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An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

John Henry Newman

Book Overview: 

After a long struggle against liberal tendencies in the Church of England and an unsuccessful attempt to establish the position of Anglicanism as a branch of historical Christianity whose doctrines could be proven to be identical with those of the primitive Church, John Henry Newman came to the painful realization that he could no longer remain a member of the Anglican Church. Increasingly drawn to Catholicism, he was nevertheless repulsed by the idea that the Roman Church, while preserving many ancient doctrines, had contaminated the faith by mixing into it its own invented traditions. Or could it be that these "new" doctrines were truly already present from the beginning, having only become more explicit and better understood with the passage of the centuries? "So, I determined to write an essay on Doctrinal Development; and then, if, at the end of it, my convictions in favour of the Roman Church were not weaker, to make up my mind to seek admission into her fold"

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .e of revealed; and when such external authority is taken away, the mind falls back again of necessity upon that inward guide which it possessed even before Revelation was vouchsafed. Thus, what conscience is in the system of nature, such is the voice of Scripture, or of the Church, or of the Holy See, as we may determine it, in the system of Revelation. It may be objected, indeed, that conscience is not infallible; it is true, but still it is ever to be obeyed. And this is just the prerogative which controversialists assign to the See of St. Peter; it is not in all cases infallible, it may err beyond its special province, but it has in all cases a claim on our obedience. "All Catholics and heretics," says Bellarmine, "agree in two things: first, that it is possible for the Pope, even as pope, and with his own assembly of councillors, or with General Council, to err in particular controversies of fact, [Pg 87]which chiefly depend on human information and testimony; secondl. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Newman answered for me a question with which I struggled for five years. Is the Bible alone enough to determine the content of our faith, without the comment of teachers and councils, past or present? This question is not Newman's main concern here, but the Essay nonetheless answered my question...more

The only reason I don't give it 5 stars is that I feel so blasted stupid when I read Newman. What a mind.

This is my first time reading a full-length Newman book (as opposed to shorter essays). I'd long intended to read Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, but this came as part of the Word on Fire Classics 4-pack, and then my Christian reading group picked some excerpts for the monthly reading. So I decid...more

This classic work argues that Christian belief, far from being a static list of propositions, develops gradually from the original seed of faith over time, until the fullness of the mystery opens into history like the blooming of a rose. When this book was written in the mid-19th century, evoluti...more

This is a book I waited to read for a long time - not because I couldn't get to it. I was afraid of it. It is a great challenge of Evangelicalism's back-to-the-bible ethos. Newman asserts that doctrine develops through the agency of the Spirit-guided church, which, as he reminds us, is the pillar...more

After reading this book I felt it necessary to give a proper reason for my 2 stars. It's not because I'm Protestant :)

Positives:
- I learned a lot about church history and the development of certain doctrines in the Catholic Church.

Negatives:
- I didn't like the author's writing style. It felt diso...more

Everyone should read it

On the whole, I didn't find Newman's thesis very convincing (i.e. admitting that the papal office didn't visibly manifest itself in the first centuries seems like a non-starter.) However, there are certainly some thoughtful questions and analyses of church history in this essay worth reading and...more

I've been spending a lot of time going through this book over and over. I'm fascinated by Newman's writing style, by the tensions in his theory, and by the influence the theory has had on Roman Catholicism and other theories of doctrinal development. Newman's theory is of particular interest beca...more

One of those books I have been meaning to get around to and all I can say is wow! I've read other works of his and so am not surprised by his towering intellect, but it is certainly shown here. There is good reason why various religions and branches of Christianity don't talk much about the devel...more

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