Wednesday, July 21, 2010

John Henry Newman and the Issue of Infallibility

Painter of the Papal Procession
Dish depicting Pope Leo X in procession c.1516
Tin-glazed earthenware, painted
49.6 cm x 6.3 cm
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk by Newman amongst other things dealt with Gladstone`s attack on the definition of Papal Infallibility at the First Vatican Council.

But did Newman have a fixed position on the matter ?

No said Cardinal Avery Dulles, the noted theologian and Newman scholar.

"John Henry Newman ran the gamut of practically all the positions on infallibility that are compatible with a sincere acceptance of a once-for-all revelation of God in Christ.

In his Anglican days he attacked infallibility as the fundamental flaw of the Roman Catholic system.

In his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, composed as he was transferring to the Roman allegiance, he answered his previous objections and argued for the necessity of an infallible teaching authority.

In his Apologia pro vita sua, as a seasoned Catholic, he stoutly defended the principle of infallibility, with applications to the dogmatic teachings of Trent and the papal definition of the Immaculate Conception.

But during Vatican Council I he nervously expressed his opposition to the proposed definition of papal infallibility.

When the dogma was defined in 1870, he initially hesitated as to whether it was binding on Catholics. Soon, however, he overcame his doubts and became a leading apologist for the definition. At that stage he confined the dogma within narrow limits, glorying in his own minimalism.

Several years later, in a new introduction to his original Anglican attack on infallibility, he maintained a surprisingly broad theory, extending the pope's infallibility to matters not contained in the original deposit of revelation.

In view of all these variations, theologians of almost every stripe can find support for their positions somewhere in the Newman corpus. ...

In a certain sense it may be said that Newman always remained the apostle of the via media.

As a Catholic he sought a middle path no longer between Romanism and Protestantism, but between Gallicanism and ultramontanism.

Even in his vacillation, or perhaps especially there, Newman can be seen as the patron of all who refuse to join a party in the Church, and who strive to reconcile the valid concerns of factions that are mutually opposed. This very fact gives special actuality to his work in the polarized Church of our own day."