Apologia Chapters IV.2 and V

Newman's Move to Certitude and Peace of Mind

Chapter IV.2--Move to Certitude

black and white picture of Newman

In Section 2, Newman recounts his movement of mind toward eventual certitude that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church and that his salvation depends upon his conversion to it. He describes how he is forced to consider the principle of development in doctrine (154-157):

  1. Sola cum solo. He learns from the Ignatian exercises, the principle of "My son, give me your heart," that our supreme homage given to God does not belittle but exalts our devotion to things of this world. This eventually opens him to the acceptability of devotion to saints.
  2. He realizes that the magnification of the Virgin Mary has to be seen within the larger system of Eucharistic and sacramental doctrine.
  3. In University Sermon 15, he considered the principle of doctrinal development, but he still played off Creed against Church, though now he begins to accept the idea of a divine guidance in church history as at least possible.
  4. He saw  the doctrine of development as able not only to account for church history but also to provide a real philosophical framework within which to explain catholicity.
  5. He became convinced that no middle position between atheism and complete catholicity is possible.
  6. His epistemology reinforced his view of doctrinal development, for he understood certitude as deriving from "an accumulative force of certain reasons which, taken one by one, were only probabilities" (157), but as a cumulative probability, it took on real grounds for potential belief.

So having come to believe that the Anglican Church is wrong, and Rome is right, he published his Retraction of his views against the RCC and resigns from his position. He feels intense anger at the Anglican divines, believing he has been lied to, and he feels sadness at the triumph of Liberalism, but he has come to see his own former position as a "paper system." He traces the pattern of his solidifying certitude by including three letters to Manning in October of 1843, his struggle to make Pusey understand, his letters to J.W. Bowden, his letters to a future nun, and his letter of 1845 to Charles Marriott. He begins his book, An Essay on Development of Christian Doctrine, and then he is received into the RCC by Father Dominic the Passionist. He, eventually, is placed as a priest to serve in Birmingham Oratory.


  • How would you respond to Newman's growing belief in doctrinal development?
  • How certain do you have to be of what you believe? How do you achieve certainty?
  • How much should what you believe match up with the actual experience of it?

Chapter V (since 1845)--A Defense of Rational Roman Catholicism

Newman's last chapter is really a defense of why his repose and peace of mind as an English Roman Catholic are not only rational, but also are held in good faith. He answers a number of objections:

  1. It is irrational to believe in transubstantiation, in Mary's immaculate conception, or in God at all.
  2. To be a Catholic, one is forced to believe all sorts of things against one's rational faculties.
  3. The claim of papal authority, even infallibility, renders the rational pursuit of knowledge and its application in civic life impossible.
  4. Scientific knowledge disproves Catholic (and Christian) faith.
  5. Catholics are given permission to equivocate, so they cannot be trusted.

He argues that he first came to believe in the authority of the RCC as "the oracle of God," so he belief in her doctrines followed form this. He argues that the Being of God is beyond us, and that without revelation and proper rational guidance, one would have a hard time believing in God or in original sin, yet the voice of one's conscience points toward God and without the doctrine of original sin, the state of humanity's failure is hard to explain. He believes that the Bible by itself is not enough to withstand the onslaught of atheism in Europe; instead, one needs a divinely guided Church to buttress one's faith.

The doctrine of an infallible teaching office is a certain stand against the rebellion of humanity against God and truth, and the restoration of a depraved mind needs the deep work of grace. True conversion has to begin in a person's thoughts and beliefs, so an office of teaching must have real authority to guard the deposit of faith by setting its limits, imposing silence on false expressions of it, demanding outward reverence and submission, and by applying the power of excommunication if necessary. The exercise of the Church's infallibility is itself a vast exercise of reason that involves a great amount of teaching, research, writing, and debate, often over generations, because new truth must flow from old truth with a measure of continuity.

Likewise, the definition provided by the bishops follows the belief of the laity for its guidance, and thus, takes centuries to establish new beliefs. None of its claims to infallible teaching can be extended to mean infallible people in the process of debate. Sometimes it is not the right time for a new change or reform in practice. 

Liberalism had morphed from a party position to a cultural attitude and force, and despite the new science's antipathy towards Christianity and the Bible, Catholicism is not angry at science or perplexed by its findings. Rather, one should have a fair amount of patience and fortitude in the face of new findings. 

The papal see interferes in the day-to-day rational lives of its people very little, and the controversies that shape its belief (again) are often carried out over generations. There is a good and right national diversity within the church. Works like that of Alfonso Liguori that seem to allow for equivocation were 1) intended to deal with extreme, special circumstances, and 2) were intended as advice for the confessor, dealing with tender consciences, not the preacher before a congregation. All this said, Newman is a frank, open Englishman, and doesn't indulge in even such allowable behavior.


  • Is it rational to believe in an infallible teaching office of a church?
  • What determines true Christian belief?
  • Does the Catholic position rob one of rationality? Why or why not?
  • Is it ever permissible to lie? Why or why not?