Monday, February 18, 2019

Newman's Insights into Faith and Reason

Either Annie or Matt and I will discuss Newman on Faith and Reality this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central. Listen live here.

Last week, the news came that Blessed John Henry Newman will indeed be canonized:

Pope Francis Wednesday approved the canonization of Bl. John Henry Newman, a Roman Catholic cardinal, scholar, and founder of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England.

Following a Feb. 12 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope signed off on a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Newman, who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham, England on Sept. 19, 2010.

The first miracle attributed to Newman’s intercession involved the complete and inexplicable healing of a deacon from a disabling spinal condition.

His second miracle concerned the healing of a pregnant American woman. The woman prayed for the intercession of Cardinal Newman at the time of a life-threatening diagnosis, and her doctors have been unable to explain how or why she was able to suddenly recover.

The date of his canonization has not yet been announced.

For an "imprimatur" for today's discussion, who better to quote than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his homily at Newman's beatification:

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day”. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.

One thing that the promoters of reason and reality against faith and religious belief would not accept was miracles. When Newman "poped", the Protestant and Anglican communities in England thought that he had fallen for superstitious, ignorant, and credulous Roman (foreign) Catholicism. For example, Edwin Abbott Abbott, born on December 20, 1838, criticized John Henry Cardinal Newman because Newman believed in miracles, that the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ in the Gospels were true, and that miracles could still occur. He thought Newman had betrayed Reason by becoming a Catholic.

He wrote Philomythus: An Antidote against Credulity in 1891, and The Anglican Career of Cardinal Newman in 1892. In the first book he argued against Newman's Essays on Miracles which he wrote while at Oriel College in 1825-26 and 1842-43--Newman edited them for publication 1870, making changes "simply of a literary character". 

In the second book (two volumes) he wants to cast doubts on Newman's truthfulness in the Apologia pro vita sua by using the sermons and letters that Newman wrote as an Anglican to trace Newman's progress to the Catholic Church--a progress that Abbott considers totally regressive and superstitious. Abbott proclaims in his preface that Newman's "imagination dominated his reason, even more than his spiritual fears perverted his imagination". He further proclaims that Newman's sermons are "deficient in the Pauline spirit of hope and love, and inconsistent, as well as inadequate, in their expositions of the meanings and claims of faith and reason" and finally that Newman wanted to love God but did not know the meaning of the word love! Of course, he wrote this after Newman's death.

In Newman's "Sermon Notes" for August 11, 1872, he explained to his congregation why we don't see that many miracles compared to New Testament times:

1. INTROD.—Why we do not see miracles.
2. We believe that miracles are wrought now, though they are few.
3. I have spoken of miracles wrought by apostles of countries.
4. And so of saints. If I am asked why miracles scarce, I answer, Saints are scarce. We cannot conceive common men doing miracles.
5. You will ask, Why are saints scarce now? It has ever been that times vary. There are sometimes bursts of supernatural power and greatness.
6. So the Psalms, xliii. [Note 22], lxxiii. [Note 23], lxxxviii. (finis) [Note 24], and Isaias li [Note 25]. {237}
7. But when there are saints there are great miracles. St. Philip.
8. But you will say, If there are few saints on earth, yet there are many in heaven; why do they not do miracles from heaven, as St. Philip used to do, as we read in the accounts appended to his life?
9. Because we have not faith—not individuals merely, but the population. (Enlarge on this.)
10. Vide Luke xix. 26, Matt. xxi. 27, Mark ix. 23, Mark vi. 5.
11. Because men say, 'Unless we see signs and wonders,' etc., in a haughty way.
12. Miracles now come as a reward to faith, in those who do not look out for them. Not denied then.

To Abbot and others in his time--as even now--the idea of miracles was absurd and irrational. Yet Newman argued, reasonably based upon his faith in God's power and mercy, that miracles were possible, if rare. I cite this as an example of Newman's efforts to explain the relationship between faith and reality. 

But his larger argument was that those who claimed to be skeptical and reasonable were not being true to reality at all; they were applying a scientific standard of truth to religious matters that they could not apply in everyday, real life. He argued that even scientific truths gained from experimentation relied in some way on something that could not be proved, something axiomatic. There was always an element of probability and unproved truths involved: we accept our observations, our memories, our perceptions, etc. The fact that we believe the universe is rational and that we can study nature through experimentation and observation is unproved, except by common sense and probability.

This is not to indicate that Newman was equating faith in the God with the scientific method and mere probability, or ignoring the graces of the Theological Virtue of Faith. He was trying to explain to the skeptics of his day why they should respect, not disdain, the faith of any believer, perhaps even especially that of an educated Christian. As John Caizza, PhD, comments in a Winter 2018 article in Modern Age:

In the Grammar, Newman passes from a Thomistic to an Augustinian stance, describing religious belief first in terms of propositions and arguments but subsequently in terms of conviction and faith. Yet, he never leaves his inherently logical methodology, which is representative of the penetrating power of his intellect, and he never tells of his own experiences, except in an indirect manner. The advantage of Newman's logical yet informal approach is that he is able to integrate contemporary developments in knowledge into a general account of religious belief. This was important in Newman's day when Liberalism and skepticism were weakening the social fabric of religious belief. . . .

A fellow poet once said of T. S. Eliot that the academic character of his poetry should not disguise the fact that Eliot's poems were written in direct response to strongly felt emotions and personal crises. So also with Newman, each of whose major themes in the Grammar was developed in direct response to a controversy in which he was the point man, or a personal crisis when he faced challenges to his religious convictions. It is possible to mistake his British reticence about his spiritual experiences for an abstract, notional knowledge. Unlike when reading St. Augustine, Teresa of Avila, or George Fox, whose personal testimonies are vivid and explicit, it is up to Newman's readers to infer the power of feeling, the extent of motivation and depth of belief required to pursue a lifetime of intellectual writing, pastoral activity, and defense of the Christian faith.

Newman was using terms and methods of arguments that the liberal skeptics used themselves, and that's the apologetic argument he has left us, which many modern apologists use. Catholics are not superstitious, ignorant, and credulous. They believe based on the faith, hope, and love they have experienced, assented to, and live in.

For an example of Blessed John Henry Newman's great devotional faith, read one of his meditations:

1. MY God I believe and know and adore Thee as infinite in the multiplicity and depth of Thy attributes. I adore Thee as containing in Thee an abundance of all that can delight and satisfy the soul. I know, on the contrary, and from sad experience I am too sure, that whatever is created, whatever is earthly, pleases but for the time, and then palls and is a weariness. I believe that there is nothing at all here below, which I should not at length get sick of. I believe, that, though I had all the means of happiness which this life could give, yet in time I should tire of living, feeling everything trite and dull and unprofitable. I believe, that, were it my lot to live the long antediluvian life, and to live it without Thee, I should be utterly, inconceivably, wretched at the end of it. I think I should be tempted to destroy myself for very weariness and disgust. I think I should at last lose my reason and go mad, if my life here was prolonged long enough. I should feel it like solitary confinement, for I should find myself shut up in myself without companion, if I could not converse with Thee, my God. Thou  only, O my Infinite Lord, art ever new, though Thou art the ancient of days—the last as well as the first.

2. Thou, O my God, art ever new, though Thou art the most ancient—Thou alone art the food for eternity. I am to live forever, not for a time—and I have no power over my being; I cannot destroy myself, even though I were so wicked as to wish to do so. I must live on, with intellect and consciousness for ever, in spite of myself. Without Thee eternity would be another name for eternal misery. In Thee alone have I that which can stay me up for ever: Thou alone art the food of my soul. Thou alone art inexhaustible, and ever offerest to me something new to know, something new to love. At the end of millions of years I shall know Thee so little, that I shall seem to myself only beginning. At the end of millions of years I shall find in Thee the same, or rather, greater sweetness than at first, and shall seem then only to be beginning to enjoy Thee: and so on for eternity I shall ever be a little child beginning to be taught the rudiments of Thy infinite Divine nature. For Thou art Thyself the seat and centre of all good, and the only substance in this universe of shadows, and the heaven in which blessed spirits live and rejoice.

3. My God, I take Thee for my portion. From mere prudence I turn from the world to Thee; I give up the world for Thee. I renounce that which promises for Him who performs. To whom else should I go? I desire to find and feed on Thee here; I desire to feed on Thee, Jesu, my Lord, who art risen, who hast gone up on high, who yet remainest with Thy people on earth. I look up to Thee; I look for the Living Bread which is in heaven, which comes down from heaven. Give me ever of this Bread. Destroy this life, which will soon perish—even though Thou dost not destroy it, and fill me with that supernatural life, which will never die.

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