Absurd Anti-Newman Rhetoric in Anti-Catholic Polemics

Absurd Anti-Newman Rhetoric in Anti-Catholic Polemics April 20, 2018

David T. King

Anti-Catholic author Pastor David T. King has tried to cast aspersions on Cardinal Newman, by citing his former anti-Catholic opinions and suggesting (ever so subtly) that he “should have known better” (wink, wink) than to convert.

He does this in a paper called “A Discussion on Newman’s Pre- and Post-Conversion Positions on the Historical Legitimacy of Roman Catholic Patristic Work” — originally from a discussion on Eric Svendsen’s NTRMin Areopagus Discussion Board. Here’s a sampling:

Newman came to realize that Rome’s claims could not be substantiated on the basis of patristic evidence or the history of the early Church. Thus he found refuge in his “development of doctrine,” which got Rome off the hook from having to substantiate its claims by means of the early Church.

Translation of the condescending rhetoric: “Newman (sharp as he was) knew the Fathers and the early Church precluded belief in Catholicism, so he came up with this rationalization and canard of ‘development of doctrine’ to explain away facts which should have kept him Protestant”.

But if development proceeds from the seed to the tree (e.g., acorn to the Oak), there has to be the seed from the beginning. But the anachronistic planting of seeds that were never there in the first place is just as barren as the field in which they are imagined.

Translation: “I will engage in self-serving circular reasoning and simply deny that there were even seeds of Catholic doctrines in the early Church, and forget by an act of willful blindness that if I am looking for absence of beliefs in the early Church, my own Protestant view vis-a-vis Church history is doomed to shipwreck. But we mustn’t ever apply the same standards to ourselves as we do to dreaded, deceitful Rome.”

This is the same guy who was trying to argue (quite laughably and ridiculously) that Cardinal Newman was a modernist and that Pope St. Pius X thought him to be so. He wrote:

I think Newman’s theory is rejected by Pius X. And simply assuming he’s not condemning the theory of development of dogma under the language of “the evolution of dogma” is avoiding reality. I can’t play in that kind of fantasy world.

Contrast Newman’s theory of development with the words of Pius X as given in The Oath Against the Errors of Modernism . . . You’ll do your best to explain away these words of Pius X, and do you want to know why? Because you have a precommitment to your erroneous theory, and no amount of historical evidence is going to pry you loose.

It’s a case [of] historical reality vs. historical fantasy. You keep making claims you know nothing about, . . . repeated exposure of grandiose claims made in ignorance . . . It’s this kind of posture that is so typical of the average Roman apologist.

You can weave the web all you desire, but the theory of development is denied and condemned under the language of “the evolution of dogma” by Pius X.

I dismantled all of this ahistorical nonsense and bilge from Pastor King in this paper: Was Cardinal Newman a Modernist? Pope St. Pius X vs. Anti-Catholic Polemicist David T. King (Development, not Evolution of Doctrine) [3-6-02]. After that, he never attempted to debate me about Catholic history or anything else, ever again. Good riddance . . .

And this is the guy who wrote about Catholics in Svendsen’s forum:

I already have a very low view of the integrity of non-Protestants in general, and you aren’t helping to improve it.

[M]ost of you are too dishonest to admit what you really think. (4-15-03)

[T]hose who wish to ignore the evidence of the fathers themselves, which I have repeatedly found to be typical of the average Roman apologist like yourself. Ignore the evidence and belittle it. I guess that’s what works in the world of Roman apologetics. (6-3-03)

It is a typical Roman Catholic tactic to misrepresent one’s opponent purposely in order to “name and claim” a victory. (6-5-03)

I have collected dumb, clueless, ant-factual, fictional things that anti-Catholics have stated about Cardinal Newman (someone’s gotta do it):

Dr. Eric Svendsen

[Newman’s theory of development is] a concept pulled out of the hat by Newman . . .

We don’t believe in the Roman Catholic acorn notion of development of doctrine. Nothing — absolutely nothing — added to the teaching of Scripture is BINDING on the conscience of the believer . . . [note: that would dispose of the NT canon and, with it, the Protestant formal principle of sola Scriptura] No serious inquirer, who is not already committed to Rome, upon reading Kelly or Pelikan will come away with the notion that the early church is the “acorn” for modern Romanism.

William Webster

The papal encyclical, Satis Cognitum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, is a commentary on and papal confirmation of the teachings of Vatican I. As to the issue of doctrinal development, Leo makes it quite clear that Vatican I leaves no room for such a concept in its teachings. (The Repudiation of the Doctrine of Development as it Relates to the Papacy by Vatican I and Pope Leo XIII).

[T]his clear lack of patristic consensus led Rome to embrace a new theory in the late nineteenth century to explain its teachings — the theory initiated by John Henry Newman known as the development of doctrine.

. . . to circumvent the lack of patristic witness for the distinctive Roman Catholic dogmas, Newman set forth his theory of development, which was embraced by the Roman Catholic Church.

. . . But, with Newman, Rome redefined the theory of development and promoted a new concept of tradition. One that was truly novel. Truly novel in the sense that it was completely foreign to the perspective of Vincent and the theologians of Trent and Vatican I who speak of the unanimous consent of the fathers.

. . . Vatican I, for example, teaches that the papacy was full blown from the very beginning and was, therefore, not subject to development over time. In this new theory Rome moved beyond the historical principle of development as articulated by Vincent and, for all practical purposes, eliminated any need for historical validation. She now claimed that it was not necessary that a particular doctrine be taught explicitly by the early Church.” (Rome’s New and Novel Concept of Tradition: Living Tradition (Viva Voce – Whatever We Say) — A Repudiation of the Patristic Concept of Tradition).

See my take-down of Webster’s altogether spurious and factually erroneous claims: William Webster’s Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine [2000]. I also did a second rebuttal of Webster’s intellectually bankrupt silliness: William Webster vs. Tradition, Development, & Truth [4-10-03].

George Salmon

George Salmon was prominent 19th-century Anglican contra-Catholic polemicist who clashed with Newman, and who is a frequently cited inspiration and source for the revisionist “historical” contra-Catholic polemics of today.

Romish advocates . . . are now content to exchange tradition, which their predecessors had made the basis of their system, for this new foundation of development . . . The starting of this theory exhibits plainly the total rout which the champions of the Roman Church experienced in the battle they attempted to fight on the field of history. The theory of development is, in short, an attempt to enable men, beaten off the platform of history, to hang on to it by the eyelids

. . . The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied . . . Anyone who holds the theory of Development ought, in consistency, to put the writings of the Fathers on the shelf as antiquated and obsolete . . . An unlearned Protestant perceives that the doctrine of Rome is not the doctrine of the Bible. A learned Protestant adds that neither is it the doctrine or the primitive Church .

. . It is at least owned that the doctrine of Rome is as unlike that of early times as an oak is unlike an acorn, or a butterfly like a caterpillar . . . The only question remaining is whether that unlikeness is absolutely inconsistent with substantial identity. In other words, it is owned that there has been a change, and the question is whether we are to call it development or corruption . . . . (The Infallibility of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House [originally 1888], 31-33, 35, 39)

Salmon’s book has been refuted decisively twice, by B. C. Butler, in his The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged “Salmon”  (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1954), and also in a series of articles in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, in 1901 and 1902 (link one / two / three / four).

I myself exposed Salmon’s absolute butchery of facts regarding Cardinal Newman: John Henry Newman’s Alleged Disbelief in Papal Infallibility Prior to 1870, and Supposed Intellectual Dishonesty Afterwards (Classic Anti-Catholic Lies: George Salmon, James White, David T. King et al) [8-11-11].

Nevertheless, even the ecumenical, respectable Protestant apologists Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie claimed in 1995, in a major critique of Catholicism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, 206-207, 459), that Salmon’s book has “never really been answered by the Catholic Church,” and call it the “classic refutation of papal infallibility,” which also offers “a penetrating critique of Newman’s theory.”

Yet George Salmon revealed in his book his profound and extremely biased ignorance not only concerning papal infallibility, but also with regard to even the basics of the development of doctrine. In any event, Dr. Geisler, fair-minded and scholarly as always, does note that:

Some evangelicals, however, have overstated the case against Newman’s theory of development . . . Newman is accused of providing the historical/theological framework that would become the “warp and woof” of Roman catholic Modernism in the early years of the present century. Further, it is claimed that Newman’s theory makes any appeal to earlier sources or authorities (such as Augustine, Aquinas, Trent, and Vatican I) dated and irrelevant. This may be the view of liberal Roman Catholic theologians but it is firmly rejected by traditionalists.

He then cites Pope Pius X’s espousal of Newman’s work and notes the “similarity between Newman’s theory of development and the Protestant understanding of ‘progressive revelation'”. Dr. Geisler also cites evangelical writer David Wells:

To be sure, John Henry Newman would have been appalled to see the use to which his formulation had been put by the Modernists. (No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, Grand Rapids, Michigan Eerdmans, 1993, 120)

The Rt. Rev. Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White

You said that usually the Protestant misunderstands the concept of development. Well, before Newman came up with it, I guess we had good reason, wouldn’t you say? . . . those who hang their case on Newman and the development hypothesis are liable for all sorts of problems . . . And as for Newman’s statement, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant,” I would say, “to be deep in Newman is to cease to be an historically consistent Roman Catholic. (Letter to me: dated 4 May 1995; part of a lengthy exchange now uploaded as Is Catholicism Christian or Not?)

Jason Engwer

Catholics often quote John Henry Newman saying that to be deep into history is to cease being Protestant. Actually, to be deep into history is to cease using the arguments of Cardinal Newman. If Roman Catholicism is as deeply rooted in history as it claims to be, why do its apologists appeal to development of doctrine so frequently and to such an extent? Evangelicals don’t object to all concepts of development. Different people define development in different ways in different contexts . . . I think the Roman Catholic concept, however, is often inconsistent with Catholic teaching, unverifiable, and a contradiction of earlier teaching rather than a development.

The Catholic Church tells us that there was an oak tree since the first century. Maybe there’s a small amount of growth in the branches, and maybe there’s a new leaf here and there. But the acorn Dave Armstrong, Cardinal Newman, and other Catholic apologists refer to is contrary to the teachings of Roman Catholicism . . . the Catholic Church claims that the papacy, one with universal jurisdiction, is clear in scripture and was accepted by all first century Christians.

When we read the writings of a Dave Armstrong, a Cardinal Newman, or a Raymond Brown, are we seeing the spirit of the Council of Trent? Did the Catholics of the Reformation era argue the way these Catholic apologists have argued in more recent times? Would they agree with today’s Catholic apologists who say that doctrines like transubstantiation and priestly confession only existed as acorns early on, not becoming oak trees until centuries after the time of the apostles?

The argument for development of doctrine, as it’s used by today’s Catholic apologists, is unverifiable, irrational, and contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a nebulous excuse for Roman Catholic teachings being absent and contradicted in early church history. It’s so nebulous, so vague, so speculative, that it can be molded into many different shapes, according to the personal preferences and circumstances of the Catholic apologist who’s using the argument. When you interact with these Catholic apologists enough to get them to be more specific, as I’ve been doing with Dave Armstrong, the results for the Catholic side of the debate are disastrous. We’ve seen Dave not only repeatedly contradict the facts of history, but also repeatedly contradict the teachings of his own denomination. (From: “A Third Response to Dave Armstrong” [link now defunct]. My response to these absurd and a-historical charges is found in my paper: Further Dialogue With an Evangelical Protestant on Various Aspects of Development of Doctrine [3-19-02]; or see the “de-Engwerized” heart of my argument: Catholic Synthesis of Development & “Believed Always by All”)

So much nonsense (filled with factual errors and misrepresentations of Catholic teaching) from small minds, against a great man and theological genius . . .


(originally 3-19-02 and 9-27-05)


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