Monday, June 24, 2019

Newman and Papal Infallibility, Part II

Finishing up my discussion with Anna Mitchell of Newman and Papal Infallibility on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning at 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central, I want to highlight a statement Blessed John Henry Newman made in his 1865 edition of the Apologia pro Vita Sua, expressing the depths of his belief in Jesus Christ and the Church He founded:

FROM the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.

Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles, which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them upon my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connection between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. . . . 

He offers the example of the doctrine of the Real Presence in Holy Communion (the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus coming to us under the forms of Bread and Wine) and compares believing in it to believing in the Holy Trinity, one God; three Persons:

People say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is difficult to believe; I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it, as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible, to imagine, I grant;—but how is it difficult to believe? Yet Macaulay thought it so difficult to believe, that he had need of a believer in it of talents as eminent as Sir Thomas More, before he could bring himself to conceive that the Catholics of an enlightened age could resist "the overwhelming force of the argument against it." "Sir Thomas More," he says, "is one of the choice specimens of wisdom and virtue; and the doctrine of transubstantiation is a kind of proof charge. A faith which stands that test, will stand any test." But for myself, I cannot indeed prove it, I cannot tell how it is; but I say, "Why should it not be? What's to hinder it? What do I know of substance or matter? just as much as the greatest philosophers, and that is nothing at all;"—so much is this the case, that there is a rising school of philosophy now, which considers phenomena to constitute the whole of our knowledge in physics. The Catholic doctrine leaves phenomena alone. It does not say that the phenomena go; on the contrary, it says that they remain; nor does it say that the same phenomena are in several places at once. It deals with what no one on earth knows any thing about, the material substances themselves. And, in like manner, of that majestic Article of the Anglican as well as of the Catholic Creed,—the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity. What do I know of the Essence of the Divine Being? I know that my abstract idea of three is simply incompatible with my idea of one; but when I come to the question of concrete fact, I have no means of proving that there is not a sense in which one and three can equally be predicated of the Incommunicable God.

That's a remarkably humble statement from a fine mind like Newman's: I admit my own limitations to understanding the greatest mysteries of the world: the reality of God, the Holy Trinity, and God becoming man and leaving His Presence on earth in the form of bread and wine in Holy Communion. I admit that I cannot completely understand them, but I can still accept them--and I should! I cannot submit these great truths to the limitations of my intellect and knowledge when "the oracle of God" proclaims them!

I quote these paragraphs because they demonstrate that Newman was ready to accept the doctrine of Papal Infallibility as it was defined at the First Vatican Council. He saw some of the difficulties of the proclamation of that doctrine; its timing; its purpose; its context--but he already believed that the Catholic Church was infallible herself in her teachings. He accepted that when the pope spoke on certain matters, he was speaking infallibly, with the Church. Even if there were a ten thousand difficulties with the First Vatican Council and Pastor Aeternus, they would not make him doubt Jesus and His Church. He was predisposed to assent and obey.

Nevertheless, Newman also defended the right of individual Catholics to 'think on theological subjects' with a certain amount of freedom. He reminded the Duke of Norfolk and William Gladstone that he had said as much in 1850 when he spoke to those--like Gladstone--members of the Oxford Movement who'd remained in the Church of England:
"Left to himself," I say, "each Catholic likes and would maintain his own opinion and his private judgment just as much as a Protestant; and he has it and he maintains it, just so far as the Church does not, by the authority of Revelation, supersede it. The very moment the Church ceases to speak, at the very point at which she, that is, God who speaks by her, circumscribes her range of teaching, then private judgment of necessity starts up; there is nothing to hinder it … A Catholic sacrifices his opinion to the Word of God, declared through His Church; but from the nature of the case, there is nothing to hinder him having his own opinion and expressing it, whenever, and so far as, the Church, the oracle of Revelation, does not speak." (from Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching Considered In Twelve Lectures addressed in 1850 to the Party of the Religious Movement of 1833; AKA Anglican Difficulties)
In his concluding remarks, Newman contended that “the field of religious thought which the duty of faith occupies, is small indeed compared with that which is open to our free, though of course to our reverent and conscientious, speculation” including his own method of answering Gladstone’s “Vatican Decrees”.

This was Newman’s final reply to Gladstone’s contention that Catholics had no freedom of thought and that any Englishman or woman who became a Catholic would give up the freedom of thought he or she had hitherto enjoyed as Queen Victoria’s subject.

Gladstone would reply to Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk but Newman did not respond. In Vaticanism: an Answer to Reproofs and Replies, Gladstone restated his regret that Newman had left the Church of England. He had been shocked and horrified when Newman had become a Catholic in 1845, but he also saw what a great intellect the Church of England had lost. Of course, he thought that intellect was wasted on "the Church of Rome"!

Almost more important than convincing Gladstone that the British Empire had little to fear for its Catholic citizen’s civil allegiance after the definition of Papal Infallibility, Newman was able to begin the process among Catholics of understanding the consequences of the doctrinal definition. Even Ward had to admit that Newman’s statement of the limits of Papal Infallibility was correct. In fact, he was not going to read an infallible papal encyclical every morning because it was not necessary nor practicable. As Anna Mitchell and I noted last Monday, he would had to live a long time: until 1950, when Pope Pius XII, after consulting the bishops and theologians, proclaimed the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ex cathedra.

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