Lecture 2. The Unity of Newman's Work

{23} I PROPOSE in this lecture to turn to Cardinal Newman's own words and to point out the scope of some of his works, in order to illustrate in detail some of the contentions of my last lecture—First, I shall note his prescience in respect of the movement against Christian faith which we are now witnessing in Europe, and secondly, I shall indicate the exact manner in which his writing on philosophy, history, theology, and apologetic was designed with the one object of strengthening religion to meet this special danger. As I have already said, it was this concentration of his varied work on one object which gave it the depth and unity we look for in the life-work of a great man.

First, as to his prescience of the decay of belief in the supernatural which we are now witnessing. He was by his own intellectual temperament keenly alive to the plausibleness of the negative position in religion, though his moral nature bound him closely to theism and Christianity. 'I thank God,' he wrote to Dr. Pusey in 1845, 'that He has shielded me morally from what intellectually might so easily come on me—general scepticism'; but, moreover, he was awake to the signs of the times in modern civilisation pointing to the impending break-up of Christendom with its corporate faith and to the imminence of general doubt or disbelief. He speaks as follows in a note written during his last year: 'Very early in life I was troubled with the prospect of an intellectual movement against religion, so special as to have a claim upon the attention of all educated Christians,' and he freely told his friends that he regarded {24} it as his special mission to help in counteracting this movement [Note 1].

Further, Newman's prescience was notable in respect of the distinctive character of the movement against religion which he foresaw, and which we are now actually witnessing. The term 'agnostic' belongs to the early 'seventies. It was invented by Huxley at an early meeting of the Metaphysical Society. The agnostic's strength as a dangerous force lies in his moderation. He does not say in his heart with the fool 'There is no God.' He says 'Even if there is a God, He cannot be known by man.' Mr. Huxley once compared speculation on the realities of another world to speculation on the politics of the inhabitants of the moon. This attitude is, in many quarters, a commonplace of our own day—though it takes various shapes in its detail. I think it a very remarkable fact that an attitude which was first fully recognised and expressed in the early 'seventies had been vividly delineated by Newman in the early 'fifties.

I will read a passage from one of his Dublin lectures of 1854, in which Newman puts into the mouth of an imaginary philosopher what we must at once recognise as being in essence the attitude of many a modern agnostic:

Without denying that in the matter of religion some things are true and some things false [says his imaginary philosopher], still we certainly are not in a position to determine the one or the other. And as it would be absurd to dogmatise about the weather, and say that 1860 will be a wet season or a dry season, a time of peace or war, so it is absurd for men in our present state to teach anything positively about the next world—that there is a heaven, or a hell, or a last judgment, or that the soul is immortal, or that there is a God. It is not that you have not a right to your own opinion, as you have a right to place implicit trust in your own banker, or in your own physician; but undeniably such persuasions are not knowledge, they are not scientific, they cannot become public property, they are consistent with your allowing your friend to entertain the opposite opinion; and, if {25} you are tempted to be violent in the defence of your own view of the case in this matter of religion, then it is well to lay seriously to heart whether sensitiveness on the subject of your banker or your doctor, when he is handled sceptically by another, would not be taken to argue a secret misgiving in your mind about him, in spite of your confident profession, an absence of clear, unruffled certainty in his honesty or in his skill.

Such [Newman continues] is our philosopher's primary position. He does not prove it; he does but distinctly state it; but he thinks it self-evident when it is distinctly stated. And there he leaves it.

The second half of the agnostic's creed—as depicted by Newman—is almost equally interesting and characteristic of the times in which we live. It is that, in spite of the fact that the human mind cannot really gain any fruitful knowledge on religion, it has nevertheless in the past obstinately and persistently devoted its attention to the subject. On no subject has it been more ineffective and yet more persistent and intolerant.

And the misery is, [continues Newman's imaginary philosopher] that, if once we allow it to engage our attention, we are in a circle from which we never shall be able to extricate ourselves. Our mistake reproduces and corroborates itself. A small insect—a wasp or a fly—is unable to make his way through the pane of glass; and his very failure is the occasion of greater violence in his struggle than before. He is as heroically obstinate in his resolution to succeed as the assailant or defender of some critical battle-field; he is unflagging and fierce in an effort which cannot lead to anything beyond itself. When, then, in like manner, you have once resolved that certain religious doctrines shall be indisputably true, and that all men ought to perceive their truth, you have engaged in an undertaking which, though continued on to eternity, will never reach its aim; and, since you are convinced it ought to do so, the more you have failed hitherto, the more violent and pertinacious will be your attempt in time to come. And further still, since you are not the only man in the world who is in this error, but one of ten thousand, all holding the general principle that Religion is scientific, and yet all differing as to the truths and facts and conclusions of this science, it follows that the misery of social {26} disputation and disunion is added to the misery of a hopeless investigation, and life is not only wasted in fruitless speculation but embittered by bigoted sectarianism.

'Such is the state in which the world has lain,' it will be said, 'ever since the introduction of Christianity. Christianity has been the bane of true knowledge, for it has turned the intellect away from what it can know, and occupied it in what it cannot.' [Note 2]

I lay great stress on these passages as showing how clearly Newman saw the signs of the times, and how persuasively, and even sympathetically, he could delineate this anti-Christian view of life which he held to be so dangerous, yet so plausible. It is a view which, as stated by him, will seem to many men of the world to be the merest common sense. It reflects human nature in a certain mood. This Newman saw clearly. He fully recognised the fact that just as Christian heroism and asceticism seem in certain moods to be unpractical and one-sided enthusiasm, so Christian faith appears in certain moods to be at variance with the common-sense view of life and of the limits of human knowledge. But he held that in both cases these were moods in which we do not realise life or the world in its deeper aspects. His direct antidote to agnosticism, therefore, was not mere argument against a position that did not itself rest on mere argument, but the persuasive delineation of what he held to be a deeper view than the agnostic's—a view which appeals to men in deeper moods—moods which he held to be more truly representative of normal human nature when it is completely aroused and awake and alive to life as a whole. Thus also the good man is alive to consequences of human actions which the sensualist or epicure in his picture of life according to nature necessarily banishes from his purview. Newman's apologetic is primarily of this nature—a delineation of motives actually influencing the believing mind, chiefly of his own mind when analysing the sources of its belief, rather than a merely objective statement of arguments. Arguments are, of course, included among these sources, but in the form and with the surrounding {27} imagery amid which they stood in his own mind. His aim is not only to sound the logic of the matter, but to paint what actually affects and convinces the concrete man with all his existing sympathies and dispositions. He endeavours, as has been said, to 'convince' rather than to 'convict.' Perhaps we cannot reply to the logician who convicts us. But the whole man is won over to one side or the other by larger influences than logic—by influences which appeal to the heart and imagination as well as to the reason. This view of the case is apparent in his persuasive style even when he deals with the philosophy of faith, and with Christian history and theology. He is not content with opposing what he accounts a deeper intellectual view to a shallower one. Recognising how much the actual influence of the shallower view owes to the effect of a worldly and secularist atmosphere, he seeks to steep the imagination in a religious atmosphere which shall be a counterbalancing force. His writing reproduces the atmosphere in which he himself lives; and that, or something like it, is judged by him to be necessary to persuasion from the very fact that it is necessary to expel and replace the agnostic atmosphere which is continually finding entrance in modern society.

It was in his judgment one great work of the Catholic Church to supply an antidote to the impressionableness of human nature, to the changeableness of its moods, and to keep permanently alive that religious atmosphere which in practice was necessary to supplement the reason of man, which was in these matters so liable to be misled.

The agnostic or naturalistic atmosphere of modern society, which so easily affects each man's view of life, includes the prevalence of maxims identical with those of the ancient Epicureans. But so far as it acts on the more intellectual in these latter days, Newman seems to trace it largely to the effect on their imagination of the fruitful results of the sciences—physical science first of all, but also, in their measure, historical and critical science. Here were tangible and certain results, extending our knowledge of this visible world, which is so unquestionably real; while theologising {28} was concerned with a cloudland which only in certain moods seemed to have any real existence at all. The great antidote to this attitude of mind was the counter-effect of the Christian Church as—to use his own forcible phrase—'the concrete representative of things invisible'—the visible assembly which has ever taken for granted and positively asserted the reality of the unseen world, and has been the fruitful instrument of a moral civilisation which has depended on this assumption. The beneficent works of Christianity stand over against the achievements of science as visible and tangible results. The Christian Church, by its constant witness to the reality of the unseen world and by its esprit de corps, strengthens and deepens the religious convictions of the individual and counteracts the naturalistic bias which the atmosphere of the world of science is apt to create. It is not a case of prejudicing the reason, but of opposing one picture in the imagination to another.

In one of the Dublin lectures he describes in a striking passage the evanescent quality of religious impressions in the individual mind, and their contrast in this respect to our inevitably vivid consciousness of the visible and palpable truths of physical science; and then he appeals to the visible Church as the only efficient practical force which can give depth and permanence to religious impressions.

The physical nature lies before us [he writes], patent to the sight, ready to the touch, appealing to the senses in so unequivocal a way that the science which is founded upon it is as real to us as the fact of our personal existence. But the phenomena, which are the basis of morals and religion, have nothing of this luminous evidence. Instead of being obtruded upon our notice, so that we cannot possibly overlook them, they are the dictates either of Conscience or of Faith. They are faint shadows and tracings, certain, indeed, but delicate, fragile, and almost evanescent, which the mind recognises at one time, not at another,—discerns when it is calm, loses when it is in agitation. The reflection of sky and mountains in the lake is a proof that sky and mountains are around it, but the twilight, or the mist, or the sudden storm hurries away the beautiful image, which leaves {29} behind it no memorial of what it was. Something like this are the Moral Law and the informations of Faith, as they present themselves to individual minds. Who can deny the existence of Conscience? who does not feel the force of its injunctions? but how dim is the illumination in which it is invested, and how feeble its influence, compared with that evidence of sight and touch which is the foundation of Physical Science! How easily can we be talked out of our clearest views of duty! how does this or that moral precept crumble into nothing when we rudely handle it! how does the fear of sin pass off from us, as quickly as the glow of modesty dies away from the countenance! and then we say, 'It is all superstition.' However, after a time we look round, and then to our surprise we see, as before, the same law of duty, the same moral precepts, the same protests against sin appearing over against us, in their old places, as if they never had been brushed away, like the divine handwriting upon the wall at the banquet. Then perhaps we approach them rudely, and inspect them irreverently, and accost them sceptically, and away they go again, like so many spectres,—shining in their cold beauty, but not presenting themselves bodily to us, for our inspection, so to say, of their hands and their feet. And thus these awful, supernatural, bright, majestic, delicate apparitions, much as we may in our hearts acknowledge their sovereignty, are no match as a foundation of Science for the hard, palpable, material facts which make up the province of Physics. [Note 3]

The antidote to this evanescent quality in religious impressions is, he goes on to say, the visible Christian Church, which gives religion, as it were, substance and tangible reality, which embodies the fruitful exhibitions of religion as science embodies the truth of the physical world.

These more important truths, which the natural heart admits in their substance, though it cannot maintain,—[he writes] the being of a God, the certainty of future retribution, the claims of the moral law, the reality of sin, the hope of supernatural help,—of these the Church is in matter of fact the undaunted and the only defender. [Note 4]

In this line of argument there is a remarkable resemblance to some of Pascal's thought. The Times, in its leading {30} article on Newman's biography, dismissed somewhat contemptuously the comparison often made between the minds of the two men. The effect on at least one reader of this disclaimer was only to make him doubt whether the Times writer had ever read Newman's 'Oxford University Sermons' or his 'Dublin University Lectures' with serious attention, or, I may add, was familiar with the 'Pensées' themselves. No doubt Pascal is more direct and explicit than Newman. He has the French directness, while Newman has a good deal of the edifying and somewhat indirect manner of the English divine. But the substance of the thought is in many points almost identical. The merely intellectual sympathy with sceptics which the Times writer ascribes to Pascal and denies to Newman is quite as characteristic of Newman as of Pascal. This we have already seen. The sense that the human reason cannot practically secure the belief which it justifies was as characteristic of Pascal as of Newman. Indeed, when the Times finds the difference between the two writers in Newman's mistrust of the speculative reason as an adequate instrument for securing religious faith, one can only rub one's eyes in sheer amazement. It was Pascal, and not Newman, who wrote the following:

Intellectual convictions are worth little if the mechanical side of our nature is set in the opposite direction. We must gain our whole self ... So soon as we know where Truth lies we must ask custom to soak and steep us in that belief. [Note 5]

I need not labour to point out the close similarity of thought to what I have above cited from Newman.

The general view, that unaided reason does not suffice to hold our nature to the belief it really justifies, is equally characteristic of the two men. It would be more plausible {31} to hold that Newman was copying Pascal, than to hold with the Times that there was no likeness between their views—so close is the resemblance. Yet the road Newman follows is so clearly his own that no one has ventured to maintain this. The truth is that minds of similar cast see the same truths [Note 6]. Both writers had the peculiar frankness of genius. They were both facing the actual facts of life and of human nature. To do so was the first step in any philosophical inquiry. But Newman was no more content than Pascal with supposing that prejudice or custom was the real basis of belief. Both writers defend the action of the believer's mind as reasonable in view of the conditions of human life from which we cannot escape, and of which we have to make the best we can. Both recognise the position as, at first sight, a paradox. Both hold that Christianity appeals to man's rational nature. Yet both see that the average weak man needs forces which keep his mind and will steady in order to adhere to it with constancy.

But while Newman insisted on the necessity of the visible Christian Church to support weak human nature in its belief, to strengthen and make operative lines traced by reason, he did not for a moment forget the necessity of showing that the Church was fortifying a truer and deeper view against the instability of human frailty, and not bolstering up blind superstition or prejudice. He devoted much labour to tracing a reasonable account of religious faith which, when a man is deeply serious, should suffice for him, and this led him into philosophy, history, and theology.

In ascertaining the true grounds of faith he did not start with any logical theory of Christianity. He preferred the safer ground of experience. The Christian message as a whole once exercised mighty influence and gained {32} the hearts of men. He desired first to trace the manner and causes of that influence, and thus to ascertain the nature and full strength of its genius in action. A theory might miss some of the elements which had been actually operative. This is a matter primarily of philosophical analysis, and gives the point of departure to his philosophy. It is the most important subject dealt with in the 'Oxford University Sermons,' which were originally designated 'Sermons chiefly on the Theory of Religious Belief.'

But then arose a fresh question which took him to history. The simple message of Christ and the Apostles was not, in form at least, the dogmatic theology he had to preach as a clergyman of the Church of England. This theology was not simply the Beatitudes, with their unearthly message, and the good news that God had visited His people. It was a complicated intellectual system; and it involved allegiance to a visible ecclesiastical organisation. Thus he was brought face to face with the problem, at once historical and theological, of the development of Christian doctrine and of the Christian Church. This question was dealt with explicitly in his work on 'The Arians of the Fourth Century,' written before the beginning of the Oxford Movement, and the 'Essay on Development,' written in 1845. In these works he examined the beginnings among Christians of ecclesiastical organisation, of theological analysis, and of dogmatic definition, and their subsequent growth. The philosophy of faith thus led to the history of dogma; and this inevitably passed into a study of scientific theology.

Let me examine the three works I have named in some detail:—

The University Sermons obviously do not form a complete treatise. They contain consecutive suggestions towards a philosophy based on the actual facts of the Christian history. If we read the New Testament, we are brought face to face with the fact that multitudes of the unlearned believed spontaneously on hearing the Christian message. In Tertullian's day it was the same—the bulk of believers, he tells us, were the simple and unlearned. And in our {33} own day also we have to face the same fact. How can we justify as reasonable a belief the evidence for which many of the ablest and most learned reject, and which appeals to the simple and unlettered? Whatever comes of it, Newman holds that we need to start with facing this undeniable fact. He writes as follows:

Let us take things as we find them: let us not attempt to distort them into what they are not. True philosophy deals with facts. We cannot make facts. All our wishing cannot change them. We must use them ... If children, if the poor, if the busy, can have true Faith, yet cannot weigh evidence, evidence is not the simple foundation on which faith is built. [Note 7]

Throughout these sermons Newman recognises quite frankly the two views which can ever be taken of the nature and value of faith—the view of the hard-headed, sceptical man of the world, and the view apparent in the Scriptures, which are inspired by unearthly wisdom.

'Faith,' he writes, 'is weak, or it is unearthly. Scripture says that it is unearthly, and the world says that it is weak.' [Note 8] Again he quotes St. Paul's own words: 'God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.' And again he writes 'Reason'—using reason in the sense of rationalism—'is called either strong sense or scepticism, according to the bias of the speaker; and Faith, either teachableness or credulity.' [Note 9]

Thus he is careful at the outset, in speaking of the actual motives of Christian belief, not to force the note beyond what even a sceptical critic can recognise as true to fact. His next step is to show how in practice the believer acts as contrasted with the sceptic in view of the facts of life acknowledged by both, and to justify the believer.

It must be remembered that, in recognising that men often do in fact believe otherwise than in consequence of an examination of evidence, he does not for a moment deny {34} that faith is rational in the sense that right reason and Christianity concur. But he desires frankly to look at the working of individual minds, and to make his argument unmistakably actual. 'Faith is a principle of action, and action does not allow time for minute and finished investigations.' [Note 10] Concerning the actual state of mind of those who have believed simply on hearing the divine message, he writes: 'They feel that the external religion offered them elicits into shape, and supplies the spontaneous desires and presentiments of their minds.' [Note 11] He does not deny that there are certain cogent tokens in favour of Christianity visible to all men who begin to look into the matter. But he maintains as a matter of observation that the actually determining cause of belief is generally this response of the religion to their moral nature. Reason, in the sense of mere logical argument, goes some way in recommending faith, but the moral nature seems to decide the matter. Reason—as the world explains the term reason—leaves the matter undecided, and therefore the confidence of the believer is convicted of folly in the eyes of the world. 'That is, reason, weighing evidence only,' he writes, 'or arguing from external experience, is counter to faith; but, admitting the legitimate influence and logical import of the moral feelings, it concurs with it.' [Note 12] That is to say, the insight of the moral nature actually determines the acceptance of what would otherwise have proofs cogent indeed, but not conclusive. Such considerations as these doubtless cover a very limited field of philosophical territory, which is in the eyes of the thinking world far larger. But the limitation is absolutely necessary, for the problem before him is just the nature of the belief of those who see no farther than this, the belief of simple souls who hear the word with joy, and believe. 'How can this spontaneous belief be justified as reasonable?' he asks.

Newman's reply is twofold, and its nature becomes fully apparent only in the last sermon but one, on 'Wisdom as contrasted with Faith and Bigotry.' We have to consider {35} first the nature of the justification of Christianity for the wisest and most learned Christians before we are in a position to justify what is logically the second point—the faith of the simple. But the difference between the two is not so great as it appears at first sight. He recognises the limitations of even the wisest when it is a question of knowing with our imperfect faculties truths largely supernatural. He is critical of some of the apologetic which was current in his time—for example, Paley's 'Evidences.' He is disposed to attach less weight than the apologist of his time to some current 'evidences,' and more weight to the nature of the Christian religion itself—a matter which appeals to the unlearned as well as the learned. Newman favours massive reasons that influence the whole man. He is suspicious of clear arguments that appeal only to logical acuteness. Both faith and genius outstrip the logician's analysis. They both go deeper than logic. The logician, while he will state the reasons he sees far better than another, may miss altogether certain reasons which influence others who cannot express them so well. Much of what Newman says thus applies to the learned and unlearned believers alike. He points out how few were the obvious logical evidences on which the first hearers of Christianity believed—how small a field they covered of considerations such as mere logical acumen could gauge. No doubt, when we study modern books of evidence, we find a goodly array of arguments; but many of these arguments—whether they are good or bad—were simply not present to those who believed in the days of Christ Himself. They are largely drawn from facts which had no existence in those days. The constancy of the martyrs is advanced as a proof, but the martyrs themselves believed before their constancy was put to the proof. The triumph of Christianity and formation of Christendom are invoked as evidence. But belief in Christianity had to precede the triumph of believers. Thus to some extent even the most learned were in those early days in the same position as the multitudes of unlearned who should believe and did believe without systematic study of evidences. This point was very vividly present to {36} Newman's penetrating mind, and he prefers to state the weak side of the logical case for belief rather than to fail in facing a real difficulty. For he is confident in his cause, and, therefore, fearless in sifting facts. The poor and the unlettered believe in virtue of a right state of heart. That is an unquestioned fact. But how can a right state of heart lead them to be in such a matter more accurate in their estimate than the learned and educated who do not believe? This question haunts Newman. He evidently holds that the action of our moral nature has a far deeper rational import than is commonly supposed. How (he asks) can this be?

The moral element is often referred to by apologists as though it meant merely goodwill or an open mind ready to take in an argument. This does not at all satisfy Newman as an explanation adequate to the actual facts of the case. He evidently believes that the action of the moral nature contributes more than this. He suggests that that action really involves a deep element in our rational nature which we are incapable of analysing fully—the quasi-instinctive recognition of a subconscious philosophy in human nature corresponding with Christianity. This supplements his earlier contention that clearness of statement or even of thought is often not the principal essential for the recognition of deep truth. Rationalism is, in his judgment, the clear apprehension of a partial or narrow philosophical system incommensurate with the facts of the world and of human nature. It concurs not with philosophy, but with what he terms bigotry. Faith, on the other hand, is less clear in its apprehension, but touches deeper and more numerous grounds of belief. It is the obscure apprehension of a profound and comprehensive philosophy, while Rationalism is the clear apprehension of a narrow and shallow philosophy.

In the last but one of these sermons he describes Christian wisdom, which, in its fullness, dwells in the Holy Spirit, as belonging also in some measure to the few perfect and more philosophical Christians, the doctors of the Church, who are guides to others. We are brought back again in {37} another form to the guidance and fellowship of the Christian community. Just as the unlettered participate in the results of the general scientific knowledge of a community, which they cannot themselves discover or prove, so it is in a measure with religious beliefs. The analogy of the belief of the uneducated in other fields, in science, history, mathematics, is to some extent preserved in the matter of religious belief. The conclusions and reasonings of the experts in both cases permeate the society. Experience on the whole shows the unlearned that they are in good hands. They are influenced by more reasons than they can explain. The simple believers are part of a great rational system of which they are dimly conscious, but which they cannot fully analyse, though their wiser fellow-Christians approach nearer than they to its analysis. Of these earnest but unphilosophical Christians, who have faith and not wisdom, he writes, 'If they set themselves to reason, they use arguments which appear to be faulty, as being but types and shadows of those which they really feel, and attempts to analyse that vast system of thought which is their life, but not their instrument.' [Note 13]

He seems to regard the wise Christian thinker as having, in relation to the great problem of religion, a mind in its own sphere similar to that of a great discoverer like Sir Isaac Newton, who approaches the thoughts of Nature, but never reaches them in all their fullness. Galileo and Newton detected by a process, which they could not at first adequately justify as rational, facts which they afterwards found to be explained by the Copernican system and the law of gravitation. Newman suggests that even the simple Christian may participate in the first step though his powers of analysis may be unequal to the last. He suggests that divine grace may enable the simple Christian to be conscious that he is in the presence of a great and true system embodied in the Christian revelation—a system to which he is justified in giving his confidence, though he cannot understand or trace its proofs as can the wiser and more learned. The underlying postulate seems in both cases to be similar. The {38} facts of physics—the pace at which a stone falls, combinations of chemistry, the movements of the planets—are found to correspond to a mathematical system in the human mind. [ho theos geometrei], says Plato. So also the realities which religion recognises correspond with a philosophy in human nature. In both cases the correspondence is a matter of which some are far more explicitly aware than others. Yet it is a correspondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm. That correspondence becomes far larger in the case of the scientific thinker, but even with him, though it steadily increases, it is never fully reached.

Such is the general line of Newman's argument. Its characteristic note is its clear recognition of actual facts with the difficulties they present individually and the strength they supply collectively; and its aversion from a mere clearness and ingenuity of argument which may ignore some of the facts contained in the sum of experience and consequently pretend to a cogency which is spurious. He returned to it in the 'Grammar of Assent.' I have gone into it at some length because it gives the most haunting thoughts of his life.

Newman's first considerable work in the historical field was the 'History of the Arians of the Fourth Century.' It was undertaken as a historical manual of small pretensions—one of a popular series. But the reader sees at once that its writer is closely occupied in it with the very problem—on its historical side—which inspired the philosophy of the 'University Sermons.' His justification of religious faith rested largely on the conscience and moral nature of mankind at large. But Christianity was a special form of religion obviously bounded in time and place. It first appeared in Judea 1900 years ago. If Christianity contained a deep philosophy of life normal to human nature, then surely the Christian message must be in part, at least, the expression of realities which are eternal and universal, not local or belonging to a special time. And this in effect is the view which he found when he came to study the history of the Alexandrian School, of which St. Clement was the chief exponent. {39}

According to their view, revelation was, in some sense, universal. Christianity was a further and truer development of those truths of religion which had been from the first revealed to mankind, though they had in course of time become corrupted through human sin and error. Newman goes on to point out that St. Paul indicated the same view as St. Clement; that in preaching to the Greeks, 'while he strenuously opposes all that is idolatrous, immoral, and profane, in their creed, he will profess to be leading them on to perfection, and to be recovering and purifying, rather than reversing the essential principles of their belief.' [Note 14]

This is the first line of argument of special importance in Newman's 'History of the Arians.' But there is another chapter which has perhaps yet greater significance in relation to his central quest, the philosophical explanation of actually existing Christianity. The arguments set forth in the 'University Sermons' apply most obviously to the acceptance by those who heard Him of Our Lord's simple teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon in the Plain and the divine claim of the Teacher. But the elaborate dogmatic system of contemporary theology in the nineteenth century which he was teaching from the pulpit of St. Mary's, Oxford, and which was expressed in the liturgy in which he took part, was something very different from this simple teaching. So elaborate a system as the Anglican theology was, at first sight, far less easy to justify by its correspondence to the moral nature of man. It seems to have a far less close relation to the life of the soul which it is the primary object of religion to secure, than the unearthly Beatitudes preached by Christ to the multitude. In the chapter entitled 'The Principle of the Formation and Imposition of Creeds,' Newman faces this fact. He seems to hold that the simple teaching of the early Church prior to dogmatic definition was the ideal state of things; but that such an ideal condition could not possibly, as historically it did not, last without protective additions to the early teaching in face of the facts of human nature. The genesis of dogmatic definitions is somewhat like the genesis {40} of laws. The peaceful enforcement of virtue by wise exhortation in a well-regulated family becomes impossible in a larger society, in which rules must be more exact and penalties must be enforced. Somewhat similarly the growth of the Christian society demanded a more defined creed. Subtle minds would, and did, in fact, speculate as to the exact logical import and consequences of a message, the original preaching of which was not logical, but rather conceived in terms of parable and incompletely expressed philosophy. Gnostics and, later on, the Arians, introduced speculations which damaged the essential character of the Christian message. And the memory of that message in its original form grew dim from lapse of time, and liable to corruption. Both these causes made it absolutely necessary for the Church to protect by definition those aspects of her message which false speculations would deface. Such definitions had to take their form partly from the speculations they condemned. Consequently the simplicity of earlier expressions had to be abandoned. The definitions were defences—lacking the beauty and simplicity of Christ's words, but necessary. Only aspects of the Christian teaching were expressed and defined—those which heretics or rationalists had explained away—and they lacked the beauty and symmetry of the whole of which they were but aspects. They were defined, moreover, by human analogies as 'Father,' 'Son,' or philosophical phrases and ideas, as 'nature,' 'person.' Definitions represented many aspects of simple truths; thus there is no real opposition between the multiplicity of dogmas and the simplicity of earlier belief. The early councils were all occupied with minutely safeguarding the one simple and primary doctrine of Christianity, that Christ was truly God, and that He was truly man.

All this analysis of Newman was wrought out in a historical investigation. It was, as I said in my first lecture, a careful inquiry into a department of Christian origins. For Newman himself it was not an exercise of historical research for its own sake, but an essential link in the rational justification of existing orthodox Christianity for {41} educated men and thinkers—the central object of all his work.

'The History of the Arians,' then, offers a historical justification for regarding Christianity as the development and complement of the religion to which human nature points. It exhibits Christianity as the completion of a religious revelation which was universal, and it shows historically how the elaborate dogmatic formulæ so prominent in Catholic theology arose of necessity from earlier and simpler Christianity, not as its rival or as changing it, but as its protection against essential corruption.

But there remained the problem of the immense extent of the changes if we compare the Christianity of the early Christians with that of the nineteenth century. And the consideration of this phenomenon led to the third work we are considering, namely, the 'Essay on the Development of Christian doctrine.' It was comparatively easy to show how the early definitions were necessary to safeguard the simple truth that Christ was true God and true Man, and to protect the doctrine of a Trinity in Unity. As time advanced, however, the causes which called for further exposition of aspects of dogmatic truth to prevent the corruption of Christianity by rationalism naturally very greatly multiplied. A more thorough examination of the facts and wider generalisations became necessary in this more extended inquiry. The contrast between the first form and the latest becomes startling. The 'Essay on Development' traces the general character of the events and the changes which led to this great transformation. He treats in it of Christianity as a living idea energising amid those communities which it possesses, and spreading to fresh countries. Such an idea, as time goes on,

enters upon strange territory [he writes], points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and fall around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. [Note 15] {42}

In these bold and pregnant sentences we have the root cause of later developments in dogmatic theology.

The immense multiplication of dogmatic formulæ witnesses at once to the many aspects of Divine Truth, and to our inability adequately to compass it intellectually. We preserve the simple prayers of the early Church side by side with the human language of theological definitions which is indispensable and yet, as being human, inadequate to the Divine Reality.

Many thinkers have been contemptuous and impatient of theological subtleties. But Newman points out that they have not faced the necessities of history and of human nature. These subtleties are, of course, not in themselves the living and inspiring part of religion. But they have been necessary to the preservation of what is living and inspiring. Both the simple prayers of the early Church and the complex theology of the later represent one and the same religion, the definitions protecting those simple truths which are the life of the prayers. They have been essential to actual operative religion as the dry details of the Statute Book and the proceedings of the Law Courts are necessary to the welfare of a nation, to its healthy life and best energies. Had Christians attempted to dispense with the subtleties of orthodox theology, the heterodox speculations of Gnostics and Arians would have defaced the gospel teaching, and the process, if continued long enough, might have reduced Christianity to a fable. Mr. Froude has left it on record that Carlyle in his old age was forcibly impressed by this fact in respect of the Arian controversy. Mr. Froude's own words on the subject are worth quoting:

In earlier years [Carlyle] had spoken contemptuously of the Athanasian controversy, of the Christian world torn in pieces over a diphthong, and he would ring the changes in broad Annandale on the Homoousion and the Homoiousion. He told me now that he perceived Christianity itself to have been at stake. If the Arians had won, it would have dwindled away into a legend. [Note 16] {43}

I feel so strongly that we have in the line of thought I have outlined the key to all Newman's most serious writing that I will briefly recapitulate the main theses I have urged.

His great object was to strengthen contemporary Christianity, and he had a special eye to the anti-Christian and sceptical movement of thought, which he foresaw, and to the plausibility of which he was especially alive.

In 1855 he had distinctly outlined the agnostic attitude, which was not explicitly formulated by its advocates before the 'seventies.

He saw that its sources lay in the imagination as well as in the reason, notably in the peculiar intellectual atmosphere created by the immensely successful developments of modern science.

The great antidote to this agnostic atmosphere was, in his eyes, the atmosphere created by the teaching and ordinances of the visible Christian Church. But he was intent also on showing that the Church did not by her action foster prejudice; that her action only deepened and secured in practice the view which right reason justified. Owing to its weakness the human reason—as Pascal also noted—needed the support of other influences to keep it firm to its own decisions.

In tracing the reasonable justification of existing Christian belief he entered the three fields of philosophy, history, and theology.

In the 'Oxford University Sermons' his quest was mainly philosophical. He endeavoured to show how faith in Christianity was even in simple and uneducated minds reasonable. And he found the turning-point which distinguished the believer from the unbeliever in their different estimate of the import of the fact of the correspondence of Christianity with man's rational and moral nature. It was chiefly that correspondence which won the faith of those whom Christ addressed, before the evidence from the actual history of Christianity existed. He regarded Christian faith as the obscure recognition of a deep and wide philosophy commensurate with human nature, and rationalism as a clear recognition of a narrow philosophy not commensurate with human nature. {44}

In his work on the Arians he entered into the domains of history and theology, and he showed (a) that Christianity, though in one sense temporary and local, nevertheless had a right to appeal to its correspondence with human nature as being the true fulfilment of the best in all religions, and (b) that the complex theology of modern days, far from being opposed to the simple teaching of Christ, was historically the outcome of successive efforts to preserve the essence of that teaching against rationalistic assaults. Its complexity was largely due to the variety of those assaults.

In the 'Essay on Development,' the fields of philosophy, history, and theology are all three covered, and Newman shows that great external transformations and theological developments are inevitable in a system which energised for so long a period amid constantly changing civilisations. But the religion is as much larger and richer than the theology which protects it and represents its essential beliefs, as the life of a civilised community is fuller and richer than the laws which preserve its well-being.

The inspiring motive, then, of all his work in philosophy, history, theology, and apologetic alike was his one absorbing object, namely, to keep the Christian faith alive for his disciples and for the world. Thus, as I argued in my first lecture, his variety had its very source in the unity of his aim and in a determination to be real and thorough in the limits marked out by that aim—just the qualities a dilettante lacks.

And this unity of aim was the quality which made him the inspiring genius of the movement of '33, and a force more massive still, and having, in some ways, wider if slower-moving influence in his later work. He concentrated his energies as a religious leader in exhibiting the value of a visible Church, as the champion of true philosophical principles in an indifferentist world, the guardian and support of the weak intellect of man as of his conscience, amid the pressure of worldly maxims and human passion. He did so as the champion of the Catholic Church—first, as he thought of that Church in his Oxford days, and afterwards as he thought of it after 1845. {45}

But, moreover, it is just to this intense concentration on one aim that we owe the peculiar beauty of his style. The 'regal English' of which the up-to-date critics talk so politely would never have reached its heights—would probably have never even existed—but for the one dominating passion which inspired the writer; and that passion is the exhibition of just what such critics regard as the blot on his genius—what they look at askance as sectarian. The flame of conviction burnt too brightly in Newman to hide itself. In him were united parts usually divided. Penetrating thought exercised on life and history, and literary brilliance, were allied with the enthusiasm of a religious leader—light and heat were blended. He believed it to be his mission to impart to others the helpful views gained by his own religious thought and experience. He has told us that he could not write at all without the stimulus of duty. The enthusiasm of his mission created the great style. Thus those who admire the style and ignore the thinker and the apostle are really separating what it is impossible to separate. They want the flower, but condemn planting and watering as empty ritual. 'The elocution of a great intellect is great,' he himself writes. 'His language expresses, not only his great thoughts, but his great self.' [Note 17] All his works are in some sense a record of his personal history, taking their pathos from his suffering, and their eloquence from his joys and his achievements. But on this fruitful theme I shall speak in my next lecture.

Appendix to Lecture 2 [Note 18]

The nature of the whole argument in the 'Essay on Development' must be very carefully observed, and this is what superficial critics have often missed. They regard {46} the book as a clever tract, purporting to prove the truth of the later developments of Romanism. But the nature of the book is stated clearly enough in its Introduction. Newman saw and foresaw the course that rationalistic criticism of the early history of Christianity was likely to take. Christianity is, it avers, subject to precisely the same vicissitudes as any other of the many phases of religious belief in history. The upholders of unchanging dogma are striving against inevitable changes. The idea of a faith which is ever the same is false to history. Newman, on the contrary, holds that one may face the facts of history quite frankly, and yet see amid all changes the permanence of Christ's message. Once we admit that Christianity is a distinctive and living idea possessing a group of living men, we have the forces telling at once for essential permanence of the idea and for accidental change in its expression. The intransigeance of the Church which is decried as impotent obscurantism does, in fact, secure the essential permanence of the Christian message. The changes are the necessary responses to the changing society around it, and relate to the expression of the message, not to its essence. Newman frankly faces the changes history exhibits both in the external form of the Church's social aspect and in its method of expression in its doctrinal aspect; but he points out that the resistance to change which, in the eyes of the infidel, means the ineffectual obscurantism of an effete creed in face of a general advance of thought, admits also of being viewed as the tenacious adherence to the unchanging type of an unearthly and divine system. The combination of sameness of type with power of assimilation in the exhibition of the Christian idea affords proof that it is a living idea, corresponding to a reality. Here again we have an historical examination which M. Loisy, in the days when he was hardly yet a theist, but only a specialist in historical criticism, hailed as accurate and scientific. But we have also a further complement to the evidence for Christianity. No doubt the Anglican will hold that some of the Roman developments are corruptions. But the {47} essential argument stands, for all who look at Christianity historically, and see in development the necessary alternative to decay or fossilisation. Newman broached no rash or novel theory on the subject, but kept closely to the unanswerable ground of fact. Actually, in each generation the guardians of dogma have professed to be maintaining the message that has been handed down to them. But in order to do so it has been necessary to devise some form of expression which should exclude the novel and false analysis of the heretic or innovator. This is the rationale of new definitions in every age. Thus the new phrase 'in two natures' was added at Chalcedon to protect the old truth that Christ was true Man as well as true God, which the Monophysites denied. The orthodox of each age have regarded these defined expressions as the true statement called for by the emergency of a heresy which has defaced some particular aspect of the traditional Christianity. Yet no theologian has claimed that the terms of any human analogy of philosophy adequately express Divine Truth. The expression is analogical. And its inadequacy admittedly leads to what are seeming contradictions or mysteries in the human expression of a Divine Truth which is in itself wholly consistent. Thus theological controversy and definition has been not a substitute for, or opponent of the earlier and simpler form of religion, but the guardian of its original direction. It has not replaced the gospel message, but has defended it, and fenced it round. But the dogmatic phrases are not empty symbols. Christians believe that when they can see the Divine Reality face to face, when they know It as It is, and can compare the reality with the human experience, they will find each of the human phrases and ideas of defined dogmas—Father, Son, Nature, Person—to have been true representations of that Reality. The idea, 'though earthly,' Newman writes, ' ... belongs to the [heavenly] archetype, in a sense in which no other earthly idea belongs to it, as being the nearest approach to it which our present state allows.' [Note 19] The immense multiplication of {48} dogmatic formula witnesses at once to the many aspects of Divine Truth, and to our inability adequately to compass it intellectually. We preserve the simple prayers of the early Church side by side with the human language of theological definitions which are indispensable, and yet, as being human, inadequate to the Divine Reality.


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1. 'I know that [Newman] ... anticipates an unprecedented outburst of infidelity all over the world,' wrote Aubrey de Vere in 1850. 'To withstand it he deems it his special vocation, and he is quite annoyed at having to spend any time on Anglicanism.'—Life of Aubrey de Vere, p. 182.
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2. Idea of a University—A Form of Infidelity of the Day, pp. 387-389.
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3. Idea of a University—Christianity and Medical Science, pp. 514-15.
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4. Ibid., p. 516.
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5. 'Quand on ne croit que par la force de la conviction, et que l'automate est incliné a croire le contraire, ce n'est pas assez. Il faut donc faire croire nos deux pièces: l'esprit, par les raisons, ... et l'automate, par la coutume ... Enfin il faut avoir recours à elle quand une fois l'esprit a vu où est la vérité, afin de nous abreuver et nous teindre de cette croyance.'—Pensées de Pascal, Art. x. p. 127 (Dent's ed.), translated in Pascal by Viscount St. Cyres, p. 370.
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6. Newman has left it on record that when he first read Coleridge he was amazed to find in that thinker's writing so many thoughts which he had given as his own to the world. And with characteristic modesty in writing the Apologia he set down Coleridge as the philosopher of the Oxford Movement, The coincidence of thought was at least equal in Pascal's case.
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7. Oxford University Sermons, p. 231.
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8. Ibid., p. 208.
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9. Ibid., p. 187.
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10. Oxford University Sermons, p. 188.
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11. Ibid., p. 226.
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12. Ibid., p. 195.
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13. Oxford University Sermons, p. 305.
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14. Arians of the Fourth Century, p. 84.
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15. Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 40.
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16. Thomas Carlyle's Life in London, by J. A. Froude, vol. ii. p. 494.
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17. Idea of a University, p. 280.
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18. The following passages were found in one of the MS. editions of the lectures, and though omitted when read, owing probably to want of time or to the intention of developing them elsewhere, seem to find their proper place in an appendix to this lecture.—ED.
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19. Oxford University Sermons, p. 340.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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