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Newman: ‘England Needs Anglicanism’

Margaret C. Galitzin
Book review of John Henry Newman
by Avery Dulles, London/NY: Continuum, 2009, 176 pp.
John Henry Newman by Avery Dulles

In his book John Henry Newman, Card. Avery Dulles points out the attitude Newman had toward the Church of England (pp. 121-124). He never fully rejected that Protestant sect, and even insisted on its “salutary effect” in England.

On different occasions his letters and books show a strong support for Anglicanism. Dulles reports:

In three letters written in late 1850 and early 1851 to the Catholic layman J.M. Capes, Newman warned him against launching a crusade against the [Anglican] Establishment. Newman here depicted the Church of England as ‘a bulwark against infidelity,’ in the shadow of which all the dissenting churches lived. While the Established Church survived, Newman believed, it served as a witness to revelation and to dogmatic and ritual religion. If the Anglican Establishment were overthrown, infidel literature would, so to speak, flood the market. The Catholic Church was not yet strong enough to take the place of the Establishment in this regard. (1)

In 1860 Newman declined to take part in plans to build a new Catholic church at Oxford, on the ground that it might diminish the influence of Anglicanism there. In a letter to Bishop Ullathorne’s secretary, Canon E. E. Estcourt, he explained his reasons at some length:

While I do not see my way to take steps to weaken the Church of England, being what it is, least of all should I be disposed to do so in Oxford, which has hitherto been the seat of those traditions which constitute whatever there is of Catholic doctrine and principle in the Anglican Church. … Till things are very much changed there, in weakening Oxford, we are weakening our friends. … Catholics did not make us Catholics, Oxford made us Catholics. At present Oxford surely does more good than harm. …

“I go further than mere tolerance at Oxford; as I have said, I wish to suffer the Church of England. The [Anglican] Establishment has ever been a breakwater against Unitarianism, fanaticism, and infidelity. It has ever loved us better than Puritans and Independents have loved us. … And it receives all that abuse and odium of dogmatism, or at least a good deal of it, which otherwise would be directed against us.” (2)

In subsequent years, Newman maintained approximately the same position. In a letter of June 7, 1863, to his Anglican friend Isaac Williams, he wrote: “The Anglican Church has been a most useful breakwater against skepticism.’ (3) …

In his Apologia, published the following year, Newman recalled his longstanding “firm belief that grace was to be found within the Anglican Church,” (4) in which he called it “to a certain point, a witness and teacher of religious truth.” (5)

In an autobiographical vein he continued: “The Church of England has been the instrument of Providence in conferring great benefits on me.” And he added: “While Catholics are so weak in England, it is doing our work. … Doubtless the National Church has hitherto been a serviceable breakwater against doctrinal errors, more fundamental than its own.”

For all these reasons he wished to avoid anything that “went to weaken its hold upon the public mind, or to unsettle its establishment, or to embarrass and lessen its maintenance of those great Christian and Catholic principles and doctrines which it has up to this time successfully preached.” (6)

In a letter of November 1, 1864, to an unknown addressee, Newman observed:

“With a violent hand the State kept down the multitude of sects which were laying England waste during the Commonwealth. The State kept out Unitarianism, not to say infidelity, at the era of the Revolution. … It was the State which prevented the religious enthusiasm of the Methodist revival from destroying dogma. At this moment, destroy the establishment of Anglicanism, and the consequences would be terrible.”(7)


Benedict XVI meets Avery Dulles

On his visit to Washington Benedict greets fellow progressivist Avery Dulles
Later, the Anglican churchman Edward Pusey, in his work Eirenicon, paraphrased Newman as holding that the Church of England was “the great bulwark against infidelity in this land.” In his reply, Letter to Pusey of 1865, Newman denied that he had ever deliberately called the Anglican Church a bulwark. He repeated from the Apologia that he viewed it as ‘a serviceable breakwater against errors more fundamental than its own.”

He goes on to explain how a breakwater – unlike a bulwark – is not an integral part of what it defends, and is serviceable if, without excluding error altogether, it detracts from the volume and force of error.” (8)

In a footnote, Dulles observes that Newman had perhaps forgotten that he actually did call the Anglican establishment a “bulwark” in his letter to Capes of December 24, 1850, mentioned above. However, he covers for himself by saying that he did not recall what he might have said in a private letter…

Thus, Newman rightly earns the epithet of forerunner of Vatican II by pretending that there are truth and grace within the Anglican sect. It is precisely for this reason that Avery Dulles, a known progressivist, defends him. It is also why Benedict XVI, a theologian who has a long past as a member of the New Theology that triumphed at Vatican II, will beatify Newman, if Divine Providence does not prevent it.

It is difficult for me to understand how so many “conservatives” and even “traditionalists” continued to be blind in seeing the obvious: Newman was a precursor of Modernism as well as Progressivism.
1.Letter of J. H. New man to J.M. Capes of December 24, 1850, and February 9 and February 18, 1851, in The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman,Vol. 14, pp. 173, 207, 213-214.
2. Letter of J.H. Newman to E. E. Estecourt of June 2, 1860, in ibid, Vol. 19, p. 352.
3. Ibid., vol. 20, p. 460.
4. Apologia Pro Vita Sua, p. 277, referring to a letter of September 1844.
5. Ibid., pp. 339-342.
6. Ibid., p. 342.
7. Unpublished letter in the archives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The full text of this letter was presented by Patrick T. Brannan, S.J. in a paper delivered at the Newman Centenary Celebration at the University of Pennsylvania on May 15, 1990.
8. Text in Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching; Vol. 2, "Letter to Pusey," pp. 9-10.



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