Cardinal Newman-Development of Doctrine-Seventh Note-Chronic Vigor

The final installment in 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 reading this post.  We then proceeded with an examination of the First Note-Preservation of Type here,  the Second Note-Continuity of Principles here , the Third Note-Power of Assimilation here , the Fourth Note-Logical Sequence here and the Fifth Note-Anticipation of Its Future here.  This post will deal with the Seventh and final note-Chronic Vigor.

Newman notes that a sign of a corruption of an idea is that it is relatively brief:

While ideas live in men’s minds, they are ever enlarging into fuller development: they will not be stationary in their corruption any more than before it; and dissolution is that further state to which corruption tends. Corruption cannot, therefore, be of long standing; and thus duration is another test of a faithful development.

Newman contends that heresies, the classic corruption of an idea, are always short:

The course of heresies is always short; it is an intermediate state between life and death, or what is like death; or, if it does not result in death, it is resolved into some new, perhaps opposite, course of error, which lays no claim to be connected with it. And in this way indeed, but in this way only, an heretical principle will continue in life many years, first running one way, then another.

Corruption of an idea is therefore distinguished from the development of an idea by its transitory character.

Newman on the Seventh Note:

Since the corruption of an idea, as far as the appearance goes, is a sort of accident or affection of its development, being the end of a course, and a transition-state leading to a crisis, it is, as has been observed above, a brief and rapid process. While ideas live in men’s minds, they are ever enlarging into fuller development: they will not be stationary in their corruption any more than before it; and dissolution is that further state to which corruption tends. Corruption cannot, therefore, be of long standing; and thus duration is another test of a faithful development.

Si gravis, brevis; si longus, levis; is the Stoical topic of consolation under pain; and of a number of disorders it can even be said, The worse, the shorter.

Sober men are indisposed to change in civil matters, and fear reforms and innovations, lest, if they go a little too far, they should at once run on to some great calamities before a remedy can be applied. The chance of a slow corruption does not strike them. Revolutions are generally  violent and swift; now, in fact, they are the course of a corruption.

2.

The course of heresies is always short; it is an intermediate state between life and death, or what is like death; or, if it does not result in death, it is resolved into some new, perhaps opposite, course of error, which lays no claim to be connected with it. And in this way indeed, but in this way only, an heretical principle will continue in life many years, first running one way, then another.

The abounding of iniquity is the token of the end approaching; the faithful in consequence cry out, How long? as if delay opposed reason as well as patience. Three years and a half are to complete the reign of Antichrist.

Nor is it any real objection that the world is ever corrupt, and yet, in spite of this, evil does not fill up its measure and overflow; for this arises from the external counteractions of truth and virtue, which bear it back; let the Church be removed, and the world will soon come to its end.

And so again, if the chosen people age after age became worse and worse, till there was no recovery, still their course of evil was continually broken by reformations, and was thrown back upon a less advanced stage of declension.

3.

It is true that decay, which is one form of corruption, is slow; but decay is a state in which there is no violent or vigorous action at all, whether of a conservative or a destructive character, the hostile influence being powerful enough to enfeeble the functions of life, but not to quicken its own process. And thus we see opinions, usages, and systems, which are of venerable and imposing aspect, but which have no soundness within them, and keep together from a habit of consistence, or from dependence on political institutions; or they become almost peculiarities of a country, or the habits of a race, or the fashions of society. And then, at length, perhaps, they go off suddenly and die out under the first rough influence from without. Such are the superstitions which pervade a population, like some ingrained dye or inveterate odour, and which at length come to an end, because nothing lasts for ever, but which run no course, and have no history; such was the established paganism of classical times, which was the fit subject of persecution, for its first breath made it crumble and disappear. Such apparently is the state of the Nestorian and Monophysite communions; such might have been the condition of Christianity had it been absorbed by the feudalism of the middle ages; such too is that Protestantism, or (as it sometimes calls itself) attachment to the establishment, which is not unfrequently the boast of the respectable and wealthy among ourselves.

Whether Mahometanism external to Christendom, and the Greek Church within it, fall under this description is yet to be seen. Circumstances can be imagined which would even now rouse the fanaticism of the Moslem; and the Russian despotism does not meddle with the usages, though it may domineer over the priesthood, of the national religion.

Thus, while a corruption is distinguished from decay by its energetic action, it is distinguished from a development by its transitory character.

 

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