Saint John Cardinal Newman: Development of Doctrine-Fourth Note-Logical Sequence

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on delicious
Share on digg
Share on stumbleupon
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on print

Continuing on with my series on the seven notes, I would call them tests, which Saint John Cardinal Newman developed for determining whether some aspect of Church teaching is a development of doctrine or a corruption of doctrine.  We began with Note Six-Conservative Action Upon Its Past, and I would highly recommend that any one who has not read the first post in the series read it here before proceeding with this post.  Go here to read the post on the First Note-Preservation of Type.  Go here to read the post on the Second Note-Continuity of Principles.  Go here to read the post on the Third Note-Power of Assimilation. This post will deal with the Fourth Note-Logical Sequence.

True developments of doctrine rarely spring out of nothing full grown like Athena from the brow of Zeus.  Newman in this Note underlines this fact:

A doctrine, then, professed in its mature years by a philosophy or religion, is likely to be a true development, not a corruption, in proportion as it seems to be the logical issue of its original teaching.

In the history of the Church Newman notes that certain new teachings may be accepted initially and condemned later as the heretical implications become plain to later generations:

The great Origen after his many labours died in peace; his immediate pupils were saints and rulers in the Church; he has the praise of St. Athanasius, St. Basil, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, and furnishes materials to St. Ambrose and St. Hilary; yet, as time proceeded, a definite heterodoxy was the growing result of his theology, and at length, three hundred years after his death, he was condemned, and, as has generally been considered, in an Ecumenical Council.

The right hand man of Mao, Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, when asked about the implications of the French Revolution purportedly said, “Too early to say.”  The statement as handed down is quite profound.  It is unfortunate to have to relate that an observer of this noted that Zhou had misunderstood the question, and Zhou was actually referring to the then recent disturbances in France in 1968.  However, the idea that it takes time to understand new events and new ideas, or events and ideas perceived to be new, is quite correct and must be taken into consideration when looking at this Note, since what appears to be a logical progression may be taken not to be when the fruits of a new development are played out over time.

Newman on the Fourth Note:

Logic is the organization of thought, and, as being such, is a security for the faithfulness of intellectual developments; and the necessity of using it is undeniable as far as this, that its rules must not be transgressed. That it is not brought into exercise in every instance of doctrinal development is owing to the varieties of mental constitution, whether in communities or in individuals, with whom great truths or seeming truths are lodged. The question indeed may be asked whether a development can be other in any case than a logical operation; but, if by this is meant a conscious reasoning from premises to conclusion, of course the answer must be in the negative.  An idea under one or other of its aspects grows in the mind by remaining there; it becomes familiar and distinct, and is viewed in its relations; it leads to other aspects, and these again to others, subtle, recondite, original, according to the character, intellectual and moral, of the recipient; and thus a body of thought is gradually formed without his recognizing what is going on within him. And all this while, or at least from time to time, external circumstances elicit into formal statement the thoughts which are coming into being in the depths of his mind; and soon he has to begin to defend them; and then again a further process must take place, of analyzing his statements and ascertaining their dependence one on another. And thus he is led to regard as consequences, and to trace to principles, what hitherto he has discerned by a moral perception and adopted on sympathy; and logic is brought in to arrange and inculcate what no science was employed in gaining.

And so in the same way, such intellectual processes, as are carried on silently and spontaneously in the mind of a party or school, of necessity come to light at a later date, and are recognized, and their issues are scientifically arranged. And then logic has the further function of propagation; analogy, the nature of the case, antecedent probability, application of principles, congruity, expedience, being some of the methods of proof by which the development is continued from mind to mind and established in the faith of the community.

Yet even then the analysis is not made on a principle, or with any view to its whole course and finished results. Each argument is brought for an immediate purpose; minds develop step by step, without looking behind them or anticipating their goal, and without either intention or promise of forming a system. Afterwards, however, this logical character which the whole wears becomes a test  that the process has been a true development, not a perversion or corruption, from its evident naturalness; and in some cases from the gravity, distinctness, precision, and majesty of its advance, and the harmony of its proportions, like the tall growth, and graceful branching, and rich foliage, of some vegetable production.


The process of development, thus capable of a logical expression, has sometimes been invidiously spoken of as rationalism and contrasted with faith. But, though a particular doctrine or opinion which is subjected to development may happen to be rationalistic, and, as is the original, such are its results: and though we may develop erroneously, that is, reason incorrectly, yet the developing itself as little deserves that imputation in any case, as an inquiry into an historical fact, which we do not thereby make but ascertain,—for instance, whether or not St. Mark wrote his Gospel with St. Matthew before him, or whether Solomon brought his merchandise from Tartessus or some Indian port. Rationalism is the exercise of reason instead of faith in matters of faith; but one does not see how it can be faith to adopt the premises, and unbelief to accept the conclusion.

At the same time it may be granted that the spontaneous process which goes on within the mind itself is higher and choicer than that which is logical; for the latter, being scientific, is common property, and can be taken and made use of by minds who are personally strangers, in any true sense, both to the ideas in question and to their development.


Thus, the holy Apostles would without words know all the truths concerning the high doctrines of theology,  which controversialists after them have piously and charitably reduced to formulæ, and developed through argument. Thus, St. Justin or St. Irenæus might be without any digested ideas of Purgatory or Original Sin, yet have an intense feeling, which they had not defined or located, both of the fault of our first nature and the responsibilities of our nature regenerate. Thus St. Antony said to the philosophers who came to mock him, “He whose mind is in health does not need letters;” and St. Ignatius Loyola, while yet an unlearned neophyte, was favoured with transcendent perceptions of the Holy Trinity during his penance at Manresa. Thus St. Athanasius himself is more powerful in statement and exposition than in proof; while in Bellarmine we find the whole series of doctrines carefully drawn out, duly adjusted with one another, and exactly analyzed one by one.

The history of empires and of public men supplies so many instances of logical development in the field of politics, that it is needless to do more than to refer to one of them. It is illustrated by the words of Jeroboam, “Now shall this kingdom return to the house of David, if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem … Wherefore the king took counsel and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, Behold thy gods, O Israel.” Idolatry was a duty of kingcraft with the schismatical kingdom.


A specimen of logical development is afforded us in the history of Lutheranism as it has of late years been drawn out by various English writers. Luther started on a double basis, his dogmatic principle being contradicted by his right of private judgment, and his sacramental by his theory of justification. The sacramental element never showed signs of life; but on his death, that which he represented in his own person as a teacher, the dogmatic, gained the ascendancy; and “every expression of his upon controverted points became a norm for the party, which, at all times the largest, was at last coextensive with the Church itself. This almost idolatrous veneration was perhaps increased by the selection of declarations of faith, of which the substance on the whole was his, for the symbolical books of his Church.”Next a reaction took place; private judgment was restored to the supremacy. Calixtus put reason, and Spener the so-called religion of the heart, in the place of dogmatic correctness. Pietism for the time died away; but rationalism developed in Wolf, who professed to prove all the orthodox doctrines, by a process of reasoning, from premisses level with the reason. It was soon found that the instrument which Wolf had used for orthodoxy, could as plausibly be used against it;—in his hands it had proved the Creed; in the hands of Semler, Ernesti, and others, it disproved the authority of Scripture. What was religion to be made to consist in now? A sort of philosophical Pietism followed; or rather Spener’s pietism and the original theory of justification were analyzed more thoroughly, and issued in various theories of Pantheism, which from the first was at the bottom of Luther’s doctrine and personal character. And this appears to be the state of Lutheranism at present, whether we view it in the philosophy of Kant, in the open infidelity of Strauss, or in the religious professions of the new Evangelical Church of Prussia. Applying this instance to the subject which it has been here brought to illustrate, I should say that the equable and orderly march and natural succession of views, by which the creed of Luther has been changed into the infidel or heretical philosophy of his present representatives, is a proof that that change is no perversion or corruption, but a faithful development of the original idea.


This is but one out of many instances with which the history of the Church supplies us. The fortunes of a theological school are made, in a later generation, the measure of the teaching of its founder. The great Origen after his many labours died in peace; his immediate pupils were saints and rulers in the Church; he has the praise of St. Athanasius, St. Basil, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, and furnishes materials to St. Ambrose and St. Hilary; yet, as time proceeded, a definite heterodoxy was the growing result of his theology, and at length, three hundred years after his death, he was condemned, and, as has generally been considered, in an Ecumenical Council . “Diodorus of Tarsus,” says Tillemont, “died at an advanced age, in the peace of the Church, honoured by the praises of the greatest saints, and crowned with a glory, which, having ever attended him through life, followed him after his death;” yet St. Cyril of Alexandria considers him and Theodore of Mopsuestia the true authors of Nestorianism, and he was placed in the event by the Nestorians among their saints. Theodore himself was condemned after his death by the same Council which is said to have condemned Origen, and is justly considered the chief rationalizing doctor of Antiquity; yet he was in the highest repute in his day, and the Eastern Synod complains, as quoted by Facundus, that “Blessed Theodore, who died so happily, who was so eminent a teacher for five and forty years, and overthrew every heresy, and in his lifetime experienced no imputation from the orthodox, now after his death so long ago, after his many conflicts, after his ten thousand books composed in refutation of errors, after his approval in the sight of priests, emperors, and people, runs the risk of receiving the reward of heretics, and of being called their chief.” There is a certain continuous advance and determinate path which belong to the history of a doctrine, policy, or institution, and which impress upon the common sense of mankind, that what it ultimately becomes is the issue of what it was at first. This sentiment is expressed in the proverb, not limited to Latin, Exitus acta probat; and is sanctioned by Divine wisdom, when, warning us against false prophets, it says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

A doctrine, then, professed in its mature years by a philosophy or religion, is likely to be a true development, not a corruption, in proportion as it seems to be the logical issue of its original teaching.

More to explorer

Liawatha: No Wampum Back for You

If Fauxcahontas is the Democrat nominee, the Trump campaign should run the above exchange non-stop in campaign videos.  This hits home.  My

Abortion: The Trade of Killing the Innocent

    A former abortionist writes in USA Today that the business of killing the unborn for dollars is, surprise, one that

Stalin, You Conservative

News that I missed, courtesy of The Babylon Bee:   U.S.—Addressing a crowd earlier this week, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared that Joseph