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Newman, Cardinal John Henry


John Henry Newman (Derek Michaud, 2002)

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) (Philip N. LaFountain, 1998)

John Henry Newman

Derek Michaud, 2002


Few theologians have had the breadth and depth of influence in two separate traditions that John Henry (Cardinal) Newman (1801-1890) did. His Essay on the Development of Doctrine remains fundamentally descriptive of the Catholic position on the issue and his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Ascent foreshadows 20th century developments in philosophy.

Despite the influence that Newman has had on theology and philosophy, he was not a systematic theologian. He considered himself a man of the Church and his writings stem from real controversies that affected the Church in his day, not abstract philosophical dogma. Similarly to St. Augustine, (whom he gives partial credit for his Catholic conversion) Newman’s thought was formed in debate with forces he thought could destroy the Church.

Biography, Context and Theology

John Henry Newman was born in England on February 21, 1801 to an Anglican father and a mother with Evangelical leanings. He received a strong education in Latin and classics. Newman earned his BA from Trinity College and went on to a fellowship at Oriel College (both of Oxford University). While at Oxford, he met, studied with, and was shaped by Edward Pusey (Poosey), John Keble, Hurrell Froude, and others who were to form the backbone of the Oxford or Tractarian Movement.

Establishment, Liberalism & the Tractarian Movement

In order to understand the development of Newman’s thinking (and the Tractarian Movement as a whole) it is necessary to pay close attention to the social, political, and theological forces at work in England during the early to mid 1800’s.

The Church of England was (and remains) the official established church of the nation. Even today, a Roman Catholic may not assume the throne of the United Kingdom. Naturally, those within the establishment were both content with there power and anxious that the church not be lead astray by competing political agendas.

In 1828, Parliament repelled the Corporation Act of 1661 and the Test Act of 1664, thereby allowing Protestant Dissenters to participate in corporations and in public positions (including Parliament). In the same year, a Roman Catholic Irish nationalist was elected to Parliament. He was prohibited from "being seated" in Westminster under the Test Act of 1678. Rather than risk a civil war the ruling Tory party sponsored and passed Catholic Emancipation, which greatly upset Evangelical elements in England. Concerned that the Church of England could now be under the control of Evangelicals and Catholics a group at Oxford (including Newman) began to protest the ecclesiastical power of the state. Later in 1833, John Keble’s famous sermon on national apostasy spoke out against the Irish Temporalities Act, which reorganized bishoprics and the finances of the Church of Ireland. It was this action by the government that prompted the Tracts of the Times to be published with Newman responsible for 28 of the total 90.

The Tractarians consisted of a loose group of men each with strong commitments to keeping the church free from political and (what they called) liberal influences. Newman described liberalism as "false liberty of thought" (Apologia 218). By this he meant that those whom took it on themselves to judge doctrines which are beyond human capacity, were liberal. Liberals included Evangelicals, Methodists, Unitarians, Deists, Atheists, and others who had relatively loose ideas about authority and revelation. By 1833 Keble had "formulated the principles for which" the Tractarians "stood" (Walker 642). 1. Salvation is through reception of the Eucharist. 2. Eucharist can only be received in the authentic church. 3. The true church is marked by apostolic succession. 4. The church must be purified and restored to its original state (Walker 642).

Via Media and the True Church

For Newman the issue of the truth of the church was paramount. Newman wrote two Tracts in 1834 on the via media and gave the doctrine its classical expression in his 1837 Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism (Cf. Möhler’s Symbolism). Newman proposed the view that the Church of England was not Protestant or Roman, rather it consisted in a middle way striking a balance between catholic unity (Episcopal Tradition) and doctrinal comprehensiveness (Prophetical Tradition in keeping with the spirit of the Patristic Period). Therefore, Newman saw the Anglican Church as maintaining the primitive church through Apostolic Succession and a specific tradition of scriptural and doctrinal interpretation, both of which did not strike liberals as anything but Roman (Apologia chapters 2 & 3). In 1839 while studying the Monophysite Controversy Newman was struck by the idea that if, they were heretics then the equally schismatic Protestants and Anglicans of his day must be as well (Apologia chapter 3 esp. 97-99). Soon after, he began to wish for Anglican reunion with Rome (Apologia 102). Despite his newfound misgivings about schism, Newman remained true to his Church and set out to show that the Church of England was in fact not at odds with Rome at all. In 1841 Newman "discovered" that Protestants of his day were analogous to Arians of the Patristic Period, Anglicans to semi-Arians, and that "Rome was now what it had been then;" the True Church had been and still was the Roman Church (Apologia 114-115). The via media did not protect the true church; it compromised it by breaking away from Rome. The height of conflict over the status of the Anglican Church centered on the publication of Tract 90 (1841) in which Newman tried to maintain that the Thirty-nine Articles of Anglicanism where consistent with Catholicism. Oxford censured the Tract and two dozen bishops condemned it (Walgrave 387). In the same year Newman became enraged by the "affair of the Jerusalem Bishopric," a joint venture between the Church of England and the Protestant Church of Prussia to install a Protestant Bishop in the Holy Land (Apologia 116). This represented the "third blow" and was for Newman the straw that broke the camels back. There after until his reception into the Roman Church in 1845 Newman was principally an Anglican in name only, owing in large measure to his profound sense of duty (Apologia chapter 3 esp. 121-183). During those years, he toyed with the idea of reform in the Church of England as a valid path but ultimately gave it up.

Having settled the issue of schism for himself Newman took up the problem of the apparent contradictions between ancient and modern doctrine. His solution (arrived at by degrees and finally set down in 1845) presents itself in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine in which he expounds the theory that Catholic doctrines have not changed in substance but rather have been ever increasing in clarity of definition. The Church received revelation at once and wholly in the life, death, and ascension of Christ, but God decreed that the full meaning and extent of this revelation should only be arrived at in the fullness of time, so that the members of the Church might be able to understand the particulars of doctrine (Essay 33-54, 99-121). Therefore, Newman says that the doctrine of the sacraments developed out of the Eucharist and that the Immaculate Conception arose out of the Incarnation but that these developments amount successively more accurate definitions not new or changes to doctrines (Essay 122-168).

Catholic Conversion & Career

Newman’s gradual and painful conversion can be seen as a denial of Anglicanism and Protestantism as much as the adoption of Catholicism. Indeed, even after being brought into the fold he remained a free thinker to a large extent. Newman agonized over the decision to leave the Church of England but when he was sufficiently convinced that the via media lead only away from the true Catholic and Apostolic Church he, according to his principles, had no choice. In any event, whether he left the Church of England or went to that of Rome by 1845 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church where he remained until his death in 1890.

Within two years of his conversion to Roman Catholicism Newman was ordained a priest. Newman spent the rest of his life in numerous ministerial and educational positions, favoring relative solitude. He was appointed rector of the Catholic University of Dublin in 1851 and served there until 1859. His ideas about education are encapsulated in his Idea of a University and enjoyed wide spread enthusiasm. In 1864, he published his famous Apologia Pro Vita Sua as a response in the controversy with Charles Kingsley over the truth of Catholicism. Newman passed on the opportunity to assist at the First Vatican Council because of his more moderate views on Papal Infallibility, which he incorporated, in his defense of Catholics being loyal British citizens Letter to the Duke of Norfolk on Occasion of Mr. Gladstone’s Recent Expostulation (1875) which largely sums up the current Catholic position. In 1870 after some twenty years of attempting, Newman completed his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent in which he outlined his unique epistemology (see below). To the surprise of nearly everyone, especially Newman, Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal in 1879 on the condition that he be allowed to remain in his oratory in England rather than move. Newman died at the age of 89 in 1890.

Newman’s Philosophy

Newman’s thinking profoundly reflected his personality. He was an exceptionally introverted man, who genuinely preferred to be alone. In large measure, his thinking developed without the direct influence of anyone else.

Two basic religious experiences ground all of Newman’s thought. First, conscience or a moral sense, which does not rely on a logical medium and is accompanied by a sense of duty. Second, God reveals himself to the individual soul through the created world; that is the material world is sacramental. These experiences (or sources) led Newman to utilize three "first principles;" providence, nature, and analogy. Newman’s idea of God was colored by his principle of providence, as was his understanding of the material world as constantly developing. "To be, to live, is to develop." God governs all things in accordance with their nature, which is unvarying. "Newman generally justifies a judicious use of argument from analogy and fittingness" (Walgrave 388).

Epistemology of Belief

Newman wrote on epistemology in five sermons (1839-1841) on the relationship between faith and reason (Sermons, Chiefly on the Theory of Religious Belief, Preached Before the University of Oxford 1843) as well as his more famous Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870). In his Sermons Newman challenges the Lockean understanding of reason and insists that the restriction of reason to rationalism and empiricism is not necessary. Newman argues that religious belief is an example of a reasonable conviction reached in an informal way not by relying on specific arguments and experiences but pre-existing assumptions and expectations (Ker 1998, 822). For Newman then, one may reason things that cannot be demonstrated by argument. In a sense, he expands the bounds of reason in order to let religion fit.

An Essay in aid of a Grammar of Assent

Newman begins his Assent by asserting that there are three forms which propositions may take, interrogative, conditional, and categorical (25). Interrogative propositions ask a question to which one may answer either yes or no. Conditional propositions express a conclusion that relies on other propositions. Categorical propositions make a statement without implying other propositions, that is, they are statements that stand on their own (25). These external acts of speech are for Newman analogous to the internal acts of doubting, inferring, and assenting (25-29). He dismisses doubt as a further topic for his essay because it is merely the belief in an anti-thesis and therefore a kind of inference or assent (28). Inferences are conditional acts; they depend on antecedent propositions, and are therefore apprehended notionally. Assents on the other hand are unconditional and are apprehended as real (29-31).

Chapter two (32-35) consists of Newman’s case that apprehension of the terms of the proposition assented to is necessary for assent. The third chapter relates Newman’s understanding of the apprehension of propositions. A proposition as mentioned earlier may be apprehended either notionally or really (36-38). Real apprehension is for Newman "in the first instance an experience or information about the concrete [thing as it is]," including memories which are "the reflections of things in a mental mirror" (38, 39). Real apprehensions are analogous to images provided they are not dependent on other propositions (42-43). Notional apprehension relates to those propositions that are in themselves not the thing referred to itself but some mental construct related to it (44-48). An apprehension is notional when it is comparative or reflective. Notional apprehension leads to breadth of knowledge whereas real apprehension leads to depth (47).

In chapter four Newman continues by exploring notional and real assent. Notional assents come in five types, profession, credence, opinion, presumption, and speculation (52-76). Real assents in contrast involve the apprehension of real things rather than mere creations of the mind as in notional assent (notice the implied anti-rationalism) (76). "To the devout and spiritual, the Divine Word speaks of things, not merely of notions" (79). Therefore, real assent is assent to propositions that are experienced as real by the person giving assent. In a curious use of the word, Newman mentions that real assent is held in the imagination, that is, the object of real assent is held in the mind, as a whole object not the some total of separate notions (i.e. notional assent). "Real assents" he says "are sometimes called beliefs, convictions, certitudes," and they provide our mental "moorings" (85-86). "Belief…being concerned with things concrete, not abstract,…has for its objects, not only directly what is true, but inclusively what is beautiful, useful, admirable, heroic; objects which kindle devotion, rouse the passions, and attach the affections; and thus it leads the way to actions of every kind, to the establishment of principles, and the formation of character, and is thus again intimately connected with what it individual and personal" (87).

Next, Newman discusses apprehension and assent in religion by taking the examples of belief in one God (95-109), belief in the Trinity (109-123), and belief in dogmatic theology (123-131) respectively. Newman here says that assent to "’what the Church proposes to be believed’ is an act of assent, including all particular assents, notional or real; and while it is possible for un-learned as well as learned, it is imperative on learned as well as unlearned" (131). Thus, at the end of part one Newman has made the case that one may assent to or believe that which one does not fully understand (though it must be apprehended) (12).

Chapter six opens part two by taking up the issue of assent as unconditional. In this chapter Newman attacks Locke’s contention that the strength given to assent varies with the relative strength of the evidence by pointing out that; Locke is inconsistent on the issue (137), that we know from experience that assent does not necessarily depend on inference or probability (140-142), assent is not necessarily given or removed relative to the evidence (142-143), and one must will to assent regardless of apprehension (143-144). Newman concludes that "In the case of all demonstrations, assent, when given, is un-conditionally given" (145).

Again speaking against Locke Newman says "Assent on reasonings not demonstrative is too widely recognized an act to be irrational" (150). Newman makes the interesting observation that the perceived problem of a Catholic not being able to question his or her Creed is absurd since to be in doubt about it one would have to cease being Catholic (159). His discussion of unconditional assent naturally flows into that of certitude and it is with this topic that chapter seven is concerned.

Newman claims that certitude is far from extraordinary and a "natural and normal state of mind" (172). In contrast to assent, certitude is persistent (180) because it is directed to a truth (181-183). Newman contrasts certitude (which is directed to a proposition) and infallibility (which is a faculty) (183-185). The fact that we can and often do make mistakes does not disprove certitude (in general) for Newman since it is reasoning which has failed not assent (186), and such errors are warnings to reason carefully not to dismiss reasoning entirely (187). Newman considers numerous other aspects of the indefectibility of certitude and concludes, "on the whole there are three conditions of certitude; that it follows on investigation and proof [certitude arises from complex assent which is assent "made consciously and deliberately" (157) versus unconscious "simple" assent], that it is accompanied by a specific sense of intellectual satisfaction and repose, and that it is irreversible" (207).

Newman next takes up a long discussion of inferences in chapter eight the main point of which is that inference is conditional acceptance of a proposition (similar to a theorem) whereas assent is unconditional, absolute, and directed at an object which is true (209-269). Judgment in conditional matters is for Newman based on inference. In contrast "Judgment in all concrete matter is the architectonic faculty; and what may be called the Illative Sense, or right judgment in ratiocination, is one branch of it" (269). Therefore, chapter nine deals with Newman’s illative sense.

The illative sense is that faculty of the mind that precedes inference and acts as judge of inferences validity. The illative sense is the internal subjective authority by which various influences may be judged valid and it is this sense that leads to our sense of the truth of propositions in all "concrete reasonings" including science, history, and theology (281). It must be said here that although Newman speaks of theology as in some sense the product of inferences and the work of the illative sense he in no way means to deny that religion (the subjective experience of spiritual matters) is anything but a real apprehension and something that is assented to rather than arrived at. Newman says that we may reason our way through successive inferences and that these although themselves logical and linguistic are then grasped by the illative sense and the truth to which they point is then realized at which point we may assent to it and in the case of religious (Catholic) assent we may be certain of our assent (270-299).

The tenth and final chapter addresses inference and assent in religion. Newman says that there are two sorts of true religion, natural and revealed (Christianity) and that both neither contradict nor conflict with each other (300-302). Natural religion speaks directly to our minds (303) and is therefore a system of real apprehensions to which we can assent and be certain of (303-317). Natural religion then (chiefly the awareness of God) acts as the preparation for revealed religion. It is through revealed religion that the particulars of Christianity are first inferred then taken up by the illative sense and finally assented to as true in certitude (318-379).

Influence of Newman’s Thought

Newman’s philosophical thought was influential in many areas of twentieth century philosophy and science. For example his treatment of rationality and its linguistic expression "anticipates the central concerns of the later Wittgenstein" and "his refusal to take the path of Schleiermacher in conceding to science all factual knowledge and claiming for religious utterances merely emotional, imaginative and existential significance; he had found unexpected support from modern philosophers of science" (Ker 1998, 822). Additionally, "Newman anticipated the limitation basic to Goedel's incompleteness result for consistent formal systems, by claiming a fundamental incompleteness property for all languages such as English" (McCloskey).

Newman’s legacy in the Church of England is a shared with the other Tractarians and lives on in Anglo-Catholicism, and distinct movement within the worldwide Anglican Communion. Rome distrusted Newman in the late 1800’s due to the Neo-Scholastic reaction to Modernism (Livingston 210). Newman’s understanding of natural religion and his phrase "crypto-Christians" (Assent 321) in reference to those who have assented to all they have been exposed to of true religion anticipated the modern Catholic understanding of anonymous Christians. Newman provided inspiration for much of the groundbreaking reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the area of inter-religious and ecumenical relations.

Today, 112 years after his death, John Henry Newman continues to speak to and for the Church and scholars in virtually every field of theological endeavor profit by studying his thought.



Primary Sources

Newman, John Henry. 1968 [1864, 1886] Apologia Pro Vita Sua: An Authoritative Text,

Basic Texts of the Newman-Kingsley Controversy, Origin and Reception of the Apologia, Essays in Criticism. Edited by David J. DeLaura. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Newman, John Henry. 2001 [1870]. An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. With an

Introduction by Nicholas Lash. 6th printing [1979]. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Newman, John Henry. 1989 [1845, 1878]. An Essay on the Development of Christian

Doctrine. 6th edition. Foreword by Ian Ker. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Secondary Sources

Chadwick, Owen. 1983. Newman. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Horton. 1996. Worship and Theology in England Book II: From Watts and

Wesley to Martineau, 1690-1900. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Ker, Ian. 1998. "Newman, John Henry" Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. VI.

General Editor Edward Craig. London; New York: Routledge. 821-823.

Ker, Ian. 1990. Newman the Theologian: a Reader. Notre Dame: University of Notre

Dame Press.

Livingston, James C. 1997. Modern Christian Thought Volume I: The Enlightenment and

the Nineteenth Century. 2nd edition [1988]. Upper Saddle River: Simon & Schuster.

McCloskey, Teresemarie. "20th Century" Newman’s Epistemology. Accessed


Möhler, Johann Adam. 1997 [1832-1838]. Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctrinal

Differences Between Catholics and Protestants as Evidenced by their Symbolical Writings. [Symbolik, oder, Darstellung der dogmatischen Gengensatze Katholiken und Protestanten nach ihren oeffentlichen Bekenntnisschriten. English] Translated by James Burton Robertson [1843] with an Introduction by Michael J. Himes. Milestones in Catholic Theology. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Turner, Frank M. 2002. John Henry Newman: The Challenge of Evangelical Religion.

New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

Walgrave, J.H. "Newman, John Henry" Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. VI. Mircea

Eliade, Editor in chief. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co. 386-390.

Walker, Williston. Et al. A History of the Christian Church 4th edition [1918]. New

York: Scribner.

Yearly, Lee H. 1978. The Ideas of Newman: Christianity and Human Religiosity.

University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

Philip N. LaFountain, 1998


Biographical Sketch

John Henry Newman was born February 21, 1801. His father, John Newman, was a banker and a nominal Anglican. His mother, Jemima (Foudrinier) Newman, had come from a family which were originally French Hugenot refugees, and which enjoyed a certain affinity with the Evangelical movement within Anglicanism.

In 1808 Newman entered a private boarding-school at Ealing. There he gained mastery of Latin, and honed his skills in the violin. During his last year at Ealing his father’s bank failed. The family’s financial fortunes declined and his father was forced to take a position managing a brewery. This seemed to cause for Newman some significant distress. He speaks of this time as a critical transitional period in his life. Being forced to stay at Ealing for longer than he had expected due to his father’s financial situation, he had what he later called a conversion experience, influenced by Walter Mayers, one of his instructors in classics. Although he had been raised as a member of the Church of England, it was a significant change in his life. As a result of the experience he resolutely committed himself to a life of celibacy and evangelism. Although his dislike for Roman Catholicism was already firmly set in his mind as a result of the religious influence on his mother’s side, it was at this time that he developed a deeper, and more profound disgust for the Catholic church.

In 1817 he entered Trinity College, Oxford. After graduation he won a Fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford and while there began to develop a friendship with Edward Pusey. He was ordained a deacon in the Anglican church in 1824, and, at the instigation of Pusey, took the curacy of St. Clement’s, Oxford. In 1825, Newman served as vice-principal to Richard Whatley at St. Albans Hall and on May 29, 1825 he was ordained into the Anglican priesthood.

From 1826 to 1832 Newman served as a tutor at Oriel College. Here he was to find friends who would eventually be a part of a significant religious movement in England. These included, among others, Edward Pusey, John Keble, and Hurrell Froude. From 1827 to 1828 he served as examiner for the B.A. degree. When, in 1828, the position of Vicar opened at St. Mary’s, Newman was selected. He became well known as an excellent preacher.

It was about this time that Newman began to study early Church history and the apostolic Fathers. He found that there were a number of significant doctrines taught in the early Church that had been reject by Anglicans, especially teachings on the sacraments and apostolic succession. He attempted to give an account for this state of the Church and began to attribute it to the influence of Protestantism.

When Newman was elected to the Oxford branch of the Evangelical oriented Church Missionary Society as treasurer in 1829, he was still overtly Low church and Protestant (although he preferred the term Reformed). Yet he had a growing interest in the High church (hierarchically structured and liturgical). When he had objected to the doctrine of certain (Evangelical) sermons preached at the Society he failed to win the election to the position the following year, but he later withdrew from the Society anyway on the ground that there was no mechanism of enforcing authority within the Society. This incident reveals Newman’s inclinations. He was responding to what he saw as "liberal" tendencies in the church: lack of respect for the Church as enforcer of the Christian faith. Neither did Newman have much patience for Dissenters who appealed to the doctrine of personal judgment, and the Bible as sole authority. This was particularly vulgar to Newman, both because of his growing appreciation for the authoritative place of the church, as well as his understanding that "personal judgment" ultimately leads to schism which results in heresy.

After the departure from the Society in 1830 Newman served as university select preacher from 1831 to 1832. He went on an extended trip to southern Europe with Froude in 1832. During his travels Newman witnessed Catholic services and visited Rome. He also met, at the English College in Rome, Nicholas Wiseman, the future Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. One of the topics of discussion was the conditions on which the Anglican reunion with the Catholic church could be based. He was disappointed to learn that it would not happen without total acceptance of the Council of Trent. As he contemplated what he saw he began to develop mixed feelings about Roman Catholicism. While on the trip Newman and Froude called for poetry as a new polemical vehicle in which the truths of the Anglican church could be expressed. They would be published as Lyra Apostolica (1834). He also wrote what later came to be quite a famous hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light." Although the trip was a significant catalyst for Newman’s thought about Rome, he was still quite critical of it.

Newman returned to Oxford on July 14, 1833 just in time to hear John Keble preach his sermon "National Apostasy," in which he castigated the Church for its lack of seriousness in religious matters, and the failure to appreciate its catholic heritage, in particular the historical and theological insights which predated the Reformation. He castigated the State for its willful abuse of the Church and interfering in its religious matters. Newman points to this sermon as the beginning of the Oxford Movement (also known as Tractarian movement). The Oxford Movement was a religious movement instigated by Newman and his Oxford colleagues with the goal of arousing the Anglican clergy to thought and action. The purposes of the movement were manifold. It included the attempt to restore the ancient doctrines that had been gradually abandoned as the Anglican church became more and more Protestantized. It also included a more immediate and more political goal, which was to ward off the danger of disestablishment which was being promoted by the Dissenters. It was not establishment, argued Froude, that made the church weak, but rather the self-deception of it’s clergy. From 1833 to 1841 Newman, Froude, Keble, Pusey, and William Palmer published Tracts for the Times, which argued such issues as baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence in the sacrament

As a result of his study and writing Newman was becoming more aware that the Roman Catholic church had maintained a great deal of original Christian doctrine that the Protestants had abandoned, but he still held that the Roman church had added doctrines which he thought to be corruptions, or at least were difficult to reconcile either with the Gospel or with the early Church, such as invocation of the saints and primacy of Papal authority. This problem was to plague Newman for years to come.

All told, there were 90 Tracts published. Newman wrote 26 of them, including the last and most controversial Tract 90. In it Newman attempted to interpret the 39 articles of the constitution of the Anglican Church from the standpoint of Catholicism. It is unfortunate and somewhat surprising that Newman’s interpretation sparked a storm of protest (which included Evangelicals, orthodox and Liberals alike). After all, the compromise under Elizabeth I, in 1563, and the ensuing 39 articles were admittedly Protestant, but were worded in a way that could satisfy both Catholics and Protestants. Also, the liturgy retained many Catholic elements and bishops were chosen in apostolic succession. Over time the Anglican church was seen as the result of a great compromise or Via Media, the Middle Way. Many, though, had felt that Newman had gone too far. He had alienated the Anglican bishops and was forbidden by his own bishop to publish any more tracts. As more and more Bishops condemned the tract, Newman felt the growing burden of the question: was the Anglican church Catholic?

By 1839 Newman’s influence at Oxford was the strongest. Yet, he had so succeeded in convincing of Anglicanism’s indebtedness to Catholic faith that many were leaving the Anglican church and joining the Catholic. This had not been Newman’s purpose, and yet it seemed the logical result of his thought. He had come to believe that Protestantism was no option. However, he had not yet found it possible to reconcile the discrepancy between the teaching of the early Church and the development of Catholic doctrine. The only bulwark Newman had was the Via Media of Anglicanism. But he was soon to find that this too was sinking sand.

For Newman the Via Media meant that the Anglican church was not really a compromise, but rather meant that the Anglican church, and it alone, had remained faithful to, and ought to continue to remain faithful to, the doctrinal heritage of the early Church, avoiding both the doctrinal heresies of Protestantism and the devotional excesses of Catholicism.

Newman had persisted in his study of the church Fathers. In 1841 he was busy translating Athanasius for the Library of the Fathers. Newman had published his Arians of the Fourth Century in 1833. Something had bothered him even then, and the ghost came back to haunt as he translated Athanasius. He saw, clearly now, that the pure Arians were, by analogy, the Protestants. The semi-Arians were the Anglicans, and the Roman church was what it is now. The "truth" was that Rome had never changed. The truth lay, not with the Via Media, but with the "true Church."

By 1842 Newman had determined to avoid controversy and to hide away at Littlemore. In February 1843, he placed an anonymous article in the Oxford Conservative Journal, in which he withdrew all of his anti-Catholic statements. It is possible that the thought of eventually turning to the Roman church caused him a great deal of anxiety as he contemplated all the severe things he had said against what may be the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In September 1843, Newman preached his last Anglican sermon and resigned at St. Mary’s.

During this time Newman revisited the problem of doctrinal development in full, expending most of his waking hours working through it. The only way to go forward was to see if was possible to demonstrate that the doctrinal developments within Catholicism were in fact the inevitable result of development through the centuries. Frustrated by his inability to restore a Catholic sense to the 39 articles his next step would be to test the growth of Catholic doctrine.

Even before 1842 Newman had thought about the problem of the development of doctrine. It had permeated much of his earlier writings. Even were he to remain in the Anglican church it would still be necessary to deal with this issue. But now there was much more at stake. The result of his study was a book-length Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a work encompassing both history and theology. It was published in 1845. The task was successful. The experiment done. In fact, once he was convinced of the truth that Catholic doctrinal developments were legitimate he stopped working on the book. The last few chapters being only a sketch compared to the first. But, finally, he knew that he was to make the transition to Catholicism.

He resigned his Fellowship at Oriel College and on October 9, 1845 he and several of those close to him were received into the Roman Catholic Church. In 1846 he moved to Oscott College and lived there under the direction of Bishop Wiseman. Wiseman encouraged him to become a priest and he left for Rome in October. He was ordained into the priesthood in Rome, on Trinity Sunday, 1847 and returned to England the following Christmas Eve.

The remaining years of Newman’s life were spent in various ministry positions. But he was to be thrust into the lime light once again in his debate with Charles Kingsley. In 1864, in his defense against Kingsley regarding Catholic (and his own) perceptions of truth, Newman published two works, a brochure entitled, "Mr Kingsley and Dr. Newman: a Correspondence on the Question whether Dr. Newman teaches that Truth is no Virtue," and his own religious account of his ideas in Apologia pro vita sua. In 1870 he published Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent, in which he, essentially, rejected the notion that faith was a derivative of reason. In 1873 he published The Idea of a University Defined, a compilation of his lectures on education written during the previous two decades. On May 12, 1879 Newman was created cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, at the urging of Bishop William Ullathorne. After several years of declining strength he celebrated his last mass on Christmas Day 1889. Cardinal John Henry Newman died on August 11, 1890.

Newman’s Understanding of the Development of Doctrine

The Essay on the Development of Doctrine is essentially an argument to account for the apparent discrepancy between early and later aspects of Christianity. Immediately in the Essay Newman rejects the notion that Protestantism has any claim to historical Christianity. In fact, Protestants themselves demonstrate this when they reject the historical principle and locate authority in the doctrine of "sola scriptura." It is evident that Protestantism can not base its views on history so it finds solace in seeing the Bible as the sole source of Revelation. It also calls into play its concomitant principle of personal private interpretation. Newman does not critique this view per se, but sees, rather, the Protestant rejection of history as itself sufficiently damaging to nullify Protestantism as a viable alternative of faith. Also, the then current views of Protestantism could not, in fact, be found exemplified in the teachings of the early church. That much was obvious.

Newman also rejects the view that attempts to explain the apparent discrepancies of Christian history by the theory of accommodation. Proponents of this view hold that the nature of Christianity is to change and modify, that is, to accommodate to the times and seasons. While this offers an internal mechanism for explaining the discrepancy, for Newman, it only aggravated the problem, especially when one wants to speak of an essential core tied to Revelation. How could a continually changing Church maintain a connection to unchanging Revelation?

Another attempt to solve the discrepancy is to take the Anglican approach. One reconciles the apparent conflicts by rejecting elements of doctrine or practice that cannot be found taught in the early church. The principle is that history presents to us the picture of a pure Christianity which later becomes corrupt. The task then is to determine that which is corrupt and that which is pure and to determine the time and the reason for the corruption. The deciding principle, for Anglicanism, is that stated by Vincent of Lerins. Revealed and Apostolic doctrine is that which is "quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus." By the principle that Christianity is "that which has been held always, everywhere, and by all" certainly seems at face value to offer a satisfying way to reject the claims of both Protestant and Catholic. However, the problem is that in practice, in judging specific cases, it fails. How is the test to be satisfied? Is it that which is believed by everyone in every century, in every location, in every period? Although there may be certain agreement among the ante-Nicene Fathers, surely they were not in agreement on every doctrine, nor was every later doctrine to be found in the early Fathers. The doctrine of the Trinity is a good case in point. Surely in the early Fathers there was no such "consensus" on this doctrine (or many others).

Another attempt to solve the discrepancy lies in the doctrine of Disciplina Arcani. This principle suggests that there has been no variation in the teaching of the Church from beginning to the present. The doctrines of the Church of later ages were really in the Church at the beginning, but they were not publically taught in order to be preserved for the sake of reverence. That this was the case in reference to the Sacraments (and possibly other doctrines) is certainly true. But this is not a principle that can account for all the variations of change in the history of the Church.

Essay on Development is Newman’s response to the problem of development. The Essay itself is divided into two sections: Part I dealing with doctrinal developments viewed in themselves, that is, according to their fundamental nature; and Part II setting up tests to differentiate between developments and corruptions. Chapter I opens with an explanation of how ideas act on the mind and are acted on in return, thus are developed. This leads Newman to a discussion of the various kinds of development, "antecedent" argument in behalf of the existing developments in chapter II, the historical argument in behalf of the existing developments in chapter III, and, finally, instances in illustration in chapter IV.

Chapter V sets up criteria by which one may distinguish doctrinal development from doctrinal corruption. Newman enumerates seven tests or "notes" of a true development in any field. The rest of the book, chapters VI to XII, are an elaborate and detailed application to specific doctrinal developments.

Developments of doctrine ought to be expected because of the nature of ideas as they come into play with the mind. Ideas are multifarious things. No one term exhausts its explication. Therefore, one aspect of an idea must not be allowed to obscure other essential elements. An idea has "life" when it arrests and possesses the mind. An idea introduced into the popular (common) mind will at first be inadequately understood, then discussed, thought over, etc., until it is expressed in some doctrine, and expressed in relation to other ideas. These, then, inform social life, public opinion and even structures. This process, whether it takes a long time, or hardly any time at all, is the development of that idea. However, we cannot say that it is development unless the aspects of the ultimate form belong really and truly to the originally idea.

The word "development" is used in three ways. It refers to the process of development, the result of the process, and a development in general whether it is true or false. (One should call a false development a ‘corruption.’) Of course there are certain developments that do not involve the idea of corruption. One cannot say that physical developments result in corruptions. Material developments of, say, natural resources do not result in corruptions. And mathematical developments, by their nature, are not corruptions.

There are various kinds of developments. Political developments are out of the ordinary because they so often rely on physical developments. For example, the death of a president may bring about all sorts of new ideas and developments as different individuals take over leadership. Logical developments occur when new events are seen as outgrowths of earlier ideas. Historical developments are those which result in the gradual formation of opinion concerning persons, facts, and events. Judgments held by a few, after a period of time, spread throughout the community and are accepted by a process of testimony. Ethical developments are somewhat different from the others. Some ideas imply certain duties to perform, and other ideas demand certain acts or feelings. This involves the development of doctrine into worship. The idea of God elicits a worshipful attitude. The worshipful attitude is a natural development of the idea of God. Metaphysical developments are those which are the result of contemplation and delineation. One who contemplates the idea of God is led to the delineation of statements concerning God. (Sometimes development simply means exhibition or example. Calvinism and Unitarianism may be developments, but better to be called examples of private judgment.)

Developments in doctrine are to be expected. If Christianity is a fact, and expresses an idea of itself on our minds and is a subject matter which exercises the reason, that idea will in time expand into a multitude of ideas and various aspects of them, connected and harmonious, in themselves determinate and immutable as is the objective fact itself.

The more an idea is "living," the more various will be its aspects. The more social and political an idea is, then the more complicated and subtle it will be, and the longer and more eventful its course will be. Also, the longer the idea lasts the more clearly it is expressed and taught.

The inspired documents of Christianity do not constitute the end, but, instead, the ideas are in the writer and reader of the revelation. They are not in text itself. Now, do the ideas of the writer, which the text conveys, reach the reader immediately and completely? Not at all! Rather the ideas open out into the mind and only find fullness and grow to perfection over time. This is the nature of the process. If Christianity is a universal religion, not limited to time or place, then it cannot help but vary its relations and dealings to the world around it as it develops. Nor does the cannon of the New Testament exhaust all the ways an idea may be expressed.

All bodies of Christians develop the doctrines of Scripture. They all appeal to Scripture and argue from Scripture which is deduction which is development. Both Catholic and Protestant teach material deduced from Scripture on very limited evidence. Yet, many doctrines are not the result of direct use and immediate application of Scripture, but rather by unconscious growth of ideas suggested by the text and the habit of the mind.

Even the doctrines firmly stressed by Scripture must be elaborated, investigated, and, thus, developed. This process will necessarily suggest secondary questions, so that a multitude of propositions are the result, giving it the form of doctrine, and deepening the idea in the mind. Certainly Scripture contains many ideas but does not solve all the problems related to those ideas. The force of the questions on our minds is so real that they must be answered, therefore they must be developed. This requires time. The decisions are left to the slow process of thought, to the influence of mind upon mind, and growth of opinion. Many of the ideas of Scripture are inchoate and require development to realize their full force.

A good example is the prophetic Revelation. It is a process of development. The earlier prophecies are pregnant texts out of which succeeding ones grow. Even in the early church there was no time when the growth of doctrine ceased, nor the rule of faith finally settled. No doctrine can be identified which starts complete, but that it grows and develops over time.

The nature of Scripture is problematical. The structure and style of Scripture is so unsystematic and so various, a style so figurative and indirect that it is not easily defined, described or delineated. It admits of no exhaustive interpretation. Indeed, all the definitions or received judgments of the early and medieval church rest on definite, though obscure sentences of Scripture.

If life itself is a process, why should the development of doctrine be any different. The nature of the case, then, is that by means of analogy of the physical world which is characterized by processes, so also is the development of doctrine within the church. Christianity, we may conclude, admits of formal, legitimate and true developments.

If it is true that Christianity is found to have doctrinal developments, as indeed it has, and these according to the account of God, then one can expect, along with the developments a developing authority.

First, all developments are overseen by the Author, God, who planned the process of development. The legitimate results are the developments of Christianity. So, we have established that it is a fact that developments have occurred, and these developments are necessary. The next question is to inquire what these developments are. To a theologian who could take a general view, who possessed an intimate and minute knowledge these true developments would be easily discerned. But, in fact, there is no one in this situation. Indeed, there can be no one in this situation. It is beyond the individual. Christianity came int the world as an idea. If the developments which are called moral are to take place, an authority is necessary to ratify the successive steps of so elaborate a process and to verify the validity of inferences made. Infallibility of the Church means, simply, the power of deciding whether this or that theological or ethical statement is true.

It is highly probable that in the same way that there were true developments of doctrine in the Divine Scheme, so it was likely that God factored in an external authority to sanction those developments. Christianity professes to be a revelation that is infallible. Therefore, a revelation that occurs with evidence that it is revelation is not unthinkable. The true results in the idea of revelation, whether they be truths, duties or observances, ought to be considered, not only as true, but guaranteed as true.

Of course there are objections to this view. The objection may be stated like this: If all religious knowledge rests on moral evidence, not on demonstration, then our belief in the church’s infallibility must rest on moral evidence as well. This inserts a sense of uncertainty in the question and makes the belief in the church’s infallibility untenable. There is no way to demonstrate that, in fact, it has been given. Thus it is improbable in the Divine Scheme. All "proof" simply amounts to the "probability" of the fact, not certainty. And how foolish it is to speak of probable infallibility. How reliable can this guide be that rests on opinion?

Newman’s response to this objection: Everyone allows that the Apostles were infallible, but the above argument also applies to their infallibility. We are only morally certain that they were infallible. If we have only probable grounds for the church’s infallibility, then we have the same grounds for all. The problem lies with our understanding of the words infallible and certainty. Infallible is used with the sense that what one says is always true. How is this inconsistent? There can be a probable infallibility taken by faith.

Some suggest that an infallible guide invalidates faith. But Newman suggests that we apply this argument to Paul. Paul was infallible, but he called for faith. He was not inconsistent. Therefore there is no argument against continuing the principle of objectiveness into the developments of Revelation. We cannot say that they had an infallible guide in the 1st century and we do not.

The existing developments of doctrine are the probable fulfilment of the expectation that there will be doctrinal developments. It is necessarily the case that Christianity has grown and developed because it has passed though so many minds and historical periods. Yet there was a sanctioning authority watching over it all along. If we look into the world we see that Catholic doctrine fits exactly the phenomenon we are looking for. Its doctrine develops, but it also is a coherent system. It is a whole in which each doctrine fits with the others. Each doctrine leads to the other. Each suggests, correlates to, confirms and illustrates the other. We can say, then, that only Catholic doctrine admits of true developments.

Existing developments can be supported by means of an historical argument. Newman has already demonstrated that there is a high degree of antecedent probability that God would watch over the developments and that those true developments are probably those of the Catholic faith. When we encounter other phenomenon in life we do not approach it at first with suspicion, but rather with faith. It is only later that the phenomenon is tested. We should do the same with Catholic doctrine. We readily submit our reason on competent authority. Why, then, do we not do this with Catholic doctrine which has such high degree of antecedent probability? The very same people who allow a development of doctrine from Old Testament prophecy to the life of Christ, also refuse to allow later Catholic doctrine to have been developments from antecedent ideas. This is inconsistent.

How are such things proven? Bacon offered an argument against the kind of reasoning Newman employs. But he was applying it to science. To test physical facts by means of senses is entirely appropriate. But, we do not argue that way in history or ethics. In such cases opinions of others, tradition, authority, analogies, etc., are very important. We must begin with an hypothesis: a merciful God has supplied us with means of gaining such truth as concerns us, in science or ethics, but with different means. So we must ask: What are those means? God may allow antecedent probabilities in ethical inquiries and also sense and induction in such inquiries as science. For subjects which rely on moral proof (i.e., history, antiquities, political science, ethics, metaphysics, theology) antecedent probability may weigh heavily. We ought not to suppose though that Bacon denies the use of presumption and prescription in matters of history or ethics. In fact, specific illustrations are quite forceful in historical analysis. Presumption verified by instances is the ordinary instrument of proof. And, if the antecedent probability is great, this almost supercedes instances as more forceful. Our antecedent probability may be faulty, but the process of reasoning is sound. Newman argues from the historical antecedent to the development not because he is obligated, but rather the matter is exactly the other way round. The onus of demonstration is on those who say that a long held teaching is not a development of an early antecedent. It is more likely than not that a long held teaching is, in fact, a true development. And it just so happens that we find those developments right where we expect to find them, in historic seats of Apostolic teaching and the long standing traditions.

When we look at doctrinal developments and compare them to corruptions what criteria are we to use? Newman suggests 7 notes (signs) of true development:

1. Preservation of Type. This note may be related to a biological metaphor. When a thing grows it does not change type. It is altered, proportions change, but he essential type remains. This for a true doctrinal development the type must remain the same. For instance, if the doctrine relates to the function and nature of a parish priest then developments must also relate to the function and nature of a parish priest.

2. Continuity of its Principles. Ideas develop according to basic principles. The destruction or rejection of the basic principles by which an idea developed is seen as its corruption.

3. Its Power of Assimilation. A true idea has the power to expand without the threat of disarrangement or dissolution of its basic idea.

4. Its Logical Sequence. Logic is a security for the faithfulness of intellectual development. To transgress the rules of logic is to move into the area of corruption.

5. Anticipation of its Future. Since doctrines develop their perfection lies in the future. To stop short of that perfection is corruption.

6. Conservative Action upon its Past. True doctrinal development does not contradict or reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed in the past.

7. Its Chronic Vigor. The longer a doctrine lasts the more sure it is to be a true doctrinal development. This is built on the notion that corruption in itself tends toward dissolution and cannot last very long.

Newman’s juxtaposition of the theory of how ideas develop and his notion of antecedent probability of a sanctioning organ within the world form the core of his argument. This is reinforced by his epistemological principle, further laid out in An Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent, that the mind forms judgments immediately based not on inference but rather on antecedent probability. He closes out his argument with 7 criteria to judge whether a doctrinal development is true or a corruption.


Primary Sources Cited

Newman, John Henry. 1985 [1870]. An Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

__________. 1949 [1878]. An Essay on the Development of Doctrine. New York: Longmans, Green and Co.

__________. 1967 [1870]. Apoligia Pro Vita Sua. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Secondary Sources Cited

Ker, Ian. John Henry Newman: A Biography. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988.

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