Cardinal Newman

THE almost universal homage paid to Cardinal Newman at his death by all sorts and classes of persons is a striking phenomenon. There is no reason to suppose that the mass of English and English-speaking people is more inclined than it was forty-five years ago to adopt the ecclesiastical position of the teacher whom now they honor. Doubtless, in these years, many prejudices formerly entertained towards the Roman Catholic Church and faith have been dissipated, partly by Newman’s own writings, partly by the influence of the school which he so largely formed within the Church of England, which has popularized many tenets and practices once commonly supposed to be exclusively and distinctively Romish.

To a certain small extent, the honor paid to Newman in his death may have been dictated by a sense of the unfairness with which he and his friends were treated in the early days of the Oxford movement, when, first as Newmanites, and afterwards as Puseyites, their name was cast out as symbolical of all that was evil. But while this half-unconscious desire to offer reparation to a school formerly treated with abuse and scorn, but whose services in quickening and transforming the English Church have since been recognized, may not have been absent, we suspect that any such feeling was balanced, in the ordinary British mind, by a desire to show respect for one who had, in the popular estimation, honestly followed his premises to their legitimate conclusion, not without a sly slap at those who remained behind, apparently less logical or less honest in following out their convictions. But whatever subordinate feelings of this sort may have served to swell the flood of praise, reverence, and admiration which has poured in from all quarters since Newman’s death, its chief source was, without doubt, a recognition of the greatness and nobility of the man, as preëminent for saintly character as for intellectual gifts. In a sense, as has been pointed out, in the strange irony of history the homage paid to the deceased cardinal was an evidence of the triumph of that liberalism in religion which he most dreaded. To quote the words of Dean Plumptre, “ Dogmatic differences embodied in Anglican formularies and Protestant traditions have sunk into the background as compared with the unworldliness, the saintliness, the genius, which all could recognize and value.”

Above all else, probably, that contributed to this general outburst of respect was a feeling of admiration, and in a way of affection, for one who in his Apologia had bared his own mind and heart to the public scrutiny, that he might clear himself, and by implication his religion, from the charge or suspicion of dishonesty. People at large cared little for the various steps by which Newman passed from Calvinism to Anglicanism, and from Anglicanism to Romanism ; but they delighted in tracing his perfect truthfulness and sincerity in taking each step, in following the light which seemed to lead him on. Others, who had no thought of following his steps, when the light seemed to be leading in quite another direction, could make their own the prayer of his hymn, Lead, Kindly Light. To many there would be a shade of meaning, unthought of, probably, by himself, in the motto he adopted when appointed a cardinal, Cor ad cor loquitur. In spite of doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences, all felt the beauty of his character, the strength of his devotion, the witness of his life.

A more striking proof of this could hardly be found than in the selection of Newman’s name for the first of the series of English Leaders of Religion in this and the last century (to be followed by Keble, Simeon, Bishop Wilberforce, Wesley, Maurice, Chalmers), edited by Mr. Stedman, and the writing of Newman’s biography by the editor of the Spectator,1 who, valuing most highly Newman’s defense of the great fundamental truths of Christianity, would be one of the last to adopt in any sense his Roman point of view.

Agreeably to what has been said, it will be noted that it is by his comparatively uncontroversial and more personal works that Newman is most widely known. His Parochial and Plain Sermons, his hymns, his Apologia, are familiar where the Tracts, the Grammar of Assent, the Essay on Development, are but names.

Having mentioned Newman’s Sermons, it may be worth while to point out a fact that is commonly missed : that all the sermons in the well-known eight volumes were preached by Newman as Vicar of St. Mary’s, Oxford, to which is attached a very small parish, at the ordinary parochial services, which are quite distinct from the University Sermons, preached at different hours in the same edifice in its character of the University Church. But such was the attraction of Newman’s personality and ministry that members of the university, old and young, flocked to these services; and thus it was, in great measure, that Newman exercised so great a moulding, religious influence over the mind of Oxford, and, through Oxford, of England. There is but one volume of University Sermons proper preached by Newman, all bearing on the relation of Faith to Reason, the great point chiefly insisted on being the aid given to the intellectual by the moral faculties in the apprehension of religious truth.

Mr. Hutton dwells at some length on the excellences of the Parochial Sermons, giving many choice extracts to illustrate their extraordinary reality, their remarkable freedom from exaggeration, combined with their uncompromising severity in urging the claims of spiritual truth and in probing the human heart. At the same time, we are glad to note that he calls attention to the singular force of Newman’s Roman Sermons addressed to Mixed Congregations, as containing, as we have long felt, “ the most eloquent, and elaborate specimens of his eloquence as a preacher.” If, as is said, they have not quite the delicate charm of the reserve of his Oxford Sermons, they represent the full-blown blossom of his genius, while the former show it only in bud.

Mr. Hutton, as he says in his preface, devotes the main part of his book “ to the study of Dr. Newman’s life before leaving the Anglican Church; in other words, to the course of thought which led him to the Church of Rome.” This study is carefully and fairly pursued, the partiality of a personal friend and admirer being combined with the impartiality of, to a certain extent, a theological opponent. But it naturally suggests the question, at which we have already hinted, and which it lay outside of Mr. Hutton’s purpose to discuss, as to the course of thought which led others, in great degree sympathizing with Newman, to refuse to follow him to the Church of Rome. Because he was honest, were they dishonest? If we grant that he was logical, must we regard as wanting in either intellectual or moral perspicacity such men, for instance, as Dr. Pusey, less brilliant, certainly, than Newman, but assuredly no less profound a scholar ; or the great preacher at Oxford and St. Paul’s Cathedral, removed since Newman’s death, a sharer in the cardinal’s brilliancy of intellectual gifts, while much more widely read in modern philosophy, and to whom we should be inclined to apply Mr. Hutton’s words concerning Newman, that “he has influenced the world more deeply, though perhaps not more widely, than it has fallen to any Englishman of our time to influence it through the instrumentality of the pulpit ” ? Dr. Liddon’s profound personal veneration for Dr. Newman, and his sympathy with so large a portion of his teaching, would have made his deliberate review of Newman’s course and his criticism of Newman’s later writings by no means the least interesting part of his biography of Dr. Pusey.

For ourselves, we should be inclined to say that there was always a difference between the point of view of the Newmanites and that of the Puseyites. We use the terms, not historically, but as standing for different sections of the same Oxford school, —for those who, as we believe, logically became Roman Catholics, and for those who equally logically remained in the English Church. Both appealed to authority, the authority of the Church as distinct from the private judgment of the individual, which common Protestantism professes to regard as by itself sufficient and alone entitled to determine (from the Bible, at any rate) its creed. Now, as we understand the matter, there are two really distinct views of authority, which are nevertheless commonly confounded : one that regards the voice of the Church (for it is of ecclesiastical authority that we are speaking) as in and by itself decisive,— as giving, in fact, a judicial sentence, to which the individual must of necessity bow, or be a rebel; the other that regards the voice of the Church as evidence of an extremely valuable kind, which will go far towards forming the verdict of the individual mind and conscience, but which will have to be correlated with other lines of evidence. Where the former view is adopted, the natural tendency will be to desire an absolutely infallible present authority, to whose decision all questions of sufficient magnitude and importance may be referred. The desire for such an authority will tend to its creation. The wish will be father to the thought. Now, this we conceive to be the process of reasoning by which Newman was led to the Church of Rome. His was a soul that yearned for authority. At first he thought that he found an absolute and infallible guide in the Scriptures. When the insufficiency of the Bible alone — each man his own interpreter, and after a while each forming his own canon — was realized, and he had learned from Dr. Hawkins the value of tradition, first the Anglican Church and then the Primitive Church became Newman’s infallible authority, if only the judgment of one or the other on any disputed point could be definitely ascertained. The difficulty, amid the divergent views of apparently equally reputable divines, of getting any clear determination on a variety of points seemed to render this position also untenable. There must be somewhere, argued Newman, a living authority to whom man can bow in simple obedience, or there can be no security at all as to revelation. Rome claims to satisfy this yearning of the heart for an absolute authority on which to lean. It was in the rest thus offered that the great attraction of the Roman Church, we imagine, consisted for Newman, as for many others. It was the thought that in her he found the realization of his ideal, more than any facts which the study of ecclesiastical history presented, that decided Newman to renounce Anglicanism and submit to Rome.

Newman was throughout an idealist. He pictured to himself an ideal Church, “ the Church of the New Testament,” such as never really existed. This perfect or worthy representative of the Most High he had not found in his Anglican experience. The English Church fell miserably short of the ideal he had imagined, whether as regards her witness to the faith, the strictness of her discipline, or the standard of holiness set before them by her members. In the Roman Church, of which he had no experience, he hoped to find the ideal realized. At least she claimed to fulfill it; and was not that a presumption in her favor, since somewhere (it was assumed) the ideal must be realized ? When once Rome’s claims had been accepted, all Newman’s intellectual subtlety, no longer needed to construct a theory (the Via Media or any other), was exercised in defending that which had been adopted, in explaining away all that seemed inconsistent with her pretensions.

Newman was a monarchist. His hatred of republicanism, shown by his refusal, in 1833, to go out into the streets of Paris, or to look upon the tricolor at Algiers, as associated with the French Revolution, had its counterpart in matters ecclesiastical and religious. “My Bishop is my Pope,” he said in his Anglican days; and so, when, largely under the influence of a temporary panic, the bishops charged against him, he threw up as hopeless in the English Church the contest for what he considered Catholic principles. Others continued the contest, and by patience succeeded, if not in winning the authorities to their side, at least, to a very great extent, in leavening the body of the English Church and people with their principles.

Dr. Pusey’s was not a simply obstinate persistence. His was a more patient spirit, less sensitive, more practical. Consequently, he was neither overwhelmed by immediate rebuffs, nor did he set before him an imaginary ideal, of which he was bound somewhere to find, or to think he found, the realization. The authority to which he appealed was that of the universal Church, throughout the world and throughout the ages, as bearing witness to the teaching of the one indwelling Spirit. Newman and his followers looked for a present living authority, as a continuous organ of fresh revelation, a central oracle, ready and easy of access, ready and easy of pronouncement. Pusey and the Anglicans appealed to the Church as a witness continually applying truth once for all revealed. In the former case, the more centralized the authority, the more perfectly will its functions be fulfilled ; in the latter case, the strength of witness lies in the consent of independent and diverse testimony ; its value will be the greater the wider the range from which it is gathered. That this was the position of the early Christian Church there can be no doubt. When contending, in the second century, against Manichean dualism for the central truth of the Divine unity, or, two centuries later, for the divinity of Christ, it was by a complex method that the truth was arrived at. There was no such quick and easy method of settling the question as by an appeal to a* central Divine oracle. Slowly and painfully the Church had to collect and weigh evidence. And thus a far more satisfactory conclusion was reached, not only more sure in itself, but of far more lasting effect on the faithful, who knew that the question had been threshed out. The Roman idea of authority is much simpler. But simple processes are not those which harmonize most exactly with what we recognize to be the law of God’s dealings with the world. As Dr. Mozley says in his criticism of Newman’s Essay on Development : " If we are to go at all by the actual course of Providence before us, it is most natural to suppose that God would, after such a revelation [as that given by Christ], leave men, with the additional light of truth and all the other advantages of every kind which may be part of it in their possession, to carry it out with more or less abuse or perversion if they will,” rather than to expect a Divine revelation continually going on.

There can be no doubt, as has been said, as to Newman’s absolutely loyal acceptance of the Roman position. To imagine him restless or restive under the authority he had chosen would be to misunderstand both the character of the man and the chain of reasoning which led him to Rome.

How far the Church of his adoption trusted her illustrious convert, or used as she might have done his wonderful gifts, is a question. Certain it is that he was never the power in the Roman Church that he was in the Church of England ; and that he was thwarted in two cherished schemes, — the preparation of a new English translation of the Bible for the use of Roman Catholics, to supersede the wretched Douay version, and the establishment of a Roman Catholic college at Oxford. Certain it also is that Dr. Newman was not summoned as a theologian to the Vatican Council, and that his strongly expressed opinion as to the inexpediency of defining the papal infallibility was disregarded. In fact, during the reign of Pius IX., as was natural, Newman was treated with scant appreciation by the authorities of the Roman Church.

We have refrained from quoting Mr. Hutton at all freely, trusting that his book will be widely read, as one worthy alike of its subject and of its author, and as giving in an easy and convenient form the history of one of the most remarkable figures of this century, whose influence has been both wide and deep. One quotation, however, we desire to make, touching that which was the centre and core of Newman’s teaching, and in which we are disposed to think the layman gives to the teaching of the divine a useful limitation. Speaking of Newman’s intensely dogmatic creed, Mr. Hutton says: “ I suppose that all clear-headed men will agree with Cardinal Newman in admitting that, without the confession of certain intellectual truths, and without a careful sifting of what these truths are, there is no possibility of the safe preservation of any divine revelation. But surely he a little confuses between the intellectual conceptions which are necessarily implied in the fact of revelation and the life and character which are the subjects of revelation. . . . It is perfectly easy to conceive that a multitude of Christians may have had right feelings towards God without having had the most accurate and clearly defined thoughts concerning his essential being. Dogma is essential in order to display and safeguard the revelation, but dogma is not itself the revelation. And it is conceivable that, in drawing out and safeguarding the revelation, the Church may not infrequently have laid even too much stress on right conceptions, and too little on right attitudes of will and emotion. Dogma is only subsidiary to that unveiling of God to man which is the single aim of revelation, and instead of being made subsidiary it is sometimes made to stand in the place of that to which it ought to be purely instrumental.”

  1. Cardinal Newman. By RICHARD H. HUTTON. [English Leaders of Religion.] Edited by A. M. M. STEDMAN, M. A. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin Co. 1891.