The quote that one hears most often trotted out about Newman and history is: “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”
Now, even taken out of context, the quote reaffirms a good deal of what we know about Newman’s relation to history. As a student of the early Church Fathers, Newman was converted from Anglican Protestantism to Roman Catholicism largely by consulting the work of the Fathers – especially, the work they did in identifying, verifying and reaffirming the fidei depositum– and by recognizing that the Early Church and the Catholic Church were one and the same. Of course, one of the fundamental claims made by Protestants in Newman’s day was that the Catholic Church is not the same as the Early Church because it is a corruption of that primitive Church. If we look at the work of the Whig historians, from Henry Hallam and Connop Thirlwell to Henry Hart Milman and James Anthony Froude, we can see how persistently they sought to substantiate this claim. However, both the early Fathers and the later Fathers told a different tale. The Catholic Church was an authentic development, not a corruption of the Early Church. Indeed, for the convert in Newman, it was the National Church, cobbled together by Henry VIII and the first Elizabeth in the sixteenth century that was a corruption of the “one holy catholic and apostolic” faith, and not the other way round.
Short continues by introducing Edward Gibbon's historical view of Roman history and Newman's send up of the Anglican view of Christian history: