US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Whose Newman?

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Bob McClory, an emeritus professor of journalism at Northwestern University and an occasional contributor to U.S. Catholic, has an insightful column at NCROnline about (now Blessed) John Henry Newman and his understanding of the development of doctrine. Here's a teaser, about Newman's explanation of how the 4th-century bishops in large numbers were Arians, while the faithful maintained belief in the full divinity of Christ:

To explain how such a thing happened (and could happen again), Newman relied on his own, well developed ideas about the “sense” and the “consent” of the faithful. Church teaching, he argued cannot be a top-down enterprise, a one-way street. It must be the result of a conspiratio, literally a breathing together of the faithful and the bishops. It is the first responsibility of the episcopacy and papacy, he said, to listen carefully before teaching doctrine.

I'm a fan of Newman's approach to development primarily because it is a solid argument from history: Here is how doctrine has developed, even changed. I also appreciate the place he gives the lay faithful in the progressive understanding of revelation.

I imagine some of more non-development of doctrine types will like neither Newman nor McClory's take on him, but it's still worth the read.