John Henry Newman and Historical Christianity

I just started reading An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman. Below is an excerpt from the Introduction (emphasis mine). Initially, I wanted find this offensive except it seems to match what I’ve already found. I can’t find much of my Protestantism in the history of Christianity.

Are there any Protestants who can show this quote to be wrong?  Or does the case need to be made that history doesn’t matter?

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John-Henry-Cardinal-NewmanAnd this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it….Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent….To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: ‘So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that ‘when they rose in the morning’ her true seed ‘were all dead corpses’—Nay dead and buried—and without grave-stone. ‘The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters’….But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood ‘out of the serpent’s mouth, and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.’ Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless.’

–John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

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2 thoughts on “John Henry Newman and Historical Christianity

  1. That is a thought provoking quote!

    “Are there any Protestants who can show this quote to be wrong? Or does the case need to be made that history doesn’t matter?”

    I think the quote is right on the money. I also believe that most protestants would not give this line of thought much credence, precisely because to do so would call everything we hold dear into question.

    • Thanks! Sometimes I wonder if I’m just crazy because other Protestants so often glaze over when getting into some of this stuff, especially the historical stuff. Then I find others online or learn another conversion story and get a little more assurance. I know I’m not super-smart, but I’m pretty sure I’m not super-dumb. 🙂

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