Sunday, September 04, 2011

John Henry Cardinal Alfred E Newman

Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Third Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, © 2005), doesn’t end at the Reformation. He continues to review developments in the various doctrines of justification as they proceeded through the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican schools of thought.

McGrath writes about the “seriously and irredeemably inaccurate” historical and theological analyses that John Henry Cardinal Newman did of Luther’s doctrine of Justification. That assessment — “seriously and irredeemably inaccurate” — is based on his review of Neman’s 1937 Lectures on Justification.

Now, McGrath is not the be-all and end-all of English theology. But neither is he a slouch. And since he is famous for writing and re-writing various editions of his books, fixing mistakes, and charging more money for them each time, I can’t tell you if this information appeared in earlier editions of his work (and thus, he’s had opportunities to reflect on what he’s saying here, and correct it). But given that this is in the “Third Edition” of this work, you can be pretty sure that he’s comfortable with this assessment. He’s had three opportunities now to tweak what’s in this book.

Newman is, of course, a hero to many of today’s generation of militant Roman Catholics. Newman’s theory of “the development of doctrine” provides the underpinning for the modern (Vatican II) version of Roman Catholic doctrine. Of course, Roman Catholics expect that Newman was right, or substantially right, about most of the things he said.

But on the contrary, Newman’s Lectures were “seriously and irredeemably inaccurate” in many respects, and McGrath documents this thoroughly.

McGrath says of Newman:
Newman’s theology of justification rests primarily upon a historical analysis of the doctrines of justification associated with Luther (and to a much lesser extent, with Melanchthon), with Roman Catholic theologians such as Bellarmine and Vasquez, and with the Caroline Divines. It is therefore of the utmost importance to appreciate that in every case, and supremely in the case of Luther himself, Newman’s historico-theological analysis appears to be seriously and irredeemably inaccurate. In other words, Newman’s construction of a via media doctrine of justification seems to rest upon a fallacious interpretation of both the extremes to which he was opposed, as well as of the Caroline divinity of the seventeenth century, which he regarded as a prototype of his own position. (296-297)
Of this third error, which essentially was recent Anglican history at the time he wrote, McGrath says, “Newman’s claims to present an ‘Anglican’ theology of justification appears to involve the unwarranted restriction of ‘Anglican’ sources to the ‘holy living’ divines, with the total exclusion of several earlier generations of Anglican divines - men such as Andrewes, Beveridge, Davenant, Downham, Hooker, Jewel, Reynolds, Ussher and Whitaker. The case for the ‘Anglican’ provenance of Newman’s via media doctrine of justification thus rests upon the teachings of a small, and unrepresentative group of theologians operating over a period of a mere thirty or so years, which immediately followed the greatest discontinuity within English history — the period of the Commonwealth.” (283)

“Newman simply did not understand the Tridentine doctrine of Justification”
McGrath says “Newman’s superficial engagement with Roman Catholic theologies of justification cannot be allowed to pass without comment.” Newman only superficially interacted with the works of Bellarmine and Vasquez, “forcing us to base our tentative conclusions upon the few passing statements made in the Lectures in general. Newman clearly believes the Roman Catholic teaching to be that humans are justified on account of their renewal. Like many contemporary Evangelicals, Newman appears to have assumed that the notion of factive justification implies that the analytic divine verdict of justification is based upon the inherent righteousness of the individual achieved through moral renewal — whereas the reference is, of course, to the infusion of divine righteousness which is the cause of subsequent renewal, and is not identical with with that renewal itself” (pgs 299-300, emphases in original). McGrath says that overall, Newman’s assessment of the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification in these Lectures “suggests (though it is not conclusive) that Newman simply did not understand the Tridentine doctrine of justification.”

Newman’s faulty understanding of Luther
But most glaringly, Newman makes “a series of puzzling assertions concerning Luther, of which I shall note a few, and indicate the responses which any Oxford undergraduate studying Luther’s works for the Final Honor School of Theology would be able to make:
1. “He found Christians in bondage to their works and observances … he left them in bondage to their feelings”. This is untenable. Luther’s theology cruces is aimed precisely at any form of reliance upon feelings. Luther has no doubt that theology must relate to experience, but the nature of that relationship is construed in terms of the primacy of theology over experience.

2. “He weaned them from seeking assurance of salvation in standing ordinances, at the cost of teaching them that a personal consciousness of it was promised to every one who believed.” Once more, Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’ flatly contradicts this point. For Luther, the grounds of Christian certainty most emphatically do not lie in any “personal consciousness of salvation”, but only in the objective promises of God. For Luther, security comes form looking outside of oneself to the gracious promises of God delivered and secured in Christ, and made visible and tangible in the sacraments. Luther argues that the essence of sin is that humanity is … “bent in on itself”, in that it seeks both the grounds of salvation and reassurance in itself, rather than in Christ.

3. “For outward signs he substituted inward.” I assume that this is to be interpreted as meaning that Luther puts personal consciousness of salvation above the sacraments. Precisely the opposite is true. Luther consistently declares that the sacraments are objective signs and reassurances of the promises of God, which are to be trusted and relied upon irrespective of the personal feelings and emotions of the believer.

4. “…for reverence towards the church [he substituted] contemplation of self”. Newman here seems to have bought into the Enlightenment view that Luther is a rugged and lonely individualist, who spurned the church in order to contemplate himself. The popular view of Luther’s doctrine of justification is that it obviates the need for church, sacraments and ministry. Luther’s view on this matter was, of course, rather different (301-302).
At this point, McGrath, terming Newman’s handling of Luther “inept”, looks for several factors that may “help us view Newman’s inept treatment of Luther in a more kindly manner…” These include the fact that Luther’s works had not fully been translated into English, and that the existing English translations were not accurate. He also suggests that Newman was viewing Luther “through the lens of the evangelicalism that he knew within the Church of England during the 1830’s”.

There is, quite frankly, more of this, and more egregious, and I hope to get into it in a future post.


  1. These are long known and too little publicized facts about this duplicitous man. He was duplicitous for quite some time in the Church of England. Thanks for the reminder about this parasite.

  2. And after Newman's Roman conversion, hardcore Ultramontane Papists for their part began to suspect that he was an unreliable closet liberal...

    The Liberal Cardinal Newman Americans Don’t Know

    "Sartino relates this interesting incident recorded by J.E.C. Bodley about a meeting he had with Manning:

    "The conversation moved to theological ground, and Manning’s tone changed.

    "’From an observation you made,' he said, 'I gather that you are under the impression that Dr. Newman is a good Catholic.' I replied that such was my vague belief. He retorted: 'Either you are ignorant of the Catholic doctrine or of the works of Dr. Newman' – he always said ‘Dr. Newman’ in Oxford fashion, and never gave him the title of Cardinal.

    "After asking me which of Newman’s books I had read, he proceeded to tick off on his tapering fingers, in his usual way, 10 distinct heresies to be found in the most widely-read works of Dr. Newman." (p. 7)"

  3. John -- Thanks for posting this. I am getting increasingly disappointed by Facebook sites in particular that claim to provide a reasonable place for debate and in the end it consists of a Catholic gang-up attempted smackdown of any Protestants who attempt to appear.

    It is sad but to be expected how the Catholic apologists must repeatedly insist they alone possess the true faith. They seem unable to admit error. But it is to be expected if you believe the true faith is found there and to not believe means damnation.

    And Newman, the John Henry variety, is held up as some sort of rock star. So it is good to see that he had his faults the way all of us do. Now, if only good Catholics would admit that he was in error and is not some sort of champion who dismantles Protestant arguments.

  4. Hi John.

    Have you ever done any work on the various marian apparitions that are now places of catholic pilgrimage? Im think lourdes, medigourie, fatima, knock etc.

    Ive googled them and there are some trying to look at the evidence but all the ones i saw where atheists.

  5. Newman received beatified sainthood recently, if I'm not mistaken.

  6. Hi Space Bishop. Steve Hays has written a bit about Fatima, here:

    I haven't really looked into it that much.

  7. Truth, yeah, I guess he's "Blessed" now.

  8. Space Bishop,

    One of the resources you can use to search Triablogue is a topical index I put together earlier this year. The page titled Evidence For Modern Miracles has a link related to Marian apparitions. Here's an article by Steve Hays on Fatima, which doesn't show up on the page John cited above.

    What sources you should consult depends on the context in which you're interested in Marian apparitions. For example, they're often brought up by skeptics in an attempt to dismiss the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. Supposedly, if the evidence for Marian apparitions is comparable to the resurrection evidence or better, then we should reject both the apparitions and the resurrection. That's a popular argument among skeptics. If you're interested in Marian apparitions in that context, then you could consult some recent books on the resurrection that address the subject. See Michael Licona, The Resurrection Of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 489-491; J.P. Holding, Defending The Resurrection (Unites States: Xulon Press, 2010), 351-353 and n. 109 on 367. Holding's web site has an article on the hallucination theory regarding Jesus' resurrection, and that article has some material on Marian apparitions. Use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard, and search for "Mary" or some other relevant term.

    A principle that should be kept in mind, which is applicable to paranormal phenomena in general, is that there aren't just two potential direct sources of the paranormal. People often frame these discussions as if the only alternatives to the skeptical view, in which nothing paranormal occurred, are the divine and demonic views. In other words, you either agree with the skeptic or you believe that something paranormal occurred by the power of God or the power of Satan. But if a person or group of people has some sort of paranormal ability, then paranormal phenomena could come from that individual or group without the direct involvement of God or Satan (or non-human agents associated with them, like angels and demons). Somebody could be given a paranormal ability by God or Satan that's later used for some unintended purpose. In that sense, the involvement of God or Satan is distant and indirect. Or a person could acquire a paranormal ability through some other means, such as some alteration in his brain or soul. (If the brain is something like a filter to the soul, then what the filter allows through can be altered by changes in the brain or soul.) It's also possible that more than one source is involved in a particular case. Something paranormal might be partly demonic and partly human, for example. There are a lot of possibilities. A Christian worldview has a lot of options for explaining something like a Marian apparition.

    Often, skeptics suggest that it's simply a matter of deciding whether no miracle occurred or God performed a miracle. They act as if those are the only two options. Christians often respond by broadening the range of possibilities, but they don't broaden it enough. They mention the possibility of demonic miracles, but then they leave it there. Actually, there are more options to choose from.

  9. Something else we should ask ourselves when evaluating something like a Marian apparition is what's at stake. If somebody claims that a table in his house levitated one day twenty years ago, for example, then that claim doesn't have much significance unless other qualifiers are added to it. We have good evidence for other miracles, so it's not as though our belief that miracles can occur or have occurred depends on this person's claim. And the levitation of his table doesn't seem to matter much to how I live my life. In the same way, what significance is there to a Marian apparition? It would be more significant than the table levitation I just referred to. It might imply that I'm a member of the wrong denomination, that I hold some false beliefs, etc. But, unless some further qualification is added, it doesn't seem that the apparition has implications for my salvation. It's not that significant. If the apparition offers evidence for Roman Catholicism, then it doesn't follow that I'm unsaved as an Evangelical. Catholicism would consider me a separated brother. I'm in error, but not to the extent of being unsaved. So, there are significant things at stake with Marian apparitions, but we should keep the extent of that significance in mind. Is it a matter of salvation or something less?

    We should ask how the apparition, if authentic, would fit with other evidence we have. Given all of the Biblical, patristic, and other evidence we have against Catholicism, does it seem that a particular apparition or group of apparitions would equal or surpass the weight of that evidence against Catholicism? If the apparition or group of apparitions seems unlikely to rise to the level of equaling or surpassing that contrary evidence, then how significant is it?

    The atheist, agnostic, or other skeptic who brings up Marian apparitions, as if they're a good argument against Jesus' resurrection, is overestimating their significance. There's nothing about acknowledging the supernatural nature of a Marian apparition that suggests that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. The resurrection and supernatural Marian apparitions can co-exist. If the claim is that the Marian apparitions have equal or better evidence relative to the resurrection, yet we know that the apparitions are inauthentic, then the skeptic will have to support his assumptions. Why are we supposed to believe that the apparition evidence is equal or better? And how do we supposedly know that the apparitions are inauthentic, meaning non-supernatural?

    All of us have limited time and limits to our other resources. We have to prioritize. We make a lot of tradeoffs in life. If my neighbor tells me that his kitchen table levitated twenty years ago, how much time and effort should I put into investigating the claim? We should ask these kinds of questions about paranormal phenomena in general, including Marian apparitions.

    I've studied some of the apparitions to some extent, but not much. My reasons for not studying them more are largely the ones I referred to in the first two paragraphs of this post. Evangelicals shouldn't think that they're obligated to research every paranormal claim, or every Marian apparition in particular, in depth. Like everybody else, we prioritize things. And we have good reason for not putting Marian apparitions near the top of our list of priorities.

  10. I decided to delete my comments here on the issue of the Marian apparitions. I re-posted them in the new blog Jason posted on the topic.

    Divine, Demonic, Or Something Else?

  11. JHN wrote his lectures on justification in 1838 while still an Anglican churchman. His purpose was to prop up justification by faith alone in light of Anglican particulars.

    He would not convert to the Catholic Church for another seven years.