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The meaning of Tract 90 was widely misunderstood

3 min • Digitized on April 30, 2023

From A Defense of the Teachings of Mary, page 15
By St. John Henry Newman

3. Nor is it only in isolated passages that you give me a place in your Volume. A considerable portion of it is written with a reference to two publications of mine, one of which you name and defend, the other you implicitly protest against; Tract 90, and the Essay on Doctrinal Development.

As to Tract 90, you have from the first, as all the world knows, boldly stood up for it, in spite of the obloquy which it brought upon you, and have done me a great service.

You are now republishing it with my cordial concurrence; but I take this opportunity of noticing, lest there should be any mistake on the part of the public, that you do so with a different object from that which I had when I wrote it.

Its original purpose was simply that of justifying myself and others in subscribing to the 39 Articles, while professing many tenets which had popularly been considered distinctive of the Roman faith.

I considered that my interpretation of the Articles, as I gave it in that Tract, would stand, provided the parties imposing them allowed it; otherwise, I thought it could not stand: and, when in the event the Bishops and public opinion did not allow it, I gave up my Living, as having no right to retain it.

My feeling about the interpretation is expressed in a passage in Loss and Gain, which runs thus:—

‘Is it,’ asked Reding, ‘a received view?’

‘No view is received,’ said the other; ‘the Articles themselves are received, but there is no authoritative interpretation of them at all.’

‘Well,’ said Reding, ‘is it a tolerated view?’

‘It certainly has been strongly opposed,’ answered Bateman; ‘but it has never been condemned.’

‘That is no answer,’ said Charles. ‘ Does any one Bishop hold it? Did any one Bishop ever hold it? Has it ever been formally admitted as tenable by any one Bishop? Is it a view got up to meet existing difficulties, or has it an historical existence?’

Bateman could give only one answer to these questions, as they were successively put to him. ‘I thought so,’ said Charles; ‘the view is specious certainly. I don’t see why it might not have done, had it been tolerably sanctioned; but you have no sanction to show me. As it stands, it is a mere theory struck out by individuals. Our Church might have adopted this mode of interpreting the Articles; but, from what you tell me, it certainly has not done so.’—Ch. 15.

However, the Tract did not carry its object and conditions on its face, and necessarily lay open to interpretations very far from the true one.

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