Apologia pro Vita Sua Summary
by John Henry Newman

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Apologia pro Vita Sua Summary

Cardinal John Newman wrote Apologia Pro Vita Sua (which translates to, "A Defense of his Life") in response to the claim by one Charles Kingsley, who made several attacks on his beliefs. John Newman was a member of the Tractarian movement, a movement which published Tracts for the Times, in which they developed a doctrine of Anglo-Catholicism.

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His treatise is divided into five parts: "History of my Religious Opinions up to 1833," "History of my Religious Opinions from 1833-1839," "History of my Religious Opinions from 1839 to 1841," "History of my Religious Opinions from 1841 to 1845," and "Position of my Mind since 1845."

In the first section, he describes how he committed to celibacy by age fifteen, and, from an early age, asked himself serious theological questions. In the second, he discusses how the Church of England must be restored to power, and expresses his enduring anti-Whig sentiment. In the third chapter (1841-1845) he begins to give up on the Church of England. This chapter is the one that labeled Newman an enemy of the Reformation. The final chapter finds Newman in his retirement, unable commit to either the Church of England or Roman Catholicism. He absconds from communication with Roman Catholics, but eventually, though he perceives a degree of truth in the Church of England, resolves to be confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.

The treatise is one that is a paragon of religious diligence. Newman questions himself at every stage of his life (sometimes with a different result). He is extremely anti-liberal, and it is perhaps the rise of the Whig Party that occasioned Newman's self-questioning.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

This long essay, also known as History of My Religious Opinions (1870), is the famous reply written by John Henry Newman in answer to the attack upon him by Charles Kingsley. The years 1833-1841 had seen the publication of Tracts for the Times, to which Newman had been a contributor; these tracts, which gave their name to the Tractarian or Oxford Movement, were the spearhead of the great theological controversy of the middle years of the century. Newman and his friends were eager to return the Anglican church to something like its position during past centuries; they valued tradition and hierarchy and wished to return to the severe, authoritarian faith of the past, from which they believed the Church of England had lapsed. They were the High Church party; and some idea of the rift that was created within the Church can be gleaned from Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels. In 1845, Newman left the Anglican church for the Roman; two years later he was ordained priest in that communion.

In January, 1864, Kingsley, an Anglican clergyman of what was known as the Broad Church party and a popular novelist, attacked Newman in a magazine article, in which he stated that “Truth, for its own sake, has never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be.” To this article, Newman replied in a pamphlet in February of that year, whereupon Kingsley wrote yet another pamphlet entitled “What, then, does Dr. Newman mean?” in which he accused Newman of having “gambled away” his reason, of having a “morbid” mind, and of not caring about “truth for its own sake.” It was in answer to this pamphlet that Newman wrote Apologia pro Vita Sua.

Newman divides the work into chapters, each dealing with a crucial period in his life. The first gives the story of his youth and his education up to his thirty-second year, by which time he was a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and had been ordained in the Anglican church. By his own account, he is an extraordinarily precocious lad who is preoccupied at a very early age with religious questions. He resembles, indeed, the hero of his own novel Loss and Gain (1848)—which phrase might be applied as a description of his career. Later readers may smile at Newman’s decision, reached at the age of fifteen, that celibacy is the only course for...

(The entire section is 1,783 words.)