John Henry Newman.

Apologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions online

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the soul was " sola cum solo;" there was no cloud inter-
posed between the creature and the Object of his faith and
love. The command practically enforced was, "My son,
give Me thy heart." 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 re-
lations, 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. At a later date Dr. Russell sent me a
large bundle of penny or half-penny books of devotion, of
all sorts, as they are found in the booksellers* shops at
Rome ; and, on looking them over, I was quite astonished
to find how difierent they were from what I had fancied,
how little there was in them to which I could really object.
I have given an account of them in my Essay on the De-
velopment of Doctrine. Dr. Russell sent me St. Alfonso's
book at the end of 1842 ; however, it was still a long time
before I got over my difficulty, on the score of the devo-
tions paid to the Saints; perhaps, as I judge from a letter
I have turned up, it was some way into 1844 before I
could be said fully to have got over it.

2. I am not sure that I did not also at this time feel the
force of another consideration. The idea of the Blessed
Virgin was as it were magnified in the Church of Rome, as
time went on, — ^but so were all the Christian ideas; as
that of the Blessed Eucharist. The whole scene of pale,
faint, distant Apostolic Christianity is seen in Rome, as
through a telescope or magnifier. The harmony of the
whole, however, is of course what it was. It is unfair

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FROM 1841 TO 1845. 197

then to take one Roman idea, that of tte Blessed Yirgin,
out of what may be called its context.

3. Thus I am brought to the principle of development
of doctrine in the Christian Church, to which I gave my
mind at the end of 1842. I had made mention of it in
the passage, which I quoted many pages back (vide p. Ill),
in "Home Thoughts Abroad," published in 1836; and even
at an earlier date I had introduced it into my History
of the Arians in 1832 ; nor had I ever lost sight of it in
my speculations. And it is certainly recognized in the
Treatise of Yincent of Lerins, which has so often been
taken as the basis of Anglicanism. In 1843 I began to
consider it attentively ; I made it the subject of my last
University Sermon on February 2 ; and the general view
to which I came is stated thus in a letter to a friend of the
date of July 14, 1844 ; — it will be observed that, now as
before, my issue is still Creed versus Church : —

" The kind of considerations which weighs with me are
such as the following : — 1. I am far more certain (accordr
ing to the Fathers) that we are in a state of culpable
separation, than that developments do not exist under
the Gospel, and that the Roman developments are nof the
true ones. 2. I am far more certain, that our (modem)
doctrines are wrong, than that the Roman (modern) doc-
trines are wrong. 3. Granting that the Roman (special)
doctrines are not found drawn out in the early Church,
yet I think there is sufficient trace of them in it, to recom-
mend and prove them, on the hypothesis of the Church
having a divine guidance, though not sufficient to prove
them by itself. So that the question simply turns on the
nature of the promise of the Spirit, made to the Church.
4. The proof of the Roman (modern) doctrine is as strong
(or stronger) in Antiquity, as that of certain doctrines
which both we and Romans hold : e. g. there is more of
evidence in Antiquity for the necessity of Unity, than for

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the Apostolical Succession ; for the Supremacy of the See
of Rome^ than for the Presence in the Eucharist ; for the
practice of Invocation, than for certain books in the pre-
sent Canon of Scripture, &c. &c. 5. The analogy of the
Old Testament, and also of the New, leads to the acknow-
ledgment of doctrinal developments."

4. And thus I was led on to a further consideration.
I saw that the principle of development not only accounted
for certain facts, but was in itself a remarkable philoso-
phical phenomenon, giving a character to the whole course
of Christian thought. It was discernible from the first
years of the Catholic teaching up to the present day, and
gave to that teaching a unity and individuality. It served
as a sort of test, which the Anglican could not exhibit,
that modern Home was in truth ancient Antioch, Alex-
andria, and Constantinople, just as a mathematical curve
has its own law and expression.

5. And thus again I was led on to examine more atten-
tively what I doubt not was in my thoughts long before,
viz. the concatenation of argument by which the mine?
ascends from its first to its final religious idea; and I
came' to the conclusion that there was no medium, in true
philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and that a
perfectly consistent mind, imder those circumstances in
which it finds itself here below, must embrace either the
one or the other. And I hold this still : I am a Catholic
by virtue of my believing in a God ; and if I am asked
why I believe in a God, I answer that it is because I
believe in myself, for I feel it impossible to believe in my
own existence (and of that fact I am quite sure) without
believing also in the existence of Him, who lives as a
Personal, All-seeing, All-judging Being in my conscience.
Now, I dare say, I have not expressed myself with philo-
sophical correctness, because I have not given myself to
the study of what metaphysicians have said on the sub-

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FBOM 1841 TO 1845. 199

ject ; but I think I have a strong true meaning in what I
say which will stand examination.

6. Moreover, I found a corroboration of the fact of the
logical connexion of Theism with Catholicism in a consider-
ation parallel to that which I had adopted on the subject of
development of doctrine. The fact of the operation from
first to last of that principle of development in the truths
of Revelation, is an argument in favour of the identity of
Eoman and Primitive Christianity ; but as there is a law
which acts upon the subject-matter of dogmatic theology,
so is there a law in the matter of religious faith. In the
first chapter of this Narrative I spoke of certitude as the \
consequence, divinely intended and enjoined upon us, of ^
the accumulative force of certain given reasons which,
taken one by one, were only probabilities. Let it be re-^
collected that I am historically relating my state of mind,
at the period of my life which I am surveying. I am not
speaking theologically, nor have I any intention of going
into controversy, or of defending myself; but speaking his-
torically of what I held in 1843-4, 1 say, that I believed "N^
in a God on a ground of probability, that I believed in
Christianity on a probability, and that I believed in
Catholicism on- a probability, and that these three grounds
of probability, distinct from each other of course in sub-
ject matter, were still all of them one . and the same in
nature of proof, as being probabilities— probabilities of a
special kind, a cumulative, a transcendent probability but
still probability; inasmuch as He who made us has so
willed, that in mathematics indeed we should arrive at
certitude by rigid demonstration, but in religious inquiry
we should arrive at certitude by accumulated probabilities; /
— He has willed, I say, that we should so act, and, as .
willing it, He co-operates with us in our acting, and ^
thereby enables us to do that which He wills us to do,
and carries us on, if our will does but co-operate with His,

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to a certitude which rises higher than the logical force of
our conclusions. And thus I came to see clearly, and to
have a satisfaction in seeing, that, in being led on into the
Church of Eome, I was not proceeding on any secondary
or isolated grounds of reason, or by controversial points
in detail, but was protected and justified, even in the use
of those secondary or particular arguments, by a great and
broad principle. But, let it be observed, that I am stating
a matter of fact, not defending it ; and if any Catholic says
in consequence that I have been converted in a wrong way,
I cannot help that now.

I have nothing more to say on the subject of the change
in my religious opinions. On the one hand I came gradu-
ally to see that the Anglican Church was formally in the
wrong, on the other that the Church of Rome was formally
in the right ; then, that no valid reasons could be assigned
for continuing in the Anglican, and again that no valid
objections could be taken to joining the Roman. Then,
I had nothing more to learn ; what still remained for my
conversion, was, not further change of opinion, but to
change opinion itself into the clearness and firmness of
intellectual conviction.

Now I proceed to detail the acts, to which I committed
myself during this last stage of my inquiry.

In 1843, 1 took two very significant steps : — 1. In Fe-
bruary, I made a formal Retractation of all the hard things
which I had said against the Church of Rome. 2. In Sep-
tember, I resigned the Living of St. Mary's, Littlemore
included : — I will speak of these two acts separately.

1. The words, in which I made my Retractation, have
given rise to much criticism. After quoting a number of
passages from my writings against the Church of Rome,
which I withdrew, I ended thus : — " If you ask me how
an individual could venture, not simply to hold, but to

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FROM 1841 TO 1845. 201

pubKsli such views of a communion so ancient, so wide-
spreading, so fruitful in Saints, I answer that I said to
myself, * I am not speaking my own words, I am but fol-
lowing almost a consensus of the divines of my own Church.
They have ever used the strongest language against Rome,
even the most able and learned of them. I wish to throw
myself into their system. TVhile I say what they say, I
am safe. Such views, too, are necessary for our position.*
Yet I have reason to fear still, that such language is to be
ascribed, in no small measure, to an impetuous temper, a
hope of approving myself to persons I respect, and a wish
to repel the charge of Romanism."

These words have been, and are, again and again cited
against me, as if a confession that, when in the Anglican
Church, I said things against Rome which I did not really

For myself, I cannot understand how any impartial man
can so take them ; and I have explained them in print
several times. I trust that by this time their plain mean-
ing has been satisfactorily brought out by what I have said
in former portions of this Narrative ; still I have a word or
two to say in addition to my former remarks upon them.

In the passage in question I apologize for saying out
in controversy charges against the Church of Rome, which
withal I affirm that I fully believed at the time when I
made them. What is wonderful in such an apology?
There are surely many things a man may hold, which at
the same time he may feel that he has no right to say
publicly, and which it may annoy him that he has said
publicly. The law recognizes this principle. In our own
time, men have been imprisoned and fined for saying true
things of a bad king. The maxim has been held, that,
"The greater the truth, the greater is the libel." And
so as to the judgment of society, a just indignation would
1)6 felt against a writer who brought forward wantonly

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the weaknesses of a great man, though the whole world
knew that they existed. No one is at liberty to speak ill
of another without a justifiable reason, even though he
knows he is speaking truth, and the public knows it too.
Therefore, though I believed what I said against the
Roman Church, nevertheless I could not religiously speak
it out, unless I was really justified, not only in believing
ill, but in speaking ill. I did believe what I said on what I
thought to be good reasons ; but had I also a just cause for
saying out what I believed ? I thought I had, and it was
this, VIZ. that to say out what I believed was simply neces-
sary in the controversy for self-defence. It was impossible
to let it alone : the Anglican position could not be satis-
factorily maintained, without assailing the Boman. In
this, as in most cases of conflict, one was right or the
other, not both ; and the best defence was to attack. Is
not this almost a truism in the Roman controversy ? Is it
not what every one says, who speaks on the subject at aU ?
does any serious man abuse the Church of Rome, for the
sake of abusing her, or because that abuse justifies his own
religious position? What is the meaning of the very
word " Protestantism," but that there is a call to speak
out ? This then is what I said ; "I know I spoke strongly
against the Church of Rome ; but it was no mere abuse,
for I had a serious reason for doing so.''

But, not only did I think such language necessary for
my Church's religious position, but I recollected that all
the great Anglican divines had thought so before me.
They had thought so, and they had acted accordingly.
And therefore I observe in the passage in question, with
much propriety, that I had not used strong language
simply out of my own head, but that in doing so I was
following the track, or rather reproducing the teaching, of
those who had preceded me.

I was pleading guilty to using violent language, but I

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FROM 1841 TO 1845. 203

was pleading also that there were extenuating circum-
stances in the case. We all know the story of the convict,
who on' the scaffold bit off his mother's ear. By doing so
he did not deny the fact of his own crime, for which he
was to hang; but he said that his mother's indulgence
when he was a boy, had a good deal to do with it. In like
manner I had made a charge, and I had made it ex animo ;
but I accused others of having, by their own example, led
me into believing it and publishing it.

I was in a humour, certainly, to bite off their ears. I
will freely confess, indeed I said it some pages back, that I
was angry with the Anglican divines. I thought they had /
taken me in ; I had read the Fathers with their eyes ; I
had sometimes trusted their quotations or their reasonings ; -
and from reliance on them, I had used words or made
statements, which by right I ought rigidly to have ex-
amined myself. I had thought myself safe, while I had
their warrant for what I said. I had exercised more faith
than criticism in the matter. This did not imply any
broad misstatements on my part, arising from reliance on
their authority, but it implied carelessness in matters of
detail. And this of course was a fault.

But there was a far deeper reason for my saying what I
said in this matter, on which I have not hitherto touched ;
and it was this :— The most oppressive thought, in the
whole process of my change of opinion, was the clear anti-
cipation, verified by the event, that it would issue in the
triumph of Liberalism. Against the Anti-dogmatic prin-
ciple I had thrown my whole mind ; yet now I was doing
more than any one ielse could do, to promote it. I was
one of those who had kept it at bay in Oxford for so many
years ; and thus my very retirement was its triumph. The
men who had driven me from Oxford were distinctly the
Liberals ; it was they who had opened the attack upon
Tract 90, and it was they who would gain a second benefit,

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if I went on to abandon the Anglican Church. But
this was not all. As I have already said, there are but
two alternatives, the way to Eome, and the way to
Atheism : Anglicanism is the halfway house on the one
side, and Liberalism is the halfway house on the other.
How many men were there, as I knew full well, who would
not follow me now in my advance from Anglicanism to
Rome, but would at once leave Anglicanism and me for the
Liberal camp. It is not at all easy (humanly speaking) to
wind up an Englishman to a dogmatic level. I had done
so in good measure, in the case both of young men and
of laymen, the Anglican Via Media being the representa-
tive of dogma. The dogmatic and the Anglican principle
were one, as I had taught them ; but I was breaking the
Via Media to pieces, and would not dogmatic faith alto-
gether be broken up, in the minds of a great number, by
the demolition of the Via Media? Oh! how unhappy
this made me ! I heard once from an eye-witness the
account of a poor sailor whose legs were shattered by a
ball, in the action off Algiers in 1816, and who was taken
below for an operation. The surgeon and the chaplain
persuaded him to have a leg off; it was done and the
tourniquet applied to the wound. Then, they broke it to
him that he must have the other off too. The poor fellow
said, " You should have told me that, gentlemen," and de-
liberately unscrewed the instrument and bled to death.
Would not that be the case with many friends of my own ?
How could I ever hope to make them believe in a second
theology, when I had cheated them in the first ? with what
face could I publish a new edition of a dogmatic creed,
and ask them to receive it as gospel ? Would it not be
plain to them that no certainty was to be foimd any where ?
Well, in my defence I could but make a lame apology ;
however, it was the true one, viz. that I had not read t^e
Fathers cautiously enough; that in such nice points, as

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FROM 1841 TO 1845. 205

those which determine the angle of divergence between
the two Churches, I had made considerable miscalculations.
But how came this about ? why, the fact was, unpleasant
as it was to avow, that I had leaned too much upon the
assertions of Ussher, Jeremy Taylor, or Barrow, and had
been deceived by them. Valeat quantum, — it was all that
could be said. This then was a chief reason of that word-
ing of the Retractation, which has given so much offence,
because the bitterness, with which it was written, was not
understood ;— and the following letter will illustrate it : —

" April 3, 1844. I wish to remark on William's chief
distress, that my changing my opinion seemed to unsettle
one's confidence in truth and falsehood as external things,
and led one to be suspicious of the new opinion as one
became distrustful of the old. Now in what I shall say, I
am not going to speak in favour of my second thoughts in
comparison of my first, but against such scepticism and
imsettlement about truth and falsehood generally, the idea
of which is very painful.

" The case with me, then, was this, and not surely an
unnatural one : — as a matter of feeling and of duty I threw
myself into the system which I found myself in. I saw
that the English Church had a theological idea or theory
as such, and I took it up. I read Laud on Tradition, and
thought it (as I still think it) very masterly. The
Anglican Theory was very distinctive. I admired it and
took it on faith. It did not (I think) occur ^o me to doubt
it ; I saw that it was able, and supported by learning, and
I felt it was a duty to maintain it. Further, on looking
into Antiquity and reading the Fathers, I saw such
portions of it as I examined, fully confirmed (e. g. the
supremacy of Scripture). There was only one question
about which I had a doubt, viz. whether it would tcork, for
it has never been more than a paper system. . . .

"So far from my change of opinion having any fair

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tendency to unsettle persons as to trutli and falsehood
viewed as objective realities, it sbould be considered whether
such change is not necessary ^ if truth be a real objective
thing, and be made to confront a person who has been
brought up in a system short of truth. Surely the con-
tinuance of a person, who wishes to go right, in a wrong
system, and not his giting it up, would be that which
militated against the objectiveness of Truth, leading, as it
would, to the suspicion, that one thing and another were
equally pleasing to our Maker, where men were sincere.

" Nor surely is it a thing I need be sorry for, that I de-
fended the system in which I found myself, and thus have
had to unsay my words. For is it not one's duty, instead
of beginning with criticism, to throw oneself generously
into that form of religion which is providentially put
before one ? Is it right, or is it wrong, to begin with
private judgment ? May we not, on the other hand, look
for a blessing through obedience even to an erroneous sj"^-
tem, and a guidance even by means of it out of it ? Were
those who were strict and conscientious in their Judaism,
or those who were lukewarm and sceptical, more likely to
be led into Christianity, when Christ came ? Yet in pro-
portion to their previous zeal, would be their appearance
. of inconsistency. Certainly, I have always contended that
obedience even to an erring conscience was the way to
gain light, and that it mattered not where a man began,
so that he began on what came to hand, and in faith ; and
that any thing might become a divine method of Truth ;
that to the pure all things are pure, and have a self-
correcting virtue and a power of germinating. And
though I have no right at aU. to assume that this mercy is
granted to me, yet the fact, that a person in my situation
may have it granted to him, seems to me to remove the
perplexity which my change of opinion may occasion.
" It may be said, — I have said it to myself, — * Why, how-

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FROM 1841' TO 1845. 207

ever, did you publish ? had you waited quietly, you woidd
have changed your opinion without any of the misery,
which now is involved in the change, of disappointing and
distressing people/ I answer, that things are so hound up
together, as to form a whole, and one cannot tell what is
or is not a condition of what. I do not see how possibly
I could have published the Tracts, or other works profess-
ing to defend our Church, without accompanying th^m
with a strong protest or argument against Eome. The
one obvious objection against the whole Anglican line is,
that it is Roman ; so that I really think there was no
alternative between silence altogether, and forming a
theory and attacking the Roman system."

2. And now, in the next place, as to my Resignation of
St. Mary's, which was the second of the steps which I took
in 1843. The ostensible, direct, and sufficient reason for
my doing so was the persevering attack of the Bishops on
Tract 90. I alluded to it in the letter which I have in-
serted above, addressed to one of the most influential
among them. A series of their ex cathedrd judgments,
lasting through three years, and including a notice of no
little severity in a Charge of my own Bishop, came as near
to a condemnation of my Tract, and, so far, to a repudiation
of the ancient Catholic doctrine, which was the scope of
the Tract, as was possible in the Church of England. It
was in order to shield the Tract from such a condemnation,
that I had at the time of its publication in 1841 so simply
put myself at the disposal of the higher powers in London.
At that time, all that was distinctly contemplated in the
way of censure, was contained in the message which my
Bishop sent me, that it was "objectionable." That I
thought was the end of the matter. I had refused to sup-
press it, and they had yielded that point. Since I published
the former portions of this Narrative, I have found what I

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wrote to Dr. Pusey on March 24, while the matter was in
progress. "The more I think of it/' I said, "the more
reluctant I am to suppress Tract 90, though of course I will
do it if the Bishop wishes it ; I cannot, however, depy that
I shall feel it a severe act.'* According to the notes which
I took of the letters or messages which I sent to him in the
course of that day, I presently wrote to him, "My first feel-
ing was- to obey without a word ; I will obey still ; but my
judgment has steadily risen against it ever since." Then
in the Postscript, " If I have done any good to the Church,
I do ask the Bishop this favour, as my reward for it, that
he would not insist on a measure, from which I think good
will not come. However, I will submit to him/' After-

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanApologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions → online text (page 18 of 33)