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Newman’s Message for Those Leaving the Church

In 2018, we saw many Catholics, including some prominent ones, head for the exits in the wake of the latest sex abuse scandal. No doubt we’ll see more of this in 2019, especially if the New York Times and The Washington Post are to be believed. Some prominent Protestant scholars, smelling blood in the water, have been urging Catholics to consider swimming the other way across the Tiber, marching up the Italian peninsula, and crossing the Alps to Geneva or Wittenberg. There are many good reasons why Catholics should not heed their siren song. Blessed John Henry Newman in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, published in 1845, offers at least two: (1) Protestantism is an anti-historical religion; and (2) Protestantism is fundamentally premised on a problematic paradigm of private judgment.

Those familiar with Newman’s text on the development of doctrine may think it odd to suggest that this book is a primer in criticisms of Protestantism—it is far more famous (and foundational) as the most extensive and sophisticated discussion of Catholic doctrinal development ever offered. Indeed, his seven tests for evaluating true development—as opposed to its antithesis, doctrinal corruption—may be one of the most valuable contributions the English cardinal made to his adoptive Church. Yet Newman’s main interlocutors in his “essay” (my copy is 300 pages!) are Protestants, and much of the context behind his work is a desire to defend the Church’s doctrines against those who, like their Reformation-era theological ancestors, claimed that Rome had strayed from the faith of the Bible and the Early Church. Moreover, given Newman’s acute theological abilities, we shouldn’t be surprised that his writing possesses layers of value—for example, I’ve argued that his Apologia Pro Vita Sua is a textbook in how to charitably debate one’s detractors. Let’s consider Newman’s salient points on Protestantism.

Read more at Crisis Magazine. 

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