Appeared in Winter 1989, Vol. XV, No. 4

Newman has always been a puzzling character, often divisive, often taken to be enigmatic; he has been adored and disliked, the object of boundless trust and the object of deep suspicion. He was the loved leader of a party in the Church of England, and this love persisted even after he left this Church for that of Rome; his fellow-workers in the Tractarian Movement, above all Pusey and Keble, felt wounded by his departure but not betrayed. He always remained in their correspondence “My Dearest Newman”, and the younger generation of Tractarians, best represented by Dean Church, remained devoted to him and stayed his active friends. (One of the counts against Newman in the eyes of Manning was that when in his old age he visited London, he stayed with Church in the St. Paul’s Deanery.) When he became a Catholic he was thought to be a great prize by Cardinal Wiseman; but it soon became plain that at Westminster and in Rome the Catholic authorities hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with him. He had become a Catholic through his study of the Fathers and through the failure of his attempt to work out a distinctive Anglo-Catholic position within the Church of England, and his reasons, cogent or not, were set out in one of the great classics in the history of theology, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), a book to be compared in its weight and its importance for the development of theology to the two Summae of Aquinas, to Calvin’s Institutes and, in the nineteenth century, to Mohler’s Symbolism, or, to choose something from the twentieth century, Pere de Lubac’s Surnaturel, or Karl Barth’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. But the essay was ill-received – in part because it was misunderstood – in Rome. Here, it seemed, was a man who explained what it was to be a Catholic and what were the rational inducements to faith; but they were not at all the reasons advanced by the school theologians and contained in the standard works of apologetics.

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