A Summary Reminder on Newman

I published the following information several months ago, but I wanted to bring this to the top for some of the folks who have been asking some questions about Newman and his theory of the development of doctrine.

Dr. William Witt, an Anglican, wrote a bit about Newman and development, and here he defines here identifies two different kinds of development. He cites Mozley, who accuses Newman of using the same word (“development”) to mean two different things. These he distinguishes as “development 1” and “development 2”:

The language of Nicea is the language of critical realism. Nicea speaks of who the Son of God must be in himself if he is going to be God for us.

Mozley speaks of this kind of development in terms of what I will call “Development 1.” Development 1 adds nothing to the original content of faith, but rather brings out its necessary implications. Mozley says that Aquinas is doing precisely this kind of development in his discussion of the incarnation in the Summa Theologiae.

There is another kind of development, however, which I will call “Development 2.” Development 2 is genuinely new development that is not simply the necessary articulation of what is said explicitly in the Scriptures.

Classic examples of Development 2 would include the differences between the doctrine of the theotokos and the dogmas of the immaculate conception or the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the former, Marian dogma is not actually saying something about Mary, but rather something about Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly God, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is truly the Mother of God (theotokos). She gives birth, however, to Jesus’ humanity, not his eternal person, which has always existed and is generated eternally by the Father. The doctrine of the theotokos is a necessary implication of the incarnation of God in Christ, which is clearly taught in the New Testament. However, the dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption are not taught in Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly. They are entirely new developments.

The same would be true, of course, for the doctrine of the papacy…

I think it would be important to note here, that whereas for a thousand years the Roman church taught that the papacy was “immediately given”, that bishops of Rome had infallibility, universal primacy and universal jurisdiction, and it has only recently conceded “a continuity of development” with regard to the papacy. (I’ve written plenty about this here).

For example, in 1920, Adrian Fortescue’s short work entitled “The Early Papacy.” Fortescue was a priest and scholar who wrote for, among other things, the Catholic Encyclopedia. This is to say, he was not uninformed.
Fortescue has something to say about “development.” He says that development “is only a more explicit assertion of the old faith, necessary in view of false interpretations. A conspicuous case of this is the declaration of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council. The early Church recognized that the Pope has the final word in matters of faith, no less than in those of discipline, that she herself is protected by God against heresy. Put that together, and you have, implicitly, what the Council defined.” 

Fortescue provides all the usual “proofs” for an early papacy — Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, etc. But the historians and theologians I’ve cited (and more) all have dealt in a very thorough way with these, and have concluded, with virtual unanimity, that the writings of these early church fathers in no way support an early papacy, and in fact, point in the other direction.

Also, William Cunningham wrote a scathing indictment of Newman in his work “Discussions on Church Principles” (available as a Google Book).

He notes that Newman:

…takes care to give no precise and definite statement of what the difficulties are, because this would expose the weakness of Romanism. He rather assumes them as known, and admits, by implication, that they exist. We think it would be right to be a little more specific upon this point, and would therefore remind our readers that the grand difficulty in the investigation of Christianity lies in the palpable contrast between the Christianity of the New Testament and the Christianity of the modern Church of Rome.

In other words, Newman’s “theory” is more a way of saying, “Heads we win, tails you lose,” without offering really anything of substance to support the assertions that he is making.

Of course, Dr. Witt also outlines Chadwick’s “From Bossuet to Newman,” in which the primary argument against Protestantism changed from “We are the religion that never changes” to “We can change all we want cause we’re in authority.” (Of course, I’ve summarized a bit, but that’s the gist of it.)

There is a reason why this is important. We are talking about the binding of people’s consciences and the giving of infallible dogma. The Roman Church does not do these things on the strength of a divine commission; only on the assumption of a divine commission. And now this assumption flies in the face of a huge amount of historical understanding — which is, I remind you again, historical understanding for which there is a great deal of unanimity not only on this question — which is negative for Rome, but again, is virtually unanimous on other positive statements that we know from Scripture.

15 thoughts on “A Summary Reminder on Newman

  1. I think what William Witt really means is development 1 is developments we like and agree with. Development 2 are developments we don’t like. Newman was never concerned with picking and choosing. He wanted to know if he could trust the whole tree. He knew the tree of protestantism had delivered some bad fruit. Could the tree of catholicism be good?


  2. I think what William Witt really means is development 1 is developments we like and agree with. Development 2 are developments we don’t like.

    You can’t possibly be serious about this. This kind of response is pretty much on par with closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears, and saying “Nuh-Uh!”

    Newman was never concerned with picking and choosing. He wanted to know if he could trust the whole tree. He knew the tree of protestantism had delivered some bad fruit. Could the tree of catholicism be good?

    There is a problem with these metaphors, in that the similarity with a “tree” only goes so far. At some point, there is a whole range of specific incidents and doctrines, and you can’t lump them together. You must interact with them on their own terms.

    Witt made the distinction between doctrines which required only a clarification of what was being said in Scripture, and those which (as I mentioned on your blog) came out of nowhere. This is a serious distinction.


  3. John, I have never followed many blogs. But since its inception, I’ve been a regular reader over at calledtocommunion.com. There one finds charitable discussion, thoughtful dialogue, and a lot of expertise (from Reformed, Evangelical and Catholic folks alike). I’d challenge you (in the sporting sense of the word) to bring your zeal and your historical knowledge over there… A conversation that’s taking place right now between two bright men (found in the comments following a post which I think is called Tradition and the Lexicon) is particularly pertinent to a lot of your recent blog posts. Blessings, herbert


  4. Hi Herbert — I’ve seen that blog, and I know those folks. There’s a lot of verbiage there, the whole point of which is to undermine your love for and trust in God’s Word in Scripture.

    From the beginning the Devil’s method has been to say, “Hath God really said…?” And that’s the whole method of these Roman apologists. Undermine God’s Word, and supplant it with an “interpretation” that in many cases has nothing to do with the original Word.

    Read Psalm 119, and see how the Psalmist loves God’s unmediated Word. There is no concern for what’s Canon or not, or what’s an “infallible” interpretation. No, it is God’s Word itself that provides the light that’s needed to travel by.

    Take a look at the recent posting on “Rome’s institutionally-sanctioned lying. This is not an organization whose first priority is spreading God’s word. It is about aggrandizing itself.

    But ask yourself, if, in following Rome’s standard, you aren’t somehow being deceived.


  5. By the way, Ken Temple gave a very adequate response in comment #111 there. There are others who are better qualified than I am to answer such questions.


  6. John- I have read the Canon article at Called to Communion and all of the subsequent comments. If you honestly believe that Ken’s response is “very adequate,” I’m surprised. Ken’s unwillingness/inability to interact with the issues has led one of the discussion’s participants to basically throw his hands up and walk away. And I don’t blame him. A little begging the question and a lot of circular reasoning don’t, as I see it, amount to a “very adequate” response to the very legitimate issues raised in the article. Seriously, I think Ken could use a little more support from some of his more intellectually gifted Protestant sisters and brothers. That is, if they have anything to offer which will bring light to this most fundamental of issues: The Biblical Canon.


  7. Hello again, John- …about Psalm 119 and God’s “unmediated Word.” Surely you’re not suggesting that you can read those verses while substituting anything that says “word” or “law” with “Pastoral Epistles of the New Testament” or something along those lines, are you?

    Also, God’s word, during this era was anything but “unmediated.” The whole system in place at the time was a system of priestly mediation (Also, let’s not allow Korah’s rebellion to fade from memory during which certain individuals claimed for themselves “unmediated” access to God’s revelation and in so doing, met destruction).

    Sure, a person can delight in the Lord’s goodness, love, sovereignty, etc. as the Psalm reveals. But to read Psalm 119 as somehow supportive of common modern notions of sola Scriptura strains credulity… as if it has ANYTHING to do with considerations of what/how a text is identified as rightfully canonical or theopneustos. Such recognition takes place through the calling of Church Councils.

    Also, if the Scriptures are so self-evident, as you seem to be suggesting, what do you make of Wisdom 2? It sure sounds more inspired to me than the book of Esther (which doesn’t even mention God, even once…).


  8. Herbert, when I finally left Rome, the canon issue was probably the last difficult hurdle I dealt with. I’m writing a posting now, though, with the following quote:

    “There is reasonable evidence to see the origin of the Pauline corpus during the latter part of Paul’s life or some time after his death, almost assuredly instigated by Paul and/or a close follower or followers, and close examination of the early manuscripts with Paul’s letters and of related documents seems to support this hypothesis.” (Stanly E. Porter, “Paul and the Process of Canonization,” in “Exploring the Origins of the Bible, Craig A. Evans and Emanuel Tov, Editors, pg. 202.)

    The Canon issue is less difficult than you might think. The Gospels and Acts were collected early, Paul’s letters were collected early, John’s works were produced relatively later, but these were not questioned. All of these were recognized as “canonical writings” without the imprimatur of the early church. In fact, the purpose of the things I’m writing is that there was no central “early Church” to canonize these things. The authority in Rome came much, much later. That would be my point.

    Here’s a sequence of blog postings on the development of the Canon by a dear friend, Jason Engwer (there are others in here, too, but read Jason’s postings.)

    You might also look at the “Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith” series by David King and William Webster. These three works go into excruciating detail over all the questions of both the OT and NT canon.


  9. John, I’ve been thinking about this comment (which you made above):

    [quote] From the beginning the Devil’s method has been to say, “Hath God really said…?” And that’s the whole method of these Roman apologists. Undermine God’s Word, and supplant it with an “interpretation” that in many cases has nothing to do with the original Word. [endquote]

    If “God’s Word” (the unambiguous identification of which is the very thing under consideration) were to be “supplanted” with an “interpretation” that had nothing to do with the “original Word,” how would I know?

    If the situation were this simple, then it seems that I could just access the “original Word” or “God’s unmediated Word” directly, with no need for any 3rd party’s interpretation. But that’s the very thing that even your association with the PCA (right?) seems to undermine. Unless your denomination is truly authoritative, your subscription to its teachings is merely conditional. This is why the article at Called to Communion which argues that sola Scriptura PRACTICALLY reduces to “solo” Scriptura is so important. Rather than asserting that these “Roman apologists” are in league with Satan, what the Reformed need to do is interact with their arguments meaningfully. I’ve read that article and every subsequent comment, and was unable to draw from any of the Reformed writers’ comments a cogent, accessible refutation of the essay’s line of argumentation.

    So you are saying that the fellows who run that website are using Satan’s method of argumentation. But sadly, you’re accusing the men of basically being evil rather than shedding light on the alleged flaws in their arguments. At the same time, you’re here at your own blog (which seems to be more of a refutation of other peoples’ doctrine than an affirmation of your own) conclusively damning the beliefs of others.

    Not to mention the fact that you refer to these guys as “Roman apologists” when you’re aware of the fact that the website is (to an extent) geared toward addressing the concerns of a Reformed audience due to the fact that the authors there were themselves REFORMED Christians (some of whom received degrees from very reputable Reformed seminaries!).

    The fact of the matter is this: John Calvin and every other thinking christian has asked the question: “Hath God really said…?” Epistemology isn’t satanic. Fortunately, we can look to the Church to determine conclusively what “God hath said.” After all, the early creeds didn’t say “I believe in God’s unmediated Word” (Neither does Psalm 119).


  10. Well, Herbert, you must not like me very much, either, then, because I’m right in the middle of all that.

    You are put off by the “shocking nature” of a posting, but the “shocking nature” of the sexual abuse scandal just runs off your back like water off a duck. The scandal happening in Ireland, as discussed in the report that I cited, was in the news just this week.

    One wonders about your sense of priority.

    Seriously, I do wonder.

    I haven’t been ignoring your previous comment. I have been doing income tax today.


  11. John, Let me be clear. I am not judging you (or anyone at that site). But sometimes I can listen to someone preach or teach for weeks before I realize we’re coming from different places. In this case, the author at Triablogue just made my job a bit easier. I could see right off the bat that he and I have different approaches to things. Let’s be clear, though, when it comes to making judgments, I’ve got planks in my own eyes to deal with. And I’ll never forget what CS Lewis said, something about how the closer we get to the altar, the more subtle are the Devil’s means of deception.

    And when it comes to the scandals in the Catholic Church, please understand that I am seriously concerned and I don’t believe I’ve said anything to suggest otherwise. As a Protestant for 30 of the 32 years of my life, I admit it, much of what I see on this side of the Tiber scares and confuses me. But when I look to God, and consider what it is that I believe about Him, our Loving Father, the problems I see are placed within their proper context- that is, fully within the scope of His sovereignty.

    And just as I believe that God is the Deliverer for me, as an individual sinner, so do I believe that God is the Deliverer for the Church catholic. My individual sins are many and great. Were they to be made public, I, too, would scandalize my Lord and Savior. But still He wouldn’t turn His back on me. Neither will He turn His back on the Catholic Church (or any Protestant denomination, for that matter).

    thanks, John

    “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”


  12. Herbert, I do think you are too serious about what Steve said. He was writing a satire. (And he writes in many different genres.”

    In your sense of indignation, you should not excuse yourself from reviewing his legitimate arguments.

    Consider this:


    * * *

    But sadly, you’re accusing the men of basically being evil rather than shedding light on the alleged flaws in their arguments.

    Jason Engwer goes into a trememdous amount of details regarding the flaws of arguments brought against “the development of the canon.” He traces the development of it from the beginning — which is the way that it’s supposed to be done. And he documents each and every step of the process. I see no need to duplicate his work. (And I couldn’t do as effective a job of it as he has done.) My “accusing them of being evil” is simply a summary form of an analysis of the kind of argumentation that these individuals are using to prevent people from accepting the Canon.

    At the same time, you’re here at your own blog (which seems to be more of a refutation of other peoples’ doctrine than an affirmation of your own) conclusively damning the beliefs of others.

    I am “shedding light on the alleged flaws in Rome’s arguments.”

    In the same paragraph above, you have taken me to task for not doing something, and then for doing it.

    The issues that I write about are bigger than both of us. Rome has been around for a long time, making claims. And I am a nobody.

    Rome deserves to have its doctrines, and the arguments for its doctrines, scrutinized. It not only asks, but demands, under pain of anathema, that its followers believe and do certain things. It should not get a free pass to do this.


  13. John, I’d like to respond to the triablogue article you linked above. I’ve pasted it in my hotmail account and I’m going to respond to it (privately) by sending something to your email soon (as I get some free time).

    As far as my having accused you of not doing something and then for doing that very thing is concerned, I guess I’ll need to explain myself a bit…

    When I said this:

    “…you’re accusing the men of basically being evil rather than shedding light on the alleged flaws in their arguments. At the same time, you’re here at your own blog… conclusively damning the beliefs of others.”

    I meant that their arguments, as they’re presented on their website, aren’t being addressed by you directly. So though you certainly dedicate much time and energy to your posts here, I don’t see them as directly engaging what it is the writers at Called to Communion are presenting and shedding light on their arguments in a way that is accessible to, for example, me a regular reader. Obviously here at your website you’re aiming to shed light on the issues. It’s just that when these activities aren’t done through mutual cooperation/dialogue, the potential benefits aren’t realized.

    If you really believe yourself to be a nobody, it doesn’t seem to me that you’d speak so unequivocally concerning these matters. Sure, I think, I believe Catholicism to be true. However, I COULD be wrong. We’re talking faith here, not cold, hard logical consequences. I am pretty sure that TULIP is off base. But could I be wrong? Certainly.

    The way you write, I guess, seems to me to reveal a near certainty concerning the falsity of Catholic Doctrine. It seems as though you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Catholicism simply couldn’t be true. And you’re willing to hang everything on that confidence.

    I agree with you when you suggest that Rome deserves to have its doctrines scrutinized. But you lose me when you challenge the idea of the Church asking, even demanding things of believers. Every relationship requires sacrifice. If the sacrifice results in a mutual building up of both parties, if the sacrifice is done out of love and participation in something greater than the sum of its parts, it’s beautiful… and burdens and responsibilities become opportunities and means of grace.

    Also, I’ve heard people lament the Catholic anathemas. But I’ve heard that anathemas only apply to Catholic individuals who’ve left the Church, not just any old Protestants on the street. This distinction, in my mind is significant because it reveals how the Church takes seriously the Baptism/Confirmation of its members. So, then, Trent’s anathemas, for example, didn’t apply to me as I carried on in my ignorance of Catholic teaching regarding Justification. Now, however, if I were to leave the Catholic fold, I’d be held to account for my profession of faith and my subsequent denial of the authority of the clergy (Hebrews 13).

    And finally, John, I obviously hardly know you and the only reason I’ve popped my head up here is due to the fact that a friend linked one of your posts to me. I have enjoyed our dialogue and you’ve been very gracious. I hope that my comments here can add something of value to your site! I will work on getting some thoughts to you concerning that triablogue article linked above. peace.


  14. Herbert, I don’t feel strongly compelled to “directly engage” what the Called to Communion writers are engaging. They are challenging a Protestant view on a certain point. Jason Engwer has studied the issues related to the canon thoroughly, and provides both argument and documentation to support his point. It is enough for me (personally) to know that I trust Jason, his methods, and his thought processes, enough to know that I trust his conclusions as well.

    Jason here practices a “defensive” mode of apologetic. That is, he has taken upon himself to study and defend each and every issue that comes up, and defend from Scripture and history the Protestant point of view.

    And his thoroughness and integrity are striking to me.

    I’m going to address something else you said — my sense of certainty — in a new post, because I think it’s important enough to state my own method and understanding in this.

    One further thing. You mention the anathemas. It’s true, they only apply to people (such as myself) who have actively left Rome. Trent’s anathemas didn’t apply to you, as someone who grew up Protestant; however, they applied to virtually every Protestant in the era of the Reformation, because virtually every early Protestant at that time was once a Catholic.

    So that “beautiful means of grace” was one party tearing at the other party. It wasn’t beautiful. Rome went to war with the Protestants. That’s the only way, in my opinion, that the institution managed to survive. Because it could not succeed on the strength of its ideas.


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