Sunday, April 18, 2021

Book Review, Part Two: Newman's Anglican Difficulties

Before I demonstrate to you how Saint John Henry Newman, just five years after his conversion to Catholicism and three years after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood, attempts to remove any prejudices against the Catholic Church in the hearts and minds of the remaining members of the Movement of 1833 (the Oxford Movement), allow me to comment again on Edward Short's introduction.

Edward Short, who sent me the review copy of this new volume in the Newman Millennium Edition, provides a most comprehensive introduction, describing the occasion of Newman's lectures, the location, the press coverage, Newman's composition of the lectures, and the autobiographical nature of the lectures (his look back at his participation in the Oxford Movement was almost a rehearsal for the Apologia pro Vita Sua 14 years later). Short also provides a precis for each of the lectures, and extensive commentary on the critical reaction to them, from newspapers at the time, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Mason Neale, J.M. Capes (who left the Church of the England for the Catholic Church and then left the Catholic Church to return to the Church of England), and other contemporaries--but also Christopher Dawson, Owen Chadwick, ("the doyen of Newman detractors"), John Griffin, Newman biographer Ian Ker, Robert Pattison (author of The Great Dissent), and Stanley L. Jaki, OSB, the previous editor of these lectures (Real-View Books).

Short's footnotes, which are sometimes so long that the text at the top of the page may be only two or three lines, are equally comprehensive, identifying people, texts, and even the context of Newman's mention and use of those cited sources. I admit that sometimes I merely scanned the notes while reading the text while in the midst of Newman's argument, but they provide great resources for understanding the argument, notwithstanding.

In Part Two of the these lectures, after offering the remaining members of the Movement of 1833--notice that name used by Newman dates the Oxford Movement, placing it in the past--evidence of their parlous position in the Church of England, he admits that these arguments have mainly been negative. Now he will offer more positive arguments to deny their views of the Catholic Church based on five issues:

  • The Social State of Catholic Countries (not evidence against the Sanctity of the Catholic Church)
  • The Religious State of Catholics (not evidence against the Sanctity of the Catholic Church either)
  • Differences among Catholics (not evidence against the Unity of the Catholic Church)
  • Heretical and Schismatical Bodies within the Catholic Church (not evidence against the Catholicity--universality--of the Catholic Church)
  • Ecclesiastical History of the Catholic Church (not evidence against the apostolicity--the unbroken line of Tradition--of the Catholic Church)
What Newman is trying to do is remove their English prejudice against Italy, France, Spain, and Belgium, which they consider to be behind the (progressive English) times:

No man in his senses, certainly no English gentleman, would abandon the high station which his country both occupies and bestows on him in the eyes of man, to make himself the co-religionist of such slaves, and the creature of such a Creed. . . .

What, then, you are saying comes, in fact, to this: We would rather deny our initial principles, than accept such a development of them as the communion of Rome, viewed as it is; we would rather believe Erastianism, and all its train of consequences, to be from God, than the religion of such countries as France and Belgium, Spain and Italy. This is what you must mean to say, and nothing short of it.
(pp. 264-265)

The main thrust of his arguments in these five lectures is what the Catholic Church is and what she aspires to achieve--in contrast to an Erastian church dedicated to serving the worldly ends of the State and the progress of the Nation--saving souls:

The world believes in the world's ends as the greatest of goods; it wishes society to be governed simply and entirely for the sake of this world. Provided it could gain one little islet in the ocean, one foot upon the coast, if it could cheapen tea by sixpence a pound, or make its flag respected among the Esquimaux or Otaheitans, at the cost of a hundred lives and a hundred souls, it would think it a very good bargain. What does it know of hell? it disbelieves it; it spits upon, it abominates, it curses its very name and notion. Next, as to the devil, it does not believe in him either. We next come to the flesh, and it is "free to confess" that it does not think there is any great harm in following the instincts of that nature which, perhaps it goes on to say, God has given. How could it be otherwise? who ever heard of the world fighting against the flesh and the devil? Well, then, what is its notion of evil? Evil, says the world, is whatever is an offence to me, whatever obscures my majesty, whatever disturbs my peace. Order, tranquillity, popular contentment, plenty, prosperity, advance in arts and sciences, literature, refinement, splendour, this is my millennium, or rather my elysium, my swerga; I acknowledge no whole, no individuality, but my own; the units which compose me are but parts of me; they have no perfection in themselves; no end but in me; in my glory is their bliss, and in the hidings of my countenance they come to nought.

Such is the philosophy and practice of the world;—now the Church looks and moves in a simply opposite direction. It contemplates, not the whole, but the parts; not a nation, but the men who form it; not society in the first place, but in the second place, and in the first place individuals; it looks beyond the outward act, on and into the thought, the motive, the intention, and the will; it looks beyond the world, and detects and moves against the devil, who is sitting in ambush behind it. It has, then, a foe in view; nay, it has a battle-field, to which the world is blind; its proper battle-field is the heart of the individual, and its true foe is Satan.

My dear brethren, do not think I am declaiming in the air or translating the pages of some old worm-eaten homily; as I have already said, I bear my own testimony to what has been brought home to me most closely and vividly as a matter of fact since I have been a Catholic; viz., that that mighty world-wide Church, like her Divine Author, regards, consults for, labours for the individual soul; she looks at the souls for whom Christ died, and who are made over to her; and her one object, for which everything is sacrificed—appearances, reputation, worldly triumph—is to acquit herself well of this most awful responsibility. Her one duty is to bring forward the elect to salvation, and to make them as many as she can:—to take offences out of their path, to warn them of sin, to rescue them from evil, to convert them, to teach them, to feed them, to protect them, and to perfect them.
(pp. 267-269)

This passage really jumped out at me as so perfect for our current "Cancel Culture" situation. After describing how the Catholic Church will offer God's forgiveness to any repentant sinner, Newman notes:

With the world it is the reverse; a member of society may go as near the line of evil, as the world draws it, as he will; but, till he has passed it, he is safe. Again, when he has once transgressed it, recovery is impossible; let honour of man or woman be sullied, and to restore its splendour is simply to undo the past; it is impossible. (p. 281)

The problem is now that the line keeps moving and the worldly can't keep behind it!

Just a page after that Newman presents the example that created the greatest scandal to his English readers:

Take a mere beggar-woman, lazy, ragged, and filthy, and not over-scrupulous of truth—(I do not say she had arrived at perfection)—but if she is chaste, and sober, and cheerful, and goes to her religious duties (and I am supposing not at all an impossible case), she will, in the eyes of the Church, have a prospect of heaven, which is quite closed and refused to the State's pattern-man, the just, the upright, the generous, the honourable, the conscientious, if he be all this, not from a supernatural power—(I do not determine whether this is likely to be the fact, but I am contrasting views and principles)—not from a supernatural power, but from mere natural virtue. (p. 282)

Perhaps they should have read again the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, another scandalous comparison!

In the next lecture, Newman provides his auditors or readers an especially appropriate reminder of the recent Anglican crisis over the Sacrament of Baptism, when he describes what the Catholic Church believes about its effects on the soul and the Church's effort to maintain that state of grace:

A soul which has received the grace of baptism receives with it the germ or faculty of all supernatural virtues whatever,—faith, hope, charity, meekness, patience, sobriety, and every other that can be named; and if it commits mortal sin, it falls out of grace, and forfeits these supernatural powers. It is no longer what it was, and is, so far, in the feeble and frightful condition of those who were never baptized. But there are certain remarkable limitations and alleviations in its punishment, and one is this: that the faculty or power of faith remains to it. Of course the soul may go on to resist and destroy this supernatural faculty also; it may, by an act of the will, rid itself of its faith, as it has stripped itself of grace and love; or it may gradually decay in its faith till it becomes simply infidel; but this is not the common state of a Catholic people. What commonly happens is this, that they fall under the temptations to vice or covetousness, which naturally and urgently beset them, but that faith is left to them. Thus the many are in a condition which is absolutely novel and strange in the ideas of a Protestant; they have a vivid perception, like sense, of things unseen, yet have no desire at all, or affection, towards them; they have knowledge without love. Such is the state of the many; the Church at the same time is ever labouring with all her might to bring them back again to their Maker; and in fact is ever bringing back vast multitudes one by one, though one by one they are ever relapsing from her. The necessity of yearly confession, the Easter communion, the stated seasons of indulgence, the high festivals, Lent, days of obligation, with their Masses and preaching,—these ordinary and routine observances and the extraordinary methods of retreats, missions, jubilees, and the like, are the means by which the powers of the world unseen are ever acting upon the corrupt mass, of which a nation is composed, and breaking up and reversing the dreadful phenomenon which fact and Scripture conspire to place before us. (pp. 304-305)

I would have to quote almost the entire chapter on Ecclesiastical History of the Catholic Church to represent the rich detail Newman provides to describe his studies of the Fathers of the Church in the history of the Arian heresy (in 1839). As Newman concluded in the Apologia Pro Vita Sua:

I saw my face in that mirror, and I was a Monophysite. The Church of the Via Media was in the position of the Oriental communion, Rome was where she now is; and the Protestants were the Eutychians.

In the Apologia he even cites his own account of how he reached that realization from the final lecture in this book:

It was difficult to make out how the Eutychians or Monophysites were heretics, unless Protestants and Anglicans were heretics also; difficult to find arguments against the Tridentine Fathers, which did not tell against the Fathers of Chalcedon; difficult to condemn the Popes of the sixteenth century, without condemning the Popes of the fifth. The drama of religion, and the combat of truth and error, were ever one and the same. The principles and proceedings of the Church now, were those of the Church then; the principles and proceedings of heretics then, were those of Protestants now. I found it so,—almost fearfully; there was an awful similitude, more awful, because so silent and unimpassioned, between the dead records of the past and the feverish chronicle of the present. The shadow of the fifth century was on the sixteenth. It was like a spirit rising from the troubled waters of the old world, with the shape and lineaments of the new. The Church then, as now, might be called peremptory and stern, resolute, overbearing, and relentless; and heretics were shifting, changeable, reserved, and deceitful, ever courting civil power, and never agreeing together, except by its aid; and the civil power was ever aiming at comprehensions, trying to put the invisible out of view, and substituting expediency for faith. What was the use of continuing the controversy, or defending my position, if, after all, I was forging arguments for Arius or Eutyches, and turning devil's advocate against the much-enduring Athanasius and the majestic Leo? Be my soul with the Saints! and shall I lift up my hand against them? Sooner may my right hand forget her cunning, and wither outright, as his who once stretched it out against a prophet of God! anathema to a whole tribe of Cranmers, Ridleys, Latimers, and Jewels! perish the names of Bramhall, Ussher, Taylor, Stillingfleet, and Barrow from the face of the earth, ere I should do aught but fall at their feet in love and in worship, whose image was continually before my eyes, and whose musical words were ever in my ears and on my tongue! (pp. 426-427 in Difficulties of Anglicans)

My final comment about this section of the book is that Newman reminds us today--as Catholic laity, religious, and clerics--of the purpose of the Catholic Church: the salvation of souls. That's the center from which our worship of God, our prayers and works, our charity and activity, in the workplace, in our families, in our parishes and schools, and among our best friends and company, and all should radiate. Thus it may infuse all of actions to achieve God's will, calling people to Jesus and His Church.

This a magnificent volume of Newman's works in an appropriately presented edition. Highly recommended!

Image Credit: (Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license) Statue outside the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as Brompton Oratory, in London (the second location of the London Oratory; Newman presented these lectures at the King William Street location)

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