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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 263

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 ,...

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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.

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.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1520

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 him, yet his prodigious intellect shines through the account of his youth. He tells of his reading, but the decisive influences are his friends Hurrell Froude and the older John Keble. It is Froude, with his love for tradition and for the external beauty of the Roman church, who begins to soften Newman’s insular dislike of that institution.

The year 1830 is a momentous one for Newman. The revolution that deposed Charles X of France distresses him; the Whig victory in England distresses him even more. He has a violent dislike of liberalism, which seems everywhere triumphant, and the Tractarian Movement is largely a counterattack. Newman claims that the movement began to stir as far back as 1828, when he was vicar of St. Mary’s, Oxford; but the date of its beginning is usually set in July, 1833, when Keble preached a famous sermon at Oxford against the errors of the Whig government in Church policy. In Tracts for the Times, Newman and his friends state their position. As Newman sees it, the Whigs must be opposed and the Church of England returned to the position of authority it had held during the early seventeenth century. He considers himself as belonging to neither the High nor the Low Church party; he is merely anti-Liberal. He explains his position as based on dogma (he has no use for “religion as a mere sentiment” but thinks there must be positive beliefs), a visible church with sacraments and rites and the episcopal system, and anti-Romanism. Such is the general point of view of the Oxford Movement. Newman, incidentally, has very little to say about ritual, which is usually associated with the High Church position. He is interested in theology, not liturgies.

Newman admits frankly that in the vast amount of writing he did during these years he did attempt to refute many of the tenets of Romanism. What he is seeking for himself is a basis in reason for his beliefs; for the Anglican church, he is seeking a theology of its own that would make it more than a via media, or “middle way.” These investigations lead him to a consideration of the common heritage of Romanism and Anglicanism and to the question of how much of the Roman belief can be accepted by an Anglican. He begins to be convinced that in English history the real objection to Rome had been political rather than theological, and that Romanism and Anglicanism are, after all, not so far apart as is generally believed. Inevitably, he begins to differentiate between Roman dogmas, which he can accept, and Roman practice, which he often cannot. He confesses that, for a long time, the stumbling block had been the Roman veneration of the Virgin and prayers to the saints. He is obviously, however, drawing closer to Rome.

It is tract 90, published in 1841, that brings the storm on Newman’s head and leads to his final break with the Church of England. In this tract, he examines whether the Thirty-Nine Articles, on which the Church rests, are capable of a Roman interpretation. Immediately he was accused of everything from “traducing the Reformation” to planning to build a monastery near Oxford. He was feeling grave doubts about Anglicanism, derived mainly from his reading on the abstruse doctrines of the Monophysites. When he could no longer conscientiously maintain his clerical position, he resigned his living of St. Mary’s in September, 1843. As he explains, he had spent the years from 1835 to 1839 trying, in his writings, to benefit the Church of England at the expense of the Church of Rome and the years from 1839 to 1843 trying to benefit the Church of England without prejudice to the Church of Rome. In 1843, he begins to despair of the Church of England.

The years between 1843 and 1845 are spent in retirement. Newman had reached the crossroads but is still unable to make the ultimate decision. He has already retracted the “hard things” he had said against Rome, the things he had felt compelled to say in defense of the Anglican church. He makes a point of seeing no Roman Catholics; his struggle is purely an inward one. Though he still believes that the Church of England is a branch of the true Church, though he still deplores the “Mariolatry” of Rome, he is convinced that Rome is more in accord with the early Church. His horror of liberalism also plays its part; he very genuinely believes that the spirit of liberalism is the spirit of Antichrist. As he now sees the situation, on one hand there is liberalism leading inevitably to atheism, and on the other, there is Anglicanism leading to Rome. He still remains in lay communion with the Church of England during this difficult period, but more and more often he asks himself: “Can I be saved in the English Church?” When he is convinced that the answer is negative, he makes the great decision and is received into the Roman communion in 1845. Two years later, he is ordained priest.

In the concluding section of his essay, Newman defends himself against the insults hurled at him after his conversion. It was said that by submitting to Rome he had abdicated his power of personal judgment and that he was now compelled to accept dogmas that might be changed at any moment. His reply is that the Roman doctrines are not difficult for him, and that historically the Church has not suppressed freedom of intellect. He believes that an infallible Church had been intended by the Creator to preserve religion—especially in an age of increasing skepticism. Lastly—and this is the most famous part of the essay—he advances the idea that a conflict between authority and private judgment is beneficial to the person whose ideas are being tested.

Though Apologia pro Vita Sua won for Newman a resounding victory over Kingsley, the work is not easy reading. The difficulty does not lie in the style, for no one writes more clearly and simply than he, but in the fact that he was writing for readers who were familiar with Church history and theological problems. Readers who lack the knowledge to grasp many of his arguments find the text impenetrable. Moreover, Newman’s dilemma becomes more difficult to understand in later times. Nevertheless, the Apologia pro Vita Sua remains a powerful and sincere work. Some have seen in Newman, as Kingsley must have done, only a man whose habit of mind made him take refuge in an authoritarian Church that would solve his spiritual problems for him. Others would say that Newman’s faith and intelligence serve as mutual checks, informing and enhancing each other.

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