Francis William Newman.

Phases of Faith Passages from the History of My Creed online

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in itself may be inappreciable to one in a certain mental state, or
may be highly exasperating. If a thoughtful Mohammedan, a searcher
after truth, were to confide to a Christian a new basis on which be
desired to found the Mohammedan religion - viz., the absolute moral
perfection of its prophet, and were to urge on the Christian this
argument in order to convert him, I cannot think that any one would
blame the Christian for demanding what is the evidence of the _fact_.
Such an appeal would justify his dissecting the received accounts of
Mohammed, pointing out what appeared to be flaws in his moral conduct;
nay, if requisite, urging some positive vice, such as his excepting
himself from his general law of _four wives only_. But a Christian
missionary would surely be blamed (at least I should blame him), if,
in preaching to a mixed multitude of Mohammedans against the authority
of their prophet, he took as his basis of refutation the prophet's
personal sensuality. We are able to foresee that the exasperation
produced by such an argument must derange the balance of mind in the
hearers, even if the argument is to the purpose; at the same time, it
may be really away from the purpose to _them_, if their belief has
no closer connexion with the personal virtue of the prophet, than has
that of Jews and Christians with the virtue of Balaam or Jonah. I will
proceed to imagine, that while a missionary was teaching, talking, and
distributing tracts to recommend, his own views of religion, a Moolah
were to go round and inform everybody that this Christian believed
Mohammed to be an unchaste man, and had used the very argument to such
and such a person. I feel assured that we should all pronounce this
proceeding to be a very cunning act of spiteful, bigotry.

My own case, as towards certain Unitarian friends of mine, is quite
similar to this. They preach to me the absolute moral perfection of a
certain man (or rather, of a certain portrait) as a sufficient basis
for my faith. Hereby they challenge me, and as it were force me, to
inquire into its perfection. I have tried to confine the argument
within a narrow circle. It is addressed by me specifically to them
and not to others. I would _not_ address it to Trinitarians; partly,
because they are not in a mental state to get anything from it
but pain, partly because much of it becomes intrinsically bad _as
argument_ when addressed to them. Many acts and words which would be
_right_ from an incarnate God, or from an angel, are (in my opinion)
highly _unbecoming_ from a man; consequently I must largely remould
the argument before I could myself approve of it, if so addressed.
The principle of the argument is such as Mr. Rogers justifies, when
he says that Mr. Martineau _quite takes away all solid reasons for
believing in Christ's absolute perfection._ ("Defence," p. 220.) I
opened my chapter (chapter VII.) above with a distinct avowal of my
wish to confine the perusal of it to a very limited circle. Mr. Rogers
(acting, it seems, on the old principle, that whatever one's enemy
deprecates, is a good) instantly pounces on the chapter, avows that
"if infidelity _could_ be ruined, such imprudencies[17] would go
far to ruin it," p. 22; and because he believes that it will be
"unspeakably[18] painful" to the orthodox for whom I do _not_ intend
it, he prints the greater part of it in an Appendix, and expresses his
regret that he cannot publish "every syllable of it," p. 22. Such is
his tender regard for the feeling of his co-religionists.

My defender in the "Prospective Review" wound up as follows (x. p.
227): -

"And now we have concluded our painful task, which nothing but a
feeling of what justice - literary, and personal - required, would have
induced us to undertake. The tone of intellectual disparagement
and moral rebuke which certain critics, - deceived by the shallowest
sophisms with which an unscrupulous writer could work on their
prepossessions and insult their understandings - have adopted towards
Mr. Newman made exposure necessary. The length to which our remarks
have extended requires apology. Evidence to character is necessarily
cumulative, and not easily compressible within narrow limits. Enough
has been said to show that there is not an art discreditable in
controversy, to which recourse is not freely had in the 'Eclipse of
Faith' and the Defence of it."

The reader must judge for himself whether this severe and terrible
sentence of the reviewer proceeds from ill-temper and personal
mortification, as the author of the Eclipse and its Defence
gratuitously lays down, or whether it was prompted by a sense of
justice, as he himself affirms.

[Footnote 1: The "Eclipse" had previously been noticed in the same
review, on the whole favourably, by a writer of evidently a different
religious school, and before I had exposed the evil arts of my

[Footnote 2: The authorship is since acknowledged by Mr. Henry Rogers,
in the title to his article on Bishop Butler in the "Encyclopædia

[Footnote 3: That is, my "discovery" that the writer of the "Eclipse
of Faith" grossly misquotes and misinterprets me.]

[Footnote 4: Page 225, he says, that each criticism "is quite worthy
of Mr. Newman's _friend_, defender and admirer;" assuming a fact, in
order to lower my defender's credit with his readers.]

[Footnote 5: As he puts "artful dodge" into quotation marks, his
readers will almost inevitably believe that this vulgar language is
mine. In the same spirit to speaks of me as "making merry" with a Book
Revelation; as if I had the slightest sympathy or share in the style
and tone which pervades the "Eclipse." But there is no end of such
things to be denounced.]

[Footnote 6: Italics in the original.]

[Footnote 7: In the ninth edition, p. 104, I find that to cover the
formal falsehood of these words, he adds: "what he calls his arguments
are assertions only," still withholding that which would confute him.]

[Footnote 8: I will here add, that this "stinking fly" - the
parenthesis ("in a certain stage of development") - was added merely
to avoid dogmatizing on the question, how early in human history or in
human life this mysterious notion of the divine spirit is recognizable
as commencing.]

[Footnote 9: If the word _essential_ is explained away, _this_
sentence may be attenuated to a truism.]

[Footnote 10: Paul to the Corinthians, 1st Ep. ii.]

[Footnote 11: This clause is too strong. "Expect _direct_ spiritual
results," might have been better.]

[Footnote 12: The substance of what I wrote was this. Socrates and
Cicero ask, _where did we pick up our intelligence?_ It did not come
from nothing; it most reside in the mind of him from whom we and this
world came; God must be more intelligent than man, his creature. - But
this argument may be applied with equal truth, not to intelligence
only, but to all the essential high qualities of man, everything noble
and venerable. Whence came the principle of love, which is the noblest
of all! It must reside in God more truly and gloriously than in
man. He who made loving hearts must himself be loving. Thus the
intelligence and love of God are known through our consciousness of
intelligence and love _within_.]

[Footnote 13: He puts _alone_ in italics. A little below he repeats,
"which alone I ridiculed."]

[Footnote 14: He should add: "external _authoritative_ revelation _of
moral and spiritual truth_." No communication from heaven could have
moral weight, to a heart previously destitute of moral sentiment,
or unbelieving in the morality of God. - What is there in this that
deserves ridicule?]

[Footnote 15: He puts it between two other statements which avowedly
refer to me.]

[Footnote 16: Mr. Rogers asks on this: "Does Mr. Newman mean that
he claims as much as the _apostles_ claimed, _whether they did so
rightfully or not_?" See how acutely a logician can pervert the word

[Footnote 17: There is much meaning in the word imprudencies on which
I need not comment.]

[Footnote 18: "Unspeakably painful" is his phrase for something
much smaller, ("Eclipse" ninth edition p. 194,) which he insists on
similarly obtruding, against my will and protest.]


It is an error not at all peculiar to the author of the "Eclipse of
Faith," but is shared with him by many others, and by one who has
treated me in a very different spirit, that Christians are able to
use atheistic arguments against me without wounding Christianity. As I
have written a rather ample book, called "Theism," expressly designed
to establish against Atheists and Pantheists that moral Theism which
Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans have in common, and which underlies
every attempt of any of the three religions to establish its peculiar
and supernatural claims; I have no need of entering on that argument
here. It is not true, that, as a Theist, I evade the objections urged
by real atheists or sceptics; on the contrary, I try to search them to
the very bottom. It is only in arguing with Christians that I disown
the obligation of reply; and that, because they are as much concerned
as I to answer; and ought to be able to give me, _on the ground of
natural theology_, good replies to every fundamental objection from
the sceptic, if I have not got them myself. To declare the objections
of our common adversaries valid against those first principles
of religion which are older than Jesus or Moses, is certainly to
surrender the cause of Christianity.

If this need more elucidation, let it be observed, that no Christian
can take a single step in argument with a heathen, much less establish
his claim of authority for the Bible, without presuming that the
heathen will admit, on hearing them, those doctrines of moral Theism,
which, it is pretended, _I_ can have no good reason for admitting.
If the heathen sincerely retorts against the missionary such Pagan
scepticism as is flung at me by Christians, the missionary's words
are vain; nor is any success possible, unless (with me) he can lay
a _prior_ foundation of moral Theism, independent of any assumption
concerning the claims of the Bible. It avails nothing to preach
repentance of sin and salvation from judgment to come, to minds which
are truly empty of the belief that God has any care for morality. I
of course do not say, and have never said, that the doctrine of the
divine holiness, goodness, truth, must have been previously an active
belief of the heathen hearer. To have stated a question clearly
is often half the solution; and the teacher, who so states a high
doctrine, gives a great aid to the learner's mind. But unless, after
it has been affirmed that there is a Great Eternal Being pervading the
universe, who disapproves of human evil and commands us to pursue
the good, the conscience and intellect of the hearer gives assent, no
argument of moral religion can have weight with him; therefore neither
can any argument about miracles, nor any appeal to the "Bible" as
authoritative. Of course the book has not as yet any influence over
him, nor will its miracles, any more than its doctrines, be
received on the ground of their being in the book. Thus a direct
and independent discernment of the great truths of moral Theism is a
postulate, to be proved or conceded _before_ the Christian can begin
the argument in favour of Biblical preternaturalism. I had thought
it would have been avowed and maintained with a generous pride, that
eminently in Christian literature we find the noblest, soundest, and
fullest advocacy of moral Theism, as having its evidence in the heart
of man within and nature without, _independently of any postulates
concerning the Bible_. I certainly grew up for thirty years in that
belief. Treatises on Natural Theology, which (with whatever success)
endeavoured to trace - not only a constructive God in the outer world,
but also a good God when that world is viewed in connexion with man;
were among the text-books of our clergy and of our universities, and
were in many ways crowned with honour. Bampton Lectures, Bridgewater
Treatises, Burnet Prize Essays, have (at least till very recently in
one case) been all, I rather think, in the same direction. And surely
with excellent reason. To avow that the doctrines of Moral Theism have
no foundation to one who sees nothing preternatural in the Bible, is
in a Christian such a suicidal absurdity, that whenever an atheist
advances it, it is met with indignant denial and contempt.

The argumentative strength of this Appendix, as a reply to those
who call themselves "orthodox" Christians, is immensely increased by
analysing their subsidiary doctrines, which pretend to relieve,
while they prodigiously aggravate, the previous difficulties of Moral
Theism; I mean the doctrine of the fall of man by the agency of a
devil, and the eternal hell. But every man who dares to think will
easily work out such thoughts for himself.


I here reproduce (merely that it may not be pretended that I silently
withdraw it) the substance of an illustration which I offered in my
2nd edition, p. 184.

When I deny that History can be Religion or a part of Religion, I
mean it exactly in the same sense, in which we say that history is not
mathematics, though mathematics has a history. Religion undoubtedly
comes to us by historical transmission: it has had a slow growth; but
so is it with mathematics, so is it with all other sciences. (I refer
to mathematics, not as peculiarly like to religion, but as peculiarly
unlike; it is therefore and _à fortiori_ argument. What is true of
them as sciences, is true of all science.) No science can flourish,
while it is received on authority. Science comes to us _by_ external
transmission, but is not believed _because_ of that transmission. The
history of the transmission is generally instructive, but is no proper
part of the science itself. All this is true of Religion.


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Online LibraryFrancis William NewmanPhases of Faith Passages from the History of My Creed → online text (page 22 of 22)