Apologia Pro Vita Sua, being a History of his Religious Opinions, by John Henry Cardinal Newman, Revised edition of 1865.
Annotation of text (marginal notes, end notes designated /a/, /b/, /c/ etc., and inserted notes in curly brackets) copyright ©2010 David Trumbull for Agathon Associates. All Rights Reserved.

Note F. on Page 269 {in Chapter 5}
The Economy

For the Economy, considered as a rule of practice, I shall refer to what I wrote upon it in 1830-32, in my History of the Arians. I have shown above, pp. 26, 27, that the doctrine in question had in the early Church a large signification, when applied to the divine ordinances: it also had a definite application to the duties of Christians, whether clergy or laity, in preaching, in instructing or catechizing, or in ordinary intercourse with the world around them; and in this aspect I have here to consider it.

As Almighty God did not all at once introduce the Gospel to the world, and thereby gradually prepared men for its profitable reception, so, according to the doctrine of the early Church, it was a duty, for the sake of the heathen among whom they lived, to observe a great reserve and caution in communicating to them the knowledge of "the whole counsel of God." This cautious dispensation of the truth, after the manner of a discreet and vigilant steward, is denoted by the word "economy." It is a mode of acting which comes under the head of Prudence, one of the four Cardinal Virtues.

The principle of the Economy is this; that out of various courses, in religious conduct or statement, all and each allowable antecedently and in themselves, that ought to be taken which is most expedient and most suitable at the time for the object in hand.

Instances of its application and exercise in Scripture are such as the following:—1. Divine Providence did but gradually impart to the world in general, and to the Jews in particular, the knowledge of His will:—He is said to have "winked at the times of ignorance among the heathen;" and He suffered in the Jews divorce "because of the hardness of their hearts." 2. He has allowed Himself to be represented as having eyes, ears, and hands, as having wrath, jealousy, grief, and repentance. 3. In like manner, our Lord spoke harshly to the Syro-Phœnician woman, whose daughter He was about to heal, and made as if He would go further, when the two disciples had come to their journey's end. 4. Thus too Joseph "made himself strange to his brethren," and Elisha kept silence on request of Naaman to bow in the house of Rimmon. 5. Thus St. Paul circumcised Timothy, while he cried out "Circumcision availeth not."

It may be said that this principle, true in itself, yet is dangerous, because it admits of an easy abuse, and carries men away into what becomes insincerity and cunning. This is undeniable; to do evil that good may come, to consider that the means, whatever they are, justify the end, to sacrifice truth to expedience, unscrupulousness, recklessness, are grave offences. These are abuses of the Economy. But to call them economical is to give a fine name to what occurs every day, independent of any knowledge of the doctrine of the Economy. It is the abuse of a rule which nature suggests to every one. Every one looks out for the "mollia tempora fandi," and for "mollia verba" too {favourable time and utterance}.

Having thus explained what is meant by the Economy as a rule of social intercourse between men of different religious, or, again, political, or social views, next I will go on to state what I said in the Arians.

I say in that Volume first, that our Lord has given us the principle in His own words,—"Cast not your pearls before swine;" and that He exemplified it in His teaching by parables; that St. Paul expressly distinguishes between the milk which is necessary to one set of men, and the strong meat which is allowed to others, and that, in two Epistles. I say, that the Apostles in the Acts observe the same rule in their speeches, for it is a fact, that they do not preach the high doctrines of Christianity, but only "Jesus and the Resurrection" or "repentance and faith." I also say, that this is the very reason that the Fathers assign for the silence of various writers in the first centuries on the subject of our Lord's divinity. I also speak of the catechetical system practised in the early Church, and the disciplina arcani {Discipline of the Arcane, the custom which prevailed in the early Church, whereby knowledge of the more intimate mysteries of the Christian religion was kept from non-Christians and slowly revealed to those undergoing instruction in the faith.} as regards the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, to which Bingham bears witness; also of the defence of this rule by Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, and Theodoret.

But next the question may be asked, whether I have said any thing in my Volume to guard the doctrine, thus laid down, from the abuse to which it is obviously exposed: and my answer is easy. Of course, had I had any idea that I should have been exposed to such hostile misrepresentations, as it has been my lot to undergo on the subject, I should have made more direct avowals than I have done of my sense of the gravity and the danger of that abuse. Since I could not foresee when I wrote, that I should have been wantonly slandered, I only wonder that I have anticipated the charge as fully as will be seen in the following extracts.

For instance, speaking of the Disciplina Arcani, I say:—(1) "The elementary information given to the heathen or catechumen was in no sense undone by the subsequent secret teaching, which was in fact but the filling up of a bare but correct outline," p. 58, and I contrast this with the conduct of the Manichæans "who represented the initiatory discipline as founded on a fiction or hypothesis, which was to be forgotten by the learner as he made progress in the real doctrine of the Gospel." (2) As to allegorizing, I say that the Alexandrians erred, whenever and as far as they proceeded "to obscure the primary meaning of Scripture, and to weaken the force of historical facts and express declarations," p. 69. (3) And that they were "more open to censure," when, on being "urged by objections to various passages in the history of the Old Testament, as derogatory to the divine perfections or to the Jewish Saints, they had recourse to an allegorical explanation by way of answer," p. 71. (4) I add, "It is impossible to defend such a procedure, which seems to imply a want of faith in those who had recourse to it;" for "God has given us rules of right and wrong", ibid. (5) Again, I say,—"The abuse of the Economy in the hands of unscrupulous reasoners, is obvious. Even the honest controversialist or teacher will find it very difficult to represent, without misrepresenting, what it is yet his duty to present to his hearers with caution or reserve. Here the obvious rule to guide our practice is, to be careful ever to maintain substantial truth in our use of the economical method," pp. 79, 80. (6) And so far from concurring at all hazards with Justin, Gregory, or Athanasius, I say, "It is plain [they] were justified or not in their Economy, according as they did or did not practically mislead their opponents," p. 80. (7) I proceed, "It is so difficult to hit the mark in these perplexing cases, that it is not wonderful, should these or other Fathers have failed at times, and said more or less than was proper," ibid.

The Principle of the Economy is familiarly acted on among us every day. When we would persuade others, we do not begin by treading on their toes. Men would be thought rude who introduced their own religious notions into mixed society, and were devotional in a drawing-room. Have we never thought lawyers tiresome who did not observe this polite rule, who came down for the assizes and talked law all through dinner? Does the same argument tell in the House of Commons, on the hustings, and at Exeter Hall? Is an educated gentleman never worsted at an election by the tone and arguments of some clever fellow, who, whatever his shortcomings in other respects, understands the common people?

As to the Catholic Religion in England at the present day, this only will I observe,—that the truest expedience is to answer right out, when you are asked; that the wisest economy is to have no management; that the best prudence is not to be a coward; that the most damaging folly is to be found out shuffling; and that the first of virtues is to "tell truth, and shame the devil."