James Mozley’s Critique of Newman’s Theory of Development

James Mozley (1813-1878) was a contemporary of John Henry Newman, and, as a fellow member of the Oxford Movement, he sharply criticized Newman’s move to Catholicism and said that he himself (Mozley) could no more follow Newman to Rome than he could fly. Mozley wrote The Theory of Development: A Criticism of Dr. Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. I haven’t gotten far into it yet, but already it is resonating deeply with me as both an account of the historical progression of the Christian Faith and a critique of John Henry Newman’s theory of development. I may write some more about it as I keep reading, but for now let me commend to you Mozley’s extended argument in the opening pages concerning the “exaggerative” form of corruption. You should read the whole argument for context’s sake, but his summary of it well captures my own view of the problem with Roman Catholic papalism – that is, it is not so much based on bad principles as it is a very exaggerated and immoderate corruption of good principles.

An important point Mozley makes in this regard is that the basic problem with Newman’s theory is not the particular examples he adduces to support it, but the very assumptions of his understanding of development. As in morality, philosophy, poetry, and other areas of human endeavor, Mozley contends that Newman’s principles and expectations of the historical record are immoderate and, thus, as proofs for the papalist system, they well illustrate the universally recognized problem of exaggerative corruption. An interesting point, especially in light of the enormous amount of work that exists concerning the orthodoxy and conservatism of Medieval theories of resistance to absolute kingships.

HT: Fides Quaerens Intellectum

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