John Henry Newman was a highly original and nuanced theological thinker.  While his theological and ecclesiological views resist any simple characterization, there can be little doubt that Newman's positions on the developmental character of Christian doctrine, the primacy of conscience, and the role of the laity in the Church served as a guide and an inspiration for many initiatives discussed and endorsed at Vatican II.  During his own life, Newman was no stranger to controversy: he held that the authority of conscience could not be trumped by any bishops or pope; in his essay "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine," he argued that the laity play an indispensible role in preserving the truth of the Catholic faith (this essay prompted negative reactions from some bishops and led to Newman's eventual resignation as editor of The Rambler); and
on the eve of the First Vatican Council, he argued against the notion that papal infallibility should be defined and declared at the Council.
The statements below help to illuminate Newman's understanding of and commitment to some long-standing, traditional Church teachings, including those on conscience, infallibility, and the development of doctrine.

On conscience in relation to the bishops and theologians:
"I should look to see what theologians could do for me, what the Bishops and clergy around me, what my confessor; what friends whom I have revered: and if, after all, I could not take their view of the matter, then I must rule myself by my own judgement and my own conscience."
From Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

On after-dinner toasts to conscience and the pope:
"Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink, -- to the Pope, if you please, -- still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards."

From Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

On conscience and the authority of popes:
"Was St. Peter infallible on that occasion at Antioch when St. Paul withstood him? was St. Victor infallible when he separated from his communion the Asiatic Churches? or Liberius when in like manner he excommunicated Athanasius? And, to come to later times, was Gregory XIII, when he had a medal struck in honor of the Bartholomew massacre? or Paul IV, in his conduct towards Elizabeth? or Sextus V when he blessed the Armada? or Urban VIII when he persecuted Galileo?  No Catholic ever pretends that these Popes were infallible in these acts.  Since then infallibility alone could block the exercise of conscience, and the Pope is not infallible in that subject-matter in which conscience is of supreme authority, no dead-lock, such as implied in the objection which I am answering, can take place between conscience and the Pope."

From Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

On conscience as evidence of God's existence:
"Man has within his breast a certain commanding dictate, not a mere sentiment, not a mere opinion or impression or view of things, but a law, an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others.  I do not say that its particular injunctions are always clear, or that they are always consistent with each other; but what I am insisting on here is this, that it commands; that it praises, blames, it threatens, it implies a future, and it witnesses of the unseen.  It is more than a man’s own self.  The man himself has no power over it, or only with extreme difficulty; he did not make it, he cannot destroy it….  This is Conscience, and, from the nature of the case, its very existence carries our minds to a Being exterior to ourselves; for else, when did it come?..."
Cited in
The Argument from Conscience to the Existence of God according to J.H. Newman, by Adrian J. Boekraad and Henry Tristram (Louvain: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1961)
"Ward thinks that I hold that moral obligation is, because there is a God.  But I hold just the reverse, viz. there is a God, because there is moral obligation.  I have a certain feeling on my mind, which I call conscience.  When I analyze this, I feel it involves the idea of a Father and a Judge, –- of one who sees my heart, etc."

Cited in The Argument from Conscience to the Existence of God according to J.H. Newman, by Adrian J. Boekraad and Henry Tristram (Louvain: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1961)

On his opposition to the declaration of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council:
"Why is it, if I believe the Pope's Infallibility, I do not wish it defined?  I answer, because it can't be so
defined as not to raise more questions than it solves."
From The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman (Dessain et al., eds.), xxiv, 334.

On his opposition to the way in which papal infallibility was declared at the First Vatican Council:
"As little as possible was passed at the Council -- nothing about the Pope which I have not myself always held -- but it is impossible to deny that it was done with an imperiousness and overbearing willfulness, which has been a great scandal."
From The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman (Dessain et al., eds.), xxv, 262.

On his wish that the declaration of infallibility might be 'trimmed' in the future:
"Let us be patient, let us have faith, and a new Pope, and a re-assembled Council may trim the boat."
From The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman (Dessain et al., eds.), xxv, 310.

On the requirement that the authoritative words of popes and Councils be interpreted through the 'passive infallibility' of the 'whole body of the Catholic people' (including the 'investigations and disputes' of the school of theologians):
"Your second [question], I think, was this: -- 'If the Schola Theologorum [school of theologians] decides the meaning of a Pope's or a Council's words, the Schola is infallible, not they or he.'  In answer to this I observe that there are no words, ever so clear, but require an interpretation, at least as to their extent.  For instance, an inspired writer says that 'God is love', -- but supposing a set of men so extend this as to conclude, 'Therefore there is no future punishment for bad men?'  Some power then is needed to determine the general sense of authoritative words -- to determine their direction, drift, limits, and comprehension, to hinder gross perversions.  This power is virtually the passive infallibility of the whole body of the Catholic people.  The active infallibility lies in the Pope and Bishops -- the passive in the 'universitas' of the faithful.  Hence the maxim 'Securus judicat orbis terrarum' ['the judgment of the whole world is secure'].  The body of the faithful never can misunderstand what the Church determines by the gift of its active infallibility.  Here on the one hand I observe that a local sense of a doctrine, held in this or that country, is not 'sensum universitatis' -- and on the other hand the schola theologorum is one chief portion of that universitas -- and it acts with great force both in correcting popular misapprehensions and narrow views of the teaching of the active infallibilitas, and, by the intellectual investigations and disputes which are its very life, it keeps the distinction clear between theological truth and theological opinion, and is the antagonist of dogmatism.  And while the differences of the School maintains [sic] the liberty of thought, the unanimity of its memebers is the safeguard of the infallible decisions of the Church and the champions of faith."
Letter to Isy Froude from July 28, 1875; quoted from 
The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman (Dessain et al., eds.), xxvii, 336-338.

On how the Arian controversy shows that it is sometimes the laity, and not the episcopate, that best preserves and protects the truth of the Catholic faith:
"Here, of course, I must explain: -- in saying this, then, undoubtedly I am not denying that the great body of the Bishops were in their internal belief orthodox; nor that there were numbers of clergy who stood by the laity, and acted as their centres and guides; nor that the laity actually received their faith, in the first instance, from the Bishops and clergy; nor that some portions of the laity were ignorant, and other portions at length corrupted by the Arian teachers, who got possession of the sees and ordained an heretical clergy; -- but I mean still, that in that time of immense confusion the divine dogma of our Lord's divinity was proclaimed, enforced, maintained, and (humanly speaking) preserved, far more by the 'Ecclesia docta' than by the 'Ecclesia docens;' that the body of the episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism; that at one time the Pope, at other times the patriarchal, metropolitan, and other great sees, at other times general councils, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the Christian people who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength of Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius of Vercellae, and other great solitary confessors, who would have failed without them.  I see, then, in the Arian history a palmary example of a state of the Church, during which, in order to know the tradition of the Apostles, we must have recourse to the faithful
From "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine"

On the necessary development of doctrine through the 'warfare of ideas':
"The development then of an idea is not like an investigation worked out on paper, in which each successive advance is a pure evolution from a foregoing, but it is carried on through and by means of communities of men and their leaders and guides; and it employs their minds as its instruments, and depends upon them, while it uses them. And so, as regards existing opinions, principles, measures, and institutions of the community which it has invaded; it developes by establishing relations between itself and them; it employs itself, in giving them a new meaning and direction, in creating what may be called a jurisdiction over them, in throwing off whatever in them it cannot assimilate. It grows when it incorporates, and its identity is found, not in isolation, but in continuity and sovereignty. This it is that imparts to the history both of states and of religions, its specially turbulent and polemical character. Such is the explanation of the wranglings, whether of schools or of parliaments.  It is the warfare of ideas under their various aspects striving for the mastery, each of them enterprising, engrossing, imperious, more or less incompatible with the rest, and rallying followers or rousing foes, according as it acts upon the faith, the prejudices, or the interest of parties or classes."
From An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Chapter One, Section I.5

On the need to risk even 'corruption' in the development of Christian doctrine:
"But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change.
From An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Chapter One, Section I.7

On how belief needs to develop and even change, in order to become perfected:
"It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil.  Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become wore vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms.  It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often
om An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Chapter One, Section I.7

Click here for an online version of Newman's essay, "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine"

Click here for an online version of Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

Click here for an online version of Newman's Development of Christian Doctrine