Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Review: Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

I have read John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua probably around a dozen times or so in the last decade. And I bear witness to the maxim that everytime you read a work with the passing of time and more life experience it reads different everytime. Such is the case with Newman's Apologia which is a sort of an autobiographical account of his conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

Centered around various letters that he wrote to a number of people throughout his life it is a fascinating account of a man's change of mind on religious matters. While Newman here does touch on theological matters the Apologia is more of an account of correspondance(1). I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Newman's philosophical honesty about Catholicism in light of history is the clearest and most well thought out articulation of the issues in modern times. Nearly to a man every great convert to Roman Catholicism in the last few centuries quickly name Newman as a great influence in their transition.

Newman's charm is that he is one of the finest students of patristics yet speaks of the issues with such entrancing eloquence. He quotes St. Augustine's Contra epistolam Parmeniani. 3, 4, 24, "Securus judicat orbis terrarum" as one of the principle reasons that crushed his already weakening security of Anglicanism,

"By those great words of the ancient father, interpreting and summing up the long and varied course of ecclesiastical history, the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverized" (p. 99).

The dreaded realization hit him like a ton of bricks that history flies in the face of Protestantism,

"My Stronghold was antiquity; now here, in the middle of the fifth century, I found, as it seemed to me, Christendom of the sixteenth (the reformation) and the nineteenth (his own time) centuries reflected. I saw my face in that mirror, and I was a Monophysite. The church of the Via Media was in the position of the Oriental communion (the Eastern chuches), Rome was, where she now is; and the Protestants were the Eutychians" (p. 96).

Newman like many others is being here intellectually honest. Protestant (and Anglican) dogma is for the most part a novelty in the history of the orthodox Christianity. Every serious student of history must deal with this fact(2). In the final analysis, Newman's Apologia will serve as a light and a guide to countless generations of the future that would seek the truth concerning the historic church throughout history.


(1). Newman is a lot more theological in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

(2). This intellectual rigorism as applied to ecclesiological church form contra the vain objections of Protestants is brought to the fore by the excellent defense of Episcopalianism by Peter Toon in, Who Run's the Church? (a four way debate featuring the episcopalian, presbyterian, single-elder congregational and plural-elder congregational traditions).


"αμαθεστατε και κακε, αφες τον παλαιον, μη μεταποιει ."

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