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Hallo again to all.

Movie taglines are unremittingly clever (the few that aren't are laughable). The recently released biopic 'Creation' traces the birth of Darwin's The Origin of Species and the death that, in some sense, inspired it. But it's the tagline, rather than the trailer, that caught our eye: 'Faith evolves'*.

Creation: The Movie Poster'Faith evolves'. Certainly a firm assent to that proposition spurred the Reverend Dr John Henry Newman, one rainy October night in 1845, to abandon his Anglican Orders and submit himself to the Roman Catholic obedience. At the time of that dramatic conversion, he had not quite finished his treatise called 'The Development of Doctrine', which, depending on how one arranges the Newman timeline, counts as either his last Anglican or his first Roman Catholic work.

In that dense, brilliantly-argued book, he wrestles — anticipating Darwin in a quite astonishing way — with reconciling primitive Christianity and the Deposit of Faith with all that has changed in the world since the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As one biographer wrote:

'Primitive Christianity as a mere fossil, as a 'deposit' which had to be kept apart from all the transforming change into which living principles blossom when they enter into combinations with so changeful and elastic a universe as ours, and with a nature so full of all sorts of potentialities as man's, had become nearly inconceivable to Newman'.†

In the taxonomic way of Victorian scholars and theologians, Newman established seven criteria that a development must meet before it could be considered true. But 'development' — however tightly defined — ran straight up against what could be called the 'core identity' of the Church of England and, even more so, the Episcopal Church in the United States: that the Anglican Communion exemplified the earliest principles of primitive Christianity and represented a Church purged of errors and malformities associated with the Church of Rome.

Thus development, as first theologically adumbrated by Newman, was viewed by many Anglicans with grave doubt. One prelate summed up his opposition neatly by writing: 'Is all growth to be considered good? God forbid that a cancer, which is undoubtedly a development, be thought of as good'. The logic may be a bit fallible, but the remark would doubtless score points in a debate. And debate, along with violent reaction, there was, with both Darwin's theories and Newman's conversion. Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, most famously, went at it very publicly on the subject of angels and apes; Newman's 'Roman perversion', as it was termed, spawned many angry articles in magazines and journals, a veritable tsunami of irate letters to editors, and a small stream of high-profile copycat conversions. Newman shook the Anglican world some 15 years before Darwin; Darwin is still shaking the world, as strange as that may seem. (We were fascinated that two members of the Church of England's General Synod last week voted that science and religion are mutually exclusive.) Tom and Sam

We continue to live with the momentous issue of development in our own day, suffering as we all do with the roils and repercussions of questions about same-sex relationships, of women in the episcopate, of lay presidency, and on and on. But the question of what we are able to justify as a natural development of the Church as it advances towards the parousia remains with us. We're certain that the Deposit of Faith is a living heritage, not a fossil, and we're sure that holding Scripture as sacred does not mean idolising a King James Bible in a Wardour case. In this time of muddle and confusion, time will eventually make things clear. Perhaps time can be helped along with prayer, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to trust Gamaliel's principle (Acts 5.38-39).

Let Cardinal Newman have the last word. Warning: dense prose ahead, but it's well worth taking slowly, a few words at a time. A great mind is at work here.

There will be a time of confusion, when conceptions and misconceptions are in conflict, and it is uncertain whether anything is to come of the idea at all, or which view of it is to get the start of the others. New lights will be brought to bear upon the original statements of the doctrine put forward; judgments and aspects will accumulate.

After a while some definite teaching emerges; and, as time proceeds, one view will be modified or expanded by another, and then combined with a third; till the idea to which these various aspects belong, will be to each mind separately what at first it was only to all together. It will be surveyed too in its relation to other doctrines or facts, to other natural laws or established customs, to the varying circumstances of times and places, to other religions, polities, philosophies, as the case may be.

How it stands affected towards other systems, how it affects them, how far it may be made to combine with them, how far it tolerates them, when it interferes with them, will be gradually wrought out. It will be interrogated and criticized by enemies, and defended by well-wishers. The multitude of opinions formed concerning it in these respects and many others will be collected, compared, sorted, sifted, selected, rejected, gradually attached to it, separated from it, in the minds of individuals and of the community. It will, in proportion to its native vigour and subtlety, introduce itself into the framework and details of social life, changing public opinion, and strengthening or undermining the foundations of established order.

Thus in time it will have grown into an ethical code, or into a system of government, or into a theology, or into a ritual, according to its capabilities: and this body of thought, thus laboriously gained, will after all be little more than the proper representative of one idea, being in substance what that idea meant from the first, its complete image as seen in a combination of diversified aspects, with the suggestions and corrections of many minds, and the illustration of many experiences.

This process, whether it be longer or shorter in point of time, by which the aspects of an idea are brought into consistency and form, I call it development, being the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth on a large mental field.

Faith evolves.

See you next week.

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Love evolvesLast updated: 21 February 2010

*A common practice now is to have several poster variants, depending on the country where the film is released, with different photos and taglines. One features Darwin's wife, Emma, played by Jennifer Connelly, with the tagline 'Love evolves'. (See right.)

Cardinal Newman, by Richard H Hutton (1891). See Chapter 9 especially.

A thin blue line
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