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Essay on the development of Christian doctrine online

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NOT from any special interest which I
anticipate you will take in this Volume, or any
sympathy you will feel in its argument, or
intrinsic fitness of any kind in my associating
you and your Fellows with it,

But, because I have nothing besides it to
offer you, in token of my sense of the gracious
compliment which you and they have paid me
in making me once more a Member of a College
dear to me from Undergraduate memories ;

Also, because of the happy coincidence, that
whereas its first publication was contemporaneous
with my leaving Oxford, its second becomes, by
virtue of your act, contemporaneous with a
recovery of my position there :


Therefore it is that, without your leave or
your responsibility, I take the bold step of
placing your name in the first pages of what,
at my age, I must consider the last print or
reprint on which I shall ever be engaged.

I am. my dear President,

Most sincerely yours,


February 23, 1878.


THE following pages were not in the first instance written
to prove the divinity of the Catholic Eeligion, though
ultimately they furnish a positive argument in its behalf,
but to explain certain difficulties in its history, felt before
now by the author himself, and commonly insisted on by
Protestants in controversy, as serving to blunt the force of
its primd facie and general claims on our recognition.

However beautiful and promising that Keligion is in
theory, its history, we are told, is its best refutation ; the
inconsistencies, found age after age in its teaching, being
as patent as the simultaneous contrarieties of religious
opinion manifest in the High, Low, and Broad branches
of the Church of England.

In reply to this specious objection, it is maintained in
this Essay that, granting that some large variations of
teaching in its long course of 1800 years exist, never-
theless, these, on examination, will be found to arise
from the nature of the case, and to proceed on a law,
and with a harmony and a definite drift, and with


an analogy to Scripture revelations, which, instead of
telling to their disadvantage, actually constitute an argu-
ment in their favour, as witnessing to a superintending
Providence and a great Design in the mode and in the
circumstances of their occunrence.

Perhaps his confidence in the truth and availableness
of this view has sometimes led the author to be careless
and over-liberal in his concessions to Protestants of
historical fact.

If this be so anywhere, he begs the reader in such
cases to understand him as speaking hypothetically, and
in the sense of an argumentum ad hominem and a fortiori,
Nor is such hypothetical reasoning out of place in a
publication which is addressed, not to theologians, but to
those who as yet are not even Catholics, and who, as they
read history, would scoff at any defence of Catholic doctrine
which did not go the length of covering admissions in
matters of fact as broad as those which are here ventured

la this new Edition of the Essay various important
alterations have been made in the arrangement of its
separate parts, and some, not indeed in its matter, but in
its text.

February 2, 1878.



IT is now above eleven years since the writer of the
following pages, in one of the early Numbers of the
Tracts for the Times, expressed himsejf thus :

" Considering the high gifts, and the strong claims of the Church
of Rome and her dependencies on our admiration, reverence, love, and
gratitude, how could we withstand her, as we do ; how could we refrain
from being melted into tenderness, and rushing into communion
with her, but for ths words of Truth, which bid us prefer Itself to the
whole world? 'He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is
not worthy of Me.' How could we learn to be severe, and execute
judgment, but for the warning of Moses against even a divinely-gifted
teacher who should preach new gods, and the anathema of St. Paul
even against Angels and Apostles who should bring in a new
doctrine?" l

He little thought, when he so wrote, that the time
would ever come when he should feel the obstacle, which
he spoke of as lying in the way of communion with the
Church of Rome, to be destitute of solid foundation.

The following work is directed towards its removal.

Having, in former publications, called attention to the

1 Records of the Church, xxfv. p. 7.


supposed difficulty, he considers himself bound to avow
his present belief that it is imaginary.

He has neither the ability to put out of hand a finished
composition, nor the wish to make a powerful and moving
representation, on the great subject of which he treats.
His aim will be answered, if he succeeds in suggesting
thoughts, which in God's good time may quietly bear
fruit, in the minds of those to whom that subject is new;
and which may carry forward inquirers, who have already
put themselves on the course.

If at times his tone appears positive or peremptory,
he hopes this will be imputed to the scientific character
of the Work, which requires a distinct statement of
principles, and of the arguments which recommend them.

He hopes too he shall be excused for his frequent
quotations from himself; which are necessary in order to
show how he stands at present in relation to various of
his former Publications. * * *


October 6, 1845.


Since the above was written, the Author has joined
the Catholic Church. It was his intention and wish to
have carried his Volume through the Press before deciding


finally on this step. But when he had got some way in
the printing, ho recognized in himself a conviction of the
truth of the conclusion to which the discussion leads, so
clear as to supersede further deliberation. Shortly after-
wards circumstances gave him the opportunity of acting
upon it, and he felt that he had no warrant for refusing
to do so.

His first act on his conversion was to offer his Work for
revision to the proper authorities ; but the offer was
declined on the ground that it was written and partly
printed before he was a Catholic, and that it would come
before the reader in a more persuasive form, if he read it
as the author wrote it.

It is scarcely necessary to add that he now submits
every part of the book to the judgment of the Church,
with whose doctrine, on the subjects of which he treats,
he wishes all his thoughts to be coincident.


T1J /T\





The Development of Ideas ........ 83

Section 1. The Process of Development in Ideas ... 83
Section 2. The Kinds of Development in Ideas ... 41


The Antecedent Argument in behalf of Developments in Christian

Doctrine 55

Section 1. Developments to be expected 55

Section 2. An infallible Developing Authority to be expected 75
Section 3. The existing Developments of Doctrine the prob-
able Fulfilment of that Expectation 92


The Historical Argument in behalf of the existing Developments 99

Section 1. Method of Proof 99

Section 2. State of the Evidence 110




Instances in Illustration , . . 122

Section 1. Instances cursorily noticed 123

1. Canon of the New Testament 123

2. Original Sin . 126

3. Infant Baptism v 127

4. Communion in one kind ..,..-. 129

5. The Homoiision 133

Section 2. Our Lord's Incarnation, and the dignity of His

Mother and of all Saints ....... 135

Section 3. Papal Supremacy ..., 148




Genuine Developments contrasted with Corruptions . . . 169
Section 1. First Note of a genuine Development of an Idea :

Preservation of its Type : 171

Section 2. Second Note : Continuity of its Principles . . 178

Section 3. Third Note : Its Power of Assimilation . . . 185

Section 4. Fourth Note : Its Logical Sequence . . . 189

Section 5. Fifth Note : Anticipation of its Future . . . 195

Section 6. Sixth Note : Conservative Action upon its Past . 199

Section 7. Seventh Note : Its Chronic Vigour .... 203


Application of the First Note of a true Development to tha
Existing Developments of Christian Doctrine : Preservation of
its Type 207



Section 1. The Church of the First Centuries . . . . 208

Section 2. The Church of the Fourth Century . . . 248

Section 3. The Church of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries . 273


Application of the Second : Continuity of its Principles . . . 323

1. Principles of Christianity . 323

2. Supremacy of Faith ...... 326

3. Theology .336

4. Scripture and its Mystical Interpretation . . 338

5. Dogma 846

6. Additional Remarks 853


Application of the Third : its Assimilative Power .... 855

1. The Assimilating Power of Dogmatic Truth . . 357

2. The Assimilating Power of Sacramental Grace . 368


Application of the Fourth : its Logical Sequence .... 383

1. Pardons 384

2. Penances ......... S35

3. Satisfactions 836

4. Purgatory 388

5. Meritorious Works ....,., 393

6. The Monastic Rule ....... 395


Application of the Fifth : Anticipation of its Future . , . 400

1. Resurrection and Relics ...... 401

2. The Virgin Life ....... 407

3. Cultus of Saints and Angels > * 410

4. Office of the Blessed Virgin ..... 415




Application of the Sixth : Conservative Action on its Past . . 419

Section 1. Instances cursorily noticed . . . . , . 420

Section 2. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin , , , 425


Application of the Seventh : its Chronic Vigour ... t 437





CHRISTIANITY has been long enough, in the world to
justify us in dealing with it as a fact in the world's
history. Its genius and character, its doctrines, precepts,
and objects cannot be treated as matters of private opinion
or deduction, unless we may reasonably so regard the
Spartan institutions or the religion of Mahomet. It may
indeed legitimately be made the subject-matter of theories ;
what is its moral and political excellence, what its due
location in the range of ideas or of facts which we possess,
whether it be divine or human, whether original or
eclectic, or both at once, how far favourable to civilization
or to literature, whether a religion for all ages or for a
particular state of society, these are questions upon the
fact, or professed solutions of the fact, and belong to the
province of opinion ; but to a fact do they relate, on an
admitted fact do they turn, which must be ascertained as
other facts, and surely has on the whole been so ascertained,
unless the testimony of so many centuries is to go for
nothing. Christianity is no theory of the study or the
cloister. It has long since passed beyond the letter of
documents and the reasonings of individual minds, and
has become public property. Its " sound has gone out
into all lands," and its " words unto the ends of the
world." It has from the first had an objective existence,

B 2


and has thrown itself upon the great concourse of men.
Its home is in the world ; and to know what it is, we must
seek it in the world, and hear the world's witness of it.


The hypothesis, indeed, has met with wide reception in
these latter times, that Christianity does not fall within the
province of history, that it is to each man what each man
thinks it to be, and nothing else ; and thus in fact is a
mere name for a cluster or family of rival religions all
together, religions at variance one with another, and
claiming the same appellation, not because there can be
assigned any one and the same doctrine as the common
foundation of all, but because certain points of agreement
may be found here and there of some sort or other, by
which each in its turn is connected with one or other of
the rest. Or again, it has been maintained, or implied,
that 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, and was forthwith succeeded by a counterfeit or
counterfeits which assumed its name, though they inherited
at best but some fragments of its teaching ; or rather that
it cannot even be said either to have decayed or to have
died, because historically it has no substance of its own,
but from the first and onwards it has, on the stage of the
world, been nothing more than a mere assemblage of
doctrines and practices derived from without, from
Oriental, Platonic, Polytheistic sources, from Buddhism,
Essenism, Manicheeism ; or that, allowing true Christianity
still to exist, it has but a hidden and isolated life, in the
hearts of the elect, or again as a literature or philosophy,
not certified in any way, much less guaranteed, to come
from above, but one out of the various separate informa-

ttftRObtJCTlOtt. 5

tions about the Supreme Being and human duty, with
which an unknown Provideuce has furnished us, whether
in nature or in the world.


All such views of Christianity imply that there is no
sufficient body of historical proof to interfere with, or at
least to prevail against, any number whatever of free and
independent hypotheses concerning it. But this surely is
not self-evident, and has itself to be proved. Till positive
reasons grounded on facts are adduced to the contrary, the
most natural hypotheses, the most agreeable to our mode
of proceeding in parallel coses, and that which takes pre-
cedence of all others, is to consider that 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 com-
munion, argues a real continuity of doctrine ; that, as
Christianity began by manifesting itself as of a certain
shape and bearing to all mankind, therefore it went on so
to manifest itself; and that the more, considering that
prophecy had already determined that it was to be a power
visible in the world and sovereign over it, characters
which are accurately fulfilled in that historical Christianity
to which we commonly give the name. It is not a violent
assumption, then, but rather mere abstinence from the
wanton admission of a principle which would necessarily
lead to the most vexatious and preposterous scepticism,
to take it for granted, before proof to the contrary, that
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, whatever may be the modifications for good or for
evil which lapse of years, or the vicissisudes of human
affairs, have impressed upon it.


Of course I do not deny the abstract possibility of ex-
treme changes. The substitution is certainly, in idea,
supposable of a counterfeit Christianity, superseding the
original, by means of the adroit innovations of seasons,
places, and persons, till, according to the familiar illustra-
tion, the "blade" and the "handle" are alternately
renewed, and identity is lost without the loss of continuity.
It is possible ; but it must not be assumed. The onuspro-
bandi is with those who assert what it is unnatural to expect ;
to be just able to doubt is no warrant for disbelieving.


Accordingly, some writers have gone on to give reasons
from history for their refusing to appeal to history. They
aver that, when they come to look into the documents and
literature of Christianity in times past, they find its
doctrines so variously represented, and so inconsistently
maintained by its professors, that, however natural it be
a priori, it is useless, in fact, to seek in history the matter
of that Revelation which has been vouchsafed to mankind ;
that they cannot be historical Christians if they would.
They say, in the words of Chillingworth, " There are
popes against popes, councils against councils, some
fathers against others, the same fathers a gainst themselves,
a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers
of another age, the Church of one age against the Church
of another age : " Hence they are forced, whether they
will or not, to fall back upon the Bible as the sole source
of Revelation, and upon their own personal private judg-
ment as the sole expounder of its doctrine. This is a fair
argument, if it can be maintained, and it brings me at
once to the subject of this Essay. Not that it enters into
aay purpose to convict of misstatement, as might be done,
each separate clause of this sweeping accusation of a smart
but superficial writer ; but neither on the other hand do I


mean to deny everything that he says to the disadvantage
of historical Christianity. On the contrary, I shall admit
that there are in fact certain apparent variations in its
teaching, which have to be explained ; thus I shall begin,
but then I shall attempt to explain them to the exculpa-
tion of that teaching in point of unity, directness, and



Meanwhile, before setting about this work, I will
address one remark to Chillingworth and his friends :
Let them consider, that if they can criticize history, the
facts of history certainly can retort upon them. It
might, I grant, be clearer on this great subject than it
is. This is no great concession. History is not a creed
or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules ; still no
one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether
he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad
masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They
may be dim, they may be incomplete ; but they are
definite. And this one thing at least is certain ; 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.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean
that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it ; for it
was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument
against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them ;
but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it.
This is shown in the determination already referred to of
dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of
forming a Christianity from the Bible alone : men never
would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it.
It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in
England, which prevails even in the English Church.


Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the
twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of
Nicrca and Trent, except as affording one or two passages
to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies
of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but
the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any
claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the
unbeliever Gibbon. To be deep in history is to cease to
be a Protestant.


And 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. Pro-
test:ints can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post tri-
dentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this cir-
cumstance : " So much must the Protestant grant that, if
such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever
existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if
by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial;
by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rot-
ting, heaving up, arid hurrying off every vestige of what
it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: BO that
' when they rose in the morning* her true seed ' were all
dead corpses ' Nay dead and buried and without grave-
stone. 'The waters went over them; there was not one
of them left ; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.'
Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!
then the enemy was drowned, and ' Israel saw them
dead upon the sea-shore.' But now, it would seem, water
proceeded as a flood ' out of the serpent's mouth,' and
covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead
bodies lay in the streets of the great city/ Let him
take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of
self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition ; his notion
of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship ; his denial

of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial com-
mission, or of the visible Church ; or his doctrine of the
divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed
instrument of religious teaching ; and let him consider
how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will counte-
nance him in it. No ; he must allow that the alleged
deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disap-
peared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth,
mercilessly as itself was merciless." l

That Protestantism, then, is not the Christianity of
history, it is easy to determine, but to retort is a poor reply
in controversy to a question of fact, and whatever be the
violence or the exaggeration of writers like Chillingworth,
if they have raised u real difliculty, it may claim a real
answer, and we must determine whether on the one hand
Christianity is still to represent to us a definite teaching
from above, or whether on the other its utterances have
been from time to time so strangely at variance, that we
are necessarily thrown back on our own judgment indi-
vidually to determine, what the revelation of God is, or
rather if in fact there is, or has been, any revelation at all.


Here then I concede to the opponents of historical
Christianity, that there are to be found, during the 1800
years through which it has lasted, certain apparent incon-
sistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship,
such as irresistibly attract the attention of all who inquire
into it. They are not sufficient to interfere with the
general character and course of the religion, but they raise
the question how they came about, and what they mean,
and have in consequence supplied matter for several

l Church of the Fathers [Hist. Sketches, vol. i. p. 418].


Of these otie is to the effect that Christianity has even
changed from the first and ever accommodates itself to the
circumstances of times and seasons ; but it is difficult to
understand how such a view is compatible with the special
idea of revealed truth, and in fact its advocates more or
less abandon, or tend to abandon the supernatural claims
of Christianity ; so it need not detain us here.

A second and more plausible hypothesis is that of the
Anglican divines, who reconcile and bring into shape the
exuberant phenomena under consideration, by cutting off
and casting away as corruptions all usages, ways, opinions,
and tenets, which have not the sanction of primitive
times. They maintain that 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. Such a principle of demarcation, available
for the purpose, they consider they have found in the
dictum of Vincent of Lcrins, that revealed and Apostolic
doctrine is " quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus,"
a principle infallibly separating, on the whole field of his-
tory, authoritative doctrine from opinion, rejecting what
is faulty, and combining and forming a theology. That
" Christianity is what has been held always, everywhere,

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanEssay on the development of Christian doctrine → online text (page 1 of 34)