An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

"The rubric 'development of doctrine' has been in use since John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," observes George A. Lindbeck (13n). Fellow theologian Jaroslov Pelikan observes that Newman's essay is "the almost inevitable starting point for the investigation of the development of doctrine" (3). Thus Newman and the idea of development in religious doctrine are almost synonymous. This raises a most fascinating question. Why Newman? Why at this particular time in the middle of the nineteenth century? Surely the idea itself was not new. Under the various terms of growth, change, process, progress, evolution, and development the concept was current in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It has in fact been around since the beginning of western civilization as John Nisbet has shown exhaustively in his two general studies of the idea. Karl Weintraub has demonstrated that around 1800 "our modern sense of history and of individuality grew from the fusing of an emergent genetic sense anal a growing concern for singularity" (332). So, if the idea was in the air, why was Newman the first one to thus exploit it in theology? A similar question arose some twenty years ago for Erik Erikson in his reflections on "Autobiographical Notes on the Identity Crisis" in a seminar dedicated to the questions of how major transforming concepts or theories developed, and what [is] the climate propitious to such developments (v). His essay attempts to "lay out some of the possible reasons for my having been the person who, at a given time in his life and in the history of psychoanalysis, came to observe and to name something by now so self-evident as the identity crisis and to explain, on fact, why it now seems so self-evident" (730). Apart from clinical and anthropological observation Erikson finds the concept rooted concretely and autobiographically in his identity as an adopted son of his stepfather and his subsequent "adoption" by Anna and Siegmund Freud. To the best of my knowledge, no biographer or scholar of Newman has asked that question in any detail about Newman. The question could, of course, also be asked of Darwin. As Richard Altick has pointed out, with the admitted exception of some "crucial additions," Origin of Species "was largely a brilliant synthesis of many scientific ideas already current. What was new was Darwin's explanation of organic mutability" (226). Waiter Ong, for example, in discussing the intellectual milieu of the Essay rightly points out that it is imminent in his early works and anticipatory of subsequent writing thus giving "a unified significance" to the history of his writings, but like others before and after Ong does not ask about the autobiographical origins of so pivotal idea; he simply assumes Newman borrowed it from the current discourse ("Newman's Essay," 3).

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

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John Henry Newman, important figure in the religious history of England in the 19th century (1801-1890)

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

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An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine John Henry Cardinal Newman Foreword by Ian Ker

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