An essay on the development of christian doctrine newman

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An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman

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He considered this first criterion the most important of the seven. What he means by type is the external expression of an idea. The unity or preservation of type refers to the continual presence of a main idea despite its changing external expression. When we see change in the teaching on a subject, can we discern nevertheless that the main idea remains unchanged?

If so, we know that the change is a genuine development, not a corruption. In this sense, a full-grown bird is the development of an egg and not its corruption, even though they bear little physical resemblance to one another.

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In fact, according to Newman, a major source of religious corruption is clutching too tightly to doctrines at one stage of their development and refusing to allow their future growth. Christ frequently condemned them for following the letter of the law, but not its spirit — that is, its development.


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  • Development of an idea and of doctrine ~ Cardinal Newman - Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman.
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Newman insists that for a development to be faithful, it must preserve the principle with which it started. While doctrine may grow and develop, principles are permanent. Newman identifies the Incarnation as the fundamental truth of the Gospel. Then he goes on to identify nine principles of the Christian religion: dogma, faith, theology, sacraments, Scripture and its mystical interpretation, grace, asceticism, the harm of sin, and the potential of matter to be sanctified.

The fifth-century theological movement known as Pelagianism provides an example of teaching that contradicted one of these principles.

Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, An

Pelagians denied the reality of original sin and, as a consequence, denied that our salvation required any grace beyond what is already given us in human nature. As a result, the Church recognized the movement as a heretical corruption rather than a development of the Christian faith, and so condemned its teachings.

In introducing this criterion, Newman notes that in the physical world living things are characterized by growth, not stagnancy, and that this growth comes about by making use of external things. For example, as human beings we grow by taking into our bodies external realities such as food, water and air.

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An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - John Henry Newman - Google книги

Rather, they serve a valuable function in that they ensure our continued growth and vitality. For Newman, a true doctrinal development is capable of assimilating external realities such as non-Christian philosophical concepts, customs or rites without in any way violating its principles. In the ancient Church, for example, Christian theology came to make use of philosophical terms and categories from contemporary Greek culture.

These forms of thought were employed to refine the precision of doctrinal formulations, helping the Church to define more clearly what she believed.

Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

Then as ideas are connected with other ideas and rightly ordered doctrines are formulated. Ideas grow over time. Newman makes an analogy with a stream and a river. An idea begins like a spring but when it develops it is more like a river. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full.

He explains that an idea is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy.

Newman thinks that change is a natural part of growth and perfection and as such that development of doctrine in Christianity is to be expected. After speaking about this Teaching Authority Newman goes on to speak of seven tests or notes that are also helpful for ascertaining the correctness of development.