Saint John Cardinal Newman: Development of Doctrine-Second Note-Continuity of Principles

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.  This post will deal with the Second Note-Continuity of Principles.

In regard to Continuity of Principles, Saint John Cardinal Newman illustrated what he meant thusly:

A development, to be faithful, must retain both the doctrine and the principle with which it started. Doctrine without its correspondent principle remains barren, if not lifeless, of which the Greek Church seems an instance; or it forms those hollow professions which are familiarly called “shams,” as a zeal for an established Church and its creed on merely conservative or temporal motives. Such, too, was the Roman Constitution between the reigns of Augustus and Dioclesian.

Principles to Newman were abstract and general while Doctrines were based on facts.  Newman had resort to Euclid to parse out their relationship:  Doctrines stand to principles, as the definitions to the axioms and postulates of mathematics.  Abandonment of either the Doctrine or the Principle on which it is based is the sign of a corruption rather than a legitimate developmnet.

Newman on the Second Note:


As in mathematical creations figures are formed on distinct formulæ, which are the laws under which they are developed, so it is in ethical and political subjects. Doctrines expand variously according to the mind, individual or social, into which they are received; and the peculiarities of the recipient are the regulating power, the law, the organization, or, as it may be called, the form of the development. The life of doctrines may be said to consist in the law or principle which they embody.

Principles are abstract and general, doctrines relate to facts; doctrines develop, and principles at first sight do not; doctrines grow and are enlarged, principles are permanent; doctrines are intellectual, and principles are more immediately ethical and practical. Systems live in principles and represent doctrines. Personal responsibility is a principle, the Being of a God is a doctrine; from that doctrine all theology has come in due course, whereas that principle is not clearer under the Gospel than in paradise, and depends, not on belief in an Almighty Governor, but on conscience.

Yet the difference between the two sometimes merely exists in our mode of viewing them; and what is a doctrine in one philosophy is a principle in another. Personal responsibility may be made a doctrinal basis, and develop into Arminianism or Pelagianism. Again, it may be discussed whether infallibility is a principle or a doctrine of the Church of Rome, and dogmatism a principle or doctrine of Christianity. Again, consideration for the poor is a doctrine of the Church considered as a religious body, and a principle when she is viewed as a political power.

Doctrines stand to principles, as the definitions to the axioms and postulates of mathematics. Thus the 15th and 17th propositions of Euclid’s book I. are developments, not of the three first axioms, which are required in the proof, but of the definition of a right angle. Perhaps the perplexity, which arises in the mind of a beginner, on learning the early propositions of the second book, arises from these being more prominently exemplifications of axioms than developments of definitions. He looks for developments from the definition of the rectangle, and finds but various particular cases of the general truth, that “the whole is equal to its parts.”


It might be expected that the Catholic principles would be later in development than the Catholic doctrines, inasmuch as they lie deeper in the mind, and are assumptions rather than objective professions. This has been the case. The Protestant controversy has mainly turned, or is turning, on one or other of the principles of Catholicity; and to this day the rule of Scripture Interpretation, the doctrine of Inspiration, the relation of Faith to Reason, moral responsibility, private judgment, inherent grace, the seat of infallibility, remain, I suppose, more or less undeveloped, or, at least, undefined, by the Church.

Doctrines stand to principles, if it may be said without fancifulness, as fecundity viewed relatively to generation, though this analogy must not be strained. Doctrines are developed by the operation of principles, and develop variously according to those principles. Thus a belief in the transitiveness of worldly goods leads the Epicurean to enjoyment, and the ascetic to mortification; and, from their common doctrine of the sinfulness of matter, the Alexandrian Gnostics became sensualists, and the Syrian devotees. The same philosophical elements, received into a certain sensibility or insensibility to sin and its consequences, leads one mind to the Church of Rome; another to what, for want of a better word, may be called Germanism.

Again, religious investigation sometimes is conducted on the principle that it is a duty “to follow and speak the truth,” which really means that it is no duty to fear error, or to consider what is safest, or to shrink from scattering doubts, or to regard the responsibility of misleading; and thus it terminates in heresy or infidelity, without any blame to religious investigation in itself.

Again, to take a different subject, what constitutes a chief interest of dramatic compositions and tales, is to use external circumstances, which may be considered their law of development, as a means of bringing out into different shapes, and showing under new aspects, the personal peculiarities of character, according as either those circumstances or those peculiarities vary in the case of the personages introduced.


Principles are popularly said to develop when they are but exemplified; thus the various sects of Protestantism, unconnected as they are with each other, are called developments of the principle of Private Judgment, of which really they are but applications and results.

A development, to be faithful, must retain both the doctrine and the principle with which it started. Doctrine without its correspondent principle remains barren, if not lifeless, of which the Greek Church seems an instance; or it forms those hollow professions which are familiarly called “shams,” as a zeal for an established Church and its creed on merely conservative or temporal motives. Such, too, was the Roman Constitution between the reigns of Augustus and Dioclesian.

On the other hand, principle without its corresponding doctrine may be considered as the state of religious minds in the heathen world, viewed relatively to Revelation; that is, of the “children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Pagans may have, heretics cannot have, the same principles as Catholics; if the latter have the same, they are not real heretics, but in ignorance. Principle is a better test of heresy than doctrine. Heretics are true to their principles, but change to and fro, backwards and forwards, in opinion; for very opposite doctrines may be exemplifications of the same principle. Thus the Antiochenes and other heretics sometimes were Arians, sometimes Sabellians, sometimes Nestorians, sometimes Monophysites, as if at random, from fidelity to their common principle, that there is no mystery in theology. Thus Calvinists become Unitarians from the principle of private judgment. The doctrines of heresy are accidents and soon run to an end; its principles are everlasting.

This, too, is often the solution of the paradox “Extremes meet,” and of the startling reactions which take place in individuals; viz., the presence of some one principle or condition, which is dominant in their minds from first to {182} last. If one of two contradictory alternatives be necessarily true on a certain hypothesis, then the denial of the one leads, by mere logical consistency and without direct reasons, to a reception of the other. Thus the question between the Church of Rome and Protestantism falls in some minds into the proposition, “Rome is either the pillar and ground of the Truth or she is Antichrist;” in proportion, then, as they revolt from considering her the latter are they compelled to receive her as the former. Hence, too, men may pass from infidelity to Rome, and from Rome to infidelity, from a conviction in both courses that there is no tangible intellectual position between the two.

Protestantism, viewed in its more Catholic aspect, is doctrine without active principle; viewed in its heretical, it is active principle without doctrine. Many of its speakers, for instance, use eloquent and glowing language about the Church and its characteristics: some of them do not realize what they say, but use high words and general statements about “the faith,” and “primitive truth,” and “schism,” and “heresy,” to which they attach no definite meaning; while others speak of “unity,” “universality,” and “Catholicity,” and use the words in their own sense and for their own ideas.


The science of grammar affords another instance of the existence of special laws in the formation of systems. Some languages have more elasticity than others, and greater capabilities; and the difficulty of explaining the fact cannot lead us to doubt it. There are languages, for instance, which have a capacity for compound words, which, we cannot tell why, is in matter of fact denied to others. We feel the presence of a certain character or genius in each, which determines its path and its range; and to discover and enter into it is one part of refined {183} scholarship. And when particular writers, in consequence perhaps of some theory, tax a language beyond its powers, the failure is conspicuous. Very subtle, too, and difficult to draw out, are the principles on which depends the formation of proper names in a particular people. In works of fiction, names or titles, significant or ludicrous, must be invented for the characters introduced; and some authors excel in their fabrication, while others are equally unfortunate. Foreign novels, perhaps, attempt to frame English surnames, and signally fail; yet what every one feels to be the case, no one can analyze: that is, our surnames are constructed on a law which is only exhibited in particular instances, and which rules their formation on certain, though subtle, determinations.

And so in philosophy, the systems of physics or morals, which go by celebrated names, proceed upon the assumption of certain conditions which are necessary for every stage of their development. The Newtonian theory of gravitation is based on certain axioms; for instance, that the fewest causes assignable for phenomena are the true ones: and the application of science to practical purposes depends upon the hypothesis that what happens today will happen tomorrow.

And so in military matters, the discovery of gunpowder developed the science of attack and defence in a new instrumentality. Again, it is said that when Napoleon began his career of victories, the enemy’s generals pronounced that his battles were fought against rule, and that he ought not to be victorious.


So states have their respective policies, on which they move forward, and which are the conditions of their well-being. Thus it is sometimes said that the true policy of the American Union, or the law of its prosperity, is not the enlargement of its territory, but the cultivation of its internal resources. Thus Russia is said to be weak in attack, strong in defence, and to grow, not by the sword, but by diplomacy. Thus Islamism is said to be the form or life of the Ottoman, and Protestantism of the British Empire, and the admission of European ideas into the one, or of Catholic ideas into the other, to be the destruction of the respective conditions of their power. Thus Augustus and Tiberius governed by dissimulation; thus Pericles in his “Funeral Oration” draws out the principles of the Athenian commonwealth, viz., that it is carried on, not by formal and severe enactments, but by the ethical character and spontaneous energy of the people.

The political principles of Christianity, if it be right to use such words of a divine polity, are laid down for us in the Sermon on the Mount. Contrariwise to other empires, Christians conquer by yielding; they gain influence by shrinking from it; they possess the earth by renouncing it. Gibbon speaks of “the vices of the clergy” as being “to a philosophic eye far less dangerous than their virtues.”

Again, as to Judaism, it may be asked on what law it developed; that is, whether Mahometanism may not be considered as a sort of Judaism, as formed by the presence of a different class of influences. In this contrast between them, perhaps it may be said that the expectation of a Messiah was the principle or law which expanded the elements, almost common to Judaism with Mahometanism, into their respective characteristic shapes.

One of the points of discipline to which Wesley attached most importance was that of preaching early in the morning. This was his principle. In Georgia, he began preaching at five o’clock every day, winter and summer. “Early preaching,” he said, “is the glory of the Methodists; whenever this is dropt, they will dwindle away into {185} nothing, they have lost their first love, they are a fallen people.”


Now, these instances show, as has been incidentally observed of some of them, that the destruction of the special laws or principles of a development is its corruption. Thus, as to nations, when we talk of the spirit of a people being lost, we do not mean that this or that act has been committed, or measure carried, but that certain lines of thought or conduct by which it has grown great are abandoned. Thus the Roman Poets consider their State in course of ruin because its prisci mores and pietas were failing. And so we speak of countries or persons as being in a false position, when they take up a course of policy, or assume a profession, inconsistent with their natural interests or real character. Judaism, again, was rejected when it rejected the Messiah.

Thus the continuity or the alteration of the principles on which an idea has developed is a second mark of discrimination between a true development and a corruption.

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