The great controversy about justification, already on its last legs in Newman’s Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification (1838; references are to the third edition of 1874; London, 1900) is rather like a radio programme called “What are They Talking About?” which beguiled the dim nights of pre-television Ireland. It begins in mid-air with high talk of sin, a topic now decentred or recontextualised by the supervening question of meaning, as developed in philosophy since Nietzsche and in literature since Kafka. Discussion of meaning has united the Churches in what maybe an ecumenism of exhaustion, permitting a wider, subtler approach to what had been stylised under the rubrics of sin and grace. (See G. Sauter, ed. Rechtfertigung als Grundbegriff evangelischer Theologie, Munich, 1989, p. 19.)
To turn back to the issue of justification is to re-enter, it seems, a sectarian echo-chamber. The voices of Paul, Augustine and Luther no longer have immediate authority, for the imposing frameworks they presume us to share with them strike us as dated “technologies of salvation" not immediately transferable to our culture. (See L. H. Martin et al., ed. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, London, 1988.) We have come to realise that Christian tradition is not a single channel broadcasting system, but is dispersed in local transmissions bearing loose analogies to one another. Its unity is that of an open-ended project, irreducibly pluralistic from the start, and marked by an epochal and cultural heterogeneity - or incommensurability – that foils synthesis.
Even dogmas – Augsburg and Trent on justification – turn out to be wandering rocks, provisional attempts at clarity within selective, distorting receptions of the scriptural heritage. Dogmatic theology, then, can no longer subsume history, and must be content with a merely hermeneutic role, putting strategic questions to past discourses in view of present concerns.
For a strategic rather than archival rehearsal of Newman’s Lectures, a promising point of attack may be the metaphysical framework of his thought - his role as a champion against Luther of Aristotelian logic and patristic ontology. Beneath the explicit claims and counter-claims of Luther and Newman, we may tune in to their tacit dispute about the appropriate texture of theological speech and writing, which, in its confusions and inconclusiveness, resonates with our own continuing unease about the relations between theology and metaphysics. (Defences of Luther against Newman seem to have been ineffective and blustering, to judge from J. C. Hare’s Vindication of Luther, Cambridge, 1855, pp. 74-100.)
Though Newman’s foreground themes are ethics, holiness, faith and the sacraments, orchestrated with so many scriptural allusions that the work has been called "basically an exercise in biblical theology” (P. Toon, Evangelical Theology 1833-1856, London, 1979, p. 150), yet the recurrent stress on metaphysical realism and logic is so strong that it seems to hamper the free exfoliation of those spiritual and biblical themes. That is what most divides him from Luther, whom he chiefly scolds for lack of logic and a deficient sense of (ontological) reality. Yet at times his voice seems to falter, suggesting that in some corner of his mind he may be of Luther’s party without knowing it.
One of the things that makes a critique of such texts strenuous is the prevalence of those big words which our ancestors took for granted and which still have power to lure us into oblivion of what they mask. The first step of a metaphysical theology is that which defines “love”, “faith”, “grace”, “sin” as unitary phenomena – whereas the historical pluralism of their usage reveals that they are labels for highly diverse ensembles of situations and experiential patterns. The richness of such terms in their primary usages calls for sensitive quasi-literary appreciation, not definition within a theoretical superstructure.
Luther enjoys an almost Pauline plasticity in the use of these big words, but the freedom with which he retrieved biblical language was later inhibited by anxiety to identify the “formal cause” of justification. That phrase is the key concept of the Lectures, and Newman is never more self-consciously Aristotelian than when explaining – with a judicious blend of the logical and the empirical – what he means by it (pp. 343-6). We shall see that this logical and ontological approach, in which Bellarmine tutored him, has a cramping and flattening effect on his thought and keeps him from grasping the biblical kerygma with Luther’s sense of concrete immediacy. (Thanking J. F. Christie for the gift of Bellarmine’s “Disputationes”, he says: “it has written my lectures on Justification”, Letters and Diaries, VI, p. 83.) If we can unravel the net of his reasonings, we may retrieve the vitality of his witness; only we run the risk in doing so of becoming ourselves entangled with him in that net.
IS LUTHERANISM SHADOWY?
Luther, in his quest for a language adequate to the biblical kerygma, had constantly to ward off the seemingly natural metaphysical terms that presented themselves. Thus he rejected as a diabolical gloss the seemingly innocuous notion of “fides caritate formata” (faith given form by charity) since it shifts the thinking of faith from the situation of the sinner before God to the falsely objective medium of dispassionate ontological considerations (WA 40:1, pp. 421-8; Newman, pp. 9, 13, 21,22). Theological confession could only be distorted when transferred to the medium of reflexive philosophical observation. (See W. Link, Das Ringen Luthers um die Freiheit der Theologie von der Philosophie, Munich, 1955, p. 208.) The violence of this rejection perhaps stemmed in part from his lack of a technique for a more serene and comprehensive undoing of such distortions through immanent criticism, such as Kant, Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Derrida have since so elaborately undertaken.
The metaphysics he most objected to is that which sees human personhood as a neutral substance, receiving successively the qualities of sin and of grace. Such an anthropology of substance, habits and qualities has no validity for our existence before God. (See K.-H. zur Mühlen, Reformatorische Vernunft-Kritik und neuzeitliches Denken, Tübingen, 1980, pp. 44-6.) This is part of a wider resistance to all efforts to explicate the process of salvation in metaphysical language. His re-enactment of the Pauline escape from the tangle of the Law is reflected in a freeing of his speech from metaphysical constraints through constant reference to the paradoxes of redemption. Even the secure identity of the self becomes something provisional and fragile: we are constituted sinners in our alienation from God, righteous in the relation of grace, and have no independent metaphysically fixed identity.
(“The Law” is another of those unitary terms that are exploded by a grasp of historical pluralism. Paul’s reception of the Jewish senses of the term seems disrupted by some cultural or psychological interference [see E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, London, 1977; H. Räisänen, Paul and the Law, Tübingen, 1983], while the patristic receptions of Paul are steeped in Hellenistic metaphysics of cosmic law and allegorical stylisations of salvation history. What are we to make today of Luther’s powerful constructions, which transfer Paul to the sixteenth century and pit him against all that had then acquired the status of Law? The most that can be said, as in so many analogous cases, is that in yet another radically altered -- post-Nietzschean, post-Freudian -- context they remain suggestive and stimulating for our moral reflections.)
Luther gave expression to his vision of existential brokenness and openness in striking paradoxes, which then became frozen into firm doctrines. He was led to build a system on the Gospel experience, distilling out of it fundamental principles and articles, and so handing it over to scholastic analyses and objections. (See M. Greschat, Melanchthon neben Luther, Wittenberg, 1965.) Here, we may suppose, is the source of the flaws of Lutheranism, at least as Newman found it, and of his impression that Protestantism was a web of shadowy principles, not convertible into practical rules (pp. 333-5).
Later, the restlessness of Luther’s thought was again lost in another kind of metaphysics, in which the categories of the personal, the relational and the existential were opposed in a facile and stereotyped way to ontic and objectifying conceptions.
Catholic theologians have “excused” Luther on the grounds of his inability to surpass the merely personal-existential level to grasp the metaphysical depth of sin and righteousness (see A. Hasler, Luther in der katholischen Dogmatik, Munich, 1968, II, p. 66), which is to miss the point that for Luther the enclosure of biblical existentiality within a metaphysical framework has a denaturing effect. That denaturing also marks the Reformers’ own discourse on justification in terms of its efficient, material, formal or instrumental, and final causes (categories that seemed obvious and indispensable to the thinkers of that time). (See R. Schröder. Johann Gerhards lutherische Christologie und die aristotelische Metaphysik, Tübingen, 1983.)
Luther himself may still be able to elude this framework, insofar as his use of causal jargon – as when Christ is described as the form of faith or righteousness, or faith is described as formal righteousness – is marked by subversive paradox. (See K. Bornkamm, Luthers Auslegungen des Galaterbriefs, Berlin, 1963, pp. 93-9.) He had a clear enough idea of what he was talking about to be able to neutralise such metaphysical categories and make them subserve a Pauline vision. Later the intrinsic logic of these metaphysical elements took over, shaping a scholastic Protestant orthodoxy, as the originating convictions came to be taken for granted.
Newman, who never queries the necessity or adequacy of causal language, takes Luther’s use of it at face value: “the bold, nay correct language of Luther, that Christ Himself is the form of our justification” (p. 362; see also pp. 358-9, 12, 20, 23).
When it is most free from metaphysics, Luther’s thought dwells in the horizons of the Word-event wherein faith (not yet reduced to a pallid Melanchthonian formula) surges up to receive the proclamation of grace. At this level it would be absurd to speak of a merely forensic justification or of a faith divorced from renewal. Newman comes close to that pre-systematic Luther as he appeals to the effectiveness of the divine word (pp. 67, 72, 74, 81-4, 97-100) against the surgical differentiation of justification from renewal. Similar arguments recur in contemporary Lutheran exegesis and theology (see H. Schütte, Protestantismus, Essen-Werden, 1967, pp. 392-430). Theologians seek to overcome the rigidity of such theses as the “simul iustus et peccator” (righteous and sinner at the same time) by a recall to their basis in the life of faith and prayer. (See O. H. Pesch, Theologie der Rechtfertigung bei Martin Luther und Thomas von Aquin, Mainz, 1967, pp. 109-22; R. Hermann, Luthers These “Gerecht und Sünder zugleich”, Gütersloh, 1930, with the ecumenically significant review articles of R. Kösters, Catholica 18, 1964, pp. 48-77; 193-217; 19, 1965, pp. 138-62; 171-85.)
But Newman does not bring to Luther a generous hermeneutic that could retrieve the spirit and intent of these doctrines. His reading of the Reformers is circumscribed by the ring of metaphysical definitions in which they enshrined their message. Instead of letting their sense of the effective biblical Word remould and repristinate his patristic ontology of righteousness, he measures them against that ontology and allows it to have a petrifying effect on his understanding of the biblical kerygma itself.
Lutheranism (and Luther’s own 1531 Commentary on Galatians) might plausibly be seen as torn between the early Luther for whom “faith” is shorthand for the whole Word-event, which comprises justification and renewal, and the later formalisation of justifying faith and sedulous differentiation of justification and renewal. This tension may sometimes provide Newman’s arguments with their pound of flesh, but he gives them an extra thrust by measuring Protestant language against the yardstick of ontological reality, bluntly opposed to the merely nominal, as when he insists that Lutheran justification is “a declaration of what neither has been, is, nor ever will be” (p. 78). This ontological emphasis deafens him to Protestant claims to be attending to a subtler existential reality. If the Lutheran constructions are sometimes strained, Newman’s own account of inherent righteousness becomes no less shadowy once it exceeds its biblical warrant and resorts to metaphysical underpinnings.
It cannot be assumed that the issues are automatically translatable into terms of being and non-being. The immediate recourse to such terms forces a reduction of Protestantism to a nominalistic extrinsicism – “that the scheme of salvation should be one of names and understandings; that we should be but said to be just, said to have a righteousness, said to please God” (p. 56). Such ontological short-circuiting of the discussion blinded Roman Catholic theologians until recently to the fact that justification for Luther is not merely a non-accounting but also a making new, whereby Christ’s justice really becomes ours, so that “God does not declare righteous without at the same time and for the sake of that declaration beginning the renewal”. (See M. Schmaus, Katholische Dogmatik III/2, Munich, 1951, pp. 108-10; Pesch, p. 302.)
Justification establishes a community between God and man. which cannot be without effect; though it is not in view of the anticipated renewal that God declares the sinner justified. (See Hermann as quoted by Kösters, 1964, pp. 209-10.) The shift from peccatum regnans, sin as ruling, to peccatum regnatum, sin as ruled (WA 8, pp. 91-5), is a profound change in the individual’s relation to God, the beginning of renewal and good works. “The Christian ‘possesses’ in the personal realm a perfect righteousness, since it is the alien, reputed righteousness of Christ; at the same time, however, a partial, growing righteousness is conferred on him through God’s grace in the ontic realm” (H. Hübner, Rechtfertigung und Heiligung in Luthers Römerbriefvorlesung, Wittenberg, 1965, p. 115). Newman’s categories make no room for such a differentiation of the personal and the ontic. He does note the theory that “sin in the regenerate has lost its formal part, which is guilt, and has only its matter remaining” (p. 362), but remains unimpressed.
The claim that the justified are still sinners, if judged by the Law, and are righteous only as they cling in faith to Christ, seems to him to evacuate the substance of salvation. Yet he remarks that those who believe “the infection of sin to remain in the regenerate… even if they hold that it is mortal, yet that it may be through grace subdued, seem to have no irreconcilable difference on this point with the Romanists” (p. 367). Here is ample ground for an entente with Luther, correctly interpreted. It seems that it is only by a caricature of Luther that he is able to elevate the difference between the two views of salvation into one between being and non-being.
NEWMAN’S ARGUMENT AGAINST LUTHER
Let us attend now to Lecture I in which Newman tries to show the inconsistency of the Protestant view that “faith is the one principle which God’s grace makes use of for restoring us to His favour and image” (p. 5). Note that this already is misleading, tending to divorce faith as an abstract principle from the salvation it accepts. We are saved not so much “propter fidem” (on account of faith), i.e. as “fide propter Christum propitiatorem” (by faith on account of Christ the atoner, Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, p. 201) or “propter Christum per fidem” (on account of Christ through faith, BSLK p. 56).
A, McGrath calls the view that we are saved “propter fidem” an Arminian one (Iustitia Dei, Cambridge, 1986, II, p. 130). Newman does quote an Arminian author in this sense on p. 185, but the source of his view that Luther made faith the formal cause of justification is Bellarmine, De Justificatione II 4, and the language of the Reformers themselves (e, g. BSLK p. 218 and the texts quoted by Newman on pp. 135, 359). He believes that the Lutherans originally presented faith as the formal cause of justification, but then retracted this in favour of the apprehensive notion of faith (pp. 358-9). The dilemma he poses in Lecture I is more telling against the first position, but contrary to what McGrath suggests, he is well aware of the second, which tends to spoil his argument (see pp.20-3).
Newman focusses on the idea of faith being acceptable “for Christ’s sake”, and misses the more important point that faith justifies in that it accepts the justification offered in Christ: “the faith which justifies consists in assenting to the promise of God, in which is offered freely, on account of Christ, the remission of sins and justification’ (BSLK, p. 169). Justifying faith has no existence outside this trusting acceptance of redemption. One cannot abstract from this relationship of trust a formal quality on the believer’s side which guarantees that it is a living relationship.
Newman sees Luther in the light of the postures he ascribes to contemporary Evangelicals, whom he attacks in the last Lecture on the grounds “that they substitute faith for Christ; that they so regard it, that instead of being the way to Him, it is in the way; that they make it something to rest in” (p. 324). He cites “even Luther” as a forceful voice against this subiectivism (pp. 331-2), though that does not prevent him from blaming it on Luther in his concluding swipes (pp. 339-41). Practically, he insists, the principle of “justification through faith” means nothing other than “justification by Christ” (p. 335). Had he begun by recognising the Reformers’ agreement with him on this point he might have launched his lectures on a more comprehensively ecumenical note.
Newman recognises that what faith _does_ is to “embrace the news of salvation through Christ” (p. 5), yet he later treats Melanchthon’s teaching that justifying faith is correlative with the mercy of Christ as if it were somehow an unsaying of the sola fides (pp. 10, 25, 244). He reports that Protestants are always ready to say what justifying faith is not, but that their positive accounts of it tend to slippery rhapsody: “that it is a spiritual principle, altogether different from anything we have by nature, endued with a divine life and efficacy, and producing a radical change in the soul: or more precisely [deadpan irony?], that it is a trust in Christ’s merits and in them alone for salvation” (p. 6). Here he has sighted a tension in the official Melanchthonian account of justifying faith, which is both simple trust and “a divine power whereby we are made alive and whereby we conquer the devil and death” (BSLK, p. 209).
The Reformers’ way of resolving that tension is to attribute what is powerful in faith to the power of Christ which it embraces. This cannot be thought out in Aristotelian terms as the addition of some quality to the soul’s act of faith. Instead a shift to a new way of thinking is required, and it is this shift which Newman persistently refuses to make. Newman reports the classical Protestant response as follows: “Faith, it appears, is to be defined, not by its nature, but by its office, not by what it is, but by what it does. It is trust in Christ, and it differs from all other kinds of faith in That towards which it reaches forward” (p. 11). But such sharp distinctions of nature and office, “is” and “does”, are surely impracticable in regard to any spiritual reality. One can conceive the “nature” of faith in abstraction from what it “does” only at the price of a quite unreal reification. Newman dismisses as evasive quibbling the Protestant insistence “that Christ Himself and He alone, the Object of the faith, is that which makes the faith what it is”. “Such a reply is evidently no real explanation of the difficulty” (p. 13). The “difficulty” here dwelt on, if it has any reality at all, belongs to a level of secondary reflection which attempts to underpin with the security of a metaphysical theory the biblical turning to God in faith. This shift of horizon from biblical faith to an objectifying analysis of its constitution or endowments is the source of what Luther saw as metaphysical disfigurement.
Newman urges what at first sight looks like an inescapable dilemma: “either faith is more than personal trust, and if so, that addition, whatever it is, is a joint instrument with it in our justification; or… it is nothing more, and then it is not necessarily living and operative faith” (p. 13). J. A. Möhler pursues a similar argument in his Symbolik of 1832 (5th edn, 1838; ed. J. R. Geiselmann, Cologne, 1958, pp. 199-230; H. Chadwick, in “The Lectures on Justification” (Newman after a Hundred Years, ed. I. Ker and A.G. Hill, Oxford, 1990, pp. 287-308; p. 292) says that Newman read Möhler immediately after correcting the proofs of the Lectures, contrary to McGrath’s suggestion that he may have consulted him in French translation.)
But this opposition between faith as mere trust like that of “the servant in the parable” (p. 8; Mt 18:26) and faith as identical with “love, gratitude, devotion, belief, holiness, repentance, hope, dutifulness, and all other graces” (p. 7) caricatures Protestant usage. For on the one hand the content of faith intrinsically differentiates it from “mere trust”, while, on the other, though faith frees us to love, which is the fulfilling of the Law (Gal 5:1-18), yet faith receives Christ’s freedom and justification independently of these works.
When Newman reports ironically the claim that “the mere preaching of reconciliation… has been found to act upon the soul in a remarkable way for its conversion and renewal” (p. 18; cf. p.257) he misses the strength of this Pauline nexus of faith and renewal.
How, he asks, can a mere “fiduciary apprehension” be lively or lead to good works? Presuming that “trust is not necessarily lively faith” he goes on to the other horn of the dilemma: “Shall we define the justifying faith of the Lutherans to be faith which is lively? This is a more adequate account of it, but a less consistent one. For what is meant by lively?” (p. 8). To this disjunction between the lively and the fiducial the Reformers would reply that the trusting reception of Christ’s redemption can never be less than enlivening. But Newman insists that lively faith must have something “discriminating and characteristic” (p. 9).
Again and again he asks, “What then is the _life_ of faith? What is that which makes it what it is?... what is that property in it which makes it… acceptable?” (p. 9).The power of the rhetoric depends on misapplied logic. In demanding an objectified account of “justifying faith” Newman is thinking of faith in an abstract and unreal way as a definable quality of the substantial soul. This is as remote from the Pauline language of faith as analogous definitions of love would be from what love lyrics convey.
Newman knows that his style of analysis is objectionable to his opponents: “We are told that such inquiries are an undue exaltation of human reason, or at least an unseasonable exercise of it” (p. 11). He does not consider the possibility that it is not so much “human reason” as the particular type of reasoning which he is applying that is inappropriate. His question about the formal quality of lively faith in abstraction from the faith-relation is not an innocent or neutral exercise of “human reason’, but one shaped by Aristotelian metaphysics.
In reply to the objection that the doctrine of justification by faith cannot appear to its advantage “in controversy, which employs the language of the unregenerate” (p. 15), Newman insists that in that case Protestant dogmatics itself is a mistaken venture, doomed to defective definitions and illogical reasonings. Here again his Aristotelianism prevents him from first asking what counts as an adequate definition and what kind of logical stringency can appropriately be demanded. The issue of the appropriateness of metaphysical language has almost surfaced: it is not the “language of the unregenerate” that is inappropriate but the logic of formal qualities that inevitably misses the Word-event and the relations it creates. Newman’s dilemma does not score a knock-out, as the Protestant escape-routes are not entirely blocked off and given less rigidly ontological presuppositions could seem perfectly viable. In Loss and Gain (London, 1906, pp. 137-54) these inconclusive arguments are recycled as comic dialogue between Evangelical numbskulls and thus given the conclusiveness of satire.
Throughout this argument Newman touches the topic of faith as trust very gingerly, and with a view to exposing it as an abstraction. The variety of his own approaches to the notion of faith scarcely admits of reduction to univocity, though neither is it a wallowing in contradiction. What holds the diverse treatments together is an agnostic mood that suspends too heavy an investment in any one of them.
In one version, faith justifies by “continually pleading our Lord’s merits before God” and by being “the first recipient of the Spirit, the root, and therefore the earnest and anticipation of perfect obedience” (p. 36). This sounds rather strong, but elsewhere it is reduced to the claim that faith has merely a “sustaining” role, enabling us to hold on to the justification received. Why it should have this role at all is far from clear: “If by ‘standing’ be meant… being in a justified state, faith…is that which operates in keeping us in it. Why it does so, is altogether a distinct question, and one perhaps which we cannot adequately determine. But whatever be God’s inscrutable reasons for thus connecting faith immediately with his evangelical gifts, so has He done” (p. 233). (For a rich discussion of this question, see Pesch, 195-262.)
The Lutheran answer that faith alone puts us in a position of pure, passive receiving correlative to the gratuitous divine gift (which was well expounded on pp. 18-23, but in a hostile context) is blocked off by an insistence (more Bellarminian than Tridentine perhaps, cf. DS 1526-7) that faith is not trust but believing assent to revealed truth, which is shared by devils and saints alike. The fiducial note can creep back only secondarily to this.
Faith’s role is thus made so mysterious as to be tenuous: “We have no reason for supposing that the supernatural providences of God are not ordered upon a system of antecedents or second causes as precise and minute as is the natural system. Faith may be as a key unlocking for us the treasures of divine mercy, and the only key” (p.215). Lecture X culminates in a still weaker model of justifying faith as “an emblem or image of the free grace of our redemption” (p. 244). Justification by faith becomes a mystery to be undergone, not, as it was for Luther, an intelligible solution to a concrete problem. Indeed, Newman falls behind Trent in his grasp of the necessary sequence whereby faith comes first in the process of salvation: “faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification” (DS 1532). (Möhler, pp. 186-94, is clearer on this point. On DS 1532 see S. Horn, Glaube und Rechtfertigung nach dem Konzils-Theologen Andrés de Vega, Paderborn, 1972, pp. 226-45.)
To bridge the gap between faith as assent and its (now greatly diluted) role in justification Newman has recourse to another surmise: “Faith is the correlative, the natural instrument of the things of the Spirit” (p. 214), because it apprehends what is invisible - a tepid piece of Platonism, reminiscent of Augustine, who had similar trouble in De Trinitate IV in explaining why faith in the Word incarnate should be the necessary “way” to the “fatherland” of the vision of God. (The early Luther still worked with this Augustinian schema: “They wish to hear and contemplate the eternal Word, though not yet first justified and having the eyes of their heart cleansed by the incarnate Word”, WA 56, 299. For Newman’s own doubts about his argument here see T. L. Sheridan, Newman on Justification, New York, 1967, p. 255.)
In giving so little place to faith as fiducia, Newman seems to have impeded his own grasp of the liberative thrust of Luther’s Pauline rhetoric. When he turns to define faith in Lecture XI, we are presented with a glowing apologia for faith as “the evidence of things not seen”. But his rhetoric, as if aware of its irrelevance in this context and how miserably it substitutes for the fiducial strain, falters and falls flat: “The examples of meekness, cheerfulness, contentment, silent endurance, private self-denial, fortitude, brotherly love, perseverance in well-doing, which would from time to time meet them in their new kingdom, -- the sublimity and harmony of the Church’s doctrine, - the touching and subduing beauty of her services and appointments…” (p. 271). The Reformers, differentiating the pregnant New Testament sense of saving faith from a weaker general usage, never fall into such empty formality. (See M. Chemnitz, Examen Decretorum Concilii Tridentini [1578; Berlin, 1861, p. 183]; Chemnitz does not bear out the claim that for Protestants other senses of faith have “no connection whatever, except in the accident of an homonymous term, with that faith which justifies” [p. 6].)
Newman was closer to the Reformers in 1825 when he used the word “faith” in two senses: “as a kind of knowledge when speaking of regeneration, as confession-of-no-merit when speaking of justification” (Sheridan, p. 153). In 1829 “as long as he was speaking in terms of growth in holiness, faith was seen to have an intellectual content; but once it was related to justification, it became merely fiducial” (ib., p. 193). The trouble may have been the thinness of his notion of the fiducial: for the Reformers it includes and surpasses the merely noetic. Newman later claims that he never really believed in the doctrine of apprehensive faith, and deceived himself into thinking he did only because he had lumped it together with the basics of the Creed (“Autobiographical Memoir”, in A. Mozley, ed. Letters and Correspondence of J. H. Newman, London, 1903, I, p. 110).
In 1838 any dalliance with the fiducial could only seem a regression to immaturity. His trust in the ontological structures of the Greek Fathers gave his faith a primarily noetic cast and ruled out any need to fall back on what seemed the inconsistent imaginings of Protestantism; it may also have ended his career as a biblical thinker by making it impossible for him to expose himself fully to the Word-event.
Luther prompts us to detect, beneath the construction of the arguments, at the level of style and tone, that Newman does not subject all his theological language, including his talk of God, to the Word-event. He shies back from the dizzying possibilities of such a strategy, unable to question the subordination of the kerygma to the metaphysical structures that encompass it. This inhibition of the Word, endemic in theology since Augustine, has only recently been recognised and partly overcome in Roman Catholic theology. (See M. Bogdahn, Die Rechtfertigungslehre Luthers im Urteil der neueren katholischen Theologie, Göttingen, 1971, pp. 236-50.)
The Luther Newman argues with is the doctrinally insistent author of the post-Augsburg Galatians commentary, and though once or twice appreciating the kerygmatic force which still abounds in that work (pp. 23, 332), on the whole he misses, or dismisses, the preacher of the Word and sees only the constructor of the system. Newman’s speech remains after all ensconced in established metaphysical and ecclesiastical structures, within which its biblical echoes can richly resound but against which it can never critically pit itself. Luther is on a quite different wavelength, dislodged from these structures by a more naked encounter with the kerygma, so that he can treat with them henceforward only as provisional and fragile means. Newman’s certitude is the inner calm and joy of contemplation, Luther’s depends on hearing the Word of salvation again and again. Here we are playing the latter off against the former, but both are precious in a time which whittles away all religious notions as mere delusion.
THE LOGIC OF JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION
Newman’s critics, especially G.S. Faber, have suspected him of playing fast and loose with the logic of the relation between justification and sanctification. (See Lettters and Diaries, VI, p. 242; E. A. Knox, The Tractarian Movement, London, 1933, pp. 204-5; Toon, pp. 143-4.) He explains himself at the start of Lecture III, where he sketches an argumentative frame that has the merit of allowing movement in every direction. Significantly, this is the most confusing passage in the entire work.
The basic position is “that justification and sanctification [are] in fact substantially one and the same thing” (p. 63). But if we begin to make notional distinctions, then it can be argued both (i) that “in the order of our ideas, viewed relatively to each other, justification follow[s] upon sanctification… we are first renewed, and then and therefore accepted” (p.63) and equally (ii) that “in logical order, or exactness of idea, Almighty God justifies before He sanctifies” (p. 65). That justification follows renewal is “true in one sense, but not true in another - unless indeed those different senses resolve themselves into a question of words” (p.63). The appearance of self-contradiction is softened when we differentiate the ‘order of ideas’ of (i) from the ‘logical order, or exactness of idea’ of (ii). (i) expresses “the relation of the one to the other, viewed popularly and as a practical matter, as Augustine and other Fathers set it forth” (p.64) and is thus compatible with (ii): “I believe St. Augustine really would consider, that in the order of ideas [now, confusingly, meaning the ‘logical order’ of (ii)] sanctification followed upon justification, though he does so with less uniformity of expression than Luther” (p. 64).
In any case justification and sanctification belong together “as light and heat co-exist in the sun” so it is not surprising “that Augustine should not make a point of being logically correct, but should in familiar language speak of the Sun of righteousness, both as shining on us, in order to warm us, and as shining on us with his genial warmth, that is justifying unto renewal and justifying by renewing” (p. 64).
Calvin, in criticising Osiander’s doctrine that God justifies “not merely by forgiving, but by regenerating”, had professed a stricter logic: ‘Though the sun’s brightness is inseparable from heat, do we therefore say that the earth is heated by light, but illumined by heat?... to transfer to the one what is proper to the other, reason itself forbids” (Inst. III 11.6; see Newman, p. 376).
Newman slips the chains of this logic, to witness in popular, homiletic language to the reality of holiness. In Scripture, he claims, “our righteousness is but a quality of our renewal” (p. 40) and we are even encouraged to “justify ourselves” (p. 54) by our obedience, whereas Protestant logic forces one to evacuate the plain meaning of Scripture by a forced hermeneutic (Lecture V). (The statement about justifying ourself is blunt the first edition [p. 58], but in the third we find softening clauses: “so far as they are enabled to please Him by what they are and what they do, so far may the be said, through His secret grace, to justify themselves”.)
But can he have it both ways? Is he not blurring the message that we are put right before God by the death of Christ and that it is only on this basis that our renewal and obedience are conceivable?
Newman insisted on the ecumenical impact of his refusal of one-sidedness, especially in later life. In i874 he stresses that “there is little difference but what is verbal in the various views on justification” (p. ix) whether Lutheran, Calvinist, Arminian or Catholic. He claims to have shown that “the difference between Melanchthon’s view and the teaching of the Tridentine Council is a matter of words” (Letters and Diaries XXIX, p. 354) and “that the difference between Calvinists and Arminians is verbal – the former maintaining that justification is an act of God, but the latter meaning by it a state of a man’s soul” (XXXI, p. 260).
The 1838 Preface goes about proving this unity in a more aggressive style, justifying the “severe and contentious” approach on the basis that “no wound is cured which is not thoroughly probed” (p. vi). The irenicism of the “merely verbal” is applied strategically to muster the forces of the via media against Luther and Calvin, whom Newman was to denounce as heretics in 1841 during the quarrel about the Jerusalem bishopric.
Melanchthon escapes these strictures since, in Newman’s view, he understood justifying faith to be a mere figure of speech (p.181); this “served effectually to exculpate the doctrine… from the charge of superseding good works, as showing that really and practically it had nothing to do either with faith or works, but with grace” (p. 245). Now, while it is true that Melanchthon saw faith as obliged to produce good works (BSLK pp. 60, 187-3) whereas Luther saw them as spontaneously generated by faith (see B. Lohse, Evangelium in der Geschichte, Göttingen, 1988, p. 260), nonetheless Melanchthon excludes works from justifying just as strictly as Luther and Calvin do (BSLK pp.76, 313-16). Equally unconvincing is the effort to explain away the Anglican Homilies’ exclusion of sanctity from “the office of justifying” (pp. 225, 247-50, 261-2, 304-11) – “not the office of conveying, but of symbolizing justification” is Newman’s gloss on this (p.247)!
Luther and Calvin are almost the only theologians Newman is not able to tuck away in the loose folds of his logic. Luther’s doctrine that faith justifies without love, which “is plain enough, and no matter of words” (p. 10), and Calvin’s view that the new creation is not “involved in the essence of the justifying act” but only “joined as a necessary accident” (p. 80; cf. pp. 360, 376), are unacceptable. In reality, even this difference is not so dramatic as it appears, for neither Luther nor Calvin denies that justification and sanctification are inseparable, nor does Newman deny the priority of justification. Even the difference with Calvin is treated as merely “scholastic and metaphysical” on pp. 376-7.
His loosened logic has teeth enough only to gnaw at the thesis that “our holiness and works can in no sense be said to justify us in God’s sight” (p.390) and to attack the extreme view that the holiness of the regenerate “is not really and intrinsically good, even considered as the work of the Holy Ghost” (p. 371). In the end he can only conclude that ‘the modern controversy on justification is not a vital one” (p.400), which is quite true when it is a matter of contrasting theses in the realm of serene metaphysical analysis rather than adverting to the biblical thrust in Luther that pushes beyond the unreality of the metaphysical representations.
JUSTIFICATION REDUCED TO SANCTIFICATION?
Some of Newman’s expressions seem to court the danger of presenting a God who does not act but react, that is, whose justifying word is made conditional on his perception of requisite qualities in the soul of his creatures; though he generally avoids this by recalling that the qualities God approves in judging us are, to begin with, his own justifying gift. When we read “holiness is the thing, the internal state, because of which blessing comes” (p. 34) or when good works are spoken of as ‘forming a concurrent cause of that imputation being ratified’ (p. 95), we are brought to the brink of a commonsense rationalisation of justification as the reward of obedience.
Newman’s distrust of system leads him to accept uncritically the Johnsonian good sense of a D. Waterland, for whom sanctification ‘is necessarily presupposed, in some measure of degree, with respect to adults, in their justification’ (A Summary View of the Doctrine of Justification, Works VI, Oxford, 1856, p. 7; Newman acknowledges agreements with Waterland (p. 251); his uncritical reliance on the later Caroline Divines is criticised by McGrath, see II, pp. 130-2). The claim that justification entails renewal as its immediate consequence is the best of biblical reasoning; but to maintain that justification somehow depends on renewal as its warrant is an invitation to theological disaster. The former position chimes well with a biblical phenomenology; the latter tends to project an unreal metaphysical horizon, picturing temporal relations between divine acts, and losing grip on the realities to which it refers. To avoid all such dangers were it not better to write only in the theological passive, registering the experience of being warmed and illumined by the Sun of righteousness, but renouncing all talk of God seeing, acting, judging as conducive to misleading objectifications?
Without renewal, justification would be no more than ‘a movement of the Divine Mind, and altogether external to the subject of that justification’; it would consist merely in ‘Almighty God’s thoughts concerning him’ (p. 132). Newman summons up this spectral image of God’s action only to reject it, but unfortunately it is given a theoretical validity that undermines his earlier vision of the effective divine Word. The biblical vision is bracketed by a metaphysical framework and hollowed out by being subjected to such pallid categories as omniscience – “God sees the end from the beginning” (p. 132). Once under the sway of such representations, the biblical events of justification and sanctification have to be bolstered with ontological references.
The focus of Newman’s appreciation of the Christian condition becomes the soul’s substantial righteousness. That Lecture VIII describes it as adherent rather than inherent, so that ‘we really have no inherent righteousness at all’ (p. 187) is an interesting concession to the Luther an aliena iustitia (foreign righteousness). One wishes it had been introduced earlier and given a central place. Even this adherent righteousness is conceived as a relation to an indwelling ontological presence.
In Lecture II Newman champions the Augustinian telescoping of justification and sanctification, without adverting to the Reformers’ critique of Augustine on this point (see pp. 393-4; the Lutheran critique of Augustine is well stated in Link, pp. 236-70). They maintained that to conceive of justification as the grace that enables fulfilment of the Law occludes the proclamation of justification as the Word-event that sets the sinner in a new personal relation to Christ.
In Augustine, faith is the first link in a chain: it stimulates prayer for grace, grace heals the soul, this frees the will, which can then love justice, and the love of justice performs the Law (De Spiritu et Littera, 52). The interposition of prayer and sanctification between faith and justification undercuts the immediacy of their connection in Paul. Moreover, the abstract rigidity of the Augustinian terms and their relationships contrasts with the contextual vitality of Paul’s use of ‘faith’ and the Law’. It is only such ever-renewed contextualisation which gives a vital reference to Christian terms, and the effort to construct timeless accounts of the terms and their relationships is intrinsically falsifying. (The earlier Luther inclines to the Augustinian understanding, but already stresses the paradoxical extrinsic nature of the resulting righteousness: “external to us is all the good that we have, which is Christ” [WA 56.279]. Here it is not yet the kergygma, but a quasi-mystical self-transcending, that takes us extra nos; see Hübner, pp. 98-9; O. Bayer, Promissio, Darmstadt, 1989, p. 59.)
But the Protestant alternative to Augustine is also vitiated by metaphysical formulation which render it obtuse to its own concrete context. Instead of maintaining the tension of the step back from the Augustinian vision to the dramatic horizons of the Word-event as retrieved in their own time, the Reformers restylised those horizons in a new metaphysical system, which lacks the strength of Augustine’s, because what it intended to convey is much less amenable to metaphysical categorisation. The impression lingers that Newman has smuggled in an inversion of the biblical sequence from sin through the cross to the blessing of holiness; now the gift of holiness comes first. The originating mystery itself is viewed as an ontological gift; it is not viewed from within, as a transition from guilt and despair to acceptance and confidence, nor is the constant reliving of that baptismal exodus, the constant rediscovery of justification as a gift claimed by faith (WA 6, pp. 528-9), considered a proper form of experiencing Christian freedom. Newman’s stirring descriptions of regeneration present it primarily as being enabled to fulfil the Law, to attain holiness, through “the possession of Himself, of His substantial grace to touch and heal the root of the evil, the fountain of our misery, our bitter heart and its inbred corruption” (p. 34). Holiness, grace and baptism become ontological screens against the event of redemption. This is not an ontological arrangement for which an experiential correlative has to be cooked up by devotional exercises, but is lived as the breakthrough brought by a liberating word: “by the mere hearing of the Gospel the Holy Spirit is received” (WA 40:1, p. 330).
STILL UNDER THE LAW?
If one may find healthy catholicity in Newman’s refusal to sever justification and holiness, at the same time his efforts to tie the former as tightly as possible to the latter suggest a touch of the moral unfreedom of which the Reformers were such brilliant diagnosticians. The regime of holiness even threatens to become a Law blocking access to the freedom of the Gospel, precisely the situation which forced Luther to rediscover the Pauline dialectic of faith and Law.
Newman counters this danger inadequately, with a Platonising gesture, a spiritualising transcendence which is a weak substitute for the leap of faith. He appeals from “superstitious dependence” on the sacraments to their correct use: “to lead the mind not from, but through the earthly organ to the true Author of the miracle” (p. 286; cf. pp. 314-23). The symbolic language of the sacraments is seen as an adequate antidote. It is hard to see how the Pauline message, “You are free of the Law”, could ever be experienced as liberating or even as intelligible within the circle of Newman’s conceptions.
Newman, like Trent (DS 1569), seems to confuse Luther’s freedom from the Law with amoralism (pp.24, 28). His intense concern with the moral content of justification has an edge to it that goes beyond sober realism. One may guess from the tepidity of his youthful exercises in a Pauline mode – “in all ages and in all countries faith will save a man and (as far as we know) faith alone. Now I will tell you what faith is: – simply this: to feel ourselves to be nothing, and God everything” (March 1828; Sheridan, p.152) – that he had never undergone with unmistakable clarity (any more than most of us have) the experience that would have put him on the Pauline wavelength – the drama of awakening from moral complacency to despairing guilt and finding that Christ’s justification is the sole way out. (For a late meditation on sin see Meditations and Devotions, Westminster, MD, 1975, pp. 333-46.) His reception of that dimension of the New Testament is poor. His witness is rather to the “beauty of holiness”, cultivated in an ecclesiastical devotion that is more deutero-Pauline, Johannine or Augustinian than Pauline, and restrained from tasteless “enthusiasm” (p. 328) by a weighty sense of moral responsibility.
When he preaches the Law his words carry weight: conscience and duty are the backbone of everything - of his style, his romantic self-image, his contemplative sense of divine guidance. “No justification without sanctification” is a theme that brings out his most characteristic writing: “God cannot, from His very nature, look with pleasure and favour upon an unholy creature, or justify or count righteous one who is not righteous. Cleanness of heart and spirit, obedience by word and deed, this alone in us can be acceptable to God; that is, this alone can constitute our justification” (p. 32).
This stress on justification by works is the most questionable element in Newman’s vision, not merely from a Protestant viewpoint, but perhaps even from a Tridentine one, as we shall see. There is no need to call it Pelagian, for it does not take from our final reliance on justification by Christ’s mercy: Newman is an ardent proponent of the idea of double justification, the ecumenical position most likely to reconcile Catholics and Protestants (pp. 366-82). (See E. Yarnold, “Duplex iustitia: the Sixteenth Century and the Twentieth”, in G.R. Evans, ed. Christian Authority, Oxford, 1988, pp.204-23.)
One is made uneasy by the self-conscious character of this moral vision, as the treasuring of an inward gift. Justification in Luther unites us with Christ, not inwardly but in the entirety of our existence, and at the same time confers the freedom to rule over the world and to be at the service of the world: “most free lord of all, most dutiful servant of all” (WA 7, p. 49). Perhaps Newman’s Evangelical friends found his teaching depressing, not because they misunderstood it (as suggested by Sheridan, p. 216 and Toon, p. 146), but because they found that justification by faith freed them for action in the world as concern for distinguishing marks of personal holiness did not. (See D. Newsome, “Justification and Sanctification: Newman, and the Evangelicals”, Journal of Theological Studies 15, 1964, pp. 32-53.) This surmise depends on the reputation of the nineteenth-century Evangelicals; that the justification doctrine had quite the opposite effect in the seventeenth century, emptying the everyday world of meaning and rejecting the Calvinist reinvestment in good works, is a thesis of W. Benjamin’s “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels” (Ges. Schr. I, Frankfurt, 1980, pp. 317-20).
The only reference to social matters in the Lectures is an almost caricatural reference to “the bountifulness of her [the Church’s] almsgiving, – her power, weak as she was and despised, over the statesmen and philosophers of the world, her consistent and steady aggression upon it” (p. 272). For Luther morality is worldly, whereas faith is what overcomes the world, since it frees one from anxious efforts at self-justification so that one can act freely, creatively and energetically in, for and against the world. For Newman, however, morality is entangled in religion in such a way that goodness has constantly to be thought of in otherworldly terms; the secular good act has value only as an occasion for religious attainment. There is much to be said for Luther’s reduction of morality to a secondary position after faith. It grants autonomy to the ethical conscience, which no longer has to look over its shoulder to see how it is doing in God’s eyes and whether it has the credits necessary for salvation. It also frees faith to welcome the tidings of gratuitous acceptance.
Let us pause to take our bearings in regard to Newman’s attitude to metaphysics and logic. We are beginning to suspect that, despite his Aristotelian side, Newman is not really guided by any firm logical guidelines at all, and that his ontological realism tends to collapse into a mere commonsense insistence. We have seen that he arranges for considerable latitude in his dealings with logic, both in his discussion of how faith justifies and in his discussion of the relations between justification and sanctification. He does not allow a firm logical structure to hamper the resonance and suggestiveness of his writing.
Masterful in the conduct of sustained argument, he nevertheless does not allow his books to form closed wholes, but leaves wide margins for open-ended ramifications, which in the present work become an ever thinner, ever more dispersed cobweb, impeding a firm grasp of the biblical matter. In the end one feels that his logical posturings are a cumbersome vesture for the mobile and impulsive play of his thought. He seems to feel this himself when he lapses into suspirations in a nescient mode, as when he quotes Taylor: “No man should fool himself by disputing the philosophy of justification, and what causality faith hath in it” (p. 401).
Do we catch here, and in the similar passages already quoted, a hint of a possible Wittgensteinian Newman, who might have seen much deeper into the relativity of his language, had not respect for hallowed representations kept him back? Unfortunately, Newman’s nescient moments do not launch a penetrating skepsis but suggest rather a failure of theological nerve and an irremediable cloudiness in the via media he is proposing.
“Let us be sure things are going wrong with us, when we see doctrines more clearly, and carry them out more boldly, that they are taught us in Revelation” (p. 341).That dismissal of theological refinements could as well have been aimed at Augustine as at Luther or Calvin; nor does the step back from the novel clarity of the latter win a retrieval of Augustine’s classical pellucidity. A lack of confidence in the power of theological definitions and distinctions, as well as a latecomer’s sense of the remoteness of the terms of the debate, is what keeps Newman, unlike Bellarmine, from giving his work the final incisive thrust of a single argument. Luther and Calvin broke the hold of a certain metaphysics by a logical vigilance Newman refuses to practice. Newman’s refusal of system does not free him from metaphysical presuppositions but leaves him at their mercy.
His sense of the limits of logic allows him to slip into a scepticism foreign to the Fathers and to Bellarmine: “We know nothing of the reasons of God’s wonderful providences; why an Atonement was necessary, why the Son of God was the sacrifice: why that sacrifice must be applied in order to ‘wash away the sins’ of individuals; let us accept what is given, adore God’s wisdom, and be thankful and silent” (pp. 204-5). Perhaps directed at Anselm or at the remote anticipations of Anselm in Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, this scepticism seems to underestimate the clarity of the concrete salvation-historical accounts of atonement in the New Testament, so essential to Reformation thought.
Relinquishing the search for “reasons” he returns to the biblical phenomena, but in a way that intends to discredit the Reformers’ claims to a lucid apprehension of these phenomena. This is not the ancient negative theology, which came after strong speculation, nor the Protestant subjection of reason to the Word, but a modern weariness, which might have been given a critical turn, but which is instead hushed up in Anglican attitudes of piety and sobriety. The surrender of exorbitant claims of reason over revelation is not reflectively exploited in a critical rebound of the Word on his own representations, and it thus leaves him dallying with thought-forms in which his mind can never be fully at home.
Instead of overcoming Luther in the direction of greater fidelity to the biblical matter (and greater contemporary credibility), Newman recalls him to acquiescence in an ontotheology incapable of further development - whereas Luther had renewed the thought of God by freeing it from metaphysical categories - and in a correspondingly static representation of the New Testament message. Similarly, the speculation on the ontology of the Resurrection and Ascension (pp. 202-22) is a rehash of patristic themes, which it does nothing to renew, while remaining far behind Luther in its engagement with the texture of Scripture. Newman’s mind grew and expanded in many directions in the following half-century, but it does not seem that there was any further growth in his reflection on these “ontological foundations”.
THE ABYSS OF THE ORIGIN
The inadequacy of Newman’s commonsense realism is apparent in the way he stumbles into such homely queries as the following: how can infinite holiness declare righteous one in whom there is no holiness? Pushed far enough this would make the entire notion of redemption impossible. That the alien righteousness of Christ should substitute for ours undercuts common sense at least at the beginning of the Christian life. Newman seems to avoid contemplating the abyss of that beginning, the strangeness of that birth, whereas Luther sees faith as a constant reliving of it.
Though deploring the so-called Arminians’ tendency “to put out of sight the doctrines of election and sovereign grace” (p. 189), Newman himself dwells chiefly on the “justification of the already just” (p. 154) as the normal Christian experience, in which faith justifies in much the same sense as other good works do: “Justifying faith does not precede justification; but justification precedes faith and makes it justifying” (p. 227). “Such is justifying faith, justifying not the ungodly, but the just, whom God has justified when ungodly;… justifying the just as being the faith of the justified” (p. 237).
Here faith justifies in a secondary sense - as increasing not acquiring righteousness, “meritorie” not “formaliter” (Bellarmine, De Justificatione II 15). Indeed it is the muddying of the distinction between these two senses of justification that underlies much of the unease created by Newman’s insistence that we are justified by works. Pusey’s claim that Newman upholds the Anglican doctrine which “excludes sanctification from having any place in justification” (Toon, p. 144) is tenable only if we consistently interpret his language of justification by works as referring merely to the secondary realm of merits. In taking the state of the already justified Christian as the model for his understanding of justification, Newman projects a vision that overrides the basic paradox of the free justification of the sinner. A strained logic might reconcile this vision with Paul’s in some abstract ontological arrangement, but at an immediate, existential level the two horizons are incompatible.
Newman’s protests against the tyrannical, arbitrary, unscriptural system of Lutheranism may stem not only from a positive concern with “the beauty of holiness” but also from a defensiveness against the scandalous leap at the origin of Christian salvation to which Luther witnessed. How tepid are Newman’s accounts of that origin in Lecture III: “God treats us _as if_ that had not been which has been; that is, by a merciful economy or representation, He says of us, as to the past, what in fact is otherwise than what He says it is” (p. 67). This language tones down to the point of mere shabbiness the scandal of the justification of the ungodly. It robs sin and divine justice of their bite (which necessitates a much stronger account of the working of the Atonement than the extremely cursory references here).
Despite the touching analogies with parental forgiveness (p. 68), Calvin would protest that “any ‘as if’ must give rise to the opinion that after all God does not take sin all that seriously” (T. Stadtland, Rechtfertigung und Heiligung bei Calvin, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1972, p. 151). Here we have a feeble external view of the process of salvation; whereas Luther plunges us in medias res, confining himself to the double perspective of the terror of judgment and the joy of being declared righteous, in identification with Christ crucified; what falls outside that perspective is “error and poison”. The lack of this perspective is reflected in Newman’s surprising vagueness about the working of the Atonement in regard to guilt (pp. 204-5 as quoted above).
He wants to give justification autonomous significance despite its necessary link to the sanctification it initiates and whose fullness it proleptically imputes. He exploits well, as we have seen, the biblical vision of the effective divine Word to convey the force of justification. But for a more precise account of what is done to us when God justifies, he finds only cold banking metaphors: “Before man has done anything as specimen, or paid anything as instalment… he has the whole treasures of redemption put to his credit” (p.74), or an emptily solemn juridical language which pales beside Luther’s experience of being made righteous.
“It is a great and august deed in the sight of heaven and hell; it is not done in a corner” (p. 74) - this is not phenomenological; it places the act of justification in a never-never land. The quote from Athanasius (pp. 76-7) confirms this impression of remoteness. The evocation of the joy of being justified is equally abstract, piling on conventional topoi in place of a single concrete point of application: “His tears are wiped away; his fears, misgivings, remorse, shame, are changed for ‘righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’; he is clad in white” (p. 70).
It is not surprising that the autonomous justification (preceding renewal, pp.77, 85), which is thus feebly introduced, plays little role after the return, in Lecture IV, to the “popular” view that “justification renews, therefore… it may fitly be called renewal” (p. 86). Renewal, substantial righteousness (identified with passive justification, p. 99), becomes the focus of attention, in forgetfulness of the abyssal origin (active justification, the utterance of the divine Word). Though “justification is imparted to us continually all through our lives” (p. 101), this is done without the drama and paradox that never ceases to mark the Christian condition in Luther; it is a secure ontological process, not the daily rediscovery of the miracle of a relationship.
A TRIDENTINE CRITIQUE OF NEWMAN?
A. McGrath suggests that Newman misunderstood the Catholic view as basing justification on “the inherent righteousness of the individual, achieved through moral renewal” rather than “the infusion of divine righteousness which is the cause of subsequent moral renewal, and is not identical with that renewal” (II, p. 131). But infused divine righteousness does not seem as sharply differentiated from renewal as McGrath suggests. Infused righteousness, sanctifying grace and the supernatural habit of charity seem to coincide as the “single formal cause” (DS 1529)of justification. Trent describes justification as a gift of divine righteousness by which “we are renewed in the spirit of our mind” (ib.) and identifies it with “the sanctification and renewal of the inner man through a voluntary acceptance of grace” (DS 1528). This language telescopes infused righteousness and renewal of life - much as Newman does, when he identifies the Tridentine (Augustinian) “righteousness of God whereby he makes us righteous” with “renovation of spirit and the good works thence proceeding” (p. 349). He points out that the question of a real distinction between them (between “justifying grace” and “charity”) was disputed between Dominicans and Franciscans at Trent and left open (p. 351).
However, Newman may occasionally court a dangerous confusion between justification by this supernatural principle and justification by works. He speaks of “obedience” as “the one condition, the one thing in us which involves acceptance on God’s part, that one requisite, in naming which all we need is named” (p. 39), and he identifies righteousness with “acceptable obedience” (p. 131). This seems to be in tension with the Tridentine view: obedience conserves and increases the gift of justification (DS 1574) and is a condition of salvation (DS 1538, 1570), but the “one requisite” is infused divine righteousness.
Citing Augustine – “there the law is laid down externally, to terrify the unrighteous; here it is given internally, to justify them” – Newman draws the conclusion: “that Law then so implanted is our justification” (p. 46). But Augustine, unlike Newman, makes it clear that he is referring to the infused gift of charity: “for the law of God is charity” (De Spiritu et Littera, 29). “Romanists”, Newman tells us, “consider that that on which justification at once takes place… is inherent righteousness (whether habitual or of works, which is an open question)” (p. 349). But is it an open question? Bellarmine rejects the notion that inherent righteousness is “actual” rather than “habitual” as in contradiction with the teaching of Trent (De Justificatione II 15). Trent speaks of righteousness as an infused habit – “a power which ever precedes, accompanies and follows their works and without which they can by no means be pleasing to God and meritorious to God” (DS 1546). Is Newman attempting to smooth out here a contradiction in his own emphases?
However, he does not feel his stress on works to be incompatible with infused divine righteousness, for the obedience he celebrates springs from “the possession of Himself, of His substantial grace” (p. 34). Nor does he show any sense of contradicting himself when he declares that “the possession of that grace is really our justification, and not renewal, or the principle of renewal” and that “our righteousness is the possession of that presence [of the Holy Ghost]” (p. 137).
McGrath states that “Newman appears to believe that Protestants taught that man was justified on account of faith… and that Roman Catholics taught that man was justified on account of his works or renewal - and therefore that the via media consisted in the affirmation that man was justified on account of both faith and works” (II, p. 130). The following may be a better account: Newman believed that Protestants taught that man was justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness apprehended by faith, and that Roman Catholics taught that man was justified on account of a “new and spiritual principle imparted to us by the Holy Ghost” (p. 131) and the works proceeding from it – but that the via media consisted in the affirmation that we are justified “by Christ’s imputed righteousness and by our own inchoate righteousness at once” (p. 368; “in this then I conceive to lie the unity of Catholic doctrine”; cf. p. 374), that Christ’s righteousness is “both imputed and imparted by His real indwelling” (p. 181), and that justification is ascribed to “the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that immediately, neither faith nor renewal intervening” (p. 137; this is “the doctrine of Scripture, which our Church plainly acknowledges”, p. 138; see pp. 379-87 for evidence).
The staleness of these metaphysical constructions of justification may be gauged from the distance between the sense of “righteousness” on which they turn and the everyday secular usage of such terms as “justice” and “integrity”. What lends concreteness to these constructions is a myth of inner holiness as a state of soul to be preserved and deepened, a notion which has become increasingly suspect. This is enhanced by the eschatological scenario - God judging the soul - which loomed so large in Newman’s imagination, but lingers in ours only as a distraction from a more concrete vision of the Christian life.
LUTHER’S EXTRA NOS
Something is missing, we increasingly feel, in Newman’s confident discourse. It is that punch or bite which Luther’s voice never lacks, and that comes from the extra nos (outside ourselves), the idea that salvation consists, not in a modification of qualities attaching to the soul, but in a total change of situation whereby the sinner is taken out of himself. It is not that the quality of sin is removed from the sinner’s soul, but that the sinner is removed from sin as the Israelites from Egypt and given a new identity in Christ (WA 56, pp. 334-5).
For Newman the extra nos is an imputational extrinsicism. The notion of justifying faith is reduced to a subjective quality of the mind, and the all-transforming relationship it initiates is missed: “What do they mean, in short, when they say that an act of our minds changes our real state in God’s sight?” (p. 361). Again we note that blunt disjunction of subjective and objective, being and non-being, which forestalls any subtler engagement.
To miss the force of the extra nos is to miss also the vigorously Christocentric nature of Luther’s thought. Whenever Luther’s ideas are about to close into a system, the closure is disrupted by a turning to Christ in faith, and this is no stereotyped gesture but has all the mobility and creativity of a loving relationship. Here Christ is not a unitary metaphysical quantity, but positively elicits an ever-surprising plurality of perspectives in the believer’s thinking on him. In Newman’s theological writing this personal presence of Christ is screened off by an assembly of metaphysical quantities with which Christ is identified: his divinity, his humanity, his grace, his sacramental presence in Baptism and the Eucharist, his righteousness.
Similarly, it is hard for him to express God’s love for the believer as a person, since it seems that the believer is loved for the sake of qualities and works he possesses. Contrast Luther: “God accepts the works because of the person, not the person because of the works; he accepts the person before the works” (WA 56, p. 268). The doctrine of the primacy of justification over holiness was intended to keep clear the space for a leap of trust on the part of the believer and for a free manifestation of love toward the believer on the part of God. Neither of these realities offers much foothold for a metaphysical clarification, and they are already falsified in the very lucidity of the Protestant doctrine. The opposing position, which translates into metaphysical terms with suspicious ease, makes trust on both the divine and human sides conditional on the quality of holiness, and thus brings us back under the Law.
NEWMAN’S PATHOS OF HOLINESS
If we may now add a psychological twist to our audition of Newman, we surmise that for him to surrender the primacy of holiness over justification would have spelt the sacrifice of his ideal self, for its beauty and its very identity repose entirely on a certain “myth” of sanctity, quite different from the more biblical one espoused by Luther. (On the notions of “self-ideal” and “ideal self” see Freud, “Zur Einführung des Narzissmus” III, GW X, pp. 159-70; J. Lacan, Le séminaire, I, Paris, 1975, pp. 125-63.)
He sometimes allows us to eavesdrop on his intimacy: “Make me preach Thee without preaching - not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do – by my visible resemblance to Thy saints, and the evident fulness of the love which my heart bears to Thee” (Meditations and Devotions, p. 365). Without this impassioned self-idealisation – a happy combination of challenging self-ideal and flattering ideal self – he would not be the Newman we know; he would have lost his style, his charm, perhaps also his creativity. (Yet such a sacrifice might have produced a rugged “late style” as in the cases of Yeats and T.S. Eliot; see R. Bush, T. S. Eliot, Oxford UP, 1983, pp. 226-37.) He might even have lost his conscience, for his moral self-ideal draws its power from a narcissistic vision of perfection. This enchanting vision could not be reconciled with Luther’s picture of the wart-ridden sinner who must again and again look away from self to Christ crucified, relying entirely on the imputation of Christ’s aliena iustitia. Newman’s is the saint’s desire – to be beautiful before God. The identity of the self, growing and blossoming through the acquisition of attributes of virtue and holiness, is essential [o him, and cements his fidelity to the substantial definition of personhood prevalent in traditional theology.
It is true that this cultivation of self - this perpetual sculpting of his own statue, as Plotinus urges (Enneads I, 6) - proceeds within a relation to the other, to God. Yet that relation too draws much of its vitality and fascination from its narcissistic structuration. It is a circle scarcely disrupted by the paradox of Christ crucified: “two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator” (Apologia pro Vita Sua, London, 1908, p. 4). This experience calls out for the Platonic categories of interiority and presence and eclipses the drama of justification and renewal.
Newman’s contemplative sense of the presence and guidance of God always kept him within the circle of the beauty of holiness. The grievousness of obedience, of being set apart for the Lord’s service, shapes mortal clay into a work of art, brings one back to one’s true perfected self. Luther’s electrifying identification with the biblical Word cast his life in the register of the extra nos, but for Newman the essential happenings are very definitely intra nos. Both styles of sanctity have their limits; their mutual critique, which need not be a polemic, frees us to create other styles.
It is true that Newman was an ardent preacher of the Cross, but he did not attend much to the dialectic of condemnation and justification which was the core of the Cross for Luther. Justification is subordinate to the experience of the indwelling Spirit; the Cross is the purifying pain that the Spirit operates in us; this too may seem to enjoy a precedence over justification. For Luther’s dialectic of Law and Gospel Newman has a more static one of suffering and joy, and the Cross becomes a moment of metaphysical synthesis: “It is the tone into which all the strains of this world’s music are ultimately to be resolved” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI, London, 1901, p. 85). To view the Cross as closure rather than transition, as resolution rather than paradoxical disruption, can create a climate of paralysing masochism: “And in the garden secretly,/And on the cross on high,/Should teach his brethren and inspire/To suffer and to die” (Verses on Various Occasions, London, 1903, p. 364). This in turn chimes intimately with the metaphysics of indwelling: “And that a higher gift than grace/Should flesh and blood refine,/God’s presence and His very Self,/And Essence all divine”. Suffering refines flesh and blood as the mode and medium of its transformation and deification.
Newman could not see why faith should be the privileged instrument of justification, yet he has no difficulty in grasping suffering as the privileged instrument of sanctification. “Justification is the setting up of the Cross within us… We know that in Baptism a cross is literally marked on the forehead. Now suppose… we were ordered to mark the cross, not with the finger, but with a sharp instrument [a masochistic scenario]. Then it would be a rite of blood. In such a case… you could not receive the justification without the pain. Justification would involve pain” (p. 173). This insistence on pain is correlative with the ontological image of indwelling; the liberative event of the cross becomes a metaphysical machinery of transformation. In the Gospel, pain has a secondary role, about the same level as good works; here it is made central at the expense of the leap of faith (and hope) which is the nub of the Lutheran theology of the Cross. (On how Luther outgrew pious internalisation of Christ’s, sufferings to receive the message of the Cross as a liberating kerygma, see Bayer, pp. 66-70, 84-6, 106-7.)
Moreover, both pain and good works are concrete and situational in the New Testament, whereas Newman’s pain is an abstract and interiorised quality. The same abstraction and interiorisation marks his conception of good works and robs his ethics of concrete content. Instead, the economy of pain and transformation gives his dealings with Scripture a Platonizing and pietistic orientation. Newman’s keen sense of shame, indicating a strong defence against narcissistic humiliations, conditions both the high perfection of his literary performance and the inhibitions limiting his exposure and vulnerability. The refinement of his conscience has more to do with shame than guilt. In youth “a vivid self-consciousness… sometimes inflicted on him days of acute suffering from the recollection of solecisms, whether actual or imagined, which he recognised in his conduct in society” (“Autobiographical Memoir”, p. 92). Luther’s moral agonies were of a different order; can one imagine him blushing?
“So much stress is laid upon taking our shame away… Guilt makes us veil our eyes in the sight of God and His Angels” (p. 75). “All through Scripture we find stress is laid on one especial punishment… of a most piercing and agonizing character, the manifestation of our shame. When we consider what our feelings are now as connected with this subject, we may fancy what an inexpressibly keen anguish is thus in store for sinners” (pp. 157-8). The masochistic satisfaction with which Newman dwells on the sense of shame paradoxically strengthens narcissistic self-possession; the narcissistic wound is treasured as an experience of the self and so robbed of its sting. Luther provides medicine for a conviction of sin unknown to Newman, for all the subtlety of his probings of moral self-deception. As a keen moralist Newman exposes himself to a constant diet of self-humiliation, yet these self-inflicted wounds never undermine the lucidity of his self-possession, but rather reinforce it.
The image of the robe of righteousness (pp. 74, 133, 155-61, 170, 190) suggests the unbroken self-possession of the ego, a false innocence based on the repression of the anxiety the subject feels when made aware of its contingency, vulnerability and fragmentedness. He clutches at the robe almost as at a fetish. A fetishism protective of the ideal self was indeed apparent in his habit of preserving relics of his past – the pairs of spectacles etc. displayed in the Birmingham Oratory – and celebrating anniversaries. The comfort drawn from burying his head in the cloaks of friends (= other selves) also betokens narcissistic restoration. I am not attempting a “psychological reduction” of the kind rightly criticised in J.L. Powell, Three Uses of Christian Discourse in John Henry Newman (Missoula, Montana, 1975, pp. 12-15). Such categories as narcissism etc. are not intrinsically pejorative and are indispensable, I believe, for illuminating the dynamics of Newman’s creativity.
The “enjewelled robe of righteousness” is envisioned as “a light streaming from our hearts, pervading the whole man, enwrapping and hiding the lineaments and members of our fallen nature, circling round us, and returning inward to the centre from which it issues” (p. 161). This stylisation of righteousness as the completion of a circle of self-identity removes the subject from the dynamic interplay of freedoms in history and human relationships and robs the quest for integrity of its elements of risk and uncertainty: “we are enjoined _not_ to injure or profane it, but so to honour it in our outward conduct, that it may be continued and increased in us” (p. 156; see Trent, DS 1531).
“My soul is in my hand” says Gerontius as he nears God’s throne (Verses on Various Occasions, p. 360). That is the last thing Luther would have thought of saying! Newman’s self-recollection made impossible for him the terrific lurch of the extra nos, the adventure of finding one’s only claim to identity in another, in Christ crucified. The beauty of his style, itself mirroring the enactment of transformation, holds him back from anything like Luther’s identification with the Word. Newman haunts his own text to an uncanny degree; in every sentence we are conscious of his presence in addition to, and sometimes at the expense of, what he is saying. For each sentence he composed is a mirror reflecting the perfection of his ideal self. Something similar might be said of Augustine, Milton, Kierkegaard, James, or Proust. But in these the stamp of personality is a self-projection rather than a self-mirroring, whereas the “continual motion of mind” which animates Newman’s style is a rhythm of first striving to fulfil a self-ideal and then cherishing his ideal self in delighted self-recollection.
Take any sentence at random: “I shall now proceed to consider it [the gift of righteousness], under two chief designations which are there [in the New Testament] given to us; by attending to which we shall conceive more worthily of our privilege, and gain a deeper insight into the sacred text; I mean glory and power” (p. 161). First the lofty strenuous gesture of setting himself a task, labouring honourably under it, aspiring to fulfil the self-ideal; then the dwelling, in a majestic pause, on the satisfactory worthiness of the goal proposed (the self-ideal now considered as gratifying to the ideal self); finally, the reward, the moment of triumphant self-return in the cadence.
“The axial reality of the subject is not in its ego”, which is rather the headquarters of illusion; “that subject unknown to the ego, unrecognized by the ego, which Freud calls ‘the core of our being’" (Lacan, Le Séminaire, II, Paris, 1978, p. 59) is scarcely likely to emerge in Newman’s self-presentation, any more than the biblical subject can emerge within a metaphysics of the substantial soul. One is more directly exposed to the truth of subjectivity with Luther than with Newman, though one can tease it out in Newman too, but as repressed. “Literally, the ego is an object – an object which fills a certain function which we here name the imaginary function” (ib., p. 60). Newman objectified himself in a most attractive form – as saint, as gentleman, as a mannered and fragrant rhetorical voice, as a living, questing mind - but we may be in touch with his true subjectivity only at those points at which that imaginary screen is displaced, disrupted or shown to be hollow.
A truly puzzling question emerges when we no longer take his self-presentation at its face value: what is he really trying to say across these splendid rhetorical performances? This enigma reaches a pitch of concentration in the Apologia, a text apparently breathing confidence of justification. Luther repels or quickly shatters the narcissistic identification which, to the contrary, is the obligatory first stage in an understanding of Newman, one at which his admirers often remain fixated, thus becoming, albeit vicariously, worshippers of that most captivating of idols, the “dear self”. It is an immense point in favour of Luther’s theology that it is able to do more justice to “the excentricity of the subject in respect to the ego” (ib.).
THE FOUNDATIONS: INDWELLING AND OMNIPRESENCE
In Lecture VI, Newman insists on being told the cash-value of justification in terms of something identifiable here and now in the inward state of the individual soul. “It stands to reason that a soul that is justified is not in the same state internally as if it had not been justified” (p. 130). One might query the objectifying effect of “a soul”, which assumes that personal identity is solidly constituted outside and apart from the dynamic existential relations in which alone Luther grasps it. The word “internally” cordons off an area of individual self-possession, isolating the believer’s individuality from the communal process into which we enter in being justified. The “reason” to which such argument “stands” is a Platonically-tinged common sense which Luther would find inadequate to the biblical word.
Newman wants an inner label marking one as justified: “what is the state of a justified man? or in what does justification consist?”; “what is that object or thing, what is it in a man, which God seeing there, therefore calls him righteous?”; “I wish to insist that there really must be… in every one who is justified, some such token or substance of his justification”; “a certain distinctive state of soul to which the designation of righteousness belongs”; “the criterion within us, which God sees there… the seal and signature of his elect”; “something present and inward”; “something in us, not out of us” (pp. 130-2). The more one considers these phrases the more their discordance with a biblical phenomenology of Christian life becomes apparent. It is as if one wereto ask: “what is that object or thing in a person which is the token and substance of their being in love with another person?” To abstract such a reconstructed substance from the all-transforming relation in which one is justified is to subsume the horizon created by the Word under one governed by a metaphysics of the soul.
The biblical robe-imagery does not warrant the reduction of the pneumatic to the categories of object, thing, token; in fact the production of such literal correlatives destroys its metaphorical force. These reifications shore up a metaphysical (illusory) identity of the self and impede awareness of righteousness as a dynamic and constantly renewed relation rather than a fixed, nameable quantity. Newman’s empirical realism could have led him (with some help from Hume) to suspect that the human spirit is too much a function of mobile relations to allow itself to be examined “objectively” – even in divine judgment – with a view to detecting its possession or lack of a requisite mark or criterion.
Doggedly, he pursues his question: what substantial difference does justification make? For Luther, it is only the transcendental condition of “Christ’s righteousness imputed” (p. 131), which Newman says is “in itself no answer at all, and needs explanation before it will apply’ (p. 133). It might be explained that the empirical offshoot of this condition, that makes justifying faith the effective beginning of renewal, consists in a changed relation to sin (Pesch, pp. 283-95). But Lutherans hesitate to identify the empirical effect of justification by isolating a quality of any sort; for it is essentially a relation of the whole person to the Saviour; one cannot abstract from this relation qualities in the soul either meriting justification or caused by justification. Faith is experienced as liberation for the lifelong conquest of sin. This is the “something present and inward” Newman asks for, but that is a misleading way to describe it. To see it as “something in us, not out of us” (p. 133) would be to miss the fact that one’s whole being is set in a dynamic relationship to grace and to sin.
How foreign all this is to Newman may be gauged from his dismissal of Luther’s identification in faith with Christ crucified, his “contemporaneity with Christ” (Kierkegaard): “to say that our present state of being accounted righteous is nothing else than the fact of Christ’s having obeyed the Law eighteen hundred years since… is like saying that our animal life consists in the creation of Adam” (p. 134).The parallel between life and justification as present, inner principles shows a tendency to draw on vital or organic metaphors for the spiritual, which elsewhere produces unitary idealisations of the life of the mind, the life of faith and the development of dogma.
Newman is prepared to concede that “if it be laid down that our justification consists in union with Christ, or reconciliation with God, this is an intelligible and fair answer” (p. 134). But “what is meant by union with Christ?... if we consider Scripture to be silent on this point, then we shall say that justification consists in an unknown, unrevealed, mysterious union with Christ” (p. 134). If that is what Protestants hold, let them maintain an appropriate silence; but if they explain that faith is that in which union with Christ consists, then let them stand their ground against those who argue that it is renewal. Let them answer the question: “faith is acceptable as having a something in it, which unbelief has not; that something, what is it? It must be God’s grace…” (p. 136).
The urge to objectify here again abstracts faith from the concrete relation of its turning to Christ. He insists that there must be an ontological foundation to both faith and renewal, first identified as grace: “the having that grace or that presence… must be the real token, the real state of a justified man” (p. 136). Grace here is thought of as substance, not relation; its acting in us is conceived on the model of the soul’s acting in the body as principle of life. Then it is identified as ”an immediate divine power or presence”, “the presence of the Holy Ghost shed abroad in our hearts” (p. 137). Here the deeper foundation, the indwelling Trinity, comes into view, at first in a warmly biblical language. But gradually we are made conscious of the brackets of a non-biblical ontology, enclosing this language.
Newman goes on to claim “that justification actually is ascribed in Scripture to the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that immediately, neither faith nor renewal intervening” (p. 137). Again we suspect an inversion of the biblical sequence, threatening ontological annulment of the entire drama of justification mapped in Paul and Luther. One might turn Newman’s line of questioning against himself and ask: if the indwelling presence is the something in us, not out of us, that makes us justified and holy, how do we experience it? In justification/renewal we experience only “a supernatural quality imparted to the soul by God’s grace” (p. 136); by what extra experience do we become aware of “the grace itself, as an immediate divine power or presence” (p. 137).
The experiential upshot seems to be that justification/renewal is most authentically lived as the cherishing of an indwelling presence: “this justifying power though within us, as it must be, if it is to separate us from the world, yet is not… any quality or act of our minds, not faith, not renovation, not obedience, not anything cognizable by man, but a certain divine gift in which all these qualifications are included” (pp. 143-4).Three Neoplatonic, un-Pauline traits emerge here: the recollection whereby we cherish the power within; the apophatic reverence for its incognisable nature; the sense of removal from the world. Trusting in these Neoplatonic attitudes, Newman short-circuits the biblical experience.
Newman uses “The Law of the Spirit of life hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2) and “It is the Spirit that giveth life” (John 6:63) as proof-texts, with a massive emphasis on the notions of life and death (p. 138). The processes of justification and of spiritual enlightenment, vividly dramatised in the composition of Romans and of John, are eclipsed by this foregrounding of their final moments. An undifferentiated ontological unity is imposed on the biblical notions, preventing attention to their context and its nuances. The Pauline and Johannine notions of spirit (pneuma), equated with the Holy Spirit of trinitarian doctrine are grasped in terms of substantial life, at the expense of the dialectical, existential dimensions of pneumatic contemplation. In reducing justification to indwelling, Newman would swap the Pauline perspective as constructed by Luther for the fuller and firmer ontological version of Athanasius (On the Incarnation),who describes a conquest of life over corruption and knowledge over ignorance, finally summarised as divinisation. But here too he takes over the conclusion at the expense of the process, making divinisation static and substantial, whereas for Athanasius it is the event of the communication of knowledge of God and divine life.
Righteousness as “a definite inward gift” is opposed to “any mere quality of mind, whether faith or holiness” (p. 139). This abrupt dualism of subjective and objective further impedes him from finding a language of pneuma. The ontological “gift” is eventually mediated with the subjective by a devotional orchestration of the theme of inner presence. This gap between objective ontology and its subjective appropriation is unknown to the Greek Fathers, and indicates the restorational character of Newman’s use of their language. What makes all restoration hollow is the repression of awareness it exacts; in attacking Luther it is his own modern subjectivity that Newman wants to subject to a patristic vision which cannot truly satisfy it.
He tries to make the Fathers more vital by reinforcing the biblical basis of their vision, but he does not carry that process far enough, and is led to prize them as venerable rather than to interrogate them as witnesses to biblical truth. A subtle confusion between the firmness of biblical faith and a numbing fidelity to the past runs through Newman’s writing. Though never a barren traditionalist, again and again he loses the thread of his best awareness, seduced by the beauty of an imagined past. He found himself amid the Fathers, felt that he lost himself amid the Reformers. Did he one-sidedly allow that pattern of return to shape his life? Had he lost himself a little more, might he not have more to say to us now? He had, it is true, a broad grasp of his age, and he “changed often” – the conversion to Rome entailed a major counter-narcissistic immersion in a foreign element. Yet he is also always defending some unyielding core of identity, cushioned in devout precautions. What threatens it is kept at a distance.
McGrath finds proof of Newman’s “purely superficial engagement with the thought of the Reformation” in his failure to notice in Luther and Calvin a doctrine of Christ’s indwelling very similar to his own (II, p. 130). But their teaching is by no means easy to interpret: it proceeds in the register of identification with Christ by faith, a Christ who remains extra nos even though we can become “one person” (Luther) with him in faith (Pesch, pp. 239-45; Stadtland, pp. 118-24). (McGrath captiously suggests that Newman did not consult Luther’s text at first hand, pp. 127-9. The omission in the quotation from Luther, WA 40:1 pp. 414-6, on pp.300-1 of the “Lectures” does not prove that Newman was dependent on an intermediary or was engaged in deliberate misrepresentation. Newman’s misunderstanding of Luther’s analogy between faith and works and Christ’s divinity and humanity is in good faith; the Luther specialist O. Modalsli makes the same mistake less guardedly: “Luther can come close to a doctrine of justification through works – indeed he actually expresses it: ut vere dicitur de Christo homine, quod creavit omnia, ita tribuitur etiam iustificatio fidei incarnatae seu fideli facere, WA 40:1 p. 416. Faith incarnate, believing action justifies!’ [Das Gericht nach den Werken, Göttingen, 1963, p. 40; see P. Manns, “Fides absoluta – Fides incarnata” in Reformata Reformanda, Münster, 1965, I, pp.265-3l2]. McGrath’s argument [p.129] from verbal discrepancies between Newman’s citations and WA 40, rather than the text Newman used, is futile.)
Calvin might find Newman’s notions of indwelling to reek of the substantial interfusion of which he accused Osiander (Inst.III 11.5). Calvin’s “eminent sentence, that the faithful live outside themselves, that is, in Christ” (quoted, Stadtland, p. 121) gives the notion of Christ indwelling a refined and dynamic inflection foreign to Newman. Newman is quite aware of Calvin’s teaching that “Christ indwelling is our righteousness”, but “what is with them a matter of words I would wish to use in a real sense as expressing a sacred mystery” (p. 382). This category of “sacred mystery” fails to capture the pneumatic quality of the Pauline, deutero-Pauline or Johannine accounts of indwelling.
Luther’s language of indwelling also seems to him unreal, or “merely” spiritual, in comparison with the substantialist ontology of the Fathers: “Since then the thought of Him is ever present in it [faith], therefore He may be said to be… spiritually present in it” (p. 20). In Newman, indwelling overrides the Lutheran extra nos. Osiander, also, thought that “Luther’s language about righteousness ‘outside ourselves’ was a figurative concession to simple believers” (J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 4, Chicago, 1984, p. 151), but the Formula of Concord corrects him by insisting that the divine indwelling does not precede but follows justifying faith (BSLK p. 933) and by condemning the view, shared by Newman, that “faith does not look alone to the obedience of Christ, but to his divine nature as it dwells and acts in us, and that it is through this indwelling that our sins are covered” (p. 935). In the first edition (p. 426) Newman repeats Calvin’s association of Osiander with Manicheanism, but this he subsequently retracted, admitting his kinship with Osiander: “it is unnecessary to advance so grave a charge against him” (third edition, p. 387). (G. Zimmermann perhaps underestimates the difference between a Greek patristic ontology of the indwelling Trinity and Luther’s sense of the believer’s identification with Christ extra se when he insists on a concord between Osiander and Luther on this point; “Die Thesen Osianders zur Disputation de iustificatione”, Kerygma und Dogma 33, 1987, pp. 224-44.)
The model of indwelling, “the distinguishing grace of the Gospel” (p. 147), prevails over all others, as ontologically the most fundamental, and is in turn underpinned by axioms about the substance and omnipresence of God. The metaphysics of omnipresence becomes the ultimate bedrock of this vision. As the phenomenology of justification was diluted by its reduction to sanctification (its necessary underpinning) and both are further diluted by being recalled to a spirituality of indwelling divine presence, so this chain of metaphysical grounding finally leads to the erasure of all distinctively biblical phenomena in a cold presentation of a God, characterised above all by the necessities of his ontological constitution.
“If this notion of the literal indwelling of God within us… be decried as a sort of mysticism, I ask in reply whether it is not a necessary truth that He is with us and in us, if He is everywhere?” (p. 145). A stronger reply would have been to show that the indwelling was not a mere undifferentiated mystical piety but had a precise evangelical character; Luther and Calvin would have been indispensable references in the construction of such a phenomenology. Instead Newman falls back on “a necessary truth”, which blunts the originality of his vision and prevents him from deepening it and freeing it from devotional notions of intimate presence. Once again the powerful hold of unquestioned metaphysical ways of reasoning keeps him from the existential penetration of which he should have been capable.
This failure of engagement shows up in his style, which crumbles into fustian when cut off from the springs of experience: “His infinite and incomprehensible Essence, which once existed by and in itself alone, and then at the creation so far communicated itself to His works as to sustain what He had brought into existence… may in the Christian Church manifest itself in act and virtue in the hearts of Christians, as far surpassing what it is in unregenerate man, as its presence in man excels its presence in a brute or a vegetable” (p. 145).
This God is encased in a dead ontology, which yet co-exists with a vivid phenomenology of God’s intimate presence to the soul in judgment (conscience), painfully transforming grace and sustaining love. The phenomenology was never invoked to transform the metaphysics, and so remained confined to a subjective sphere of devotion. Newman’s objective discourse on God and the soul flounders in metaphysical jargon without metaphysical conviction, and only when he modulates back to the subjective does his style recover its glow.
“Two Voices are there”: one subtle and engaging in its testimony to a lived holiness, the other the droning of a thrall of metaphysics. The task for Newman’s readers is to free the first voice from the inhibiting intrusion of the second, and to find for it the philosophical and theological language that may allow it to resonate beyond a cocoon of subjectivism.
(See also J. Morales, “Newman and the Problem of Justification”, in Newman Today, San Francisco, 1988, pp. 143-64; I. Ker, John Henry Newman, Oxford, 1990, pp.151-7. These authors’ eschewal of any critical confrontation between Luther and Newman’s account of him is to be regretted at a time when so painful a gulf may be felt between the Gospel and the Church.)
From: David Nicholls and Fergus Kerr, ed. John Henry Newman: Reason, Rhetoric and Romanticism, The Bristol Press, 1991.