Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Synodality and Development of Christian Doctrine, Part 4

Can the Church change her teaching and her practices? What part do Tradition and dogma play in Church teaching? In recent decades and now at the Synod of Synodality these concepts and  questions have been raised again. In the Anglican Church of  his time, St. John Henry Newman faced similar difficulties. We continue our discussion of these topics  by examining the development of Christian doctrine.

A look at the history of doctrine, the liturgy, and other ecclesial practices show many changes throughout the centuries. In the early Church bishops met in synods to judge whether or not  a change was a corruption of Apostolical Tradition. When a change was deemed a corruption it was called a heresy; those upholding these errors were considered outside the communion of the Catholic Church.

St. Vincent of Lerins, a monk  writing in the 5th century,  pondered  how to ascertain when a change is authentic development or when it is a corruption. He asserted that a doctrine conforms with earlier teaching when it is held everywhere, at all times and by all  (quod ubique, semper, et ab omnibus).. In 1832, when studying early Church history, John Henry Newman thought that antiquity was a measure of Apostolical Tradition and tried to use this criteria to establish conformity to Tradition. He soon realized, however, that this was a static view of Tradition.  By 1845, he developed a theory which became his book An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and which was the final and immediate step before his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church.

In his theory on development, Newman made an analogy of a tree or organism to explain proper growth. An acorn grows into a sapling and eventually into the perfection of a tree with many branches. He wrote: “Taking this analogy as a guide, I venture to set down seven Notes of varying cogency, independence and applicability, 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.”

The first of the Seven notes or tests in Newman’s criteria is preservation of type. “The adult animal has the same make, as it had on its birth; young birds do not grow into fishes, nor does the child degenerate into the brute, wild or domestic.” An idea or doctrine is authentic when its identity is the same as the original idea.

The second note is the continuity of principles. Newman explains that principles are permanent while doctrines grow and are enlarged. He enumerated a list of Catholic principles such as the principle of dogma, the principle of grace, and the doctrine of the Incarnation. (ch 7) For the development of a doctrine to be true development, there has to be a continuity of principles. This is what Benedict XVI more than a century later called a “hermeneutic of continuity” in contrast to a “hermeneutic of rupture.”

Newman proceeded to explain the other notes and to give illustrations from history of the applications of these notes. He spent many pages showing how the Church in his time had the same type as the Church in early Christianity. He also dedicated a number of pages to show how papal supremacy or authority conforms with  the Catholic principles which he enumerates.

 Although some authors have argued that the application of these notes are problematic, others, such as the late Newman scholar Ian Ker, affirm  their worth. Ker offered the doctrine of Religious Freedom in the Vatican II documents as an example of a development of doctrine which meets the criteria laid out by Newman. The doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is another example of dogma which fulfills the notes enumerated by Newman.

In 1990, the International Theological Commission, issued a document titled “The Interpretation of Dogma” in which Newman’s seven notes are endorsed. Although some of the notes or tests have more of  a retrospective character, these criteria offer a good indication of whether a development is a true development or a corruption. In another blog post we will discuss the remaining tests.

One point, however, should be made, Newman’s theory of development has to do with dogmas. There are many truths of the natural order which can be known through the use of reason. In the same line as St. Thomas Aquinas, Newman teaches that conscience is the voice of God, to enable man to make a  judgment about what should be done and what should not be done. Long before dogma appears,  God speaks to all men through the moral conscience. Thus all men can know God and  distinguish good from evil. The study of doctrine and the corruption of doctrine helps Catholics to know what goes beyond the natural law and is contained in divine revelation and the Church’s teaching derived from this revelation.

Catholics have, therefore, the aid of reason  to decide on moral truths like others before them but in addition they have the divine gift  of Revelation, Tradition, and the Magisterium to guide their lives and direct them to the goal of eternal life in Christ. As mentioned above in another blog post we will continue to discuss Newman’s Seven Notes and their value for contemporary theology.







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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
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Review by Serenheed James
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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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