"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Though it is not clear to me how well it has held up given nearly two hundred years of subsequent historical scholarship, nonetheless it was an important book at the time of its publication, and the importance and influence of its author have only grown and grown in that time, too. I refer to the unparalleled man of English letters in the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman, and his early book, which has just been reprinted: The Arians of the Fourth Century (Assumption Press, 2014), 328pp.

About this book the new publisher tells us:
Newman’s first, and most deeply researched book, The Arians of the Fourth Century is a major achievement in both social and theological history. As social history, it gives a detailed account of the moral and ideological temperament of the Arians in the Nicene era and the historical circumstances that caused their heresy to become unusually oppressive and politically powerful. As a major contribution to theological history, it was in the course of composing The Arians that Newman first conceived his theory of the development of Christian Doctrine, which stimulated his conversion to Catholicism. This emerges from the book’s in-depth study of Trinitarian doctrine in the Early Church and in the councils of the fourth century.

Most important, however, is Newman’s deeply influential, concluding essay On Consulting the Faithful, which takes up the apparent problem that the Church proper seems to have fallen into heresy during the Arian ascendancy. In answer, Newman provides historical evidence that the faithful of Christ maintained orthodox doctrine even in the Church’s darkest hour. He argues for the indefectibility of the Church and a nuanced theology of the sensus fidelium that impacted the Second Vatican Council’s ecclesiology.
Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, and he remains a singular figure, not least for his great study and love of the Fathers, especially the Greek Fathers, as I've noted elsewhere on here. I always say to people that even if you cannot necessarily follow the logic of his arguments (that is, follow him to Rome), at the very least read him for the staggering beauty of his prose, perhaps most wonderfully displayed in his Apologia pro Vita Sua.

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