Apologia Pro Vita Sua, by John Henry Newman
This book is an example of a situation where I do not agree with the position of the author, given that he is detailing a departure from Anglican thinking to Catholicism that occurred over the course of many years of study into the church fathers and their thinking first as part of a high Anglican tradition that sought to minimize the gulf between Anglicans and Roman Catholics and then as a leader, eventually a Cardinal, within the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Yet despite this disagreement with the religious positions of the author, I understand on a visceral and personal level why he wrote this book and I can wholeheartedly endorse that and would have taken the same sort of approach that he did had I been in his spot. Indeed, this book has had an influence on me in terms of the way I go about defending my own reputation and speaking out about those attitudes and libels of others that would make it impossible to be a public person of honor, and that is essentially what this book is, a self-defense in rhetorical terms of an author’s change in thinking over time that led him to move, without any sort of dishonesty or dishonorable intent from one position to a very different one.
Why is it that Newman felt it necessary to defend himself? This whole book, taking up more than 150 pages in the version I read, was written in response to a single accusation from a person who has (unlike the author) been forgotten to history. Instead of merely responding angrily to the comment, although the author certainly writes with a high degree of passion, the author lays out the course of his religious journey from the Anglican church to Catholicism and states that his acceptance of the Catholic system of belief and authority resolved the author’s doubts concerning issues of authority as well as the relationship between himself and the various paths that he had studied as a student of the church fathers given his previous efforts at praising a via media between Calvinism and Catholicism that marked the High Church path within the Anglican church. And by revealing that whole path of the author’s thinking, this book is a wonderful example of how someone can change over time and reflect on how this process of change occurs in a way that demonstrates moral consistency and allows one to retain his own sense of honor and integrity. And though I would disagree with the author about the right way to belief, I feel content that he was a man of great integrity.
This book begins with an introduction that sets the context of the book and of the life of the author, noting that the book has its genesis in the controversy that he had with Charles Kingsley. After this introduction, the author begins with a discussion of Kingley’s (defective) means of disputing various matters of Newman’s life and reputation. After that the author resolves to meet him in a fashion that answers only the charge of untruthfulness, avoiding responding to the rancor and hostility of Kinglsey’s generally forgotten attack by defending his reputation to the extent that it was necessary to be a public figure trusted and well-regarded by others. This leads to the main content of the book, which is a lengthy discussion of the author’s beliefs and religious practices and behavior over the course of decades, from his time as a student in Oxford, to his work in seeking to encourage a less hostile relationship between Anglicans and Catholics, and finally to a gradual process of conversion from the Anglican faith to the Roman Catholic faith. The end of the book then consists of citations from various thinkers, especially from the Church Fathers, relating to issues of truthfulness and deception that demonstrate his own position on integrity and equivocation.