Monday, July 22, 2019

Santo Subito: Newman, Church History, and the Church

So Anna Mitchell and I will talk about Blessed John Henry Newman and Church History on the Son Rise Morning Show at 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern. This is part of our Santo Subito! Series before his canonization on Sunday, October 13 this year.

As G.K. Chesterton commented about the Catholic Church, it “is larger on the inside than it is on the outside.” Newman found that out as has every other convert and many Catholics who were born into Catholic families and grew up with Catholic education, the Sacraments, piety, and devotion: the world has various ideas about the Catholic Church that are just wrong, but you have to be inside to realize how wrong they are. Newman had been part of that world as an Anglican and Oxford student, tutor, and fellow. The Catholic Church is superstitious, repressive, and mendacious, that view says: its history is false, its practitioners weak-minded, and its doctrine pernicious. He believed all that before he entered into the Church in its fullness; then as Chesterton wrote in his poem "The Convert"*, "the world turned over and came upright"* and Newman knew the truth and entered into the mystery of the "one, true fold of Christ."

But so many of his friends and contemporaries remained in the world and they could not accept that he had accepted all that the Catholic Church teaches. They could never understand how a man of such intellect and erudition--a former Fellow of one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford! an ordained Anglican minister! one of them!--could become a Catholic. Newman had to get used to some aspects of it himself because he was a Catholic in a Protestant and prejudiced country: Catholicism was absolutely foreign to the England. That's why he was continually accused of lying and reports of his return to the Church of England were so common. It's one thing for an Irish peasant or a woman to believe all that superstitious priestcraft, but for an Englishman! They had to acknowledge his brilliance and prose style, but that praise is superficial because they could not get inside: their ignorance of and prejudice toward Catholicism stymied them.

Although he tried in various works to persuade them, they could never accept that view: like him before 1839, they might know about the history of the Catholic Church, they might even acknowledge some of her achievements, but they still believed that the pope was the Antichrist. Of course, Newman did not write a narrative history of the Catholic Church, but he wrote about Church History often, and defended the Church based upon his study of her History from the Fathers through the English Reformation and beyond. Newman tried to make Anglicans and other Protestants in England understand that their mistaken views of Catholicism meant that they did not understand Christian history at all--nor could they really know Who Jesus IS and what He teaches us about the Father and ourselves. Newman also worked to help other converts to become more fully Catholic in the midst of a world, including their families, friends, and entire social milieu, which believed all the worst anyone ever could of Catholics, English, Irish, Italian, or French--or even American, should they encounter a Catholic from the U.S.A.!

For an example of this, peruse the letters he sent to his nephew, John Rickards Mozley (Jemima's son), which Mozley published in 1899. Mozley wrote to him with the usual attacks on the Catholic Church and Her History and Newman replied in one letter, written in 1875:

But leaving the highest and truest outcome of the Catholic Church and descending to history, certainly I would maintain firmly, with most writers on the Evidences, that, as the Church has a dark side, so (as you do not seem to admit) it has a light side also, and that its good has been more potent and permanent and evidently intrinsic to it than its evil. Here, of course, we have to rely on the narrative of historians, if we have not made a study of original documents ourselves. It would be a long business (assuming their correctness), but an easy business too, to show how Christianity has raised the moral standard, tone, and customs of human society; and it must be recollected that for 1500 years Christianity and the Catholic Church are in history identical. The care and elevation of the lower classes, the championship of the weak against the powerful, the abolition of slavery, hospitals, the redemption of captives, education of children, agriculture, literature, the cultivation of the virtues of piety, devotion, justice, charity, chastity, family affection, are all historical monuments of the influence and teaching of the Church. Turn to the non-Catholic historians, to Gibbon, Voigt, Hurter, Guizot, Ranke, Waddington, Bowden, Milman, and you will find that they agree in their praises, as well as in their accusations, of the Catholic Church. Guizot says that Christianity would not have weathered the barbarism of the Middle Age but for the Church. Milman says almost or altogether the same. Neander sings the praises of the monks. Hurter was converted by his historical researches. Ranke shows how the Popes fought against the savageness of the Spanish Inquisition. Bowden brings out visibly how the cause of Hildebrand was the cause of religion and morals. If in the long line there be bad as well as good Popes, do not forget that long succession, continuous and thick, of holy and heroic men, all subjects of the Popes, and most of them his direct instruments in the most noble and serviceable and most various works, and some of them Popes themselves, such as Patrick, Leo, Gregory, Augustine, Boniface, Columban, Alfred, Wulstan, Queen Margaret of Scotland, Louis IX., Vincent Ferrer, Las Casas, Turibius, Xavier, Vincent of Paul—all of whom, as multitudes besides, in their day were the life of religion.

In another letter he responded to questions about the Inquisition, etc:

It is on the Inquisition that you mainly dwell; the question is whether such enormity of cruelty, as is commonly ascribed to it, is to be considered the act of the Church. As to Dr. Ward in the Dublin Review, his point (I think) was not the question of cruelty, but whether persecution, such as in Spain, was unjust; and with the capital punishment prescribed in the Mosaic law for idolatry, blasphemy, and witchcraft, and St. Paul's transferring the power of the sword to Christian magistrates, it seems difficult to call persecution (commonly so called) unjust. I suppose in like manner he would not deny, but condemn, the craft and cruelty, and the wholesale character of St. Bartholomew's Massacre; but still would argue in the abstract in defence of the magistrate's bearing the sword, and of the Church's sanctioning its use, in the aspect of justice, as Moses, Joshua, and Samuel might use it, against heretics, rebels, and cruel and crafty enemies.

I think such insane acts as St. Bartholomew's Massacre were prompted by mortal fear. The French Court considered (rightly or wrongly) that if they did not murder the Huguenots, the Huguenots would murder them. Thus I explain Pope Gregory's hasty approbation of so great a crime, without waiting to hear both sides. After a period of luxury and sloth, the sudden outburst of the Reformation frightened the Court of Rome out of its wits, and there were those who thought the one thing needful was to put it down anyhow, as the destruction, at least eventually, of all religion, morality, and society. Perhaps they were right in this fear; and thus they got mixed up with mere politicians, unscrupulous men, and became in the eyes of posterity answerable for deeds which were not properly theirs. I was reading the other day a defence of Pius V. against Lord Acton, the point of which was that in no sense was it the Pope who sanctioned the plot for assassinating Elizabeth, but, the Duke of Alva. Yet who can deny, true as this may be, still that to readers of history the Pope and the Duke are in one boat? Then, again, their agents, or the sovereigns who sought their sanction for certain courses or measures, went far beyond the intention of the Popes, who nevertheless, from their political entanglements, could not resume the powers that they had once given over to them. A large society, such as the Church, is necessarily a political power, and to touch politics is to touch pitch. A private Catholic is not answerable for the Pope's political errors, any more than the shareholder in a railway in 1875 is answerable for the railway's accidents in 1860, nay, or in 1875.

Evidently, Mozley just kept asking new questions:

You now ask me whether I agree or disagree with your judgment "that the Church of Rome, as a society, has sometimes done, more often sanctioned, actions, which were wrong and injurious to mankind." I find no difficulty in answering you. I should say that the Church has two sides, a human and a divine, and that everything that is human is liable to error. Whether, so considered, it has in matter of fact erred must be determined by history, and, for the very reason that it is human as well as divine, I am disposed to believe it has, even before the fact has been proved to me from history. At the same time I must add that I do not quite acquiesce in the wording of your question. It sounds awkward to ask, e.g., "Has the Kingdom of England done or sanctioned wrong?" It would be more natural to say, "Has the nation done wrong, or the sovereign, or the legislature done wrong, or all of these together"? I have no difficulty in supposing that Popes have erred, or Councils have erred, or populations have erred, in human aspects, because, as St. Paul says, "We have this treasure in earthly vessels," speaking of the Apostles themselves. No one is impeccable, and no collection of men.

I grant that the Church's teaching, which in its formal exhibitions is divine, has been at times perverted by its officials, representatives, subjects, who are human. I grant that it has not done so much good as it might have done. I grant that in its action, which is human, it is a fair mark for criticism or blame. But what I maintain is, that it has done an incalculable amount of good, that it has done good of a special kind, such as no other historical polity or teaching or worship has done, and that that good has come from its professed principles, and that its shortcomings and omissions have come from a neglect or an interruption of its principles.

The question that remains is, Has that which claims to be divine in the Church sanctioned that which is human and faulty in it? I maintain, No . . .

How much his nephew was impressed by his estranged uncle's explanations of Church History may be judged by Mozley's comment when he published the letters: "The Cardinal's answers to the questions of which the above is a summary will certainly be found extremely interesting."

*Chesterton's poem, The Convert:

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

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