“My Kingdom is not of this world”: A Critique of Cardinal Newman’s Development of Doctrine

Among many self-professed traditionalists and apologists, the newly sainted Cardinal Newman is the fount for their rhetoric and argument. Often considered unassailable against “Protestantism,” Newman’s ghost haunts many well-read and historically aware Protestants. His oft-repeated quip “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant” often leaves the non-Roman (or, nowadays, non-Orthodox) a bad conscience. Are you really so wise or perceptive as to properly interpret the annals of church history? Are you really able to stand with a motley band of Humanist revolutionaries who decried centuries of errors and claimed to correct course? This essay hopes to dispel this false phantom, but only through leaning into the crisis the Reformation laid bare. Newman’s rhetoric may in the end fail, a mirage the traditionalist will gesture at without arrival, but it does destroy a certain kind of Protestant. Newman, rightly, makes certain strands of Anglicanism impossible. In a way, as a former Tractarian, Newman obliterates Anglo-Catholicism, the via media between Rome and Wittenberg, on its own terms. While the Cardinal believed that this left only Rome and Socinians, the bulwark of the papacy against the chaotic masses of demagogic critics, instead he opens the possibility of a historically-grounded Evangelical churchmanship, which Anglicans sorely need in this age of phantom High Churchmanship and outright rejection of the gospel.

In his Development of Doctrine, Newman prefaced the 1878 edition with the warning that his argument does not so much defend Rome as much as frame the terms of the debate. It was not a clear-cut vindication for Catholicism, but “to explain certain difficulties in its history, felt before now by the author himself, and commonly insisted on by Protestants in controversy.” Before digging into the text, it’s helpful to adumbrate how revolutionary Newman’s method was. Contrary to most other Roman Catholic polemics against Protestants, Newman ceded most Protestant arguments about the past. The early church did not exactly look Roman Catholic in the way that its apologists had claimed. There was no unchanged and fixed identity that was handed down through the ages. Rather, Newman takes a very novel view of tradition to save it from itself. As a former Tractarian and heir to the Church of England’s exceptional patrology, Newman knew the historical arguments of High Church Protestants like the back of his hand. The accusation was not against the fathers, but an appeal to them over and against current Roman corruptions. Thus, Newman’s revolutionary paradigm-shift was to repurpose history within a scheme that wedded a defense of ancient institutions to Continental trends in philosophy to defeat the infidel critics which dominated German universities. In the fields of theology and metaphysics, Newman most certainly was a counter-revolutionary.

To set the table, Newman denied that he was the rear-guard. Every account of history depended on some paradigmatic account of history. Whether it was a Hellenistic “fall” of Christianity (corrupted by “Oriental, Platonic, Polytheistic sources, from Buddhism, Essenism, Manicheeism”) or the Church defined as the faithful few in many times and places (maintaining the kingdom of Heaven in the “hidden and isolated life, in the hearts of the elect”), any account required prolegomena of its first principles (4-6). Nevertheless, if it came to any account of institutional continuity, history was not on the side of any set of Protestants. Against “Chillingworth and his friends” (who famously posited the Bible as the Religion of Protestants), no historic Christianity looked like this. With spleen, Newman asserted that whatever the truth is, “the Christianity of history is not Protestantism” (7-8). But Newman’s point is not about any particular Protestant church or confession of faith. Rather it reflected the truth inherent in his contemporary panic over the Erastianism of the Church of England, and the Evangelical and Broad churchman diminution of patristics and traditions among Anglicans. Such was no freak accident of history, but inherent to the phenomenon of Protestantism as a principle.

The problem was not simply one of history. Contrary to optimistic Anglicans, who believed unity could be found in the early centuries of the Church (per Andrewes’ succinct summary: “one canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries”). The Vincentian Canon, which promised foundational truth through catholicity in space and time, was useless. The fathers were themselves inconsistent if judged by a static measure of orthodoxy, a core set of doctrine which remained unchanged through the centuries. For if one were to judge this way, would not a Christian condemn the fathers themselves for heresy? Newman goes through a laundry list of suspicious statements and ambiguities from the venerable:

-Basil of Caesarea accused Dionysius of Alexandria of planting the seed of Arianism in Egypt

-Hippolytus was ignorant of the eternal sonship of Christ

-Methodius “speaks incorrectly” about the Incarnation

-Justin Martyr is Arianizing

-Irenaeus was patripassian

The way Newman’s former brethren utilized the Vincentian Canon would not only condemn the fathers for their failure to adhere clearly to the standard of orthodoxy, but embolden Unitarians and Socinians to assume the mantle of tradition (10-19). The only solution is to embrace a new paradigm to save both history and orthodoxy. Enter Development.

Drawing on the theories of Mohler and de Maistre (both romantic counter-revolutionaries), the Doctrine of Development posits a living principle at the heart of interconnected phenomena. Over the annals of history, a principle will, like a seed, plant into minds and institutions and spur its own outworking. As an idea seizes a mind, in both “intellect and heart,” it will reach perfection after “longer time and deeper thought” until it is fully elucidated (30). The idea or principle (the terms seem generally equivalent for Newman) has a synergistic relationship with the mind which thinks it. The idea energizes the human mind, which then develops this idea, working through its various implications. This process can create tensions, contradictions, and conflict, which then are worked out, growing into a system of thought. True development reflects the internal characteristics of the principle, bringing them to fuller fruition. It is only if “the aspects of an idea are brought into consistency and form […] being the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth” that true development has taken place. Thus, per Newman’s own example, one cannot see a genetic relationship between a monarchy and a republic, but one can see it between a democracy and a tyranny (37-38). This process is worked out through history, not mathematically in the mind of a philosopher. Development is not “like an investigation worked out on paper, in which each successive advance is a pure evolution from a foregoing, but it is carried on through and by means of communities of men and their leaders and guides.” Instead a principle possesses these institutions, making external history a revelation of various principles in conflict, as these ideas seize these institutions “giving them a new meaning and direction, in creating what may be called a jurisdiction over them.” From this, in the wranglings of schools and parliaments, the drama of history unfolds. In a way not unlike Darwinian metaphysics, the development of various principles provokes conflict between institutions possessed and developing them. The ideas then go to war: “each of them enterprising, engrossing, imperious, more or less incompatible with the rest, and rallying followers or rousing foes” (38-39). Thus history is a story of rival ideas, developing and growing, battling for domination over the souls of men and the societies they inhabit.

This process may sound violent (given the peace of God’s reign) and may breed corruptions and confusions. But it is necessary: “In a higher world it is otherwise, here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (40).

Such is the paradigm of Development. Applied to Christianity, there exists a divine principle that works through these all too human forms. Newman determines that, given his reading of church history (and not unlike that of later liberal Anglicans like Bishop Gore), the principle of Christianity is Incarnation. This principle is orbited by three aspects (sacraments, hierarchy, asceticism), as well as no less important doctrines and devotions (36). While there are various kinds of development (political, economic, mathematical), the main focus for Newman is theological development. Unlike political development (marked by its being “often capricious and irregular” due to it involving power), theological development occurs when the mind “habituated to the thought of God” turns “with a devout curiosity to the contemplation of the object of its adoration.” These thoughts occur, one after another, through time, eventually developing a body of dogmatic thought. Thus the principle expands, and that which “was an impression on the Imagination has become a system of creed in the Reason” (52-53). For Christianity this leads to the contemporary stance of the Roman Church.

The alternative is Protestant-ism, an alternative principle: Individual Judgement. Thus, despite protestations of confessional orthodoxy, the principle of Protestantism inevitably forces Protestants to heterodoxy, heresy, and infidelity. Luther is the architect of this system. Despite the monk’s rich sacramental theology and claim for sola fide as axiomatic, Luther’s revolt depended on his own authority to interpret the scriptures. The “Here I Stand” is the secret core of Protestantism, the vaunting of the “I” over God’s living Church. Therefore Luther will always lead to Socinus as the telos of Protestant-ism, the principle animating these diverse (and often conflicting) churches. For a Protestant to stand with Luther and denounce Calvin and Socinus is akin to “living in a house without a roof to it” (96). And history had proved this development. Hadn’t Luther’s theology, when systematized, provoked the success of the Pietists? Hadn’t Spener stood on Luther when he shifted the theological emphasis to the heart of the individual against the confessions of the church? And hadn’t Pietism been the cradle from which Kant and his Copernican Revolution emerged? Like Leibniz’s monads which demanded to be actualized, the principle of Protestantism would not stop until the liberal individual stood naked and alone with his authoritative demand to interpret for himself. It was Rome or Oblivion.

There are many places one might want to interrupt the magician’s show.

What about Dissenters? Many free-churches had not followed this path of development. But for Newman, such were the sectarian remnant of grander historical battles. For it was the ferocity of confessional orthodoxy, which Dissent represents, that had led to the apathy and turpitude of Protestant nations. Had not Germany and Geneva been the hotbeds of radical Protestant agitation? And what were they now? Dens of infidelity and the higher critical scholarship, which had reduced the faith to pious myth. They might offer a lively alternative to the “hollow uniformity” of the Church of England, but both lacked any substantive future outside the relentless drive of Protestant-ism to enact the telos of Individual Judgement (90-91).

Perhaps Protestants are doomed, but why is Rome identified with Christianity? Why not the Eastern Orthodox? They were dead and had denied the inevitable development of the papacy from the aspect of hierarchy. On the first count, the Greeks had no contribution to theology but negation. Newman shrugged: “I am not aware that the Greeks present more than a negative opposition to the Latins” (95). He was not suggesting that the Orthodox had no theologians or dogma, only that it lacked any visible development, demonstrating its weakness. They had doctrine, but no principle. Greek Orthodoxy was dead. Such was unlike the Orientals, who could flip-flop between Nestorianism and Monophysitism because their principle was that there was no mystery in religion (181). Rather, the Greeks negated Rome because they had rejected the papacy. Like most other doctrines, the papacy developed from an early reverence into universal jurisdiction. Anglicans had been hypocrites to deny this early testimony, even as they claimed the fathers for a doctrine of Real Presence (24). Like the eucharist, it was clear that early fathers adhered to something like consubstantiality, but such was abandoned as the idea worked out its implication (eventually manifest in transubstantiation and adoration of the elements). Such was the same for Rome, the see of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. Cyprian may have fought with Rome, but he in no way denied her authority. Chalcedon staked its authority on the Tome of Leo, whose sainted author the council acclaimed as having spoke with the voice of the Apostle. The Orthodox, with their penchant for caesaropapism of an imperial cult of state, had simply resisted the inevitable. For monarchical episcopacy demanded this development. The Nestorians had a Catholicos, the German Lutherans had a general super-intendant, and the Anglicans, developing a global network of churches, had empowered the Archbishop of Canterbury to facilitate intercommunion (155). Orthodoxy, in denying this development, had cut itself off from the vitality of Rome. The impotence of the Greek church before its Turkish overlords was less an accident of time than a demonstration of weakness. Orthodoxy was doomed to wither, as Rome could meet the challenges besetting Europe.

But what about the core of Chillingworth’s claim, that the Bible (not Individual Judgement) was the religion of Protestants? Why could not the canon of Scripture provide the principle that animates Christianity-Protestantism? Newman argued that the Scripture was, fundamentally, a mystical and unknowable source. Scripture’s content was so “unsystematic and various,” and its style was “so figurative and indirect,” that “no one would presume at first sight to say what is in it and what is not” (71-72). Like a wild landscape, Scripture was full of so many unknowns that no Protestant could ever fence it. An Anglican might claim Jesus’ words “This is My Body” to justify belief in the Real Presence, but Roman Catholics could point to “saved; yet so as by fire” to justify purgatory or “receiving a prophet’s reward” to justify belief in the communicable merits of the saints. Utilizing a skeptical tactic that French Roman Catholics had used against Huguenots (and radical Protestants like Quakers against any Reformed orthodoxy), there was no way to truly know Scripture. Even the canon was unclear, with conflicting lists of books from the earliest centuries. The only hope was anchored in the continuous institution of the church. It was from within the church that one could utilize the fourth and fifth centuries to clarify the ambiguity in an earlier era (125-126). Scripture, unknown and unknowable without charismatic interpretation, was no anchor to ground the faith. Protestant appeals to the Bible obscured the fundamental reality beneath: the individual’s right to infallibly interpret for himself the meaning of the text.

Newman’s arguments have become quite normative among Anglophone converts or reverts, even if dumbed down or modified through use. But they take the form they do because they are an assault upon the methods which had buoyed Anglican churchmanship in the past. Newman depended heavily on the arguments of Bishop Butler, who was the closest thing to a doctor ecclesiae the Church of England had produced in the eighteenth century. Butler’s argumentation depended on the use of probability to support general conclusions. Against Deists who had criticized the standards of Christian orthodoxy, Butler utilized probability from a fair-minded consideration of the texts. The truthfulness of Scriptures could be defended on strictly historical terms, with probability that the texts had accurately described the events in question. Particular doctrines of the church could also be defended on similar terms, including even the canon of scripture. The humanistic methods that the Church of England had developed could service logical and historical defenses of the texts. It was in this way that Butler posited this web of dogma as a dynamic system, which developed in response to controversy. Newman claimed Butler as a precursor to his Development of Doctrine (74-75), though one that required radically different conclusions. Perhaps it was in this vein that Newman stated that while modern Tories adhered to the policies of the old Whig, these were superficial similarities. It took a revolutionary appraisal of the work of the Church of England to successfully lead a counter-revolution against the higher criticism that threatened to overwhelm the world through secularism and socialism.

It is without a doubt that Newman’s concept of Development was a rhetorical powerhouse. It is an outstanding parlor trick which still mesmerizes the disaffected today. It is hard, when reading, not to feel an overwhelming sympathy with his arguments. However, once you step outside the carnival, you realize the lights disorient more than reveal. But, like many today, the strength of Newman’s argument depends heavily on the fixation (if not fetish) of epistemology for modern man. The acid of skepticism and divided Christendom left many groping towards something solid. The Cartesian rationalist may claim a stable interior to build an axiomatic foundation, but this more often than not devolves into solipsism. As William Blake had portended, Newtonian mechanism was less world-revealing than world-building. And the logical structures of any positivist program (rationalist or empiricist) reflected less a reality given than a reality constructed. Thus, rather than providing a solid basis, rationalism provoked its own crisis for an all-comprehensive system. In the hands of Spinozists, this rationalist system portended the collapse into the materialism and pantheism of the All-One Deus sive Natura. Such system building had provoked the Pantheism crisis of the 1790s, but had framed the basis of Hume’s skepticism against Lockean empiricism, Berkeleian idealism, and Reidian common-sense, as well as various efforts to defend or overthrow Cartesian philosophy, Hobbesian materialism, and Newtonian science. The turn from revolution to violence, of reason to anarchy, thus framed Newman’s interpretation of the seventeenth century, where confessional zeal provoked the cool bath of skepticism. It was only (as Pyrrhonian neo-skeptics had argued) an infallible institutional authority which could prevent this cycle into oblivion.

But Newman’s anxiety, as well as many modern apologists’, is unwarranted. Newman believed that any infallible doctrine based on fallible comprehension was to effectively destroy its credibility. For what good was infallible truth in the hands of a fallible mind? But Newman never really escapes from this need for probability. As a good English Catholic, Newman adhered to the liberal sentiments of limited government, parliamentary politics, and free inquiry. He believed that the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church, through its living oracular voice in the papacy, did not destroy the individual’s search for truth (81-82). For did not Newman himself, through his searching studies, come to Rome from his own judgment? The papacy, rather than destroy individual inquiry, bolstered the defense of conscience from the tyranny of private judgment and caesaropapist statism. But what good was this individual basis to submit to Rome?

One was still on the grounds of probability, as one had to weigh the merits of Newman’s assessment from his contemporary vantage. In the flourish of rhetoric, there’s the con-artist’s bluff: we all know the obvious conclusion. Many an apologist indulges in the same flourish, with accounts of megachurch charismania and liberal mainline apostasy. For Newman, the picture was European state-churches enslaved to the state and overcome with the complete breakdown of doctrine. The Church of England was bound to the parliamentary state and its High Church party (reborn, somewhat, as the Tractarians) was in decline. The Greek Orthodox languished under Muslim rule and Russians exhibited unchecked barbarism. The obvious answer was Rome—it was the most reasonable answer, the only institution which could resist. In this way Newman exhibited the traits that marked American Pragmatism and Jobism, a kind of de facto appeal to what seemed most effective. History could mesmerize the disaffected Tractarian to swim the Tiber, but it also could breed the same kind of doubt that Newman tried to escape. It was for this reason that Newman’s fellow cardinal and convert, Edward Manning, would reject this entire approach through a straightforward institutional fideism. One simply must appeal to the Holy Spirit’s working in Rome, full stop. The appeal to history or development was nothing less than treason, for it confused the sovereign’s position for a subject. Newman’s argument was to elicit rhetorical plausibility, even as its end result depended on the eye of the beholder.

Hence one could simply wonder if Newman’s account of principles is the dishonest showmanship of a sorcerer. Christianity’s principle is Incarnation, which Newman compiled from his own rigorous research into church history. But this principle was not clear, since it required several aspects to support it (sacraments, hierarchy, asceticism). Newman did not deny other doctrines and devotions, but they were subservient to these main aspects to this core principle. But why? Again, the argument depends on seductive plausibility. Luther never denied sacraments, hierarchy, or asceticism (though one that called all Christians, not only the religious, to a rigorous life), but these were subordinate to justification by faith alone (the article by which the church stands or falls). Newman can essentially ignore these self-descriptions through a narration of church history. But why could not a contemporary Newman wield the same destructive arguments against Rome? Isn’t it the case that Rome was animated not by Christianity, but absolutism or caesarism? Had not the papacy developed increasingly to accumulate more and more power, stretching even into the domain of civil authority? Newman distinguished Development from corruption in several ways, one being that true Development was not revolutionary. Development was slow and long-lasting, while Revolution was short, violent, and ephemeral. But this paradigmatic lens often obscured honest assessment of historical events. Had not French Gallicanism developed over centuries, recovering episcopal authority from an overreaching papacy? Yet it was overthrown in a night, as both Jansenism and Gallicanism had been discredited through affiliation with the deposed monarchy and subsequent support for the early/moderate days of the Revolution. These were corruptions for the simple fact that they ceased. History’s unfolding allowed the scholar to simply paint a picture to soothe the conscience. Such narratives are no better than accounts that Scotus or Occam plunged the West into Atheism. Why could Newman’s doctrine not justify a genealogical account of how Augustine’s bad theology had set the Latin West on a course for the guillotine and the gas-chamber? The strength fundamentally depends on a rhetorical trance, where an assortment of facts are marshaled to perform this rhythmic dance for the weary.

Again, a new Newman could take upon himself a critique of Rome. Animated by some other principle, Rome could be a story of corruption into corruption. The papacy of Francis, serial sex abuse scandals, and the demographic collapse among Western church-goers shows the inevitable failure of a church animated by clerisy and absolutism. While this may seem attractive to those wishing to rebut Rome (from Byzantium, Canterbury, Wittenberg, etc.), it only leaves you trapped in an empty game of rhetorical posturing. Hence the emptiness of contemporary apologists, who more often than not fail to heed Newman’s warning that this development is not done with pen and paper. The moral failings and doctrinal failure of the current Church mitigate against Newman’s triumphal, counter-revolutionary narrative. Of course, that is if you want to plant your feet in anything remotely traditional. The value of Newman is his revolutionary reworking of tradition. Thus, rather than a betrayal or a failure, the Second Vatican Council and its interpretation over the twentieth century is the principle of Christianity working itself out. Pope John Paul II receiving veneration from Hindus, Pope Benedict XVI kissing a Koran, Pope Francis’ admission that good atheists may end up in heaven, all of these may testify to the ultimate flourishing of Christianity.

Counter-revolution is no less revolutionary and often a product of a contemporary moment. In a world where materialism and secularism have become increasingly normative, many on the “right” find themselves in broad coalitions of the religious. But such equally applies to coalitions of the religious “left,” who advocate “ethical capitalism” and environmental politics. In either case, a Newmanian hermeneutic can justify either a Benedict or a Francis, framing the Darwinian metaphysic of clashing clerics. And thus it makes sense that it was these two popes who beatified and canonized (respectively) the Cardinal. This posture may justify a return to clerical marriages and communion for the remarried (which radically undermines the Roman Catholic position on divorce). But it also may be used one day to justify female priests (institutionally beginning through the reintroduction of the Diaconate) and homosexual marriage. As is common in partisan literature, attempts are made to ground both in the history of the church as a subterranean phenomenon. There’s no reason within this paradigm that Development could not justify these changes. For as Newman admitted, every advance in church doctrine is a novelty. Trent was as much a novelty (as Protestants accused) as Luther’s doctrine (57-58).

Ironically it’s in this bold statement that Newman unveils his brittle understanding of the Reformation. For Newman decried Anglican hypocrisy, as many Protestant mainstays (royal supremacy, Sunday as the Sabbath, infant baptism) were as foreign to the New Testament as purgatory, papal supremacy, and prayers to the saints. And while not a few High Churchmen may have made these arguments, original Anglicans (as the Reformed Church of England) never claimed these doctrines bound the conscience. It was precisely as adiaphora, things indifferent, that churches could choose as normative these doctrines. But these in no way could damn in their alteration. Thus the norm among English churchmen, ranging from so-called Latitudinarians to Non-Jurors, recognized the presbyterian orders of the Continental Reformed. Episcopacy may be an ancient and very good mode of church government, but failure to organize accordingly or believe in it was in no way damning. The accusation against Rome was not only that doctrines such as papal primacy were unscriptural and anti-scriptural, but they bound the conscience, making their adherence an element of salvation. Submission to the pope was not merely a question of convenience or organizational outworking (Melanchthon was willing to submit to the papacy if the Vatican accepted the Augsburg Confession as orthodox), but life or death. The problem is how one knows what is necessary and what is adiaphora, which then is thrown upon the individual conscience. The living voice of the papacy, as an infallible interpreter, solved this crisis. But how was one to know what precisely the pope taught, or which statements were infallibly authoritative? As the struggle over Amoris Laetitia demonstrates, it’s not exactly clear what the magisterium teaches. Newman blasted Gladstone’s interpretation of Vatican I as ignorant, since it was the magisterium over time which would interpret Papal statements. Thus, we return once again to historical defactoism, where the Church’s apostasy is impossible.

Where does this leave us? For Newman, the options are between the individual or the Church, infidelity or orthodoxy. And such is compelling if we accept Newman’s Tractarian definition of the church. Anglo-Catholics are trapped within the logic of Newman’s accusation, weakly trying to turn his arguments for their benefit (through invented doctrines like Branch Theory). Newman is right that historicist arguments implode through research. There is no unified core teaching among the patristics that stands uniformly behind later standards of orthodoxy. It becomes a hypothetical game of special-pleading over whether Justin Martyr would’ve joined with Nicaea or Arius. But there’s another alternative in a very unlikely source.

Benjamin Hoadly became notorious in his day for his stalwart attack on the Non-Juror schism (or, from their point of view, orthodoxy against the conforming revolutionary Church of England’s apostasy). Generally misunderstood as a Latitudinarian and Erastian, even misrepresented by his later fans (Hoadly was neither a Lockean nor proto-liberal, but thoroughly Hookerian), Hoadly stood against the clerisy of those both within and without the Church. But Hoadly’s appeal to conscience was not a defense of the individual or the absolute authority of private judgement. Instead, the main point of contention was precisely how Christ governed his Church: directly or indirectly. Against High-Church polemics that distinguished the Church from the Kingdom of God, Hoadly claimed both were equivalent terms. And if Christians subsist in the Kingdom of Heaven, how exactly is Christ the King? For his High Church and Non-Juror opponents, Christ reigned but did not directly rule. He had passed spiritual government onto his Apostles, who successively passed it onto the bishops. Thus episcopacy, in councils, could bind the conscience. While distinct in many ways from later Tractarians (who claimed these churchmen as precursors), they both claimed a hieratic authority for the clergy to govern the conscience. A priest who denounced a congregant for heresy had the governmental right to damn. Interpreting Jesus’ promise that whatever the Apostles bound in heaven was bound on Earth, Anglican clergy had a right to frame, mold, and arrest the conscience. For Newman later, this principal right was what led him to believe in the need for the papacy as the single, active, charismatic voice to authoritatively interpret and bind the conscience. Newman has a point about the liberality of the papacy when one looks at the use of this clerisy among jure divino Presbyterians and other practitioners of priestcraft. What was one monarch against a horde of contradicting petit lords? Nevertheless, it was the College of Bishops that governed the spiritual kingdom of Christ’s church, limited by an eschatological re-reckoning when church was fully actualized as the Kingdom (which allowed clerical misrule to be overruled when Christ assumed the Judgement seat).

But Bishop Hoadly believed Christ actively governed his church. In his (in)famous sermon, which kickstarted the Bangorian Controversy, Hoadly thundered his contention:

If Christ be our King; let us shew our selves Subjects to Him alone, in the great affair of Conscience and Eternal Salvation: and, without fear of Man’s judgment, live and act as becomes those who wait for the appearance of an All-knowing and Impartial Judge; even that King, whose Kingdom is not of this World. (The Nature of the Kingdom, or Church, of Christ, 1717)

If Christ were in fact king, he would rule in the hearts of his people. It was this great infallible judgement which gathered up the people of God. And it was this eschatological (not fully realized or gathered, and thus invisible) Congregation whose teaching, through her Head Christ, was infallible. Hoadly and his opponents agreed that there needed to be a living voice to judge and govern, but the latter had settled for an indirect authority. The question was whether Christ was King or had handed his authority over to another. To claim that Christ had handed his government to his subordinates, it was effectively a clerical atheism, where God had gone to sleep at the behest of his subordinates. For, analogously, how could the King of England be said to govern in Ireland if he handed his entire authority over to the Lord-Lieutenant? In all ways the latter was effectively sovereign, thus utilizing the royal name to justify an unlimited authority in the king’s name. In some ways, this clerical arrangement demonstrates philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s point about the fracture between sovereign and government. As God receded into nothingness at the heart of a providential arrangement, so too did the sovereign exist only to legitimate his government. Thus, to put it dramatically, Christ either ruled directly or it was the pope (or some other arrangement of clerical government). For Hoadly, the Kingdom of Heaven was fundamentally eschatological, a future reality which shaped the present, and thus was solely conscience. Hoadly didn’t deny the need for a clergy, but their function was not to govern the conscience, but to teach and instruct. They could persuade, not bind, an authority which belonged to Christ’s active rule. While this seems to justify precisely the anarchy of individualism that Newman feared, it put trust on the ability to perceive Christ’s active word in the heart, rather than the ability to interpret papal clarifications.

Newman’s desire to defend papal authority fundamentally derives from the belief that Scripture is unclear. Papal declarations, as living words, could actively interpret Scripture and the traditions of the church. But as seen above, this provokes a crisis of infinite regression. For why not ascribe infallibility not only to Scripture and the pope, but to a certain organ of interpretation? And why not an interpretation of the interpretation? Plausibility masks that it is, in fact, turtles all the way down. Instead, one could double down on Scripture. As Newman recognized, interpretation derived not only from the sheer materiality of the texts, but from the mind that interpreted. Why not offer a trust that God would lead his church into the fullness of truth overtime? Newman, per his age, dismissed the Orientals as backwards and outside the dynamic developments which only took place in Western Europe. Thus it’s no surprise that ecclesiastical development and teaching in churches outside the bounds of the Roman church (such as the Assyrian Church of the East) would simply be ignored. Protestants need not give up the ground: maybe the early church did look more like Protestants than Rome. But I digress. Contrary to the fear of higher critics, intensive scholarship has defended many basic doctrines of historic Christianity. Whether it’s Bauckham’s defense of the historicity of the Gospels, N.T. Wright’s coherent integration of Paul with the story of the Old Testament, or Larry Hurtado’s defense of a high Christology within the New Testament, scholarship can help elucidate the text of Scripture to clarify a generous and deep orthodoxy.

Per Newman’s quotation of Bishop Butler, Christianity offers “a scheme or a system; not a fixed, but a progressive one” (74-75). This is not Development of Doctrine, but an attention to the oracles of God. And such awareness, in its full and comprehensive sense, is not individuals aimlessly interpreting for themselves, building their own systems. Rather, one can hope for a spiritual unity derived from the active Word of God shaping the consciences in men. Thus, is it any surprise that the strongest branches of Christianity exist among the heirs of the Fundamentalists? Despite institutional divisions and substantive doctrinal disagreements, they still adhere to the basics of the faith revealed in Scripture. On the contrary, Rome’s institutional unity is riven with division in practice, teaching, and life. How is Fr. James Martin not only allowed to freely undermine the normative sex ethics of the church in his public teaching, but receive tacit approval through promotion (appointed to the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications)? Hence conservatives and traditionalists attempt to fence the scope and extent of teaching through ex cathedra statements or ecumenical councils. The problem is that this narrowness is precisely what Newman hoped to avoid, instead looking to an active voice that was constantly working out its kinks and growing into fullness.

Newman not only offers nothing for Anglicans, but a return to the catholicity of Protestant ecclesiology is preferable. Thus, instead of utilizing tradition or councils as chains, infallible clarifications of doctrine, they should be seen as expositions of the infallible fount of doctrine: scripture. Such was how the Nicene fathers saw their task. They were not receiving an oracular clarification of the source material, but faithfully stating what they had always believed. Hence even such a stalwart defender of Nicaea, Athanasius, strenuously argued for the use of the non-scriptural concept of homoousious. If one, like Newman, must appeal to an arbitrary or contemporaneous zeitgeist, rather than the tradition understood within a historical epoch, what point is there in defending tradition? Hence the self-defeating nature of Newman’s counter-revolution. Better to stand with Bishop Hoadly, with a wide and deep trust in the active ruling of Christ over His people through the binding words of Scripture. St. Paul did not claim clerical authority over the Bereans to accept his oracular authority. Rather, he praised them when they searched the Scriptures for themselves. But how could they? Scripture was unknowable! Did they not know the skeptical acid that awaited this naive hermeneutic of Scripture interpreting Scripture?! If the Bereans are given in Scripture as a faithful model, perhaps all our epistemic obsessions are symptoms of a failed mind.

Probability and historical scholarship provide the grounds to make the move to faith, the weak hand grabbing hold of Divine Word who never lets go. It’s precisely the opposite of Newman’s supposition, that the revealed impression on the heart/imagination then moves to reason. Rather, it is reason that unveils its limits, its boundaries, and its historic determinations. It’s from within the natural given context of God’s providence that Revelation occurs. Rather than the vain babbling of pagan shamans, the oracles of God summon man’s attention. And it is in this way that Bishop Hoadly (who also gained infamy for denouncing the emotive and hysterical preaching style of his High Church opponents) understood the active government of Christ. Scripture was not a dead book, but a living Word. Christ still spoke through it, slicing through bone and marrow, cutting the heart. Thus, to return once more, Protestants are too quick to reject Chillingworth’s claim. For the Bible as religion is in the sense of religion’s possible etymology: religare, to bind. Only Scripture can bind the conscience, and it is a living trust in Christ that he applies it through the ministers of his church. They are shepherds, not lords; they are guides, not masters. One does not need a magisterial prince or senate to determine the contents of this Scripture. For as all the fathers, from Irenaeus to John Damascene, put it: the Scripture is a given. Newman must believe in a Spirit, not unlike that of the Hegelians, who uses the “cunning of reason” to advance its goals, even if against the intentions of its agents. The canon of Scripture is not as much of a problem as some make it out to be, which I’ve briefly sketched out elsewhere.

Again and again, let us attend to Wisdom. Either the Word of God governs, or He has gone to sleep and delegated His authority elsewhere. I prefer to stand with Hoadly and believe the former. There is no need for Newman’s hysteria or magic. Instead, it is enough, as it has been for the Church in every age, to listen to the living Voice of Christ, of which the Scriptures bear constant witness. It is this living Word who built a Kingdom “not of this world.” Rather than build upon sand, let us give a hearty Amen.

A man asking the questions. Interests in patristics, continental philosophy, early modern history (with a focus on Britain). Long live the Keswick Movement. Blog: http://lettherebejustice.blogspot.com/ Podcast: https://www.patreon.com/gloryofkingz

'“My Kingdom is not of this world”: A Critique of Cardinal Newman’s Development of Doctrine' have 3 comments

  1. October 21, 2021 @ 10:22 pm Joshua

    I guess another example of this “doctrine of developmnet” in action, is the current synodal church project that the pope is initiating. “Synodality is the call of God for the church in 3rd millennium… It is a shift of culture and a move toward protagonism for all the people of God.” – Sr. Nathalie Becquart.
    Another “ascension” to some new level that God is guiding us to. And as a former evangelical, it also sounds awfully familiar… “God is doing a new thing!” “It’s the new fad!”


  2. August 19, 2022 @ 7:10 pm Garland Grimes

    Thanks so much for this article. It was so helpful, resolving for me years of personal struggle, allowing me to once again find my roots in Scripture and Christ alone.


  3. January 3, 2024 @ 2:09 pm Mark

    Very fascinating and edifying read. Thanks.


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