish, the Church had already perished in the time of Cyprian. Whence then sprang the origin of Donatus? Where was he taught, where was he baptized, where was he ordained, since [you claim that] the Church had been already destroyed by the contagion of communion with the wicked? But if the Church still existed, the wicked could do no harm to the good in one communion with them. Wherefore did you separate yourselves?
“Wherefore did you separate yourselves?” Augustine’s question echoes down through the centuries, directed at all who have separated themselves from communion with the Catholic Church. Today the criticism is heard that the Catholic Church, for all its magisterial authority, will permit almost anything in teaching or practice so long as one does not formally break communion with the Church. There is truth in that, although I think it not a criticism but a compliment. While what Lutherans call the publica doctrina, the public teaching, of the Catholic Church is lucidly clear, it is true that the Church bends every effort, puts the best construction on every deviant opinion, in order to avoid what Augustine calls “the heinous and damnable sin of schism.” For instance, in the twenty-three years of the supposedly authoritarian pontificate of John Paul II, the number of theologians publicly censured can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the only schism has been that of the integralist Lefebvrists of France. Disagreement, confusion, and false teaching can do great evil, but the remedy for such evil is always to be found in communion with that body that is gifted with the charism of providing securus judicat orbis terrarum.
There’s very little that I find I disagree with here, with the exception of course that my understanding of Catholic is different than Neuhaus (or Newman’s) understanding and would include all the catholic expressions of the Body of Christ. (Which would be those that are described by the thinking of Huntington in the Quadrilateral.)
Read the rest of the article here: “Richard Neuhaus: How I become the Catholic I Was.”