Friday, February 15, 2019

Prepping for Monday: Newman on Faith and Reality

On Monday, February 18, we'll continue our discussion of themes in Blessed John Henry Newman's life and works on the Son Rise Morning Show, focusing on his thoughts on Faith and Reason, or as I've termed it, Faith and Reality. Matt Swaim or Anna Mitchell and I will talk about this about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central.

The reason I use the term Reality is that Newman was working to correct some problems with how the Victorians thought of Faith. They opposed Faith and Reason or Faith and Reality: Faith was superstitious belief without foundation; it was almost emotional and even sometimes thought of feminine--that's why Newman's great challenger Charles Kingsley accepted the term "Muscular Christianity" to describe his view of Christian life: manly, athletic, emphasizing brotherhood, duty, and honor.

Reason or our view of Reality was skeptical, questioning, searching, and perhaps, as in the case of Newman's younger brother Francis (or Frank) adopting an agnostic stance, never committing one way or the other. It mattered less what you believed: what mattered more was what you did, how you lived, how you faced reality.

Since, two weeks ago, I emphasized how important Christian doctrine was to Newman, you may well believe that he would not accept this separation between Faith and Reality. He dealt with this issue as both an Anglican and a Catholic, offering fifteen Oxford University Sermons on how we experience Faith and Reason in Reality; how they work together. In his preface to the 1871 edition (published after he had written A Grammar of Assent), Newman provided a guide to the sermons, outlining his argument. Here are the first five (excerpted):

1. Before setting down a definition of Faith and of Reason, it will be right to consider what is the popular notion of Faith and Reason, in contrast with each other.

2. According to this popular sense, Faith is the judging on weak grounds in religious matters, and Reason on strong grounds. Faith involves easiness, and Reason slowness in accepting the claims of Religion; by Faith is meant a feeling or sentiment, by Reason an exercise of common sense; Faith is conversant with conjectures or presumptions, Reason with proofs.

3. But now, to speak more definitely, what ought we to understand by the faculty of Reason largely understood?

4. The process of the Reasoning Faculty is either explicit or implicit: that is, either with or without a direct recognition, on the part of the mind, of the starting-point and path of thought from and through which it comes to its conclusion.

5. The process of reasoning, whether implicit or explicit, is the act of one and the same faculty, to  which also belongs the power of analyzing that process, and of thereby passing from implicit to explicit. Reasoning, thus retrospectively employed in analyzing itself, results in a specific science or art, called logic, which is a sort of rhetoric, bringing out to advantage the implicit acts on which it has proceeded. . . .

In 1870, he wrote A Grammar of Assent, taking up the same issues, but focused on proving that one can assent to something as true without ascertaining a scientific standard of proof. One can achieve Certitude and Assent to a truth, from the mundane (the trains will run according to schedule) to the sublime (God sent his Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, to redeem mankind through His Cross and Resurrection) without being unreasonable or superstitious: we do it all the time.

In both his 1841 letters to The Times of London, "The Tamworth Reading Room" (part IV in his Discussions and Arguments) and The Idea of a University, Newman argued that the study of religion truths, of Theology, was necessary to education. Theology is a university subject, it has content and argument, it is to be reasoned with, explored, and studied: without it, a university does not live up to its name: it does not teach universal knowledge.

Newman presents these arguments in philosophical and psychological depth in these works; what I'll do on Monday is look at what these efforts mean for Catholics today, and why Newman's work in this field relates to how we present our faith and live our faith today.

No comments:

Post a Comment