Cardinal Newman Development of Doctrine-First Note-Preservation of Type

Continuing on with my series on the seven notes, I would call them tests, which Venerable John Henry 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.  We will now take the remaining notes in numerical order.  This post will deal with the First Note-Preservation of Type.

In regard to Preservation of Type, Cardinal Newman takes pains to point out that the idea underlying the doctrine remains of the same type while the external manifestations of the idea may change greatly.  His illustration from Roman history conveys his point well:

On the other hand, real perversions and corruptions are often not so unlike externally to the doctrine from which they come, as are changes which are consistent with it and true developments. When Rome changed from a Republic to an Empire, it was a real alteration of polity, or what may be called a corruption; yet in appearance the change was small. The old offices or functions of government remained: it was only that the Imperator, or Commander in Chief, concentrated them in his own person.  Augustus was Consul and Tribune, Supreme Pontiff and Censor, and the Imperial rule was, in the words of Gibbon, “an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth.” On the other hand, when the dissimulation of Augustus was exchanged for the ostentation of Dioclesian, the real alteration of constitution was trivial, but the appearance of change was great. Instead of plain Consul, Censor, and Tribune, Dioclesian became Dominus or King, assumed the diadem, and threw around him the forms of a court.

In other words in determining  whether there has been the preservation of type in a development of doctrine we must look at the substance and ignore the form.  For example, in the Middle Ages laymen would often receive communion once a year out of great reverence for the body of Christ.  Now we are encouraged to be frequent communicants.  However, the underlying reverence that the Church commands for the body and blood of Christ remains the same.

Cardinal Newman concludes:

An idea then does not always bear about it the same external image; this circumstance, however, has no force to weaken the argument for its substantial identity, as drawn from its external sameness, when such sameness remains. On the contrary, for that very reason, unity of type becomes so much the surer guarantee of the healthiness and soundness of developments, when it is persistently preserved in spite of their number or importance.

Newman on the First Note:

This is readily suggested by the analogy of physical growth, which is such that the parts and proportions of the developed form, however altered, correspond to those which belong to its rudiments. The adult animal has the same make, as it had on its birth; young birds do not grow into fishes, nor does the child degenerate into the brute, wild or domestic, of which he is by inheritance lord. Vincentius of Lerins adopts this illustration in distinct reference to Christian doctrine. “Let the soul’s religion,” he says, “imitate the law of the body, which, as years go on, developes indeed and opens out its due proportions, and yet remains identically what it was. Small are a baby’s limbs, a youth’s are larger, yet they are the same.”

2.

In like manner every calling or office has its own type, which those who fill it are bound to maintain; and to deviate from the type in any material point is to relinquish the calling. Thus both Chaucer and Goldsmith have drawn pictures of a true parish priest; these differ in details, but on the whole they agree together, and are one in such sense, that sensuality, or ambition, must be considered a forfeiture of that high title. Those magistrates, again, are called “corrupt,” who are guided in their judgments by love of lucre or respect of persons, for the administration of justice is their essential function. Thus collegiate or monastic bodies lose their claim to their endowments or their buildings, as being relaxed and degenerate, if they neglect their statutes or their Rule. Thus, too, in political history, a mayor of the palace, such as he became in the person of Pepin, was no faithful development of the office he filled, as originally intended and established.

3.

In like manner, it has been argued by a late writer, whether fairly or not does not interefere with the illustration, that the miraculous vision and dream of the Labarum could not have really taken place, as reported by Eusebius, because it is counter to the original type of Christianity, “For the first time,” he says, on occasion of Constantine’s introduction of the standard into his armies, “the meek and peaceful Jesus became a God of battle, and the Cross, the holy sign of Christian Redemption, a banner of bloody strife … This was the first advance to the military Christianity of the middle ages, a modification of the pure religion of the Gospel, if directly opposed to its genuine principles, still apparently indispensable to the social progress of men ..

On the other hand, a popular leader may go through a variety of professions, he may court parties and break with them, he may contradict himself in words, and undo his own measures, yet there may be a steady fulfilment of certain objects, or adherence to certain plain doctrines, which gives a unity to his career, and impresses on beholders an image of directness and large consistency which shows a fidelity to his type from first to last.

4.

However, as the last instances suggest to us, this unity of type, characteristic as it is of faithful developments, must not be pressed to the extent of denying all variation, nay, considerable alteration of proportion and relation, as time goes on, in the parts or aspects of an idea. Great changes in outward appearance and internal harmony occur in the instance of the animal creation itself. The fledged bird differs much from its rudimental form in the egg. The butterfly is the development, but not in any sense the image, of the grub. The whale claims a place among mammalia, though we might fancy that, as in the child’s game of catscradle, some strange introsusception had been permitted, to make it so like, yet so contrary, to the animals with which it is itself classed. And, in like manner, if beasts of prey were once in paradise, and fed upon grass, they must have presented bodily phenomena very different from the structure of muscles, claws, teeth, and viscera which now fit them for a carnivorous existence. Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople, on his death-bed, grasped his own hand and said, “I confess that in this flesh we shall all rise again;” yet flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and a glorified body has attributes incompatible with its present condition on earth.

5.

More subtle still and mysterious are the variations which are consistent or not inconsistent with identity in political and religious developments. The Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity has ever been accused by heretics of interfering with that of the Divine Unity out of which it grew, and even believers will at first sight consider that it tends to obscure it. Yet Petavius says, “I will affirm, what perhaps will surprise the reader, that that distinction of Persons which, in regard to proprietates is in reality most great, is so far from disparaging the Unity and Simplicity of God that this very real distinction especially avails for the doctrine that God is One and most Simple.”

Again, Arius asserted that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was not able to comprehend the First, whereas Eunomius’s characteristic tenet was in an opposite direction, viz., that not only the Son, but that all men could comprehend God; yet no one can doubt that Eunomianism was a true development, not a corruption of Arianism.

The same man may run through various philosophies or beliefs, which are in themselves irreconcilable, without inconsistency, since in him they may be nothing more than accidental instruments or expressions of what he is inwardly from first to last. The political doctrines of the modern Tory resemble those of the primitive Whig; yet few will deny that the Whig and Tory characters have each a discriminating type. Calvinism has changed into Unitarianism: yet this need not be called a corruption, even if it be not, strictly speaking, a development; for Harding, in controversy with Jewell, surmised the coming change three centuries since, and it has occurred not in one country, but in many.

6.

The history of national character supplies an analogy, rather than an instance strictly in point; yet there is so close a connexion between the development of minds and of ideas that it is allowable to refer to it here. Thus we find England of old the most loyal supporter, and England of late the most jealous enemy, of the Holy See. As great a change is exhibited in France, once the eldest born of the Church and the flower of her knighthood, now democratic and lately infidel. Yet, in neither nation, can these great changes be well called corruptions.

Or again, let us reflect on the ethical vicissitudes of the chosen people. How different is their grovelling and cowardly temper on leaving Egypt from the chivalrous spirit, as it may be called, of the age of David, or, again, from the bloody fanaticism which braved Titus and Hadrian! In what contrast is that impotence of mind which gave way at once, and bowed the knee, at the very sight of a pagan idol, with the stern iconoclasm and bigoted nationality of later Judaism! How startling the apparent absence of what would be called talent in this people during their supernatural Dispensation, compared  with the gifts of mind which various witnesses assign to them now!

7.

And, in like manner, ideas may remain, when the expression of them is indefinitely varied; and we cannot determine whether a professed development is truly such or not, without some further knowledge than an experience of the mere fact of this variation. Nor will our instinctive feelings serve as a criterion. It must have been an extreme shock to St. Peter to be told he must slay and eat beasts, unclean as well as clean, though such a command was implied already in that faith which he held and taught; a shock, which a single effort, or a short period, or the force of reason would not suffice to overcome. Nay, it may happen that a representation which varies from its original may be felt as more true and faithful than one which has more pretensions to be exact. So it is with many a portrait which is not striking: at first look, of course, it disappoints us; but when we are familiar with it, we see in it what we could not see at first, and prefer it, not to a perfect likeness, but to many a sketch which is so precise as to be a caricature.

8.

On the other hand, real perversions and corruptions are often not so unlike externally to the doctrine from which they come, as are changes which are consistent with it and true developments. When Rome changed from a Republic to an Empire, it was a real alteration of polity, or what may be called a corruption; yet in appearance the change was small. The old offices or functions of government remained: it was only that the Imperator, or Commander in Chief, concentrated them in his own person.  Augustus was Consul and Tribune, Supreme Pontiff and Censor, and the Imperial rule was, in the words of Gibbon, “an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth.” On the other hand, when the dissimulation of Augustus was exchanged for the ostentation of Dioclesian, the real alteration of constitution was trivial, but the appearance of change was great. Instead of plain Consul, Censor, and Tribune, Dioclesian became Dominus or King, assumed the diadem, and threw around him the forms of a court.

Nay, one cause of corruption in religion is the refusal to follow the course of doctrine as it moves on, and an obstinacy in the notions of the past. Certainly: as we see conspicuously in the history of the chosen race. The Samaritans who refused to add the Prophets to the Law, and the Sadducees who denied a truth which was covertly taught in the Book of Exodus, were in appearance only faithful adherents to the primitive doctrine. Our Lord found His people precisians in their obedience to the letter; He condemned them for not being led on to its spirit, that is, to its developments. The Gospel is the development of the Law; yet what difference seems wider than that which separates the unbending rule of Moses from the “grace and truth” which “came by Jesus Christ?” Samuel had of old time fancied that the tall Eliab was the Lord’s anointed; and Jesse had thought David only fit for the sheepcote; and when the Great King came, He was “as a root out of a dry ground;” but strength came out of weakness, and out of the strong sweetness.

So it is in the case of our friends; the most obsequious are not always the truest, and seeming cruelty is often genuine affection. We know the conduct of the three daughters in the drama towards the old king. She who had found her love “more richer than her tongue,” and could not “heave her heart into her mouth;” was in the event alone true to her father.

9.

An idea then does not always bear about it the same external image; this circumstance, however, has no force to weaken the argument for its substantial identity, as drawn from its external sameness, when such sameness remains. On the contrary, for that very reason, unity of type becomes so much the surer guarantee of the healthiness and soundness of developments, when it is persistently preserved in spite of their number or importance.

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