VITAL WORKS RECONSIDERED, #8
Orthodoxy — as Opposed to Fundamentalism, Theological Liberalism & Integralism

May 1991By John R. Quinn

John R. Quinn is the (Catholic) Archbishop of San Francisco.

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. By John Henry Newman.

Ed. Note: On January 22, 1991, Pope John Paul II signed a decree recognizing that John Henry Cardinal Newman lived a life of “heroic virtue,” thereby bestowing on him the title “Venerable” and placing him on the road to possible beatification and, finally, canonization as a saint. Of the event, the Anglican Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the decree, said: “I rejoice particularly in Newman’s memory since he is someone whose influence and inheritance can be shared by Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike.”

On August 11, 1890, John Henry Newman died a peaceful, gentle death surrounded by his brothers of the Birmingham Oratory. A noble intellectual and spiritual mentor had passed away, such as seldom appears within any century of our human history.

I would like to address Newman’s integrity, the path toward truth his integrity led him to follow, and Newman’s enduring gift to the entire church in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

The Essay, and its significance for the church today, is very much tied to Newman’s integrity.

In a world of expediency and pragmatism, integrity of the sort Newman evinced seems rare. Yet it was integrity — personal, intellectual, and spiritual — that led Newman on the path from evangelicalism through the Anglican via media and ultimately to the Catholic Church. It was integrity that required him, in all honesty, to articulate that journey and its implications in a way that challenges even today. We have much to learn from Newman, especially in a time such as our own when, as Karl Rahner once intimated, people are impatient with the precision that leads to theological truth.

Perhaps nowhere in his written works do we find this intellectual and religious integrity more clearly revealed than in Newman’s theological classic, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. For it is in the Essay that all of Newman’s intellectual and religious forces converge. The Essay was for Newman not simply an exercise in scholarship; it was an intellectual test of his own religious convictions; it was an existential act undertaken in literary form.


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