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Truth and Equivocation: Liguori's Moral Theology and Newman's Apologia

  • Josef L. Altholz (a1)


Newman's Apologia pro vita sua is remembered as a work of literature, a lasting monument of religious autobiography. Yet it was also a work of religious controversy, perhaps the most ephemeral of literary genres. Indeed, it was primarily a work of controversy; Newman, who almost never wrote except for an occasion, had called upon autobiography as the ultimate debating technique in a dispute which had come to center upon the personal honesty of one of the disputants. Truthfulness was pressed into service in an argument which, after all, was about “truth, for its own sake”, as “a virtue with the Roman clergy.” The artfulness of Newman's candour was successful in its purpose; and in the triumphant vindication of his personal integrity, the original controversy was virtually obliterated, leaving behind a work of autobiographical art.



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1. The exception was the Grammar of Assent; yet even this was the outcome of a long epistolary argument with William Froude.

2. See Houghton, Walter E., The Art of Newman's Apologia (New Haven, 1945).

3. In revising the Apologia in 1865 and after, Newman deleted specific references to Kingsley and matters of direct controversy with him, leaving only the autobiography with a conclusion and notes.

4. The last substantial section of Part 7, “General Answer to Mr. Kingsley”, and section 8 of the Appendix (“Answer in Detail to Mr. Kingsley's Accusations.” “blots” 37–39), in the 1864 edition; corresponding (with changes) to Part 5, “Position of my Mind since 1845”, and Note G. “Lying and Squivocation”, in the 1865 and, later editions. Of two variorum editions of the Apologia, the literary scholar will prefer the “best text”, edited by Martin J. Svaglie (Oxford, 1967), based on the final (c. 1886). edition, itself based on the 1865 edition, with helpful annotations. The historian may prefer the edition of Ward, Wilfrid (“Oxford Edition”. London, 1913) organized around the original edition compared with that of 1865. Since controversy rather than literature is the subject of this article, the Ward edition will be cited.

5. 1st ed. 1748; 3d ed. 1757; 8th (definitive) ed. 1779. In addition, Liguori published a number of practical manuals for confessors.

6. There are numerous Lives. The best short sketch may be found in the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 vols. (Paris, 19231950), 1: 906919. St. Alfonso was later (1871) proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, after a more extensive scrutiny of his writings. He was somewhat eclipsed by the Thomist revival.

7. Garnet's Treatise of Equivocation was reprinted as recently as 1851.

8. The oath required by the second Test Act, 1678, included the clause: “I do make this declaration and every part thereof in the plain and ordinary sense of the words read unto me, as they are commonly understood by English Protestants; without any evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatsoever…” 30 Charles II, st. 2, c. 1.

9. When Liguori was later attacked, it was a point that he was even worse than Dens. The attack on Dens coincides with the growth of Protestant Associations in 1835–1836, directed largely against the Irish Catholics. The most frequent protagonist was the Rev. Robert James McGhee, author of numerous anti-Catholic tracts and lectures. His The Laws of the Papacy, cited by other controversialists, is not to be found in the British Museum catalogue.

10. In a debate at Hereford between Rev. John Benn and Fr. James Waterworth, Benn did not cite Liguori, although Waterworth did. Cited in Blakeney, Richard Paul, Awful Disclosure of the Iniquitous Practices taught by the Church of Rome; being extracts from the Moral Theology of Alphonsus Liguori (London, [1846]). pp. 7981.

11. An anonymous priest publishing in Dublin and James Jones, an English secular priest, translated several works in the 1830s and 1840s. The Redemptorists began to publish in the 1850s. The Theologia Moralis was not translated, although it came into use in Latin, particularly in the form of Neyraguet's Compendium (1839) or Scavini's adaptation (1835).

12. This grew out of a lecture in Nottingham. in which Blakeney had accidentally mis-cited Liguori; when criticized by a priest, Blakeney showed that the passages were actually in Liguori's writings. A second edition appeared in 1852 as St. Alphonsus Liguori: Extracts translated from the Moral Theology of the above Romish Saint.

13. Blakeney, , Awful Disclosure, p. 10.

14. Ibid., pp. 36, 61. Also p. 32 “Christianity. the religion of Jesus, under no circumstances justifies dissimulation or dishonesty”.

15. Dublin, 1859.

16. Ibid., p. 18. The first part of this statement is unconsciously Thomistic.

17. Dictionary of National Biography, Suppl. 2 (London, 1920). 2:617618.

18. Meyrick, Frederick, Moral and Devotional Theology of the Church of Rome, according to the authoritative teaching of S. Atfonso de' Liquori, reprinted in part from the ‘Christian Remembrancer’ (London, 1857). The articles were “S. Alfonso de' Liguori's Theory of Truthfulness” (January 1854), “S. Alfonso de' Liguori's Theory of Theft” (October 1854).

19. Meyrick, , S. Alfonso de' Liguori's Theory of Truthfulness (London, 1855), p. 50.

20. Ibid., p. 12. The emphasis on deceit as the formal element of the sin is derived from Augustine, whom Meyrick cites.

21. Ibid., p. 42.

22. Ibid., p. 56.

23. Capes, John Moore, “Equivocation as taught by St. Alphonsus Liguori,” Rambler, n.s. 1 (04 1854): 307336. Capes was the editor of the Rambler, a convert and had earlier probably written a preface to a translation (1849) of Liguori's Reflections on Spiritual Subjects and on the Passion of Jesus Christ, signed “J.M.C.”

24. “St. Alphonsus and the Christian Remembrancer,” Dublin Review 37 (12 1854): 326403, almost certainly by William Walter Roberts, a cousin by marriage of Manning, who may have inspired or aided him. (Attributions from The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals.)

25. Michael O'Sullivan to Newman, 18 January 1864, quoted in Dessain, Charles Stephen and Kelly, Edward E., eds., The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, 21 (London, 1971): 25 n. 1. Newman's letters to O'Sullivan (the chaplain) of 21–24 January and 1 February are printed on pp. 24–25 and 34–35. O'Sullivan in responding to Harrison had cited quotations from Paley on equivocation. Newman remarked (p. 25) that Paley “singularly enough has been, for another case in which I have been interested, very much on my mind's, and O'Sullivan's quotations were “very cogent.” The “other case” was, of course, Kingsley's attack on Newman.

26. Ibid., 139, n.

27. Newman to Daunt, 21 October 1862, in Dessain, 20 (London, 1970): 317–318.

28. John Maguire to Newman, 19 May 1864, cited in Dessain, 21:109, n. 2.

29. Ibid., 110, n. 8.

30. Ibid., 123, n. 2.

31. Ibid., 177, n. 2.

32. Newman to Edward Badeley, 15 January 1874, ibid., 18.

33. “Froude's History of England,” Macmilian's Magazine 9 (01 1884): 217. The phrase “truth for its own sake” was not new to Newman. In his Essay on Development (1845), anticipating the Grammar of Assent, he opposed Locke, who said that one who believed what had not been logically demonstrated “loves not truth for truth's sake.” See Essay on Development, C. F. Harrold, ed., (New York, 1949), p. 305. Part of Acton's quarrel with Newman was that in matters historical Acton felt that Newman did not admit “the sanctity of truth for its own sake,” Sir John Acton to Newman, 8 July 1861, cited in Altholz, , “Newman and History,” Victorian Studies 7 (03 1964):292.

34. Kingsley, Charles, “What, Then, Does Dr. Newman Mean?” (London, 1864), reprinted in Newman, , Apologia pro vita sua, ed. Ward, p. 46. Evidently Kingsley had read one of the earlier controversialists.

35. Ibid., p. 61. Liguori was not named a Doctor of the Church until 1871.

36. Ibid., pp. 58–59. Kingsley cities Scavini and Neyraguet.

37. Meyrick, Frederick, But Isn't Kingsley Right After All? A Letter to the Rev. Dr. Newman (London, 1864), PP. 34.

38. Ibid. p. 4. Meyriek rehearsed the various Roman approvals of Liguori.

39. Ibid., p. 11.

40. There is no reference to Meyrick in Newman's letters of 1864, except in Acton's letter of 10 April, below.

41. Acton to Newman, 10 April 1864, in Dessain, 21:94.

42. They included “several of the most eminent intellects both in literature and in the State.” Ibid.

43. Ibid. See MacDougall, Hugh A., The Acton-Newman Relation.s: The Dilemma of Christian Liberalism (New York, 1962), p. 92, which argues that Acton had “considerable” influence upon the Apologia.

44. He meant his Ultramontane opponents.

45. Newman to Acton, 15 April 1864, in Dessain, 21:94.

46. Acton to Newman, 16 April 1864, ibid., 95.

47. Newman found occasion to criticize the Ultramontanes as “a violent ultra party, which exalts opinions into dogmas” (Apologia, ed. Ward, p. 351). But this was in the context of a justification for submission to church authority even in scientific matters. See Altholz, Josef L., The Liberal Catholic Movement in England (London, 1962), pp. 229230. For Acton's views at the time of publication, see Ignaz von Döllinger / Lord Acton: Briefwechsel 1850–4890, ed. Victor Conzemius, Bd. 1 (München, 1963): 345357. He criticized the mainly personal nature of Newman's reply. At a later date Acton was completely disillusioned. “Newman wrote a book to deny Liguori, but ended by invoking his intercession. Therefore, I differ from N. exactly as I do from Lig. Clearly he does not think it sinful to lie. It is not enough to disapprove lies, if we say they are not sins.” Cambridge University Library Add. Ms. 5403 f. 27.

48. Apologia, ed. Ward, p. 363.

49. Ibid. p. 368.

50. This last was also a literary device to lead into his conclusion, offering his work to his brethren of the Oratory. Hyacinthe Gerdil (1718–1802) and Natalis Alexander (Noël Alexandre, 1639–1724) were French theologians.

51. “The freedom of the Schools, indeed, is one of those rights of reason, which the Church is too wise really to interfere with. And this applies not to moral questions only, but to dogmatic also.” Apologia, ed. Ward, p. 442. This statement, which goes beyond the necessities of the argument in this case, was a slap at the Ultramontanes.

52. A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk on Occasion of Mr. Gladstone's Recent Expostulation (London, 1875). Interestingly, Meyrick was Newman's opponent on this occasion also; see Does Dr. Newman Deserve Mr. Gladstone's Praises, or Not? (London, 1875).

53. St. Thomas Aquinas is included, but briefly and casually. Newman suggested, on the authority of one Vandenbroeck in theMélanges Théologlques of Louvain (1850), that errors had later been found in Liguori's works. Apologia, ed. Ward, p. 444.

54. Ibid., p. 452. Newman concludes, somewhat incongruously, by citing the patristic and Anglican authorities on Liguori's side. This was deleted in the later editions.

55. Some Catholics privately disagreed with Newman. The Manning-Ward school of Ultramontanes was offended by Newman's reference to a “violent ultra party”. Devotees of Liguori criticized Newman for his treatment of the Saint. See the correspondence with the Passionist Pius Devine and the Redemptorist R. A. Coffin (a translator of Liguori), in Dessain, 21:112–113.

56. 21 July 1864, pp. 69–70, cited in ibid., 164.

57. “Suum Cuique,” “Mr. Kingsley and Dr. Newman,” Spectator 37 (06 11, 1864): 680681.

58. Wilberforce, Samuel, “Dr. Newman's Apologia,” Quarterly Review 116 (10 1864):563.

59. Ibid., 533. Svaglic (p. 588 n.) suggests that this implication that Newman's views were “something special and peculiar to myself” is related to Newman's inclusion of letters of approbation from the clergy in the supplemental matter to the 1865 edition of the Apologia.

60. Wilberforce, 532.

61. Meyriek, , On Dr. Newman's Rejection of Liguori's Doctrine of Equivocation (London 1864), p. 30.

62. Ibid., pp. 31–32.

63. Ibid., pp. 34–35.

64. His Marian devotions were attacked in later pamphlets; and his instructions to confessors concerning questions of sex and marriage were among the subjects of the celebrated The Confessional Unmasked (London, 1865), an attack on the indecency of the confessional which was itself condemned as obscene. See Best, G. F. A., “Popular Protestantism in Victorian Britain,” in Robson, Robert, ed., Ideas and Institutions of Victorian Britain (London, 1967), 115142.

65. Egner, G., Apologia pro Charles Kingsley (London, 1939). Kingsley had “raised genuine objections which Newman did not and could not answer”, p. xiii.

66. Welsh, Alexander, “The Allegory of Truth in English Fiction,” Victorian Studies 9 (09 1965): 7. The Old English triewe, treowe (see German treu) primarily signifies loyalty.

67. This helps to explain Acton's näively positivistic historiography: truthfulness in the historian, joined to correct methods of research and open documents, would infallibly produce objective truth. The Cambridge Modern History is the monument to this ideal.

68. Newman biography has never quite recovered from this: the Apologia is still the starting- point for biographers. See Altholz, , “Some Observations on Victorian Religious Biography: Newman and Manning,” Worship 43 (0509. 1969): 410411.

69. Church, R. W., “Newman's ‘Apologia’,” Occasional Papers (London, 1897), 2:394395; reprinted from the Guardian, 22 June 1864.

70. The review of Kingsley in the Birmingham Daily Post, 23 March 1864, spoke of “the simple, stern, grand, majestic, and uncompromising virtue” recognized beyond the pale of the Roman Church. Cited in Dessain, 21:260 n.

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