Recent Works on St. John Henry Cardinal Newman

A Review Essay

Cimorelli, Christopher. John Henry Newman’s Theology of History: Historical Consciousness, Theological ‘Imaginaries’, and the Development of Tradition. Leuven: Peeters, 2017. xii + 356 pages. Softcover: $98.00. ISBN: 978-90-429-3438-2.

Hütter, Reinhard. John Henry Newman on Truth and Its Counterfeits: A Guide for Our Times. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2020. xiii + 267 pages. Softcover: $24.95. ISBN: 978-08-132-3232-4.

Duffy, Eamon. John Henry Newman: A Very Brief History. London: SPCK, 2019. xxi + 145 pages. Hardcover: $16.00. ISBN: 978-02-810-7849-3.


In a widely read article from 1966, Bernard Lonergan maintained that Catholic theology was transitioning from a classicist worldview to one characterized by historical consciousness. The former outlook consists of an abstract, ahistorical view of reality while the latter emphasizes attention to historical details and is attuned to the ways that culture and other contextual factors bear upon our reception and communication of ideas. Within a classicist framework, doctrines are fundamentally discrete propositions, which are handed down in their original form from one generation of Christians to the next. Theologians who adopt a historically conscious methodology, meanwhile, are still keen to defend the continuity of Church teaching across time, but do so from a developmental perspective, asserting that growth in understanding and changes to how a given doctrine has historically been expressed are not inimical to preserving the integrity of the deposit of faith. In the words of the twentieth-century Dominican theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu, “Truth is no less true for being inscribed in time.”1

As with any heuristic model, Lonergan’s typology has its limitations. For example, as far back as the fifth century Vincent of Lérins already had some notion that doctrine develops, so it’s not as if the idea fell out of the sky in the modern era. Nevertheless, Lonergan’s framing of the matter does highlight how there was an important shift in the dominant mode of doing Catholic theology between the time of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) and Yves Congar (1904–95).2 A watershed moment in this history was John Henry Newman’s publication of An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), which remains a locus classicus for anyone writing on the topic. This landmark work resides at the heart Christopher Cimorelli’s recent study of John Henry Newman’s Theology of History, but Cimorelli certainly does not limit his attention to that essay alone. He also looks at other key works by the great nineteenth-century convert as well as the historical background to these works in order to provide a textured picture of the theological approach that Newman adopted towards history as a subject of study.

According to Cimorelli, Newman saw “historical research as an indispensable factor in the establishment of the normative understanding of both (i) what constitutes legitimate church doctrine and (ii) what determines the shape of the Christian community in history” (5). While such a conclusion might seem obvious to us — of course historical research is indispensable in determining what constitutes orthodox doctrine — at the time that Newman was writing the weight that historical inquiry should be accorded in doctrinal disputes was hotly contested. Pope Pius IX (r. 1846–78), for instance, was suspicious of efforts by the renowned German scholar Ignaz von Döllinger to make theological conclusions in some sense dependent on what could be determined by scientific historical research. Archbishop Henry Manning and other conservative prelates shared Pius’s concerns. In their view, acquiescing to Döllinger’s method would lead to a situation in which the Church’s teaching authority was held hostage to an academic discipline that may be useful in its own way, but that was hardly infallible.

The First Vatican Council (1869–70) was in certain respects a response to this dispute. While numerous factors played into the Council’s promulgation of a definition of papal infallibility, concerns about the potentially destabilizing impact of historical-critical scholarship undoubtedly played a role. Thus, upon returning to England from the Council, Archbishop Manning triumphantly described Vatican I as “the triumph of dogma over history.”3 Why would the Church need the assistance of professional historians if it was capable of speaking infallibly on matters of faith and morals, as the council fathers had affirmed that it could? For someone like Manning, the gift of infallibility rendered such assistance superfluous.

Newman’s own approach to these issues was effectively a middle way between Döllinger’s historicizing tendencies and Manning’s ultramontane understanding of ecclesial authority. With Döllinger, Newman affirmed that historical investigation must play a central role in the reception of Church doctrine, but he disagreed with Döllinger’s assumption that critical historical investigation “is the only possible way of arriving at truth and certainty” in matters doctrinal.4 On the other hand, while Newman agreed with Manning’s contention that the official magisterium has final say in questions regarding the interpretation of Church history, Newman did not apply this idea in the same voluntaristic manner that his fellow Oxford-movement convert did. In line with his dynamic vision of the interrelationship of the Church’s three offices, Newman considered it imperative that the hierarchy — or, regal office — cooperate with theologians — who comprise the prophetical office — in discerning how the facts of history bear upon the interpretation of specific doctrines. While the pope could be understood as the final court of appeal in doctrinal disputes, it’s not as if he receives direct revelation from on high. Rather, the pope should consult every resource at his disposal, including the findings of historical research, as he goes about interpreting the content of revelation.

Cimorelli instructively shows how Newman was piecing together the key tenets of this framework already in the 1820s and ’30s. Newman’s developing ideas regarding a theology of history, in fact, played a crucial role in his conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. At an initial stage in this process, Newman came to believe that the nature of written revelation — which is unsystematic and mostly narratival in form — requires an infallible authority tasked with interpreting it. As Cimorelli notes, even for the Anglican Newman the interpretation of the Church “was [understood to be] necessary in order to ‘harmonize’ the scattered truths of scripture into an articulated ‘outline’, which [could serve] as a public declaration of the Christian faith” (113). In his Essay on Development, Newman built on this point, pointing out why it was vital for the Church to be able to pronounce infallibly on matters of faith and morals: “If Christianity is both social and dogmatic, and intended for all ages, it must humanly speaking have an infallible expounder.”5 In other words, if a revelation has been given, and if that revelation is intended as a public word for all ages, then we should expect that God has also provided an organ of truth capable of preserving the integrity of that revelation across time.6 By 1845, Newman had reached the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church was the only institution that could coherently claim to fulfill this role.

A second factor in Newman’s conversion had to do with his growing awareness that doctrinal disputes would never go away. When navigating the theological disagreements of his own time, Newman turned to the Christian past in order to articulate what Cimorelli describes as “a hermeneutic of heresy” (144). In Newman’s view, “heresy leads to doctrine” (Cimorelli’s phrasing at 145), in that erroneous ideas about the faith force the Church to delineate the boundaries of acceptable belief. Orthodoxy, in other words, is forged in the fires of doctrinal disagreement. Thus, while Catholics confess that revelation concluded with the death of the last apostle, there will always be a need for trustworthy interpretations of that revelation (see 246–47) — not only because the world will never be rid of heretics, but also because new questions about the application of revelation inevitably arise in light of changing circumstances. This process of interpreting and applying doctrine requires that the Church take into account historical data to the extent that such data bears upon the questions under consideration. For example, after the bishops at Vatican I affirmed that the pope is infallible only when he teaches ex cathedra, Newman pointed back to previous instances of popes expressing mistaken theological judgments in order to demarcate what constitutes an ex cathedra statement.7 In this instance, historical data proved useful in establishing limits around the conciliar teaching on infallibility.

Cimorelli’s book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how Newman’s thoughts on these matters might help us to navigate contemporary disputes related to the development of doctrine. I think it’s fair to say, as Cimorelli does on page 248, that the rise of historical consciousness sparked a true crisis, in that it “precipitated a theological divide within the church over the legitimacy of different theological and philosophical methods.” This crisis, moreover, has not totally dissipated. While most ecclesiastical leaders and Catholic theologians today recognize the reality of doctrinal development, a great deal of disagreement remains as to what this idea means for doctrinal questions that are presently being debated.

Pope Francis’s recent revision to the Catechism’s teaching on the death penalty is a case in point.8 In a letter issued concurrently with the revision, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Spanish Cardinal Luis Ladaria, described the new formulation as “an authentic development of doctrine,” but he did not do the more strenuous work of explaining how this was the case in light of previously articulated magisterial teaching that pushes in the other direction. Because such an explanation is lacking, it now falls to theologians to go about the work of analyzing more thoroughly this alteration to the Catechism, so as to test whether it manifests the notes of authentic development, which for Newman were such characteristics as preservation of type, continuity of principles, logical sequence, etc. This kind of work is essential if the Church is going to avoid presenting itself as an oracle capable of communicating new revelation. To frame its role in those terms would be a drastic misunderstanding of the Church’s vocation, for as Joseph Ratzinger has reminded us, the magisterium of the Church “does not stand above the Word of God, but [lives] in service under the Word, and must be judged by the Word.”9 If the magisterium were ever to teach anything contrary to that Word, it would forfeit all grounds for claiming to be the authoritative judge on matters of faith.

Admittedly, these are complex matters. On the one hand, the Church in her preaching and teaching is bound by the deposit of faith given by Christ to the apostles. On the other hand, the Church cannot effectively evangelize and catechize if it simply repeats by rote either biblical language or the doctrinal statements that were articulated in the first few centuries after Christ. By way of example, during the Arian crisis, the heretical party was willing to affirm any particular statement from Sacred Scripture regarding the person of Christ. It wasn’t until the Council of Nicaea affirmed that the Son of God was homoousios with the Father that the Arians were painted into a corner. But this statement involved adopting new, extrabiblical language. To borrow a phrase from Newman, in this instance doctrine changed in order to remain the same. The Church had to say something truly new in order to make clear what it had always believed about the full divinity of Christ. According to Cimorelli, fulfilling this task of communicating the Gospel meaningfully in shifting historical circumstances involves some risk, but it is a responsibility that cannot be relinquished: “Participation in the present, undetermined, and ultimately ‘open’ moment necessitates a risk on the part of Christians, a risk that must be boldly ‘encountered’ if the Christian idea is to remain in continuity with itself, by developing when it must” (292).

However uncomfortable some in the Church may be about the idea of development, the notion of freezing the magisterium at a certain point in time is not a workable solution. Just as this process did not cease at the Council of Nicaea, it also did not cease at Vatican II or with the papacy of John Paul II or wherever we may be tempted to arbitrarily draw a line marking the end point of development. As theologians continue to wrestle with these questions, the writings of St. John Henry will remain a vital resource for their work. Among recent treatments of Newman’s contribution to this discussion, Cimorelli’s book stands out for its command of the relevant literature and the depth of its engagement. By mediating in an accessible manner Newman’s theology of history, Cimorelli has made an invaluable contribution to the field. I wholeheartedly recommend his monograph.


Reinhard Hütter’s recent study of Newman’s thought is a very different kind of book than Cimorelli’s. Hütter has built his reputation as a systematic theologian, and this orientation clearly shapes the character of his first book-length treatment of Newman. Whereas Cimorell approaches Newman from the perspective of a historical theologian, Hütter applies a more systematic framework, organizing the book thematically, with each chapter treating a key concept in Newman’s thought and its counterfeit: chapter one examines conscience, chapter two faith, chapter three the development of doctrine, and chapter four the university. The book ends with Hütter’s narration of his own conversion, which he describes as “a Newmanian theological journey into the Catholic Church” (215) While at first blush this epilogue might sound out of place, it actually ties things together nicely, effectively demonstrating how the key ideas covered in the main body of the book played a crucial role in his decision to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. In short, it was by coming to recognize the divinely granted authority of the Catholic Church as the infallible arbiter of doctrinal questions that Hütter felt bound in conscience to “relinquish the principle of private judgment [i.e., the counterfeit of faith] in matters of divine truth.” (234).

Each chapter in this impressive monograph merits close study, though for our purposes chapter three on “The Development of Doctrine and Its Counterfeits” is of special interest, as it overlaps in significant measure with the theological issues addressed by Cimorelli. In Hütter’s analysis, there are actually two counterfeits of the authentic development of doctrine. First, there is ecclesial antiquarianism, which seeks to locate the true Gospel of Christ in a supposedly pure source that existed at the origins of Christian history. “For ecclesial antiquarianism, all developments beyond some allegedly pure origin or some purportedly undisputed temporally limited expression of the origin are nothing but a fall from the original truth, an amassment of both light and grave corruptions that more and more pollute the clear spring water the further it is carried away from the pristine source” (133–34). The second counterfeit of authentic development is ecclesial presentism, which “holds the church to be a self-actuating and self-norming body empowered by the Spirit” (134). As Hütter notes, “Rupture is an inbuilt moment of this dynamic” (134). Where the ecclesial antiquarian seeks to keep the church frozen in a hypothetically pristine state, the ecclesial presentist views the church as a fluid reality, which attains self-actuation through fresh perceptions of previously overlooked truths.

Both of these positions, Hütter warns, “are constant dangers in the contemporary post-Vatican II church, dangers that are counteracted best by a robust understanding of development of doctrine” (135). For Newman, authentic developments of doctrine are not mutations of the faith, but are new expressions that either clarify a matter of confusion or deepen our comprehension of a previously articulated idea. As an analogy for this process, one could think of a figure sitting in a dark room at dawn. As the sun rises, and light begins to enter the room, the person slowly gains a better sense of both the dimensions of the room as well as the objects within it, even though the room and its contents remain unchanged. If that individual were to provide a running commentary on the space, undoubtedly her description of the room would become more detailed and precise as the light in the room increased. The individual’s initial descriptions, made when there was less light available, would remain true even though they lack the depth and precision of the later ones. In a similar vein, the Church’s developed articulation of dogma, though truly “new,” cannot conflict with the apostolic apprehension of revelation. A development, to be authentic, must be in continuity with what came before it.

In his Essay on Development, Newman specifically outlines seven notes of an authentic development. In an earlier edition of the Essay, Newman had used the term “tests,” but switched to “notes” likely so as to caution against the notion that there is somehow a simple formula for determining what constitutes an authentic development. Hütter skillfully elaborates upon each of Newman’s notes and then applies them to a test case, arguing that Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, constitutes an authentic development of doctrine. This section of the chapter helps to put flesh on Newman’s theory, and anyone seeking a fuller understanding of Newman’s ideas will benefit from engaging Hütter’s treatment. As with Cimorelli, Hütter presses the point that development cannot be ignored without doing detriment to the Church’s witness. In this sense, the development of doctrine is not an arcane matter only of interest to historical theologians, but “first and foremost a reality that is integral to the church’s life,” giving “concrete witness to the continuous mission of the Holy Spirit to guide the church into all the truth” (138 and 154). According to Newman, the task of testing developments rests in a special way upon the shoulders of the schola theologorum (or schools of theologians), who work to “assimilate and harmonize” new doctrinal pronouncements within the broader context of continuous Catholic tradition.10 Thus, theologians have an important service to offer the Church in applying a critical eye to doctrinal statements; Hütter impressively models this role in his careful analysis of Dignitatis Humanae.

On a different note, Hütter’s monograph also deserves praise for bringing Newman’s work into conversation with that of Thomas Aquinas. Many of the recent publications in Newman studies have been, in effect, commentaries on Newman’s writings. While this type of scholarship certainly has its place, a great deal can be learned, as Hütter shows, by setting Newman’s theology alongside the contributions of other great theologians. This methodology, of course, has to be employed with due caution. Newman and Aquinas, for instance, were writing in noticeably different historical contexts, and a scholar who treats them together must remain sensitive to nuances in their language and conceptualization of doctrines. In the prologue, Hütter signals his awareness of the complexities involved in this type of study: “I do not mean to establish any historical connection between Aquinas’s and Newman’s thought; nor do I intend to claim Newman as a crypto-Thomist or anything else along those lines” (15). Hütter remains true to on his word, and what follows in the rest of the book is a necessarily cautious, but deeply insightful study of key themes that have been treated by Newmanists, for sure, though not in the Thomistic key that Hütter employs. The end result is an impressive achievement indeed, and one that this reviewer hopes other scholars in the field will imitate. Here’s to hoping, as well, that Hütter maintains a foot in Newman studies for years to come.


In comparison to the books by Cimorelli and Hütter, Eamon Duffy’s Very Brief History is less academic but still exceptionally substantive. Over the course of a long career in academia, Duffy has established himself as one of the leading historians of the English Reformation, but he also clearly possesses a strong command of Newman’s life and times, as this relatively thin volume demonstrates. The strength of Duffy’s treatment is rooted in the way that he navigates a via media between biographers who are overly hagiographical in their approach to Newman’s life and those scholars who are hypercritical and, in some cases, even hostile to Newman as a historical figure. Duffy strikes a nice balance. On the one hand, he’s more than happy to acknowledge Newman’s enduring legacy as one of the great Catholic thinkers of the modern era. On the other hand, Duffy refuses to paper over some of Newman’s rougher edges for the sake of preserving a supposedly pristine understanding of the English convert’s saintliness. As Duffy writes near the end of his book, “The canonization of Newman is no conventional accolade to a very pious man. Newman strove all his life after holiness, but he had more than his share of human frailties. He could be tyrannical in friendship, he was thin-skinned and easily offended, slow to forgive, even at times implacable” (118). For this reviewer, it was refreshing to read an author who affirms Newman’s saintliness yet is willing to shine a light on the less exemplary facets of his personality. Books like Duffy’s are helpful reminders that the canonized saints were not otherworldly figures free from all imperfections, but ordinary human beings whom God used to accomplish extraordinary ends.

Because of his appreciative yet sufficiently critical approach, Duffy is able to offer helpful counsel regarding a longstanding dispute in Newman studies around the reliability of Newman’s narration of his own life. As Duffy notes, “A charge of dishonesty had triggered the Apologia [Newman’s autobiography] in the first place,” and this charge has “never entirely go[ne] away” (104). In recent years, “the most sustained . . . onslaught on the integrity and accuracy of the Apologia was a massive 700 page study of Newman’s Anglican career by the Yale historian, the late Frank Turner” (104). According to Turner’s analysis, Newman was a self-absorbed and duplicitous bigot, who presented his journey into the Catholic Church as the culmination of a decades-long battle against liberalism when in fact his main target had been Protestant evangelicalism. In this way, the Apologia served as a “smokescreen” meant to “deflect suspicions” among Catholic churchmen that Newman himself was excessively liberal (104–5).

Alongside these criticisms, Turner also accused Newman of being sexually dysfunctional, obsessed with celibacy, and fixated on keeping intact an adoring circle of celibate disciples from whom he derived his self-worth. In some ways, it’s unfortunate that Turner’s account escalated from being merely critical to being tendentious and hostile, because he clearly had pored over a vast amount of literature from Newman’s era, much of which had been ignored or not closely studied within the guild. Newman scholars could have benefited significantly from Turner’s impressive research efforts, yet many were understandably turned off by his proclivity for making claims that lacked any historical basis (e.g., at one point in his work Turner even goes so far as to speculate that Newman struggled with latent incestuous desires for his youngest sister Mary). To be clear, the more speculative elements of the book are irresponsible and justly deserve the resounding criticisms they have received.

Given the extent to which Turner’s study goes off the rails, it’s tempting to discount it altogether, as some Newmanists have done. Duffy does not go this route, however. He remains willing to give credit where credit is due, noting for instance that, “One of the genuine merits of Turner’s book was his recovery of the centrality of resistance to evangelicalism as a key to Newman’s concerns in the 1830s” (107). In Duffy’s estimation, “The relative silence about this preoccupation in the Apologia had been largely replicated in the subsequent scholarship, and Turner did a real service by his careful documentation of the Anglican Newman’s pervasive anti-evangelicalism” (107). While Duffy acknowledges that fair criticisms can be leveled against Turner’s scholarship, he also encourages us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead of dismissing Turner’s work out of hand, Newmanists who disagree with Turner could benefit from his legacy by approaching it as a challenge to expand the range of sources they normally engage and to remain open to the possibility that such sources might fill out the picture that Newman painted in his Apologia.

Among some scholars, it’s approaching heresy to suggest that anything positive might be gleaned from Turner’s work, so perhaps the above paragraph will end up repelling potential readers from acquiring Duffy’s book. Personally, this reviewer hopes that is not the case. For starters, Duffy has an exquisite prose style, which makes this small volume a pleasure to read. Besides its readability, the monograph also does an excellent job of hitting the high points in Newman’s intellectual journey, while being careful not to overwhelm the reader with extraneous details. For this reason, the book could prove especially helpful for students who are hoping to familiarize themselves with the basic pillars of Newman’s theological project, but it will also be of interest to veteran scholars who are in search of a fresh take from a scholar standing outside the tight circle of those who regularly write on Newman.

Overall, Duffy makes a strong case for looking to Newman as a model for doing theology from within the tradition without becoming closed off to broader cultural and scholarly discussions. As Duffy emphasizes in the conclusion to the work, “Newman believed passionately that religion without dogma slid inexorably into mere sentiment, and it would be possible to portray him as the patron saint of dogmatism. . . . But that would be a radical misunderstanding of his life’s work” (119). Newman remains worth reading precisely because he did not succumb to a defensive posture in the face of broad ranging attacks against revealed religion, but boldly and creatively engaged the philosophical currents of his day all the while remaining fully committed to the teachings of the Catholic faith. These three recent publications in Newman studies, though different from each other in style and focus, together facilitate a deeper comprehension of Newman’s legacy, and in so doing help to carry forward the theological labors that St. John Henry himself modeled in an exemplary manner.

  1. Quoted in Fergus Kerr, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), 28.
  2. For detailed treatments of this history, see Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman: The Idea of Doctrinal Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); and Aidan Nichols, From Newman to Congar: The Idea of Doctrinal Development from the Victorians to the Second Vatican Council (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993).
  3. Henry Edward Manning, Religio Viatoris, 4th ed. (London: Burns and Oates, nd), 79.
  4. See Ignaz von Döllinger, Briefe und Erklärungen, ed. Reusch (München : C.H. Beck, 1890), 88; ET: Declarations and Letters, 99.
  5. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1878), 90.
  6. Newman, Essay on Development, 79 and 90.
  7. E.g., in his A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk: On Occasion of Mr. Gladstone’s Recent Expostulation (New York: Catholic Publication Society, 1875), 140–141: “Now I observe that, whereas the Vatican Council has determined that the Pope is infallible only when he speaks ex cathedrâ, and that, in order to speak ex cathedrâ, he must at least speak ‘as exercising the office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, defining, by virtue of his Apostolical authority, a doctrine whether of faith or of morals for the acceptance of the universal Church’ . . . from this Pontifical and dogmatic explanation of the phrase it follows, that, whatever Honorius said in answer to Sergius, and whatever he held, his words were not ex cathedrâ, and therefore did not proceed from his infallibility.”
  8. The new language in the Catechism, no. 2267, reads: “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
  9. From God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002). An excerpt is available at
  10. Newman to William Maskell, 12 February 1871, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, ed. Charles Stephen Dessain et al., vols. i–vi (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978–1984); xi–xxii (London: Nelson, 1961–1972); xxiii–xxxi (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973–1977), xxv. 284. The full context of the quote reads, “The rationale or theory which is to be held with reference to what has been done at Rome, will, come out distinctly — We cannot force things. The Council cannot force things — the voice of the Schola Theologorum, of the whole Church diffusive, will in time make itself heard, and Catholic instincts and ideas will assimilate and harmonize into the credenda of Christendom, and the living tradition of the faithful, what at present many would impose upon us, and many are startled at, as a momentous addition to the faith.”
Dr. Bud Marr About Dr. Bud Marr

Ryan ("Bud") Marr has served as the Director of the National Institute of Newman Studies and Associate Editor of the Newman Studies Journal since September of 2017. He is the author of To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often: The Development of John Henry Newman's Ecclesiological Outlook, 1845–1877 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), and has also contributed essays to Newman and Life in the Spirit (Fortress Press, 2014), Learning from All the Faithful (Pickwick, 2016), and The Oxford Handbook of John Henry Newman (Oxford University Press, 2018). His research interests include the life and writings of John Henry Newman, ecclesiology, and the reception of Vatican II.


  1. RE: the review of Eamon Duffy’s “very brief history”: Did Newman really have “more than his share of human frailties”, Doctor Marr? What does that phrase mean? That he was weaker than other humans? Are frailties vices? Highlighting Newman’s weaknesses without mentioning his strengths, beyond his contributions to Catholic thought, seems unfair. Didn’t he have some moral, personal strengths that are signs of holiness? I don’t see much of the balance you praise in that excerpt! Thank you.

  2. Avatar Bernadette Fakoory says:

    This is such an important discussion on piecing together a sound and reliable development of the history of doctrine borne out of the ministry of the Word of God. I in my humble view disagree that we should hold as counterfeit, the idea that the gospel of Christ should remain in its pristine form from the inception of Christian history. That somehow maintaining that rigorous stance in relation to the Word of God stunts our growth in maturing in faith to the full stature of Christ consciousness.

    The example made of a dark room obscuring the details of the content within it is only made visible by light penetrating the darkness. This example suggests that the Word of God taught by Christ and the deposit of faith handed to us from the apostles is lacking in substance and that there is need for theologians to shed more light on the teaching of Christ in order for us to understand our faith and apply it to our social cultural context of any particular age of faith development is questionable.

    I think simplicity is to be our focus. Remember Christ said, unless you become like this child you will not enter into the kingdom of God. Many uneducated people including the Apostles were not learned men.

    Relationship to the Word of God is key. This Word is a person, it is the source of life and Spirit. The criteria for the true historical development of the life of the Word is being faithfully attuned to the Word of God.

    I think st.Benedict proves right in just re ending to the desert to reflect solely on the Wordof God and to engage it by applying it to His daily life and prayer. I believe this is where as a people of God we are headed.

    I do no think given our present historical situation where Mass was suddenly discontinued that we should for ce the issue to attend Mass by any and all means as if we could in such a short space of time remedy the failings of both priest and laity alike over two thousand years of Church history and development of doctrine.

    Sin is the culprit. Authenticity, integrity mercy faithfulness disposition to heroic virtues were sadly lacking in us all. It is like all life has been a delusion as some would say no different than virtual reality. Sad to say even Holy Mass.

    Thank you