John Henry Newman.

Apologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions online

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in times past, in the use of their power, I think that the
event has shown after all, that they were mainly in the right,
and that those whom they were hard upon were mainly

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in the wrong. I love, for instance, the name of Origen :
I will not listen to the notion that so great a soul was lost ;
but I am quite sure that, in the contest between his doc-
trine and followers and the ecclesiastical power, his oppo-
nents were right, and he was wrong. Yet who can speak
with patience of his enemy and the enemy of St. John
Chrysostom, that Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria ? who
can admire or revere Pope Vigilius ? And here another
consideration presents itself to my thoughts. In reading
ecclesiastical history, when I was an Anglican, it used to
be forcibly brought home to me, how the initial error of
what afterwards became heresy was the urging forward
some- truth against the prohibition of authority at an un-
seasonable time. There is a time for every thing, and
many a man desires a reformation of an abuse, or the
fuller development of a doctrine, or the adoption of a
particular policy, but forgets to ask himself whether the
right time for it is come ; and, knowing that there is no
one who will be doing any thing towards its accomplish-
ment in his own lifetime unless he does it himself, he will
not listen to the voice of authority, and he spoils a good
work in his own century, in order that another man, as
yet unborn, may not have the opportunity of bringing it
happily to perfection in the next. He may seem to the
world to be nothing else than a bold champion for the
truth and a martyr to free opinion, when he is just one
of those persons whom the competent authority ought to
silence; and, though the case may not fall within that
subject-matter in which that authority is infallible, or the
formal conditions of the exercise of that gift may be want-
ing, it is clearly the duty of authority to act vigorously in
the case.. Yet its act will go down to posterity as an
instance of a tyrannical interference with private judg-
ment, and of the silencing of a reformer, and of a base
lore of corruption or error ; and it will show still less to

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advantage, if the ruling power happens in its proceedings
to evince any defect of prudence or consideration. And
all those who take the part of that ruling authority will
be considered as time-servers, or indifferent to the cause of
uprightness and truth ; while, on the other hand, the said
authority may be accidentally supported by a violent ultra
party, which exalts opinions into dogmas, and has it prin-
cipally at heart to destroy every school of thought but its

Such a state of things may be provoking and discourag-
ing at the time, in the case of two classes of persons ; of
moderate men who wish to make differences in religious
opinion as little as they fairly can be made ; and of such
as keenly perceive, and are honestly eager to remedy,
existing evils,— -evils, of which divines in this or that
foreign country know nothing at all, and which even at
home, where they exist, it is not every one who has the
means of estimating. This is a state of things both of
past time and of the present. We live in a wonderful
age ; the enlargement of the circle of secular knowledge
just now is simply a bewilderment, and the more so, be-
cause it has the promise of continuing, and that with
greater rapidity, and more signal results. Now these dis-
coveries, certain or probable, have in matter of fact an
indirect bearing upon religious opinions, and the question
arises how are the respective claims of revelation and of
natural science to be adjusted. Few minds in earnest can
remain at ease without some sort of rational grounds for
their religious belief; to reconcile theory and fact is
almost an instinct of the mind. When then a flood of
facts, ascertained or suspected, comes pouring in upon us,
>writh a multitude of others in prospect, all believers in
Revelation, be they Catholic or not, are roused to consider
their bearing upon themselves, both for the honour of God,
and from tenderness for those many souls who, in conse-

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quence of the confident tone of the schools of secular
knowledge, are in danger of being led away into a bottom-
less liberalism of thought.

I am not going to criticize here that vast body of men,
in the mass, who at this time would profess to be liberals
in religion ; and who look towards the discoveries of the
age, certain or in progress, as their informants, direct or
indirect, as to what they shall think about the unseen and
the future. The Liberalism which gives a colour to society
now, is very difierent from that character of thought which
bore the name thirty or forty years ago. Now it is scarcely
a party ; it is the educated lay world. When I was young,
I knew the word first as giving name to a periodical, set
up by Lord Byron and others. Now, as then, I have no
sympathy with the philosophy of Byron. Afterwards,
Liberalism was the badge of a theological school, of a dry
and repulsive character, not very dangerous in itself,
though dangerous as opening the door to evils which it
did not itself either anticipate or comprehend. At present
it is nothing else than that deep, plausible scepticism, of
which I spoke above, as being the development of human
reason, as practically exercised by the natural man.

The Liberal religionists of this day are a very mixed
body, and therefore I am not intending to speak against
them. There may be, and doubtless is, in the hearts of
some or many of them a real antipathy or anger against
revealed truth, which it is distressing to think of. Again ;
in many men of science or literature there may be an
animosity arising from almost a personal feeling ; it being
a matter of party, a point of honour, the excitement of a
game, or a satisfaction to the soreness or annoyance occa-
sioned by the acrimony or narrowness of apologists for
religion, to prove that Christianity or that Scripture is im-
trustworthy. Many scientific and literary men, on the other
hand, go on, I am confident, in a straightforward impartial

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way, in their own province and on their own line of
thought, without any disturbance from religious difficulties
in themselves, or any wish at all to give pain to others by
the result of their investigations. It would ill become me,
as if I were afraid of truth of any kind, to blame those
who pursue secular facts, by means of the reason which
God has given them, to their logical conclusions : or to be
angry with science, because religion is bound in duty to
take cognizance of its teaching. But putting these parti-
cular classes of men aside, as having no special call on the
sympathy of the Catholic, of course he does most deeply
enter into the feelings of a fourth and large class of men,
in the educated portions of society, of religious and sincere
minds, who are simply perplexed, ^-frightened or rendered
desperate, as the case may be, — by the utter confusion into
which late discoveries or speculations have thrown their
most elementary ideas of religion. Who does not feel for
such men ? who can have one unkind thought of them ?
I take up in their behalf St. Augustine's beautiful words,.
" Uli in vos saeviant," &c. Let them be fierce with you
who have no experience of the difficulty with which error
is discriminated from truth,- and the way of life is found
amid the illusions of the world. How many a Catholic
has in his thoughts followed such men, many of them so
good, so true, so noble ! how often has the wish risen in
his heart that some one from among his own people should
come forward as the champion of revealed truth against its
opponents! Various persons. Catholic and Protestant,
have asked me to do so myself; but I had several strong
difficulties in the way. One of the greatest is this, that at
the moment it is so difficult to say precisely what it is that
is to be encountered and overthrown. I am far from
denying that scientific knowledge is really growing, but it
is by fits and starts ; hypotheses rise and fall ; it is diffi-
cult to anticipate which of them will keep their ground,

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and what the state of knowledge in relation to them will
be from year to year. In this condition of things, it has
seemed to me to be very undignified for a Catholic to com-
mit himself to the work of chasing what might turn out
to be phantoms, and, in behalf of some special objections,
to be ingenious in devising a theory, which, before it was
completed, might have to give place to some theory newer
still, from the fact that those former objections had already
come to nought under the uprising of others. It seemed
to be specially a time, in which Christians had a call to be
patient, in which they had no other way of helping those
who were alarmed, than that of exhorting them to have a
little faith and ' fortitude, and to "beware," as the poet
says, " of dangerous steps." This seemed so clear to me,
the more I thought of the matter, as to make me surmise,
that, if I attempted what had so little promise in it, I
should find that the highest Catholic Authority was
against the attempt, and that I should have spent my
time and my thought, in doing what either it would be
imprudent to bring before the public at all, or what, did I
do so, would only complicate matters further which were
already complicated, without my interference, more than
enough. And I interpret recent acts of that authority as
fulfilling my expectation ; I interpret them as tying the
hands of a controversialist, such as I should be, and teach-
ing us that true wisdom, which Moses inculcated on his
people, when the Egyptians were pursuing them, " Fear
ye not, stand still; the Lord shall fight for you, and ye
shall hold your peace." And so far from finding a diffi-
culty in obeying in this case, I have cause to be thankful
and to rejoice to have so clear a direction in a matter of

But if we would ascertain with correctness the real
course of a principle, we must look at it at a certain dis-
tance, and as history represents it to us. Nothing carried

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on by human instruments, but has its irregularities, and
affords ground for criticism, when minutely scrutinized in
matters of detail. I have been speaking of that aspect of
the action of an infallible authority, which is most open to
invidious criticism from those who view it from without ;
I have tried to be fair, in estimating what can be said to
its disadvantage, as witnessed at a particular time in the
Catholic Church, and now I wish its adversaries to be
equally fair in their judgment upon its historical character.
Can, then, the infallible authority, with any show of reason,
be said in fact to have destroyed the energy of the Catholic
intellect ? Let it be observed, I have not here to speak
of any conflict which ecclesiastical authority has had with
science, for this simple reason, that conflict there has been
none ; and that, because the secular sciences, as they now
exist, are a novelty in the world, and there has been no
time yet for a history of relations between theology and
these new methods of knowledge, and indeed the Church
may be said to have kept clear of them, as is proved by
the constantly cited case of Galileo. Here " exceptio pro-
bat regulam:" for it is the one stock argument. Again,
I have not to speak of any relations of the Church to the
new sciences, because my simple question all along has
been whether the assumption of infallibility by the proper
authority is adapted to make me a hypocrite, and till that
authority passes decrees on pure physical subjects and calls
on me to subscribe them, (which it never wiU. do, because
it has not the power,) it has no tendency to interfere by any
of its acts with my private judgment on those points. The
simple question is, whether authority has so acted upon
the reason of individuals, that they can have no opinion
of their own, and have but an alternative of slavish super-
stition or secret rebellion of heart ; and I think the whole
history of theology puts an absolute negative upon such a

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It is hardly necessary to argue out so plain a point. It
is individuals, and not the Holy See, that have taken the
initiative, and given the lead to the Catholic mind, in theo-
logical inquiry. Indeed, it is one of the reproaches urged
against the Roman Church, that it has originated nothing,
and has only served as a sort of remora or break in the
development of doctrine. And it is an objection which I
really embrace as a truth ; for such I conceive to be the
main purpose of its extraordinary gift. It is said, and
truly, that the Church of Rome possessed no great mind
in the whole period of persecution. Afterwards for a long
while, it has not a single doctor to show ; St. Leo, its first,
is the teacher of one point of doctrine ; St. Gregory, who
stands at the very extremity of the first age of the Church,
has no place in dogma or philosophy. The great luminary
of the western world is, as we know, St. Augustine ; he,
no infallible teacher, has formed the intellect of Christian
Europe ; indeed to the African Church generally we must
look for the best early exposition of Latin ideas. More-
over, of the African divines, the first in order of time, and
not the least influential, is the strong-minded and heterodox
TertuUian. Nor is the Eastern intellect, as such, without
its share in the formation of the Latin teaching. The
free thought of Origen is visible in the writings of the
"Western Doctors, Hilary and Ambrose ; and the indepen-
dent mind of Jerome has enriched his own vigorous com-
mentaries on Scripture, from the stores of the scarcely
orthodox Eusebius. Heretical questionings have been
transmuted by the living power of the Church into salu-
tary truths. The case is the same as regards the Ecumeni-
cal Councils. Authority in its most imposing exhibition,
gruve bishops, laden with the traditions and rivalries of
particular nations or places, have been guided in their
decisions by the commanding genius of individuals, some-
times young and of inferior rank. Not that uninspired

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intellect overruled the super-human gift which was com-
mitted to the Coimcil, which would be a self-contradictory
assertion, but that in that process of inquiry and delibera-
tion, which ended in an infallible. enunciation, individual
reason was paramount. Thus Malchion, a mere presbyter,
was the instrument of the great Council of Antioch in the
third century in meeting and refuting, for the assembled
Fathers, the heretical Patriarch of that see. Parallel to
this instance is the influence, so well known, of a young
deacon, St. Athanasius, with the 318 Fathers at Nicaaa.
In mediaeval times we read of St. Anselm at Bari, as the
champion of the Coimcil there held, against the Greeks.
At Trent, the writings of St. Bonaventura, and, what is
more to the point, the address of a Priest and theologian,
Salmeron, had a critical effect on some of the definitions
of dogma. In some of these cases the influence might be
partly moral, but in others it was that of a discursive
knowledge of ecclesiastical writers, a scientific acquaint-
ance with theology, and a force of thought in the treat-
ment of doctrine.

There are of course intellectual habits which theology
does not tend to form, jis for instance the experimental,
and again the philosophical; but that is because it is
theology, not because of the gift of infallibility. But, as
far as this goes, I think it could be shown that physical
science on the other hand, or again mathematical, affords
but an imperfect training for the intellect. I do not see
then how any objection about the narrowness of theology
comes into our question, which simply is, whether the
l)elief in an infallible authority destroys the independence
of the mind ; and I consider that the whole history of
the Church, and especially the history of the theological
schools, gives a negative to the accusation. There never
was a time when the intellect of the educated class was
more active, or rather more restless, than in the middle

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ages. And then again all through Church history from
the first, how slow is authority in interfering ! Perhaps
a local teacher, or a doctor in some local school, hazards a
proposition, and a controversy ensues. It smoulders or
bums in one place, no one interposing ; Rome simply lets
it alone. Then it comes before a Bishop ; or some priest,
or some professor in some other seat of learning takes it
up ; and then there is a second stage of it. Then it comes
before a University, and it may be condemned by the
theological faculty. So the controversy proceeds year
after year, and Rome is still silent. An appeal perhaps is
next made to a seat of authority inferior to Rome ; and
then at last after a long while it comes before the supreme
power. Meanwhile, the question has been ventilated and
turned over and over again, and viewed on every side of
it, and authority is called upon to pronounce a decision,
which has already been arrived at by reason. But even
then, perhaps the supreme authority hesitates to do so,
and nothing is determined on the point for years : or so
generally and vaguely, that the whole controversy has to
be gone through again, before it is ultimately determined.
It is manifest how a mode of proceeding, such as this,
tends not only to the liberty, but to the courage, of the
individual theologian or controversialist. Many a man
has ideas, which he Hopes are true, and useful for his day,
but he is not confident about them, and wishes to have
them discussed. He is willing, or rather would be thankful,
to give them up, if they can be proved to be erroneous or
dangerous, and by means of controversy he obtains his
end. He is answered, and he yields ; or on the contrary
he finds that he is considered safe. He would not dare to
do this, if he knew an authority, which was supreme and
final, was watching every word he said, and made signs of
assent or dissent to each sentence, as he uttered it. Then
indeed he would be fightinc. as the Persian soldiers, under

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the lash, and the freedom of his intellect might truly be
said to be beaten out of him. But this has not been so : —
I do not mean to say that, when controversies run high,
in schools or even in small portions of the Church, an
interposition may not advisably take place; and again,
questions may be of that urgent nature, that an appeal
must, as a matter of duty, be made at once to the highest
authority in the Church ; but if we look into the history
of controversy, we shall find, I think, the general run <^
things to be such as I have represented it. Zosimus
treated Pelagius and Coelestius with extreme forbearance ;
St. Gregory VII. was equally indulgent with Berengarius :
— by reason of the very power of the Popes they have
commonly been slow and moderate in their use of it.

And here again is a further shelter for the legitimate
exercise of the reason : — the multitude of nations which
are within the fold of the Church will be found to have
acted for its protection, against any narrowness, on the
supposition of narrowness, in the various authorities at
Rome, with whom lies the practical decision of contro-
verted questions. How have the Greek traditions been
respected and provided for in the later Ecumenical Coun-
cils, in spite of the countries that held them being in a
state of schism ! There are important points of doctrine
which have been (humanly speaking) exempted from the
infallible sentence, by the tenderness with which its instru-
ments, in framing it, have treated the opinions of particular
places. Then, again, such national influences have a pro-
vidential effect in moderating the bias which the local
influences of Italy may exert upon the See of St. Peter.
It stands to reason that, as the Gallican Church has in it
a French element, so Rome must have in it an element of
Italy ; and it is no prejudice to the zeal and devotion with
which we submit ourselves to the Holy See to admit this
plainly. It seems to me, as I have been saying, that

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CathoKcity is not only one of the notes of the Churcli, but,
according to the divine purposes, one of its securities. I
think it would be a very serious evil, which Divine Mercy
avert ! that the Church should be contracted in Europe
within the range of particular nationalities. It is a great
idea to introduce Latin civilization into America, and to
improve the Catholics there by the energy of French
devotedness ; but I trust that all European races will ever
have a place in the Church, and assuredly I think that
the loss of the English, not to say the German element, in
its composition has been a most serious misfortune. And
certainly, if there is one consideration more than another
which should make us English grateful to Pius the Ninth,
it is that, by giving us a Church of our own, he has pre-
pared the way for our own habits of mind, our own
manner of reasoning, our own tastes, and our own virtues,
finding a place and thereby a sanctification, in the Catholic

There is only one other subject, which I think it neces-
sary to introduce here, as bearing upon the vague suspi-
cions which are attached in this country to the Catholic
Priesthood. It is one of which my accusers have before
now said much, — the charge of reserve and economy.
They found it in no slight degree on what I have said on
the subject in my History of the Arians, and in a note
upon one of my Sermons in which I refer to it. The
principle of Reserve is also advocated by an admirable
writer in two numbers of the Tracts for the Times, and
of these I was the Editor.

Now, as to the Economy itself', it is founded upon the
words of our Lord, "Cast not your pearls before swine ;'*
and it was observed by the early Christians more or less,

» Vide Note F, The Economy.

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in ttelr intercourse with the heathen populations among
whom they lived. In the midst of the abominable idola-
tries and impurities of that fearful time, the Rule of the
Econom|^ was an imperative duty. But that rule, at least
as I have explained and recommended it, in anything that
I have written, did not go beyond (1) the concealing the
truth when we could do so without deceit, (2) stating it
only partially, and (3) representing it under the nearest
form possible to a learner or inquirer, when he conld not
possibly understand it exactly. I conceive that to draw
Angels with wings is an instance of the third of these
economical modes ; and to avoid the question, " Do Chris-
tians believe in a Trinity?" by answering, "They believe
in only one God," would be an instance of the second.
As to the first, it is hardly an Economy, but comes under
what is called the " Disciplina Arcani." The second and
third economical modes Clement calls lying; meaning that
a partial truth is in some sense a lie, as is also a represen-
tative truth. And this, I think, is about the long and the
short of the ground of the accusation which has been
so violently urged against me, as being a patron of the

Of late years I have come to think, as I believe most
writers do, that Clement meant more than I have said. I
used to think he used the word " lie " as an hyperbole,
but I now believe that he, as other early Fathers, thought
^ that, under certain circumstances, it was lawful to tell a
lie. This doctrine I never maintained, though I used to
think, as I do now, that the theory of the subject is sur-
rounded with considerable difficulty ; and it is not strange
that I should say so, considering that great English
writers declare without hesitation that in certain extreme
cases, as to save life, honour,' or even property, a lie is
allowable. And thus I am brought to the direct question
of truth, aud of the truthfulness of Catholic priests gene-

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanApologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions → online text (page 23 of 33)