Cardinal Newman and the development of doctrine

Back in the day when I was an evangelical, and then a traditional  Anglican, I had well-meaning Catholic friends throw Cardinal Newman’s “conversion” from Anglicanism to Catholicism in my face.

It didn’t help at the time.  In fact, all pressures to “convert” to the Catholic faith in my case were met with heels firmly planted in the linoleum.  Hence the skid marks.

Now, however, I appreciate Cardinal Newman now and the continuity he represents in the roots of our Anglican patrimony as deeply Catholic.  His understanding of the development of doctrine takes on new significance as the Church grapples with interpretations of Pope Francis’ post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

This brings me to an article by the former Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller now posted at First Things Magazine entitled: Development or Corruption?

Muller points out that some are using CArdinal Newmans 1845  Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine to justify a “paradigm shift” in interpreting the Deposit of Faith. 

Muller writes:

When Newman started writing the Essay, he was still an Anglican. And yet, prior to finishing it, he left the Church of England to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. As an Anglican, he had been one of the major protagonists of the Oxford Movement. The movement aimed at achieving Christian unity by summoning all Christian confessions to return to the Church’s earliest traditions as contained in Holy Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. Newman was an expert in patristics, and he was at first suspicious of later teachings developed in the Middle Ages. It was these that for a long time kept him from converting to the Roman Church. They seemed to him incompatible with the basic principles of Christianity, or at least not derivable from Holy Scripture and the earliest tradition of the Fathers. For him the Catholic practice of venerating the Blessed Virgin and the saints appeared to contradict the idea that Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity. Other examples of teachings that Newman considered exclusive to Catholicism and not based on Scripture and the Fathers are the following: papal primacy, the doctrine of transubstantiation, the sacrificial character of Holy Mass, purgatory, indulgences, religious vows, and the sacrament of Holy Orders. These were the main issues causing controversy during the Reformation.

At first Newman considered Anglicanism as a middle way (the “via media”) between the Reformer’s complete denial of tradition and—as he then saw it—the Catholic absolutization of tradition. However, his patristic studies made Newman realize that there had already been a development of doctrine during the time when Christianity was not yet divided. The need for such a development results from the nature of historical revelation. It is a consequence of the presence of the divine Word in our human words and understanding.

There’s a lot more that’s most interesting in this article.  Go on over and read the whole thing.

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