Cardinal Newman on the Inspiration as Co-ordinate with Error

The debate has raged for a while, but the formerly liberal now conservative Cardinal Newman is one the most profound on this topic:

There is one subject more, on which it may be expedient to dwell for a few minutes.

The Professor insists on its being a conclusion theologically certain that everything that is to be found in the Sacred Writers is literally the Word of God; and in consequence he would imply that I, by questioning whether some words in Scripture may not come from the writers themselves mainly, {64} have committed the serious act of rejecting a theological truth. Now, of course it is indisputable that a proposition, which is the immediate consequence of a truth of Revelation, is itself a certain truth. Certainly; but it is a further question whether this or that conclusion is an instance of such a real demonstration. This indeed I say frankly, that, if my certainties depended on the Professor’s syllogisms, I should have small chance of making a decent show of theological certainties.

For instance, in the present question, he has proved just the contrary to what he meant to prove, as can easily be shown. He has to prove that it is theologically certain that the whole of Scripture, whatever is contained in it, is the Word of God, and this is how he does it. He says, “It is as absurd to say that a man could commit sin under the impulse of the Holy Ghost, as to say that the Sacred Writers could write error under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.” Why does he change “impulse” into “inspiration” in the second clause of his sentence? Who ever fancied that the impulse of the Holy Spirit might cause error? Who will deny that the impulse of the Holy Spirit would certainly be accorded to an Apostle or Prophet to hinder, even in a statement of fact, any serious error? If the Holy Spirit does not hinder varieties and errors in transcribers of Scripture which damage the perfection of His work, why should He hinder small errors (on the hypothesis that such there are) {65} of the original writers? Is not He, with the Church co-operating, sufficient for a Guardian?

But this is not all. He says that error cannot co-exist with inspiration, more than sin with grace; but grace can co-exist with sin. His parallel just turns against him. Good Christians are each “the Temple of God,” “partakers of the Divine Nature,” nay “gods,” and they are said “portare Deum in corpore suo”; and priests, I consider, have not less holiness than others; yet every priest in his daily Mass asks pardon “pro innumerabilibus peccatis et offensionibus et negligentiis meis.” Grace brings a soul nearer to God than inspiration, for Balaam and Caiphas were inspired; yet the Professor tells us that, though sin is possible in spite of grace, error is impossible because of inspiration.

Read the entire letter, here: Newman Reader – On the Inspiration of Scripture.

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2 Replies to “Cardinal Newman on the Inspiration as Co-ordinate with Error”

  1. This is the first time I have heard of a liberal becoming a conservative. It seems most people move the other way when he or she begins their biblical studies.

    I liked how he talked about inspired editors in another part of his article.

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