In his Apologia pro Vita Sua (literally, “a justification of his life”), John Henry Newman set out to defend himself against charges of dishonesty and deceitfulness. In the January, 1864, issue of Macmillan’s Magazine, an article by the popular writer Charles Kingsley had questioned Newman’s honesty. On the surface, this allegation involved Newman’s supposed view that it was acceptable for Catholic clergymen like himself to resort to cunning and not necessarily adhere to the truth.
The deeper issue, however, involved Newman’s conversion to Catholicism twenty years earlier. Newman had long served as a vicar within the Anglican Church before becoming a Catholic, and the real charge that he felt compelled to answer was that he had been a secret Catholic within the Protestant Anglican Church long before he announced his conversion and that his conversion was simply the culmination of a deliberate plan to lure Protestants out of their faith and into the Catholic one.
In the Apologia pro Vita Sua, Newman decided that it would be more effective to present a narrative of his own life than to attempt to answer specific charges. Instead of rebutting false ideas, he would present true ones, so that the bulk of the book became a sort of spiritual autobiography explaining how he came to convert to Catholicism and attempting to show that he was sincere in this change and had not merely hidden his true Catholic beliefs beneath a Protestant disguise.
This central part of the book goes back to Newman’s earliest childhood and his attraction to Arabian tales and magic. It also mentions his early habit of crossing himself in the Catholic fashion and describes a cross he drew when young. His point seems to be to indicate that from a young age he was drawn to Catholicism even before he really knew what it was. He also emphasizes his growing belief in the unreality of the material world and his corresponding belief in angels and other spirits, views that he would later feel accorded best with Catholicism and its emphasis on the sacraments and their connection with the unseen world.
Newman also notes his brief interest in the skeptical writings of Thomas Paine and Voltaire and his temporary adherence to the extreme Protestant beliefs...
(The entire section is 941 words.)