Summary

(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 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...

(The entire section is 1520 words.)