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An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine


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What determines real Christian doctrine? How have the primary tenets of Christian theology come out of biblical texts that do not explicitly provide for such conclusions? John Henry Newman wrestled with these questions for much of his adult life. In his Essay, Newman provides seven tests by which the development of an idea may be legitimized. Through this process he concludes that there has never been any innovation in Christian theology, only development and clarification to accommodate the needs of a specific era.

  • Extensive studies on Church history from an author burdened for the Church of Jesus Christ
  • Logos edition provides integrated access to Scripture references, instantly linking to English and original text versions of the Bible

Top Highlights

“Thus the continuity or alteration of the principles on which an idea has developed is a second mark of discrimination between a true development and a corruption.” (Page 69)

“That development, then, is to be considered a corruption which obscures or prejudices its essential idea, or which disturbs the laws of development which constitute its organization, or which reverses its course of development; that is not a corruption which is both a chronic and an active state, or which is capable of holding together the component parts of a system. From this analysis seven tests of a development may be drawn of varying cogency and independence.” (Pages 63–64)

“It is possible; but it must not be assumed. The onus probandi is with those who assert what it is unnatural to expect; to be just able to doubt is no warrant for disbelieving.” (Page 3)

“Corruption is a breaking up of the subject in which it takes place, or its resolution into its component parts, which involves eventually a loss of unity.” (Page 62)

“A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of development which went before it, which is that development and something besides: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.” (Pages 87–88)

The quality of his literary style is so successful that it succeeds in escaping definition. The quality of his logic is that of a long but passionate patience, which waits until he has fixed all corners of an iron trap. But the quality of his moral comment on the age remains what I have said: a protest of the rationality of religion as against the increasing irrationality of mere Victorian comfort and compromise.

G. K. Chesterton

The philosophical and theological thought and the spirituality of Cardinal Newman, so deeply rooted in and enriched by Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers, still retain their particular originality and value.

—Pope John Paul II

Newman placed the key in our hand to build historical thought into theology, or much more, he taught us to think historically in theology and so to recognize the identity of faith in all developments.

—Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

  • Title: An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
  • Author: John Henry Newman
  • Publisher: W. Blanchard and Sons
  • Publication Date: 1845
  • Pages: 453

John Henry Newman (February 21, 1801–August 11, 1890), also referred to as Cardinal Newman and Blessed John Henry Newman, was an important figure in the religious history of England in the nineteenth century. He was known nationally by the mid-1830s. Originally an evangelical Oxford academic and priest in the Church of England, Newman was a leader in the Oxford Movement. This influential grouping of Anglicans wished to return the Church of England to many Catholic beliefs and forms of worship traditional in the medieval times to restore ritual expression. In 1845 Newman left the Church of England and was received into the Roman Catholic Church where he was eventually granted the rank of cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. He was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland, which evolved into University College, Dublin, today, the largest university in Ireland. Newman’s beatification was officially proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010 during his visit to the United Kingdom. His canonisation is dependent on the documentation of additional miracles. Newman was also a literary figure of note: his major writings including his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–1866), the Grammar of Assent (1870), and the poem The Dream of Gerontius (1865), which was set to music in 1900 by Edward Elgar as an oratorio. He wrote the popular hymns “Lead, Kindly Light” and “Praise to the Holiest in the Height” (taken from Gerontius).


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Digital list price: $12.49
Save $2.50 (20%)