John Henry Cardinal Newman

This article is an overview of the book, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, by John Henry Cardinal Newman, written in 1845. He discusses his Theory of Development of Doctrine. (Introduction, Para. 21)

Although Catholic defendersaccept Newman's views as foundational, the Magisteriumof the Catholic Church does not endorse them in the slightest, preferring instead to state that in each generation the Church teaches the exact same views using different words, and that everything they teach was passed-downfrom the apostles.This is madness!

I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.

Both Protestants and Catholics admit that doctrine has developed over the centuries. Even those Protestants who claim that they follow the exact teachings of the apostolic church have at least two obvious developments:

  1. There was no canon of New Testament scripture in the apostolic era; it developed over time.
  2. The major Christian doctrines (such as the Trinity) are not merely restatements of Bible verses. These doctrines were discussed by the Church Fathers over hundreds of years, and were finally formulated at various Church Councils. These doctrinal statements are in words not literally copied from the Bible.

By the phrase "Development of Doctrine," Newman does not claim that God changed or that the truth changed; but rather, that God did not reveal His truth all at once. God intended that we would gain a clearer understanding over time.

Truths . . . could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients. (Introduction, Para. 21)

The increase and expansion of the Christian Creed and ritual, and the variations . . . of individual writers and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, . . .  that, from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas. (Introduction, Para. 21)

Newman's purpose in writing his essay is to help us understand the proper way of thinking about the doctrinal changes which have occurred since the time of the Apostolic era:

The following essay is directed towards a solution of the difficulty . . . which lies in the way of our using . . . the testimony of . . . the history of eighteen hundred years [of Christianity] (Introduction, Para. 21)

Index ...

Historical Christianity
Protestantism is NOT Historical Christianity
The Procedure to "Fix" the Church
Genuine Developments vs. Corruptions
Developments of Doctrine
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church
Sola Scriptura

Examples of Difficulties
     The Trinity
     Original Sin
     The Eucharist
     Papal Supremacy
     The Canon
    Quotable Passages
Kinds of Developments
The Development of Ideas
How Can we Know the Truth?
Christianity has Changed Over Time
Errors About Historical Christianity

Historical Christianity

Newman affirms that (1) the apostles passed on the faith to the next generation of Christians, and (2) doctrine is also passed on from generation to generation.

The society of Christians which the Apostles left on earth were of that religion to which the Apostles had converted them; that the external continuity of name, profession, and communion, argues a real continuity of doctrine. (Introduction, Para. 3)

Christianity did not go bad early on only to be resurrected by the Protestant Reformers.

The Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first. (Introduction, Para. 3)

Many "anti-historical" Christians claim that when looking at Christian history we find (1) contradictory doctrines, (2) political abuse, and (3) changes from generation to generation. For this reason they abandon history altogether.

Some writers . . . give reasons from history for their refusing to appeal to history. (Introduction, Para. 4)

The important question is: How should we understand and interpret Church History?

Protestant anti-Catholicstypically claim that the Catholic doctrines contradict scripture, but this is not the case.

The common complaint of Protestants against the Church of Rome is, not simply that she has added to the primitive or the Scriptural doctrine, (for this they do themselves,) but that she contradicts it. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 3)

It is difficult to find a time in history when the church went bad. There is a continuity from one age to the next.

No one doubts . . . that the Roman Catholic communion of this day is the successor and representative of the Medieval Church, or that the Medieval Church is the legitimate heir of the Nicene. (Chapter 2, Section 3, Para. 5)

The Catholic doctrines originate from Jesus and the Apostles .

Certain doctrines come to us, professing to be Apostolic, and possessed of such high antiquity that, though we are only able to assign the date of their formal establishment to the fourth, or the fifth, or the eighth, or the thirteenth century, as it may happen, yet their substance may, for what appears, be coeval [of the same period] with the Apostles, and be expressed or implied in texts of Scripture. . . . These existing doctrines are universally considered, without any question, in each age to be the echo of the doctrines of the times immediately preceding them. (Chapter 3, Section 1, Para. 1)

Protestant anti-Catholicsmust try to separate the so-called corrupt Catholic doctrines from the true Protestant doctrines even though the same Church Fathers were writing about both simultaneously. There is no way to separate them.

Certain doctrines . . . form one body one with another, so that to reject one is to disparage the rest; and they include . . . even those primary articles of faith. (Chapter 3, Section 1, Para. 1)

The doctrinal system of the Early Church forms a complete, unified whole.

He cannot intelligibly separate . . . from others which he disavows. . . . These doctrines occupy the whole field of theology: . . . no rival system is forthcoming, so that we have to choose between this theology and none at all. (Chapter 3, Section 1, Para. 1)

Certain doctrines didn't form until the time was right.

The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. (Chapter 4, Section 3, Para. 5)

The early persecutions prevented certain doctrines from forming early.

An international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated . . . while persecutions lasted. (Chapter 4, Section 3, Para. 5)

Protestantism is NOT Historical Christianity

The "anti-historical" approach is one of the factors leading to the Protestant Reformation.

To be Protestant, one must first discredit or ignore the Christianity of history. This is because Protestantism is not the Christianity of history.

This utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. (Introduction, Para. 6)

In other words, when we look at what Christians practiced and taught for the first 1,500 years of Church history, it is not Protestantism, rather, it is Catholicism. This includes the writings of the Early Church Fathers.

The Early Church was NOT Protestant

It is common for Protestants to claim that Protestantism merely resurrects the Christian faith of the early church which was corrupted and lost somewhere in history. But Newman refutes this notion by claiming that Protestantism was never the Christian faith until it was invented in the Protestant Reformation.

So much must the Protestant grant, that if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce [i.e., Protestantism] ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge. (Introduction, Para. 6)

It is not Protestantism which is the church of the Early Church Fathers, but Catholicism.

Of all existing systems, the present communion of Rome is the nearest approximation in fact to the Church of the Fathers. (Chapter 2, Section 3, Para. 5)

The Procedure to "Fix" the Church

Newman is speaking specifically of the Anglican method of determining what is and what isn't true Christianity, but the basic idea applies equally well to the Protestant reformers who had to determine which doctrines and practices of historical Christianity were true and which were not.

History first presents to us a pure Christianity in East and West, and then a corrupt; and then of course their duty is to draw the line between what is corrupt and what is pure, and to determine the dates at which the various changes from good to bad were introduced. (Introduction, Para. 7)

The assumption is that modern Christianity must be exactly like apostolic Christianity.

That "Christianity is what has been held always, everywhere, and by all" certainly promises a solution of the perplexities, an interpretation of the meaning, of history. (Introduction, Para. 7)

Although some Protestant denominations claim to be this "New Testament" church, the reality is that no denomination, including Catholicism, exactly matches the belief and practice of the apostolic church. All are "developments."

Protestants typically ignore much of early Christianity after the apostolic era until the Protestant Reformation.

Make much of the earlier centuries, yet pay no regard to the later. (Introduction, Para. 7)

The Anglican method of determining which doctrines of historic Christianity are apostolic and which are corruptions turns out to be untenable. It sounds good on paper but in practice the history provides evidence which renders this impossible.

The rule of historical interpretation. . . . Its difficulty lies in applying it in particular cases. (Introduction, Para. 8)

The fundamental rule to be followed:

In order that a doctrine be considered Catholic, it must be formally stated by the Fathers generally from the very first. (Introduction, Para. 9)

Genuine Developments vs. Corruptions

Newman gives seven tests (he calls them "notes") which can be applied to distinguish genuine developments from corruptions.

To discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows:—There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last. (Chapter 5, Para. 4)

He analyses at length:

What a corruption is, and why it cannot rightly be called, and how it differs from, a development; . . . characteristics of faithful developments; . .  [ how to] discriminate between them and corruptions (Chapter 5, Para. 2)

Many doctrines develop as a response to heretical movements.

The refutation and remedy of errors cannot precede their rise; and thus the fact of false developments or corruptions involves the correspondent manifestation of true ones. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 3)

The second half of the book consists of analysis and examples of the 7 notes from various stages in church history.

  1. Preservation of Type (Chapter 5, Section 1)

    A genuine development of doctrine does not change the essential characteristics of the doctrine.

    Unity of type . . . must not be pressed to the extent of denying all variation. (Chapter 5, Section 1, Para. 4)

  2. Continuity of Principles (Chapter 5, Section 2)

    A genuine development maintains the integrity of the underlying principles.

    Principles are abstract and general, doctrines relate to facts; doctrines develope, and principles at first sight do not; doctrines grow and are enlarged, principles are permanent; doctrines are intellectual, and principles are more immediately ethical and practical. (Chapter 5, Section 2, Para. 1)

    One striking conclusion is that principles appear after doctrine.

    [It should be] expected that the Catholic principles would be later in development than the Catholic doctrines, inasmuch as they lie deeper in the mind. . . . This has been the case. (Chapter 5, Section 2, Para. 2)

    Genuine developments must retain the principles and the doctrine.

    A development . . . retain[s] both the doctrine and the principle with which it started. (Chapter 5, Section 2, Para. 3)

    If the underlying principle is false then the doctrines derived from it will also be false. For example, heretical doctrines may use the same statements as true Christian doctrine but the meaning is vastly different. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are examples.

    Principle is a better test of heresy than doctrine. (Chapter 5, Section 2, Para. 3)

  3. Power of Assimilation (Chapter 5, Section 3)

  4. Logical Sequence (Chapter 5, Section 4)

  5. Anticipation of Its Future (Chapter 5, Section 5)

  6. Conservative Action upon Its Past (Chapter 5, Section 6)

    Corrupt doctrines change those which preceded.

    Do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them (Chapter 5, Section 6, Para. 1)

    a developed doctrine which reverses the course of development which has preceded it, is no true development but a corruption (Chapter 5, Section 6, Para. 4)

    Just as a human life passes through various stages very slowly.

    A gradual, imperceptible course of change. (Chapter 5, Section 6, Para. 1)

  7. Chronic Vigour (Chapter 5, Section 7)

Developments of Doctrines

Newman claims that it is natural to expect doctrines to develop.

Developments of Doctrine to be Expected. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 1)

One reason for doctrinal development is that our human minds are limited and require time to assimilate information.

It is a characteristic of our minds, that they cannot take an object in. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 1)

This is an observation which modern psychology affirms.

We cannot teach except by aspects or views, which are not identical with the thing itself which we are teaching. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 1)

Newman admits that the writers after the Apostolic era were not inspired as the Apostles were.

The time . . . came when its recipients ceased to be inspired (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 2)

God did not provide all important doctrines in the inspired scripture. He intended that the work would be completed over time by doctrinal development.

Revealed truths would . . . afterwards be completed by developments. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 2)

Another source of doctrinal development is the interaction of Christian truth with the cultures of different eras.

If Christianity be an universal religion, suited not simply to one locality or period, but to all times and places, it cannot but vary in its relations and dealings towards the world around it, that is, it will develope. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 3)

Doctrinal development still continues today. We can't locate a particular point in time in which all doctrines of the Christian faith were fully-developed.

Unable to fix an historical point at which the growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once for all settled. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 12)

All doctrines, including those which Protestants accept from the early church, have developed. None were fully-formed and presented in a completed formulation in the New Testament.

No one doctrine can be named which starts complete at first, and gains nothing afterwards from the investigations of faith and the attacks of heresy. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 12)

God intended that Christian doctrine develop.

Christian doctrine admits of formal, legitimate, and true developments, that is, of developments contemplated by its Divine Author. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 17)

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church

The Church has within her an infallible guide of discerning truth. This is the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Doctrine of the infallibility of the Church (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 4)

We should expect that God would have provided an infallible authority to assist us with determining true doctrine and in accurately interpreting scripture.

An Infallible Developing Authority to be Expected (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 1)

In the Catholic Church of history certain individuals are uniquely anointed to provide infallible interpretation and teaching.

Prophets or Doctors are the interpreters of the revelation (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 2)

The teachings of the historical Catholic Church are very comprehensive.

Their teaching is a vast system (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 2)

Not all truths are of equal importance. One of the roles of the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church is to put everything into its proper perspective.

Some rule is necessary for arranging and authenticating these various expressions. . . . No one will maintain that all points of belief are of equal importance. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 2)

There are facts which are true which we are not required to believe.

There are what may be called minor points, which we may hold to be true without imposing them as necessary. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 2)

We need a way to know what is true and what is false.

How are we to discriminate the greater from the less, the true from the false. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 2)

Christianity itself has developed.

Christianity . . . came into the world as an idea rather than an institution, and has had to wrap itself in clothing and fit itself with armour of its own providing. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 3)

Protestants typically provide rules and principles for interpreting scripture but such rules are insufficient. There also needs to be a living, Holy Spirit-inspired teaching magisterium.

Tests . . . for ascertaining the correctness of developments in general may be drawn out . . . but they are insufficient. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 3)

Infallibility defined:

Infallibility: . . . the power of deciding . . . [whether] theological or ethical statements are true. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 4)

There is the need for us to know what is true. We need an authority to inform us. This is provided by the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church.

A seal of authority upon those developments. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 5)

As a Protestant I was troubled when the preachers claimed that they were correct. But I noticed that their teachings contradicted one another. This is what led me to become Catholic.

The human mind . . . wishes to be rid of doubt in religion; and a teacher who claims infallibility is readily believed on his simple word. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 12)

We should expect that since God gave us His revelation, that He would protect it. This would require infallible intervention by people throughout the ages.

Revelation: . . . [God has] secured it from perversion and corruption. (Chapter 2, Section 3, Para. 1)

Certainly the new doctrines invented by the Protestant Reformers are not the infallible doctrines of true Christianity.

If there must be and are in fact developments in Christianity, the doctrines propounded by successive Popes and Councils . . . are they. (Chapter 2, Section 3, Para. 3)

Sola Scriptura

Newman discusses the sources of the foundational Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura (scripture only).

Protestantism is founded on the principle of Sola Scriptura.

The fundamental principle that the Bible and the Bible only is the religion of Protestants? (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 3)

The so-called problems with historical Christianity force some to accept Sola Scriptura as the rule of the faith.

They are forced. . . to fall back upon the Bible as the sole source of Revelation, and upon their own personal private judgment as the sole expounder of its doctrine. (Introduction, Para. 4)

Dispensing with historical Christianity altogether and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone. (Introduction, Para. 5)

Protestants typically claim that all we need is the scripture.

It may be objected that its inspired documents at once determine the limits of its mission without further trouble. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 2)

Because the words in the New Testament are few, it is impossible that all possible truths are contained within its pages.

The New Testament . . . [does not] comprises a delineation of all possible forms which a divine message will assume when submitted to a multitude of minds. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 2)

As a Protestant it occurred to me that Protestantism could not be derived from the Bible alone. The scenario I considered was if I had never heard of Christianity and was handed a Bible, I would have never have derived Protestantism. The fact is that Protestantism is founded on the 1,500 years of Church history and the doctrinal development which preceded it. Protestantism is not derived from the Bible alone.

These doctrines [of Protestantism] . . . are surely not gained by the direct use and immediate application of Scripture, nor by a mere exercise of argument upon words and sentences placed before the eyes, but by the unconscious growth of ideas suggested. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 3)

The Bible does not contain all the answers. The only possible way of knowing about the topics which the Bible does not explicitly address is through doctrinal development.

Great questions exist in the subject-matter of which Scripture treats, which Scripture does not solve. . . . They must be answered . . . by development. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 5)

The Bible does not teach us how to interpret it.

Whether that document [the Bible] is self-interpreting, or requires a comment, and whether any authoritative comment or commentator is provided. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 5)

The apostles did not provide the rules for how we are to interpret the Bible.

Nor were these difficulties settled by authority . . . at the commencement of the religion. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 5)

If Sola Scriptura were true, we should expect that the Bible would provide: (1) A list of the inspired books to be included in the Bible, (2) The rules for interpreting scripture, and (3) Doctrinal formulations in their modern form, stated in the exact words we use.

It is quite conceivable that an Apostle might have dissipated them all in a few words, had Divine Wisdom thought fit. But . . . the decision has been left to time. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 5)

Catholic doctrines do not contradict scripture and, in fact, all of them are present in the Bible at least in rudimentary form.

Of no doctrine whatever, which does not actually contradict what has been delivered, can it be peremptorily asserted that it is not in Scripture. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 14)

As Catholic doctrines developed, they were thoroughly grounded in scripture.

All the definitions or received judgments of the early and medieval Church rest upon definite . . . sentences of Scripture. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 15)

Examples of doctrines which were being written about by the Early Church Fathers at the same time that the Catholic doctrines were being developed. How can they have gotten the Trinity and the Canon right and been wrong about these Catholic doctrines?

Purgatory, . . . Saints [in heaven], . . . the Real Presence [of Christ in the Eucharist], . . . Absolution [confession], . . . honour paid to creatures [Mary and the Saints]. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 15)

Scripture seems to demand further doctrinal development.

Scripture nowhere recognizes itself or asserts the inspiration of those passages which are most essential, it . . . anticipates the development of Christianity. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 16)

Since God chose to reveal His truth to us, this implies that He would also provide a trustworthy guide in every age. This guide is the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church.

The very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 12)

The Protestant reformers declared that the Bible is the only necessary guide for truth. But in interpreting the Bible, Protestant preachers and theologians have come up with various contradictory interpretations. The Bible alone is insufficient.

This is shown by the popular notion which has prevailed among us since the Reformation, that the Bible itself is such a guide (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 12)

We require more than the Bible to know truth.

The inspired volume is not adapted or intended to subserve that purpose. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 12)

We need the active, living teaching magisteriumof the Church. The Bible alone is not sufficient.

God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 12)

Protestants are attempting to use the Bible for a purpose for which it was not intended by God. We also need the active, living teaching magisteriumof the Church.

Used for a purpose for which it was not given. (Chapter 2, Section 2, Para. 12)

Examples of Difficulties — the Trinity

In looking at the history of the development of Christian doctrine, we see serious problems with the idea that the church went bad and had to be fixed by the Protestant Reformers.

Regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, the problem is that the same Church Fathers who were developing the admittedly correct doctrine of the Trinity were also developing the so-called false doctrines of Catholicism. How are we trust that they got the Trinity right if they were wrong about so much else?

For a period of time much of the church was Arian, a doctrine which denied the Trinity. The Arian heresy was dispelled by the intervention of Pope St. Julius I and others.

There was much discussion and debate about the Trinity in the early church resulting in many conflicting ideas. Based on the (false) overarching principle that we can determine correct doctrine by looking at what had unanimous agreement of the Church Fathers, we must reject the doctrine of the Trinity because there was no such agreement.

The Trinity. I do not see in what sense it can be said that there is a consensus of primitive divines in its favour. (Introduction, Para. 10)

Even the early creeds do not express the modern formulation of the Trinity.

The Creeds of that early day make no mention in their letter of the Catholic doctrine [the Trinity] at all. They make mention indeed of a Three; but that there is any mystery in the doctrine, that the Three are One, that They are coequal, coetemal, all increate, all omnipotent, all incomprehensible, is not stated and never could be gathered from them. (Introduction, Para. 11)

The reason we accept the doctrine of the Trinity is because the Catholic Church declared it as true.

Examples of Difficulties — Original Sin

In looking at the history of the development of Christian doctrine, we see serious problems with the idea that the church went bad and had to be fixed by the Protestant Reformers.

The early church did not have the modern view of original sin. This was developed later.

No one will say that there is a testimony of the Fathers, equally strong, for the doctrine of Original Sin. . . . Original Sin . . . as it is at this day commonly explicated, was not the doctrine of the primitive Church. (Introduction, Para. 16)

The doctrine of Original Sin is an example of a doctrine which is accepted by Protestants but which clearly took time to develop.

As regards general acceptance and accurate understanding, [it was a] a gradual process, not completed till the time of Augustine and Pelagius. . . . We have here an instance of a doctrine held back for a time by circumstances. (Chapter 4, Section 1, Para. 4)

Those who claim that Protestantism is the true church of the early centuries of the church are mistaken.

Examples of Difficulties — Eucharist

In looking at the history of the development of Christian doctrine, we see serious problems with the idea that the church went bad and had to be fixed by the Protestant Reformers.

The same church fathers who were consistently teaching the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist were also developing the other foundational doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, and they were determining the Canon of Scripture. How could they be right about those essential teachings but be wrong about the Eucharist?

Many Protestant denominations deny the doctrine of the Eucharist, that Christ becomes present in the bread and wine during communion. But the Early Church Fathers clearly wrote about the Eucharist.

Eucharist. . . . I have learned it from the Fathers: I believed the Real Presence because they bear witness to it. (Introduction, Para. 17)

The doctrine of the Eucharist was taught by the apostles.

The Real Presence appears, by the liturgies of the fourth or fifth century, to have been the doctrine of the earlier. . . The writers of the fourth and fifth centuries fearlessly assert or frankly allow that the prerogatives of Rome were derived from apostolic times, and that because it was the See of St. Peter. (Introduction, Para. 19)

Examples of Difficulties — Purgatory

In looking at the history of the development of Christian doctrine, we see serious problems with the idea that the church went bad and had to be fixed by the Protestant Reformers.

The same church fathers who were consistently teaching the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory were also developing the other foundational doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, and they were determining the Canon of Scripture. How could they be right about those essential teachings but be wrong about Purgatory?

Almost all the Early Church Fathers wrote about purgatory.

Purgatory. . . . Some notion of suffering, or disadvantage, or punishment after this life, in the case of the faithful departed, or other vague forms of the doctrine of Purgatory, has in its favour almost a consensus of the four first ages of the Church. (Introduction, Para. 15)

Examples of Difficulties — Papal Supremacy

In looking at the history of the development of Christian doctrine, we see serious problems with the idea that the church went bad and had to be fixed by the Protestant Reformers.

The same church fathers who were consistently teaching the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy were also developing the other foundational doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, and they were determining the Canon of Scripture. How could they be right about those essential teachings but be wrong about the Papacy?

The Early Church Fathers wrote about the doctrine of Papal Supremacy.

Papal supremacy. . . . [Antenicene notices] are both more numerous and more definite than the adducible testimonies in favour of the Real Presence. [The number of quotes: there are] seventeen of them, and they are various, and are drawn from many times and countries. (Introduction, Para. 18)

The writers of the fourth and fifth centuries fearlessly assert or frankly allow that the prerogatives of Rome were derived from apostolic times, and that because it was the See of St. Peter. (Introduction, Para. 19)

The papacy naturally grew out of the circumstances of the church in response to historical events.

Local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. (Chapter 4, Section 3, Para. 4)

Examples of Difficulties — The Canon

In looking at the history of the development of Christian doctrine, we see serious problems with the idea that the church went bad and had to be fixed by the Protestant Reformers.

The same church fathers who were consistently teaching Catholic doctrines such as the Eucharist, Papal Supremacy, and Purgatory were also determining the Canon of Scripture. How could they be right about the Canon of Scripture but be wrong about the other Catholic doctrines?

Newman notes that those who determined the Canon must have been infallible in doing so.

Canon of Scripture and its inspiration. (Chapter 2, Section 1, Para. 5)

Determining the Canon was a genuine example of the development of doctrine.

Not all the Scriptures of our New Testament have been received with universal consent as genuine works of the Evangelists and Apostles. (Chapter 4, Section 1, Para. 1)

The reason we are certain of the Canon is because the Church declared it.

On what ground, then, do we receive the Canon as it comes to us, but on the authority of the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries? (Chapter 4, Section 1, Para. 3)

Protestants typically ignore this issue.

The Church at that era decided . . . that certain books were of authority. (Chapter 4, Section 1, Para. 3)

Quotable Passages

The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. (Introduction, Para. 5)

Protestantism. . . is not the Christianity of history. (Introduction, Para. 6)

To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant. (Introduction, Para. 5)

The various sects of Protestantism, unconnected as they are with each other, are called developments of the principle of Private Judgment. (Chapter 5, Section 2, Para. 3)

By starting with the idea that we can interpret scripture apart from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, we can and will come up with any number of distinct denominations, all with contradictory doctrines, and all claiming to be "true".

Kinds of Developments

Newman categorizes Christian developments of ideas into five categories.

  1. Political — Society and its various classes and interests are the subject-matter of the ideas. (Chapter 1, Section 2, Para. 5)
  2. Logical — The intellectual character is so prominent. (Chapter 1, Section 2, Para. 6)
  3. Historical — The gradual formation of opinion concerning persons, facts, and events. (Chapter 1, Section 2, Para. 7)

    History cannot be written except in an after-age.

  4. Ethical
  5. Metaphysical — Analysis of the idea contemplated, [resulting] in its exact and complete delineation. (Chapter 1, Section 2, Para. 9)

The Development of Ideas

The mind is, by its very nature, very active.

It is the characteristic of our minds to be ever engaged in passing judgment on the things which come before us. . . . We compare, contrast, abstract, generalize, connect, adjust, classify: and we view all our knowledge in the associations with which these processes have invested it. (Chapter 1, Section 1, Para. 1)

Ideas have a "life" of their own.

When an idea . . . arrest[s] and possess[es] the mind . . . [it has] life, . . . [it] live[s] in the mind. (Chapter 1, Section 1, Para. 4)

An overview of the process of the development of ideas:

Let one such idea get possession of the popular mind, or the mind of any portion of the community, and it is not difficult to understand what will be the result.

At first men will not fully realise what it is that moves them, and will express and explain themselves inadequately. . . . There will be a time of confusion, when conceptions and misconceptions are in conflict.

New lights will be brought to bear upon the original statements of the doctrine put forward . . . After a while some definite teaching emerges.

It will be surveyed too in its relation to other doctrines or facts, to other natural laws or established customs, to the varying circumstances of times and places . . . How it stands affected towards other systems, . . . how far it may be made to combine with them, how far it tolerates them.

It will be interrogated and criticized by enemies, and defended by well-wishers. . . . [It will] introduce itself into the framework and details of social life, changing public opinion, and strengthening or undermining the foundations of established order.

This body of thought, thus laboriously gained, will after all be little more than the proper representative of one idea, being in substance what that idea meant from the first, its complete image as seen in a combination of diversified aspects, with the suggestions and corrections of many minds, and the illustration of many experiences. (Chapter 1, Section 1, Para. 4)

When are changes in ideas over time really developments?

This process . . . I call its development, . . . the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth on a large mental field. . . . This process will not be a development, unless the assemblage of aspects . . . really belongs to the idea from which they start. (Chapter 1, Section 1, Para. 5)

True developments of an idea contrasted with corruptions of an idea.

A false or unfaithful development is . . . called a corruption. (Chapter 1, Section 2, Para. 1)

Newman gives an example of a true development.

Calvinism and Unitarianism may be called developments, that is, exhibitions, of the principle of Private Judgment, though they have nothing in common, viewed as doctrines. (Chapter 1, Section 2, Para. 10)

Newman's point is that the foundational Protestant idea of the private interpretation of scripture naturally leads to various diverse and contradictory doctrines such as Calvinism and Unitarianism.

How Can we Know the Truth?

By rejecting the idea that Christianity is a historical faith, we lose the ability to know what is true and what is merely man's fabrication. But Protestantism is based on the rejection of historical Christianity. Protestants claim that (1) Christianity very early became invalid, and (2) the Protestant reformers resurrected it. As a consequence, Protestants are...

Thrown back on our own judgment individually to determine what the revelation of God is, or rather if in fact there is, or has been, any revelation at all. (Introduction, Para. 6)

But it is the historical, Catholic faith which is the true form of Christianity. Only Catholicism has the correct doctrines and teachings concerning Christianity and salvation.

The Protestant Reformers rejected much of this true, Catholic teaching, but they retained certain Catholic doctrines as well. Since the Catholic doctrines are the correct ones, Protestantism is only true in those areas in which it did not reject these true, Catholic doctrines. In other words, Protestantism is true only in those doctrines it retained from the historical Christian faith, that is to say, the Catholic faith.

The Protestant reformers elected to maintain the foundational doctrines which developed in the early church and as a result Protestantism is not as far away from historical Christianity as Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both of these groups even rejected many of the foundational Christian doctrines.

Christianity has Changed Over Time

Newman admits that Christianity has changed over time. He doesn't think these changes are particularly troublesome but he admits that they need to be explained.

I concede to the opponents of historical Christianity that there are to be found, during the eighteen hundred years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship. (Introduction, Para. 7)

Erroneous theories about the source of the changes: (Introduction, Para. 7)

  1. Christianity has even changed from the first and ever accommodates itself to the circumstances of times and seasons.

    Error #1: This idea interferes with the idea that Christianity is revealed by a God who never changes. In this view Christianity is merely a sociological construct. People who embrace this idea typically also reject the supernatural element of Christianity.

  2. Cutting off and casting away as corruptions all usages, ways, opinions, and tenets, which have not the sanction of primitive times.

    Error #2: This is the Anglican viewpoint. It assumes that Christianity went bad and had to be resurrected by those enlightened Protestant reformers. The task is merely to determine which teachings have been added and which were there from the beginning.

  3. There has been no variation in the teaching of the Church from first to last. . . . Doctrines which are associated with the later ages of the Church were really in the Church from the first, but not publicly taught. (Introduction, Para. 20)

    Error #3: This idea denies that there have even been changes at all.

Errors About Historical Christianity

Christianity certainly exists on the stage of human history. If we wish to know what Christianity is we must seek for that knowledge within history, as opposed to merely inventing our own brand of Christianity without any reference to historical events or documents. Newman gives 3 erroneous ideas about the nature of Christianity: (Introduction, Para. 2)

  1. Christianity does not fall within the province of history. . . . It is to each man what each man thinks it to be. . . . [It] is a mere name for a cluster or family of rival religions.

    Error #1: The various contradictory doctrines of the various Christian communities are all expressions of Christianity because they have points in common. There is no need to resolve the contradictions to discover which statements are true and which are untrue. There is no progression or unfolding of the one Divine Truth throughout history which leads to a final true understanding. In effect, there is no absolute Truth at all.

  2. All existing denominations of Christianity are wrong, none representing it as taught by Christ and His Apostles; that the original religion has gradually decayed or become hopelessly corrupt; nay, that it died out of the world at its birth.

    Error #2: True Christianity became corrupt and has, in effect, died.

  3. True Christianity [is said] still to exist, it has but a hidden and isolated life, in the hearts of the elect.

    Error #3: Christianity doesn't necessarily originate as a divine revelation from God. Other religions have just as much truth as Christianity.

There are those who wish to deny that Christianity is a religion of history and who leap from the apostolic era directly to the modern era. But there is abundant historical evidence that the 2,000 years of Christian history are part of an integrated whole.

All such views of Christianity [the 3 listed above] imply that there is no sufficient body of historical proof to interfere with . . . any number whatever of free and independent hypotheses concerning it. (Introduction, Para. 3)

The error regarding historical Christianity is in thinking that Christianity does not have a continuous life within history, but that it appears spontaneously within each generation in whatever form is appropriate. Certainly the Protestant Reformers believed that they discovered the cornerstone of Christian truth when they rejected the Traditions and teachings of the church and invented (developed) their own brand-new doctrines from the Bible using their new principle of Sola Scriptura (scripture only).

Additional Writings by Newman

Apologia pro Vita Sua (1865) — He explains what he believed at various stages of his life.

Remarks on certain Passages of the Thirty-nine Articles — He discusses the catholicity of Anglican teaching.