Friday, June 25, 2004

On June 25, 1846
Venerable John Henry Newman, who had been received into the Catholic Church the previous October, wrote a letter to a friend who was still struggling with whether or not he should do the same:
"I still think you are short of fair, short of deep, in your statement of the question. You consider that practices first exist, and are developed into doctrines— and this is your main view of development. 'Where there has been a real development,' you say, 'the practice (sic) always (sic) existed which implied the later doctrine; but where the doctrine is really novel, and not merely developed, the practice which springs from it is novel also.'

Well then, what do you say to St. Augustine and St. Basil not being baptized in infancy? Could the "practice" of infant baptism, in Africa, in Asia Minor, have been, up to the fourth century, what it is now—and they have been left without the Sacrament by pious mothers? What would be said to you now, if you left your child unbaptized? Would you not have to encounter a cry of horror on all sides? The practice then of infant baptism was not established or received for some hundred years. Yet do you deny the doctrine that that sacrament is the one ordinary means of salvation? why not? for you say that 'practical obedience to Rome is later than the doctrinal theory'—and is not the practical application of baptism to infants later than the theory of its necessity?

I am far from denying that infant baptism was known from the first ages; I only say that it was not received in the sense it was afterwards. On the other hand I can only lift up my hands in astonishment at your statement that 'the fact is, the Churches did not know or dream of any authority of Rome over them.' Not the Alexandrian Church for instance—of whom Pope Julius, as St. Athanasius vouches, says, 'Are you ignorant that the custom has been for word to be written first to us, and then for a just sentence to be passed from this place?' While St. Dionysius was actually appealed against to Rome, and responded to the appeal.

Nor have you gone to the bottom of the case of the Immensus Filius. It is not that the early Fathers held it, but 'did not express themselves uniformly,' but with 'inaccuracies.' Not so—they denied the doctrine. Their denial, it being almost a consensus, is a far stronger fact than the fact of St. Cyprian, in a personal, or national matter, and on a point in which after all he was mistaken, opposing the Pope, while he elsewhere maintains his authority.

The fact I believe to be this—the early Fathers made incorrect intellectual developments of portions or aspects of that whole Catholic doctrine which they held, and so far were inconsistent with themselves. Their opinions contradicted their implicit faith—and they said and held things which they would have shrunk from, had they seen, as heretics afterwards exhibited, that they were really destructive of the doctrine of Christ. Yet they really held them; I will not explain away the fact, nor must you. I really do not think you can deny, that the Fathers, not merely did not contemplate true propositions, 'afterwards established' but actually contemplated false. In like manner from a view of the great benefits of baptism, they untruly developed and acted on the proposition 'Therefore it is good to defer it.'

So far from agreeing with your general principle, I consider it quite as true to say that doctrine ever came first, and practice was its development. Bishop Butler implies it, when he speaks of the knowledge of relations imposing duties. And in matter of fact the whole ritual system is a later development of the original creed. I suspect you will find less of processions and vestments than of Papal supremacy in the ages of persecution.

As to the George Ryders. I am sorry to hear you do not like their mode of acting. Do not, however, fear for her—noli timere. There is a grace in the Catholic Church which is not lightly got rid of and it binds the soul tight. Keble speaks somewhere of the weakness of things of earth to tempt one 'who once has tasted of immortal truth.' That it may be your blessed lot, Carissime, to receive the offer of that treasure and not to reject it, is the constant prayer of

Your affectionate friend,
J. H. N. "

The friend the Venerable addressed in this letter was received into the Church in 1850.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an HTML tag that is appropriate for long quotations, like those you use frequently. It's "blockquote" (The comment page won't let me put in the chicken-beak brackets.). It clearly sets apart quoted text from your own original contributions. Have quoting :)

- Funky Dung

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Have quoting?" Try "Happy quoting". *smacks* forehead. That'll teach me to preview before posting. ;)

- Funky Dung

5:39 PM  

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