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Newman: Unto His Conversion

A work unfinished.

[The text is acceptable, but the footnotes are in disarray and are, thus, sometimes cryptic.]

The Long Prelude: Catholics in Protestant England

Catholics may complain of Catholic-bashing nowadays — and rightly so — but most would scarcely believe the official oppression their co-religionists had to endure for centuries in England.

For generations after the Reformation, the Penal Laws intended to extirpate Catholicism were largely successful. Beginning with the Acts of Supremacy and of Uniformity under Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603), attendance at Catholic services, and non-attendance at Anglican services, could be punished in different ways at different times, including fines, forfeiture of property, deprivation of honors and offices, and even death.

For generations, priests in England had to work in secret, lest they be punished by imprisonment or execution: an Act of 1585 "Against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and Other Suchlike Disobedient Persons" made the very presence of a priest in England high treason; giving him aid was a felony. (Though acquitted for lack of evidence, Bishop James Talbot was the last priest to be brought up on charges in a public court for celebrating Mass — in 1771.)

For generations, Catholics were harshly restricted by draconian legislation from participation in the ordinary course of normal life; the provisions of an Act "To Prevent and Avoid Dangers Which May Grow by Popish Recusants," 1605, are summarized by the Catholic Encylopedia:

They were disabled from practising as lawyers, physicians, apothecaries; from holding office in any court or corporation; from holding commissions in the army or navy, or any office of emolument under the State; from discharging the duties of executors, administrators, or guardians. Any married woman who had not received the sacrament in the Anglican church for a year before her husband's death forfeited two-thirds of her dower, two-thirds of her jointure, and was debarred from acting as executrix to her husband or claiming any part of his goods. Husbands and wives, if married otherwise than by a Protestant minister in a Protestant church, were each deprived of all interest in the lands or property of the other. They were fined 100 pounds for omitting to have each of their children baptised by the Protestant minister within a month of birth.... And, lastly, every convicted recusant was excommunicated from the Established Church, with the result that they were debarred from maintaining or defending any personal action or suit in the civil courts. Their houses were liable to be searched at any time, their arms and ammunition to be seized, and any books or furniture which were deemed superstitious to be destroyed.1

An unsuccessful attempt was made to repeal at least some of the Penal Laws by King Charles II (reigned 1660-1685), who was reconciled to the Catholic Church on his deathbed. His brother and successor, the Catholic James II (reigned 1685-1688), established religious toleration to some degree for Catholics and other Dissenters, which did not long outlive his turbulent reign.

The persecution and oppression were not always relentless: enforcement of these and other anti-Catholic statutes varied considerably from place to place and time to time. Indeed, being Catholic did not necessarily preclude one from public greatness: John Dryden (1631-1700) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744), each the greatest poet of his day, both dominating an epoch of English literature, were Catholics — and Dryden, a convert. They were among a handful of notable exceptions, though, in several fields: the work of Catholic extirpation, by and large, was done remarkably well. Evelyn Waugh described the consequences by the eighteenth century, in his biography of St. Edmund Campion:

The Catholic cause was very near to extinction in England. Families who had resisted the onset of persecution were quietly conforming under neglect. The Church survived here and there in scattered households, regarded by the world as, at the best, something Gothic and slightly absurd, like a ghost or a family curse. Emancipation still lay in the distant future; no career was open to the Catholics; their only ambition was to live quietly in their houses, send their children to school abroad, pay the double land taxes, and, as best they could, avoid antagonising their neighbours.2

The long work of repeal was really begun under George III (reigned 1760-1820) with the First Catholic Relief Act, 1778. With the Emancipation Act, 1829, Catholics were finally allowed to vote again. But centuries of official oppression had, by then, left the remnant a small band: "Around the end of the eighteenth century, the English Catholics had so shrivelled in numbers, after two and a half centuries of the penal laws, that they may not have numbered over sixty thousand souls in all England."3 They were held in contempt, scorned and distrusted — when not merely ignored — by the overwhelming majority.

Then the most famous, and perhaps the most influential, of Anglican clergymen became one of them: John Henry Newman, a writer unsurpassed in style and clarity, a preacher of unparalleled power and grace. The Catholic Church in England — indeed, around the world — would never be quite the same.

Early Days: Scholar, Teacher, Cleric, Historian

In his youth, Newman himself would have thought "poping" unthinkable. Born February 21, 1801, he was the eldest child in a middle-class Anglican family comprising his parents, John Newman II and Jemima Fourdrinier, and his siblings, Charles, Harriett, Francis, Jemima, and Mary. To the family's great sorrow, Mary died in 1828, at eighteen. John Henry's other sisters were close to him, until he joined the Catholic Church; but, he and his brothers never quite saw eye-to-eye about anything — especially not religion.

In his teens, he was strongly influenced by Evangelicalism, an influence that would last well into his twenties. From his earliest days, his society had injected words like "Romanism" and "Popery" into his vocabulary, with disgust and dismay. Indeed, years later, when he had come into mastery of his literary gifts, he himself would brazenly wield such epithets — and worse — in public controversy. For a time.

Shy and studious, Newman was blessed with the rare combination of keen intellect and great heart:

All his life he oscillates between the intellectual, expressible thing, which emerges from man as law or morality, and the irrational, inexpressible thing, which enters into man as faith or mysticism. The one is known; the other is experienced. The one is generic, the other is personal. One might call the one classical, the other romantic.... In classical minds the object has priority and is finite: in romantic minds the subject has priority and reaches to infinity. It is never possible to say of John Newman that he gives primacy to the one rather than the other.4

When he went up to Trinity College, Oxford, June 1817, his teachers were delighted with a pupil of such prodigious capability who showed so much promise. He impressed his tutor with his proficiency in mathematics so much that he was advanced to a higher class,5 and he won a scholarship before the academic year was out. In the college chapel, he made his first Communion as an Anglican, November 1817; he received Anglican confirmation the following summer. In November 1818, he and a friend wrote a verse narrative called St. Bartholomew's Eve: "Newman was responsible for the theology of the poem, which was strongly anti-Catholic."6

Always an enormously industrious student, he had so exhausted himself for his final exams at the end of November 1820, he barely won his B.A. degree. Determined that his poor showing should be only a temporary setback, he eventually won a coveted and prestigious Fellowship at Oriel College, April 12, 1822. His new colleagues were struck at first more by his painful shyness than by anything else about him — a trait he would never quite outgrow.

At Oriel, he came into association with scholarly and religious men who would help him loosen, step by step, the hold that his narrow brand of Calvinistic Evangelicalism had had on his concept of religion. He began his affiliation with Hurrell Froude, John Keble, and E. B. Pusey. While Keble and Pusey, bright lights in the Anglican Church, would be his associates in controversy until the mid-point of Newman's life, Froude would die young — yet not without having left his mark on Newman. At Oriel, he was friends, too, with Joseph Blanco White, the fallen-away Catholic priest whose name is still noised occasionally among some fervent anti-Catholic bigots.7

Ordained a deacon in the Church of England, Trinity Sunday, June 13, 1824, Newman took up pastoral duties at St. Clement's Church, Oxford, in addition to his scholarly work: "He began an intensive visitation of the parish, throwing himself into ordinary pastoral work as energetically and unsparingly as he had applied himself to academic study."8 At St. Clement's began his reputation as a preacher, during which time he was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church, Trinity Sunday, May 29, 1825. The following January, he took up increasing responsibilities at the College, and had to quit his position at that church.

October 1827, Pusey sent to Newman from Germany a set of the writings of the Church Fathers. Having become vicar of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the Oxford University church, March 12, 1828, Newman set himself to reading the volumes systematically that summer, continuing as he could over the next two years. At St. Mary's, he would solidly establish his reputation as a great — a matchless — preacher. Decades later, men would still recall the magnetic effect Newman had had on his hearers, how he had both lifted their minds and stirred their hearts, as no one else could. Thus, Matthew Arnold:

Who could resist the charm of that spiritual apparition, gliding in the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Mary's, rising into the pulpit, and then, in the most entrancing of voices, breaking the silence with words and thoughts which were a religious music, — subtle, sweet, and mournful? Happy the man, who in that susceptible season of youth hears such voices! They are a possession to him for ever.9

Similarly, James Anthony Froude:

No one who heard his sermons in those days can ever forget them. They were seldom directly theological. We had theology enough and to spare from the select preachers before the university. Newman, taking some scripture character for a text, spoke to us about ourselves, our temptations, our experiences. His illustrations were inexhaustible. He seemed to be addressing the most secret consciousness of each of us.... He never exaggerated; he was never unreal. A sermon from him was a poem, formed on a distinct idea, fascinating by its subtlety, welcome — how welcome! — from its sincerity, interesting from its orginality, even to those who were careless of religion; and to others who wished to be religious, but had found religion dry and wearisome, it was like the springing of a fountain out of the rock.10

Arnold, poet and literary critic, had no religious sympathies with Newman: he was the son of Dr. Thomas Arnold (a liberal Fellow of Oriel) and would eventually become a complete religious skeptic. J. A. Froude, younger brother of Hurrell, would become a fiercely anti-Catholic historian; in that capacity, he would play unwittingly a key role sparking a crisis much later in Newman's life.

Newman's studies of the ancient Christian writings available to him — and his close association with Hurrell Froude, ascetically inclined with something of an abhorrence towards the Protestant Reformers — led him to conclude that, though the Reformation had done much good in the cause of the Christian religion, it had also abandoned much that was good and had introduced some bad of its own. For a time influenced by the liberal circles at Oriel, he soon became wary of the liberalizing tendency aborning in the Church of England. Decades later, in a famous passage from his first address ("Biglietto Speech") as a cardinal, May 12, 1879, Newman himself would explain what he meant by Liberalism:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy....11

Establishing himself as an articulate scholar of reckoning, Newman began to contribute articles to periodical publications and essays to forthcoming encyclopedic works. In 1831, he was invited to write a history of Church councils for a theological library. Having begun his study for that volume, summer 1831, he decided to write a "connected history," providing as much historical background as would account for the actions and decisions of the councils. He worked feverishly in early summer 1832 to finish it — but by the time it was ready for the publisher, it had become, instead, a history of The Arians of the Fourth Century.

During his research, he had confirmed for himself, "as a matter of fact," what he had already learned from some of his colleagues: from the beginning, the Church had not derived its creed from the Sacred Scriptures, but taught all that had been handed on from the Apostles, using the Scriptures as a touchstone during times of controversy. This he conveyed in a striking passage:

Surely the Sacred Volume was never intended, and is not adapted, to teach us our creed; however certain it is that we can prove our creed from it, when it has once been taught us, and in spite of individual producible exceptions to the general rule. From the very first, that rule has been, as a matter of fact, that the Church should teach the truth, and then should appeal to Scripture in vindication of its own teaching. And from the first, it has been the error of heretics to neglect the information thus provided for them, and to attempt of themselves a work to which they are unequal, the eliciting a systematic doctrine from the scattered notices of the truth which Scripture contains. Such men act, in the solemn concerns of religion, the part of the self-sufficient natural philosopher, who should obstinately reject Newton's theory of gravitation, and endeavour, with talents inadequate to the task, to strike out some theory of motion by himself. The insufficiency of the mere private study of Holy Scripture for arriving at the exact and entire truth which Scripture really contains, is shown by the fact, that creeds and teachers have ever been divinely provided, and by the discordance of opinions which exists wherever those aids are thrown aside; as it is also shown by the very structure of the Bible itself. And if this be so, it follows that, while inquirers and neophytes in the first centuries lawfully used the inspired writings for the purposes of morals and for instruction in the rudiments of the faith, they still might need the teaching of the Church as a key to the collection of passages which related to the mysteries of the Gospel, passages which are obscure from the necessity of combining and receiving them all.12

Broached in his first published book, these are observations and themes that Newman would meditate, elucidate — and live by — for the rest of his life.

Glimpsing the Future: The Coming Work to Do

December 8, 1832, he set sail on a Mediterranean voyage, with Hurrell Froude and his father Robert, a high-church Anglican archdeacon. During the return trip, the ship becalmed at sea, Newman wrote his most famous lyrical poem, "The Pillar of the Cloud," which eventually became the popular hymn "Lead, Kindly Light":

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
   Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home —
   Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
   Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
   Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
   Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
   The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.13

In the meantime, during the seven-months' journey, Newman had made his first real-life contact with peoples among whom Catholicism was still a vital force in daily life. Though it had been complained of his book Arians that "some of Newman's views, particularly on tradition, seemed to be more Roman Catholic than Protestant,"14 his judgement of what he called "the cruel Church" was still decidedly negative. He held nothing back in some of his numerous letters during the tour:

I cannot quite divest myself of the notion that Rome Christian is somehow under an especial shade as Rome Pagan certainly was, though I have seen nothing here to confirm it. Not that one can tolerate for an instant the wretched perversion of the truth which is sanctioned here. [March 18, 1833]
There are great appearances of piety in the churches, still, as a system, the corrupt religion — and it is very corrupt — must receive severe inflictions; and I fear I must look upon Rome, as a city, still under a curse, which will one day break out in more dreadful judgments than heretofore. Yet, doubtless, the Church will thereby be let loose from thraldom. As to Greece,15 it does not teach Purgatory and the Mass — two chief practical delusions of Romanism. Its worst error is its Saint-worship, which is demoralising in the same sense Polytheism was; but this is not the Church's act (though it sanctions it in fact), but the people's corruption of what is good — the honour due to Saints; whereas the doctrines of the Mass and Purgatory are not perversions,16 but inventions. [March 20]
Oh that Rome were not Rome! but I seem to see as clear as day that a union with her is impossible. She is the cruel Church asking of us impossibilities, excommunicating us for disobedience, and now watching and exulting over our approaching overthrow. [April 11]17

Newman's published writings — indeed, his very thoughts, feelings, and imaginations — would be thus stained for the better part of the next ten years. Yet, he found much good in the Church of Rome. He wrote of this ambivalence — he wrote from and with this ambivalence — as he visited the churches in Palermo, while waiting three weeks for a boat, in "The Good Samaritan":

       Oh that thy creed were sound!
For thou dost soothe the heart, thou Church of Rome,
   By thy unwearied watch and varied round
Of service, in thy Saviour's holy home.
   I cannot walk the city's sultry streets,
   But the wide porch invites to still retreats,
Where passions' thirst is calm'd, and care's unthankful gloom.

       There, on a foreign shore,
The home-sick solitary finds a friend:
   Thoughts, prison'd long for lack of speech, outpour
Their tears; and doubts in resignation end.
     I almost fainted from the long delay
   That tangles me within this languid bay,
When comes a foe, my wounds with oil and wine to tend.18

He had fallen seriously ill with fever in early May: "There was a time when Newman's recovery was despaired of, and in fact the fever took a few days longer than usual to reach its crisis, which occurred on 13 May."19 Triggered, perhaps, by an urgency born of his brush with death, he rebounded with an urgent conviction that had been growing in him for some time: "We have a work to do in England."20 What work? To combat, not Rome's "perversion of the truth," but what he saw as the real enemy of the Anglican Church, "Liberalism":

Ye cannot halve the Gospel of God's grace;
   Men of presumptuous heart! I know you well.
   Ye are of those who plan that we should dwell,
Each in his tranquil home and holy place;
Seeing the Word refines all natures rude,
And tames the stirrings of the multitude.

And ye have caught some echoes of its lore,
   As heralded amid the joyous choirs;
   Ye mark'd it spoke of peace, chastised desires,
Good-will and mercy, — and ye heard no more;
But, as for zeal and quick-eyed sanctity,
And the dread depths of grace, ye pass'd them by.

And so ye halve the Truth; for ye in heart,
   At best, are doubters whether it be true,
   The theme discarding, as unmeet for you,
Statesmen or Sages. O new-compass'd art
Of the ancient Foe! — but what, if it extends
O'er our own camp, and rules amid our friends?21

The Oxford Movement: Theological Controversialist

The time was ripe. Newman returned to England, July 8. The following Sunday, July 14, 1833, Keble preached a sermon denouncing the Parliament's suppression of dioceses in Ireland: published as "National Apostasy,"22 it sparked a religious movement in which Newman would play a key role — an increasingly prominent role — as strategist and controversialist. Feeling that both the political and religious establishments had deserted historic Christianity, Newman, Pusey, Keble, and others set to rousing their fellow clergy and the people, partly through a series of Tracts for the Times. From these, Newman and his colleagues acquired the name Tractarians; their informal association, methods, and aims are known as the Oxford Movement.

All told, ninety tracts would be published. The earlier tracts were mere pamphlets; the later, book-length treatises. Froude contributed a few; Pusey and Keble, a half-dozen or so apiece; Newman was the sole author of twenty-four and partly wrote or editted others.23 The first tract, by Newman, appeared in September 1833: "Thoughts on the Ministerial Commission"; the last, also by Newman, in February 1841: "Remarks on Certain Passages of the Thirty-nine Articles," familiarly and famously known simply as Tract 90.

Some of the flavor of the Tracts may be garnered from a sampling of their titles:

2. The Catholic Church (Newman)
4. Adherence to the Apostolical Succession the Safest Course (Keble)
6. The Present Obligation of Primitive Practice (Newman)
11. The Visible Church (Newman)
18. Thoughts on the Benefits of the System of Fasting Enjoined by Our Church (Pusey)
22. The Athanasian Creed
26. The Necessity and Advantage of Frequent Communion
27. The History of Popish Transubstantiation
52. Sermons for Saints' Days and Holidays (Keble)
61. The Catholic Church a Witness Against Real Illiberality
63. The Antiquity of the Existing Liturgies (Froude)
71. On the Controversy with the Romanists (Newman)
72. Archbishop Ussher on Prayers for the Dead
75. On the Roman Breviary as Embodying the Substance of the Devotional Services of the Church Catholic (Newman)
79. On Purgatory (Newman)
81. Testimony of Writers in the Later English Church to the Doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (Pusey)24

What is this? On the one hand, positive references to the Catholic Church, Apostolic Succession, Frequent Communion, and even to the Roman Breviary;25 on the other, derogatory references to Romanists and Popish Transubstantiation: even allowing that a list of titles can give but the barest suggestion of their contents, the tracts might seem to be a hodge-podge of contradictory notions. Not to Newman and his colleagues: they were trying to mark out a path between Protestantism and "Romanism"; Newman himself put it succinctly in famous lines from Tract 38:

The glory of the English Church is, that it has taken the Via Media, as it has been called. It lies between the (so called) Reformers and the Romanists.26

Via Media: The Anglican Middle Way

The Tractarians' attacks on Protestantism, and their defence of the Catholic Church — to be distinguished, they would say, from the "Roman" Catholic Church — called for a delineation of this Middle Way of the English Church. Indeed, they had to defend themselves from the charge of being crypto-Papists. Among the Tracts, Newman sketched his theory particularly in numbers 38 and 41, "Via Media" parts I and II. Written in 1834, each was cast in dialogue form: Clericus ("C"), a cleric, presented the Tractarians' views; Laicus ("L"), a layman, represented the Tractarians' audience.

To contrast contemporary ideas of Protestantism with those of the original Anglican reformers, Clericus pondered why so much prescribed in the Anglicans' Book of Common Prayer had fallen into disuse:

C. Is it quite in accordance with our present Protestant notions, that unbaptized persons should not be buried with the rites of the Church? — that every Clergyman should read the Daily Service morning and evening at home, if he cannot get a congregation? — that in college chapels the Holy Communion should be administered every week — that Saints' Days should be observed? — that stated days of fasting should be set apart by the Church? Ask even a sober-minded really serious man about the observance of these rules; will he not look grave, and say, that he is afraid of formality and superstition if these rules were attended to?
L. And is there not the danger?
C. The simple question is, whether there is more danger now than three centuries since? was there not far more superstition in the sixteenth than in the nineteenth century? and does the spirit of the nineteenth move with the spirit of the sixteenth, if the sixteenth commands and the nineteenth draws back?
L. But you spoke of parts of the Services themselves, as laid aside?
C. Alas! What is the prevailing opinion or usage respecting the form of absolution in the office for Visiting the Sick? What is thought by a great body of men of the words in which the Priesthood is conveyed? Are there no objections to the Athanasian Creed? no murmurs against the Commination Service?27 Does no one stumble at the word "oblations," in the Prayer for the Church Militant? Is there no clamour against parts of the Burial Service? No secret or scarcely secret complaints against the word regeneration in the Baptismal? No bold protestations against reading the Apocrypha? Now do not all these objections rest upon one general ground: viz. That these parts of our Services savour of Popery? And again, are not these the popular objections of the day?
L. I cannot deny it.
C. I consider then that already I have said enough to show that Churchmen of this day have deviated from the opinions of our Reformers, and become more opposed than they [the latter] were to the system they protested against. And therefore, I would observe, it is not fair to judge of me, or such as me, in the off-hand way which many men take the liberty to adopt. Men seem to think that we are plainly and indisputably proved to be Popish, if we are proved to differ from the generality of Churchmen now-a-days. But what if it turn out that they are silently floating down the stream, and we are upon the shore?28

Clericus went on to lament the influence of the continental Protestants on the embryonic Church of England, who had made the Anglican Church more Protestant than its founders had intended:

I like foreign interference, as little from Geneva,29 as from Rome. Geneva at least never converted a part of England from heathenism, nor could lay claim to patriarchal authority over it. Why could we not be let alone, and suffered to reform ourselves?30

Yet, Clericus hastened to distinguish the Catholic faith from that of Rome, and to assert that his views were not innovations but a return to the theories of earlier Anglican theologians and an appeal to the authority of Antiquity:

Age after age, fresh battles have been fought with heresy, fresh monuments of truth set up. As I will not consent to be deprived of the records of the Reformation, so neither will I part with those of former times. I look upon our Articles as in one sense an addition to the Creeds; and at the same time the Romanists added their Tridentine articles. Theirs I consider unsound; ours as true....
Be assured of this — no party will be more opposed to our doctrine, if it ever prospers and makes noise, than the Roman party. This has been proved before now. In the seventeenth century the theology of the divines of the English Church was substantially the same as ours is; and it experienced the full hostility of the Papacy. It was the true Via Media; Rome sought to block up that way as fiercely as the Puritans.31 History tells us this....32

In Tract 41, Laicus catches on, and presents themes upon which Newman would eventually build his great contributions to Catholic thought:

I think I quite understand the ground you take. You consider that, as time goes on, fresh and fresh articles of faith are necessary to secure the Church's purity, according to the rise of successive heresies and errors. These articles are all hidden, as it were, in the Church's bosom, from the first, and brought out into form according to the occasion. Such was the Nicene explanation against Arius; the English Articles against Popery: and such are those now called for in this Age of schism, to meet the new heresy, which denies the holy Catholic Church....33

His Fame and Influence Grow

At first, Keble and Pusey were the names that gave fame to the new movement. Keble had published his monumental volume of poetry, The Christian Year,34 in 1827, and Pusey by then had established an international reputation as a scholar of many languages. Like Pusey, Keble had been brought up in a High Church home, and the Catholic feelings expressed in his influential work had already helped to establish an audience receptive to Catholic principles. Pusey's initials at the conclusion of Tract 18 (dated December 21, 1833) brought more serious attention to the series.

Newman was busy on many fronts in the campaign: preaching, writing tracts and other articles and public letters, and conducting a voluminous personal correspondence that would only increase as the years went on.

He collected and published his weekly and feast-day sermons as books, the famous Parochial and Plain Sermons.35 The first volume was published in March 1834; the series would eventually run to 191 sermons in eight volumes, through 1843, roughly a third of the 604 sermons he preached as an Anglican: "There is no doubt that they constitute one of the great classics of Christian spirituality. It is certainly almost as hard to conceive of the Oxford Movement without the Parochial and Plain Sermons as without the Tracts for the Times."36

Newman and Pusey set to getting out a new edition of the Fathers in English. November 1836, many of Newman's poems were published in Lyra Apostolica. January 1838, Newman agreed to take up the editorship of the periodical British Critic, which effectively became the unofficial organ of the Tractarians. Froude died, February 1836 — a lingering death from consumption. Beginning February 1838, Newman and Keble brought out Froude's unpublished writings in several volumes of Remains: Froude's unvarnished antipathy towards the Protestant Reformers encouraged anew the charge of crypto-Popery, and caused Newman to wish that they had editted Remains more judiciously.

Declamation: His Most Virulent Anti-Catholic Prose

In 1837 and 1838 appeared his two book-length treatments of the Via Media: March 1837, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church viewed relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism; March 1838, Lectures on Justification.

In the third chapter of the former work, "Doctrine of Infallibility Morally Considered," Newman vented the most anti-Catholic sentiments in all his published books, particularly in the notorious "demoniac" passage:

In truth she is a Church beside herself; abounding in noble gifts and rightful titles, but unable to use them religiously; crafty, obstinate, wilful, malicious, cruel, unnatural, as madmen are. Or rather, she may be said to resemble a demoniac; possessed with principles, thoughts, and tendencies not her own; in outward form and in natural powers what God has made her, but ruled within by an inexorable spirit, who is sovereign in his management over her, and most subtle and most successful in the use of her gifts. Thus she is her real self only in name; and, till God vouchsafe to restore her, we must treat her as if she were that evil one which governs her. And, in saying this, I must not be supposed to deny that there is any real excellence in Romanism even as it is, or that any really excellent men are its adherents.37

Newman explained many decades later how Prophetical Office had come into "collision with the theology of Rome"; his remarks apply as well to all the works in which he explicated the Via Media:

That theology lay in the very threshold of the author's experiment; he came across it, whether he would or no, and, while he attacked it at considerable length in its details, he adopted its main principles and many of its conclusions; and, as obliterating thereby or ignoring the very rudiments of Protestantism, he acted far more as an assailant of the religion of the Reformation than of what he called "Popery."38

Notwithstanding, in but a few years Newman would issue a Retractation in which he repudiated the "demoniac" passage, along with the following and other passages of what he acknowledged as declamation:

The spirit of old Rome has risen again in its former place, and has evidenced its identity by its works. It has possessed the Church there planted, as an evil spirit might seize the demoniacs of primitive times, and make her speak words which are not her own. In the corrupt Papal system we have the very cruelty, the craft, and the ambition of the Republic; its cruelty in its unsparing sacrifice of the happiness and virtue of individuals to a phantom of public expediency, in its forced celibacy within, and its persecutions without; its craft in its falsehoods, its deceitful deeds and lying wonders; and its grasping ambition in the very structure of its polity, in its assumption of universal dominion: old Rome is still alive; nowhere has its eagles lighted, but it still claims the sovereignty under another pretence. The Roman Church I will not blame, but pity — she is, as I have said, spell-bound, as if by an evil spirit; she is in thraldom.39

The vocabulary, the tone, the unspoken presuppositions, the melodramatic conclusions: they would do proud any anti-Catholic polemicist of the twenty-first century; the style, the imagery — the rare mastery of poetry as prose — would soon be mustered in service of the cause he here opposed.

Pulverized: Via Media and Antiquity

That the Church of England is a branch of the Catholic Church — maintaining Apostolic Succession and the faith of the early Church no matter how far Protestantized it may have become — was a linchpin of Newman's Via Media. As he himself wrote later, "As time went on, without doubting the strength of the Anglican argument from Antiquity, I felt also that it was not merely our special plea, but our only one. Also I felt that the Via Media, which was to represent it, was to be a sort of remodelled and adapted Antiquity."40

Neither the Branch Theory nor, indeed, the Via Media itself would long withstand in Newman's mind his discoveries during the summer of 1839. During that time, the faith and proceedings of the ancient Church, to which he continually appealed, rose up before Newman in a new visage. The history of the Monophysites, which he had been studying intensively, and St. Augustine's role in the Donatist controversy, brought to his attention by Anglican friends, would both hit him as if hammer blows.

Now, Donatus the Great (d. 355), bishop of Carthage in north Africa, was the most prominent figure among a movement insisting that the validity of a sacrament depends on the worthiness of the minister; the orthodox belief is that the moral character of the minister is irrelevant: he merely acts as an agent for Christ Himself. Through the course of a century, the Donatists' belief was condemned repeatedly by popes and synods of bishops, but St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was instrumental in overthrowing their hegemony in north Africa. The Monophysites flourished in the fifth century. They maintained that Christ has only one nature (Greek monophusis), divine or human; the orthodox belief is that He has two natures, divine and human. The Byzantine monk Eutyches (378-454) was prominent among the Monophysites, and his followers are known as Eutychians. Their belief was formally condemned at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, 451.

No man could tell this story as well as Newman himself has done:

My stronghold was Antiquity; now here, in the middle of the fifth century, I found, as it seemed to me, Christendom of the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries reflected. I saw my face in that mirror, and I was a Monophysite. The Church of the Via Media was in the position of the Oriental communion, Rome was, where she now is; and the Protestants were the Eutychians.... It was difficult to make out how the Eutychians or Monophysites were heretics, unless Protestants and Anglicans were heretics also; difficult to find arguments against the Tridentine Fathers,41 which did not tell against the Fathers of Chalcedon; difficult to condemn the Popes of the sixteenth century, without condemning the Popes of the fifth. The drama of religion, and the combat of truth and error, were ever one and the same. The principles and proceedings of the Church now, were those of the Church then; the principles and proceedings of heretics then, were those of Protestants now. I found it so, — almost fearfully; there was an awful similitude, more awful, because so silent and unimpassioned, between the dead records of the past and the feverish chronicle of the present. The shadow of the fifth century was on the sixteenth. It was like a spirit rising from the troubled waters of the old world, with the shape and lineaments of the new....42
Hardly had I brought my course of reading to a close, when the Dublin Review of that same August was put into my hands, by friends who were more favourable to the cause of Rome than I was myself. There was an Article in it on the "Anglican Claim" by Dr. Wiseman.43 This was about the middle of September. It was on the Donatists, with an application to Anglicanism. I read it, and did not see much in it.... But my friend, an anxiously religious man, now, as then, very dear to me, a Protestant still, pointed out the palmary words of St. Augustine, which were contained in one of the extracts made in the Review, and which had escaped my observation. "Securus judicat orbis terrarum."44 He repeated these words again and again, and, when he was gone, they kept ringing in my ears. "Securus judicat orbis terrarum;" they were words which went beyond the occasion of the Donatists: they applied to that of the Monophysites. They gave a cogency to the Article, which had escaped me at first. They decided ecclesiastical questions on a simpler rule than that of Antiquity; nay, St. Augustine was one of the prime oracles of Antiquity; here then Antiquity was deciding against itself. What a light was hereby thrown upon every controversy in the Church!... that the deliberate judgment, in which the whole Church at length rests and acquiesces, is an infallible prescription and a final sentence against such portions of it as protest and secede. Who can account for the impressions which are made on him? For a mere sentence, the words of St. Augustine, struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words before. To take a familiar instance, they were like the "Turn again Whittington"45 of the chime; or, to take a more serious one, they were like the "Tolle, lege, — Tolle, lege,"46 of the child, which converted St. Augustine himself. "Securus judicat orbis terrarum!" By those great words of the ancient Father, interpreting and summing up the long and varied course of ecclesiastical history, the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverized.47

Indeed, who can account for the impressions which are made on him? Newman had not merely an insatiable intellect by which he continually strove, all his life, to acquire more knowledge and to test and re-test his hypotheses; he had not merely the living imagination to see his own religious, philosophical, and political situations reflected in events of centuries and centuries before; more, he had the courage to admit (to himself only, at first) that in the analogies thus revealed to him, his own party was on the wrong side. Lacking this courage, the intellect and the imagination both would have been barren.

"When Newman laid down The Dublin Review he was in his heart a Roman Catholic. His mind still denied it."48 Slowly and cautiously, he began to divulge to his closest friends what effect his summer reading had had on his bearings. "A vista has opened before me," he wrote in October, "the end of which I do not see."49 Learning from the ancient controversies that Rome had been "the center of unity and judge of controversies,"50 he publicly shifted his ground more to defending the Catholic status of the Church of England, shying away from attacking the position of the Church of Rome. Privately, "His letters thereafter say everything by saying so little. The evasions begin, the hints, the understatements of a man secretly fighting off a conviciton."51

No little consternation must have been to him the suggestion — sometimes the outright accusation — that the Tractarians were secretly Roman Catholics out to subvert the Anglican Church. As the 1830s proceeded, then gave way to the 1840s, this suggestion, this accusation, came more frequently and insistently. A growing trickle of conversions began to trouble his conscience, too, since he knew that subversion of the Anglican position had indeed been the effect on some readers and listeners, despite his aim at strenthening that position: some people were carried ahead of the Tractarians on the drift of their arguments.

Ecclesiastical "Meteorite" and "Torpedo": Tract Ninety

The denouement came much nearer with the publication of Tract 90, February 27, 1841.52 For years, Newman had been pondering the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion53 with a view to analyzing them from the Tractarians' perspective; finally, autumn 1840, he started writing. Newman later explained his purpose, and recounted the thrust of his propositions, in a "Notice" prefixed to the republication of the Tract, 1872:

This Tract was written under the conviction that the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, of which it treated, were, when taken in their letter, so loosely worded, so incomplete in statement, and so ambiguous in their meaning, as to need an authoritative interpretation; and that neither those who drew them up, nor those who imposed them were sufficiently agreed among themselves, or clear and consistent in their theological views individually to be able to supply it.... There was but one authority to whom recourse could be had for such interpretation — the Church Catholic. She had been taught the revealed truth by Christ and His Apostles in the beginning, and had in turn taught it in every age to her faithful children, and would teach it on to the end.... Accordingly, it was their plain duty to interpret the Thirty-nine Articles in this one distinct Catholic sense.... The ambiguity above spoken of, in the instance of men so acute and learned as they were, could only be accounted for by great differences of opinions among themselves, and a wish by means of compromise to include among the subscriptions to their formulary a great variety of the then circulating opinions, of which a moderate quasi-Catholicity was one. This would lead them to the use of words, which in the long-run, as they would consider, would tell in favour of Protestantism, while in the letter and in their first effect they did not enforce it.54

Though one can get from Tract 90 the impression of a man desperately trying to sustain an extreme position — a man stretching logic and straining the meaning of words to the limits of possibility, if not quite beyond them — Newman thought his exposition quite reasonable. Buttressing his arguments with numerous, and sometimes voluminous, quotations from the Fathers of the Church and from earlier Anglican theologians, Newman expected Tract 90 to elicit little notice and less controversy.

He was wrong. In 1907, an American Episcopalian minister, William Reed Huntington, looked back and took stock of Newman and Tract 90:

During the last sixty and six years that have elapsed since 1841, the meteorite known in ecclesiastical history as Tract No. XC has had ample time to cool. Such was the heat of friction developed by the stone's passage through the Anglican atmosphere, so violent was the explosion caused by its impact upon the hard surface of an evangelical England, that, for the time being, a fair appraisal of values was impossible. Any attempt to lift and weigh the incandescent mass would have been futile.... He had been gradually leading his disciples on, through a sort of enchanted forest, beautiful for leafage and undergrowth, though singularly deficient in guide-posts, until some of them, as he could not fail to discern, were on the point of asking him awkward questions. On the lips of more than one of the devotees there trembled the anxious interrogatory, "Master, whither?..." This theory of the true bearing of the Articles was not wholly new; what made it startling in 1841 was the fact of its having received, for the first time, the imprimatur of an Anglican divine.... Newman launched the torpedo destined to blow the Thirty-nine Articles, in their supposed character of a reasoned Protestant eirenic, to shivers. For really that is what has happened, though the metaphor may seem to some a little violent. A system which has failed to serve the purpose it was originally contrived to answer, may fairly enough be said to have been shivered by the agent which has demonstrated the failure....55

The public, formal, official reaction to Tract 90 came swiftly and grew apace. "On 8 March a letter from four senior college tutors was sent to the editor of Tracts for the Times protesting that Tract 90 opened the door to the teaching of Roman Catholicism in the University."56 (Never mind that Newman's purpose in writing the Tract was to help Anglo-Catholics to remain in good conscience in the Church of England.) On March 16, the Heads of Houses and Proctors of Oxford University published a censure of the tract. On March 18, Newman's bishop, Richard Bagot of Oxford, asked of Newman that there be no more discussion of the Articles in the tracts; on March 23, apparently after consultation with authorities in London, he asked of the Tractarians that there be no more tracts at all.

Three Blows in One Year

Leaving off the tracts as an act of obedience came easily to Newman, on principle. Indeed, he had offered to do so earlier, when Dr. Bagot had written less-than-laudatory "animadversions" on the tracts. But he was visited by three blows through the rest of 1841 that loosened the tenuous hold the Anglican system still retained for him.

First, he finally noticed that the Arian controversy of the fourth century had exhibited the crucial role of Roman authority — the center of unity and judge of controversies — that the Monophysite and Donatist controversies exhibited in succeeding centuries.57

Second, the King of Prussia wanted to establish a bishopric in Jerusalem for Evangelicals, which would formally embrace both Lutherans and Calvinists and informally embrace other Protestants of any and all sorts. The Established Church of England complied, eager to increase the status and visibility of Protestantism in the Holy Land. Greatly distressed, Newman wrote at the time, "If any such event should take place, I shall not be able to keep a single man from Rome."58 In retrospect, two decades later, he would write, "As to the project of a Jerusalem Bishopric, I never heard of any good or harm it has ever done, except what it has done for me; which many think a great misfortune, and I one of the greatest of mercies. It brought me on to the beginning of the end."59

Third, bishop after bishop of the Church of England issued a condemnation of Tract 90 as the year grew older and gave way to the next — as if to shout in chorus, "No! The Anglican Church is certainly not Catholic, but Protestant!" His own bishop, though, was more critical of the effect the Tract might have on the Rome-inclined than on the interpretations Newman had argued.

Ironically, the bishops' "charges" against the Tract moved more Anglo-Catholics to join the Catholic Church than the Tract itself had so moved: "Before the Heads of Houses condemned Tract 90 and the bishops issued charges against it, there had been no talk or threat of conversions to Rome."60 Newman's purpose, then, was largely accomplished, but the bishops' sharply thwarted, at least in individual cases.

No Man's Land

The three blows brought home to Newman how the Via Media was a theory living vitally in his own mind and life — and in the minds and lives of many who had come under the Tractarians' influence — but with little, if any, connection to the reality of contemporary Anglican theology, practice, and politics. He found himself in a state many a convert passes through: his own position — his church, his home, his life — had been demonstrated to be groundless, but he knew no other ground whereon he could stand.

He was quite sure that Protestantism, in any and all of its myriad varieties, is simply not the Church established by Jesus Christ through the ministry of His Apostles: "Whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this."61 And his Anglican Church, reacting to Tract 90, had effectively claimed Protestantism as the stuff of its making.

Where, then, is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ?

"He was now over forty, a bad age for any man to have to begin again; and he was more alone than he had ever been before, a bad thing for any man in an hour of trial."62 Newman removed himself from controversy. He later mentioned the effect, in passing, when writing of his early days at Oxford in 1826: "I began to be known. I preached my first University Sermon. Next year I was one of the Public Examiners for the B.A. degree. In 1828 I became Vicar of St. Mary's. It was to me like the feeling of spring weather after winter; and, if I may so speak, I came out of my shell; I remained out of it till 1841."63

Winter had come again. Not for the last time. Nor without a spring to follow.

He withdrew to Littlemore, a village near Oxford in the parish of St. Mary's, of which he had grown very fond over the years. Oriel College had built a chapel there in 1835, the first stone of which had been laid by Newman's mother. He took up residence in the parsonage, April 19, 1842, to devote himself to scholarly work and pastoral duties. And he began to establish a "college" there, among several cottages, where like-minded, similiarly situated men could live a common life of study and devotion. Rumors running rampant — even in the press — he was queried by his bishop if he were, indeed, establishing a monastery!

He brought out a translation that year, in two parts, of the Treatises of St. Athanasius, study for which had brought the first blow of the previous year.

January 28, 1843, he published anonymously in the Conservative Journal, under the title "Oxford and Rome," the Retraction of Anti-Catholic Statements mentioned above.64

February 2, he delivered the last of his University Sermons, "The Theory of Development in Religious Doctrine," anticipating in many ways the great work he was about to begin. That very month, it was published in Sermons, chiefly on the Theory of Religious Belief, preached before the University of Oxford,65 along with 13 other University Sermons, the earliest from 1826. Another printing was required by the following month: considering their abstruse nature, Newman himself found it "impossible to believe that they had been 'bought for their contents'."66

September 25, 1843, the anniversary of the consecration of the Littlemore chapel, he preached "The Parting of Friends." It was his last sermon as an Anglican: he had resigned his Living in a letter to the bishop, September 7. "Leaving the pulpit, it was noticed by some how Newman took off his Oxford hood and hung it over a rail, a sign that he no longer considered himself a preacher in the Church of England."67 An epoch had ended:

How vividly comes back the remembrance of the aching blank, the awful pause, which fell on Oxford when that voice had ceased, and we knew that we should hear it no more. It was as when, to one kneeling by night, in the silence of some vast cathedral, the great bell tolling solemnly overhead has suddenly gone still. To many, no doubt, the pause was not of long continuance. Soon they began to look this way and that for new teachers, and to rush vehemently to the opposite extremes of thought. But there were those who could not so lightly forget. All the more these withdrew into themselves. On Sunday forenoons and evenings, in the retirement of their rooms, the printed words of those marvellous sermons would thrill them till they wept "abundant and most sweet tears." Since then many voices of powerful teachers they may have heard, but none that ever penetrated the soul like his.68

Before the year was out, he brought his farewell sermon together with 25 others, the earliest from 1832, as Sermons bearing on Subjects of the Day. One of them, "Wisdom and Innocence" (February 19, 1843), would be dragged back into public view two decades later, during another winter time.

"It would serve little purpose to detail here all the annoying incidents that confronted Newman during these troubled years."69 But Newman later described his position with the precision of a software engineer analyzing an algorithm:

1. I had given up my place in the Movement in my letter to the Bishop of Oxford in the spring of 1841; but 2. I could not give up my duties towards the many and various minds who had more or less been brought into it by me; 3. I expected or intended gradually to fall back into Lay Communion; 4. I never contemplated leaving the Church of England; 5. I could not hold office in her, if I were not allowed to hold the Catholic sense of the Articles; 6. I could not go to Rome, while she suffered honours to be paid to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints which I thought in my conscience to be incompatible with the Supreme, Incommunicable Glory of the One Infinite and Eternal; 7. I desired a union with Rome under conditions, Church with Church; 8. I called Littlemore my Torres Vedras,70 and thought that some day we might advance again within the Anglican Church, as we had been forced to retire; 9. I kept back all persons who were disposed to go to Rome with all my might.
And I kept them back for three or four reasons; 1, because what I could not in conscience do myself, I could not suffer them to do; 2, because I thought that in various cases they were acting under excitement; 3, because I had duties to my Bishop and to the Anglican Church; and 4, in some cases, because I had received from their Anglican parents or superiors direct charge of them.71

No Going Back

Events conspired to make sure he could not go back. May 14, 1843, for instance, Pusey preached a sermon in the Oxford cathedral on the Real Presence, "The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent."72 Citing Anglican divines73 and prelates from previous centuries, and never going beyond their teachings, he thought his views to be quite unexceptionable. He was nevertheless denounced for heresy, and soon was suspended from preaching in the University for two years.

January 1844, the first volume appeared in a planned series of books, Lives of the English Saints, Newman being editor: The Life of St. Stephen Harding, it was written by J.D. Dalgairns of the Littlemore "college." Forewarned by Pusey and others that it would not be well received, Newman's heart must have sunk nevertheless when he saw, after St. Stephen was published, that his Church of England could not bear to hear about the lives of the saints of England. He gave up the editorship after the second volume, which appeared in February.

Summer 1844, W. G. Ward, a leader among the younger Tractarians, published Ideals of a Christian Church. In it, he claimed that he could hold and teach all the doctrines of the Roman Church while remaining an Anglican divine and retaining his fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford. Even Newman thought Ward's theories to be excessive in some regards, and Ward would become a thorn in the flesh to Newman in later years. "But then why should the Church of England refuse to accommodate 'Wardism' when it was tolerant of heresies like Unitarianism?"74 The official response, though, to Ward's Ideals was an onslaught unprecedented: his book was condemned, his fellowship revoked — and he was stripped of his academic degrees.

In the very University convocation at which this punishment was decided (February 13, 1845), on a cresting wave of anti-Tractarian feeling, Tract 90 was brought up for censure. The measure was vetoed by the Proctors, all of them Newman's friends: only that may have saved it.

One of them, R. W. Church, has related another factor, literally a personal factor, that must have affected Newman deeply — the conversion to Rome of more and more Anglo-Catholics:

It was no secret what was coming. But men lingered. It was not till the summer that the first drops of the storm began to fall. Then, through the autumn and the next year, friends whose names and forms were familiar in Oxford one by one disappeared and were lost to it. Fellowships, livings, curacies, intended careers were given up. Mr. Ward went. Mr. Capes, who had long followed Mr. Ward's line and had spent his private means to build a church near Bridgewater, went also. Mr. Oakeley resigned Margaret Chapel and went. Mr. Ambrose St. John, Mr. Coffin, Mr. Dalgairns, Mr. Faber, Mr. T. Meyrick, Mr. Albany Christie, Mr. R. Simpson of Oriel, were received in various places and various ways.... We sat glumly at our breakfasts every morning, and then someone came in with news of something disagreeable — someone gone, someone sure to go.75

These conversions did not exclude members of Newman's own circle at the Littlemore "college."

Clearing a Way Forward

No. He could not go back. But could he go forward? Not yet.

Study and reflection, leading to deeper understanding, helped to open the way. As early as Easter 1841, a friendship began to blossom that would prove to be pivotal for Newman vis-a-vis the Catholic Church: an Irish priest, Charles Russell, wrote to him protesting various misunderstandings of Catholic doctrine evinced in Tract 90. At the time, Russell was a professor at Maynooth College and co-editor of the Dublin Review. "He had, perhaps," Newman wrote, "more to do with my conversion than any one else."76

Russell's patient replies to Newman's inquiries, and answers to his objections, gave Newman what he needed to help to clear his mind of misconceptions that had lodged there since his teens. Especially significant was Russell's gift, at the end of 1842, of a book by St. Alphonsus Liguori; Newman related its effects in a famous passage:

Only this I know full well now, and did not know then, that the Catholic Church allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial, no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator. It is face to face, "solus cum solo,"77 in all matters between man and his God. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude. "Solus cum solo:" — I recollect but indistinctly the effect produced upon me by this Volume of which I have been speaking, but it must have been something considerable. At all events I had got a key to a difficulty....78

Beginning in early 1843, the Spiritual Excercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, too, helped to open his eyes:

There was no cloud interposed between the creature and the Object of his faith and love.... The devotions then to angels and saints as little interfered with the incommunicable glory of the Eternal, as the love which we bear our friends and relations, our tender human sympathies, are inconsistent with that supreme homage of the heart to the Unseen, which really does but sanctify and exalt, not jealously destroy, what is of earth....79

Walking a tightrope, "In March Newman began to warn people that he could not promse that he would still be in the Church of England after Christmas."80

Finding a Way Home

Where, then, is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Could it be the "Roman" Catholic Church? Which Newman himself had so deplored and vilified? Whose popes and councils had, apparently, contradicted themselves so many times? Which supposedly bears scant resemblance to the Church that can be seen in the New Testament? Whose appearance is not altogether like that even of the Church that can be discerned in the writings of the ancient Fathers? The "Roman" Catholic Church? How could it be?

The writings of St. Alphonsus — more fully than he had known them before, and in their context — provided him with a key to unlock the door that had barred his way to properly understanding Catholic doctrines and devotions concerning the saints. Along with the Spiritual Exercises, they had given him a map to put the roads and the landmarks and the lie of the land in perspective. He needed a key, a map, for the whole of the Catholic "system" through all the ages since the Lord Jesus Christ had established His Church through His Apostles. This, he would have to provide himself.

May 4, 1843, in a letter to Keble, Newman announced, "I am very far more sure that England is in schism, than that the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith."81 Though his thought and writings had already been sprinkled with it for many years, he had begun to ponder the subject in earnest by the end of 1842; he brought forth, early 1843, the first fruit of his efforts as the last of his Oxford University Sermons, mentioned above.82 By the end of 1844, he had determined that he must search, sift, and sort the historical data to see if it could be harmonized with a theory of development: that systems of ideas — such as Christian doctrine — grow necessarily according to circumstances.

He worked — he read, wrote, meditated, prayed — for six or seven hours a day, at first, later devoting more and more time to the effort until, towards the end, he would work as much as fourteen hours a day, sometimes straight through the night. He worked standing at his high desk, six days a week, for months. He worked, even more than was usually his wont, with exquisite care.

In letters to relatives and friends, he would occasionally mention that he was busy with a book. By late September, the first parts of An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine were in the hands of the printer.83 But not until early October could he finally see his way clear. Once he could, though, he immediately ceased writing, ceased waiting. On the third, he resigned his Fellowship at Oriel College; by the seventh, he was already informing his closest friends of his decision to join the Catholic Church; on the eighth, he asked Dalgairns to give a message to the missionary priest who had received him and Ambrose St. John into the Church a few weeks earlier: Newman himself now wanted to come in.

Fr. Dominic Barberi received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church, Thursday, October 9, 1845.

Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

A lion looks nothing like an acorn: where are the brain, the sense organs, the massive rippling muscles, the fat, the fur? From their great unlikeness, we can see that lion and acorn have little in common. But neither does an oak tree look like an acorn: where are the roots, the branches, the leaves, the delicate clustered flowers — the acorns? From the great unlikeness between oak and acorn, we can see that looking might fail to determine that one thing has, or has not, developed from another.

How does an acorn become an oak tree? By natural growth. Upon germination, it must set down roots and put out shoots: it must anchor and expand — or die. Before long, the roots must become a system of roots, ever larger and more complicated, and the shoots must become branches, then branches upon branches. Leaves must come, too, for photosyntheis, and bark for protection. Growth or death. Finally come flowers and pollen — and more acorns.

But the new acorns determine that oak trees will develop from them, not maples or lions or men. The acorns hold within themselves the blueprint and pattern of all that they may become. Viewed as natural development, the giant oak tree with a vast labyrinth of roots, thick bark, many branches and many more leaves, and occasionally flowers and new acorns, is the articulation and elaboration of what was already present in the acorn.

It may be allowed, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic Church looks little like the Christianity described in the New Testament: where are priests, monks, nuns? where dioceses, parishes, canon law? where liturgical ritual and sacramental grace? where popes and cardinals? where Mary, Ever Virgin, Mother of God? where the Holy Spirit, a Divine Person? where the Lord Jesus Christ, truly Man and truly God? where God, the Holy Trinity?

Newman heard these questions. He had himself asked some of them. True, theologians can trace, by and large, the history of each and all. But historical continuity does not proceed only by development: it can also come by corruption. Did these things unseen in primitive Christianity, or not seen plainly, come by natural development in the Catholic Church — or by corruption? Newman enumerated the means by which they may be distinguished:

I venture to set down seven Notes of varying cogency, independence and applicability, to discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows: — There is no corruption if it [1] retains one and the same type, [2] the same principles, [3] the same organization; if [4] its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and [5] its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has [6] a power of assimilation and revival, and [7] a vigorous action from first to last.84

He was finally able to provide an answer — first to himself, then to his reading public, eventually to posterity. It hinged upon taking a novel view: dwelling not on whatever differences the modern Catholic Church might have from Christianity as it first appeared in the world, but dwelling on whatever likenesses can be seen, especially upon closer examination. Likenesses to be seen, not merely in primitive Christianity, but also in the early centuries in which controversies were settled — controversies that, to one degree or another, Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants alike consider to be determinative of orthodox Christianity.

What likenesses can be found? This, too, Newman approached in a novel fashion:

No one can define an oak, or an eagle, or a lion, or any other of the objects which arrest us, and which we gaze upon externally. We can but describe them. We multiply properties or qualities which attach to them, and thereby impress upon the mind analytically an image of that which we cannot philosophically express. Let us now pursue the same way with the Church. Let us take it as the world now views it in its age; and let us take it as the world once viewed it in its youth; and let us see whether there be any great difference between the early and the later description of it. The following statement will show my meaning: —
There is a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and holding all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body; it is a sort of secret society, binding together its members by influences and by engagements which it is difficult for strangers to ascertain. It is spread over the known world; it may be weak or insignificant locally, but it is strong on the whole from its continuity; it may be smaller than all other religious bodies together, but is larger than each separately. It is a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing, and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by the intellect of the day; it is frightful to the imagination of the many. And there is but one communion such.
Place this description before Pliny or Julian; place it before Frederick the Second or Guizot.85 "Apparent dirae facies."86 Each knows at once, without asking a question, who is meant by it. One object, and only one, absorbs each item of the detail of the delineation.87

Even in the twenty-first century, the description is recognizable — instantly — at least in the English-speaking world. Many Protestant fundamentalists would embrace it as gleefully as some militant atheists would, as a sketch of what they would both account as an enemy: the Catholic Church. Marshalling detailed evidence, Newman similarly drew parallels between the modern Catholic Church and the Christianity of those periods with which he was most familiar as an historian: the first centuries, when Christianity was underground; the fourth century, when it emerged into the world at large, and Arianism with it; and, the fifth and sixth centuries, during the emergence of the Monophysite, Donatist, and other heresies.

I have seen no better short synopsis of the Essay than that provided by Newman's biographer Wilfrid Ward:

The philosophy of the book went deeper than the theological controversy of the hour. It applied the great principle of life as a test of truth in religion. In a really living system there are changes which, far from being corruptions, are the natural response of a living social body to changing conditions. New questions are asked; new answers given. But the new answers were but the fuller expression of the original genius of the system. He regards Christianity as an idea with many aspects which were successively elicited and exhibited in fresh opportunities, and as having at the same time its own distinctive and unique genius which every aspect serves to illustrate. It grows into a definite philosophy or system of belief. As circumstances change "old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often."88 Thus he accounts for and justifies the proud claim of the Catholic Church to be semper eadem,89 in spite of the changes in its outward form and polity — the growth of ritual, the assimilation of extraneous philosophies by its theological schools, the changes in the method pursued in those schools, its fresh definitions of dogma, the varieties in its social standing at different epochs, in the Catacombs, in the theocracy of the thirteenth century, in the apostasy of the nineteenth. Thus he formulates the principle which explains why the Reformers who claimed to do away with the wanton innovations of Rome in religion were by the Church boldly accused of that very crime which they90 denounced. They discarded later additions and went back to the primitive text of the Scriptures, yet they were roundly styled by Rome, novatores, or innovators. The Protestants had in their antiquarian zeal discarded the principle of life and of true identity. Their rediscoveries from primitive times were for the living Church novelties or dead anachronisms. The Catholic Church herself had the identity of uninterrupted life and genuine growth.91

Indeed, Newman's great book is a long, detailed, and (in some cases) exhaustive defense of one reality of the Catholic faith that he himself had stated eleven years earlier: "As time goes on, fresh and fresh articles of faith are necessary to secure the Church's purity, according to the rise of successive heresies and errors. These articles are all hidden, as it were, in the Church's bosom, from the first, and brought out into form according to the occasion."92 Hidden, like the oak tree in the acorn.

Questions cannot be answered before they have been asked; decisions cannot be made before the choices are known: orthodoxy cannot be defended against a heresy before it exists. Had Christianity — had the Catholic Church — ceased to respond to new challenges, it would have ceased altogether: those faiths that had become solidified in the first, or fourth, or sixth, or eighth century, and those that attempted some sort of return to a faith thus solidified, had died — doctrinally — in the very act.

Desunt cætera........

1. Article "Penal Laws" on line at Catholic Encyclopedia.

2. Quoted in Thornton, p. 376.

3. Moody, p. 138.

4. O'Faolain, p. 220.

5. Some biographical accounts claim wrongly that Newman did poorly in Math.

6. Ker, p. 11.

7. Blanco White eventually gave up Christianity altogether, to which modern anti-Catholics do not advert.

8. Ker, p. 21.

9. Quoted in Ffinch, p. 70.

10. "Recollections: James Anthony Froude on John Henry Newman" on line at The Victorian Web.

11. Addresses, p. 64.

12. Arians, pp. 50-51.

13. June 16, 1833; Verses 90, p. 156.

14. Ker, p. 48.

15. Greece, meaning the Orthodox Churches.

16. That is, are not corruptions of what is good.

17. Mozley, vol. 1, pp. 329, 331, 338.

18. June 13, 1833; Verses 88, p. 153.

19. Ker, ibid., p. 78.

20. Moody, p. 33.

21. June 5, 1833, Verses 83, p. 144.

22. The scripture for the sermon was 1 Samuel 12:23; it is on line at Project Canterbury.

23. Most of the tracts were published anonymously. As recorded in an 1864 edition of Apologia pro Vita Sua, Newman himself acknowledged having written those numbered 1, 2, 6-8, 10, 11, 19-21, 34, 38, 41, 45, 47, 71, 73, 75, 79, 82, 83, 85, 88, and 90. Other lists I have seen include also 3, 15, 31, 33, and 74: I do not know why.

24. Nearly all the Tracts are on line at Project Canterbury; as I write, many are on line at Newman Reader.

25. The official daily prayer book of the Catholic Church, now called the Liturgy of the Hours, whose use is obligated among clergy and religious.

26. Via Media, vol 2, p. 28.

27. A formal, ritual affirmation of God's anger and judgement on impenitent sinners, and a plea for mercy and conversion of heart.

28. Via Media, vol. 2, pp. 25f.

29. Geneva, city of John Calvin, thus representing Reformed (Presbyterian/Puritan) Christianity.

30. Via Media, vol. 2, p. 27.

31. That is, as fiercely as the Puritans tried to block it up.

32. Via Media, vol. 2, pp. 31, 33f.

33. Via Media, vol. 2, p. 40.

34. On line at Project Canterbury.

35. "The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World" is included here. The entire eight-volume collection was published in a one-volume, thin-paper edition by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1986, and reprinted since.

36. Ker, p. 90.

37. Via Media, vol. 2, p. 431.

38. Via Media, vol. 1, pp. xv-xvi.

39. Via Media, vol. 2, pp. 429f.

40. Apologia, p. 209.

41. The bishops of the Ecumenical Council of Trent.

42. Apologia, pp. 210f.

43. A converted Anglican minister, Nicholas Wiseman would later become the first primate in the newly established Catholic hierarchy in England and eventually a cardinal.

44. A few words from St. Augustine's dictum, Quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum, bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum quacumque parte orbis terrarum. (Loosely, "The whole world judges surely that they are not good who separate themselves from the whole world in whatever part of it.")

45. An old popular legend has it that Richard Whittington, immensely wealthy and three times mayor of London in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, had heard the peal of bells as if they were saying prophetically "Turn again Whittington, Lord Mayor of Great London" in his impoverished youth.

46. "Take, read — take, read": St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions (Book 8, Chapter 12) how he was moved, by hearing this chant in the voice of a child out of sight, to take up the book of the Sacred Scriptures; his eyes first alighting on Romans 13:13-14, he was converted from his immoral life and embraced Christianity.

47. Apologia, pp. 212f.

48. O'Faolain, p. 287.

49. Quoted in O'Faolain, p. 288.

50. Ibid., p. 284.

51. O'Faolain, p. 288.

52. Large portions of Tract 90 are included here: the Introduction, Section 9, and the Conclusion.

53. The foundational doctrinal statements of the Anglican Church, written and adopted 1562-1563; heavily influenced by Lutheran theology, the articles especially distinguish Anglican beliefs from "Roman" Catholic and Anabaptist beliefs. They are available at

54. Via Media, vol. 2, pp. 261-263.

55. "Tract No. XCI," on line at Project Canterbury.

56. Ker, p. 218.

57. Recall, Newman himself had already written a lengthy and detailed book on the Arian controversy.

58. Mozley, vol. 2, p. 315.

59. Apologia, p. 241.

60. Ker, p. 242.

61. Development, p. 7.

62. O'Faolain, p. 301.

63. Apologia, p. 118.

64. p. 12.

65. Later editions, which include an additional sermon, are called Oxford University Sermons.

66. Ker, p. 272.

67. Ffinch, p. 122.

68. Principal Shairp, quoted in Ward, pp. 77f.

69. Moody, p. 98.

70. A Portuguese town at which, during the Peninsular War (1808-1814), the British set up a defensive system to protect Lisbon from the French.

71. Apologia, pp. 245f.

72. The scripture for the sermon was Matthew 26:28; the sermon is on line at Project Canterbury.

73. Including the great poet George Herbert (1593-1633), whose Country Parson (on line at Project Canterbury) had become officially recommended for study by candidates for Anglican orders.

74. Ker, p. 294.

75. Quoted in Ward, pp. 83f. Ward is W. G. Ward, already mentioned, the father of biographer Wilfrid Ward; Capes is Frederick Capes, who would found the Catholic periodical The Rambler and is quoted at length in one of Newman's Lectures included here, p. ?; Oakeley is Frederick Oakeley, who would receive Confirmation with Newman; St. John is Ambrose St. John, who had already become one of Newman's closest friends; Dalgairns is J. D. Dalgairns, already mentioned; Faber is Frederick William Faber, the famous writer of many hymns, including "Faith of Our Fathers."

76. Apologia, p. 287.

77. Latin; loosely, each with the other, alone together.

78. Apologia, p. 288.

79. Apologia, pp. 288f.

80. Ker, p. 296.

81. Apologia, p. 300. The Divine Depositum of Faith: the treasury of revelation given by the Lord Jesus Christ and through His Apostles; see Jude 3.

82. p. 19.

83. A large portion of the book is included here: Numbers 1 through 6 of the Introduction.

84. Development, p. 171.

85. Pliny the Younger, died circa 113, Roman stateman and author. Julian I, 331-363; Roman Emperor (called the Apostate), 361-363. Frederick II, 1712-1786; king of Prussia, 1740-1786. François Guizot, 1787-1874, French statesman and historian; premier, 1847-1848.

86. Latin, loosely, "Fearful shapes appear."

87. 1845 Development, pp. 204f; the first paragraph was revised considerably for 1878 Development, pp. 207f.

88. Development, p. 40.

89. Latin, always the same.

90. That is, the Protestant Reformers.

91. Ward, pp. 87f.

92. Tract 41, quoted above, p. 11.

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Sun. 10/09/05 08:06:54 AM
Categorized as Literary & Religious.


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