Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Some Notes on Newman's Developing View of The Church

From The Newman Review, Pablo Blanco (PhD '97, ThD '05), who teaches at the University of Navarra, writes about Newman's developing views of ecclesiology from 1825 to 1835:
This article follows Newman’s writings mainly with a systematic (thematic) methodology; it does not, however, ignore the historical, since we can best see Newman’s ecclesiology evolve within his historical context.[1] In his Evangelical years, the adolescent Newman distrusted “material elements,” including, of course, the visible church, but after his Anglican ordination, the (then) vicar of St. Clement’s began to preach on various aspects of the church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”[2] The cumulative effect of the theological debates at Oxford, together with his pastoral experience and personal reflections, gradually led Newman to a more high church ecclesiological approach, especially on visibility, invisibility, and apostolicity of the church.

In a sermon delivered on 26 October 1835, entitled The Church Visible and Invisible, Newman affirmed that “the sight of the sins of Christians has led us to speak” of both dimensions (visible and invisible dimensions of the church), despite the fact that such expression has no biblical basis: “Scripture does not speak of two bodies, one visible, the other invisible.” This leads him to claim unity between the two, although conceptually and categorically we differentiate them: “we view it as, on the whole, but one in different aspects.” It is like differentiating between concave and convex. Thus, the church is “as Visible, because consisting (for instance) of clergy and laity—as Invisible, because resting for its life and strength upon unseen influences and gifts from Heaven.”[3] . . .

I found the article very interesting because I had delivered a presentation the annual Eighth Day Institute Florovsky-Newman Week this summer on "Newman’s “Religious Opinions” and Infant Baptism" which touched on this issue of ecclesiology: is the invisible Church made up of the elect who commune with baptized but unsaved Christians in their parish churches? or is the Visible Church made up of Baptized, regenerated Christians, each on their way to personal sanctification and salvation, some further along, some going backwards, but all of them part of the Church Jesus founded and promised to remain with forever? Is Baptism a Sacrament, infusing God's Grace into the Soul, or it just an ordinance, symbolic of a personal decision and commitment?

I looked at the years from 1816 to 1828, focused on the Church and Baptism. I referenced sermons from his diaconate service at St. Clement's and then those he preached as Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, consulting the Apologia pro Vita Sua and a book by Father James Tolhurst, The Church . . . A Communion in the Preaching and Thought of John Henry Newman. (I also discussed the different influences on Newman from Mayers to Scott and Whately and Hawkins from Calvinist to Anglican views.)

Father Blanco looks at the years from 1828 to 1835, and includes references to Newman's contributions to the Tracts of the Times.

The most important thing to note about this period of Newman's life, which he points out in his Apologia pro Vita Sua, is that he terms these developments in ecclesiology, soteriology, etc as "Religious Opinions". After his October 9, 1845 conversion he notes that does need these religious opinions, based on private judgment, anymore. The first four chapters repeat the term "Religious Opinions"; Chapter Five doesn't: "The Position of My Mind Since 1845" is the title and Newman explains the depths of his faith in Jesus and His Church and the ease, peace, contentment, lack of anxiety or doubt, and happiness he has felt since becoming a member of "the one, true fold of Christ":

FROM the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.

Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles, which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them upon my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power.

When our Lovers of Newman group gets together every month on the third Sunday, we usually reflect at least a little bit upon when he wrote the sermon and at what stage of his "religious opinions" he was in at that time. Then we focus on what he wrote, how he wrote it, and what we take from it as spiritual or moral inspiration and insight.

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