Critics of Newman who see his thought as obsolete find the clue to his ‘greatness’ in his personality or his literary style. They read him as Valéry read Bossuet: “Ils peuvent admirer passionnément ces compositions du plus grand style, comme ils admirent l'architecture de temples dont le sanctuaire est désert et dont les sentiments et les causes qui les firent édifier se sont dès longtemps affaiblis.” [They may admire passionately those compositions of the highest style, as they admire the architecture of temples whose sanctuary is deserted while the feelings and causes that had them built have long since grown weak.] (Valéry, 499)
Newman did not like to be seen as a stylist, and stressed that his writing was entirely at the service of its message. He aspired to 'greatness' less as a writer than as an apostle, a witness to the reality of God and to the power of divine grace. The novelist, the satirist, the controversialist, the autobiographer, the poet, are so many masks of the apostle. Kierkegaard's literary performance has a comparable diversity, and its unifying Christian purpose is clarified in ‘The Point of View on my Work as an Author’. All of Newman's writings proceed from a single apologetical intent; to miss it is to reduce them to a quaint collection of Victoriana.
This is true even of ‘The Idea of a University’, usually read as a humanistic work on educational theory in which theological concerns are muted. In fact the work can be seen as a treatise on original sin, as manifested in the blindness of the secular intellect to God. In its retrieval of the classical doctrine of original sin in terms of modern intellectual culture, the work is one of Newman's most powerful theological statements, though he affects not to be speaking theologically at all, but merely to be communicating his lifelong convictions about liberal education. It is perhaps in ‘Idea’, rather than in the more ecclesiastical books on Justification and the Development of Doctrine, the too circumstantial controversy of the ‘Apologia’, or the abstract ‘Grammar of Assent’, that his analysis of the human condition comes into sharpest focus, all the more so in that he proceeds not from dogmatic postulates but from close phenomenological study of the intellectual culture of his time. Here he uncovers the shadow of the Fall in the life of the human mind, in its dispersion and superficiality, its pride and blindness, its self-sufficiency and forgetfulness of God. He further shows, again with sharp empirical detail, how grace and salvation are brought to bear on the fallen mind through its submission to a divine teaching which restores, as secular civilization could not, intellectual health and wholeness.
AN ANCIENT PROBLEM
That original sin should be a major theme in a discussion of education is by no means an eccentric innovation of Newman. The question whether education is the bringing out of the capacities of human nature, which is intrinsically good, or whether it is rather the disciplining of a nature which left to itself is a mass of savage disorder, was already discussed in ancient China. Mencius held that people have the innate ability to distinguish good from evil and to do the good, and that the purpose of learning is to recover the original goodness of mind. Xun Zi's outlook was grimmer: “It is clear that man’s original nature is evil, and that he becomes good only through acquired training” (quoted, Wu, 44).
In the West, Christian anthropology conferred a twofold purpose on education: to bring out the capacities of the human mind, which is the image of God (cf. Genesis 1.26), and to correct the perversion of will and darkening of intellect caused by the transgression of Adam and Eve and transmitted to all their descendants. It would be interesting to measure the degree in which each of these purposes impinged on Western educational practice. The latter purpose may have weighed more heavily than we now realize, and Milton may have been giving voice to common opinion when he saw the end of education as “to repair the ruins of our first parents”.
Diderot and Voltaire laughed the idea of original sin out of court, focussing on embarrassing aspects of the doctrine as set forth by St. Augustine: the physical transmission, through conception, of the guilt of Adam and Eve to all human beings. Rousseau based his educational theory on the conviction that human nature was basically good, and to be protected, in the young pupil, against the corrupting influences of society. The fulminations that descended on the author of ‘Emile’ were aimed principally at its free-thinking deism, but the denial of original sin was also considered subversive. It is the first topic treated in his reply to Christophe Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris: ‘You say that my plan, “far from being in accord with Christianity, is not even capable of producing citizens or human beings”; and your only proof is to confront me with original sin’ (Rousseau, 937). He denies the scriptural basis and the justice of this doctrine. Seemingly unaware of the teaching of Augustine and the Council of Trent that concupiscence remains in those who have been baptized, constantly impelling them to sin, Rousseau incorrectly argues that in any case, since baptism abolishes the effects of original sin, the archbishop's objections are pointless. He pleads for a demystified anthropology which would trace human vice to its empirical social roots, and can thus be seen as a contributor to the modern theological effort to shake off the preoccupation with keeping the threat of 'concupiscence' at bay, and to rethink original sin as ‘social sin’, and ‘institutional sin’, transmitted to all individuals born into corrupt society. Education, for Rousseau, is not an antidote to an inescapable moral disease, but ideally prevents the disease from arising at all.
Though Newman quotes Rousseau rarely - the ‘Dictionnaire de Musique’, and the Vicaire Savoyard's statement that 'if the life and death of Socrates are those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God’ -, he must have been aware of the controversy between Rousseau and the Catholic Church, for he admired the writings of Cardinal Gerdil, thrice quoted in ‘Idea’, who wrote ‘Réflexions sur la théorie et la pratique de l’ éducation contre les principes de J.-J. Rousseau’ (1765).
NEWMAN’S VIEW OF ORIGINAL SIN
Augustine's doctrine of original sin is more comprehensive and grimmer than anything found in the Greek Fathers. Chrysostom, for example, rejects the idea of original sin as a taint transmitted to infants at birth; the ills resulting from Adam's fall do not undermine human freedom or reduce the human race to a ‘massa damnata’; concupiscence does not do violence to the human will (Homilies on Romans 13.1; see Beatrice, 191-202). Even Augustine's mentor Ambrose opposed the claim that infants came into the world tainted with guilt and that original sin merited damnation (Beatrice, 181-3). A return to the Greek Fathers has played a large role in the toning down of the doctrine in recent decades. Still, while we must reject many aspects of Augustine's doctrine, such as its predestinationism and the idea of original sin as a taint at the moment of conception, his view of the human condition contains plenty of existential truth, and his account of liberating grace is profoundly Pauline. It has been unfairly caricatured in recent publications. Newman's rethinking of original sin is a contribution to retrieving what is valid in the Augustinian vision.
Original sin was an intense preoccupation of Newman's early years. In a sermon written in 1824 and preached several times until as late as 1841, he speaks of the 'birth-sin' which is at best 'kept under, pardoned, subdued' in the regenerate, but which is still such a vital presence that it means that some sinfulness continues to be attached even to our best actions. The classical world is adduced as illustrating the ravages of original sin in their clearest form: “If indeed we wish fully to know what human nature is when left to itself, we must turn to the case of countries unblest with the light of revelation. Consider e.g. the ancient heathen...” But those closest to God also give clear witness to original sin:
“The more a man knows of God and His will, the more guilty he sees himself to be. I willingly appeal then to the consciousness and experience of all men of high spiritual discernment that ever lived. They are even stronger witnesses to the sinful and lost state of unassisted human nature than any yet adduced.” (Murray, 303,304,307,312)
Dom Placid Murray, the editor of this sermon, sees an inconsistency between these gloomy utterances and the more positive attitude expressed in the ‘Lectures on Justification’ (1838) and the study of St. Athanasius, in which Newman stresses that human nature is created in God's image and likeness and is sanctified by the indwelling of Christ. If there is a contradiction, it seems to be present in the ‘Lectures on Justification’ themselves, for there Newman fully embraces the language of the Anglican Homilies on fallen man:
“The writer means that, whatever good principles there be, in whatever degree, remaining to us since Adam’s fall, they are, to use his own expression, 'altogether _spotted and defiled_', thoroughly and hopelessly steeped in evil, saturated with evil, dissolved in evil... though good, viewed in themselves, still they are, in fact and as found in us, of a sinful nature.” (Just., 89)
Many of the published sermons equally stress the ongoing presence of a sinful principle in the baptized:
“God tells us expressly in the history of the fall of Adam, what the legal ceremonies implied; that it is our very nature which is sinful. Herein is the importance of the doctrine of original sin. It is very humbling, and as such the only true introduction to the teaching of the Gospel... This is the legend on our forehead which even the sign of the Cross does no more than blot out, leaving the mark of it. This is our shame... Ah! who can estimate... the pollution of touching merely that dead body of sin which we put off indeed at our baptism, but which is tied about us while we live here, and is the means of our Enemy's assaults upon us!” (PPS I 87, 89)
In another early sermon (1825) he preaches that it is a matter of moral realism to face up to this and to resolve on the struggle with it that goes on until the grave:
“These are the convictions to which every one is brought on, who attempts honestly to obey the precepts of God... he inherits an evil nature from Adam... his own actual and bitter experience bears witness to the truth of the declaration; he feels the mystery of iniquity within him.” (VIII 117-18)
Another (1831) expresses a somewhat morose concern with “being clean”:
“Do you expect in this life ever to be clean?... If by 'clean' you mean free from that infection of nature, the least drop of which is sufficient to dishonour all your services, clean you never will be till you have paid the debt of sin, and lose that body which Adam has begotten. Be sure that the longer you live, and the holier you become, you will only perceive that misery more clearly... What Christ asks of you is not sinlessness, but diligence.” (V 52-3)
In a sermon of 1838 original sin is a heavy, impenetrable curse:
“How it is that we are born under a curse which we did not bring upon us, we do not know; it is a mystery; but when we become Christians, that curse is removed. We are no longer under God’s wrath; our guilt is forgiven us, but still the infection of it remains. I mean, we still have an evil principle within us, dishonouring our best services… it is very miserable and very humbling: and every one will discover it in himself, if he watches himself narrowly”. (212)
The infection is evoked in haunting, almost macabre language, in 1840: “Even the best of men… have that dead and corrupt thing within them, though they live to God… a root of evil in them, a principle of sin, or what may become such” (VII 186). It seems that the individualistic focus of Newman's spirituality in these years has increased this oppressive consciousness of an enemy within.
There is a marked change in his view of original sin after his transition to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. He now sees it less as a corruption of nature than as a loss of supernatural gifts:
“We, with the Fathers, think of it as something negative, Protestants as something positive. Protestants hold that it is a disease, a radical change of nature, an active poison internally corrupting the sou1, infecting its primary elements, and disorganizing it”. (Diff. II, 48)
Even as an Anglican, he saw Adam's knowledge of God and his 'robe of righteousness' as superadded gifts, and the fall as a stripping of these privileges rather than a corruption of nature (Just. 160); yet he also freely used the language of ‘infection' and of human nature being 'steeped in evil', which he now disowns. In a letter of 1860 he writes:
“Protestants consider original sin to be an infection of nature, so that man's nature now is not what it was before the fall... Catholics consider that the natural powers of men are enfeebled by the fall; but they do not admit any infection of nature... Original Sin, according to them, consists in the deprivation of the grace of God, which was a gift external, superadded to Adam's nature. The presence of divine grace is the justifying principle... the entrance of grace into the soul, as a presence, ipso facto destroys Original Sin... Catholics hold that Original sin is merely an external evil, Protestants an internal.” (LD XIX 363, 366)
In 1877 he reviews the statements on original sin in his Anglican sermons:
“The received doctrine with us is that original sin, as such, is a privation, and does not in itself incur eternal damnation (else unbaptised infants would incur that suffering). And I thought it had been positively condemned by the Church, but, I suppose, out of reverence for St Augustine, it has been spared. It is contained in the Anglican 9th Article. I have spoken of original sin as an infection of our nature, as _sin in the baptized_ after baptism tho' baptism really washes it away - (This, I suspect, goes beyond St Augustine) - and as meriting eternal damnation.”
He explicitly distances himself from Augustine, though regarding the matter as “an open question”: “I do consider this tenet uncatholic in spite of St Augustine”. He quotes as “the worst bit of heresy I have as yet met” a sermon of 1839: “the body of death which infects us,... sins because it is sin” (= PPS V 120). Recalling Romans 8.1: “There is no condemnation”, he comments: “To say that sin remains, yet no condemnation, is Lutheranism or Calvinism” (LD XXVIII, 250).
The text of Article 9, “Of original or birth sin”, composed by Cranmer in 1553, reads: “And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin”; this means that “the infection of original sin is not (as the Council of Trent ruled it) wholly removed by baptism, but that it remains even in the _renati_” (Browne, 258). In the Catechism of the Council of Trent we read: “concupiscence or the tinder remain in the baplized, but these do not really have the nature of sin” (quoted Bellinger, 258). In Tract 90 Newman did not advert to this contradiction; it does not deal with Article 9 at all. This, “the most unsuccessful of the Thirty-Nine Articles” (O’Donovan, 72), has been faulted for its individualistic view of original sin and its lack of cosmic vision. Newman's frequentation of the Greek Fathers helped him overcome these defects, and in his Roman Catholic years he presents a broad vision of original sin as a social and cultural tragedy rather than a taint of the individual's nature. Original sin now consists primarily in a single great historical evil: the human intellect's blindness to God's presence. This is a grim vision, but a challenging one; the earlier cloud of private fatalism has lifted, and the drama of existence becomes a battle with more substantial prospects of victory. For conversion can overcome the forgetfulness of God in which human society is sunk; it is not a dead mass of corruption that one is condemned to carry with one until death.
Newman's initial, mistaken impression that the Church had condemned the Augustinian doctrine found in Article 9 may derive from his reading of the Tridentine documents. Augustine identified concupiscence with original sin; an identification corrected by Aquinas for whom concupiscence is merely the material element of original sin (see Beatrice, 94). According to Augustine, concupiscence continues in the redeemed, but 'it is not imputed as sin' (On Marriage and Concupiscence I 28, 36), or it is ‘sin’, only in a loose sense (ib., I 25); in any case we are free, through grace, not to consent to it (ib., I 30-7; Against the Two Letters of the Pelagians I 18-25). When Newman preached that concupiscence was sin (though not going so far as to call it an active sinning) he gave a Lutheran twist to the teaching of Augustine and of Article 9. Such an emphasis is more depressing in Newman than in Luther, for Newman's only remedy for this residual sin is to watch oneself constantly; there is a Pelagian undertone to this, a suggestion that “Christ has done his part, now you must do yours”. Luther, in contrast, teaches that when we look at ourselves we see ourselves helplessly bound to sin, but that when we look to Christ in faith, claiming his righteousness, then we see ourselves as free, as righteous, as saints. Newman is too attached to an ontological, metaphysical account of the processes of justification and sanctification, derived from Augustine and Robert Bellarmine, to fully appreciate the strength of Luther’s existential and situational vision of the Christian’s condition, summed up in the paradox: simul iustus et peccator. But he found his own way to Gospel freedom when he turned aside from morose brooding on concupiscence to link original sin instead with the struggle of the human intellect to make sense of the world and of history.
Did he then fall into the “vulgar-catholic and humanistic toning down of the insight into the radicality of sin” to which Karl Barth opposes the Protestant view of original sin as an active tendency to actual sins, forming along with them one single mass of sin? (Barth, 556). Hardly. He grasped the loss of the knowledge of God in tragic terms as a fundamental alienation, underlying all the chaos, brokenness, and suffering of history. The manifestation of original sin in the pride, blindness, and rebelliousness of the human mind creates a more vivid sense of danger than the previous language of pollution and concupiscence, while at the same time the path that overcomes it is lit up.
THE BLINDNESS OF REASON AS THE CONTEMPORARY FACE OF ORIGINAL SIN
The effect of original sin that Augustine chiefly focusses on is the disobedience of the passions to the will: man's disobedience to God is punished by man's disobedience to himself: 'for what else is the misery of man but his own disobedience against himself' (City of God XIV 15). The chief instance he gives of this is the unruliness of sexual desire, notably the way the genital organ escapes the control of the will, as Adam and Eve discovered to their consternation in Genesis 3.7:'the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked' (City of God XIV 16-26; On Marriage and Concupiscence I 6-7;24; II22; 76; 36; 52; Against the Two Letters of the Pelagians I 31-5; Against Julian IV 62). Perhaps in every epoch the doctrine of original sin is shaped by a sense of the typical evils of the time; Augustine's focus on sex is due not only to his picture of Carthage as a cauldron of lust but to the pride with which his opponents, the Pelagian ascetics, boasted of triumphing over passion; Pascal invoked the doctrine against the sceptics and libertines of his day; T.S. Eliot revamped it in light of the angst and anomie of the twenties; today we link it to the deep-rooted injustice and violence of human society or see it (with Teilhard de Chardin) as the necessary dark side of the travail of evolution.
Newman, in his later writings, plays down the Adam and Eve story, the notion of physical transmission, and the Augustinian association of original sin with sexual concupiscence, and examines instead the inability of reason to fulfil its promises, the way the mind is thwarted when it seeks the ultimate sense of things. The focus shifts from deep-rooted greed and craving to the ungovernable, restless intellect. As an Anglican Newman had often pointed to the blindness of reason without grace in polemic against Enlightenment rationalists who 'think that education will do everything, and that education is in their own power' and who 'think little of the Church of God, which is the great channel of God's mercies, and look upon the Gospel as a sort of literature or philosophy' (PPS V 136) (1838). When he preaches on original sin after 1845, the emphasis falls on its character as loss of the knowledge of God: 'One of the defects which man incurred in the fall was ignorance, or spiritual blindness; and one of the gifts received on his restoration is a perception of things spiritual' (Disc. 169-70). To the objection: 'Cannot we, by the natural power of our Reason, understand all kinds of truths...? How then is it that we cannot arrive at the truths of religion without the supernatural aid of grace?', he replies: 'You are born under a privation of this blessed spiritual light; and while it remains you will not, cannot, really see God. I do not say you will have no thought at all about God, nor be able to talk about Him' (170-1), but this is no more than ‘a man without eyes talking about forms and colours’ (172). Reason is capable only of that unreal talk about God whose prolixity Newman deplored: ‘Here, then, you can see what the natural man can do; he can feel, he can imagine, he can infer..., but he cannot see, he cannot love' (176); ‘grace believes, reason does but opine; grace gives certainty, reason is never decided' (178). Note the absence here of statements that nature has become evil or infected.
Newman’s most original insights on the topic of original sin concern its effect on the mind:
“Men are not moved by reason or, as he so paradoxically states it, 'man is _not_ a reasoning animal’ (‘The Tamworth Reading Room'). In the absence of a higher spiritual restraint the inevitable human tendency towards self-aggrandizement is given free rein... The best that can be expected from such intellectual refinement is the ‘mere human loveliness' of Oxford, which, while it may prepare us for the true inner transformation of grace, if left to itself will degenerate into a shallowness barely concealing a well-bred hedonism.” (Walsh, 391-2)
This judgement on fallen reason is closely linked with a conviction of the objectivity of religious truth and an interpretation of the modern liberal distaste for religious dogma as stemming from a sinful forgetfulness of God.
The world lives in ignorance of God and a state of positive hostility to religion: “the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, ‘having no hope and without God in the world’”. This situation forces the conclusion “that either there is no creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from his presence... The human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God” (Apol. 320-1).
This topic recurs six years later in ‘The Grammar of Assent’ (1870):
“Why does He not write His Moral Nature in large letters upon the face of history, and bring the blind, tumultuous rush of its events into a celestial, hierarchical order?... Either there is no creator, or He has disowned His creatures. Are then the dim shadows of His Presence in the affairs of men but a fancy of our own, or, on the other hand, has He hid His face and the light of His countenance, because we have in some special way dishonoured Him?” (GA 397)
Not only has God hidden himself, but the human mind has been struck blind to the residual indications of God's presence:
“I am not speaking of right reason, but of reason as it acts in fact and concretely in fallen man. I know that even the unaided reason, when correctly exercised, leads to a belief in God, in the immortality of the sou1, and in a future retribution; but I am considering it actually and historically; and in this point of view, I do not think I am wrong in saying that its tendency is towards a simple unbelief in matters of religion. No truth, however sacred, can stand against it, in the long run”. (Apol. 321)
At the time, Newman's Catholic critics felt that this discrediting of reason went loo far, and it does seem to call for correction by a more robust, Thomistic sense of the life of the mind as naturally rooted in an openness to being and to God.
Newman's sense of the godlessness of the modern intellect is coloured by the Victorian consciousness of secularization, the “disappearance of God” (J. Hillis Miller), the 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' of the Sea of Faith, retreating “down the vast edges drear/And naked shingles of the world” (Arnold). That consciousness was given its most fearful thrust by the godless face of biological evolution, glimpsed by Tennyson even before Darwin published ‘The Descent of Man’: “Are God and Nature then at strife,/That Nature lends such evil dreams?” (‘In Memoriam’, 55). Newman found zoos a trial to faith:
“The sight of beasts of prey and other foreign animals, their strangeness, the originality (if I may use the term) of their forms and gestures and habits, and their variety and independence of each other, throw us out of ourselves into another creation, and as if under another Creator, if I may so express the temptation which may come on the mind.” (Idea, 118).
An earlier version of this text (1841) has no mention of a theological temptation, and focusses only on the enlargement of mind: “as if an addition to the external objects presented before it were an addition to its inward powers” (US, 283). Retained in ‘Idea’ (“We seem to have new faculties, or a new exercise for our faculties, by this addition to our knowledge”), this delight in mental expansion seems in conflict with the unease just expressed. Between 1841 and 1852 Newman had perhaps become aware of how Darwinism threatened the anthropocentric world view. The alienness of nature and history to the vivid conviction of God's presence that Newman carries in his heart inflicts a narcissistic wound. To see in the living, busy world no reflection of its Creator was as shocking as to look in a mirror and see there no reflection of his own face; that is the image from the discussion in the ‘Apologia’ which everyone remembers, for it carries all the charge of the author's introspective sensibility.
Newman, at least in his younger years, saw rebellion against established authority as direct disobedience to Scripture (Rom 13.1) and a clear manifestation of original sin. Thus he declares that Lamennais “seems to believe in the existence of certain indefeasible rights of man, which certain forms of government encroach upon, and against which a rising is at any time justifiable. Accordingly what we, in our English theology, should call the lawless and proud lusts of corrupt nature he almost sanctifies as the instinctive aspirations of the heart after its unknown good. Such were the cravings of Eve after the forbidden fruit” (Essays I, 158).
The rebellion of reason against Church authority is viewed in similar fashion. The restive intellect must be checked by moral restraints and elevated by the study of theology which places all worldlier forms of knowledge in perspective. The authority of the Catholic Church is presented in the ‘Apologia’ as having this educative function. It alone can ‘arrest fierce wilful human nature in its onward course... Thirty years ago, education was relied on' (Apol., 322). The great virtue of a Catholic university is the combination, or balance, of forces, whereby it both encourages the mind to its full development and checks its proud excesses by instilling respect for authority: 'to restrain that freedom of thought, which of course in itself is one of the greatest of our natural gifts, and to rescue it from its own suicidal excesses' (Apol., 323).
lS ‘THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY’ A THEOLOGICAL WORK?
In the Preface, reference to original sin comes immediately after the opening definition of a university as “a place of _teaching_ universal _knowledge_”:
“Such is a University in its _essence_, and independently, of its relation to the Church. But, practically speaking, it cannot fulfil its object duly, such as I have described it, without the Church's assistance; or, to use the theological term, the Church is necessary for its _integrity_. Not that its main characters are changed by this incorporation: it still has the office of universal education; but the Church steadies it in the performance of that office.” (5)
The “integrity” here referred to is that of human nature, lost in original sin, restored by grace. This is the standard theological use of the word. The Church is the yardstick of intellectual uprightness and completeness, the corrective to the deviations introduced by original sin. Thus the analysis of the essence of a university is placed in a wider context: the concrete realization of that essence under the conditions of a fallen intellect and the grace the Church brings. The Church’s soteriological viewpoint on university education is strongly emphasized: “Has the Supreme Pontiff recommended it for the sake of the sciences, which are to be the matter, and not rather of the students, who are to be the subjects, of its teaching?” (6). If the Holy See recommends the founding of a Catholic University, it is not to produce a “narrow or fantastic type” such as the “English Gentleman” but to ensure the students’ “exercise and growth in certain habits, moral or intellectual” (ib.). This moral outlook dissolves the Oxford myth of “the gentleman” into a wider anthropological vision.
Education works on the uncultivated mind: “at first they have no principles laid down within them as a foundation for the intellect to build upon; they have no discriminating convictions, and no grasp of consequences” (10). This is a normal pedagogical observation, but one may perhaps pick up overtones of a sense that the human intellect is fallen because of original sin. The ensuing phenomenology of defects of adult minds has a similar resonance; it lays the foundation for an uncovery of the deeper distortions of the mind in matters religious. The same is true of the witty account of the evil of periodical literature (13-14). Subsequent pen-portraits of various academic types, satirizing the intellectual follies and presumptions of the age, are not merely an exercise in cultural criticism; they aim also to show the contemporary face of original sin. Though Newman has many severe things to say, there is no artificial piling-on of Augustinian or Calvinist gloom, doctrinal assumptions are cashed in the small change of witty observation, and the prevailing tone is one of compassionate comedy. Indeed, the doctrine of original sin becomes “glad tidings of great joy" for its obverse is the promise that Reason can be restored and exalted by the illumination of faith, which entails a richer, more vital intellectual culture.
Discourse I gives little reason to imagine that the high theological theme of original sin will play any role in the work, for Newman emphatically disclaims a direct theological intent:
“though it has been my lot for many years to take a prominent, sometimes a presumptuous, part in theological discussions, yet the natural turn of my mind carries me off to trains of thought like those which I am now about to open, which, important though they be for Catholic objects, and admitting of a Catholic treatment, are sheltered from the extreme delicacy and peril which attach to disputations directly bearing on the subject-matter of Divine Revelation.” (20)
Is he then taking a holiday from theology, in order to develop a broader humanistic theme? Reading more carefully, we find even in this passage some indications that the educational theorist, too, is a front for the apostle, and that ‘Idea’ is fundamentally a theological work. The topic of liberal education does not directly bear on divine revelation, but it does have an indirect bearing, and admits of a Catholic treatment.
Newman promises to expound liberal views of university education, acquired at Oxford. These “have grown into my whole system of thought, and are, as it were, part of myself” and “were my profession at that early period of my life, when religion was to me more a matter of feeling and experience than of faith” (21). He will advance an argument based on empirical observation, not on ecclesiastical authority. But note the qualifying words 'simply', 'special' and 'almost' in the following:
“the principles on which I would conduct the inquiry are attainable, as I have already implied, by the mere experience of life. They do not come simply of theology; they imply no supernatural discernment; they have no special connexion with Revelation; they almost arise out of the nature of the case… though true, and just, and good in themselves, they imply nothing whatever as to the religious profession of those who maintain them.” (22)
It is implied that in what he is to say of liberal education there will be some input from theology, some connection with revelation. The reference is probably to his argument for the place of theology in the curriculum – “the question of the union of Theology with the secular Sciences, which is its religious side” (24-5). More generally, if Newman, like Arnold, aims “to see life steadily and to see it whole”, his vision is so informed by Scripture and doctrine that one cannot distil from it a purely secular vision of society or education. The principles of liberal education, sometimes “better understood, and held more firmly by Protestants than by ourselves” (22), are presented against the background of deeper principles of which Catholics have the keener awareness: “Protestants depending on human means mainly, are led to make the most of them: their sole resource is to use what they have; ‘Knowledge is’ their ‘power’ and nothing else; they are the anxious cultivators of a rugged soil. It is otherwise with us” (ib.). Catholics enjoy supernatural blessings in such abundance that they tend unduly to neglect the cultivation of natural prudence and intelligence. Newman intends to present secular wisdom about education. A philosophy of education “founded on truths in the natural order” (ib.) cannot flourish in abstraction from the religious wisdom which knows the importance of knowledge of God, as well as the weakness of human intellect and its need of divine illumination.
Perhaps Newman has not adequately clarified the status of his discourse, as the contrasting emphases in the following suggest:
“I have no intention, in any thing I shall say, of bringing into the argument the authority of the Church, or any authority at all; but I shall consider the question simply on the grounds of human reason and human wisdom... I set myself to further, by every means in my power, doctrines and views, true in themselves, recognized by Catholics as such, familiar to my own mind... I am told on authority that a principle is expedient, which I have ever felt to be true. And I argue in its behalf on its own merits, the authority, which brings me here, being my opportunity for arguing, but not the ground of my argument itself.” (24)
His argument will range widely, and its theological aspect will be expressed in broad strokes, with no close examination of the detail of theological controversy. Had he entered into such detail, his account of God, grace, and sin would have had a much slighter appeal; it was by stepping outside the discipline of theology that he conquered a theological space of dialogue with modern culture. He saw himself, perhaps, as expounding a broad religious philosophy rather than a theology in the strict sense, but as this philosophy is rooted in a particular theological vision from which it never abstracts, much of what he says can be taken as a direct contribution to theology.
He honours the theological view of university education only to move on quickly to non-theological matters:
“And here I have an opportunity of recognizing once for all that higher view of approaching the subject of these Discourses, which, after this formal recognition, I mean to dispense with. Ecclesiastical authority, not argument, is the supreme rule and the appropriate guide for Catholics in matters of religion.” (26)
But in reality the argument of ‘Idea’ is informed in depth by a theological vision. How could it be otherwise, since he is advocating “a university, of which Catholicity is the fundamental principle”? (27) This idea is conflated with the ideals of liberal education, but they are two distinct strands in the argument, implying distinct sources of illumination; the liberal principles are established by ordinary human wisdom, but the distinctively Catholic claim requires the biblical vision of the human mind and the doctrine of original sin. The conflation is perhaps facilitated by the two senses of “Catholicity”; in its meaning of “universality” it can well be argued to belong to the essence of a university; even the claim that theology is a branch of knowledge might be argued non-theologically; but when the theology in question is identified with Catholic teaching we are in the presence of a distinctly theological claim. In addition, Newman's empirical survey of educational theory and practice stumbles on religious matters again and again. Adopting the papal conviction that education can be “conducted, here and now, on a theological principle" Newman promises to “insist on the high theological view of a University” (ib.). He can scarcely abstract from this theological vantage-point in the course of the work. His claim to pursue a non-theological reflection means only that the theological elements in his vision will be verified by empirical observation. It is true that direct appeal to authority, especially papal, is avoided in the work. Newman's confusing statements about the status of his discourse reflect perhaps an instinctive resistance to any disjoining of university education from religious allegiance.
THE OBJECTIVITY OF THEOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE
Newman's insistence, in Discourse II, that theology should be taught in any university worthy of the name is argued on the basis of the idea of a university as a place of universal knowledge. He has been accused of a hankering after the medieval university in which theology was the recognized queen of the sciences. But in reality his interest is less in securing a dominant place for theology than in asserting the reality of theological knowledge. What gives the edge to his thought here is not a utopian cultural ideal but an awareness of the embattled state of religious knowledge in a secularized society. The exclusion of theology from university curricula is based on the assumption that “the province of Religion is very barren of real knowledge” (34) and that “little or nothing is known about the supreme Being” (35). Paradoxically, a pious society can be equally sceptical of theological knowledge, viewing religion as a matter of the heart rather than the head. Thus theology was excluded by charter from Irish universities, including University College, Dublin, with catastrophic results only now becoming fully apparent. Had Newman's voice been heeded, Irish Catholicism might have been a major cultural and intellectual force.
Newman is concerned less with intellectual culture than with the authenticity of faith as he argues that there is objective knowledge of God:
“Is not the being of a God reported to us by testimony, handed down by history, inferred by an inductive process, brought home to us by metaphysical necessity, urged on us by the suggestions of our conscience? It is a truth in the natural order, as well as in the supernatural... Admit a God, and you introduce among the subjects of your knowledge, a fact encompassing, closing in upon, absorbing, every other fact conceivable.” (38)
The argument so far is on general rational grounds: “I have been simply speaking of Natural Theology; my argument of course is stronger when I go on to Revelation” (ib.). His doggedly objective account of revealed knowledge savours of fundamentalist literalism: “That the Earth is to be burned by fire, is, if true, as large a fact as that huge monsters once played amid its depths; that Antichrist is to come, is as categorical a heading to a chapter of history, as that Nero or Julian was Emperor of Rome” (39). This can still be seen as a philosophical argument for the teaching of theology, rather than direct theological apologetics.
The alternative to such objective knowledge is the reduction of religious truth to a matter of feeling, poorly defended against the human proclivity to forget God altogether. The 1852 government document he quotes shows how entrenched an expressivist conception of religious truth had become: “the essential idea of all religious Education will consist in the direct cultivation of the feelings” (43). To show what a robust religious knowledge consists of, he puts forward a precise, doctrinal account of the nature of God. Here he seems to step into the realm of a properly theological discourse:
“According to the teaching of Monotheism, God is an Individual, Self-dependent, All-perfect, Unchangeable Being; intelligent, living, personal, and present; almighty, all-seeing, all-remembering; between whom and His creatures there is an infinite gulf;... who will judge every one of us, sooner or later, according to that Law of right and wrong which He has written in our hearts.” (46)
Against rationalist deism, he stresses the distinct, personal nature of the biblical God; against the temptation to retreat into a cocoon of fideism, he affirms that our knowledge of this God is objective and that it can be expounded in clear and precise discursive articulation. Such doctrine is unpalatable to the modern secular intellect:
“In a state of society such as ours, in which authority, prescription, tradition, habit, moral instinct, and the divine influences go for nothing,... I cannot take it for granted... that the spirit of the age means by the Supreme Being what Catholics mean… Nothing is easier than to use the word, and mean nothing by it... The Almighty is something infinitely different from a principle, or a centre of action, or a quality, or a generalization of phenomena. If, then, by the word, you do but mean a Being who keeps the world in order..., who acts towards us but only through what are called laws of Nature, who is more certain not to act at all than to act independent of those laws...; such a God it is not difficult for any one to conceive - not difficult for any one to endure.” (46-7)
This is the most impassioned rhetoric we have met so far, and it is a distinctly theological onslaught on the world’s forgetfulness of God.
Proceeding from an objective and precise idea of who and what God is, Newman sketches a view of human existence which is equally firm and clear; the world's forgetfulness of God is sighted not in a globalizing jeremiad but in sharp empirical diagnosis. He does not tackle straightforward atheism, but the subtle accommodations whereby society continues to use the term “God” while voiding it of any content. He traces the theological disease of his society back to the Enlightenment scepticism of Hume: “When I find Religious Education treated as the cultivation of sentiment, and Religious Belief as the accidental hue or posture of the mind, I am reluctantly but forcibly reminded of a very unpleasant page of Metaphysics, viz., of the relations between God and Nature insinuated by such philosophers as Hume” (49). For Hume this imperfect cosmos does not testify to a Creator of “superlative intelligence and benevolence”: “you have no ground to ascribe to him any qualities, but what you see he has actually exerted and displayed in his productions. Let your Gods, therefore, O philosophers, be suited lo the present appearances of nature” (Hume, 137-8). Newman would regard as a surrender to Hume a contemporary theologian’s suggestion that talk of “God” is a poetic way of evoking a “relatively impersonal cosmic evolutionary-historical process”, “the cosmic serendipitous activity active in the evolutionary-historical trajectory toward humanization”, “the ‘personality producing activities’ going on within the universe” (Kaufman, 337, 352. 356). Some claim that Newman’s dogmatic principle is disregarded by all in the modern world and that his greatness, like Nietzsche’s or Lenin's, lies merely in his stubborn protest against the liberalism triumphant in modern culture (see Pattison). That seems a hasty conclusion. Newman is often a defender of lost causes, but his insistence on the mind's capacity to know and state truths, particularly religious truths, remains of immense contemporary import.
THE RELEVANCE OF THEOLOGY TO THE OTHER SCIENCES
At the start of Discourse III Newman sketches the mental attitude of academics startled at the clamour “for what they have been so little accustomed to place in the category of knowledge as Religion” (51). They fall back on a separation of religious and secular knowledge and propose that theology “should remain excluded from the public schools, but that it should be permitted in private” (52). Again Newman tackles this issue in terms of first principles:
“All knowledge forms one whole, because its subject-matter is one; for the universe in its length and breadth is so intimately knit together, that we cannot separate off portion from portion, and operation from operation, except by a mental abstraction; and then again, as to its Creator,... He has so implicated Himself with it, and taken it into His very bosom, by His presence in it, His providence over it, His impressions upon it, and His influences through it, that we cannot truly or fully contemplate it without in some main aspects contemplating Him.” (57)
The play of prepositions here (in, over, upon, through) grandly echoes Pauline doxologies (Rom 11.36, I Cor 8.6, Col 1.16). This way of viewing the relation of God and the cosmos, proceeding boldly from God down rather than from the cosmos toward the transcendent, presupposes a metaphysical overview of the relation of God to world and also some simple anthropomorphic images of creation. If the inattention of science to divine presence, providence, impressions and influences mutilates the sum of knowledge, it is not as if scientific realities were of the same order of fact as those with which theology deals, as is suggested by the literalist résumés of biblical “facts” noted earlier and by the bold definition of theology as “the Science of God” (65). Rather, a different kind of thinking is required to register these transcendent realities, be it metaphysics or a thinking that overcomes metaphysics by contemplative attention to “the worlding of world” (Heidegger).
“Behind the veil of the visible universe, there is an invisible, intelligent Being, acting on and through it, as and when He will” (ib.). This way of evoking the presence of God is again a questionable metaphysical overview, a Platonist schema, and much less convincing than Newman's allusions to the presence of God in inward experience. The interaction between God and cosmos needs to be figured in subtler terms. With the same eloquence as he devoted to the identity of the biblical God, Newman proclaims the divine presence in creation:
“The most insignificant or unsightly insect is from Him, and good in its kind... His are the tribes and families of birds, their graceful forms, their wild gestures, and their passionate cries... Anticipations or reminiscences of His glory haunt the mind of the self-sufficient sage, and of the pagan devotee; His writing is upon the wall, whether of the Indian fane, or of the porticoes of Greece. He introduces Himself, He all but concurs... in the issues of unbelief, superstition, and false worship.” (67-8)
The vision here is patristic, reminiscent above all of Clement of Alexandria. How, precisely, does the invisible divine presence affect the empirical study of the phenomena listed, from insects to the higher products of civilization? Is the theology of monotheism as immediately pertinent to the other sciences as Newman claims?
“If there be a science anywhere, which at least could claim not to be ignored, but to be entertained, and either distinctly accepted or distinctly reprobated, or rather, which cannot be passed over in a scheme of universal instruction, without involving positive denial of its truth, it is this ancient, this far-spreading philosophy.” (70)
Today, writing in the same vein, one might make a broader claim: not the single strand of monotheistic doctrine, but the study of religion in general, and of the problems of its truth and falsity, might be put forward as essential to a complete system of knowledge; biblical monotheism would appear as but one branch of religious vision. It is in the opposite direction that Newman moves, passing from a defence of the necessity of natural theology to a plea that “that system of revealed facts and principles which constitutes the Catholic Faith, which goes so far beyond nature” (71) should also be a part of university education. Religious truth, for Newman, is exhaustively resumed in the Catholic faith, and this leaves little room for a broader questioning of the relations between the world of the sciences and the domain of transcendence.
Discourse IV deals with the influence of other disciplines on theology. Newman again begins with a sketch of a prejudice: the modern conviction that science has put religion on the defensive, that “religious men would not thus be jealous and alarmed about Science, did they not feel instinctively, though they may not recognize it, that knowledge is their born enemy, and that its progress, if it is not arrested, will be certain to destroy all that they hold venerable and dear” (72). Newman insists on the truths that theology can teach to science, again in a literalist vein: “In the science of history, the preservation of our race in Noah's ark is an historical fact, which history never would arrive at without Revelation; and, in the province of physiology and moral philosophy, our race's progress and perfectibility is a dream, because Revelation contradicts it, whatever may be plausibly argued on its behalf by scientific inquirers” (73). The second claim here draws on the doctrine of original sin to thwart scientific ideals of human progress. If theological knowledge is excluded, the other sciences will fill the gap, stretching beyond their proper bounds. This is a valuable warning in an age in which science pretends to explain all and in which scientists pontificate on theological and philosophical subjects (God, creation, free will) with no knowledge of the historical debates thereon. But Newman seems to have a too cautious and pessimistic attitude toward the autonomous development of the sciences. The same is true of the autonomy of art:
“When Painting, for example, grows into the fulness of its function as a simply imitative art, it at once ceases to be dependent on the Church. It has an end of its own, and that of earth: Nature is its pattern, and the object it pursues is the beauty of Nature, even till it becomes an ideal beauty, but a natural beauty still. It cannot imitate that beauty of Angels and Saints which it has never seen.” (78)
A stark disjunction between natural and supernatural casts the arts and sciences as “merely natural” and places them far beneath the supernatural knowledge of faith and “the beauty of holiness”. For all the lively evocations of the physical world in this work, its substance is thinly grasped, for Newman superimposes on all scientific or literary perspectives the overriding higher perspective of theology, forbidding any approach to the world that breaks with the biblical framework.
As he calls for theology, he calls for religious art as an antidote to all-absorbing secularism. In its absence European art has been “a creation indeed of high genius, of intense , dazzling, and soul-absorbing beauty, in which, however, there was nothing on the other hand which did not directly or indirectly minister to corrupt nature and the powers of darkness” (ib.). The Church attempts to “sanctify to a heavenly purpose sciences as sublime and as divine [the Fine Arts] as any which are cultivated by fallen man” (81). In contrast, those who make a secular science the measure of all things unconsciously fall into unbelief and “scatter infidel principles under the garb and colour of Christianity” (ib.). Such academics sometimes run into trouble with the guardians of religious truth, as Sir William Lawrence did when one of his medical treatises seemed to deny the immortality of the soul: “Before he knows where he is, a cry is raised on all sides of him; and so little does he know what we may call the lie of the land, that his attempts at apology perhaps only make matters worse. In other words, an exclusive line of study has led him, whether he will or not, to run counter to the principles of Religion” (82). Newman has mapped the frontiers between religion and irreligion in distinct, unambiguous terms. They leave little room for a questioning of religion by scientific discovery. Theology is in all cases the highest tribunal: “Political Economy must not be allowed to give judgment in its own favour, but must come before a higher tribunal”; thus the economist oversteps the mark when he takes it on himself to say: “the endeavour to accumulate the means of future subsistence and enjoyrnent, is, to the mass of mankind, the great source of moral improvement” (87). This is not a scientific statement but a private opinion: “it is Private Judgment that infects every science which it touches with a hostility to Theology, a hostility which properly attaches to no science in itself whatever” (92).
Unwittingly, some of Newman's own remarks illustrate how theology has functioned as an obstacle to scientific insight, thus partly justifying the hostility he deplores. However, nowhere in ‘Idea’ does he repeat the implausible claims he made at the age of twenty-five:
“To be dispassionate and cautious, to be fair in discussion, to give each phenomenon which nature successively presents its due weight, candidly to admit those which militate against our own theory, to be willing to be ignorant for a time, to submit to difficulties, and patiently and meekly proceed, waiting for further light, is a ternper (whether difficult or not at this day) little known to the heathen world; yet it is the only temper in which we can hope to become interpreters of nature, and it is the very temper which Christianity sets forth as the perfection of our moral character.”(US, 9-10)
The sermon goes on to explain the tensions between science and Christianity by a single cause: “There is much very revolting to the minds of many, much that is contrary to their ideas of harmony and order... in the doctrine that man is disgraced and degraded from his natural and original rank; that he has, by sinning, introduced a blemish into the work of God” (13); an explicit reference (15) reveals that these thoughts are a riposte to Gibbon, who along with Hume plays a role as Newman's sparring-partner comparable to that of Celsus, Porphyry or Julian in early Christian apologetics. The later works, such as ‘Idea’, the ‘Apologia’ and the ‘Grammar of Assent’, may reveal between the lines an informed awareness that the conflicts between the claims of religious certitude and those of inquiring intellect, even within the sphere of theology itself, require a more complex interpretation.
KNOWLEDGE ITS OWN END
Discourse V raises a new question: what is the use of the knowledge and of the philosophic habit of mind which are acquired in a liberal education? One might expect Newman, from all that has gone before, to insist that all knowledge is to be subordinated to a religious goal, and that the autonomy of secular knowledge is an expression of a distorted perspective and of the sinful pride caused by original sin. While defending the freedom of the University against utilitarian calculation, will he fall for a higher religious utilitarianism, the idea that knowledge is of value only as it serves divine truth?
But here Newman springs a delightful surprise, arguing that liberal knowledge “has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end, though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constifution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, it if be really such, is its own reward” (97). He affirms the autonomy of knowledge:
“That alone is liberal knowledge, which stands on its own pretensions, which is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refuses to be informed (as it is called) by any end, or absorbed into any art, in order duly to present itself to our contemplation.” (101)
Some readers see this as the humanist's victory over the theologian; a more careful reading, however, reveals that this defence of knowledge as its own end is an integral part of a comprehensive theological vision. There is, indeed, a tension between Newman's mistrust of secular culture and his glorying in knowledge as its own end, but the tension itself is a theological one. It reflects the tension between the original goodness of human nature and the treacherous features of its fallen condition, and the impotence of that natural goodness to raise itself to God until God stoop down to elevate it, through the Atonement and the working of grace. The tension between celebrating knowledge and questioning its status, between affirming the Enlightenment and marking its bounds, reflects the uneasy and paradoxical nature of human existence as descried by the doctrine of original sin, which does not allow the mind to rest in any simple affirmation of human goodness or any simple condemnation of human nature as corrupt.
A more “Augustinian” theologian might have resolved the tension by toning down the Aristotelian emphasis on knowledge as its own end. Newman is closer to Aquinas and the Greek Fathers in seeing the life of the mind, not only in its rarefied higher reaches but in its entire length and breadth, as an image of the divine life. If it were not an end in itself, it could not be such an image. The Greek spirit lives on in Christianity in the topos of the superiority of contemplation to action, inherited from Plotinus, who influenced Augustine so deeply, and still more from Aristotle's ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, the basis of Aquinas's moral philosophy. But in practice the divine image in human beings is obscured by sin: that is the other pole of the tension. Thus Newman can go further than any secular humanist in glorifying knowledge, seeing it as a feast or liturgy that needs no further justification, while at the same time he warns against the distortions of pride or superficiality that menace its health and integrity.
The idea that liberal knowledge has as its end “to make men better" Newman “will not for an instant allow”. “It is as real a mistake to burden it with virtue or religion as with the mechanical arts... Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another; good sense is not conscience, refinement is not humility, nor is largeness and justice of view faith” (110). The final clauses here imply a critique of intellectualist Christianity, the idea that knowledge can do the work of conscience, humility and faith, that it can curb the effects of original sin. Knowledge is a natural, not a supernatural good, the quality of the gentleman not of the Christian. Here the sharp natural/supernatural distinction seems to bring us back within the bourne of a restrictive Augustinianism. At such moments the refined tension of Newman's vision threatens to slip into a dualism in which knowledge and the virtues of a gentleman are seen as merely worldly goods, to be transcended in the practice of faith: “they are no guarantee for sanctity or even for conscientiousness, they may attach to the man of the world, to the profligate, to the heartless, - pleasant, alas, and attractive as he shows when decked out in them” (110). This cautious assessment of “nature” has less to do with educational theory than with the underlying religious problematic which is Newman's chief preoccupation. He dramatizes the powerlessness of knowledge against the ravages of original sin:
“Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.”(111)
Human knowledge here is starkly opposed to divine grace, with little recognition that grace could work through human knowledge and human reason, or that the opening of the mind to truth is already a grace-filled event. The Thomistic doctrine, retrieved by Henri de Lubac, that the mind has a natural desire for its supernatural end, the vision of God, could give to the mind's dynamic desire for knowledge, in its transcendent reach, a more positive role in the economy of salvation than Newman allows.
Discourse VI, on intellectual culture, sees the university as an institution producing health of mind as a hospital produces health of body, and which on that score “has been found worth the notice, the appropriation of the Catholic Church” (115). Here again an interplay of natural and supernatural is alluded to. Knowledge can affect one for ill as in the following Fall scenario in four stages: temptation, consent, sinful action, and resulting corruption of mind (note the allusions to the narrative of the Fall in Genesis 3):
“The first time the mind comes across the arguments and speculations of unbelievers, and feels what a novel light they cast upon what it has hitherto accounted sacred; and still more, if it gives in to them and embraces them, and throws off as so much prejudice what it has hitherto held, and, as if waking from a dream, begins to realize to its imagination that there is now no such thing as law and the transgression of law, that sin is a phantom, and punishment a bugbear, that it is free to sin, free to enjoy the world and the flesh; and still further, when it does enjoy them, and reflects that it may think and hold just what it will, that ‘the world is all before it where to choose’, and what system to build up as its private persuasion; when this torrent of wilful thoughts rushes over it and inundates it, who will deny that the fruit of the tree of knowledge, or what the mind takes for knowledge, has made it one of the gods, with a sense of expansion and elevation - an intoxication in reality, still, so far as the subjective state of the mind goes, an illumination? Hence the fanaticism of individuals or nations, who suddenly cast off their Maker. Their eyes are opened…”(119)
The scenario is more rudimentary in the 1841 sermon which Newman is rewriting in these pages:
“When a person for the first time hears the arguments and speculations of unbelievers, and feels what a very novel light they cast upon what he has hitherto accounted most sacred, it cannot be denied, that, unless he is shocked and closes his ears and heart to them, he will have a sense of expansion and elevation... Sin brings with it its own enlargement of mind, which Eve was tempted to covet, and of which she made proof.” (US, 284)
But religion produces in the converted a far superior form of mental enlargement:
“It is often remarked of uneducated persons, who have hitherto thought little of the unseen world, that, on their turning to God, looking into themselves, regulating their hearts, reforming their conduct, and meditating on death and judgment, heaven and hell, they seem to become, in point of intellect, different beings from what they were. Before, they took things as they came, and thought no more of one thing than another. But now every event has a meaning; they have their own estimate of whatever happens to them; they are mindful of times and seasons, and compare the present with the past; and the world, no longer dull, monotonous, unprofitable, and hopeless, is a various and complicated drama, with parts and an object, and an awful moral.” (120).
Religion thus augments the power of synthesis in which mental cultivation consists and prevents us from being spectators of a random succession of experiences, who “see the tapestry of human life, as it were on the wrong side, and it tells no story” (122). Conversely, the intellect “which has learned to leaven the dense mass of fact and events with the elastic force of reason” (123) comes a little nearer to the comprehensiveness of religious vision. Yet as Newman portrays the ideal of the cultivated intellect in a paragraph of breath-taking eloquence, he sprinkles the words “nature” and “almost, to indicate that humanity is to aspire to something higher, beyond nature:
“It is almost prophetic from its knowledge of history; it is almost heart-searching from its knowledge of human nature; it has almost supernatural charity from its freedom from littleness and prejudice; it has almost the repose of faith, because nothing can startle it. (124)
What, one wonders, can religion add to this mental scope and enlightenment? The answer will come in the time-honoured Augustinian tones: humility, obedience, charity, trust in God alone. Here Newman preaches these virtues of the heart by suggesting their absence even as he provides an overwhelmingly attractive account of human nature without them. Again, his view of intellectual cultivation as a kind of medicinal treatment for the fallen intellect, preservative against intellectual pride, Iacks a positive vision of the dynamism of the intellect as intrinsically God-oriented.
Discourse VII argues for a wide, non-specialist approach to education. We can set this entirely non-theological discourse against the theological background. Newman associates the unfallen intellect with intuitive knowledge: “The intellect in its present state, with exceptions which need not here be specified, does not discern truth intuitively, or as a whole” (134). This chimes with a romantic conception of knowledge as intuitive, unitive, and totalizing, found in Schelling as Englished by Coleridge. The mind needs scientific training to find its way to truth by the complex discursive procedures now necessary. Utilitarian stress on narrow specialization augments the marks of original sin. Newman deplores Locke’s question, “what other measure is there of dignity in intellectual labour but usefulness” (141), and he replies: “if a healthv bodv is a good in itself, why is not a healthy intellect?”(142). Education is a medicine for the mind, curing its aboriginal deformities. A more basic reply is that “the good is always useful” (143-4).
THE RELIGION OF REASON
Discourse Vlll bringsusbacktoreligion: “The educated mind may be said to be in a certain sense religious; that is, it has what may be considered a religion of its own, independent of Catholicism, partly co-operating with it, partly thwarting it (157). The relations between this religion of reason and Catholicism are seen as founded in the ontological interplay between nature and grace. As Newman dwells on this vision he plunges into explicitly theological language:
“Divine grace, to use the language of Theology, does not by its presence supersede nature; nor is nature at once brought into simple concurrence and coalition with grace. Nature pursues its course, now coincident with that of grace, now parallel to it, now across, now divergent, now counter, in proportion to its own imperfection, and to the attraction and influence that grace exerts over it.” (158)
Few preachers have used this theological shorthand so effectively to evoke dramatic patterns in human experience. Since Newman mapped his own life in terms of nature and grace, these terms came to acquire on his tongue the dense associations of lived experience.
Yet on this point contemporary theologians would see a need to query the metaphysical structures of Newman’s thinking. He speaks of nature and grace as monolithic, univocal entities, the fundamental parameters in terms of which all of human existence is to be interpreted. He upholds the idea of a universal moral revelation, writing in 1830: “We know of not time of country in which human Reason _was_ unaided” (US, 18). Though his attention to the phenomena may have convinced him that neither nature nor grace are ever given in a pure form, he believes nonetheless in their distinct identities and their usefulness as guides to observation and interpretation of human affairs. Yet both words, in their theological usage, are abstractions intended to explain the diversity of the phenomena, and it may be that their usefulness is greatly diminished when the postulate of an original pure human nature, whether in Eden or in the divine mind, is replaced with the idea of humanity as an ongoing evolutionary project. The concrete, positive experiences that prompt religious people to use the word “grace” are of an illimitable variety, and new ways of experiencing “grace” are invented in each culture. An older theology might have spoken of the achievements of Mozart or Goethe as merely natural; today, we are readier to see grace at work in all human achievements, and we even use “grace” to describe the wonder of existing, of being alive. “Grace” has come to mean the gratuity underlying everything that is given, so that a sharp distinction between the order of nature and the order of grace becomes increasingly impracticable. Newman derives occasions for great eloquence from the dialectic of nature and grace, and its unusability today is certainly an impoverishment of homiletic and theological rhetoric.
“Right Reason, that is, Reason rightly exercised, leads the mind to the Catholic Faith”, but in practice reason “is far from taking so straight and satisfactory a direction” (ib.). The basic cause of this deviation is pride: “It considers itself from first to last independent and supreme” (ib.). As he relates the “religion of reason” or the “religion of civilization” to “those principles, doctrines, and rules, which Heaven has given us in the Catholic Church", Newman emphasizes that he is not referring to “the main articles and prominent points of faith, as contained in the Creed” but is “contemplating Catholicism as a system of pastoral instruction and moral duty”:
“I speak of it, for instance, as teaching the ruined state of man; his utter inability to gain Heaven by any thing he can do by himself; the moral certainty of his losing his soul if left to himself; the simple absence of all rights and claims on the part of the creature in the presence of the Creator; the illimitable claims of the Creator on the service of the creature; the imperative and obligatory force of the voice of conscience: and the inconceivable evil of sensuality. I speak of it as teaching, that no one gains Heaven except by the free grace of God, or without a regeneration of nature; that no one can please Him without faith; that the heart is the seat both of sin and of obedience; that charity is the fulfilling of the Law; and that incorporation into the Catholic Church is the ordinary instrument of salvation.”(159)
Reason’s intellectual blindness to revealed doctrines is traced here to its roots in a moral blindness to these practical truths about the state of human nature. The presence of the church as a moral challenge to the self-sufficiency of reason and civilization, not the details of its Creed, is what is here emphasized. Note again that his description of this challenge is laced with doctrinal investments; the phrase “except by the free grace of God, or without a regeneration of nature” combines an anti-Pelagian insistence on the need of grace with a balancing anti-Lutheran stress that righteousness is not imputed only, but implanted. The teaching is put with equal succinctness in 1838: “Saving truth, life, light, and holiness are not of us, though they must be _in_ us”'(PPS V 132):
“As there are those who consider that life, righteousness, and salvation are of us, so there are others who hold that they are not in us; and as there are many who more or less forget that justification is of God, so there are quite as many who more or less forget that justification must be in man if it is to profit him. And it is hard to say which of the two errors is the gteater' (ib., 137)
The prominence of such concerns in a discourse on university education represents a desire to see the Church’s world-view prevail over the emergent secular world-view. Indeed, Christian thinkers have only with great difficulty been able to admit the independence of a self-legitimating secular reason, aided by the paradoxical ideas of Dietrich Bonhoeffer ('religionless Christianity,” “the world come of age”), and there are still theologians who regard the idea of such autonomy as a heresy or a relapse into paganism (e.g. Milbank 1990). Vatican II supplies a broader platform than was available to Newman for negotiating the Chrurch’s relation to secularity; he makes do instead with a dialectic of nature and grace which his patristic culture preserved from becoming threadbare.
Newman proposes that the medicinal effect of intellectual cultivation can make it an ally of the pastors of the Church in “the first step which they have to take in the conversion of man", namely
“his rescue from that fearful subjection to sense which is his ordinary state. To be able to break through the meshes of that thraldom, and to disentangle and to disengage its ten thousand holds upon the heart, is to bring it, I might almost say, half-way to Heaven. Here, even divine grace, to speak of things according to their appearances, is ordinarily baffled, and retires, without expedient or resource, before this giant fascination... What we need then is some expedient or instrument, which at least will obstruct and stave off the approach of our spiritual enemy... It will be our wisdom to employ nature against itself... a sort of homoeopathic medicine for the disease. Here then I think is the important aid which intellectual cultivation furnishes to us in rescuing the victims of passion and self-will.” (160-1)
Intellectual cultivation can represent nature working hand in hand with grace, even though of itself it does not save: “though it does not raise us above our nature, nor has any tendency to make us pleasing to our Maker, yet is it nothing to substitute what is in itself harmless for what is, to say the least, inexpressibly dangerous?” (161). Newman lingers less on this happy possibility than on the danger that intellectual cultivation “may be from the first nothing more than the substitution of pride for sensuality” (ib.). It gives the mind a disgust at evil in its coarser forms: “This fastidiousness, though arguing no high principle, will generally deter the gentleman from offences 'to which ruder natures, nay, such as have far more of real religion in them, are tempted” (162). But “the radical difference indeed of this mental refinement from genuine religion, in spite of its seeming relationship, is the very cardinal point on which my present discussion turns” (164).
A gentleman's civilized shame is less effective than fear in leading one to God: “when the mind is simply angry with itself and nothing more, surely the true import of the voice of nature and the depth of its intimations have been forgotlen, and a false philosophy has misinterpreted emotions which ought to lead to God” (165). This is “the ordinary sin of the Intellect; conscience tends to become what is called a moral sense; the command of duty is a sort of taste; sin is not an offence against God, but against human nature” (ib.). “This was the quarrel of the ancient heathen with Christianity, that, instead of simply fixing the mind on the fair and the pleasant, it intermingled other ideas with them of a sad and painful nature... they made their own minds their sanctuary, their own ideas their oracle, and conscience in morals was but parallel to genius in art, and wisdom in philosophy” (167). Gibbon's account of the deathbed of the Emperor Julian (a hero of the Enlightenment philosophers) elicits this comment:
“Such, Gentlemen, is the final exhibition of the Religion of Reason: in the insensibility of conscience, in the ignorance of the very idea of sin, in the contemplation of his own moral consistency, in the simple absence of fear, in the cloudless self-confidence, in the serene self-possession, in the cold self-satisfaction, we recognize the mere Philosopher.” (169)
Cutting through the seeming fairness of civilized life, Newman urges the claims of conscience even against poetry: “poets may say any thing, however wicked, with impunity; works of genius may be read without danger or shame, whatever their principles... The splendours of a court, and the charms of good society, wit, imagination, taste, and high breeding, the _prestige_ of rank, and the resources of wealth, are a screen, an instrument, and an apology for vice and irreligion”(173). The sense of seeming is accentuated by the paradox that “from this shallowness of philosophical religion it comes to pass that its disciples seem able to fulfil certain precepts of Christianity more readily and exactly than Christians themselves” (174). “The world is contentr with setting right the surface of things; the Church aims at regenerating the very depths of the heart”(ib.). Subtle analyses show how pride, wearing the guise of modesty, has become the ruling principle of modern civilization.
It is in this negative context that the famous description of the gentleman is introduced. It is entirely ironic: the gentleman is busy avoiding conflict or unpleasantness, ordering the gracious surface of life. “He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd...He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best” (179). Newman drives home the point that this has nothing to do with deep-rooted Christian charity by modelling his rhetoric here on Paul's panegyric of charity, which “doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (I Cor. 13.5).
Discourse IX insists that for the practical realization of the ideal of a Catholic university “a direct and active jurisdiction of the Church over it and in it is necessary, lest it should become the rival of the Church with the community at large in those theological matters which to the Church are exclusively committed, - acting as the representative of the intellect, as the Church is the representative of the religious principle” (184). Here Newman is preaching a kind of integralism, of the kind that has wreaked such havoc on Catholic theology in recent years. Universities tend to become centres of an intellectualism which rejects “the very principle of dogmatism” (186). Science then leads to the exclusion of Revealed Truth and literature to its corruption (187). One reason for the tension between science and faith is that the Church is not concerned with the structure of the universe but is a remedial dispensation, set up by God, to meet “the introduction of moral evil into the world” (192) which happened after the creation of heaven and earth. Literature presents “the natural man” who “is sure to sin, and his literature will be the expression of his sin” (194). Science “is dangerous, because it necessarily ignores the idea of moral evil; but Literature is open to the more grievous imputation of recognizing and understanding it too well” (195). Here again the Church has a remedial role:
“Literature does not argue, but declaims and insinuates; it is multiform and versatile: it persuades instead of convincing, it seduces, it carries captive… Is it wonderful that with an agent like this the Church should claim to deal with a vigour corresponding to its restlessness, to interfere in its proceedings with a higher hand, and to wield an authority in the choice of its studies and of its books which would be tyrannical, if reason and fact were the only instruments of its conclusions?” (199)
Today, Catholics generally are slow to adopt this censorious attitude to literature, but it is an equally one-sided solution to acclaim pagan and atheistic writers as intrinsically on the side of spirit. We need to recover the contradiction between the world-view of Christianity and that vehiculated by Joyce, Yeats, or Kafka, in order to pursue a critical and intelligent dialogue with these writers. The archons of political correctness have shown that sin and error are intrinsic to literature. Theology, even as it gratefully learns from literature, must be no less discriminating in its judgments on what poets and novelists are actually teaching. “The poets lie too much” (Nietzsche).
If Newman does not write as a theologian, but in a broader philosophical arena, it is because he is taking up the Church's pastoral combat against the pride of the civilized intellect. That intellect is recognized as an ally against coarser evils, but as likely to fall into the subtlest sin, the pride which neglects the reality of God and the necessity of grace. The spectacle of a churchman stepping forth as a gladiator into the arena of secular culture, and daring to view the institutions of modern learning from the vantage point of fundamental Christian teaching about God, sin, and grace, might easily have been a ridiculous one. Newman's triumph is that his performance never falters in dignity, because his critique of modern education is never extrinsic, but is rooted in sympathy for its passion for knowledge and its standards of refinement, to which his own matchless prose pays tribute. If there is a shadow to his triumph, it is that the religious core of his vision has been but dimly apprehended and that his work has been received among the “great books” as a simple celebration of the values of secular liberal education.
Unless otherwise indicated, Newman is quoted from the uniform edition published by Longmans, Green and Co.
Idea= The Idea of a University, ed. I. T. Ker. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.
Apol. = Apologia pro Vita Sua. New York: Doubleday.
Diff. = Difficulties of Anglicans.
Disc. = Discourses addressed to Mixed Congregations.
Essays = Essays Critical and Historical
GA = An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent.
Just. = Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification.
LD = The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman. Ed. C. S. Dessain et al. London; Oxford, 1961-84.
PPS = Parochial and Plain Sermons.
US = University Sermons
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from ENGLISH LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE 31, 1994