The Structure of Newman's Conversion(s): Chronological, Poetic, & Logical Patterning in Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Chronological Organization

It is clear to most readers of Newman's Apologia that the work is organized in a fairly chronological fashion and that it spends the majority of time on those years that represent the height of his doubt and ideological conversation:

Chapter I: to 1833

Move to Anglo-Catholicism

(24 years apprx.)

Chapter II: 1833 to 1839

Oxford Movement

(6 years)

Chapter III: 1839 to 1841

Loss of the Via Media

(2 years)

Chapter IV: 1841 to 1845

Section 1: Alternate Theories

Section 2: Move to Certitude

(4 years)

Chapter V: Since 1845

Defense of Rationality of RCC Position

(19 years)

Portrait of an aged Newman sittingChapter I: The Mediterranean trip and Newman's recovery from illness with a sense of calling

Chapter II: The Furor over Tract 90

Chapter III: The Jerusalem Bishopric

Chapter IV: Section 1: Move to Littlemore; 
Section 2: Newman's reception into the Roman Catholic Church and leaving Oxford for good

Chapter V: His dedication to the priests at Birmingham Oratory and prayer for unity.

Question: Why do you think Newman organizes the focus of his chronological sequence in the way that he does? Why end each chapter with these moments or images?

Poetic Organization

Robert A. Colby has argued that Apologia has a heroic poetic structure which moves through several stages:

  • reversal
  • discovery
  • suffering
  • end of suffering
  • tranquility
  • regeneration

The five chapters take us through this pattern in Newman's life:

Chapter I: Newman's formative beliefs and opinions are reversed.

Chapter II: With the Oxford Movement, he enters on the project of a Second Reformation, but when he reexamines the 39 Articles, he discovers the fault line in his position.

Chapter III: He traces the "revolution in his mind" as he comes to suspect that Anglicanism is a heresy.

Chapter IV: He traces his faltering and rallying mind as he finally breaks with his beloved church and turns to Rome.

Chapter V: Peace and contentment allows him to defend his settled position.

Question: What is Newman trying to achieve in our view of his ethos by showing us his move from early development into confidence through discovery and suffering to eventual tranquility? What kind of person do we see him as? What kind of story is his conversion?

Logical Organization

Colby also analyzes the Apologia as a an expression of Newman's epistemological ideas. Newman's is rational to hold what he holds because he achieves "an assemblage of concurring and converging probabilities." Thus, the chapters can be seen as positions toward the Roman Catholic claims:

Chapter I: Denunciation and rejection of RCC

Chapter II: Toleration and neutrality toward RCC without conversion

Chapter III: Conjecture and surmising that RCC might be correct

Chapter IV.1: Self-examination: Loss of Anglican positions

Chapter IV.2: Retreat and convergence of probabilities to conversion

Chapter V: Certitude & rational and ethical defense of conversion

Question: Is Newman seeking to convert us to his position? How would his organization suggest an answer to this question?