Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year! Newman and History

I'm looking forward to receiving my review copy of Edward Short's latest work: Newman and History. In the meantime, here's an essay by Mr. Short in The Catholic World Report, discussing Newman's famous phrase:

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:

Gibbon’s animus against Christianity per se may not have been altogether congenial to all English Protestants; the thesis of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, after all – which, incidentally, Gibbon pinched from Voltaire – was that Rome fell because of what Gibbon styled “the triumph of barbarism and religion,” specifically, the Christian religion. Nevertheless, for English Protestants, his history did have the benefit of not contradicting the Anglican view of church history, which Newman memorably encapsulated in one of his best satirical sallies in his Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics. In that brilliant book, published in 1851, which I commend to all of my readers for its witty demolition of the entire No Popery house of cards, Newman got at the root of the Protestant Englishman’s fanciful notions about his national identity by locating them squarely in his even more fanciful notions about the progress of the Christian faith. In his marvelous lectures, Newman explains that for English Protestants, “Christianity was very pure in the beginning, was very corrupt in the middle age, and is very pure again in England now, though still corrupt everywhere else.” Moreover, as Newman observes, “in the middle age, a tyrannical institution called the Church arose and swallowed up Christianity.” Fortunately, however, “the Church is alive still, and has not yet disgorged its prey, except, as aforesaid, in our own favoured country.” The reason this should be the case is simple. As Newman describes it, “in the middle age, there was no Christianity anywhere at all, but all was dark and horrible, as bad as paganism, or rather much worse. No one knew anything about God, or whether there was a God or no, nor about Christ or His atonement; for the Blessed Virgin, and Saints, and the Pope, and images, were worshipped instead; and thus, so far from religion benefitting the generations of mankind who lived in that dreary time, it did them infinitely more harm than good.”

Please read the rest there. Newman and History is available on and at the Gracewing Publishers website.

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