John Henry Newman.

On the scope & nature of university education online

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has become a mere self-respect. Instead of doing one
thing and then another, as each is called for, in faith
and obedience, careless of what may be called the
keeping of deed with deed, and leaving Him who gives
the command to blend the portions of their conduct
into a whole, their one object, however unconscious to
themselves, is to paint a smooth and perfect surface,
and to be able to say to themselves that they have done
their duty. When they do wrong, they feel, not con-
trition, of which God is the object, but remorse, and a
sense of degradation. They call themselves fools, not
sinners ; they are angry and impatient, not humble.
They shut themselves up in themselves ; it is misery


to them to think or to speak of their own feelings ; it
is misery to suppose that others see them, and their
shyness and sensitiveness often become morbid. As to
confession, which is so natural to the Catholic, to them
it is impossible ; unless indeed, in cases where they
have been guilty, an apology is due to their own char-
acter, is expected of them, and will be satisfactory to
look back upon. They are victims of an intense self-

There are, however, far more pleasing and interest-
ing forms of this moral malady than that which I have
been depicting : I have spoken of the effect of intel-
lectual culture on proud natures ; but it will show to
greater advantage, yet with as little approximation to
religious faith, in amiable and unaffected minds. Ob-
serve, gentlemen, the heresy, as it may be called, of
which I speak, is the substitution of a moral sense or
taste for conscience in the true sense of the word ;
now this error may be the foundation of a character
of far more elasticity and grace than ever adorned the
persons whom I have been describing. It is especially
congenial to men of an imaginative and poetical cast of
mind, who will readily accept the notion that virtue is
nothing more than the graceful in conduct. Such per-
sons, far from tolerating fear, as a principle, in their
apprehension of religious and moral truth, will not be
slow to call it simply gloom and superstition. Rather
a philosopher's, a gentleman's religion, is of a liberal
and generous character ; it is based upon honour ; vice
is evil, because it is unworthy, despicable, and odious.
This was the quarrel of the ancient heathen with
Christianity, that, instead of simply fixing the mind on
the fair and the pleasant, it intermingled other ideas
with them of a sad and painful nature ; that it spoke of


tears before joy, a cross before a crown ; that it laid
the foundation of heroism in penance ; that it made the
soul tremble with the news of Purgatory and Hell ;
that it insisted on views and a worship of the Deity,
which to their minds was nothing else than mean,
servile, and cowardly. The notion of an All-perfect,
Ever-present God, in whose sight we are less than
atoms, and who, while He deigns to visit us, can punish
as well as bless, was abhorrent to them ; they made
their own minds their sanctuary, their own ideas their
oracle, and conscience in morals was but parallel to
genius in art, and wisdom in philosophy.

Had I room for all that might be said upon the
subject, I might illustrate this intellectual religion from
the history of the Emperor Julian, the apostate from
Christian Truth, the foe of Christian education. He,
in whom every Catholic sees the shadow of the future
Anti-Christ, was all but the pattern-man of philo-
sophical virtue. Weak points in his character he had,
it is true, even in a merely poetical standard ; but,
take him all in all, and I can but recognise in him a
specious beauty and nobleness of moral deportment,
which combines in it the rude greatness of Fabricius
cr Regulus with the accomplishments of Pliny or An-
toninus. His simplicity of manners, his frugality, his
austerity of life, his singular disdain of sensual pleasure,
his military heroism, his application to business, his
literary diligence, his modesty, his clemency, his ac-
complishments, as I view them, go to make him one of
the most eminent specimens of pagan virtue which the
world has ever seen. 1 Yet how shallow, how meagre,

i I do not consider I have said above anything inconsistent
with the following passage from Cardinal Gerdil, though
I have enlarged on the favourable side of Julian's character :


nay, how unamiable is that virtue after all, when
brought upon its critical trial by his sudden summons
into the presence of his Judge ! His last hours form
a unique passage in history, both as illustrating the
helplessness of philosophy under the stern realities of
our being, and as being reported to us on the evidence
of an eye-witness. " Friends and fellow-soldiers/' he
aid, to use the words of a writer, well fitted, both
from his literary tastes and from his hatred of Chris-
tianity, to be his panegyrist, " the seasonable period of
my departure is now arrived, and I discharge, with the
cheerfulness of a ready debtor, the demands of nature.
... I die without remorse, as I have lived without
guilt. I am pleased to reflect on the innocence of my
private life ; and I can affirm with confidence that the
supreme authority, that emanation of the Divine Power,
has been preserved in my hands pure and immaculate.
... I now offer my tribute of gratitude to the Eternal
Being, who has not suffered me to perish by the cruelty
of a tyrant, by the secret dagger of conspiracy, or by
the slow tortures of lingering disease. He has given
me, in the midst of an honourable career, a splendid
and glorious departure from this world, and I hold it
equally absurd, equally base, to solicit, or to decline, the
stroke of fate. . . .

"Du ge*nie, des connaissances, de Phabilite dans le metier de
la guerre, du courage et du de'sinte'ressement dans le com-
mandement des armees, des actions plutdt que des qualites
estimables, mais le plus souvent gatees par la vanite* qui en
tait le principe, la superstition jointe a Phypocrisie ; un
esprit fe*cond en ressources eclaire, mais susceptible de peti-
tesse ; des fautes essentielles dans le gouvernement ; des in-
nocens sacrifies a la vengeance ; une haine envenime'e contre
le Christianisme, qu'il avait abandonne ; un attachement pas-
sionne* aux folies de la Tht'urgie ; tels 6taient les traits sons
If squels on nous peignait Julien. "


" He reproved the immoderate grief of the specta-
tors, and conjured them not to disgrace, by unmanly
tears, the fate of a prince who in a few moments would
be united with Heaven and with the stars. The
spectators were silent; and Julian entered into a
metaphysical argument with the philosophers Priscus
and Maximus on the nature of the soul. The efforts
which he made, of mind as well as body, most proba-
bly hastened his death. His wound began to bleed
with great violence ; his respiration was embarrassed
by the swelling of the veins ; he called for a draught
of cold water, and as soon as he had drank it expired
without pain, about the hour of midnight." 1 Such,
gentlemen, is the final exhibition of the Religion of
Reason : in the insensibility of conscience, in the
ignorance of the very idea of sin, in the contemplation
of his own moral consistency, in the simple absence of
fear, in the cloudless self-confidence, in the serene
self-possession, in the cold self-satisfaction, we recog-
nise the Philosopher.

Gibbon paints with pleasure what, conformably with
the sentiments of a godless intellectualism, was an his-
torical fulfilment of his own idea of moral perfection ;
Lord Shaftesbury had already drawn out that idea
in a theoretical form, in his celebrated collection of
Treatises which he has called " Characteristics of men,
manners, opinions, views ; " and it will be a further
illustration of the subject before us if you will allow
me, gentlemen, to make some extracts from this work.

One of his first attacks is directed against the
doctrine of reward and punishment, as if it introduced
a notion into religion inconsistent with the true appre-

1 Gibbon, Hist., ch. 24.


hension of the beauty of virtue, and with the liberality
and nobleness of spirit in which it should be pursued.
" Men have not been content," he says, " to show the
natural advantages of honesty and virtue. They have
rather lessened these, the better, as they thought,
to advance another foundation. They have made
virtue so mercenary a thing, and have talked so
much of its rewards, that one can hardly tell what
there is in it, after all, which can be worth rewarding.
For to be bribed only or terrified into an honest
practice, bespeaks little of real honesty or worth."
" If," he says elsewhere, insinuating what he dare not
speak out, " if through hope merely of reward, or fear
of punishment, the creature be inclined to do the good
he hates, or restrained from doing the ill to which he
is not otherwise in the least degree averse, there is in
this case no virtue or goodness whatever. There is no
more of rectitude, piety, or sanctity, in a creature thus
reformed, than there is meekness or gentleness in a
tiger strongly chained, or innocence and sobriety in a
monkey under the discipline of the whip. . . . While
the will is neither gained, nor the inclination wrought
upon, but awe alone prevails and forces obedience, the
obedience is servile, and all which is done through it
merely servile." That is, he says that Christianity is
the enemy of moral virtue, as influencing the mind by
fear of God, not by love of good.

The motives then of hope and fear being, to say the
least, put far into the background, and nothing being
morally good but what springs simply or mainly from
a love of virtue for its own sake, this love-inspiring
quality in virtue is its beauty, while a bad conscience is
not much more than the sort of feeling which makes us
shrink from an instrument out of tune. " Some by


mere nature," he says, "others by art and practice,
are masters of an ear in music, an eye in painting, a
fancy in the ordinary things of ornament and grace, a
judgment in proportions of all kinds, and a general
good taste in most of those subjects which make the
amusement and delight of the ingenious people of the
world. Let such gentlemen as these be as extravagant
as they please, or as irregular in their morals, they
must at the same time discover their inconsistency, live
at variance with themselves, and in contradiction to that
principle on which they ground their highest pleasure
and entertainment. Of all other beauties which
virtuosos pursue, poets celebrate, musicians sing, and
architects or artistes of whatever kind describe or form,
the most delightful, the most engaging and pathetic, is
that which is drawn from real life and from the
passions. Nothing affects the heart like that which is
purely from itself, and of its own nature : such as the
beauty of sentiments, the grace of actions, the turn of
characters, and the proportions and features of a human
mind. This lesson of philosophy, even a romance, a
poem, or a play may teach us. ... Let poets or the
men of harmony deny, if they can, this force of nature,
or withstand this moral magic. . . . Every one is a
virtuoso of a higher or lower degree ; every one pursues
a grace ... of one kind or other. The venustum,
the honestum, the decorum of things will force its way.
. . . The most natural beauty in the world is honesty
and moral truth ; for all beauty is truth."

Accordingly, virtue being only one kind of beauty,
the principle which determines what is virtuous is, not
conscience, but taste. " Could we once convince our-
selves," he says, " of what is in itself so evident, viz.,
that in the very nature of things there must of necessity


be the foundation of a right and wrong taste, as well in
respect of inward character of features as of outward
person, behaviour, and action, we should be far more
ashamed of ignorance and wrong judgment in the
former than in the latter of these subjects. . . . One
who aspires to the character of a man of breeding and
politeness is careful to form his judgment of arts and
sciences upon right models of perfection. . . . He
takes particular care to turn his eye from everything
which is gaudy, luscious, and of false taste. Nor is he
less careful to turn his ear from every sort of music,
besides that which is of the best manner and truest
harmony. 'Twere to be wished we had the same
regard to a right taste in life and manners. ... If
civility and humanity be a taste ; if brutality, insolence,
riot, be in the same manner a taste, . . . who
would not endeavour to force nature as well in this
respect as in what relates to a taste or judgment in
other arts and sciences ? "

Sometimes he distinctly contrasts this taste with
principle and conscience, and gives it the preference
over them. "After all," he says, "'tis not merely
what <we call principle, but a taste, which governs men.
They may think for certain, * This is right/ or * that
wrong ; ' they may believe * this is a virtue,' or ( that a
sin ; ' * this is punishable by man,' or ' that by God ; *
yet if the savour of things lies cross to honesty, if the
fancy be florid, and the appetite high towards the sub-
altern beauties and lower orders of worldly symmetries
and proportions, the conduct will infallibly turn this
latter way." Thus, somewhat like a Jansenist, he
makes the superior pleasure infallibly conquer, and
implies that, neglecting principle, we have but to train
the taste to a kind of beauty higher than sensual. He
193 N


adds: "Even conscience, I fear, such as is owing to
religious discipline, will make but a slight figure, when
this taste is set amiss."

And hence the well-known doctrine of this author,
that ridicule is the test of truth ; for truth and virtue
being beauty, and falsehood and vice deformity, and the
feeling inspired by deformity being that of derision, as
that inspired by beauty is admiration, it follows that
vice is not a thing to weep about, but to laugh at.
*' Nothing is ridiculous," he says, " but what is de-
formed ; nor is anything proof against raillery but
what is handsome and just. And therefore 'tis the
hardest thing in the world to deny fair honesty the
use of this weapon, which can never bear an edge
against herself, and bears against everything con-

And hence again, conscience, which intimates a
Lawgiver, being superseded by a moral taste or senti-
ment, which has no sanction beyond the constitution of
our nature, it follows that our great rule is to con-
template ourselves, if we would gain a standard of life
and morals. Thus he has entitled one of his Treatises
a " Soliloquy," with the motto, " Nee te quaesiveris
extra ; " and he observes : " The chief interest of ambi-
tion, avarice, corruption, and every sly insinuating vice,
is to prevent this interview and familiarity of discourse,
which is consequent upon close retirement and inward
recess. 'Tis the grand artifice of villainy and lewd-
ness, as 'well as of superstition and bigotry, to put us
upon terms of greater distance and formality with our-
selves, and evade our proving method of soliloquy. . . .
A passionate lover, whatever solitude he may affect,
can never be truly by himself. . . . 'Tis the same
reason which keeps the imaginary saint or mystic from


being capable of this entertainment. Instead of look-
ing narrowly into his own nature and mind, that he
may be no longer a mystery to himself, he is taken up
with the contemplation of other mysterious natures, which
he never can explain or comprehend."

Taking these passages as specimens of what I call
the Religion of Philosophy, it is obvious to observe
that there is no doctrine contained in them which is
not in a certain sense true; yet, on the other hand,
that almost every statement is perverted and made
false, because it is not the whole truth. They are
exhibitions of truth under one aspect, and therefore
insufficient ; conscience is most certainly a moral sense,
but it is more; vice again is a deformity, but it is
worse. Lord Shaftesbury may insist, if he will, that
simple and solitary fear cannot effect a moral conver-
sion, and we are not concerned to answer him ; but he
will have a difficulty in proving that any real conversion
follows from a doctrine which makes virtue a mere
point of good taste, and vice vulgar and ungentleman-

Such a doctrine is essentially superficial, and such
will be its effects. It has no better measure of right
and wrong than that of visible beauty and tangible fit-
ness. Conscience indeed inflicts an acute pang, but
that pang, forsooth, is irrational, and to reverence it is
an illiberal superstition. But, if we will make light of
what is deepest within us, nothing is left but to pay
homage to what is more upon the surface. To seem
becomes to be ; what looks fair will be good, what
causes offence will be evil ; virtue will be what pleases,
vice what pains. As well may we measure virtue by
utility as by such a rule. Nor is this an imaginary
apprehension; we all must recollect the celebrated


sentiment into which a great and wise man was be-
trayed, in the glowing eloquence of his valediction to
the spirit of chivalry. " It is gone," cries Mr. Burke ;
" that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour,
which felt a stain like a wound ; which inspired
courage, while it mitigated ferocity ; which ennobled
whatever it touched, and under which vice lost half its
evil by losing all its grossness." In the last clause of
this beautiful sentence we have too apt an illustration of
the ethical temperament of a civilised age. It is detec-
tion, not the sin, which is the crime; private life is
sacred, and inquiry into it is intolerable ; and decency
is virtue. Scandals, vulgarities, whatever shocks, what-
ever disgusts, are offences of the first order. Drinking
and swearing, squalid poverty, improvidence, laziness,
slovenly disorder, make up the idea of profligacy :
poets may say anything, however wicked, with im-
punity ; works of genius may be read without danger
or shame, whatever their principles ; fashion, celebrity,
the beautiful, the heroic, will suffice to force any evil
upon the community. The splendours of a court, and
the charms of good society, wit, imagination, taste, and
high breeding, the prestige of rank, and the resources of
wealth, are a screen, an instrument, and an apology for
vice and irreligion. And thus at length we find, sur-
prising as the change may be, that that very refinement
of Intellectualism, which began by repelling sensuality,
ends by excusing it. Under the shadow indeed of the
Church, and in its due development, Philosophy does
service to the cause of morality ; but, when it is strong
enough to have a will of its own, and is lifted up with
an idea of its own importance, and attempts to form a
theory, and to lay down a principle, and to carry out a
system of ethics, and undertakes the moral education of


the man, then it does but abet evils to which at first it
seemed instinctively opposed. True Religion is slow
in growth, and, when once planted, is difficult of dis-
lodgement ; but its intellectual counterfeit has no root
in itself: it springs up suddenly, it suddenly withers.
It appeals to what is in nature, and it falls under the
dominion of the old Adam. Then, like dethroned
princes, it keeps up a state and majesty, when it has
lost the real power. Deformity is its abhorrence;
accordingly, since it cannot dissuade men from vice,
therefore in order to escape the sight of its deformity,
it embellishes it. It "skins and films the ulcerous
place/' which it cannot probe or heal,

" Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen."

And from this shallowness of philosophical Religion
it comes to pass that it seems able to fulfil certain
precepts of Christianity more readily and exactly
than Christians themselves. St. Paul, as I have said,
gives us a pattern of evangelical perfection ; he draws
the Christian character in its most graceful form, and
its most beautiful hues. He discourses of that charity
which is patient and meek, humble and single-minded,
disinterested, contented, and persevering. He tells us
to prefer each other before ourselves, to give way to
each other, to abstain from rude words and evil speech,
to avoid self-conceit, to be calm and grave, to be
cheerful and happy, to observe peace with all men,
truth and justice, courtesy and gentleness, all that is
modest, amiable, virtuous, and of good repute. Such
is St. Paul's exemplar of the Christian in his external
relations ; and, I repeat, the school of the world seems
to send out living copies of this typical excellence


with greater success than the Church. At this day
the " gentleman " is the creation, not of Christianity,
but of civilisation. But the reason is obvious. The
world is content with setting right the surface of
things; the Church aims at regenerating the rery
depths of the heart. She ever begins with the be-
ginning ; and, as regards the multitude of her children,
is never able to get beyond the beginning, but is con-
tinually employed in laying the foundation. She is
engaged with what is essential, as previous and as
introductory to the ornamental and the attractive.
She is curing men and keeping them clear of mortal
sin ; she is " treating of justice and chastity, and the
judgment to come : " she is insisting on faith and
hope, and devotion, and honesty, and the elements of
chanty ; and has so much to do with precept, that she
almost leaves it to inspirations from Heaven to suggest
what is of counsel and perfection. She aims at what
is necessary rather than at what is desirable. She
is for the many as well as for the few. She is putting
souls in the way of salvation, that they may then be in
a condition, if they shall be called upon, to aspire to
the heroic, and to attain the substance, as well as the
semblance, of the beautiful.

Such is the method, or the policy (so to call it), of
the Church ; but Philosophy looks at the matter from
a very different point of view : what have Philosophers
to do with the terror of judgment or the saving of the
soul ? Lord Shaftesbury calls the former a sort of
" panic fear." Of the latter he scoffingly complains
that " the saving of souls is now the heroic passion of
exalted spirits." Of course he is at liberty, on his
principles, to pick and choose out of Christianity what
he will ; he discards the theological, the mysterious,


the spiritual; he makes selection of the morally or
esthetically beautiful. To him it matters not at all
that he begins his teaching where he should end it ; it
matters not that, instead of planting the tree, he merely
crops its flowers for his banquet ; he only aims at the
present life, his philosophy dies with him ; if his
flowers do but last to the end of his revel, he has
nothing more to seek. When night comes, the
withered leaves may be mingled with his own ashes ;
he and they will have done their work, he and they
will be no more. Certainly, it costs little to make
men virtuous on conditions such as these ; it is like
teaching them a language or an accomplishment, to
write Latin or to play on an instrument the pro-
fession of an artist, not the commission of an Apostle.
This embellishment of the exterior is almost the
beginning and the end of philosophical morality. This
is why it aims at being modest rather than humble;
this is how it can be proud at the very time that it is
unassuming. To humility indeed it does not even
aspire ; humility is one of the most difficult of virtues
both to attain and to ascertain. It lies close upon the
heart itself, and itg tests are exceedingly delicate and
subtle. Its counterfeits abound ; however, we are
little concerned with them here, for, I repeat, it is
hardly professed even by name in the code of ethics
which we are reviewing. As has been often observed,
ancient civilisation had not the idea, and had no word
to express it : or rather, it had the idea, and con-
sidered it a defect of mind, not a virtue, so that the
word which denoted it conveyed a reproach. As to
the modern world, you may gather its ignorance of it
by its perversion of the somewhat parallel term u con-

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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanOn the scope & nature of university education → online text (page 17 of 22)