Archive for the ‘John Henry Cardinal Newman’ Category


Two John Henry Cardinal Newman Meditations

July 4, 2014
Born in 1801, baptized in the Church of England, Newman became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1822, an Anglican clergyman in 1825 and Vicar of the Oxford University Church in 1828. The Anglican Newman was a pastor of souls, a University teacher, and a student of Christian history and theology. His studies were never purely theoretical. Informed by pastoral experience, they were above all shaped by his insight into the needs of the present.

Born in 1801, baptized in the Church of England, Newman became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1822, an Anglican clergyman in 1825 and Vicar of the Oxford University Church in 1828. The Anglican Newman was a pastor of souls, a University teacher, and a student of Christian history and theology. His studies were never purely theoretical. Informed by pastoral experience, they were above all shaped by his insight into the needs of the present.

Jesus Christ, Yesterday, and Today, and the Same Forever
All things change here below. I say it, O Lord; I believe it; and I shall feel it more and more the longer I live. Before your eyes, most awesome Lord, the whole future of my life lies bare. You know exactly what will befall me every year and every day until my last hour. And though I know not what you see concerning me, so much I know: that you read in my life perpetual change. Not a year will leave me as it found me, either within or without. I never shall remain any time in one state.

How many things are sure to happen to me, unexpected, sudden, hard to bear! I know them not. I know not how long I have to live. I am hurried on, whether I will it or not, through continual change. O my God, in what can I trust? There is nothing in which I dare trust; nay, if I trusted in anything of earth, I believe for that very reason it would be taken away from me. I know you would take it away, if you had love for me.

Everything short of you, O Lord, is changeable, but you endure. You are ever one and the same-ever the true God of man and unchangeably so. You are the rarest, most precious, the sole good; and withal you are the most lasting. The creature changes, the Creator never. The creature stops changing only when it rests in you. On you the angels look and are at peace; that is why they have perfect bliss. They never can lose their blessedness, for they never can lose you. They have no anxiety, no misgivings because they love the Creator; not any being of time and sense, but “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today, who is also for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

My Lord, my only God, Deus meus et omnia, let me never go after vanities. Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vani­ tas (Ecclesiastes 1:2). All is vanity and shadow here below. Let me not give my heart to anything here. Let noth­ ing allure me from you; oh, keep me wholly and entirely. Keep this most frail heart and this most weak head in your divine keeping. Draw me to you morning, noon, and night for consolation. Be my own bright light, to which I look, for guidance and for peace.

Let me love you, O my Lord Jesus, with a pure affection and a fervent affection! Let me love you with the fervor, only greater, with which men of this earth love beings of this earth. Let me have that tenderness and constancy in loving you which is so much praised among men, when the object is of the earth. Let me find and feel you to be my only joy, my only refuge, my only strength, my only comfort, my only hope, my only fear, my only love.

An Act of Love
You are the Supreme Good. And, in saying so, I mean not only supreme goodness and benevolence, but that you are the sovereign and transcendent beautifulness. I believe that, beautiful as is your creation, it is mere dust  and ashes, and of no account, compared with you, who are the infinitely more beautiful Creator. I know well

therefore that the angels and saints have such perfect bliss be­ cause they see you. To see even the glimpse of your true glory, even in this world, throws holy men into an ecstasy.

And I feel the truth of all this, in my own degree, because you have mercifully taken our nature upon you and have come to me as man. Et vidimus gioriam ejus , gloriam quasi Unigeniti a Patre,  “And we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). The more, O my dear Lord, I meditate on your words, works, actions, and sufferings in the Gospel, the more wonder­ fully glorious and beautiful I see you to be.

And therefore, O my dear Lord, since I perceive you to be so beautiful, I love you and desire to love you more and more. Since you are the one Goodness, Beautifulness, Gloriousness in the whole world of being, and there is nothing like you, but you are infinitely more glorious and good than even the most beautiful of creatures, therefore I love you with a singular love, a one, only, sovereign love. Everything, O my Lord, shall be dull and dim to me, after looking at you. There is nothing on earth, not even what is most naturally dear to me, that I can love in comparison with you. And I would lose everything whatever rather than lose you. For you, 0 my Lord, are my supreme and only Lord and love.

My God, you know infinitely better than I how little I love you. I would not love you at all except for your grace. It is your grace that has opened the eyes of my mind and enabled them to see your glory. It is your grace that has touched my heart and brought upon it the influence of what is so wonderfully beautiful and fair.

How can I help loving you, O my Lord, except by some dreadful perversion, which hinders me from looking at you? O my God, whatever is nearer to me than you, things of this earth, and things more naturally pleasing to me, will be sure to interrupt the sight of you, unless your grace interferes.

Keep my eyes, my ears, my heart from any such miserable tyranny. Break my bonds, raise my heart. Keep my whole being fixed on you. Let me never lose sight of you; and, while I gaze on you, let my love of you grow more and more every day.


The True Treasure

August 12, 2013
Every act of obedience is an approach -- an approach to him who is not far off though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him front us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.

Every act of obedience is an approach — an approach to him who is not far off though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him front us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  (I hate to thump my own drum here but if you were to type “Son of Man” into the search box on PayingAttentiontotheSky, you would be rewarded with this selection of posts. They are quite extraordinary. )

Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” And the Lord replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.

Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Luke 12: 32-48

Prepared for the Master
Year passes after year silently; Christ’s coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as he comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven! O, my brethren, pray hint to give you the heart to seek him in sincerity. Pray him to make you in earnest. You have one work only: to bear your cross after him.

Resolve in his strength to do so. Resolve to be no longer beguiled by “shadows of religion,” by words, or by disputings, or by notions, or by high professions, or by excuses, or by the world’s promises or threats.

Pray him to give you what Scripture calls “an honest and good heart,” or “a perfect heart,” and, without waiting, begin at once to obey him with the best heart you have. Any obedience is better than none — any profession which is disjoined from obedience is a mere pretense and deceit. Any religion which does not bring you nearer to God is of the world. You have to seek his face; obedience is the only way of seeking him. All your duties are obediences.

If you are to believe the truths he has revealed, to regulate yourselves by his precepts, to be frequent in his ordinances, to adhere to his Church and people, why is it, except because he has bid you? And to do what he bids is to obey him, and to obey him is to approach him. Every act of obedience is an approach — an approach to him who is not far off though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him front us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.

If we have forgotten him, he will not know us; but “blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching…. He shall gird himself, and make them sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.”

May this be the portion of every one of us! It is hard to attain it; but it is woeful to fail. Life is short; death is certain and the world to come is everlasting.
Blessed John Henry Newman


Christopher Hitchens’ Dying Days With G. K. Chesterton 3 – Ralph C. Wood

January 25, 2013
The church's living tradition insures that its doctrines do not become fixed and static. For Chesterton as for Newman, Christian doctrine stays the same by changing. It remains true to itself precisely by way of its organic growth. The acorn of Christian revelation continues perpetually to ramify into the great oak tree of dogma.

The church’s living tradition insures that its doctrines do not become fixed and static. For Chesterton as for Newman, Christian doctrine stays the same by changing. It remains true to itself precisely by way of its organic growth. The acorn of Christian revelation continues perpetually to ramify into the great oak tree of dogma.

The most malignant of Hitchens’ charges is that Chesterton’s theology is at once unoriginal and triumphalist. It is true that Ker places Chesterton in a theological trajectory that begins with John Henry Newman. Yet Hitchens misses — as does Ker himself at times — the significance of this link to the great Victorian convert to Catholicism. For it makes Chesterton more of a Catholic modernist than a reactionary.

Newman revived modern Catholicism in a variety of ways, not least of all in his conviction that Christian doctrine is constantly and coherently developing. In the historical realities of Christ and his church, the utterly unknowable God definitively reveals himself. Far from being desiccated intellectual propositions, the church’s dogmas are the very source of its life.

So was Chesterton also convinced that the church’s living tradition insures that its doctrines do not become fixed and static. For Chesterton as for Newman, Christian doctrine stays the same by changing. It remains true to itself precisely by way of its organic growth. The acorn of Christian revelation continues perpetually to ramify into the great oak tree of dogma.

What is originally embryonic undergoes constant maturation, as the mind is freed, not fixed, by exploring the unfathomable depths of dogma. The church does at large, therefore, what every person does in small — it thinks dogmatically, as Chesterton declared in one of his earliest books, Heretics (1905)

Man may be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating them all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backward into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

Chesterton’s high estimate of dogma gives him a low regard for tolerance. Lest this seem to make him a troglodyte, it must be noted that he anticipates what Michael Walzer, Stephen Carter, and many others have identified as the hidden agenda underlying the chief Enlightenment ideal. Tolerance keeps an allegedly neutral peace when it is in fact an exercise of force: “The language of tolerance,” declared Carter in 1994, “is the language of power.” The tolerator grants liberty to the tolerated only when the latter behaves tolerantly, i.e., in accord with the tolerator’s notion of what is safe and appropriate and acceptable.

Virtually from the outset of his writing career in the first decade of the 20th century, Chesterton scorned this kind of tolerance, for it usually means that the tolerated is never taken seriously. Hence his tart aphorism against emptying the public square of both thought and belief. Ker curiously cites none of these, and Hitchens would surely have gagged on all of them: “Modem toleration is really a tyranny. It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent’s faith is to say I must not discuss it.” Tolerance is thus “the virtue of a man without convictions.” It ignores the most basic truth of all ingestion, whether in thinking or masticating: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

“To `choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience,” Hitchens replied, “is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”

As a lover of knight errantry, Chesterton sought entrance to what the late James Wm. McClendon called “the tournament of narratives” — i.e., an open arena where no traditions are automatically excluded but all are seriously engaged. Our story-borne convictions must persuasively confront each other, even to the point of conversion.

The Ball and the Cross, though Ker gives it short shrift, is far and away Chesterton’s finest fictional embodiment of such lively engagement, as well as a hugely amusing send-up of the tolerance that would become even more oppressive during the intervening century.

The novel features James Turnbull, an atheist journalist (Hitchens avant la lettre!), who is set in quite deadly opposition to Evan McIan, a devout Christian. For Turnbull the physicalist, the causal laws of nature can refute all miracles. For McIan the believer, by contrast, miracles are built into the very fabric of the cosmos. To demonstrate that their disagreement has huge moral no less than religious consequence, they vow to fight until someone finally wins, if only in a fatal sword-duel.

Yet the police and the press and the judiciary of hyper-tolerant England are appalled by the prospect of such a barbaric contest, and are thus bent on stopping it. Hence the riotous irony of two intellectual pugilists having to befriend each other as they flee the thought-police while seeking to have their decent debate. In the course of their contretemps, they discover the truth of Chesterton’s crisp dictum: “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.” Having learned how dreadfully they might have gone wrong, MacIan and Trumbul at last abandon their rivalistic desire to win, whether by sword or by argument. To avoid plot spoiling, let it be said that in the end these dread enemies learn not to tolerate each other but to become the most hospitable of friends.


Return To Thee – John Henry Cardinal Newman

November 23, 2012

Some of you will be interested in this recording, Heart Speaks to Heart, “a meditation in words and music based on a selection of the spiritual writings of Blessed John Henry Newman” narrated by Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, with music sung by the Schola Cantamus under the direction of Jeremy de Satgé.

Taken from Cor ad cor loquitur, Heart Speaks to Heart… the above CD can be purchased following these directions here.  Prayers are meant to be chanted or spoken aloud. Silent prayer always struck me as sort of a contradiction in terms. Prayer lives in the spoken voice.


THE SUN SINKS TO RISE AGAIN; the day is swallowed up in the gloom of night, to be born out of it, as fresh as if it had never been quenched. Spring passes into summer, and through summer and autumn into winter, only the more surely, by its own ultimate return, to triumph over that grave, towards which it resolutely hastened from its first hour.

We mourn over the blossoms of May, because they are to wither; but we know, withal, that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops — which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair…. O my God, shall I one day see Thee? What sight can compare to that great sight! Shall I see the source of that grace which enlightens me, strengthens me, and consoles me?

As I came from Thee, as I am made through Thee, as I live in Thee, so, O my God, may I at last return to Thee, and be with Thee forever and ever….

Eternal, Incomprehensible God, I believe, and confess, and adore Thee, as being infinitely more wonderful, resourceful, and immense, than this universe which I see. I look into the depths of space, in which the stars are scattered about, and I understand that I should be millions upon millions of years in creeping along from one end of it to the other, if a bridge were thrown across it.

I consider the overpowering variety, richness, intricacy of Thy work; the elements, principles, laws, results which go to make it up. I should be ages upon ages in learning everything that is to be learned about this world, supposing me to have the power of learning it at all. And new sciences would come to light, at present unsuspected, as fast as I had mastered the old, and the conclusions of today would be nothing more than starting points of tomorrow.

It is the occupation of eternity, ever new, inexhaustible, ineffably ecstatic, the stay and the blessedness of existence, thus to drink in and be dissolved in Thee…

Since Thou art from everlasting, and hast created all things from a certain beginning, Thou hast lived in an eternity before Thou began to create anything….

There was no earth, no sky, no sun, no space, no time, no beings of any kind; no men, no Angels, no Seraphim. Thy throne was without ministers; Thou were not waited on by any; all was silence, all was repose, there was nothing but God….

Through a whole eternity Thou were by Thyself, with no other being but Thyself; blessed in Thyself and by Thyself, and wanting nothing….

I cannot comprehend Thee more than I did, before I saw Thee on the Cross; but I have gained my lesson. I have before me the proof, that in spite of Thy awful nature, and the clouds and darkness that surround it, Thou canst think of me with a personal affection. Thou hast died that I might live. Amen.


The Conversion Of John Henry Newman Part II – Fr. Louis Bouyer

June 1, 2012

Louis Bouyer was a priest of the Oratory, a convert to Catholicism from Lutheranism, which he had served as a minister, an eminent liturgiologist and historian of spirituality, an influential scholar of Newman (whose studies of Newman helped to pave the way for Newman’s eventual beatification), and, perhaps most importantly of all, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.
Dr. Keith Lemna, Visiting Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Saint Meinrad School of Theology

I would be deeply remiss if I did not point out that the author of this piece, Fr. Louis Bouyer,  is a giant of 20th century Catholic Theology and most of all a scholar of liturgy and spirituality. His book Newman: His Life and Spirituality  (from which this post was created) was recently reissued by Ignatius Press.


How could Newman attach such importance to a conversion which he himself describes as doctrinal in its nature, if the very doctrine by which he was converted was soon, despite the terms in which he had just alluded to it, to fade, and at last totally to disappear, from his mind? The answer to this question is implicitly conveyed in the very page of the Apologia which gave rise to it. In order, however, to make this clear, we must interpret the words of the Apologia in the light of a passage contained in the Memoir. We have now once again to hark back to an earlier period — as far back, in fact, as 1826.

In the matter in question, that is conversion, my own feelings were not violent, but a returning to, a renewing of, principles, under the power of the Holy Spirit, which I had already felt, and in a measure acted on when young.

If we carefully bear that statement in mind, the passage from the Apologia which we shall now quote will need no explanation.

I received it [the doctrine of final perseverance] at once, and believed that the inward conversion of which I was conscious (and of which I am still more certain than that I have hands and feet) would last into the next life, and that I was elected to eternal glory. I have no consciousness that this belief had any tendency whatever to lead me to be careless about pleasing God. I retained it till the age of twenty-one, when it gradually faded away; but I believe it had some influence on my opinions, in the direction of those childish imaginations which I have already mentioned, viz, in isolating me from the objects which surrounded me, in confirming me in my mistrust of the reality of material phenomena, and making me rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator; — for while I considered myself predestined to salvation, my mind did not dwell upon others, as fancying them simply passed over, nor predestined to eternal death. I only thought of the mercy to myself.

We have already adverted, in the course of our narrative, to an idea very strange in a small child — the idea, namely, that he thought he might be an angel and all this world a deception, his fellow-angels by a playful device concealing themselves from him and deceiving him with the semblance of a material world. That passage readily recurs to our mind when Newman himself tells us that in the spring of 1816, reading a book by Isaac Watts which spoke of Saints unrecognized by the world, he took it to be an allusion to that early notion of his, as if Watts was speaking of angels living in the world, but disguised.

The first of the two passages we have quoted seems to furnish the clue to the second, and to explain its apparent contradictions. If the 1816 conversion, all-important though it was, was but a return to beliefs which he had already held as a child, if, rather, it was a revival, a renewal of them, we may well understand how it was that Romaine’s doctrine took such a hold on him and affected him for so long, destined though it was gradually to fade and finally to disappear from his mind.

The truth is, as he clearly indicates, that Romaine’s doctrine merely acted as a catalytic, reviving in the mind of the adolescent a conviction, an idea prematurely implanted in the mind of the child. The sense of God’s immediate and sovereign presence had been obliterated by the consciousness of his own growing intellectual powers. But now, behold! into a mind rendered mysteriously receptive by the solicitations of divine grace, there comes, to resuscitate that conviction, a wholly different doctrine operating in a manner that none but Newman could perceive. It would not only reawaken; it would transform, what, in the child, was merely a passive impression, into a reasoned belief that was destined to remain an enduring factor in the life of the man.

How can this be explained? The truth is that, in some degree, we read into a book what we bring to it ourselves. This is especially the case with young people of exceptional endowments. The books they read, particularly the things that fire their liveliest enthusiasm, are as often as not misunderstood by them. But these misinterpretations bear rich fruit. These young people have within them riches which, to begin with, they are unable to realize, to take account of; but a sentence, even a single word, will often avail to bring them to light.

Thus it comes about that they think they have found something in a book which, later on, when they have had more experience of real life, they will, to their grievous disappointment, be quite unable to rediscover in it. The truth is that what they thought they had found in the book was something which they themselves had brought to it. The book and what it set forth was the steel which struck the spark from the flint; but the spark was theirs, and theirs alone.

So, no doubt, it was with Newman, and the call to a conversion conceived as the intuitive consciousness of an indefectible election was interpreted by him in his own way. Giving definite shape to a conception of the Universe hitherto vaguely floating in the subconscious imagination of the child, it suddenly projected it into the consciousness of the adult, now arrived at maturity.

The young man’s intellectual powers were displaying themselves in all their sovereign pride, notwithstanding the importance he ascribed to virtue. Disquieted, it may be, by the obscurity which overhung the destiny of man, he was soon to be still more deeply moved by the truly Christian witness of his master, which he found strangely in harmony with the memories of his far-off childhood.

Those memories needed but the touch of some external stimulus to bring them once more to the surface and to be interpreted in the light of his now maturer understanding. The young man, in the fullness of his intellectual pride and self-sufficiency, now becomes aware of something, of some power, which he had dimly guessed at, even when he turned away from it — Something, Someone, stronger and more wise than he, Someone who subdued him to His will, even in the proudest hour of his intellectual self-reliance. To that other Power, the mind, be it never so proudly confident, must needs defer. The very clearness with which he recognizes this is a token that he has already surrendered.

Interpreted thus, and we see no other way of doing equal justice to all the various views of it that he has given us, it is, to begin with, quite clear that his was no conversion after the Evangelical pattern. His association with an Evangelical of the milder type, his reading of Evangelical books may have been the means of bringing his conversion about, but, in its nature, it never really belonged to what was its occasion rather than its cause.

This break in the chain of logical sequence escaped the notice of hasty or superficial observers. The docility displayed by the boy Newman in adopting the characteristic mode of speech and thought of those to whom his conversion was due, may to some extent account for the error, an error which was his own to begin with, the rest merely following suit. But with him, and in spite of Bremond, an error it was, and as such it must be recognized [C£ Bremond, The Mystery of Newman, passim]

And in truth, much as he owed to the evangelical teaching, so it was, he never had been a genuine evangelical. The evangelical teaching, considered as a system and in what was peculiar to itself, had from the first failed to find a response in his own religious experience, as afterwards in his parochial. He had indeed been converted by it to a spiritual life, and so far his experience bore witness to its truth; but he had not been converted in that special way which it laid down as imperative, but so plainly against rule, as to make it very doubtful in the eyes of normal evangelicals whether he had really been converted at all.
Autobiographical Memoir, III, in Autobiographical Writings, Shoed & Ward, 1956

To put it briefly, what is principally notable about the conversion which thus robs him of his independence, is the independence which it nevertheless betrays. Just as it points, not so much to a change, as to a releasing, a rising to the surface, of something hidden in the profoundest recesses of his being, so too it shrinks instinctively from adopting all such fixed and definite forms as may suggest themselves or be suggested to him.

As a boy of fifteen most certainly would, he expresses his ideas and his feelings in the sort of terms he hears used by the people about him, at the same time adapting them to suit what he has in his own mind. As soon as experience shows him how inadequate they are, there will be nothing to prevent his dropping them. So far from that weakening his impression of what he has experienced, it will strengthen it. Let us now enquire more closely into the nature of that spiritual experience. What was it that was so personal about it, so peculiar to himself? And what rendered it so indifferent to the strongest influences brought to bear on it, even to those which were, or seemed to have been, its exciting cause?

But here a twofold snare awaits us. Either we may pass over the condensed and pregnant passage in the Apologia without fully penetrating to the precious metal within, or we may be tempted, as Newman himself may have been, to read into the experience of the boy all the things that entered into the maturer reflections of the man. This latter would be the lesser evil. There is no doubt that the extract in question, revealing as it does Newman’s striking originality, also exemplifies the continuity of personality, its normal concomitant.

Borrowing again from Wordsworth, he seems to have been an outstanding example of those of whom it is said, “The Child is father of the Man.” It is this independence, this pronounced individualism, which, before everything else, we must stress, and, if possible, define. Of all his various characteristics, is it not this that first demands our attention? It and it alone explains the mystery of his acceptance, so complete, so spontaneous, of Romaine’s Calvinism, an acceptance which was, in fact, much rather an unconscious annexation. Moreover, we have here our first opportunity of examining Newman’s undoubted individualism. If, taking it at its source, we succeed in avoiding any misapprehension of the goal at which it aimed, we may hope to avoid distorting it when, later on, we find it enriched but possibly subtilized [vocab: To render subtle] by experience.

In the story, or rather the balance-sheet, presented by the Apologia, one phrase stands out beyond all others: “Making me rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator.”

“Myself and my Creator” — that theme, what elaborate variations Bremond composed on it! Variations that have found a responsive echo in the hearts of all who are unable to resist the spell of the enchanter. Alas! giving play to his gift for improvisation, Bremond began with the effect the words had on him, not, as he should have done, if he wanted to interpret them correctly, with the circumstances in which Newman came to utter them. If we now go back and take the only road permitted to the historian, we may find the enchanter vanished, and only a conjurer in his place. Still, the real Newman may even yet be disentangled from those verbal arabesques which were at least as well calculated to bury as to adorn him.

We do not hesitate to stress this point. The whole Mystery of Newman idea, which led Bremond to make of him a figure so engaging and so unreal, depends entirely on the interpretation put on those words. What he called in Newman “the Poet”, “the Voluntary Recluse”, and some others, less flatteringly, “the Misfit”, “the Incurable Egoist”, all arises from that interpretation. Were there any grounds for the idea, or did Bremond simply invent them?

The enquiry to which we propose to address ourselves will go some way towards elucidating that crucial question. The state of mind in which this fifteen-year-old youth found himself at the beginning of summer in the year 1816 shows us that this apparent emphasis on “Myself” and the implied disregard of others, far from being centered in his religious experience had, in fact, no connection with it. On the contrary, it was the outcome, gradually set free, of all that was purely natural and, in the last analysis, a-religious in his personality. That there was in Newman a strong notion of self, of independence, of self-reliance cannot be denied; but to confuse this basic characteristic with his religious experience is to condemn oneself a priori, to a misunderstanding of the latter.

This consciousness of self, more astonishing, when we come to think of it, in the child than in the adolescent, has, no doubt, something disquieting about it, but let us not call it irreligious or immoral. It comes under the category of the “natural” in the strict sense of the word. It is, perhaps, that which constitutes the peculiar genius of Newman, if genius be an exceptional concentration, a more than ordinarily intense glow, in something that is no more than a natural attribute, or faculty, of the human mind. But that there is in it, from the religious, the Christian, point of view, an element of danger, of temptation, particularly in the case of one such as Newman, there is no denying.

Let us remind ourselves of Goethe, who resembles him so closely in this respect. Was it not the firm resolve of his daimon to assert its independence and not to capitulate or bow to anyone or anything that at last drew him away from religion which, round about the year 1770, was attracting him so powerfully?

With Newman, things took a different course. What he found was that, when this independent spirit, this innate self-reliance of his, was brought into the presence of Another, of God, it meant nothing more nor less than the negation of meaning. How, then, did it come about that this “self”, so adamant in its nature, was suddenly projected into the “self” of that Other and became wholly obedient to Him? That no doubt is the crux, the mysterious element in this conversion. Still some gleams of light are thrown on it in what Newman tells us and always held.

Let us now picture to ourselves this boy of fifteen, strong in the possession of an intelligence that enables him to expose fallacies, to detect sophistries and faulty reasoning, all those specious arguments by which ordinary folk are impressed, but which lack the hall-mark of indubitable truth. It does not appear that he was now, or that he ever had been, in any danger of falling into scepticism. An instinctive conviction, but a conviction confirmed by his intelligence, put the claims of morality beyond all question. If for a time he thought he could dispense with God, it never entered his head that he could disregard the Good, or the True.

Now whence came this moral sense? Evidently it was the fruit of his training, of the way he had been brought up, and especially of that Biblical instruction which taught him to connect truth and goodness by connecting both with God, with God to whose Word he listened. But now his intellect took hold, as part of its own belongings, of this union of truth and goodness. This union was now one with his affirmation of self. It was at this time that he fell in with a man, and heard words and read books, in which this twofold union in God reappears. Its effect was to make him recognize that what belonged to his consciousness, belonged in the first place to God; to put it plainly, it was the presence of God within himself and this he realizes even when, though not denying Him, he turns away from Him.

Romaine speaks to him of predestination, of conversion, which implies the recognition that God is concerned with each one of us, and that from His purposes regarding us there is no escape. Little matters the system of which that is a part. What took hold of Newman and continued to hold him was the revelation that God was there, within him, in those very gifts (for they were His gifts, personal gifts, inseparable from the Giver), in those gifts which were his strength and support. It was as a ray of light amid the shadowy region from which his mind was emerging.

If it be true, as he was now beginning to feel that it was, that all complete consciousness of self is moral consciousness, he realized that moral consciousness is the consciousness, the awareness, of Someone, of God.

Let us ponder that well. Of that, even as a child, he had caught glimpses. Let us recall again the passage recently quoted, the passage about the child who suddenly became aware of religious truths on which he had been living without knowing it. Once more, as he himself bears witness, his conversion did not proceed from anything newly discovered. It was rather a rediscovery of something he had already known, something he thought he had left behind him, but which now, in the light of his maturer understanding, appeared as something fully, because freely and independently, thought out and established.

Thus the words “Myself and my Creator” imply no more than the recognition that the soul only escapes from what is harmful to it, from what has been vainly endeavouring to enslave it, by discovering that it belongs wholly to God, and that it is truly itself only in the light of God’s presence, God being its master, and the soul His, and His alone.

If this be a true account of what happened, if we may say of this unforgettable experience of this fifteen-year-old boy in a phrase which an old Oxford scholar applied to him some years later, in allusion to his love of solitude, Nun quam minus solus quam cum solus [never less alone than when alone], we shall see that Newman in no way claimed to have been vouchsafed any sort of incommunicable intuition of God.

On the contrary, the God who revealed Himself to him in solitude was the God defined by dogma in a course of teaching now for the first time fully understood, clearly recognized, the God of Holy Writ. With that Word he had been long familiar, though he had never been able to fathom its full meaning till he became aware of himself in the light of it. Thus it was not a mere discovery or rediscovery of God that he bore in remembrance. He tells us that God Took possession of him in this direct and intimate manner, personal in the fullest sense implied by the words “Myself and my Creator”, bringing him thus to realize and embrace defined dogma.

For it is as person to person that God reveals Himself.

It is as a person that God reveals Himself, it is in deeds in which He takes part, deeds which are destined to bring about a renewal of our own lives. It is as a duologue which enlightens us concerning our own existence by revealing on whom that existence depends. To discover God as the soul’s Creator is, then, for Newman to recognize that that revelation is visible to us in His Son, who is at the very heart of the Bible. It amounts to accepting, not as abstract ideas but as vital truths, the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Redemption, themselves dominated by the revelation of the Trinity. For it is thus that God becomes Someone for us, Someone to whom we belong, Someone who has given all, even His Son, to save us from our own disobedience.

As for the other concomitant of his conversion, the objective counterpart, without which the subjective considerations which have hitherto been engaging us would make the whole narrative seem like a dialogue with one of the speakers left out, there were the works of Thomas Scott. These provided him with something more lasting than the idea he got from Romaine. “To Scott,” he says, “humanly speaking, I almost owe my soul.”

Referring to his book, Force of Truth, which captivated him straight away, Newman enlarges better than we could do on all that he owed to this autobiography. It implanted in him the ineradicable conviction that fidelity to the living truth must naturally result in the acceptance of Christianity in all its gradually unfolding plenitude. Scott, in fact, tells us how, beginning as an unbeliever, he came to realize that without disobeying God and disregarding the dictates of conscience, he could not avoid traditional Christianity, the Church (which for him meant the Church of England), or belief in the Trinity.

Was it not all like a preliminary sketch, or adumbration, of that Odyssey, or perhaps we should call it that spiritual Æneid, that was to be Newman’s own story, when his guide and help were those prophetic words uttered by him during the illness that struck him down in Sicily, words to which before long we shall again recur — “I have not sinned against the light.”

On that same page of the Apologia, a page whose wealth of significance it is hardly possible to exhaust, Newman confesses that what attracted him in Scott and in his account of his eventual acceptance of a progressively integrating Christianity was what he calls his “bold unworldliness, and vigorous independence of mind”. It is curious to note how the dearest aspirations of the adolescent, and those the most spontaneous, found their echo in this book, as he interpreted it. Scott became his hero. Such a spiritual adventure fascinated him as offering an example of that virile independence of mind at which he himself aimed — that, and a standard of moral rectitude which was destined to remain with him all his days.

What exactly is it that he means by “this bold unworldliness”? It is precisely that intellectual freedom, on which his young mind had set such store, transferred to the ethical plane. It is the conviction, at once instinctive and reasoned, that the only way of maintaining complete spiritual and intellectual independence in this unintelligible and deceptive world lies in uncompromising fidelity to the voice of conscience.

How all things meet together and link up here! — the free and independent quest for truth, unhesitating obedience to the voice of conscience, acceptance of the teaching of Christianity. This helps us to understand his joy at finding himself in accord with the essential elements in Scott’s religion, as one by one he unfolded them.

They appeared to him, as to Scott himself, to be the pure and simple expression of the process which was destined to bring him also to the same religious goal: “Holiness rather than peace”, and “Growth the only evidence of life”.

In the sequence to which we referred just now — that is to say, the intellectual conscience, the moral conscience, and the recognition of God’s sovereignty over the ego — we have, in embryo, the whole of Newman’s apologetic. And now, in those two closely connected motifs of unworldliness and the search for perfect truth, as set forth under the twofold device, “Holiness rather than peace”, “Growth the only evidence of life”, we have something still better — we have, if not the whole, then at all events the kernel, of his spiritual being.


The Conversion Of John Henry Newman Part I – Fr. Louis Bouyer

May 31, 2012

John Henry Newman, at age 23 when he preached his first sermon in Over Worton Church on 23 June 1824.

The year 1816 was one of bitter trial for the Newman family. One after effect of the economic and financial upheaval which followed the termination of the Napoleonic wars was to compel the Banking House of Messrs Ramsbottom, Newman & Co. to stop payment. Many years later, Newman, hearing his friend Bowden alluding somewhat tactlessly to what he called the Bank’s failure, reproved him rather sharply, pointing out that there had been no question of “failure”. The Bank did suspend payment; that, he agreed, was true enough, but only for a time. Eventually, all the creditors were paid in full. That gives us some idea of the moral trials the Newmans had to bear, not to mention the material anxieties which beset them all through that spring. The letters exchanged between Mrs. Newman and her sister-in-law Elizabeth afford eloquent testimony of the tribulations she had to endure.

Certainly, the creditors were quickly paid off, and the family, so far as money-matters were concerned, was soon on its feet again. At this juncture, however, Mr. Newman took it into his head to give up banking and become a brewer. That meant yet another change of houses, and so, from the lanes of Norwood, off they go to Alton, so as to be near the brewing works of which the paterfamilias was now to take over the management. One result of all this unsettlement was that the Newmans found it convenient to leave their son at his boarding-school all through those summer holidays. The void of that solitary vacation was to be filled by his conversion. How that came about he himself has described in the autobiographical memoir of which Anne Mozley availed herself in preparing his letters for publication. The passage runs thus:

On my conversion how the wisdom and goodness of God is discerned. I was going from school half a year sooner than I did. My staying arose from the 8th March. Thereby I was left at school by myself, my friends gone away. [Letters, vol. I, p.17 Anne Mozley has cancelled what follows.] That is, it was a time of reflection, and when the influences of Mr. Mayers would have room to act upon me. Also I was terrified at the heavy hand of God which came down upon me.

That last rather cryptic phrase is apparently the only piece of evidence there is to support a conjecture advanced by Maisie Ward. In her view, the words imply that Newman had been prepared for his conversion by the mental distress which the family misfortunes had caused him, and that, it must be confessed, seems to be the most plausible interpretation to put upon them, though there is nothing to corroborate it. At all events, what he himself considered most expressly providential about the whole affair was that it had resulted in his being left by himself at Ealing in close contact with Mr. Mayers, thus bringing him under an influence which, if things had taken a different turn, he would never have experienced.

The Reverend Walter Mayers, of Pembroke College, Oxford, was a master at the school. So far, all that had happened between him and his pupil was that the latter had collided rather sharply with the master’s Evangelical brand of Christianity in various discussions they had had together, discussions which were enlivened for the pupil by his somewhat mischievous satisfaction in putting a “poser”, when he could, to a master more pious than brilliant. Thoroughly to understand how, in the course of those lonely weeks, the clergyman came to be the means of bringing about so radical a change in the boy’s mind, we must go back and look a little more closely into Newman’s early religious training and endeavor to find out exactly where his own unaided reflections had brought him by the time with which we are dealing.

We have said that Mr. Mayers was an Evangelical, and it has sometimes been assumed that the Newmans belonged to the same party. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A few years later they became acquainted with a Miss Giberne, a young woman who at that time was a typical Evangelical. Throughout her life, and it was a long one, she was to remain a true friend of the future Cardinal. However, the sort of impression we get from her first encounter with the Newmans gives it vivid idea of the gulf there was between them and herself. This musical, literary, and, from her point of view, worldly family had nothing in common with her own ideals, notwithstanding the immediate liking she had taken to John, Francis, and their sisters.

What exactly are we to understand by the term `Evangelical”? To answer that question, we must try to get some sort of general idea of the Anglican Church as it was in the early part of the last century. From the seventeenth century onwards, it had been exposed to two divergent tendencies: the one, High Church; the other, Low Church. The High Church party set great store by Tradition — that is to say, by the Catholic, and by what, in those days, may have been still more important, the Royalist element which the term connotes. The others — the Low Church party — were all for the stark, uncompromising Protestantism of the Puritans and the Presbyterians, yet not going to the length of actually parting company with the Establishment.

When the Deists were at the height of their power, it looked as if both parties were going to fuse together into a sort of religion which was hardly more than a vague philanthropy, but which still adhered to those conservative ideas of which the Church of England seemed to be the natural stronghold. Athwart this atmosphere of stagnation and inertia the voices of Wesley and Whitefield rang like a trumpet-call to arouse the people from their slumber. Had it not been for them, all definite belief, all religion in the strict sense of the word, might well have disappeared from England, and with it the State Church itself. Perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic of Wesleyanism in its early days was the overwhelming conviction that Christianity implied a new life — hence the transcendent importance attached by the Methodists, as they came to be called, to “conversion”. But conversion, new life, might be taken to mean merely such a moral reform as a man might bring about by his own efforts.

What is distinctive about Wesleyanism is that it is concerned with an experience, a religious experience and one clearly recognizable from the nature of its onset. At a first glance, Methodism would appear to be a return to the Christianity of the Gospel as contrasted, not merely with rationalism but with the humanistic and philanthropical ideas then prevailing. Looked at from another angle, it reveals a close affinity with the sentimentalism that was so marked and so general a feature of the late eighteenth century. Still, it cannot be denied that in one way or another it links up with a Christian tradition dating back far earlier than the Reformation, with the love of the religious folk of the Middle Ages for the person of Jesus Christ.

Viewed against a Moravian background, compared with the German Pietists and certain manifestations of primitive Lutheranism, Wesley’s religion will be seen to have had more in common with Saint Bernard or with Saint Francis of Assisi than with the Scottish Calvinists or the English Puritans, for it is from a direct encounter of the soul with Jesus, with the Christ of the Gospels, that conversion is looked for. It was not a matter of a mere moral reform, which a man might claim to have brought about by his own efforts, but a gift bestowed by God. It is from Jesus, from Jesus acknowledged to be in the fullest sense the Son of God, the Savior of the world, that the gift is to proceed.

It cannot therefore be denied that, notwithstanding its intrinsic intellectual insufficiencies, there is a core of sound doctrine at the heart of Methodism. But this cannot be dissociated from a particular kind of spiritual experience characteristic of the period. It is in the contemplation of Jesus as loving us and as shedding His blood for us that the Wesleyan gives himself to Him, and it is during an intense and passionate outpouring of the emotions that he attains to what he calls faith, by which he means the certain conviction that the blood of Jesus was shed for him, that it has cleansed him from his sins and made him a new man.

It was partly by force of circumstance, partly from their indifference to everything save this spiritual experience, far rather than from any definite separatist resolve, that the Wesleyans, after Wesley, and in spite of his desires, eventually cut themselves off from the Established Church. This, however, they did not do without leaving their own indelible mark upon it. The Evangelical party within the Church were a lasting witness to the effect Wesley had had upon it, and Wesley’s influence still endures, albeit modified in various ways to bring it into closer harmony with the more traditional, less emotional, elements in Anglicanism.

For Evangelicals, conversion did not necessarily involve any of those violent paroxysms of emotion to be seen at the usual revivalist meetings. Emotion there was, but by conversion was generally signified the gradually growing conviction, the belief taking ever deeper and deeper root, that one hall been saved by Jesus Christ. Such had been the experience of Thomas Scott, with whose writings Newman was now shortly to become acquainted, and of whom he declared many years later that he almost owed him his soul. Such, too, was conversion as understood by Mr. Mayers, who was now to initiate his pupil into his own particular school of religious belief. Nothing, however, was more remote from the ideas in which Newman had been reared than this sentimental religiosity, even in the modified and milder form in which he was now to encounter it. How his family looked on the Christian religion he has described in a few words in the Apologia:

I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible; but I had no formed religious convictions till I was fifteen. Of course I had a perfect knowledge of my Catechism.

If we want to get a clear idea of what was in Newman’s mind when he penned that brief resume, it is perhaps conveyed at least implicitly, in the following passage, which we take from the Grammar of Assent:

“Bible Religion” is both the recognized title and the best description of English religion. It consists not in rites or creeds, but mainly in having the Bible read in Church, in the family, and in private. Now I am far indeed from undervaluing that mere knowledge of Scripture which is imparted to the population thus promiscuously. At least in England, it has to a certain point made up for great and grievous losses in its Christianity. The reiteration again and again, in fixed course in the public service, of the words of inspired teachers under both covenants, and that in grave majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a vast benefit. It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high moral standard; it has served them in associating religion with compositions which, even humanly considered, are among the most sublime and beautiful ever written; especially, it has impressed upon them the series of Divine Providences in behalf of man from his creation to his end, and, above all, the words, deeds, and sacred sufferings of Him in whom all the Providences of God centre.
Grammar of Assent, Bk. 56-57.

There we have without doubt the basis of Newman’s religion: a high moral standard, a standard hallowed by the idea of Providence — that is to say, as Newman understood the word, by the presence of God, the all-seeing Witness and sovereign Actor in every circumstance of our daily lives. But as that is drawn wholly from the Bible, the reading of the Bible lends it an atmosphere of light and color of a very special character, and what exactly that was we must endeavor to understand.

It is difficult for anyone who has never experienced it to form even a remote idea of what a religious training, founded wholly and solely on a study of the Bible, really is. For a thoughtful and imaginative child it results in a kind of supernatural humanism quite unique in its character. The world, human history, the life of mankind are bathed in a light that nothing henceforth avails to dim or extinguish. The presence of God, everywhere active, all-powerful, reigns over all things, animate and inanimate. Then there are those countless figures of Patriarchs, Prophets, Kings and Apostles, Saints and Sinners, or rather of sinners called to repentance, of Saints conscious of their sin, who, for such as are familiar with them, seem more real than the folk we meet every day.

Let us make no mistake about it; we have here the underlying stratum of Newman’s spiritual nature, the lasting soil from which its fairest blossoms, its choicest fruits were to spring.

However all this may be the case with Protestant children in general, Newman adds two important particulars regarding himself. It was not any sort of Bible in which he was taught as a child to take delight. His Bible was King James’s Bible, the celebrated Authorized Version, the outstanding landmark of English prose. He dwells on the grave majesty of its language, thus accounting for the incomparable and sacred charm which the Bible, merely as literature, never ceased to have for him from his childhood onwards. No doubt the Bible is the Word of God, and is always so, no matter into what tongue it is rendered.

Nevertheless, those golden periods were well calculated to make him see in them the confirmation of the Bible’s sacred character — hence for him, as for many another, the fusion of Christianity with that Biblical humanism of which the Latin countries have scarce a notion, but which is so natural and so real an experience for the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic peoples. Finally, Newman gives us this additional indication of what Bible-reading is for an Anglican; it is not confined to a few passages selected in the light of individual fancy, nor does it range haphazard over the whole of the sacred text without scheme or plan. Thanks to the Prayer-Book lectionary it is Scripture in its entirety gradually unfolded in harmony with the rhythm of the Christian year. From the Cradle to the Cross, from the Cross to the Celestial Abode, the scene unfolded itself to the child John Henry like a pageant of unforgettable splendor.

If, over and above this general view of the matter, we would learn something of the more particular manner in which Newman was affected by his experience, we may profitably take note of what Anne Mozley has to tell us in an essay of no little insight and delicacy. In all probability it was not without guidance from Newman himself that she went gleaning among his sermons for the passages to which she refers, passages every one of which is unmistakably the record of some personal experience of his own. It is not always easy to determine how far Newman’s sermons are to be regarded as the autobiography, or, shall we call it, the diary, of their author. Here, however, is a passage that can scarcely leave us in doubt:

At first children do not know that they are responsible beings; but by degrees they not only feel that they are, but reflect on the great truth, and on what it implies. Some persons recollect a time as children when it fell on them to reflect what they were, whence they came, whither they tended, why they lived, what was required of them. The thought fell upon them long after they had heard and spoken of God; but at length they began to realize what they had heard, and they began to muse about themselves.
Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. VI, no. 8 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997),

Concerning this first discovery of the Divine Word, of the appeal it makes, is it not the child we hear speaking, though the words are the words of the man?

Let us consider this consciousness of self, which begins with a sense of being dependent on God, the sudden outcome of the patient pleading of God’s words, in which the child’s soul had bathed before its awakening. To the significant passage just quoted, Anne Mozley added another, and, in the whole of Newman, there is hardly one which we should be more inclined to describe as Proustian. It is of peculiar interest to us at this juncture because it shows us the belief which Newman was not only to retain, but steadily to develop, the belief in the spiritual treasure inherent in those childish experiences. From the mere contact with the Bible, the dawning soul, touched all unawares by grace, is enriched with a treasure which, as long as life shall last, it will never lose or exhaust. One’s thoughts revert, not only to Proust, as we ponder these things, but to Wordsworth and his Ode on Intimations of Immortality drawn from Recollections of Early Childhood. But with Newman the whole is set in a different key. For him, the invisible world is not substituted for the visible, but added to it, and hopes, hitherto vague and undefined, are now steadily focused on the expectation of the Divine Vision.

Such are the feelings with which men often look back on their childhood, when any accident brings it vividly before them. Some relic or token of that early time, some spot, or some book, or a word, or a scent, or a sound, brings them back in memory to the first years of their discipleship, and then they see, what they could not know at the time, that God’s Presence went up with them and gave them rest. Nay, even now perhaps they are unable to discern fully what it was which made that time so bright and glorious. They are full of tender, affectionate thoughts towards those first years, but they do not know why. They think it is those very years which they yearn after, whereas it is the Presence of God which, as they now see, was then over them, which attracts them.
Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. IV, no. 17 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997)

We shall have occasion to return to this experience, so vivid in Newman’s case, of Memory and of the Presence of God through it perceived. For the moment, we would remark that Wordsworth’s sad lines about his passing from childhood to adolescence are equally applicable to Newman:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy,
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
     About the growing boy.

What, then, was it that had happened to this fifteen-year-old lad? The answer is precisely what was to happen or fail to happen again in the young man of ten years later. It was that the growth, the activity of his intellectual powers, had stifled his religious life. It was not that the intellect had seized on any particular argument against religion. It was rather a case of an intellectual attitude, a mental climate, inimical to that immediate sense of God as being Sovereign Lord of All, which afterwards came to be, and thenceforth always remained, an outstanding feature of Newman’s faith.

The youthful mind, confidently relying on its own powers, instinctively shrinks from the idea of any such dependence. The acceptance of a mystery beyond his comprehension, and that he feels, none more clearly, to be the whole of religion, strikes him as something he has grown out of, and left behind him. In the Apologia we read:

When I was fourteen, I read Paine’s Tracts against the Old Testament, and found pleasure in thinking of the objections that were contained in them. Also, I read some of Hume’s Essays; and perhaps that on Miracles. So at least I gave my Father to understand; but perhaps it was a brag. Also I recollect copying out some French verses, perhaps Voltaire’s in denial of the immortality of the soul, and saying to myself something like, “How dreadful, but how plausible.”

Be it noted that this semi-skepticism, which had taken hold of the young lad’s mind, was of a purely intellectual order. Morality was in no way questioned. Quite the reverse, in fact. The proud intellectual self-sufficiency, which thus put God out of the picture, seems to go hand in hand with a corresponding self-reliance on the moral side. The autobiographical memoir records a note of an earlier day which makes that point quite clear:

I recollect, in 1815 I believe, thinking that I should like to be virtuous, but not religious. There was something in the latter idea I did not like. Nor did I see the meaning of loving God. I recollect contending against Mr Mayers in favor of Pope’s “Essay on Man”. What, I contended, can be more free from objection than it? Does it not expressly inculcate “Virtue alone is happiness below”
Letters, vol. I, p. 19.

These entries are of the highest importance, not only as explaining the nature of his conversion, but for the light they throw upon his apologetical writings, from the Oxford University Sermons to the Grammar of Assent. When, sixty years later, Newman received the Red Hat, he summed up his life’s work in a single phrase, when he said he had always fought against Liberalism. What he meant by that term was the claim of man to do without God, to act by himself and for himself, whether it be a matter of comprehending the Universe or ordering his own life.

The “reason” which, in the University Sermons, is contrasted in so definite a manner with “faith”, is reason in which self-reliance amounts to pride, and which refuses, on principle, to rely on any power external to itself. It was reason in this sense of the word, and reason very much alive in the boy John Henry, that led him to turn away from Christ, not indeed in order to live a life of sensual indulgence, but rather to entrench himself in a virtuous independence that refuses to bow to anything or anybody.

How, then, are we to account for its bowing to the very ordinary intellectual gifts of the worthy ecclesiastic over whom, it is only too clear, the dialectical prowess of the child of genius scored some very easy victories. Newman has not explained (how, indeed, could he have explained?) the process by which his ideas, in this particular instance, underwent so complete a change. He does, however, give us to understand that it was not so much by his sermons or exhortations that Mayers influenced him, as by the books he gave him to read during those long weeks of inactivity in the year 1816.

We may take it, then, that Mayers impressed him more by his character than by his discourse, more by what he was than by what he said. Those victories which the pupil, doubtless too brilliant, too adroit for his master, had scored in their arguments, did not delude him. He who put virtue before religion must have recognized in a mind of a humbler order than his own, virtue of a different order from his own. And that probably is what led him to attach to Mayers’ words an importance that his arguments as such would certainly not have earned them. That it was, as well as the necessity of finding something to fill up the time that led the boy to tackle the somewhat austere books that were put into his hands. How these books of Mayers’ affected him, Newman in a few succinct and striking words tells us in the Apologia:

I fell under the influence of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through God’s mercy, have never been effaced or obscured.

Those words whet our curiosity still more to learn what books these were that were thus offered to this young, enquiring mind. And now a paradox awaits us. Of the first of them, Newman tells us that the main doctrine contained in it struck him very forcibly and at once commanded his assent. But he adds that he came to discard it later on, and long before his conversion to Catholicism. A few lines farther on he adds that he retained it till he was twenty-one, when it gradually faded away. The book alluded to was by Romaine, one of the few rigid Calvinists that were still numbered in the Evangelical fold. It will not surprise us to learn that the doctrine in question was that of final perseverance, conversion being regarded as a sudden consciousness, on the part of the convert, of his predestined salvation.

If it was a doctrine that converted him, how came Newman, who stressed the doctrinal and dogmatic character of his conversion, to write of it — of his conversion, that is to say — a few lines farther on, “I am still more certain of it than I am of having hands and feet”? Here we have a problem which, up to now, does not appear greatly to have exercised his biographers. Nevertheless, it must be evident that the importance ascribed by Newman to this conversion, definite and permanent as it was, cannot be satisfactorily explained so long as this problem remains unresolved.


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