The True Nature of Newman's Genius
A Criticism of Popular Misconception

Lecture 1. Newman and the Critics

{1} THE late Lord Tennyson once remarked that a critic can only establish his claim to speak of the limitations and defects of a great writer by first showing that he has understood fully those qualities in his work which make him great. We can only understand where precisely a man fails, by first understanding at what precisely he aims and what he has achieved. It is owing to the neglect of this maxim that many of the critics of Cardinal Newman have been, I think, quite curiously at fault in their estimate of him.

Few men have been more widely discussed than he. For some of his more popular and obvious gifts he has been accorded general and unstinted praise—his spiritual insight, his charm and power as a preacher, his regal English style. His greatest intellectual qualities, on the other hand, have not received universal acknowledgment—indeed they have been in many quarters overlooked, or even denied. When his Biography was published, while some put him in his true place in the front rank as a thinker, the leading organs of English opinion, including the Times, the Quarterly, and the Edinburgh, though recognising indeed his eminence and influence, hesitated, or in some cases declined, to admit {2} that he was a great thinker at all, and the quality of his work in history and theology has likewise been very variously estimated. This is, I think, a remarkable fact. In most cases, when a man of genius is once discovered, people are agreed as to the general character of that genius. His powers are recognised even by those who do not share his opinions. With Newman it has been otherwise.

It does not often fall to the lot of one man to be estimated by a thinker of Dean Church's calibre as one of the greatest minds of the age, and to be described by one of Carlyle's penetration as having 'the intellect of a moderate-sized rabbit.' [Note 1] Other able men besides Carlyle have shown something of his impatient scorn in respect of Newman's powers of thought. Lord Morley in his essay on J. S. Mill treats the fascination of Newman's style as the sole cause of the influence of one whose powers of thought were, so far as he could see, inconsiderable. The passage deserves quoting.

Mill [writes Lord Morley] had none of the incomparably winning graces by which Newman made mere siren style do duty for exact, penetrating, and coherent thought; by which, moreover, he actually raised his Church to what could not so long before have seemed a strange and inconceivable rank in the mind of Protestant England. Style has worked many a miracle before now, but none more wonderful than Newman's. [Note 2]

Dr. Rashdall, reviewing his Biography in the Modern Churchman, lamented over 'the amazing limitations of Newman's knowledge and of his mind.' The reviewer in the Quarterly was greatly disturbed by Döllinger's estimate of Newman as 'almost unrivalled in his knowledge of the first three centuries of Christian history,' and could only account for it by explaining that these centuries were, of course, not Döllinger's special period. The writer, with a sense of relief, quoted as an antidote to Döllinger Mark Pattison's saying that 'all the grand development of human reason from Aristotle down to Hegel was a sealed {3} book to Newman.' [Note 3] The same reviewer was kind enough to allow him 'subtlety' and 'acuteness within limits,' but he was careful to add that they were the attributes, not of a profound thinker, but of 'one of the most consummate advocates that ever lived.' The Times reviewer of Newman's Life summed up the situation in the following sentence; 'Newman's greatness would seem to lie less in his intellectual eminence, which is at least disputed, than in his high spiritual qualities.'

On this I may remark parenthetically that it is fairly obvious that many who are not accounted great men have had 'high spiritual qualities' as remarkable as—nay, even more remarkable than—Newman's.

It is noteworthy that few have ventured to challenge the popular impression that Newman was a great man; yet the qualities which originally created that impression at Oxford have been widely overlooked or denied. In what sense he was great has, therefore, been often left without any explanation which bears investigation—a fact which in itself shows that such estimates are at fault somewhere.

In point of fact, Newman's hostile critics have simply not estimated truly what they have not grasped. They have acted in defiance of Tennyson's maxim, and begun to talk of limitations before they had mastered the range and nature of a very peculiar genius. But the question will inevitably be asked, 'Why have able critics not understood? What right have Newman's disciples to set aside their verdict? Are not the disciples biased in his favour by the personal glamour which no one denies?' Certainly it is incumbent on them to justify their own opposite verdict, and to show how and why his hostile judges have failed to appreciate him. And with this view I propose to offer a few observations.

I note, in the first place, that genius is apt to outstrip the ready-made categories recognised by the critics. And this often makes their judgment at fault in the first instance, for they test the writings of such a man by an instrument which is inadequate. The existence of genius is felt more {4} surely and immediately by those who come in contact with it—often to an extent far beyond what even they themselves can explain. And as I am a believer in this instinctive appreciation, I will, before attempting to show by an analysis of Newman's genius what it is that has at times been overlooked and why it has been overlooked, recall to your notice the impression created by the man's presence and conversation on a very able writer, who differed widely from Newman's view of life and of religion when he set down the words I shall quote. The following passage in James Anthony Froude's 'Short Studies' brings vividly home to us the feelings in Newman's regard of those who knew him in the zenith of his powers at Oxford:

Far different from Keble, from my brother, from Dr. Pusey, from all the rest, was the true chief of the Catholic revival—John Henry Newman. Compared with him they were all but as ciphers, and he the indicating number ... When I entered at Oxford, John Henry Newman was beginning to be famous. The responsible authorities were watching him with anxiety; clever men were looking with interest and curiosity on the apparition among them of one of those persons of indisputable genius who was likely to make a mark upon his time. His appearance was striking. He was above the middle height, slight and spare. His head was large, his face remarkably like that of Julius Cćsar. The forehead, the shape of the ears and nose, were almost the same. The lines of the mouth were very peculiar, and I should say exactly the same. I have often thought of the resemblance, and believed that it extended to the temperament. In both there was an original force of character which refused to be moulded by circumstances, which was to make its own way, and become a power in the world; a clearness of intellectual perception, a disdain for conventionalities, a temper imperious and wilful, but along with it a most attaching gentleness, sweetness, singleness of heart and purpose. Both were formed by nature to command others, both had the faculty of attracting to themselves the passionate devotion of their friends and followers, and in both cases, too, perhaps the devotion was rather due to the personal ascendancy of the leader than to the cause which he represented. It was Cćsar, not the principle of the empire, that overthrew Pompey and the constitution. 'Credo in Newmannum' was a common phrase {5} at Oxford ... The literary critics of the day were puzzled. They saw that he was not an ordinary man; what sort of an extraordinary man he was they could not tell. 'The eye of Melpomene has been cast upon him,' said the omniscient Athenćum; 'but the glance was not fixed or steady.' ... It has been said that men of letters are either much less or much greater than their writings. Cleverness and the skilful use of other people's thoughts produce works which take us in till we see the authors, and then we are disenchanted. A man of genius, on the other hand, is a spring in which there is always more behind than flows from it. The painting or the poem is but a part of him inadequately realised, and his nature expresses itself, with equal or fuller completeness, in his life, his conversation, and personal presence. This was eminently true of Newman ... Newman's mind was world-wide. He was interested in everything which was going on in science, in politics, in literature. Nothing was too large for him, nothing too trivial, if it threw light upon the central question, what man really was and what was his destiny ... He seemed always to be better informed on common topics of conversation than anyone else who was present. Prosy he could not be. He was lightness itself—the lightness of elastic strength. The simplest word which dropped from him was treasured as if it had been an intellectual diamond. For hundreds of young men Credo in Newmannum was the veritable symbol of faith. [Note 4]

Such is Froude's account of the impression conveyed by Newman's presence and conversation at Oxford. Equally eloquent are the words of another Oxford man, Principal Shairp, of St. Andrews University, which tell of the blank left by the great man's absence, when he had gone from the University and his final secession was daily expected.

How vividly comes back the remembrance of the aching blank, the awful pause, which fell on Oxford when that voice had ceased, and we knew that we should hear it no more. It was as when, to one kneeling by night, in the silence of some vast cathedral, the great bell tolling solemnly overhead has suddenly gone still ... Since then many voices of powerful teachers they may have heard, but none that ever penetrated the soul like his. {6}

When we turn to Newman's writings in order to analyse that genius, their own spontaneous sense of which Froude and Shairp convey so unmistakably, we are met by a difficulty—a difficulty which at once seems to account in part for the hesitation of so many critics to commit themselves to an ungrudging recognition of his intellectual greatness. Newman's claims, when we look at his life-work and his books, seem to be so multifarious that notably in these days of specialism they savour at first sight of superficiality, almost of dilettantism. He is at once a religious leader, a preacher, a father confessor, a religious philosopher, an historian, a theologian, and a poet—even a novelist. He was the leader of the Oxford Movement, and, as such, to he ranked with Loyola, Luther, Wesley—with the great religious leaders of history. Principal Shairp, Dean Lake, and others have chronicled the marvellous effect of his Oxford sermons, and he would seem at first sight to claim rank among the great preachers. He was a religious guide to very many, having over them an influence rarely surpassed in the annals of spiritual direction. In this respect he ranks with Fénelon or St. Francis de Sales. He wrote as Pascal did on the philosophy of faith in his 'Oxford University Sermons on the Theory of Religious Belief' and in 'The Grammar of Assent.' His book on the Arians and his 'Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine' are historical. So are his 'Sketches of the Church of the Fathers.' His work on Justification and many of the 'Tracts for the Times' are theological. He published poetry and two books of fiction—'Loss and Gain' and 'Callista.'

This multifariousness, as I have said, cannot fail to suggest superficiality; a want of thoroughness in any one sphere of his activity; the qualities rather of a dilettante than of a great thinker or student.

I reply to this that two qualities marked him off as the very antithesis of a dilettante, and they have both escaped the average critic. One is that his best work, even when slight, limited, or unfinished, was nearly always first-hand work—which a dilettante's never is. The philosophic {7} thought was genuine and creative, the theological and historical research based on original sources. The other quality is that the variety of his work, instead of being due, like a dilettante's, to want of concentration, was due to the exact opposite—to the absolute unity of his purpose, and his concentration on one object. That object was the preservation of religion against the incoming tide of rationalism and infidelity. It was this passionate concentration which won him the devotion of so many disciples. Dilettantes do not inspire men with enthusiasm. I will take these two points successively.

He specially disliked the combination of pretension and superficiality which marks the clever dilettante. The dilettante masters in the first instance what I may call the cant of specialism. An inferior man may cram all the shibboleths and technical phrases of a science, and parade with much show of learning the conclusions of great specialists. A very superficial student can often take this line successfully. The parade of knowledge and its technical phrases may be acquired by those wholly incapable of dealing with original sources. Newman's method was the antithesis to all this. The reality was in his writings ever deeper and more thorough than their pretension or their label implied. He rarely or never professed to write more than an essay. Readers of his letters know how deeply he was absorbed for years in the study of the Christian literature of the first four centuries. Yet his work on 'The Development of Christian Doctrine,' in which so much of this reading was utilised as the basis of historical generalisation, was in form only a controversial essay. His most elaborate work on philosophy was called 'An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent'—that is, it professed to be but the sketch of a first chapter of an introduction to the subject in hand. A yet deeper philosophy of faith may be traced from outlines indicated in the informal 'University Sermons.' Some of his best thought is contained in No. 85 of the 'Tracts for the Times,' a title suggesting only ephemeral controversy. A profound analysis of the functions of an ecclesiastical polity is to be found in the unpretentious form of a preface (written {8} in 1877) to a Volume of Oxford tracts republished under the title 'Via Media.' His positions are thus outlined in controversial pamphlets. He turned out nothing which was in its form designed to satisfy the learned world's ideal of a magnum opus. This was due largely to the apostle in him—to his intense practicalness, his wish to act on living, earnest, practical men, not on the learned world which cared far less for what he judged most important. He took up the existing controversies in the religious world—those which were actually occupying religious minds of very various capacities. But people are very slow to believe that one who takes his place among the sectarian controversialists of the day has done historical or theological work of the first order, or that he sees just as plainly as Carlyle or Morley have seen that, for deeply thoughtful minds, the most important controversy has passed to a different plane from the plane of the sixteenth century, and that a thinker's eye must, in our own day, be fixed on more fundamental issues. A pedantic German would have explained all this elaborately. He would have written a formal treatise and given a list of his 'sources.' This was not Newman's way. He cared about the reality of looking for truth, not about the etiquette of the learned world. He cared much to help men who were in earnest and in difficulty. He cared little or not at all to win a reputation in intellectual circles. He wished to go deep and to touch vital issues, but without demonstration and without causing unnecessary pain. He did not want to suggest doubts to those who had none. He did not desire unnecessarily to frighten his own patients—those who were already infected by what he regarded as a diseased atmosphere of thought—by shedding too clear a light on sceptical trains of reasoning which he hoped to arrest by enforcing a deeper philosophy of religion than they had yet contemplated. He handled minds with a delicacy of touch as helpful in his work of mental surgeon as were the anćsthetics occasionally administered by his style; and he often seemed to be writing matters of course and in the ordinary traditional form when he was really sounding {9} the depths of the doubts of the age. All this subtle ménagement disguised many of his deepest trains of thought and some of his best work, for those who looked simply for straightforward, candid, unreserved statements designed for the thinkers and scholars.

Eventually I cannot doubt that the fact will clearly emerge that some of the most interesting modern theories were first outlined by Newman quite distinctly though in unscientific language. Richard Hutton of the Spectator has spoken of Newman's deep insight into the generating thoughts which are transforming the present and moulding the future, and has illustrated this fact mainly from Newman s anticipation of the 'scientific conception of biological evolution.' [Note 5] But other instances could be named. Subconscious reasoning and the subliminal self are important and closely correlated modern theories in the field of psychology. Their physical counterpart—unconscious cerebration—was also first formulated in the later nineteenth century. Professor W. James dates the psychological theory from 1886. Yet Newman's account of 'implicit reasoning' in the 'thirties and 'forties, further elaborated in his later theory of the 'illative sense,' is unmistakably an attempt to draw attention to both these very phenomena and to their importance. The proofs supplied by experience, as distinct from formal reasoning, is a matter on which the pragmatists have gone to great lengths. The true nature and limits of these proofs had long since been outlined by Newman in the 'Grammar of Assent.' This fact has been noted by Mr. Schiller himself. And Bergson has surely owed much to Newman's account of the life of ideas and reasonings, in the individual and in the community, as a test of their truth. A great authority—whom I will shortly cite—has pointed out that Auguste Sabatier's memorable account of the evolution of dogma, is itself but a sketch of what Newman had said far more fully and accurately forty years earlier in the philosophical passages of his 'Essay on Development.' When I first read Harnack's 'History of Dogma' I was astonished to find how many {10} important conclusions claimed by Harnack as his own discoveries were already familiar to me from Newman's 'History of the Arians' and 'Essay on Development.' The 'Arians' anticipated, indeed, a subject which has greatly exercised the modern learned world, for it included a careful historical inquiry into the genesis of dogmatic formulation—a department of Christian origins.

I deny, then, for Newman the superficiality of the dilettante in all fields. I claim, on the contrary, profound insight into the trend of modern inquiry and thought in each department of his activity, even where I do not claim completeness and elaboration.

But, it will justly be asked, 'Why should a great man touch on so many fields of learning, and not rather devote himself to one?' The answer has already been given by implication, and it brings me back to the second contrast between his work and that of the dilettante. His variety of work arose from his unity of aim and concentration of purpose. And this is the key to his greatness. His greatness did not lie in work done in any one of these fields taken by itself, even though his touch was true and delicate in each. It lay in the passionate concentration of extraordinary and varied gifts on one great enterprise. His overmastering desire was to secure the influence of Christian faith in an age in which Christianity appeared to him threatened with complete overthrow. All his work in the pulpit, in history, in philosophy, in theology, in apologetic, was devoted solely to the cause of reviving and preserving the influence of the Christian religion for the age to come. To make the many earnest Christians was the work of a preacher. The truth of Christianity inevitably raised questions of historical fact, and of the philosophy of history, and of theology. And the rising philosophy of scepticism called for a rival philosophy of faith suitable to the times. He did not touch history or theology for their own sake, but solely as bearing on his great aim. And he did not care to pursue them into regions which had no connection therewith. The variety of his work was caused and its scope was limited by the unity of his aim—the {11} service of religion, the strengthening of faith for earnest minds. This gave at once the passionate devotion and the singleness of purpose in which Richard Hutton judges him unrivalled in his century.

'No life known to me in the last century of our national history,' Hutton writes, 'can for a moment compare with [Newman's] ... in unity of meaning and constancy of purpose.' [Note 6] Unity of life-work is one of the main attributes we look for before we are disposed to speak of a man as 'great.' It is this which makes the variety of Newman's varied work of quite opposite significance from the variety which suggests the dilettante. Moreover, it was inevitable that the form of work undertaken with this single religious purpose was determined by the audience for which it was primarily designed, the many earnest and thoughtful men who needed his help. Its form could not be that of work intended for the learned world.

One fundamental reason, then, why Newman has not gained prompt recognition from the critics and the savants is because he did not write for the savants. His first thought was for earnest, practical inquirers. He did not pander to the intellectual prejudices of the age; he was content with actually meeting its just demand for fairness and accuracy; he did not—as second-rate savants are apt to do—identify impartiality of mind with indifference of feeling. He faced to the full facts which told against his own conclusions. But he held with Pascal that the passion for religious truth was a more philosophical attitude than that of calm indifference on the subject. He disdained to parade his candour before the gallery of pedants, and he did not don the armour of scientific technique or learn the fashionable watchwords or adopt the fashionable tone which gain the immediate entrée to the learned world, and are a signed passport vouching for initiation into its secrets. Doubtless he has in consequence lost much in the way of prompt and universal recognition. He has lost, too, perhaps (in his preference for literary to scientific form), something in the clearness and completeness of his own statement—though there was {12} great counterbalancing gain in richness, imaginative illustration, and unfailing actuality of touch.

Another feature of Newman's mentality which deserves special note as misleading the critics, is a combination of gifts which is very unusual. His close touch on facts, his careful psychology and his love of truth, are often visible to the careful reader even in his most rhetorical passages. His subtlety of mind, though sometimes, like Gladstone's, it was directed towards making a certain impression on his readers, was quite as often exercised in close analysis of the great complexity of the world of fact; and the critics did not see this, and often regarded only as clever rhetoric what was really highly subtle psychological delineation. He broke down a common antithesis between the special pleader, who has a constant eye on effects, and the seeker for truth or philosopher. Newman was both. There are, indeed, memorable passages in his writings in which the artist, the rhetorician, the thinker, and the theologian all combine. There is much rhetoric in the 'Grammar of Assent,' and none of it—except a few ineffective pages near the beginning—is written in the passionless style of the typical philosopher. Yet the whole is obviously inspired by the earnest and candid search for truth. Let me instance a passage from the Essays in which candid philosophy, history, theology, and rhetoric each plays a part. The passage deals with the obligations of Christian theology to other religions. His honest mind saw that the pages of history clearly disproved the suggestion that Christian doctrine was simply and solely a revelation of truths, hitherto unknown to man. Yet his conviction remained fixed that it was a revelation deep and true in a sense in which no system had been so before. The poet's habit of mind, as well as the knowledge of history and mastery of language, all mark off the form of the passage in which he reconciles that apparent opposition from the form of a theological treatise. He first notes the facts of the case.

The doctrine of a Trinity [he writes] is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite {13} of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of angels and demons is Magian; the connection of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honours to the dead are a polytheism.

Then he states the conclusion of the latitudinarian or agnostic: 'These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian.'

Then he proceeds in a striking and characteristic page to show that all these facts can be faced and admitted by one who takes the Christian view of the world—that these beliefs and rites are in truth Christian, though foreshadowed in God's Providence in heathenism.

Scripture bears us out in saying [he writes], that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown up as in the wilderness; wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; 'sitting in the midst of the doctors both hearing them and asking them questions;' claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of {14} doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world, and, in this sense, as in others, to 'suck the milk of the Gentiles and to suck the breast of kings.' [Note 7]

I doubt if any other writer could have transformed what seems at first sight a grave admission as to the indebtedness of Christianity to other religions into a vivid representation of its divine power. The reader's imagination is held by the picture of the Divine Child expounding the truth aided by intercourse with the doctors in the temple. And the picture which a sceptical imagination might have suggested of Christianity as but one among many human religions is forestalled and counteracted by the analogy of man's place in the animal kingdom. No mere theologian, no mere philosopher, could have done this. It needed, indeed, their gifts, but it needed in addition those of the poet and literary artist.

The absence of universal appreciation is, no doubt, due also in part to Newman's limitations—some of them actual limitations, some only limitations in this or that field arising at times from qualities in themselves remarkable. And of these I shall now speak. The first I shall name is his close and personal touch on all he handled. This the Germans have spoken of as his 'subjectivity.' In form his writings seldom had the objective character of specialist literature. They are so deeply impregnated by the personal view he took that the objective character which would give them immediate and obvious utility as a contribution to the general store of thought and knowledge was reduced to a minimum. He had never rubbed shoulders with others at a public school. And he was not quite a good member of the republic of letters. He was too individual. There was something solitary in his nature. Some of his highest thoughts were partly incommunicable. It is true that he himself once wrote: 'Truth is wrought out by many minds working freely together.' And no doubt {15} in some degree he himself was influenced by the work of other minds. But he did not work freely or well with other minds. An immense amount of unravelling has to be done in order to isolate Newman's contributions to objective history or theology or philosophy from the special place they occupy in the closely woven network of his own Weltanschauung, which included in his later work a belief in the Roman Catholic Church. This is unquestionably both a drawback to his influence on those who cannot be his whole-hearted followers and an additional reason why his own specialist work is in many quarters not appreciated.

It is not simply that Newman was a Catholic. Some of the Catholic members of the Metaphysical Society received the most respectful attention for their arguments from men like Mill and Bain. The reason was that they entirely isolated their philosophical arguments from their theological conclusions. They discussed Free Will, Necessary Truth, the issues between Empiricism and Intuitionism as isolated problems. Newman, on the other hand, pursued no such method of isolation. The touch of the historian, poet, philosopher, and of the rhetorician in Newman is apparent (as I have said) in nearly all his writing. He was, indeed, an artist who presented a picture. And a picture goes on the opposite principle to a scientific catalogue. It gives the whole as it exists in the living mind, while a catalogue isolates the parts that belong to different sciences. Therefore Newman's method is inconsistent with his presenting a treatise for the historical critic alone or the metaphysician alone; and few of his pages can be studied by the reader who differs from him in theology without jarring on his prejudices, and so tempting him to unjust judgment. His Catholic conclusions constantly appear in his writing. When he pointed out the large part played in the mental processes by the subconscious action of the mind, instead of treating it merely as a philosophical problem and illustrating it from uncontroversial instances, he at once enlisted his observations on behalf of the proofs of the Catholic religion. When he analysed the movement of living ideas in history, not only like {16} Sabatier did he apply his observations almost exclusively to religious dogma, but he forthwith argued for Roman Catholic developments as his chosen illustrations—the cultus of the Virgin, the doctrine of Purgatory, the Infallibility of the Pope. When he vindicated the evidential value of practical experience as distinct from scientific argument he again took his instances from the special field of theology and religion on which his own attention was concentrated. His positions have to be restated in terms of the special sciences before the experts can be brought to pass a dispassionate judgment. As they stand in his own pages they are so enveloped by his personality and by his personal conclusions that they may be misunderstood by the onlooker, just as a complex character is misunderstood. The historical or philosophical critics have often dismissed generalisations instinct with genius and applicable to a wide field of secular history as the positions of a mere Roman controversialist.

Again, while I claim great justice of mind and honesty for Newman, there are occasional passages which remind one of a wilful woman, and which are not unnaturally taken by opponents to indicate a prejudiced mind. In the 'Grammar of Assent,' for instance, Newman dismisses a logical criticism on a certain process of thought by the remark that it leads to truth, and that therefore, if logic finds fault with it, it is 'so much the worse for logic.' [Note 8] His meaning, no doubt, is that the logical categories actually applied by the critics are inadequate. But it is inevitable that the matter-of-fact should take such a sentence as savouring of obscurantism. In the celebrated Tamworth Reading Room Letters of 1841 he says boldly in one passage that man is not a reasoning animal—though we know from other passages that it was against the all-sufficiency of formal logic and not against reason in the highest sense that that indictment was really directed.

There was a paper he once read to a private society at Oxford in my father's presence which contained an excellent specimen of the quality of which I speak. He had quoted passages from Bull, Hammond, Andrewes, and other {17} Anglican divines in favour of certain Catholic doctrines which the Oxford Movement was advocating. He then touched on an objection to his account of their views.

It may be urged [he wrote] that other passages are to be found in these writers, which show that they did not hold the views with which I am crediting them. But this would be to accuse them of inconsistency, which I leave it for their enemies to do.

It is obvious that a hostile critic might use such passages from Newman as effective weapons in a depreciatory estimate, and accuse him of trifling in place of arguing seriously. The fact simply was that the rhetorician in him did occasionally lead to what one may term wilful sayings. The matter-of-fact reader takes solemnly as revealing sad intellectual limitations what illustrates really an intellectual mannerism.

I will go farther and say that I believe quite a considerable number of isolated passages could be brought together which could not easily be reconciled with Newman's deeper thought—which, if they were the only relics of his writing which remained to us might fairly be taken to indicate that he was a man of narrow mind. I believe their origin could be traced psychologically to circumstances and influences of the moment, or to the wish to deal with minds requiring special treatment. But the critic who neglects his deeper thought and quotes such passages in triumph makes a great mistake.

The mistake has often been made because the historian or logician who judges Newman is not necessarily a critic of psychology. He often misses the personal equation. A many-sided writer can only be accurately measured and interpreted by a many-sided critic, and of such critics there are few.

The thorough and first-hand knowledge shown by Newman even in works hardly pretending to be more than essays, though it has not been widely recognised by the critics, has, however, been noted by a few of the greater ones more observant than their fellows. 'Your work on Justification,' Döllinger writes to Newman himself, ' ... is, {18} in my estimation, one of the best theological books published in this century, and your work on the Arians will be read and studied in future generations as a model in its kind.' [Note 9] Lord Acton noted the quality of first-hand knowledge in even his slighter essays, as, for example, that on St. Cyril [Note 10].

The Germans have a word [he writes to Mr. Simpson] 'Quellenmässig' = ex ipsissimis fontibus, and another, Wissenschaftlichkeit, which is nearly equivalent to the Platonic [episteme]. When a book of theology, history, or any other science is destitute of these essential qualities ... it is not to be treated or spoken of seriously ... I can at once detect a writer who, even with immense reading of theologians, is but a dilettante in theology. That is why I said Newman's essay on St. Cyril, which on a minute point was original and progressive, was a bit of theology, which all the works of A., B., C., and D. will never be. [Note 11]

On the scientific quality of Newman's mind as displayed in his historical work, the words of Abbé Loisy, written in the Revue du Clergé Français in December 1898, are very interesting. The learned world was then full of Harnack's 'History of Dogma' and the account of the evolution of dogma in Auguste Sabatier's 'Esquisse de la philosophie de la religion.' Abbé Loisy just at this juncture {19} came for the first time upon Newman's 'Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.'

A note of genuine surprise is visible in his remarks on the scientific quality of this great work:

A large conception of the history of dogma and of Christian development [he writes], a conception truly scientific, in which all legitimate conclusions of historical criticism can find a shelter, had been formulated by a Catholic thinker long before certain Protestant publications which have made a stir in these latter days. Harnack's 'History of Dogma' is more learned than 'The Development of Christian Doctrine,' but how inferior it is to that essay in the general understanding of Christianity, with its varied life and the intimate connection which exists between all forms and all phases of that life! As to readers of Auguste Sabatier's 'Esquisse de la philosophie de la religion' who have been struck by some of its generalisations, who have regretted, it may be, that a similar book had not been written in defence of Catholicism, we may tell them that such a book exists already, better documented than that of the learned Dean of the Protestant theological faculty, showing a more complete religious experience, a mind more open and more impartial. Catholic theology has had in our days that great doctor whom it has needed. There has been wanting to him [Loisy concludes] no element of the scientific spirit.

I need hardly say that in quoting these writers I imply no sympathy with their theological views. I appeal to them only as acknowledged experts in their own line. [Note 12]

Let me now attempt to summarise the main contentions I have advanced. I have asked why the critics as a body have insufficiently recognised those greater qualities in Newman's mind which have led some to place him so high as a thinker and a philosopher of history. And I have urged certain considerations as fully explaining the fact.

In the first place, genius is felt by those who come in contact with it, but it is often hard for critics to analyse, for it outstrips their ready-made categories, and demands {20} for its appreciation an insight and power of analysis which not all of them possess. It calls, moreover, for a degree of effort which many have not seen reason for putting forth in this case. One cause why they have not seen reason for such effort is that a hasty survey of Newman's writings reveals work so multifarious—of preacher, philosopher, historian, poet, theologian, controversialist—as to suggest the superficiality of a brilliant dilettante, in an age in which especially we look in minds of the first order for the thoroughness of a specialist. Such prima facie quality in writing does not suggest to the critic that his very highest powers are needed for its due appreciation. But the critic is nevertheless wrong. A careful inspection shows that the variety and limitations of Newman's work were due, not, like a dilettante's, to want of thoroughness and concentration, but, on the contrary, to his concentration on one object—namely, the justification of religious belief against rationalism. His studies in history, philosophy, theology, were at once prompted and limited by their relation to this one aim. He had thus the unity of aim which betokens greatness, and not the dissipation of mind which reveals the dilettante.

Moreover, his best work is first-hand work, original thought or investigation from original sources, which a dilettante's never is.

A further reason why the fine quality of some of his specialist work has not been recognised is that he avoided the technical phraseology of the learned world and the form of professed scientific treatises. He went in reality far deeper than the form of his writing suggested. He chose the form of ephemeral controversy because he wrote primarily not for the learned world, but for earnest Christians at large, whose faith he desired to strengthen.

But, moreover, his mentality was peculiar and puzzled many critics. Being a philosophical thinker as well as a literary artist and a rhetorician, there was often deep, subtle, and candid psychology in passages which to the critics seemed to be merely brilliant rhetoric.

Furthermore, for the most part he did not isolate problems of philosophy, history, or theology for discussion with {21} the specialists on their own merits, but discussed them as they stood in the complicated skein of his own elaborate theological theory. And it was so impossible to many critics to take seriously that theory—which led to the Pope and to 'Mariolatry'—that they were slow to consider with understanding sympathy discussions which seemed to them only the ingeniously devised preliminaries to making good preposterous conclusions. Further, an occasional wilful rhetoric in his writings led to sentences which, if taken literally and read apart from other passages expressive of his true mind, seemed to betoken a narrow outlook.

Finally, while the above causes have kept the bulk of average critics from recognising his deeper qualities, I have noted that a few of the greater ones have pointed the true road—a road which others may follow and verify in detail.

In point of fact, Newman of all men needs students of active and original and penetrating minds to detect and elaborate the pregnant suggestions of a poetic thinker who had not the habit of scientific statement. Like the slave of Midas, it has been said, he often whispered his secret to the reeds.

The critic's real task is thus a hard one, and for most not a tempting one. Many are unequal to it. Others do not see that so much labour is called for. On the other hand, the brilliancy of Newman's superficial qualities as a literary artist and subtle rhetorician engaged in depicting persuasively a high spirituality is easily perceived. And it has supplied an escape for the critics from their difficulty. The bulk of them have been satisfied with giving such obvious gifts the most ample recognition. This was an easy task, involving tributes which could not be gainsaid, in place of the hard task of analysing exhaustively a very peculiar genius and detecting deep and thorough work and thought embedded in writings of which the practical conclusions are most distasteful to them.

Those who have been helped out of difficulty and doubt by Newman's lines of thought, have had the motive to penetrate beneath the surface. So, too, with those who, like Döllinger, have trodden, in some directions at least, a {22} similar path to Newman's own. But for the reasons I have given, his higher gifts are easily overlooked even by the ablest outsider—by the Carlyles and the Morleys. Such men dismiss without real examination the deeper side of Newman's work as mere 'controversy' on outworn subjects, of no interest now to the serious thinking world. Its relation to the search for truth in a penetrating and earnest mind is simply overlooked, because mere theological controversy is not supposed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to go really deep, or to have any relation to such a deeper quest. The really profound thoughts in such writings are simply passed over and the discussions are politely set aside. The pleasanter task is undertaken of paying tributes to what is not controversial—the English style, the poetic beauty of the 'Dream of Gerontius,' the engaging frankness of the 'Apologia' as an autobiography, the picturesque account of the history of the Turks, the subtle and humorous delineation of the typical gentleman in the 'Idea of a University.' Thus an imaginary Newman is formed out of his more superficial gifts. It may be a graceful figure, but it is not the Newman whose thought strengthened and deepened so many thoughts of Pascal and Coleridge, and whose grasp of the play of forces in the early history of the Church appealed to the French critic I have quoted as so much truer than Harnack's; nor the Newman whose realisation of the trains of thought which are issuing in unfaith was so keen that Huxley offered to compile a primer of infidelity from his writings. Nor is it the Newman whose power transformed the lives of scores of young men at Oxford, and led hundreds who felt the magic of a genius at once spiritual and intellectual, which they could not explain, to subscribe to the formula: 'Credo in Newmannum.'

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1. Thomas Carlyle's Life in London, by J. A. Froude, vol. ii. p. 247.
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2. Miscellanies, vol. iv. p. 161.
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3. Memoirs, by Mark Pattison, p. 210.
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4. Short Studies, by J. A. Froude, vol. iv. pp. 270-283.
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5. Cardinal Newman, by R. H. Hutton, p. 165.
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6. Hutton's Cardinal Newman, p. 250.
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7. Essays, vol. ii, p. 231. Quoted in Essay on Development, pp. 380-1.
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8. Grammar of Assent, p. 403.
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9. Life of Cardinal Newman, vol. i. p. 444.
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10. Newman was not content with the second-hand knowledge given in books. Indeed, mere text-book knowledge was his special aversion, and seemed to him to be never really true. The text-book had to make all knowledge simple, certain, and clear, while really first-hand knowledge was, in his opinion, in concrete matters nearly always complex and of various degrees of clearness and probability in its several portions.

When reading for his history of the Arians he sent a letter to Hurrell Froude, significant in its intimation of this view of things so far as history is concerned.

'How I shall ever be able to make one assertion,' he writes, 'much less to write one page, I cannot tell. Any one pure categorical would need an age of reading and research. I shall confine myself to hypotheticals; your "if" is a great philosopher as well as peacemaker.' (Letters and Correspondence of John Henry Newman, edited by Anne Mozley, vol. i. p. 245.)

And again, the thoroughness with which he revised his MS., introducing qualifications which should prevent rash generalisation, is indicated in another letter where he declares that he has already made forty-one pages out of eighteen.
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11. Lord Acton and His Circle, pp. 55-6. A. Gasquet.
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12. I omit Loisy's tribute to Newman's theological orthodoxy, as I am citing him exclusively as an expert in historical science. I may recall the fact, however, that M. Loisy's own unorthodox developments belong to a later date.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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