From my previous post about Christians and Pagans, I want to extract something very important from that discussion by G.K. Chesterton that is related to that topic and many other modern topics. In the same chapter of his brilliant work, Heretics, G.K. Chesterton exposes this notion of progress and how it is sometimes linked by modern writers to this notion of independent or free thought. This idea that one must deconstruct or disown everything handed to him in order to progress is utter nonsense.
I do not know by what extraordinary mental accident modern writers so constantly connect the idea of progress with the idea of independent thinking. Progress is obviously the antithesis of independent thinking. For under independent or individualistic thinking, every man starts at the beginning, and goes, in all probability, just as far as his father before him. But if there really be anything of the nature of progress, it must mean, above all things, the careful study and assumption of the whole of the past.Man must build upon what he is given. According to Chesterton, only two systems in the world can be credited with being truly progressive: Physical Science, and the Catholic Church.
Chesterton (via the character of MacIan) explains this in Ch. 8 of his work, The Ball and the Cross:
But there is one thing Free-thought can never be by any possibility -- Free-thought can never be progressive. It can never be progressive because it will accept nothing from the past; it begins every time again from the beginning; and it goes every time in a different direction. All the rational philosophers have gone along different roads, so it is impossible to say which has gone farthest. Who can discuss whether Emerson was a better optimist than Schopenhauer was pessimist? It is like asking if this corn is as yellow as that hill is steep. No; there are only two things that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of authority. They may be progressing uphill and down; they may be growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily increased in certain definable matters; they have steadily advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two things, it seems, that ever can progress. The first is strictly physical science. The second is the Catholic Church.He goes on to explain why this notion is essential to Christianity, in that it prevents it from getting swept up in the particular fads of the day -- something which does often threaten the Church, and would mean its downfall, were we to simply disown our notion of dogma:
... I say that if you want an example of anything which has progressed in the moral world by the same method as science in the material world, by continually adding to without unsettling what was there before, then I say that there is only one example of it. And that is Us... Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. When Italy is mad on art the Church seems too Puritanical; when England is mad on Puritanism the Church seems too artistic. When you quarrel with us now you class us with kingship and despotism; but when you quarrelled with us first it was because we would not accept the divine despotism of Henry VIII. The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue.Science and Christianity rely on definitive axioms and teachings that have been handed down, building upon what came before them. For Christianity to progress anywhere, it must have dogma -- and this is why infallibility is so important -- that is, the promise we have from Christ to guard and guide the Church from proclaiming error. Researching and understanding the development of religious dogma is one thing, but if we simply toss it aside as out-moded under the impression that, to be an independent thinker, we must start from the beginning and construct it for ourselves -- this is not progressive, and it is very much not Catholic.