of Anti-Catholic Statements

October 6, 1845

[Note 1] {427} IT is now above eleven years since the writer of the following pages, in one of the early numbers of the Tracts for the Times, expressed himself thus:—

"Considering the high gifts, and the strong claims of the Church of Rome and its dependencies on our admiration, reverence, love, and gratitude, how could we withstand it, as we do; how could we refrain from being melted into tenderness, and rushing into communion with it, but for the words of Truth itself, which bid us prefer it to the whole world? 'He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.' How could we learn to be severe, and execute judgment, but for the warning of Moses against even a divinely-gifted teacher who should preach new gods, and the anathema of St. Paul even against Angels and Apostles who should bring in a new doctrine?" [Note 2]

He little thought, when he so wrote, that the time would ever come, when he should feel the obstacle, which he spoke of as lying in the way of communion with the Church of Rome, to be destitute of solid foundation. {428}

Having in former Publications directed attention to the supposed difficulties, he considers himself bound to avow his present belief that they were imaginary.

What he conceived them to be will be seen by referring to his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church [Note 3], published in the beginning of 1837. In these Lectures there are various statements which he could wish unsaid; but there is one statement in them, about which he has never seen any reason at all for changing his opinion. It is this:—

"In England the Church cooperates with the State in exacting subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles as a test, and that not only of the Clergy, but also of the governing body in our Universities, a test against Romanism." [Note 4]

Such a statement is quite consistent with a wish, on which he has before now acted, to correct popular misapprehensions both of the Roman Catholic doctrines, and of the meaning of the Thirty-nine Articles.


Several years since [Note 5] a Retractation of his appeared in the public prints which he is desirous of formally acknowledging here, and of preserving. It is as follows:—

It is true that I have at various times, in writing against the Roman system, used, not merely arguments, about which I am not here speaking, but what reads like declamation.

1. For instance, in 1833, in the Lyra Apostolica, I called it a "lost Church."

2. Also, in 1833, I spoke of "the Papal Apostasy" in a work upon the Arians. {429}

3. In the same year, in No. 15 of the series called the "Tracts for the Times," in which Tract the words are often mine, though I cannot claim it as a whole, I say,—

"True, Rome is heretical now—nay, grant she has thereby forfeited her orders; yet, at least, she was not heretical in the primitive ages. If she has apostatized, it was at the time of the Council of Trent. Then, indeed, it is to be feared the whole Roman Communion bound itself, by a perpetual bond and covenant, to the cause of Antichrist."

Of this and other Tracts a friend [Note 6], with whom I was on very familiar terms, observed, in a letter some time afterwards, though not of this particular part of it—"It is very encouraging about the Tracts—but I wish I could prevail on you when the second edition comes out, to cancel or materially alter several. The other day accidentally put in my way the Tract on the Apostolical Succession in the English Church; and it really does seem so very unfair, that I wonder you could, even in the extremity of οικονομια and φενακισμος, have consented to be a party to it."

On the passage above quoted, I observe myself, in a pamphlet published in 1838 [Note 7],—

"I confess I wish this passage were not cast in so declamatory a form; but the substance of it expresses just what I mean."

4. Also, in 1833, I said,—

"Their communion is infected with heresy; we are bound to flee it as a pestilence. They have established a lie in the place of God's truth, and, by their claim of immutability in doctrine, cannot undo the sin they have committed."—Tract 20.

5. In 1834, I said, in a Magazine,—

"The spirit of old Rome has risen again in its former place, and has evidenced its identity by its works. It has possessed the Church there planted, as an evil spirit might seize the demoniacs of primitive times, and make her speak words which are not her own. In the corrupt Papal system we have the very cruelty, the craft, and the ambition of the Republic; its cruelty in its unsparing sacrifice of the happiness and virtue of individuals to a phantom of public expediency, in its forced celibacy within, and its persecutions without; its craft in its falsehoods, its deceitful deeds and lying wonders; {430} and its grasping ambition in the very structure of its polity, in its assumption of universal dominion: old Rome is still alive; nowhere has its eagles lighted, but it still claims the sovereignty under another pretence. The Roman Church I will not blame, but pity—she is, as I have said, spell-bound, as if by an evil spirit; she is in thraldom."

I say, in the same paper,—

"In the Book of Revelations, the sorceress upon the seven hills is not the Church of Rome, as is often taken for granted, but Rome itself, that bad spirit which, in its former shape, was the animating principle of the fourth monarchy. In St. Paul's prophecy, it is not the Temple or Church of God, but the man of sin in the Temple, the old man or evil principle of the flesh which exalteth itself against God. Certainly it is a mystery of iniquity, and one which may well excite our dismay and horror, that in the very heart of the Church, in her highest dignity, in the seat of St. Peter, the evil principle has throned itself, and rules. It seems as if that spirit had gained subtlety by years: Popish Rome has succeeded to Rome Pagan: and would that we had no reason to expect still more crafty developments of Antichrist amid the wreck of institutions and establishments which will attend the fall of the Papacy! … I deny that the distinction is unmeaning. Is it nothing to be able to look on our mother, to whom we owe the blessing of Christianity, with affection instead of hatred, with pity indeed, nay and fear, but not with horror? Is it nothing to rescue her from the hard names which interpreters of prophecy have put on her, as an idolatress and an enemy of God, when she is deceived rather than a deceiver?"

I also say,—

"She virtually substitutes an external ritual for moral obedience; penance for penitence, confession for sorrow, profession for faith, the lips for the heart: such at least is her system as understood by the many."

Also I say, in the same paper,—

"Rome has robbed us of high principles which she has retained herself, though in a corrupt state. When we left her, she suffered us not to go in the beauty of holiness; we left our garments and fled."

Against these and other passages of this paper the same friend, before it was published, made the following protest:—

"I only except from this general approbation your second and most superfluous hit at the poor Romanists. You have first set them down as demoniacally {431} possessed by the evil genius of Pagan Rome, but notwithstanding are able to find something to admire in their spirit, particularly because they apply ornament to its proper purposes: and then you talk of their churches: and all that is very well, and one hopes one has heard the end of name-calling, when all at once you relapse into your Protestantism, and deal in what I take leave to call slang."

Then after a remark which is not to the purpose of these extracts, he adds—"I do not believe that any Roman Catholic of education would tell you that he identified penitence and penance. In fact I know that they often preach against this very error as well as you could do."

6. In 1834 I also used, of certain doctrines of the Church of Rome, the epithets "unscriptural," "profane," "impious," "bold," "unwarranted," "blasphemous," "gross," "monstrous," "cruel," "administering deceitful comfort," and "unauthorized," in Tract 38. I do not mean to say that I had not a definite meaning in every one of these epithets, or that I did not weigh them before I used them.

With reference to this passage the same monitor had said—"I must enter another protest against your cursing and swearing at the end of the first Via Media as you do. (Tract 38.) What good can it do? I call it uncharitable to an excess. How mistaken we may ourselves be on many points that are only gradually opening to us!"

I withdrew the whole passage several years ago.

7. I said in 1837 of the Church of Rome,—

"In truth she is a Church beside herself; abounding in noble gifts and rightful titles, but unable to use them religiously; crafty, obstinate, wilful, malicious, cruel, unnatural, as madmen are. Or rather, she may be said to resemble a demoniac; possessed with principles, thoughts, and tendencies not her own; in outward form and in natural powers what God has made her, but ruled within by an inexorable spirit, who is sovereign in his management over her, and most subtle and most successful in the use of her gifts. Thus she is her real self only in name; and, till God vouchsafe to restore her, we must treat her as if she were that evil one which governs her. And, in saying this, I must not be supposed to deny that there is any real excellence in Romanism even as it is, or that any really excellent men are its adherents." [Note 8] {432}

8. In 1837, I also said in a review,—

"The Second and Third Gregories appealed to the people against the Emperor for a most unjustifiable object, and in, apparently, a most unjustifiable way. They became rebels to establish image worship. However, even in this transaction, we trace the original principle of Church power, though miserably defaced and prevented, whose form—

                                     'Had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than Archangel ruined and the excess
Of glory obscured.'

Upon the same basis, as is notorious, was built the Ecclesiastical Monarchy. It was not the breath of princes, or the smiles of a court, which fostered the stern and lofty spirit of Hildebrand and Innocent. It was the neglect of self, the renunciation of worldly pomp and ease, the appeal to the people."

I must observe, however, upon this passage, that no reference is made in it to the subject of Milton's lines, who ill answers to the idea expressed in them of purity and virtue merely defaced. An application of them is made to a power which I considered, when I so wrote, to befit such language better, viz. to the Roman Church as viewed in a certain exercise of her pretensions in the person of those two Popes.

Perhaps I have made other statements in a similar tone, and that, again, when the statements themselves were unexceptionable and true. If you ask me how an individual could venture not simply to hold, but to publish such views of a communion so ancient, so wide-spreading, so fruitful in Saints, I answer that I said to myself, "I am not speaking my own words, I am but following {433} almost a consensus of the divines of my Church. They have ever used the strongest language against Rome, even the most able and learned of them. I wish to throw myself into their system. While I say what they say, I am safe. Such views, too, are necessary for our position." Yet I have reason to fear still, that such language is to be ascribed, in no small measure, to an impetuous temper, a hope of approving myself to persons I respect, and a wish to repel the charge of Romanism.

Admissions such as these involve no retractation of what I have written in defence of Anglican doctrine. And as I make it for personal reasons, I make it without consulting others. I am as fully convinced as ever, indeed I doubt not Roman Catholics themselves would confess, that the Anglican doctrine is the strongest, nay the only possible antagonist of their system. If Rome is to be withstood, this can be done in no other way.

Of course the Author now withdraws the arguments referred to, as far as they reflect upon the Church of Rome, as well as the language in which they were conveyed.

[Oct. 11, 1883.—Sir William Palmer, in his republication of his "Narrative," &c., in spite of using words of me, of which I feel the kindness, ventures to say that "Newman and Froude had consulted [Dr. Wiseman] at Rome upon the feasibility of being received as English Churchmen into the Papal communion, retaining their doctrines." If this means that Hurrell Froude and I thought of being received into the Catholic Church while we still remained outwardly professing the doctrine and the communion of the Church of England, I utterly deny and protest against so calumnious a statement. Such an idea never entered into our heads. I can speak for myself, and, as far as one man can speak for another, I can answer for my dear friend also.]



Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. [This Article is taken from the Advertisement of the "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," published by the Author on his joining the Catholic Church.]
Return to text

2. Records of the Church, in the Tracts for the Times, xxiv. p. 7.
Return to text

3. [Vid. Via Media, vol. i.]
Return to text

4. [Supr. vol. i. ix. 17, p. 235.]
Return to text

5. [In February, 1843.]
Return to text

6. [The Rev. R. Hurrell Froude, Fellow of Oriel.]
Return to text

7. [Letter to the Margaret Professor, supr. p. 207.]
Return to text

8. [As to this extravagant passage, I will but say, 1. That it was not in the writer's mind to use such language of the Catholic Church, but of what he considered to be a portion of it, a branch or local church, the Roman branch, as another branch was the widely-spread Anglican communion. 2. That he considered all these branch churches, the Anglican inclusive, inhabited and possessed by spirits of a middle nature, neither good angels nor bad; as he quotes himself in Apologia, p. 29, "Daniel speaks as if each nation had its guardian angel. I cannot but think that there are beings with a great deal of good in them, yet with great defects, who are the animating principles of certain institutions, &c. Has not the Christian Church, in its parts, surrendered itself to one or other of these simulations of the Truth?" 3. Though he had very vague ideas of what Catholic divines hold on possession and obsession, he might urge that obsession, and even possession, by evil spirits, may befall the saintly and elect servants of God as well as bad or ordinary men.]
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.