Friday, March 27, 2020

Preview: Prayer and "Profession without Hypocrisy"


It is easy to accuse anyone who upholds a certain set of rules and then violates them with hypocrisy. In one of his Anglican Parochial and Plain Sermons "Profession without Hypocrisy", St. John Henry Newman examines the pitfalls of such judgment even upon ourselves, while acknowledging that hypocrisy is a grave matter and that we should not be hypocrites. A hypocrite wants to deceive: she wants to display a public face of virtue and high standards while violating those standards privately and practicing the opposite vices--the hypocrite is lying. In our common parlance now, a hypocrite would be virtue signalling while "vice practicing" (my neologism!).

Anna Mitchell and I will discuss Newman's insights on this issue on Monday, March 30 in our Lenten Meditation series on the Son Rise Morning Show.

Please listen live here about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern; the podcast will be archived here.

Newman begins with the fact that all Christians fail in their profession of faith (that is, we sin!):

IT is surely most necessary to beware, as our Lord solemnly bids us, of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. We may be infected with it, even though we are not conscious of our insincerity; for they did not know they were hypocrites. Nor need we have any definite bad object plainly before us, for they had none,—only the vague desire to be seen and honoured by the world, such as may influence us. So it would seem, that there are vast multitudes of Pharisaical hypocrites among baptized Christians; i.e. men professing without practising. Nay, so far we may be called hypocritical, one and all; for no Christian on earth altogether lives up to his profession.

Not every sinner is a hypocrite, however, because that would mean that anyone who professes any standard and fails to uphold it perfectly is a hypocrite, ignoring the fact of human weakness. Such a view would prevent anyone from becoming a Christian, that is, being baptized:

But here some one may ask, whether in saying that hypocrisy is professing without practicing, I am not, in fact, overthrowing all external religion from the foundation, since all creeds, and prayers, and ordinances, go beyond the real belief and frame of mind of even the best Christians. This is even the ground which some men actually take. They say that it is wrong to baptize, and call Christians, those who have not yet shown themselves to be really such. "As many as are baptized into Christ, put on Christ;" so says the text, and these men argue from it, that till we have actually put on Christ, that is, till we have given our heart to Christ's service, and in our degree become holy as He is holy, it can do no good to be baptized into His name. Rather it is a great evil, for it is to become hypocrites. Nay, really humble, well-intentioned men, feel this about themselves. They shrink from retaining the blessed titles and privileges which Christ gave them in infancy, as being unworthy of them; and they fear lest they are really hypocrites like the Pharisees, after all their better thoughts and exertions.

By that Pelagian standard, no one would ever be baptized:

Now the obvious answer to this mistaken view of religion is to say, that, on the showing of such reasoners, no one at all ought to be baptized in any case, and called a Christian; for no one acts up to his baptismal profession; no one believes, worships, and obeys duly, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, whose servant he is made in baptism. And yet the Lord did say, "Go, baptize all nations;" clearly showing us, that a man may be a fit subject for baptism, though he does not in fact practice every thing that he professes, and therefore, that any fears we may have, lest men should be in some sense like the Pharisees, must not keep us from making them Christians.

In The Tears of Christ version/excerpt of this sermon as the meditation for the Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent, a wonderful section on Newman's discussion of hypocrisy, to help his congregation distinguish between that lie and human failure, and his application of that distinction to prayer in the Christian life, has unfortunately been left out because of the editor's desire to keep the meditation of an appropriate length. We read the introduction and the conclusion to this sermon in the book, but I'd like to explore what Newman says about prayer.

So Newman sets out to explain to concerned Christians "what kind of disobedience is really hypocrisy, and what is not" by focusing on prayer: "Now men profess without feeling and doing, or are hypocrites, in nothing so much as in their prayers. This is plain. Prayer is the most directly religious of all our duties; and our falling short of our duty, is, then, most clearly displayed. Therefore I will enlarge upon the case of prayer, to explain what I do not mean by hypocrisy."

He continues to point out the error we can make in reaction to not wanting to seem hypocritical. Just as some state an extreme reaction of delaying baptism until someone is as holy as God is holy (which will never happen without the grace of baptism!), some state an extreme reaction in the practice of prayer:

We then use the most solemn words, either without attending to what we are saying, or (even if we do attend) without worthily entering into its meaning. Thus we seem to resemble the Pharisees; a question in consequence arises, whether, this being the case, we should go on repeating prayers which evidently do not suit us. The men I just now spoke of, affirm that we ought to leave them off. Accordingly, such persons in their own case first give up the Church prayers, and take to others which they think will suit them better. Next, when these disappoint them, they have recourse to what is called extempore prayer; and afterwards perhaps, discontented in turn with this mode of addressing Almighty God, and as unable to fix their thoughts as they were before, they come to the conclusion that they ought not to pray, except when specially moved to prayer by the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Now, in answer to such a manner of reasoning and acting, I would maintain that no one is to be reckoned a Pharisee or hypocrite in his prayers who tries not to be one,—who aims at knowing and correcting himself,—and who is accustomed to pray, though not perfectly, yet not indolently or in a self-satisfied way; however lamentable his actual wanderings of mind may be, or, again, however poorly he enters into the meaning of his prayers, even when he attends to them.

In his exposition of our common failures in praying, both with liturgical and personal prayers, Newman emphasizes the effort to develop habits through perseverance and repetition. First he examines our not being attentive to the prayers we pray, letting our minds wander:

No one begins with having his heart thoroughly in them; but by trying, he is enabled to attend more and more, and at length, after many trials and a long schooling of himself, to fix his mind steadily on them. No one (I repeat) begins with being attentive. Novelty in prayers is the cause of persons being attentive in the outset, and novelty is out of the question in the Church prayers, for we have heard them from childhood, and knew them by heart long before we could understand them. No one, then, when he first turns his thoughts to religion, finds it easy to pray; he is irregular in his religious feelings; he prays more earnestly at some times than at others; his devotional seasons come by fits and starts; he cannot account for his state of mind, or reckon upon himself; he frequently finds that he is more disposed for prayer at any time and place than those set apart for the purpose. All this is to be expected; for no habit is formed at once; and before the flame of religion in the heart is purified and strengthened by long practice and experience, of course it will be capricious in its motions, it will flare about (so to say) and flicker, and at times seem almost to go out.

Then Newman examines how we sometimes fail to enter into the meaning of the prayers when we are attentive to them. He emphasizes that when we acknowledge this failure, it is a sign of humility and a "tender conscience":

Here a tender conscience will ask, "How is it possible I can rightly use the solemn words which occur in the prayers?" A tender conscience alone speaks thus. Those confident objectors whom I spoke of just now, who maintain that set prayer is necessarily a mere formal service in the generality of instances, a service in which the heart has no part, they are silent here. They do not feel this difficulty, which is the real one; they use the most serious and awful words lightly and without remorse, as if they really entered into the meaning of what is, in truth, beyond the intelligence of Angels. But the humble and contrite believer, coming to Christ for pardon and help, perceives the great strait he is in, in having to address the God of heaven. . . .

Again, Newman calls on the Christian to persevere in the practice of her faith in the Church, not try to go alone, relying on her own will, but instead, rely on God's love and mercy:

. . . Truly we are children, and cannot suitably feel the words which the Church teaches us, though we say them after her, nor feel duly reverent at God's presence! Yet let us but know our own ignorance and weakness, and we are safe. God accepts those who thus come in faith, bringing nothing as their offering, but a confession of sin. And this is the highest excellence to which we ordinarily attain; to understand our own hypocrisy, insincerity, and shallowness of mind,—to own, while we pray, that we cannot pray aright,—to repent of our repentings,—and to submit ourselves wholly to His judgment, who could indeed be extreme with us, but has already shown His loving-kindness in bidding us to pray. And, while we thus conduct ourselves, we must learn to feel that God knows all this before we say it, and far better than we do. He does not need to be informed of our extreme worthlessness. We must pray in the spirit and the temper of the extremest abasement, but we need not search for adequate words to express this, for in truth no words are bad enough for our case. . . .

Concluding the section on prayer, Newman brings in the Trinitarian model of liturgical prayer: we offer our prayers through Jesus to the Father in union with the Holy Spirit:

Therefore, when we pray let us not be as the hypocrites, making a show; nor use vain repetitions with the heathen; let us compose ourselves, and kneel down quietly as to a work far above us, preparing our minds for our own imperfection in prayer, meekly repeating the wonderful words of the Church our Teacher, and desiring with the Angels to look into them. When we call God our Father Almighty, or own ourselves miserable offenders, and beg Him to spare us, let us recollect that, though we are using a strange language, yet Christ is pleading for us in the same words with full understanding of them, and availing power; and that, though we know not what we should pray for as we ought, yet the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with plaints unutterable. Thus feeling God to be around us and in us, and therefore keeping ourselves still and collected, we shall serve Him acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; and we shall take back with us to our common employments the assurance that He is still gracious to us, in spite of our sins, not willing we should perish, desirous of our perfection, and ready to form us day by day after the fashion of that divine image which in baptism was outwardly stamped upon us.

In my post on Monday, I'll conclude with the three last paragraphs included with The Tears of Christ meditation as Newman applies the same rules to the Christian life in toto:

I have spoken only of our prayers, and but referred to our general profession of Christianity. It is plain, however, what has been said about praying, may be applied to all we do and say as Christians.

Image credit: James Tissot, "Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees" (public domain)--depicting Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-39 or Luke 11:37-54.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The English Reformation and the American Protestant Empire

I break my posting fast again to comment on some recent reading.

As followers of this blog may know, one of its themes is religious freedom and the lessons of the English Reformation reflected in the Constitution of the United States of America. Earlier this year--seems a very long time ago now--when researching the anniversary of Prohibition in 1920, I found an article by one Michael DeHaven Newsom (Howard University School of Law): "Some Kind of Religious Freedom: National Prohibition and the Volstead Act's exemption for the Religious Use of Wine" published in the Brooklyn Law Review, Volume 70, Issue 3, 2005.

Then I found Professor Newsom's previous article, "The American Protestant Empire: A Historical Perspective", published in the Washburn Law Journal (Washburn University is in Topeka, Kansas), Volume 40, Issue 2 (Winter, 2001), which I finished reading last week. (I purchased a copy of the journal since I could not access it on-line.)

And I've found another article online, "Common School Religion: Judicial Narratives in a Protestant Empire", published in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal (Volume 11, 2002), which I have not yet read.

In the two articles I've read, Newsom traces the history of the English Reformation in its religious settlements through the Tudor and Stuart dynasties and how they impacted religious practice and political systems in the British American colonies and in the Federal Constitution and the States' Constitutions of the United States of America. In the Washburn Law Journal article he provides a historiographical overview of the religious settlements of the English Reformation from legal, political, social, and judicial enforcement perspectives as the background to the American religious settlements from those same perspectives. In other two articles, he applies that background to specific events and laws, specifically, Prohibition of the production, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages and the public school or common school system in the United States of America, having previewed both causes in the Washburn article.

His thesis is that the establishment clause of the First Amendment was not really for the protection of religious liberty for all in the United States of America, but an effort to protect the British colonial Protestant Empire by allowing the states to establish official Protestant churches and thus protect Protestantism in the states, individually and united. In a footnote at the beginning of the Washburn Law Journal article, he offers his opinion that this Protestant Empire has been an unmitigated disaster for Native Americans and African Americans, and detrimental to ethnic whites (Jews, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox). He focuses on American anti-Catholicism in the latter part of that article, noting that fear of Catholics influenced Protestant support of Prohibition and the religious instruction in the Public/Common Schools.

In the Washburn Law Journal article I am particularly interested in Newsom's analysis of the religious settlements of 1534 (Henry VIII); 1549 (Edward VI); 1554 (Mary I); 1559 (Elizabeth I); 1662 (Charles II and Parliament); and 1688 (Parliament and William & Mary). Except for the religious settlement of Mary I which restored England's religious connections to the universal Catholic Church and the Papacy to some extent, these English religious settlements have certain things in common:
  • Anti-Roman Catholicism (either against the Church or individual Catholics)
  • Protestantization (transitioning from a Catholic to a Protestant England)
  • Pan-Protestantism (wide-ranging, sometimes inchoate Protestant beliefs)
  • Suasion and Coercion (either letting change occur over time by slow or lax enforcement or forcing change by punishment, including torture and death)
  • Social Reform (sometimes; sometimes good and sometimes bad)
Newsom relies on some definitely Whiggish sources, especially in his evaluation of Mary I (he was writing before the mini-wave of re-evaluations of her reign), citing attacks on her intelligence and character in a footnote(!). He ignores the work of Christopher Haigh, John Bossy, and Eamon Duffy entirely, referencing A.G. Dickens, G.R. Elton, Jasper Ridley, etc. He cites J.J. Scarisbrick's biography of Henry VIII but not his The Reformation and the English People.

Newsom has some blunt opinions: he minimizes Cromwell and Cranmer to emphasize Henry VIII's methods and intentions; he opines that "the Edwardians went too far too fast" (216); that the Marian "obsession with persecuting heretics had much to do with the inattention to propaganda" (217), which Eamon Duffy's later Fires of Faith would prove not as true as Newsom thought in 2001, relying on Loades and Ridley; and even though he admires Elizabeth I's overall balance of Suasion and Coercion, he admits that "ideology obviates the need to establish the fact of a particular case" in her dealing with Catholics and real and supposed plots against her. (219)

In his estimation of the state of the Catholic Church in England before the Reformation, Newsom is insistent that there had been a "medieval distortion of the liturgicological meaning of the Mass" (212), emphasizing a new division between the priest and the people during the celebration of the Mass and the fact that the priest alone received both forms of Holy Communion (the Body and the Blood), while the people received Holy Communion infrequently. This means of course that he puts the emphasis on the Sacrament of Holy Communion and does not acknowledge the power of the Sacrifice of the Mass, nor the people's participation in that Sacrifice, nor the community of the Church, expressed in what Newsom calls the "extra-liturgical" elements of parish life, like the Corpus Christi Guilds--again, if he had read Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of Altars, first published in 1992, he might have had more corporate and less individualistic view of late Medieval Catholicism. As I read his commentary on the liturgical and devotional practices of that era it seemed that Newsom was viewing it through the lens of a post-Vatican II emphasis on the participation of the laity (I don't know if he is a Catholic or not!), finding a dualism that Catholics in the late Medieval era might not have deprecated as he seems to do. Some lay Catholics, as Duffy showed, attended Mass often--Henry VIII himself several times a day--whether or not they received Holy Communion more than once a year. They knew the sacrificial depth of the Mass and wanted to participate in it through attentive and informed attendance, preparing for the great annual events of Lenten penance, sacramental Confession, and reception of Holy Communion. Newsom emphasizes that Henry VIII destroyed all this extra-liturgical devotion during his religious settlement(s) and reformation, but cannot demonstrate that Henry did anything to replace it or was successful in making lay participation any more obvious or reception of Holy Communion any more equal between the laity and the priest--if any equality was achieved through the English Reformation settlements, it was probably by lowering the priest to the level of the laity, not raising the laity, as Newsom seems to perceive it!

I'll look at what Newsom says about the Stuarts, British Colonial America, and the founding of the USA, with an emphasis on religious liberty next week.

Monday, March 23, 2020

This Morning: Newman on Our Unbelief and the Way to Belief

As promised, this morning Anna Mitchell and I will examine St. John Henry Newman's "Miracles No Remedy for Unbelief" from his Anglican Parochial and Plain Sermons on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 6:50 a.m. Central Daylight Savings Time / 7:50 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

In the last two paragraphs of this sermon, Newman exhorts us to look within, not without, for God's grace and our own will in cooperation with God's grace:

Let us then put aside vain excuses; and, instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within. God's grace moves us from within, so does our own will. External circumstances have no real power over us. 

Those external circumstances, Newman could say, only have power over us if we let them.

If we do not love God, it is because we have not wished to love Him, tried to love Him, prayed to love Him. We have not borne the idea and the wish in our mind day by day, we have not had it before us in the little matters of the day, we have not lamented that we loved Him not, we have been too indolent, sluggish, carnal, to attempt to love Him in little things, and begin at the beginning; we have shrunk from the effort of moving from within; we have been like persons who cannot get themselves to rise in the morning; and we have desired and waited for a thing impossible,—to be changed once and for all, all at once, by some great excitement from without, or some great event, or some special season; something or other we go on expecting, which is to change us without our having the trouble to change ourselves. 

I think there maybe a particular lesson for us during this Covid-19 crisis, when we can't attend Sunday or Daily Mass, receive Holy Communion, keep our Holy Hours in chapels of Perpetual Adoration, participate in parish Stations of the Cross, etc:

We covet some miraculous warning, or we complain that we are not in happier circumstances, that we have so many cares, or so few religious privileges; or we look forward for a time when religion will come easy to us as a matter of course.

The Church is giving us many religious privileges of her store of merit: conditions for special plenary indulgences were announced on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

Newman stresses that the time for action is now:

Let us rouse ourselves, and act as reasonable men, before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth in religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven. Sight will not move us; else why did Judas persist in covetousness in the very presence of Christ? . . . why did Satan fall, when he was a bright Archangel? 

He alludes to three New Testament passages:

1 Corinthians 1:23:

Nor will reason subdue us; else why was the Gospel, in the beginning, "to the Greeks foolishness"?

Matthew 13:1-23:
Nor will excited feelings convert us; for there is one who "heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;" yet "hath no root in himself," and "dureth" only "for a while." 

Luke 12:16-20:

Nor will self-interest prevail with us; or the rich man would have been more prudent, whose "ground brought forth plentifully," and would have recollected that "that night his soul" might be "required of him." 

And then he quotes the Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity in the Book of Common Prayer:

Let us understand that nothing but the love of God can make us believe in Him or obey Him; and let us pray Him, who has "prepared for them that love Him, such good things as pass man's understanding, to pour into our hearts such love towards Him, that we, loving Him above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire."

Friday, March 20, 2020

Preview: Newman on Miracles and Faith


On Monday, March 23, we'll continue our Son Rise Morning Show series on Newman's Lenten themed sermons/meditations with one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons titled "Miracles No Remedy for Unbelief". Anna Mitchell and I will converse at about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central.

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

On the fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent in the Ordinary Form this year, we'll hear the Gospel stories of two of Jesus's greatest miracles: restoring the sight of the man born blind (Fourth Sunday of Lent) and the raising of Lazarus (Fifth Sunday of Lent), both from St. John's Gospel. Edward Elgar wrote an oratorio The Light of Life on the former story, which I listen to every year this Gospel is read (when a parish has Elect to receive at the Easter Vigil these Gospels are always proclaimed in Lent during the scrutinies, but this year they are part of the regular cycle). 

Both of those Gospel passages exemplify what Newman says of miracles at the beginning of this sermon:

NOTHING, I suppose, is more surprising to us at first reading, than the history of God's chosen people; nay, on second and third reading, and on every reading, till we learn to view it as God views it. It seems strange, indeed, to most persons, that the Israelites should have acted as they did, age after age, in spite of the miracles which were vouchsafed to them. The laws of nature were suspended again and again before their eyes; the most marvellous signs were wrought at the word of God's prophets, and for their deliverance; yet they did not obey their great Benefactor at all better than men now-a-days who have not these advantages, as we commonly consider them. Age after age God visited them by Angels, by inspired messengers; age after age they sinned. At last He sent His well-beloved Son; and He wrought miracles before them still more abundant, wonderful, and beneficent than any before Him. What was the effect upon them of His coming? St. John tells us, "Then gathered the Chief Priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this Man doeth many miracles … Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death." [John xi. 47, 53.]

Those verses follow the report of the raising of Lazarus. Newman goes to make a startling statement:

In matter of fact, then, whatever be the reason, nothing is gained by miracles, nothing comes of miracles, as regards our religious views, principles, and habits. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it. . . .

We might be thinking now that a miracle cure of the Covid-19 virus might bring people back to the faith, believing in God's extraordinary actions in the world. Newman warns us that it might not and might not even move believers to greater faith:

I ask, why should the sight of a miracle make you better than you are? Do you doubt at all the being and power of God? No. Do you doubt what you ought to do? No. Do you doubt at all that the rain, for instance, and sunshine, come from Him? or that the fresh life of each year, as it comes, is His work, and that all nature bursts into beauty and richness at His bidding? You do not doubt it at all. Nor do you doubt, on the other hand, that it is your duty to obey Him who made the world and who made you. And yet, with the knowledge of all this, you find you cannot prevail upon yourselves to do what you know you should do. Knowledge is not what you want to make you obedient. You have knowledge enough already. Now what truth would a miracle convey to you which you do not learn from the works of God around you? What would it teach you concerning God which you do not already believe without having seen it?

He addresses objections to this statement:

But, you will say, a miracle would startle you; true: but would not the startling pass away? could you be startled for ever? And what sort of a religion is that which consists in a state of fright and disturbance? Are you not continually startled by the accidents of life? You see, you hear things suddenly, which bring before your minds the thoughts of God and judgment; calamities befall you which for the time sober you. Startling is not conversion, any more than knowledge is practice.

But you urge, that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; that it might be the beginning of a new course, though it passed away itself; that a miracle would not indeed convert you, but it would be the first step towards thorough conversion; that it would be the turning point in your life, and would suddenly force your path into the right direction, and that in this way shocks and startlings, and all the agitation of the passions and affections, are really the means of conversion, though conversion be something more than they. This is very true: sudden emotions—fear, hope, gratitude, and the like, all do produce such effects sometimes; but why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects? Other things startle us besides miracles: we have a number of accidents sent us by God to startle us. He has not left us without warnings, though He has not given us miracles; and if we are not moved and converted by those which come upon us, the probability is, that, like the Jews, we should not be converted by miracles. 

In paragraphs not included in The Tears of Christ meditation for the Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent, Newman alludes to parable of another Lazarus and the Rich Man, who tells Father Abraham in the afterlife that if someone rose from the dead to give his brothers a message, they would believe and repent. Newman warns that even today it would not be as effective as the Rich Man thought--or we might think:

And thus our Saviour's words would come true of all those multitudes who have the Bible to read, and know what they ought to do, but do it not:—"If they hear not Moses and the Prophets," He says, "neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." Do we never recollect times when we have said, "We shall never forget this; it will be a warning all through our lives"? have we never implored God's forgiveness with the most eager promises of amendment? have we never felt as if we were brought quite into a new world, in gratitude and joy? Yet was the result what we had expected? We cannot anticipate more from miracles, than before now we have anticipated from warnings, which came to nought.

Newman also cites Psalm 95, the invitiatory psalm of the Breviary:

O that today you would hearken to his voice!
Harden not your hearts, as at Mer′ibah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who err in heart,
and they do not regard my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest. (RSV)

As you can see, Newman is able to describe our weaknesses in faith very well--because he knows the hardness of our hearts. He interweaves examples of the weak, yet hard, hearts of the Jews in the time of Samuel, when they wanted a king like all the other kingdoms, with our own weak, hard hearts:

We cannot serve God, because we want [lack] the will and the heart to serve Him. We like any thing better than religion, as the Jews before us. 

The Jews liked this world; they liked mirth and feasting. "The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play;" so do we. 

They liked glitter and show, and the world's fashions. "Give us a king like the nations," they said to Samuel; so do we. 

They wished to be let alone; they liked ease; they liked their own way; they disliked to make war against the natural impulses and leanings of their own minds; they disliked to attend to the state of their souls, to have to treat themselves as spiritually sick and infirm, to watch, and rule, and chasten, and refrain, and change themselves; and so do we. 

They disliked to think of God, and to observe and attend His ordinances, and to reverence Him; they called it a weariness to frequent His courts; and they found this or that false worship more pleasant, satisfactory, congenial to their feelings, than the service of the Judge of quick and dead; and so do we: and therefore we disobey God as they did,—not that we have not miracles; for they actually had them, and it made no difference. We act as they did, though they had miracles, and we have not; because there is one cause of it common both to them and us—heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.

If you think that Newman is being hard on the Jews of the Old Covenant, he is even harder on Christians of the New Covenant, because we have the grace of the sacraments, effectively working miracles on our souls:

But this is not all; in another respect we are really far more favoured than they were; they had outward miracles; we too have miracles, but they are not outward but inward. Ours are not miracles of evidence, but of power and influence. They are secret, and more wonderful and efficacious because secret. Their miracles were wrought upon external nature; the sun stood still, and the sea parted. Ours are invisible, and are exercised upon the soul. They consist in the sacraments, and they just do that very thing which the Jewish miracles did not. They really touch the heart, though we so often resist their influence. If then we sin, as, alas! we do, if we do not love God more than the Jews did, if we have no heart for those "good things which pass men's understanding," we are not more excusable than they, but less so. For the supernatural works which God showed to them were wrought outwardly, not inwardly, and did not influence the will; they did but convey warnings; but the supernatural works which He does towards us are in the heart, and impart grace; and if we disobey, we are not disobeying His command only, but resisting His presence.

So what should we do? 

You know the answer as well as I do, but I'll post Newman's exhortation on Monday!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"To Strive, to Seek, to Find, and Not to Yield"(?) and Cruel Ulysses

I break my pattern of not posting often again to highlight a passage from Dante's Inferno, Canto XXVI (26)--I'm attending a class at the Spiritual Life Center here in Wichita every Thursday night during Lent: we are finishing up the first book of the Divine Comedy tomorrow night and moving on to Purgatory, which we hope to finish before Holy Week.

BTW: we're going to have some festive treats for the Solemnity of St. Joseph tomorrow night too!

You might remember that all of Dante the Pilgrim's tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven occurs during the Holy Triduum (Holy/Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), Easter Sunday and the first three days of the Octave (ending on Wednesday). Our class will meet last on the Thursday before Holy Week, so it will be up to each of us attending the class to read Paradise during the Easter Season.

But last week, we ended the presentation with the great speech of Ulysses and the hint that Dante's Ulysses (who was not inspired by his appearance in either of Homer's epics, unavailable in Europe at that time) had inspired Lord Tennyson's poem Ulysses.

Virgil, the pilgrim Dante's guide, asks Ulysses to speak to Dante and tell his story: Virgil was no fan of the wily adventurer, who designed the Trojan Horse that led to the fall of Troy, but did lead to the founding of Rome by the Aeneas, Virgil's hero (Oh, Happy Deception?). When Virgil mentions Ulysses in The Aeneid, he is always "Cruel Ulysses", the deceiver and conniver. The Greek hero probably wouldn't speak to the medieval Italian poet, but will respond to the ancient Roman poet, and describes his last journey after his return to Ithaca (from the 1819 translation by The Rev. Henry Francis Cary):

Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn
Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire
That labours with the wind, then to and fro
Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds,
Threw out its voice, and spake: "When I escap'd
From Circe, who beyond a circling year
Had held me near Caieta by her charms,
Ere thus Æneas yet had nam'd the shore;
Nor fondness for my son*, nor reverence
Of my old father, nor return of love,
That should have crown'd Penelope with joy,
Could overcome in me the zeal I had
To' explore the world, and search the ways of life,
Man's evil and his virtue. Forth I sail'd
Into the deep illimitable main,
With but one bark, and the small faithful band
That yet cleav'd to me. As Iberia far,
Far as Marocco either shore I saw,
And the Sardinian and each isle beside
Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age
Were I and my companions, when we came
To the strait pass*, where Hercules ordain'd
The bound'ries not to be o'erstepp'ed by man.
The walls of Seville to my right I left,
On the' other hand already Ceuta past.

'O brothers!' I began, 'woe to the west
'Through perils without number now have we reach'd;
'To this the short remaining watch, that yet
'Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof
'Of the unpeopled world, following the track
'Of Phoebus. Call to mind from whence ye sprang:
'Ye were not form'd to live the life of brutes,
'But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.'
With these few words I sharpen'd for the voyage
The mind of my associates, that I then
Could scarcely have withheld them. To the dawn
Our poop we turn'd, and for the witless flight
Made our oars wings*, still gaining on the left.
Each star of the' other pole night now beheld*,
And ours so low, that from the ocean-floor
It rose not. Five times re-illum'd, as oft
Vanish'd the light from underneath the moon,
Since the deep way we enter'd, when from far
Appear'd a mountain dim*, loftiest methought
Of all I e'er beheld. Joy seiz'd us straight,
But soon to mourning chang'd. From the new land
A whirlwind spring, and at her foremost side
Did strike the vessel. Thrice* it whirl'd her round
With all the waves, the fourth time lifted up
The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:
And over us the booming billow clos'd*."



Ulysses is, with Diomedes, his companion in deception, in Hell because of his misuse of human reason: he is in lower circles of Hell because of sins greater than murder or violence, because he corrupted his humanity, even with his men on this last voyage, as he leads them on into the West just for the sake of his desire for adventure.

Like Ulysses and his men, Dante the Pilgrim is about to see that lofty mountain--Mount Purgatory--although Dante can climb the mountain, and Virgil can too, for a time.

Tennyson takes on that spirit of adventure and constant daring in his poem:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. . . .


He wants to set sail again like Dante's Ulysses until he dies, calling to his men "To Strive, to Seek, to Find, and Not to Yield."

We often think that is exactly what we ought to do too. What if that's not what God wills?

On a less grand scale, that may be how some of us are feeling during this Covid-19 pandemic: we're restrained by warnings not to be in large gatherings, not to shake hands, not to be out in public much at all, especially if we are of a certain age or have chronic health issues. Catholic dioceses around the country and the world have issued various decisions about schools and churches, activities and Masses--we grow restless because we are used to going, going where and when we want, and now we can't or shouldn't. Dante's Ulysses could not restrain himself and left home and those he loved--and who loved him--even after he had undergone so much to be reunited with his wife and son and homeland. He did not think of them; he really wasn't thinking that much of what he would achieve or the destination he would reach, just the doing of it.

But as Christians, we know there's a different way. As Jesus told Peter by the Sea of Tiberius: "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21: 18-19) Emphasis added!

In 2013/2014, The Paris Review published an on-line series on the Inferno and Alexander Aciman offered his insights into this passage from the Inferno, citing another poem inspired by Ulysses by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy about the adventurer's journey to Ithaca:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become,so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


Until we are in Heaven--where we hope to go after our journey's end--we are torn between being home and being some where else, on the way, seeing new things, hoping to see new things when we get home. We need to think more of how to glorify God and serve others rather than how to satisfy ourselves. Perhaps that's the lesson of "Cruel Ulysses".

Monday, March 16, 2020

This Morning: Private Judgment and "Dangers to the Penitent"

As promised, this morning Matt Swaim and I will examine St. John Henry Newman's "Dangers to the Penitent" from his Anglican Sermons on Issues of the Day on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 6:50 a.m. Central Daylight Savings Time / 7:50 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

On Friday, I left off before Newman began his discussion of private judgment and penitential practices:

What was said just now naturally leads to one other remark, viz. that when men are in the first fervour of penitence, they should be careful not to act on their own private judgment, and without proper advice. Not only in forming lasting engagements, but in all they do, they need a calmer guidance than their own. They cannot manage themselves; they must be guided by others; the neglect of this simple and natural rule leads to very evil consequences. We should all of us be saved a great deal of suffering of various kinds, if we could but persuade ourselves, that we are not the best judges, whether of our own condition, or of God's will towards us. What sensible person undertakes to be his own physician? yet are the diseases of the mind less numerous, less intricate, less subtle than those of the body? is experience of no avail in things spiritual as well as in things material? does induction lose its office, and science its supremacy, when the soul is concerned? What an inconsistent age is this! every department of things that are, is pronounced to be capable of science, to rest upon principles, to require teaching, to exercise the reason, except self-discipline. 

Newman warns against private judgment often in his works, Anglican and Catholic: private judgment is one aspect of the misuse and misunderstanding of how to form our consciences. Our consciences should not lead us to be consistent with ourselves, but with God's law. Private judgment is also an aspect of the spirit of liberalism he so descried in religious matters: the view that there was no objective truth about God and what He desires from us, so that each person could privately judge for herself what true religion is.

In this sermon, he calls for the penitent to seek spiritual counsel before deciding his own course of action, noting that all too often the penitent thinks he is on his own:

Self-discipline is to take its chance; it is not to be learned, but it can be performed by each man for himself by a sort of natural instinct. And what is more preposterous still, a person is thus to be his own guide and instructor at the very time, when by the nature of the case he is in error and difficulty. How can a person show himself the way, when by the very hypothesis he has lost it? how can he at once guide and be guided? The very seasons I am speaking of are those, when a man is agitated, excited, harassed, depressed, desponding; the very time when of course his judgment is not clear, when he is likely to be led away with fancies, when he is likely to be swayed by inclination, when the light that is in him becomes, if not darkness, yet a meteor leading him the wrong way. But if the blind lead the blind, shall not both reason and passion, shall not the whole man, fall into the ditch?

So Newman urges the penitent to be willing to take counsel from the Church, from human intermediaries, another very Catholic idea:

Nor is it to the purpose to say, that we cannot be guided without the grace of God, and that the grace of God will guide us; and that the grace of God is gained by private prayer. For still God makes use of means; we must do our part; we must act, and God will guide us while we act; and the question is, whether taking the advice of others is not God's way, through which He blesses and enlightens us, and without which our souls will not prosper.

I state my deep conviction when I say, that nothing healthy can be expected in the religion of the community, till we learn that we cannot by our private judgment manage ourselves; that management of the heart is a science which it needs to learn; and that even though we have paid attention to it, we are least able to exercise it in our own case, that is, then when we most need it. We must use in religious matters that common sense, which does not desert us in matters of this world, because we take a real interest in them; and as no one would ever dream of being his own lawyer or his own physician, however great exposures, whatever sacrifice of feeling may be the consequence, so we must take it for granted, if we would serve God comfortably, that we cannot be our own divines, and our own casuists.

When Newman uses the word "casuists" he does not mean in the pejorative sense of people who use false reasoning in moral issues, but those who apply general rules of morality to help decide what one should do when faced by a moral issue.

Newman even alludes to the Communion of Saints:

To conclude, let us excite each other to seek that good part which shall not be taken away from us. Let us labour to be really in earnest, and to view things in the way in which God views them. Then it will be but a little thing to give up the world; only an easy thing to reconcile the mind to what at first it shrinks from. Let us turn our mind heavenward; let us set our thoughts on things above, and in His own time God will set our affections there also. All will in time become natural to us, which at present we do but own to be good and true. We shall covet what at present we do but admire. Let the time past suffice us to have followed our own will; let us desire to form part of that glorious company of Apostles and Prophets, of whom we read in Scripture. Let us cast in our lot with them, and desire to be gathered together under their feet. Let us beg of God to employ us; let us try to obtain a spirit of perfect self-surrender to Him, and an indifference to one thing above another in this world, so that we may be ready to follow His call whenever it comes to us. Thus shall we best employ ourselves till His voice is heard, patiently preparing for it by meditation, and looking for Him to perfect what we trust His own grace has begun in us.

And he concludes with an image from the Gospel of St. Matthew (13:1-23), the Parable of the Sower and the Seed:

There are many persons who proceed a little way in religion, and then stop short. God keep us from choking the good seed, which else would come to perfection! Let us exercise ourselves in those good works, which both reverse the evil that is past, and lay up a good foundation for us in the world to come.

Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Preview: Newman on "Dangers to the Penitent"

Monday, March 16 is the Monday of the Third Week of Lent. We have been fasting, praying, and giving alms since February 26--each of us knows how well we have fulfilled out Lenten programs so far. Whether we've fulfilled our plans to read a meditation a day from The Tears of Christ, attend Stations of the Cross each Friday, donate to our parish canned food drive, give up desserts or alcohol, etc; we're aware of our failures. Perhaps we took on too much;  perhaps we didn't take on enough; perhaps God sent us a different penance we didn't expect.

So on Monday, March 16, Matt Swaim and I will discuss one of St. John Henry Newman's Anglican Sermons on Subjects of the Day, "Dangers to the Penitent", in which he considered the problems a penitent, who sincerely wants to turn away from sin and do penance for past sins, may encounter through ignorance, discouragement, or impatience, among other dangers or pitfalls along the way.

The text he uses for the inspiration of this sermon is Psalm 27:16 (as in The Book of Common Prayer, Tyndale-Coverdale translation):

"O tarry thou the Lord's leisure; be strong, and He shall comfort thine heart; and put thou thy trust in the Lord."

At least, Newman says, such a penitent knows that she needs to change:

NO state is more dreary than that of the repentant sinner, when first he understands where he is, and begins to turn his thoughts towards his Great Master whom he has offended. Of course it is tempered with comfort and hope, as are all acts of duty; and on the retrospect, far from being distressing to dwell upon, it will be even pleasant. But at the time it is a most dreary state. A man finds that he has a great work to do, and does not know how to do it, or even what it is, and his impatience and restlessness are as great as his conscious ignorance; indeed, he is restless because he is ignorant. There is great danger of his taking wrong steps, inasmuch as he is anxious to move, and does not know whither. Let me now make some remarks upon certain faults into which he is likely to fall.

Newman considers three classes of penitents: one who only repents halfway, one who repents notionally, on the level of the mind, and one who repents really, with the heart. It is to the latter kind of penitent that Newman addresses this sermon:

But, observe, I am supposing a really sincere and earnest mind, not a languid, dreaming, halting, double-minded penitent, who repents a little and not much. Such a one is certainly not in danger of becoming enthusiastic or superstitious; he has not the power of being intemperate or wayward in his grief, and has little need of guidance. Nor does what I am saying apply to persons of sound judgment or calm temperament, who though they do truly repent, yet repent with the reason rather than with the feelings. But still there are a number of persons to whom it does apply.

1. I observe, then, that repentant sinners are often impatient to put themselves upon some new line of action, or to adopt some particular rule of life. They feel that what they have done in time past is, as far as this life is concerned, indelible, and places an impassable barrier between themselves and others: happy only if that badge of guilt and shame does not outlast the grave, but is wiped out in the day of account. They feel that they can never be as others are, till the voice of Christ pronounces them acquitted and blessed. And their heart yearns towards humiliation, and burns with a godly indignation against themselves, as if nothing were too bad for them; and they look about for something to do, some state of life to engage in, some task or servile office to undertake. . . .

As Newman offers his spiritual counsel to such penitents, I was reminded of the Ignatian Discernment of Spirits developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius outlined Fourteen Rules for our discernment of which spirit is influencing a decision, the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the Enemy (the Devil). Newman doesn't set up such a psychomachia or battle of spirits, but he does indicate throughout this sermon that the penitent needs to be listening for the voice of God to tell her how she needs to repent, what disciplines she should adopt and how to change her life as God wants her to, avoiding certain pitfalls:

2. And next I would say to such persons as I have described, Be on your guard, not only against becoming committed to some certain mode of life or object of exertion, but guard against excess in such penitential observances as have an immediate claim upon you, and are private in their exercise. The danger is, that what is really an excess, seems to such persons to be only moderation. When men are in horror and anguish at their past sins, they are anxious to put some burden on themselves, which may relieve their feelings, and remind them of what they have been, what they are. Now nothing is more unadvisable in most cases than to begin with severity. Persons do not know what they can bear, and what they cannot, till they have tried it. They think almost they can live without food, without rest, without the conveniences of life to which they are accustomed. Then when they find they cannot, they despond and are miserable, or fall back, and a reaction ensues. It is a great fault to be ambitious, and men may easily aim at praying more than they can, or meditating more than they can, or having a clearer faith and a deeper humility than at present they can have. . . .

Newman warns against taking a private vow before God to follow a certain regimen:

3. What has been last said leads me to another subject, on which some remarks ought to be made. When persons are in acute distress about their sins, they are sometimes tempted to make rash promises, and to take on them professions without counting the cost. They think their present state of mind will last for ever; it changes—but their promise remains; they find they cannot duly fulfill it; then they are in great perplexity, and even despair. Perhaps they have been even imprudent enough to make their engagement in the shape of a vow, and this greatly increases their difficulty. They do not know whether it is binding or not—they cannot recollect the mode in which, or the feelings under which, they took it; or any of the minute circumstances on which its validity turns. . . .

On Monday, I'll highlight Newman's warnings against private judgment--a characteristic concern of his--in matters of penitence and conversion.

Image Credit: Saint Mary of Egypt, the patron saint of repentant sinners, by José de Ribera

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Tomorrow Night: Chesterton's "The Club of Queer Trades"

Our local G.K. Chesterton reading group is getting together tomorrow night at Eighth Day Books to discuss another collection of "detective stories" by Chesterton: The Club of Queer Trades.

I violate my rule of limited Lenten blogging with a post about this book, which I think is real Chesterton gem: well-written, with a twist in each story, two brothers and a narrator ready for action and adventure, elegant descriptions of London and an even more elegant conceit at its center, as Dale Ahlquist notes:

At the beginning of the 20th century, in detective fiction there was Sherlock Holmes and that was all. There were other fictional detectives, to be sure, but they were only bad imitations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective. The sleuths offered by other writers would try to outdo Holmes in eccentricity and in solving crimes that were evermore contrived and convoluted. But in 1905 a book of mysteries came along that finally managed to turn the Sherlock Holmes idea on its head. The book was The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton. His detective, Rupert Grant, is a Sherlock Holmes-like private eye who investigates crimes and chases crooks with great self-assuredness in his powers of deduction. But he is always wrong. The hero of these stories is not Rupert, but his older brother, Basil Grant, a retired judge. In each case, Basil proves to Rupert that there has been no crime and no crooks.

The Dover edition we're reading includes Chesterton's original drawings and an introduction by Martin Gardner, the late mathematician and annotator (The Annotated Alice, The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown, The Annotated Thursday, etc), who wrote "Mathematical Games" columns for Scientific American for 25 years!

Much as he admired Chesterton, and even though he considered himself a Theist, Gardner could not submit to organized religion, or even the Catholic Church.

Our club meets at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, the 13th of March on the first floor of Eighth Day Books, right under the top shelf of Chesterton's works. I plan to bring some suitable Lenten snacks. Drop by if you're in Wichita, Kansas, near 2838 East Douglas Avenue at that time.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Newman on God's Commandments and Our Sin

As promised, Anna Mitchell and I will examine St. John Henry Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermon "God's Commandments Not Burdensome" on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 6:50 a.m. Central DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME / 7:50 a.m. Eastern DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME.

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

On Friday, I posted the excerpts in which Newman reconciled two statements from the Gospels, the first, that it is hard to get to Heaven and the second, that it is easy to obey God's commandments. The connection between these statements surely is that to get to Heaven after we die we need to obey God's commandments while we are alive.

In the conclusion to his sermon, Newman appeals to his congregation to repent of any time they have failed to obey the commandments and to resolve never to sin again:

And now to what do the remarks I have been making tend, but to this?—to humble every one of us. For, however faithfully we have obeyed God, and however early we began to do so, surely we might have begun sooner than we did, and might have served Him more heartily. We cannot but be conscious of this. Individuals among us may be more or less guilty, as the case may be; but the best and worst among us here assembled, may well unite themselves together so far as this, to confess they have "erred and strayed from God's ways like lost sheep," "have followed too much the devices and desires of their own hearts," have "no health" in themselves as being "miserable offenders." Some of us may be nearer Heaven, some further from it; some may have a good hope of salvation, and others, (God forbid! but it may be), others no present hope. Still let us unite now as one body in confessing (to the better part of us such confession will be the more welcome, and to the worst it is the more needful), in confessing ourselves sinners, deserving God's anger, and having no hope except "according to His promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord." He who first regenerated us and then gave His commandments, and then was so ungratefully deserted by us, He again it is that must pardon and quicken us after our accumulated guilt, if we are to be pardoned. Let us then trace back in memory (as far as we can) our early years; what we were when five years old, when ten, when fifteen, when twenty! what our state would have been as far as we can guess it, had God taken us to our account at any age before the present. I will not ask how it would go with us, were we now taken; we will suppose the best.

Let each of us (I say) reflect upon his own most gross and persevering neglect of God at various seasons of his past life. How considerate He has been to us! How did He shield us from temptation! how did He open His will gradually upon us, as we might be able to bear it! [cf. 1 Cor. x. 13] how has He done all things well, so that the spiritual work might go on calmly, safely, surely! How did He lead us on, duty by duty, as if step by step upwards, by the easy rounds of that ladder whose top reaches to Heaven? Yet how did we thrust ourselves into temptation! how did we refuse to come to Him that we might have life! how did we daringly sin against light! And what was the consequence? that our work grew beyond our strength; or rather that our strength grew less as our duties increased; till at length we gave up obedience in despair. And yet then He still tarried and was merciful unto us; He turned and looked upon us to bring us into repentance; and we for a while were moved. Yet, even then our wayward hearts could not keep up to their own resolves: letting go again the heat which Christ gave them, as if made of stone, and not of living flesh. What could have been done more to His vineyard, that He hath not done in it? [Isa. v. 4.] "O My people (He seems to say to us), what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against Me. I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; ... what doth the Lord require of thee, but justice, mercy, and humbleness of mind?" [Micah vi. 3-8.] He hath showed us what is good. He has borne and carried us in His bosom, "lest at any time we should dash our foot against a stone." [Ps. xci. 12.] He shed His Holy Spirit upon us that we might love Him. And "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not grievous." Why, then, have they been grievous to us? Why have we erred from His ways, and hardened our hearts from His fear? Why do we this day stand ashamed, yea, even confounded, because we bear the reproach of our youth?

You might notice that Newman mentions a confession of sins--he even outlines an examination of conscience, reviewing the years past--and he speaks of repentance and God's mercy toward us. If Newman had been preaching this sermon as a Catholic priest we would expect him here to advise the sinners among his congregation to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation: to make a good examination of conscience, to confess mortal and/or venial sins honestly and clearly; to make an act of contrition, receive absolution, and perform the penance given.

But the Anglican Newman could not advise his Oxford congregation to seek this Sacrament of forgiveness and grace because the Church of England did not recognize any such Sacrament! Nor could he advise them to avail themselves of the indulgences the Church offers for the remission of "the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven".

In one of his Discourses to Mixed Congregations, preached when he was an Oratorian, Father Newman did mention the Sacrament of Confession:

O my dear brethren, though your conscience witnesses against you, He can disburden it; whether you have sinned less or whether you have sinned more, He can make you as clean in His sight and as acceptable to Him as if you had never gone from Him. Gradually will He destroy your sinful habits, and at once will He restore you to His favour. Such is the power of the Sacrament of Penance, that, be your load of guilt heavier or be it lighter, it removes it, whatever it is. It is as easy to Him to wash out the many sins as the few. . . . No sinner, ever so odious, but may become a Saint; no Saint, ever so exalted, but has been, or might have been, a sinner.

Nevertheless, in "God's Commandments Not Burdensome", Newman exhorted his congregation (and himself) to set out immediately on the path to repentance and penance through prayer and obedience:

Let us then turn to the Lord, while yet we may. Difficult it will be in proportion to the distance we have departed from Him. Since every one might have done more than he has done, every one has suffered losses he never can make up. We have made His commands grievous to us: we must bear it; let us not attempt to explain them away because they are grievous. We never can wash out the stains of sin. God may forgive, but the sin has had its work, and its memento is set up in the soul. God sees it there. Earnest obedience and prayer will gradually remove it. Still, what miserable loss of time is it, in our brief life, to be merely undoing (as has become necessary) the evil which we have done, instead of going on to perfection! If by God's grace we shall be able in a measure to sanctify ourselves in spite of our former sins, yet how much more should we have attained, had we always been engaged in His service!

These are bitter and humbling thoughts, but they are good thoughts if they lead us to repentance. And this leads me to one more observation, with which I conclude.

If any one who hears me is at present moved by what I have said, and feels the remorse and shame of a bad conscience, and forms any sudden good resolution, let him take heed to follow it up at once by acting upon it. I earnestly beseech him so to do. For this reason;—because if he does not, he is beginning a habit of inattention and insensibility. God moves us in order to make the beginning of duty easy. If we do not attend, He ceases to move us. Any of you, my brethren, who will not take advantage of this considerate providence, if you will not turn to God now with a warm heart, you will hereafter be obliged to do so (if you do so at all) with a cold heart;—which is much harder. God keep you from this!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Preview: "God's Commandments Not Burdensome"

On Monday, March 9, Anna Mitchell and I will examine St. John Henry Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermon "God's Commandments Not Burdensome" on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 6:50 a.m. Central DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME / 7:50 a.m. Eastern DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME--don't forget to spring ahead an hour this Sunday!

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

Newman presents us with a seeming contradiction: It is hard to get to Heaven, but it's not that hard to obey God's commandments:

IT must ever be borne in mind, that it is a very great and arduous thing to attain to heaven. "Many are called, few are chosen." "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way." "Many will seek to enter in, and shall not he able." "If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." [Matt. xxii. 14; vii. 14. Luke xiii. 24; xiv. 26.]

On the other hand, it is evident to any one who reads the New Testament with attention, that Christ and His Apostles speak of a religious life as something easy, pleasant, and comfortable. Thus, in the words I have taken for my text:—"This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous." In like manner our Saviour says, "Come unto Me ... and I will give you rest … My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." [Matt. xi. 28-30.] Solomon, also, in the Old Testament, speaks in the same way of true wisdom:—"Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her … When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet." [Prov. iii. 17-24.] Again, we read in the prophet Micah: "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" [Micah vi. 8.] as if it were a little and an easy thing so to do.

Now I will attempt to show how it is that these apparently opposite declarations of Christ and His Prophets and Apostles are fulfilled to us. . . . We must understand how [the Gospel] is both severe and indulgent in its commands, and both arduous and easy in its obedience, in order that we may understand it at all. "His commandments are not grievous," says the text. How is this?—I will give one answer out of several which might be given.

Newman has discovered the Catholic both/and!

He admits that if one is "worldly" and wants pleasure, ease and to do one's own will, the idea of obeying God's commandments will seem burdensome. But in a section not included in The Tears of Christ, Newman describes how the maturing child is eased into obeying God's law by developing good habits of conscience:

For consider how gently God leads us on in our early years, and how very gradually He opens upon us the complicated duties of life. A child at first has hardly any thing to do but to obey his parents; of God he knows just as much as they are able to tell him, and he is not equal to many thoughts either about Him or about the world. He is almost passive in their hands who gave him life; and, though he has those latent instincts about good and evil, truth and falsehood, which all men have, he does not know enough, he has not had experience enough from the contact of external objects, to elicit into form and action those innate principles of conscience, or to make himself conscious of the existence of them.

And while on the one hand his range of duty is very confined, observe how he is assisted in performing it. First, he has no bad habits to hinder the suggestions of his conscience: indolence, pride, ill-temper, do not then act as they afterwards act, when the mind has accustomed itself to disobedience, as stubborn, deep-seated impediments in the way of duty. To obey requires an effort, of course; but an effort like the bodily effort of the child's rising from the ground, when he has fallen on it; not the effort of shaking off drowsy sleep; not the effort (far less) of violent bodily exertion in a time of sickness and long weakness: and the first effort made, obedience on a second trial will be easier than before, till at length it will be easier to obey than not to obey. A good habit will be formed, where otherwise a bad habit would have been formed
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Newman says this growth in holiness leads us to be "trained to love what God and our conscience approve" and these good habits make it easier to follow God's will.

It will be hard to obey God's commandments if we have not been raised in this way that God intended:

Now, if men will not take their duties in Christ's order, but are determined to delay obedience, with the intention of setting about their duty some day or other, and then making up for past time, is it wonderful that they find it grievous and difficult to perform? that they are overwhelmed with the arrears of their great work, that they are entangled and stumble amid the intricacies of the Divine system which has progressively enlarged upon them? 

Nevertheless, Newman says that we don't have to do this alone; Baptism makes a Christian:

a child of grace, as Christ's purchased possession, who goes before us with His mercy, puts the blessing first, and then adds the command; regenerates us, and then bids us obey. Christ bids us do nothing that we cannot do. He repairs the fault of our nature, even before it manifests itself in act. He cleanses us from original sin, and rescues us from the wrath of God by the sacrament of baptism. He gives us the gift of His Spirit, and then He says, "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" and is this grievous?

God gives us the grace to be able to obey His Commandments, but as Newman notes, we must persevere, especially after we disobey--and we all know that we have disobeyed:

For, however faithfully we have obeyed God, and however early we began to do so, surely we might have begun sooner than we did, and might have served Him more heartily. We cannot but be conscious of this. Individuals among us may be more or less guilty, as the case may be; but the best and worst among us here assembled, may well unite themselves together so far as this, to confess they have "erred and strayed from God's ways like lost sheep," "have followed too much the devices and desires of their own hearts," have "no health" in themselves as being "miserable offenders."

After this rather dispassionate effort to reconcile these two statements, Newman concludes his sermon by addressing the challenge we face in obeying God's commandments after we've failed in some way. Stay tuned on Monday for that conclusion.