Printer Friendly

"Growth the only evidence of life": development of doctrine and The Idea of a University.

"The rubric 'development of doctrine' has been in use since John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," observes George A. Lindbeck (13n). Fellow theologian Jaroslov Pelikan observes that Newman's essay is "the almost inevitable starting point for the investigation of the development of doctrine" (3). Thus Newman and the idea of development in religious doctrine are almost synonymous. This raises a most fascinating question. Why Newman? Why at this particular time in the middle of the nineteenth century? Surely the idea itself was not new. Under the various terms of growth, change, process, progress, evolution, and development the concept was current in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It has in fact been around since the beginning of western civilization as John Nisbet has shown exhaustively in his two general studies of the idea. Karl Weintraub has demonstrated that around 1800 "our modern sense of history and of individuality grew from the fusing of an emergent genetic sense anal a growing concern for singularity" (332). So, if the idea was in the air, why was Newman the first one to thus exploit it in theology?

A similar question arose some twenty years ago for Erik Erikson in his reflections on "Autobiographical Notes on the Identity Crisis" in a seminar dedicated to the questions of how major transforming concepts or theories developed, and what [is] the climate propitious to such developments (v). His essay attempts to "lay out some of the possible reasons for my having been the person who, at a given time in his life and in the history of psychoanalysis, came to observe and to name something by now so self-evident as the identity crisis and to explain, on fact, why it now seems so self-evident" (730). Apart from clinical and anthropological observation Erikson finds the concept rooted concretely and autobiographically in his identity as an adopted son of his stepfather and his subsequent "adoption" by Anna and Siegmund Freud. To the best of my knowledge, no biographer or scholar of Newman has asked that question in any detail about Newman. The question could, of course, also be asked of Darwin. As Richard Altick has pointed out, with the admitted exception of some "crucial additions," Origin of Species "was largely a brilliant synthesis of many scientific ideas already current. What was new was Darwin's explanation of organic mutability" (226). Waiter Ong, for example, in discussing the intellectual milieu of the Essay rightly points out that it is imminent in his early works and anticipatory of subsequent writing thus giving "a unified significance" to the history of his writings, but like others before and after Ong does not ask about the autobiographical origins of so pivotal idea; he simply assumes Newman borrowed it from the current discourse ("Newman's Essay," 3).

This neglect of the autobiographical origins of the idea of development is no more dramatically exemplified than in Ian Kerr's recent and otherwise authoritative biography which devotes only 53 of its 750 pages to the first thirty-two years of Newman's life and in those 53 pages he nowhere deals explicitly with the formation of the key insight of his personal and intellectual life. Even Henry Bremond's life, which purported to study Newman's "intellectual, emotional, and inner life" (p.37), says nothing about the idea of development. Wilfred Ward's biography, which devotes 118 pages to the Essay spends only 53 pages of the first forty-four years of his life. And yet he calls it "a record of the genesis of his thought" (I, 3). Maisie Ward tried to redress such obvious neglect in Young Mister Newman where she says, quoting Newman himself, "we rarely know much of men in their most interesting years,--the years when they were forming--'from eighteen to twenty-eight or thirty (vii). One need not be much of a psycho-biographer to find this designation Of the "formative years" rather naive especially when dealing with someone as emotionally and intellectually precocious as Newman. Much had happened in Newman s intellectual development before he reached the ripe age of twenty. Meriol Trevor, of all biographers up to her time, comes closest to suggesting what I am addressing here. Newman, she writes, "had transferred the idea of growth from the individual to the group on the highest personal level, before it was discovered the lowest and basic level of biology." She then suggests a line of pursuit, saying at "it is possible to trace the course of this growth because of his exceptional self-awareness, which some have considered self-preoccupation" (4). Unfortunately, having put her finger on one of the key sources, she fails to follow through in her otherwise excellent narrative biography.

It is my intention here, therefore, to trace the origins and conceptualization of Newman's fundamental, almost self-defining, insight in the first twenty-five years of his life before suggesting how both the Essay on Development and later the Idea of a University (1) grew out of the gradually shaping insight and are both rooted in it, exemplifying that both in the unfolding of revelation and the cultivation of the intellect, development is the central guiding insight. I am suggesting in what follows that certain traits of character and temperament, certain practices, and certain experiences all converged to make Newman the right person with the right idea at the right time in the study of the history of Christian doctrine, and somewhat incidentally in terms of magnitude, in the contemporary ongoing dialogue about what university education should be. My procedure will be to pursue him through what I see to be the formative years, from birth to the age of twenty five, by following him through volume one of the Letters and Diaries, like a gleaner looking for what previous biographers and scholars have, I am convinced, overlooked.

We might begin with a seemingly trivial entry in a boyhood pocketbook. In 1810, at the age of nine, he penciled in his first entry, a biblical truism which upon reflection might well be seen as emblematic of his life to come: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (LD,I,5). In the Autobiographical Writings there is a small passage of some twenty one lines written over a period of 72 years. The initial entry written in 1812 at the age of 11 suggests how precociously self-conscious he had become at so early an age: "John Newman wrote this just before he was going up to Greek on Tuesday, June 10, 1812, when it wanted only three days to his going home, thinking of the time (at home) when looking at this he shall recollect when he did it" (5). This projecting of the future moment occurs in later years when, for example, he writes his mother from Oxford: "I have no doubt I shall look back with regret to the time I was at Oxford and my birthday of 18" (LD,I,62).

In the notebooks and diaries and letters written throughout his life there is a definite pattern of looking back to the past and forward to the future. In 1807 he left his home at Ham near Richmond for good, going off to school at Ealing. Almost 60 years later he wrote "it has ever been in my dreams" (LD,I,4). In 1886 he said it was a place "which I dreamed about when a schoolboy as if it was Paradise" (LD,I,4). In 1816 after his father's financial failure, Newman wrote to his aunt Elizabeth about leaving Norwood saying "he must have been conscious to himself that he would never see it (as his home) again" (LD,I,26). To his brother Frank he wrote in 1820 from Oxford: "For the calm happiness I now enjoy I cannot feel thankful as I ought. How in my future life, if I do live, shall I look back with a sad smile at these days!" (LD,I,82). What one senses here is a vivid consciousness of his being on the move--of moving from one place to another, of reaching back from a present point to a past one in a sort of Augustinian consciousness of the self stretched across time. It is as if he was ever in the presence of himself growing, a phenomenon poignantly borne out by a 1874 memo scribbled on a Latin oration delivered at Oriel in 1823: I read this now for the first time these 51 years with sad tenderness, as if I loved and pitied the poor boy so ignorant of the future, who then wrote and delivered it before the Provost and Fellows, now almost all dead, but to whom I then looked up with great reverence and loving pride (LDI.157). In this "sad smile and "sad tenderness" one hears echoes of the Virgilian time-bridging exhortation Haec olim forsan et meminisse juvabit (One day you will enjoy looking back even on what you now endure"), or of the Wordsworthian vision "That in this moment there is food and life / For future years." (2)

A second important aspect of Newman's early years is his dedication to the arduous task of composition. In an autobiographical memoir of 1874 he says, though in no respect a precocious boy, he attempted original composition in probe and verse from the age of eleven, and in prose showed a grit sensibility and took much pain in matters of style (AW, 29). While at Oxford he wrote a critique of the plays of Aeschylus on the principles of Aristotle's Poetics, though original composition at that time had no place in school examinations" (AW,40). In an 1872 transcription of some early journal entries he writes that the unpleasant style in which it is written arises from my habit from a boy to compose" (AS,149). The highly developed sense of introspection and self-consciousness revealed in the early acts of memory and imagining the future cited above can now be combined with an introspection or inwardness heightened and refined by sustained and rigorous efforts at original composition. As Walter Ong has pointed out, all writing--far short of the laborious kind we are witnessing here--has an interiorizing effect on a person. The cultural transition from orality to literacy literally restructures human consciousness. If an Ong says, "writing heightens consciousness," one can imagine the impact of such sustained and arduous exercise on an already self-conscious writer (Orality 82). It was, in fact, in the sustained experience of the writing process that Newman formally conceptualized the subjective insight of development--something growing from a seed into a full blown fruit. Two telling examples suggest this. In 1821 an essay he had submitted for an English Essay prize failed to win. Looking back thirty years later he writes: "This Essay gives evidence I had not yet attended to composition--i.e, taking an idea and developing it. I believe the same fault is to be found in my Essay on ancient Slavery. Perhaps I did not begin to attempt this difficult accomplishment (which even now, November 1851, is what tries and distresses me in writing) till I had been writing Sermons for some time" (Culler,23). This becomes even more explicit in his struggles with Latin composition. In an 1855 essay included later in Idea he records his own experiences through an imaginary obliging tutor, Mr. Black, who confesses "I had some idea of the style of Addison, Hume, and Johnson, in English; but I had no idea what was meant by good Latin style." Thus, he continues, "I was aiming to be an architect by learning to make bricks" (Idea,368). Newman's apparently lifelong struggle with genuine composition--unfolding an idea in his mind while committing it to writing--certainly sensitized him to the organic growth of ideas in any human mind which is itself growing and developing as it moves across a spectrum of time through heightened and expanding consciousness.

It is also clear that Newman at an early age began to see explicitly this developmental growth model at work both in the human thought processes and in the life pattern of an individual. Upon turning 21 he wrote his mother: "There is an illusion in the words 'being of age,' which is apt to convey the idea of some sudden and unknown change. That point, instead of being gained by the slow and silent progress of one and twenty years, seems to be divided by some strongly marked line, the past from the to-come" (LD,I,123).

Finally, another and more crucial event of his youth must be discussed--the conversion of 1816. Perhaps the best known and most often written about aspect of his early years, because of his own stressing of it in the Apologia, it nevertheless must be seen here as just one more element contributing to the subsequent fundamental insight about slow progressive change in general and doctrinal development in particular. Profoundly influenced by the writings of Thomas Scott, an evangelical clergyman, Newman says "for years I used almost as proverbs what I considered to be the scope and issue of his doctrine, 'Holiness rather than peace,' and 'Growth the only evidence of life'" (Apologia, 5). "Growth the only evidence of life." What single phrase could sum up more completely the entire tenor of Newman both intellectually and personally. His meticulous recording of the movements of his own life even at an early age, his deepening awareness of the developmental organic structure of human thought, and now a profound transition, a conversion, in his life as a Christian which he saw at the time and would see throughout his life as continuous rather than discontinuous, as organic movement rather than static stages, as development rather than corruption. In a lengthy letter of 1817 his former school master Walter Mayers described to the young convert what this kind of spiritual change is. "The change," he writes, "is what I would call conversion, or rather what I understand the Scripture would denominate conversion,--A change which is very rarely sudden or instantaneous but generally slow and gradual, arising often times from causes which appear at the times fortuitous, but which the mind when enlightened will discern to have been directed by God (LD,I,32). This conversion is explored in autobiographical notes written in 1820-21 and later transcribed with editing in 1874. The following entry suggests how the stuff of life makes its way into his subsequent writings: "The reality of conversion--as cutting at the root of doubt, providing a chain between God and the soul (i.e. with every link complete) I know I am right. How do I know it. I know I know. How? I know I know I know &c &c (vide Grammar of Assent, p.195-97,ed4)." (AW,150) In the Apologia he writes "a great change of thought took place in me" (4), but this change in elsewhere described as both quiet and continuous. The personal influence of Mayers and the writings of Scott while conducing to the feeling of election to eternal life, also grow out of his longstanding "mistrust of the reality of material phenomena" (4). Newman describes the particular circumstances of the conversion as quite serene. Finishing the school term at Ealing early, "thereby I was left at school by myself, my friends gone away--(that is, it was a time of reflection, and where the influences of Mr. Mayers would have room to act, upon me. Also, I was terrified at the heavy, hand of God which came down upon me (AW,150). In June or July 1821, he writes I speak of (the process of) conversion with great diffidence, being obliged to adopt the language of books. For my own feelings, as far as I remember, were so different from any account I had ever read, that I dare not go by what may be the individual case (AW,166). Commenting on these very lines five years later, July 1826, he adds this reflection: I am persuaded that very many of my most positive and dogmatic notions were taken from books. In the matter in question (conversion) my feelings were not violent, but a returning to, a renewing of, principles, under the power of the Holy Spirit, which I had already felt, and in a measure acted on, when young" (AW,172).

The converging pattern we have seen above--continuity of consciousness in recollecting the past and projecting the future, compositional activity, a and conversion--come together in the combined concerns about his own spiritual growth and the unconscious shifting of his theological positions brought about by regular preaching. A diary entry for February 21, 1825, notes "dined in rooms and reviewed the past year" (LD,I,211). In a fuller entry for that date in Autobiographical Writings he writes that the necessity of composing sermons has obliged me to systematize and complete my ideas on many subjects. He expresses regret that "this change of opinion is occurring with little opportunity for devotion or private study," that he lacks time for prayer and "stated self-examination" (204-5). On Sunday, July 17, of that same year he writes that I may add to my above remarks on my change of sentiments as to Regeneration, that I have been principally or in great measure led to this change by the fact that in my parochial activities I found many, who in most important points were inconsistent, but whom yet I could not say were altogether without grace" (AW,206). In the autobiographical memoir of 1874 he points to this period, also as the beginning of a great change in his religious opinions" (AW,73). Acknowledging "the force of logic and the influence of others, he credits personal pastoral experience for his growing conviction that the religion which he had received from John Newton and Thomas Scott would not work in a parish; that it was unreal; that thus he had actually found as a fact, as Mr. Hawkins had told him beforehand, that Calvinism was not a key to the phenomena of human nature, as they occur in the world" (AW,79). This pattern of adult theological reflection would continue. In February 21, 1827 he reviews the previous year focusing on his religious growth (AW,210). By the time he was twenty four, the pattern of Newman s mind was clearly set. In Loss and Gain, Newman's thinly veiled conversion biographical novel, he writes of his hero that "it is impossible to stop the growth of the mind. Here was Charles with his thoughts turned away from religious controversy for two years, yet with his religious views progressing, unknown to himself the whole time" (202).

From this point in time we can date the twenty-year intellectual and spiritual Odyssey that would culminate in the Essay. In August, 1825, he was engaged in a long correspondence with his brother Charles who was undergoing a crisis of faith. At one point he counters Charles's qualms about the authenticity of certain texts in Scripture by pointing out that "the New Testament is not Christianity, but the record of Christianity" (LD,I,254), a statement that would no doubt have offended many conservative ears of the times. This position is clearly echoed again in 1845 when he writes in the Essay that "it may be objected that the inspired document at once determines the limits of its mission without further trouble; but ideas are in the writer and the reader of revelation, not the inspired text itself" (56), a statement startling perhaps even for many today. Granted the earlier statement was directed to the genuineness of the gospels and the latter to the transmission of ideas and their subsequent growth in the minds of readers, the principle at stake is the same--the revelation of transcendent truth is caught up in the very complex and finite historical process of human understanding.

These twenty years preceding the Essay fall into three periods: 1826-1833, from the Oriel tutorship to the publication of Arians of the Fourth Century; 1833-1841, 1841, from the beginning of the Tractarian Movement to the publication of Tract 90; and from his rejection by the University and the Bishops to his publication of the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

In May 1826, he wrote to his sister Harriet announcing "I am about to undertake a great work perhaps" (LD,I,284) referring her to a letter to his sister Jemima for a fuller explanation, a letter in which it is described as "a work which may take me--t!e!!-n!!!--years??? perhaps twenty--but that is a long time to look forward to--perhaps too long--for a reader and thinker must not look for a long life, and I reflect with a sigh that half my life is gone, and I have done nothing.--I hope I have laid the foundation of something" (LD,I,285). With Coleridgean bravado he lays out this immense task: "But what after all is the subject?--it is to trace the sources from which the corruptions of the Church, principally the Romish, have been derived--It would consequently involve a reading of all the Fathers--200 volumes at least--(you saw some good stout gentlemen in Oriel Library--Austin 12 folio volumes Chrysostom 13 do.--) all on the principal Platonists, Philo, Plotinus, Julian, etc--an inquiry into Gnosticism--Rabbinical literature--and I know not what else--perhaps much, much more--am not I bold?" (LD,I,285). This boldness prompted him to write his friend Samuel Rickards about an encyclopedic and systematic review of the Old English divines (LD,I,309-10), a task to which he would in fact address himself almost ten years later but first he had to produce what would be his initial albeit implicit application of the theory of development to doctrinal change. (3) The Arians of the Fourth Century, a work which had been commissioned for an historical series, when finished evoked from William Rowe Lyall, one of the editors, the comment that "Mr. Newman's views seem to me more favourable to the Roman writers, than I should like to put forward in the Theological Library" (LD,III,105). If his initial study of the early church and the Fathers led him to a Catholic reading of doctrinal history, his subsequent reading of the Anglican Fathers backed him into it. Attempting to use these theologians systematically in presenting the Anglican "via media" in Prophetical Office of the Church (1837) and Lectures on Justification (1838) Newman discovered that they were not historians when they dealt with history.' Actually, as early as 1831 writing to Samuel Rickards to whom he had initially proposed such use of these theologians he commented that "the standard Divines are magnificent fellows, but then they are Antiquarians or Doctrinists, not Ecclesiastical Historians--Bull, Waterland, Petavius, Baronius and the rest--of the historians I have met with I have a very low opinion--Mosheim, Gibbon, Middleton, Milner, etc--Cave and Tillement are highly respectable, but biographers" (LD,II,371).

Clearly Newman had found no adequate model for reading that past and its texts and was gradually articulating his own, a theory that would explain the facts, rather than twist the facts to fit a theory. It is indeed a felicitous coincidence that the year 1845 witnessed not only the publication of Newman's Essay but also of Poe's short story "The Purloined Letter," for both exemplify what may be fairly called a "Romantic" epistemology, one which considers the role of imaginative insight as equal to or superior to reason and logic. Poe's master sleuth, M. Dupin, tells his companion why the Prefect of Police failed to find the stolen letter: "'The measures, then, ... were good in their kind and well executed; their defect in their being inapplicable to the case, and to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources are with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs, (I,19). Later, Sherlock Holmes in a story clearly echoing and parodying Poe, 'A Scandal in Bohemia," provides a similar answer to Dr. Watson as to why he has not yet solved his case: "I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts," (3). Newman's own experientially based theory of development, ultimately based on his concept of the illative sense, would be the paradigm for this new reading and explanation of the facts of doctrinal history. (5)

Thus, as Erik Erikson's insight into "identity" and "identity crisis" emerged from his "personal, clinical, and anthropological observations," (747) so Newman's' insight into "development" grew out of his personal experience of the self as a developing entity, gathering and incorporating, so as to achieve a personal continuity of consciousness over space and time. (6) As the individual, so the social phenomenon. Revelation is made to developing spiritual beings embedded in history--in space and time--and as he says with conviction in the Essay, "in a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often" (63). This is only a mature articulation of the insight achieved thirty years before: "Growth the only evidence of life."


In the Essay we find a convergence of the private and the public. Written as a personal synthesis of those arguments which brought him from the Anglican to the man Catholic Church, it is at once autobiography and theology. Karl Weintraub says that the proper form of autobiography is one "wherein a self-reflective person asks 'who am I?' and 'how did I come to be what I am?'" (1). What is here autobiographical in origin will become autobiography in form when in the narrative of the Apologia Newman traces from the inside, as it were, the forty four years leading up to the writing of the Essay. Yet the autobiographical note is struck here by the highly personal tone of the original 1845 Advertisement to the Essay where he apologizes for the frequent self-quotations "which are necessary in order to show how he stands at present in relation to various of his former publications" (x) and by the antesque echo at the end of the Introduction where he apologizes for the fact that his evidence is far from exhaustive. The bold enterprise once envisioned by the youth of twenty five was daunting, but "much less can such an undertaking be imagined by one who, in the huddle of his days, is beginning life again (31, emphasis mine).

My interest here is focused exclusively on the first two chapters of the Essay. The rest of the chapters in Part I are simply the application of the theory to the antecedent probability of development and Part II is a detailed series of studies applying the notes of true development, seven notes which are in fact somewhat arbitrary and which Newman applies with decreasing degrees of thoroughness ranging from one hundred pages on the first to seven on the last. While it exceeds the limit of the present topic, it may be pointed out that even the choice and arrangement of doctrines treated serve autobiographical as well as objective theological needs. But the heart of the Essay is the discussion in Chapters I and II of the way the human mind works.

The opening words we read are that "it is the characteristic of our minds to be ever engaged in passing judgment on the things that come before us. No sooner do we apprehend than we judge; we allow nothing to stand by itself; we compare, contrast, abstract, generalize, connect, adjust, classify; and we view all our knowledge in the associations with which these processes have invested it" (33). It is tempting here to ask, is this the beginning of a treatise on doctrinal history, or on educational theory, or on assent to truth, or even a history of one's own religious opinions? It is clear that in all these cases the starting point for Newman is the nature of the human knower, the way the human mind works in the concrete.

His method in the first two chapters is to move from the nature of ideas growing in the individual mind to the nature of teaching and learning. Newman, first of all, who in the Apologia describes his youthful "mistrust of the reality of material phenomena" which made him "rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator" (4), is not now thinking of a transcendent a historical self receiving divine truths in their completeness from a supremely transcendent being--God. However unquestioned the reality of the human spirit and the reality of a transcendent God, the human spirit is firmly embedded in history, in space and time, with all the limitations such a predicament implies. Thus an idea, "which represents an object or supposed object is commensurate with the sum total of its possible aspects, however they may vary in the separate consciousness of individuals" (34), "but there is no one aspect deep enough to exhaust the content of a real idea, no one term or proposition which will serve to define it" (35). "When an idea, whether real or not, is of a nature to arrest and possess the mind, it may be said to have life, that is, to live in the mind which is its recipient" (36). Once such an idea is possessed by the mind of manic individuals its growth is slow and complex. This process Newman calls "its development, being the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth on a large mental field" (38). He explicitly rejects a logical or deterministic model of knowing when he says this "development of an idea 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; and it employs the minds as its instruments, and depends upon them while it uses them" (38). Then, foreshadowing both his argument for infallibility in Chapter II and his later awareness of the risks involved for a religious community in sponsoring the cultivation of the intellect, as he would recommend in Idea, he says that "this it is that imparts to the history of both states and of religions its specially turbulent and polemical character. Such is the explanation of wrangling, whether of scholars or of parliaments. It is the warfare of ideas under their various aspects striving for the mastery, each of them enterprising, engrossing, imperious, more or less incompatible with the rest, and rallying followers or rousing foes, according as it acts upon the faith, the prejudice, or the interests of parties or classes" (39). Ideas develop in minds, consciously or unconsciously, peacefully or contentiously, ordinarily over long periods of time, even at the end of which the complexity of a real idea is not fully exhausted or developed. Newman, like Coleridge before him, takes pleasure in pointing out that "with all our intimate knowledge of animal life and of the structure of particular animals, we have not arrived at a true definition of any one of them, but are forced to enumerate properties and accidents by way of description" (35). (7)

The analogy with teaching and learning is drawn explicitly in the opening paragraph of Chapter II which, with typical rhetorical brilliance, summarizes the previous chapter. After describing how the historical fact of Christianity impresses a real idea on the mind and that idea then expands "into a multitude of ideas, and aspects of ideas, connected and harmonious with one another," he says this occurs because "it is a characteristic of our minds that they cannot take an object in which is submitted to them simply and integrally. We conceive by means of definition or description; whole objects do not create in the intellect whole ideas, but are, to use a mathematical phrase, thrown into series, into a number of statements, strengthening, interpreting, correcting each other, and with more or less exactness approximating, as they accumulate to a perfect image. There is no other way of learning or teaching. We cannot teach except by aspects or views which are not identical with the thing itself which we are teaching. Two persons may each convey the same truth to a third, yet by methods and representations altogether different. The same person will treat the same argument differently in an essay or speech, according to the accident of the day of writing, or of the audience, yet will be substantially the same" (55). Thus, Newman's "classroom" is one where uniquely individual minds struggle to communicate with other uniquely individual minds amid constantly changing times and circumstances. It is not the classroom of Dickens's Mr. McChoakumchild where one sees students sitting "like an inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim" (Hard Times, 12). The method of teaching, of course, becomes the method of examining the historical process of unfolding revelation.

For anyone who might object that in the case of revelation, which is in fact a sort of teaching/learning situation, at least the textbook, speaks for itself, determines "the limits of its mission without further trouble," Newman counters, as we have seen, that "ideas are in the writer and reader of revelation, not in the inspired text itself" (56). For the problem is still the same: "the question is whether those ideas which the letter conveys from writer to reader, reach the reader at once in their completeness and accuracy on his first perception of them, or whether they open out in his intellect and grow to perfection in the course of time" (56). Newman is insistent on the analog to human learning and understanding for he ends his point by reiterating that "unless some special ground of exception can be assigned, it is as evident that Christianity, as a doctrine and worship will develop in the minds of recipients, as that it conforms in other respects, in its external propagation or its political framework, to the general method by which the course of things is carried forward" (57).

The force of this argument within the context of the Essay leads to an argument for the antecedent probability of the development of doctrine throughout the history of the Church, which leads in turn to an argument for the antecedent probability of an infallible guide of that process (which is not deterministic as physical evolution would be) which need not concern us here except to point out that just as conscience for Newman is the "governor" or regulator of individual growth (George Eliot said "The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice"), so the multiplicity of opinions inevitably engendered over time by the conscious and unconscious exercise of the intellect must somehow be brought into unison if revealed truth is to be salvific and unifying. Describing the reality that results when "reason, as it is called, is the standard of truth and right," Newman concludes that individuals will tolerate no "common measure." The solution is again described in terms of teaching and learning; for it is preciously education, as he will stress in the Idea which causes the diversity. There can," he says, "be no combination on the basis of truth without an organ of truth. As cultivation brings out the colours of flowers and domestication changes the character of animals, so does education of necessity develop differences of opinion; and while it is impossible to lay down first principles in which all will unite, it is utterly unreasonable to expect that this man should yield to that, or all to one" (90). And thus "the only general persuasive in matters of conduct is authority" (90). The rest of the Essay grows out of this insight into the processes of human understanding, communication, and interpretation. The revelation is divine and transcendent; the medium and recipients however are very finite and time bound. The process of development is very human, however divinely guided to its destined end. Development of doctrine, like teaching and learning, is a very subtle often frustrating but ultimately enriching process.


By now it should be clear how much personal and subjective experience lies behind Newman's objective theological concept "development of doctrine." Let me now proceed to suggest how personal experience lies behind most of his thinking on education as expressed in The Idea of a University and pursue further the analogs between it and the Essay.

Dwight Culler has dealt magisterially with the subject and has shown how the writing of the Idea coincided with a move Newman's Oratorian community made from one part of Birmingham to another. Already planning to review his long years as Oxford--a trait we have seen before--as an acceptable model for University education, he now had the additional opportunity to sift through his incredible accumulation of writings and notes. He would not be reviewing in memory only but could cull from material ranging from his earliest exercises as a student to his published works. During the Oxford years Newman engaged in a confrontation with Edward Hawkins, Provost of Oriel, over the lecture vs. the tutorial method. The two elements Newman stressed in education, as Culler points out, were "the element of discipline or law and the element of influence. Influence is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other, and Newman considered this to be the heart of the educational process" (157). This role of personal influence runs deep in Newman's thought. In 1840, writing against the substitution of secular and scientific knowledge for religious truth, he said "deductions have no power of persuasion. The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us" (DA,293). For Newman, although he would argue vigorously for the cultivation of the intellect as an end in itself, it is not the end of education. His parting comment to readers of the Essay is not a call for scholarly examination of this evidence and argument but a reminder that "time is short, eternity is long" (418).

Thus Newman advocated the tutorial method because teaching is a pastoral activity and teachers and students form a community of learners. "A University is," he says, "according to the usual designation, an Alma Mater, knowing her children one by one, not a foundry or mint, or a breadmill" (144-45). Newman was interestingly enough anticipated in this by the poet William Cowper whose poem "Tirocinium or a Review of Schools" advocated the tutorial method as better suited for dealing with "adolescents," which turns out to be the first use in the English language of that term as describing a developmental stage between childhood and adulthood (Cowper,353). What both decried was the regarding of students as impersonal receptacles to be filled or products to be manufactured. "Real teaching," Newman says, "... at least tends toward cultivation of the intellect; it at least recognizes that knowledge is something more than a sort of passive recognition of scraps and details; it is something and it does something which never will issue from the most strenuous efforts of a set of teachers, with no mutual sympathies and no intercommunion, of a set of examiners with no opinion which they dare profess, and with no common principles, who are teaching or questioning a set of youths who do not know them, and do not know each other, on a large number of subjects, different in kind and connected by no wide philosophy, three times a week, or three times a year, or once in three years, in chill lecture rooms or on a pompous anniversary" (147-48). In real teaching one finds a "multitude of ideas" which are "connected and harmonious" such as rise out of a community reflecting over time on the content of revelation as seen in the Essay. One finds truths which are not impersonally dictated but lovingly and not without difficulty communicated from person to person--not the communication of fragments and bits between total strangers.

Newman's stress on the developmental model is borne out both by his explicit ideas and his choice of words. He recommends Grammar as the first step in intellectual training "which is to impress upon a boy's mind the idea of science, method, order, principle and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony." The second is Mathematics which gives him "a conception of development anal arrangement from and around a common centre" (xix). In describing the history of his own views on liberal education he speaks of "a fuller development and more exact delineation of the principles of which the University was representative" (p.2). His own views "have grown into my whole system of thought, and are, as it were, part of myself. Many changes has my mind gone through: here it has known no variation of vacillation of opinion, and though this by itself is no proof of the truth of my principles, it puts a seal upon conviction, and is a justification of earnestness and zeal" (4). Again the study of style, Cicero's for example, is important because "it is the expression of lofty sentiment in lofty sentences, the 'mens magna in corpore magno.' It is the development of the inner man" (281). Finally, the literature of a people is seen as a development of a nation or a culture: The growth of a nation is like that of an individual; its tone of voice and subjects for speech vary with every age" (310).

Just as the Church runs the risk of contamination from its contact with the world, it runs an equal risk in isolating itself. So in true education one runs risks--either losing an intellect cultivated simply for its own sake or destroying or impairing it by training it only for some useful or specific task. In the Essay he asks "whether all authority does not necessarily lead to resistance" (50) and admits "education of necessity develops differences of opinion" (107). So in Idea he says "Knowledge viewed as Knowledge, exerts a subtle influence in throwing us back on ourselves, and making us our own centre, and our minds the measure of all things. This then is the tendency of that Liberal Education, of which a University is the school, vis., to view Revealed Religion from an aspect of its own,--to fuse and recast it,--to tune it, as it were, to a different key, and to reset its harmonies.... A sense of propriety, order, consistency, and completeness gives birth to a rebellious stirring against miracles and mystery, against the severe and the terrible" (217-18). This is the risk one takes if one conceives of the human mind as an organism and not a machine.

What Newman advocates is a philosophic habit of mind at once precise and capacious, one that can examine detail minutely and comprehend the whole systematically, one that does not look out to the world and the universe only from a limited disciplinary point of view, however adequate that may be in exploring its particular subject, but one which sees the whole as a whole. Thus he argues in Part I on University Teaching for the rightful and necessary place of theology in the university faculty and curriculum if the whole of truth is to be the subject of learning and in Part II on University Subjects he warns against the narrowing effects of Useful knowledge "which may resolve itself into an art, and terminate in a mechanical process, and a tangible fruit" (112).


I should like to conclude by briefly discussing another strong influence on Newman, one already suggested in passing. As late as 1872 Newman wrote that "Wordsworth's Ode is one of the most beautiful poems in our language" (LD,XXVI,56). In 1860, writing about the lives of the saints, he says that the real life is "a narration which impresses the reader with the idea of moral unity, identity, growth, continuity, personality" (HS,II,227), Finally, in 1845 speaking of the "conservative action of the past" in the Essay he writes that the "bodily structure of a man is not merely that of a magnified boy; he differs from what he was in make and proportions; still manhood is the perfection of boyhood, adding something of its own, yet keeping what it finds" (419-20). Clearly his own devout wish was that the movements both of his own life and that of the Church doctrinal life could be "Bound each to each by natural piety." Almost all of Newman's writings are, as I have been suggesting about the two works under consideration in particular, recollections of a past that has both a private and public dimension and significance.

As Wordsworth records in his poetry his movement from a period of youth when he saw the "splendour in the grass" and the "glory in the flower" to mature years which bring "the philosophic mind," so Newman in his essay on "Elementary Studies" in Idea begins with the undifferentiated vision of an infant and moves to that mature differentiated vision which "gradually converts a calidoscope into a picture," and concludes that "the first view was more splendid, the second the more real; the former more poetical, the latter more philosophical" (331). The Wordsworthian diction is obvious. Less obvious, perhaps, is that it opens the way to the Grammar of Assent with its illative sense that fuses imagination and reason. In The Prelude Wordsworth's life and reflections would lead him to the source of that philosophic mind--at times called the "Imagination--here the Power so called / Through sad incompetence of human speech" (VI, 592-93). At other times it is called "spiritual Love [which] acts not nor can exist
 Without Imagination, which, in truth
 Is but another name for absolute power
 And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
 And Reason in her most exalted mood. (XIV,188-92)

Or, again, it is called "intellectual Love," for
 Imagination having been our theme,
 So also hath that intellectual Love,
 For they are each in each, and cannot stand
 Dividually. (XIV,206-209)

Read in this light the writer of the Essay is not a disinterested historian but a concerned reasoner. Read in this light the writer of Idea is not an educational theorist but a loving and concerned teacher, concerned to bring out the full uniqueness of each individual committed to his care. What Wordsworth compressed into the word "imagination" Newman would finally call the "illative sense." In the Grammar of Assent, echoing both the Essay and Idea almost verbatim, he says "everyone who reasons, is his own centre; and no expedient for attaining a common measure of minds can reverse this truth" (345). Here all Newman ideas converge: doctrines tend toward their fulfillment, their perfection or individuality; education tends to bring out the uniqueness, the individuality of the human person; and now he tells us that the illative sense is the perfection of that human individuality on the cognitive level: "What is the peculiarity of our nature, in contrast with the inferior animals around us? It is that, though man cannot change what he is born with, he is a being of progress with relations to his perfection and characteristic good. Other beings are complete from their first existence, in that line of excellence which is allotted to them; but man begins with nothing realized (to use the word), and he has to make capital for himself by the exercise of those faculties which are his natural inheritance. Thus he gradually advances to the fullness of his original destiny. Nor is this progress mechanical, nor is it of necessity; it is committed to the personal efforts of each individual of the species; each of us has the prerogative of completing his inchoate and rudimentary nature, and of developing his own perfection out of the living elements with which his mind began to be. It is his gift to be the creator of his own sufficiency; and to be emphatically self-made. This is the law of his being, which he cannot escape; and whatever is involved in that law he is bound, or rather he is carried on, to fulfil" (348-49). Thus whether it be in matters of doctrine, education, or the psychology of knowing, "Growth [is] the only evidence of life."

College of the Holy Cross

Works Cited

Altick, Richard D. Victorian People and Ideas. New York: Norton, 1973.

Bremond, Henri. The Mystery of Newman. London: William and Norgate, 1907.

Chadwick, Owen. From Bossuet to Newman. The Idea of Doctrinal Development. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1957.

Coburn, Kathleen. The Self-Conscious Imagination. London Oxford, 1974.

Cowper, William. Verses and Letters. Ed. Brian Spiller, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard U, 1968.

Culler, A. Dwight. The Imperial Intellect: A Study of Newman's Educational Ideal. New Haven: Yale UP, 1955.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: New American Library, 1961.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Bramhall House, 1975.

Erikson, Erik. "Autobiographical Notes on the Identity Crisis." Daedalus 99 (1970): 730-759.

Kerr Ian. John Henry Newman: A Biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988.

Lindbeck, George. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia: Westminster P, 1984.

Newman, John Henry. Apologia Pro Vita Sua. London: Longmans, 1895.

--. John Henry Newman: Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Henry Tristram. London: Sheed and Ward, 1956.

--. Discussions and Arguments on Various Occasions. London: Longmans, 1891.

--. An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. London: Longmans, 1891.

--. An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. London: Longmans, 1894.

--. Historical Sketches. 3 Vols. London: Longmans, 1896.

--. The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated. London: Longmans, 1896.

--. The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman. 31 Vols. I-X: Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978--; XI-XXXIII: London: Thomas Nelson, 1961-1977.

Nisbet, Robert. History of the Idea of Progress. New York: Basic Books, 1980.

--. Social Change and History: Aspects of the Western Theory of Development. London: Oxford UP, 1969.

Novak, Michael. "Newman at Nicea." Theological Studies 21 (1960) 44-53.

Ong, Walter J. "Newman's Essay On Development in its Intellectual Milieu." Theological Studies 13 (1946): 3-45.

--. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen, 1982.

Pelikan, Jaroslov. Development of Christian Doctrine: Some Historical Prolegomena. New Haven, Yale UP, 1969.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. 5 Vols. New York: Collier, 1903.

Rule, Philip C. "Newman and the English Theologians." Faith and Reason 15 (1989): 65-90.

Siskin, Clifford. The Historicity of Romantic Discourse. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.

Trevor, Meriol. The Pillar of the Cloud. New York Doubleday, 1962.

Ward, Maisie. Young Mister Newman. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1948.

Ward, Wilfred. The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman. 2 Vols. London: Longmans, 1912.

Weintraub, Karl Joachim. The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978.

Philip C. Rule, S.J.


(1) In parenthetic citations the following standard abbreviations for Newman's writings are used: Apo: Apologia pro Vita Sua; AW: Autobiographical Writings; DA: Discussions and Arguments; GA: Grammar of Assent; Dev.: Essay on Development; HS: Historical Sketches; Idea: The Idea of a University; LD: Letters and Diaries. In the text of my essay, for brevity's sake, The Idea of a University and the Essay on Development are referred to as Idea and Essay respectively.

(2) Virgil, The Aeneid. Trans. W.F. Jackson Knight (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1956), p.33. "Tintern Abbey,"ll.,64-5.

(3) In "Newman at Nicea," Michael Novak points out how Newman discovered in the warring theological factions represented by Antioch and Alexandria the wrong and the right way of reflecting on revelation. It was the latter party which showed him that "it is of the nature of the human mind to see things only partially; to move gradually from vantage point to vantage point; to court first one extreme and then the opposite, back and forth, in climbing the ascent of wisdom. And the irreverence of mere logicism of the Arian mind is always a threat to us enroute." p.452.

(4) In my "Newman and the English Theologians" I show how Newman's sustained and systematic reading of the Reformation and Caroline divines led to disillusionment with them because of their static view of history.

(5) In Bossuet to Newman Owen Chadwick shows how the traditional Christian belief in a fixed "deposit of faith" began to yield to the pressure of a growing sense of historicism. While thoroughly conversant with this history of theorizing about change and the indefectibility of revealed truth, Newman was influenced largely if not exclusively in these matters by Bishop Joseph Butler's Analogy of Religion (1736) which he first read in the summer of 1823.

(6) Critics such as Clifford Siskin, would, of course, claim this developing conscious self is a product and ploy of a temporally defined and conditioned Romantic discourse, all the more delusively powerful because it is so "ahistorical." The Historicity of Romantic Discourse, p. 12.

(7) Kathleen Coburn says Coleridge "frequently noticed with something like triumph, the difficulties in defining the edges of the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, as if here he saw evidence of the process itself, growth, continuity with change, and change with continuity. In short, in looking at nature he saw the inside of the outside, and the outside of the inside--he felt, at his best, a small but functional part of all that lives, grows, changes, and creates." The Self-Conscious Imagination p.63.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nineteenth-Century Prose
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rule, Philip C.
Publication:Nineteenth-Century Prose
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 1991
Previous Article:John Henry Newman: the rhetoric of the real.
Next Article:Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua: gender, self, and conscience.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters