Monday, November 20, 2023

Newman's Dialogues on "Doctrinal Corruption"

 From Stephanie Mann:

Matthew Levering's Newman on Doctrinal Corruption could be considered an alternative interpretation of Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. By exploring Newman's dialogues with the (deceased) historian Edward Gibbon, his friend Richard Hurrell Froude, his own younger brother Francis Newman, his erstwhile Tractarian friend E.B. Pusey, and his German contemporary Ignaz von Döllinger, Levering helps readers understand Newman's search for religious Truth and the moral certainty that he was living in the "one True fold of Christ" (as he wrote on October 8, 1845 before Blessed Dominic Barberi received him in to the Catholic Church the next day).

As the publisher, Word on Fire Academic, describes the book:
Newman on Doctrinal Corruption examines John Henry Newman’s understanding of history and doctrine in his own context, first as an Oxford student and professor reading Edward Gibbon and influenced by his close friend Hurrell Froude, then as a new Catholic convert in dialogue with his brother Francis, and finally as an eminent Catholic during the controversies over the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (in dialogue with Edward Pusey) and papal infallibility (in dialogue with Ignaz von Döllinger).

Author Matthew Levering argues that Newman’s career is shaped in large part by concerns about doctrinal corruption. Newman’s understanding of doctrinal development can only be understood when we come to share his concerns about the danger of doctrinal corruption—concerns that explain why Newman vigorously opposed religious liberalism. Particularly significant is Newman’s debate with the great German Church historian Döllinger since, in this final debate, Newman brings to bear all that he has learned about the nature of history, the formation of Church doctrine, the problem with private judgment, and the role of historical research.

As Levering notes states in the Introduction, "Whenever Newman thinks about doctrinal development, he always has the threat of doctrinal corruption in view" (p. 5). Furthermore, "one of the Essay's [The Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine] major subplots has to do with religious liberalism's impact upon all Christian churches and traditions" (pp. 6-7) because by embracing doctrinal corruption--denying the necessity and the fact of authentic doctrinal development--"religious liberalism ultimately leaves little in Christianity worth retaining" (p. 34). So Newman's concern that he find and defend the Church that has through the centuries retained, with true development, the Deposit of the Faith, is essential to all of the following chapters in Levering's book. 

The book fulfills all the claims of the blurb: Levering does justice to each of Newman's correspondents, exploring their own efforts to understand Christian history as they sought to know how to love, worship, and serve God (except perhaps Gibbon, who imposed on his own view on history of Christians in the The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as being the source of the corruption of the that fine, humane, and tolerant culture and civilization, with Nero burning Christians like torches in the Colosseum). (Read more.)

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