This book was originally meant to be a chapter in a larger work on Newman; and the intention was to compress into it most of the severe things which, in common honesty, it seemed needful to say about Newman's use of words and evidence in controversy, so as to leave freedom for a more sympathetic treatment of the subject as a whole in the rest of the work.
But, on investigation, the grounds for censure appeared much larger than I had anticipated; and, when I came to study the Essay on Ecclesiastical Miracles, the mental and almost moral shock which I received from that portentous work -and from the amazing fact that it had been thought well to reprint such a production in the year 1890- caused my single chapter to grow first into several chapters and ultimately into a separate volume.
My book is intended as an attack, not against Newman himself, but against the whole of that theological "system of safety" which would pollute the intellect with the suggestion that it is "safe" to say this, and "unsafe" to say that, about alleged historical facts. In answer to someone who had reported a saying that Cardinal (then Dr.) Wiseman "was an unscrupulous controversialist", Newman replied (Letters, ii. 324) "I daresay he is. But who is not?" How strange an avowal, almost amounting to a condonation! And yet, is it not true? Is it not a fact, -though a portentous fact- that men are expected to argue with scrupulous honesty about Thucydides or Aristotles, but not about the facts of the Bible or the history of the Christian Church? My war, then, is not with Newman, but with the system which Newman in these words (perhaps unconsciously) condemns.
Such letters as I have received already (within little more than a fortnight from the date of publication), from eminent men well fitted to weigh evidence and to discuss the special questions here treated, lead me to hope that my book is not only substantially accurate but also helpful to the cause of religious truth. But it was of course impossible to attempt to dispel that kind of legendary exaggeration which had gradually attached itself to the popular estimate of Newman's work, without giving pain to some of his admirers.
When a man of such high intellectual standing as Mr. R.H. Hutton, could quote passage after passage from Newman's works -passages teeming with fallacies or with expressions leading to erroneus conclusions- with an approval wich, when combined with the intrinsic plausibility of the quotations, imposes upon multitudes of readers (among whom the present writer must confess that he was, at first, one); and when so able a critic could bring himself to use the words "sobriety" and "discrimination" in connection with one of Newman's so-called "inquires" into an alleged ecclesiastical miracle, it seemed clear that something must be done, and no less clear that nothing useful could be done without giving offence to some whom one was very loath to offend, but who were so blinded by Newman's magnetic influence that, in criticizing his works, they had lost all power of distinguishing truth from untruth.