John Henry Newman.

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to accept truth of whatever kind, wherever it is clearly
ascertained to be such, though there be difficulty in
adjusting it with other known truth.

Instances are easily producible of that extreme
contrariety of ideas, which the contemplation of the
Universe inflicts upon us, such, as to make it clear
to us that there is nothing irrational in submitting to
apparent incompatibilities in that teaching which we
have no thought on that account of denying, Such,
for instance, is the contemplation of Space; the exist-
ence of which we cannot deny, though its idea is able, in
no sort of posture, to seat itself (if I may so speak) in
our minds; for we find it impossible to say that it
comes to a stop anywhere; and it is incomprehensible
to say that it runs out infinitely; and it seems to be
unmeaning, if we say, that it does not exist till bodies
come into it, and thus is enlarged according to the

And so again in the instance of Time. We cannot
place a beginning to it without asking ourselves what
was before it; yet that there should be no beginning
at all, put it as far off as we will, is simply incomprehen-
sible. Here again, as in the case of Space, we never
dream of denying the existence of what we have no
means of understanding.



And, passing from this high region of thought
(which, high as it may be, is the subject even of a child's
contemplations) when we come to consider the mutual
action of soul and body, we are specially perplexed
by incompatibilities which we can neither reject nor
explain. How it is that the will can act on the muscles,
is a question of which even a child may feel the force,
but which no experimentalist can answer.

Further, when we contrast the physical with the
social laws under which man finds himself here below,
we must grant that Physiology and Social Science are
in collision. Man is both a physical and a social being;
yet he cannot at once pursue to the full his physical
end and his social end, his physical duties (if I may so
speak) and his social duties, but is forced to sacrifice in
part one or the other. If we were wild enough to fancy
that there were two creators, one of whom was the
author of our animal frames, the other of society, then
indeed we might understand how it comes to pass that
labour of mind and body, the useful arts, the duties of
a statesman, government, and the like, which are
required by the social system, are so destructive of
health, enjoyment, and life. That is, in other words,
we cannot adequately account for existing and undeni-
able truths except on the hypothesis of what we feel
to be an absurdity.

And so in Mathematical Science, as has been often
insisted on, the philosopher has patiently to endure
the presence of truths, which are not the less true for
being irreconcilable with each other. He is told of the
existence of an infinite number of curves, which are
able to divide a space, into which no straight line,
though it be length without breadth, can even enter.


He is told too of certain lines, which approach to each
other continually, with a finite distance between them,
yet never meet; and these apparent contrarieties he
must bear as he best can, without attempting to deny
the existence of the truths which constitute them in
the Science in question.

Now, let me call your attention, Gentlemen, to what
I would infer from these familiar facts. It is, to urge
you with an argument d fortiori : viz., that, as you
exercise so much exemplary patience hi the case of
the inexplicable truths which surround so many
departments of knowledge, human and divine, viewed
in themselves; as you are not at once indignant,
censorious, suspicious, difficult of belief, on finding
that in the secular sciences one truth is incompatible
(according to our human intellect) with another or
inconsistent with itself; so you should not think it
very hard to be told that there exists, here and there,
not an inextricable difficulty, not an astounding
contrariety, not (much less) a contradiction as to
clear facts, between Revelation and Nature; but a
hitch, an obscurity, a divergence of tendency, a
temporary antagonism, a difference of tone between
the two, that is, between Catholic opinion on the
one hand, and astronomy, or geology, or physiology,
or ethnology, or political economy, or history, or
antiquities, on the other. I say, that, as we admit,
because we are Catholics, that the Divine Unity con-
tains in it attributes, which, to our finite minds, appear
in partial contrariety with each other; as we admit
that, in His revealed Nature, are things, which, though
not opposed to Reason, are infinitely strange to the
Imagination; as in His works we can neither reject


nor admit the ideas of space, and of time, and the
necessary properties of lines, without intellectual
distress; really, Gentlemen, I am making no outrage-
ous request, when, in the name of a University, I ask
religious writers, jurists, economists, physiologists,
chemists, geologists, and historians, to go on quietly,
and in a neighbourly way, in their own respective lines
of speculation, research, and experiment, with full
faith in the consistency of that multiform truth, which
they share between them, in a generous confidence
that they will be consistent, one and all, in their
combined results, though there may be momentary
collisions, awkward appearances, and many fore-
bodings and prophecies of contrariety, and at all
times things hard to the Imagination, though not, I
repeat, to the Reason. It surely needs no great bold-
ness to beg of them, since they are forced to admit
mysteries, even in the actual issue itself, in the truths
of Revelation, taken by themselves, and in the truths
of Reason, taken by themselves, to beg of them, I
say, to keep the peace, to live in good will, and to
exercise equanimity, if, when Nature and Revelation
are compared with each other, there be, as I have
said, discrepancies, not in the issue, but in the reason-
ings, the circumstances, the associations, the anticipa-
tions, the accidents, proper to their respective teachings.
It is most necessary to insist seriously and energetic-
ally on this point, for the sake of Protestants, for they
have very strange notions about us. In spite of the
testimony of history the other way, they think that
the Church has no other method of putting down error
than the arm of force or the prohibition of inquiry.
They defy us to set up and carry on a School of Science.
245 9 2


For their sake, then, I am led to enlarge upon the
subject here. I say then, he who believes Revelation
with that absolute faith which is the prerogative of a
Catholic, is not the nervous creature who startles at
every sudden sound, and is fluttered by every strange
or frightful appearance which meets his eyes. He has
no sort of apprehension, he laughs at the idea, that
anything can be discovered by any other scientific
method, which can contradict any one of the dogmas
of his religion. He knows full well, that there is no
science, but, in the course of its extension, runs the
risk of infringing, without any meaning of offence on
its own part, the path of other sciences: and he knows
also, that, if there be any one science which, from
its sovereign and unassailable position, can calmly

(bear such unintentional collisions on the part of the
children of earth, it is Theology. He is sure, and nothing
shall make him doubt, that, if anything seems to be
proved by astronomer, or geologist, or chronologist,
or antiquarian, or ethnologist, in contradiction to the
dogmas of faith, that point will eventually turn out,
first, not to be proved, or, secondly, not contradictory,
or thirdly, not contradictory to anything really revealed,
but to something which has been confused with
Revelation. And if, at the moment, it appears to be
contradictory, then he is content to wait, knowing
that error is like other delinquints ; give it rope enough,
and it will be found to have a strong suicidal propen-
sity. I do not mean to say he will not take his part in
encouraging, in helping forward the prospective suicide;
he will not only give the error rope enough, but show
it how to handle and adjust the rope; he will commit
the matter to reason, reflection, sober judgment,


common sense; to Time, the great interpreter of so
many secrets. Instead of being irritated at the momen-
tary triumph of the foes of Revelation, if such a feeling
of triumph there be, and of hurrying on a forcible
solution of the difficulty, which may in the event only
reduce the inquiry to an inextricable tangle, he will
recollect that, in the order of Providence, our seeming
dangers are often our greatest gains; that in the words
of the Protestant poet,

The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

To one notorious instance indeed it is obvious to
allude here. When the Copernician system first made
progress, what religious man would not have been
tempted to uneasiness, or at least fear of scandal, from
the seeming contradiction which it involved to some
authoritative tradition of the Church and the declara-
tion of Scripture ? It was generally received, as if the
Apostles had expressly delivered it both orally and in
writing, that the earth was stationary, and that the
sun was fixed in a solid firmament which whirled round
the earth. After a little time, however, and on full
consideration, it was found that the Church had
decided next to nothing on questions such as these,
and that Physical Science might range in this sphere
of thought almost at will, without fear of encountering
the decisions of ecclesiastical authority. Now, besides
the relief which it afforded to Catholics to find that
they were to be spared this addition, on the side of
Cosmology, to their many controversies already exist-
ing, there is something of an argument in this circum-
stance in behalf of the divinity of their Religion. For


it surely is a very remarkable fact, considering how
widely and how long one certain interpretation of
these physical statements in Scripture had been received
by Catholics, that the Church should not have formally
acknowledged it. Looking at the matter in a human
point of view, it was inevitable that she should have
made that opinion her own. But now we find, on
ascertaining where we stand, in the face of the new
sciences of these latter times, that, in spite of the
bountiful comments which from the first she has ever
been making on the sacred text, as it is her duty and
her right to do, nevertheless she has never been led
formally to explain the texts in question, or to give
them an authoritative sense which modern science
may question.

Nor was this escape a mere accident, or what will
more religiously be called a providential event, as is
shown by a passage of history in the dark age itself.
When the glorious St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany,
great in sanctity, though not in secular knowledge,
complained to the Holy See that St. Virgilius taught
the existence of the Antipodes, the Holy See apparently
evaded the question, not indeed siding with the Irish
philosopher, which would have been going out of its
place, but passing over, in a matter not revealed, a
philosophical opinion.

Time went on; a new state of things, intellectual
and social, came in ; the Church was girt with temporal
power; the preachers of St. Dominic were in the
ascendant: now at length we may ask with curious
interest, did the Church alter her ancient rule of action,
and proscribe intellectual activity ? Just the contrary ;
this is the very age of Universities; it is the classical


period of the schoolmen ; it is the splendid and palmary
instance of the wise policy and large liberality of the
Church; as regards philosophical inquiry. If there
ever was a time when the intellect went wild, and had
a licentious revel, it was at the date I speak of. When
was there ever a more curious, more meddling, bolder,
keener, more penetrating, more rationalistic exercise
of the reason than at that time ? What class of ques-
tions did that subtle, metaphysical spirit not scrutin-.
ise ? What premiss was allowed without examination ?
What principle was not traced to its first origin, and
exhibited in its most naked shape? What whole was
not analysed ? What complex idea was not elaborately
traced out, and, as it were, finely painted for the con-
templation of the mind, till it was spread out in all its
minutest portions as perfectly and delicately as a frog's
foot shows under the intense scrutiny of the micro-
scope ? Well, I repeat, here was something which came
somewhat nearer to Theology than physical research
comes; Aristotle was a somewhat more serious foe
then, beyond all mistake, than Bacon has been since.
Did the Church take a high hand with philosophy then ?
No, not though it was metaphysical. It was a time
when she had temporal power, and could have exter-
minated the spirit of inquiry with fire and sword; but
she determined to put it down by argument ; she said:
" Two can play at that, and my argument is the better."
She sent her controversialists into the philosophical
arena. It was the Dominican and Franciscan doctors,
the greatest of them being St. Thomas, who in those
mediaeval Universities fought the battle of Revelation
with the weapons of heathenism. It was no matter
whose the weapon was; truth was truth all the world


over. With the jawbone of an ass, with the skeleton
philosophy of pagan Greece, did the Samson of the
schools put to flight his thousand Philistines.

Here, Gentlemen, observe the contrast exhibited by
the Church herself, who has the gift of wisdom, and
even the ablest, or wisest, or holiest of her children.
As St. Boniface had been jealous of physical specula-
tions, so had the early Fathers shown an extreme aver-
sion to the great heathen philosopher whom I just now
named, Aristotle. I do not know who of them could
endure him; and, when there arose those in the middle
age who would take his part, especially since their
intentions were of a suspicious character, a strenuous
effort was made to banish him out of Christendom.
The Church the while had kept silence; she had as
little denounced heathen philosophy in the mass, as
she had pronounced upon the meaning of certain texts
of Scripture of a cosmological character. From Ter-
tullian and Caius to the two Gregories of Cappadocia,
from them to Anastasius Sinaita, from him to the
school of Paris, Aristotle was a word of offence; at
length St. Thomas made him a hewer of wood and
drawer of water to the Church. A strong slave he
is; and the Church herself has given her sanction
to the use in Theology of the ideas and terms of his

Now, while this free discussion is, to say the least,
BO safe for Religion, or rather so expedient, it is on the
other hand simply necessary for progress in Science;
and I shall now go on to insist on this side of the sub-
ject. I say, then, that it is a matter of primary import-
ance in the cultivation of those sciences, in which truth
is discoverable by the human intellect, that the


investigator should be free, independent, unshackled
in his movements; that he should be allowed and
enabled, without impediment, to fix his mind intently,
nay exclusively, on his special object, without the risk
of being distracted every other minute in the process
and progress of his inquiry, by charges of temerarious-
ness, or by warnings against extravagance or scandal.
But in thus speaking, I must premise several explana-
tions, lest I be mistaken.

First, then, Gentlemen, as to the fundamental
principles of religion and morals, and again as to the
fundamental principles of Christianity, or what are
called the dogmas of faith, as to this double creed,
natural and revealed, we, none of us, should say that
it is any shackle at all upon the intellect to maintain
these inviolate. Indeed, a Catholic cannot help having
regard to them; and they as little impede the move-
ments of his intellect, as the laws of physics impede
his bodily movements. The habitual apprehension of
them has become a second nature with him, as the
laws of optics, hydrostatics, motion, dynamics, are
latent conditions which he takes for granted in the
use of his corporeal organs. I am not supposing any
collision with dogma, I am but speaking of opinions
of divines, or of the multitude, parallel to those in
former times of the sun going round the earth, or of
the last day being close at hand, or of St. Dionysius
the Areopagite being the author of the works which
bear his name.

Nor, secondly, even as regards such opinions, am I
supposing any direct intrusion into the province of
religion, or of a teacher of Science actually laying
down the law in a matter of Religion ; but of such unin-


tentional collisions as are incidental to a discussion
pursued on some subject of his own. It would be a
great mistake in such a one to propose his philosophical
or historical conclusions as the formal interpretation
of the sacred text, as Galileo is said to have done,
instead of being content to hold his doctrine of the
motion of the earth as a scientific conclusion, and
leaving it to those whom it really concerned to
compare it with Scripture. And, it must be confessed,
Gentlemen, not a few instances occur of this mistake
at the present day, on the part, not indeed of men of
science, but of religious men, who, from a nervous
impatience lest Scripture should for one moment seem
inconsistent with the results of some speculation of
the hour, are ever proposing geological or ethnological
comments upon it, which they have to alter or obliter-
ate before the ink is well dry, from changes in the
progressive science, which they have so officiously
brought to its aid.

And thirdly, I observe, that, when I advocate the
independence of philosophical thought, I am not
speaking of any formal teaching at all, but of investiga-
tions, speculations, and discussions. I am far indeed
from allowing, in any matter which even borders on
religion, what an eminent Protestant divine has
advocated on the most sacred subjects: I mean " the
liberty of Prophesying." I have no wish to degrade
the professors of Science, who ought to be Prophets
of the Truth, into mere advertisers of crude fancies
or notorious absurdities. I am not pleading that they
should at random shower down upon their hearers
ingenuities and novelties; or that they should teach
even what has a basis of truth in it, in a brilliant, off-


hand way, to a collection of youths, who may not
perhaps hear them for six consecutive lectures, and
who will carry away with them into the country a
misty idea of the half-created theories of some am-
bitious intellect.

Once more, as the last sentence suggests, there must
be great care taken to avoid scandal, or of shocking the
popular mind, or of unsettling the weak; the associa-
tion between truth and error being so strong in particu-
lar minds, that it is impossible to weed them of the
error, without rooting up the wheat with it. If then
there is the chance of any current religious opinion
being in any way compromised in the course of a
scientific investigation, this would be a reason for
conducting it, not in light ephemeral publications,
which come into the hands of the careless or ignorant,
but in works of a grave and business-like character,
answering to the mediaeval schools of philosophical
disputation, which, removed as they were from the
region of popular thought and feeling, have, by their
vigorous restlessness of inquiry, in spite of their
extravagances, done so much for theological precision.

I am not then supposing the scientific investigator
to be coming into collision with dogma ; nor venturing,
by means of his investigations, upon any interpretation
of Scripture or upon other conclusion in the matter of
religion ; nor teaching even in his own science, instead
of investigating; nor to be careless of scandalising the
weak ; but, these explanations being made, I still say,
that a scientific speculator or inquirer is not bound, in
the course of his researches, to be every moment
adjusting his course by the maxims of the schools or
by popular traditions, or by those of any other science


distinct from his own, or to be ever narrowly watching
what those external sciences have to say to him; being
confident, from a generous faith, that, however his
line of investigation may swerve now and then, and
vary to and fro hi its course, or threaten momentary
collision or embarrassment with any other department
of knowledge, theological or not, yet, if he lets it alone,
it will be sure to come home, because truth never can
really be contrary to truth, and because often what at
first sight is an exceptio, in the event most emphatically
probat regiUam.

This is a point of serious importance to him. Unless
he is at liberty to investigate on the basis, and accord-
ing to the peculiarities, of his science, he cannot investi-
gate at all. It is the very law of the human mind in its
inquiry after and acquisition of truth, to make its
advances by a process which consists of many stages,
and is circuitous. There are no short cuts' to know-
ledge; nor does the road to it always lie in the direction
in which it terminates, nor are we able to see the end
on starting. It may often seem to be diverging from
a goal into which it will soon run without effort, if we
are but patient and resolute in following it out; and,
as we are told in ethics to gain the mean merely by
receding from both extremes, so in scientific researches
error may be said, without a paradox, to be in eome
instances the way to truth and the only way. More-
over, it is not often the fortune of any one man to live
through an investigation; the process is one of not
only many stages, but of many minds. What one
begins, another finishes; and a true conclusion is at
length worked out by the co-operation of independent
schools and the perseverance of successive generations.


This being the case, we are obliged, under circum-
stances, to bear for a while with what we feel to be
error, in consideration of the truth in which it is
eventually to issue.

The analogy of locomotion is most pertinent here.
No one can go straight up a mountain; no sailing
vessel makes for its port without tacking. And so,
applying the illustration, we can indeed, if we will,
refuse to allow of investigation or research altogether ;
but, if we invite reason to take its place in our schools,
we must let reason have fair and full play. If we reason,
we must submit to the conditions of reason. We cannot
use it by halves; we must use it as proceeding from
Him who has also given us Revelation; and to be
ever interrupting its processes, and diverting its atten-
tion by objections brought from a higher knowledge,
is parallel to a landsman's dismay at the changes in
the course of a vessel on which he has deliberately
embarked, and argues surely some distrust either in
the powers of Reason on the one hand, or the certainty
of Revealed Truth on the other. The passenger should
not have embarked at all, if he did not reckon on the
chance of a rough sea, of currents, of wind and tide,
of rocks and shoals; and we should act more wisely
in discountenancing altogether the exercise of Reason,
than in being alarmed and impatient under the suspense,
delay, and anxiety which, from the nature of the case,
may be found to attach to it. Let us eschew secular
history, and science, and philosophy for good and all,
if we are not allowed to be sure that Revelation is
so true, that the altercations and perplexities of human
opinion cannot really or eventually injure its authority.
That is no intellectual triumph of any truth of Religion,


which has not been preceded by a full statement of
what can be said against it; it is but the ego vapulando f
ille verbcrando, of the Comedy.

Great minds need elbow-room, not indeed in the
domain of faith, but of thought. And so indeed do
lesser minds, and all minds. There are many persons
iu the world, who are called, and with a great deal of
truth, geniuses. They had been gifted by nature with

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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanOn the scope & nature of university education → online text (page 21 of 22)