Wednesday, February 6, 2019

To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often

As I have often noted, Newman is alone among 19th-century Catholic figures to be translated into Greek for study by his Orthodox contemporaries. His Oxford patristic formation, especially in the Alexandrian Fathers, made and makes him a most attractive feature as C.S. Dessain decades ago noted, and as Benjamin King more recently has shown.

Now comes a new book that looks to be very interesting for fleshing out some of Newman's ecclesiological thought. I have often quoted him in discussions with Orthodox over Vatican I and the role of papal definitions of dogma. But we have not really had a systematic treatment of his views until now: To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often: The Development of John Henry Newman's Ecclesiological Outlook, 1845–1877 by Ryan J. Marr (Fortress Academic, 2018), 234pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This study approaches John Henry Newman’s writings on the church from a fresh perspective by examining the development of Newman’s ecclesiological outlook over time. It demonstrates that it can be misleading to refer to Newman’s “Catholic ecclesiology” (singular), because such an approach gives the impression that Newman maintained a stable ecclesiological perspective during his Roman Catholic period. In reality, Newman’s outlook on the church underwent significant developments over the last four decades of his life. As a result of various events in his life, including the Rambler affair and his experience of the First Vatican Council, Newman slowly developed an ecclesiological outlook that counterbalanced the authority of the pope and bishops with a robust account of the role of theologians and the lay faithful in the reception and transmission of church doctrine. Whether consciously or not, Newman left his ecclesiological writings open for further development on the part of theologians who would follow after him.

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