In his essay FAITH AND PRIVATE JUDGEMENT, John Henry Newman, the Anglican convert, speaks about the need for evangelization, the messengers of faith and resistance to the truth of the Catholic faith. He begins:
". . . the beauty, the majesty, the completeness, the resources, the consolations, of the Catholic Religion, it may strike us with wonder, my brethren, that it does not convert the multitude of those who come its way."
|John Henry Cardinal Newman|
For those of us recently received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Newman's next thoughts resonate not only with regard to the wilderness of today's fractured and fracturing Protestantism but with regard to Western society as a whole in so much need of New Evangelization. He continues:
". . . . Perhaps you have felt this surprise yourselves; especially those of you who have been recently converted, and can compare it, from experience, with those religions which the millions of this country choose instead of it. You know from experience how barren, unmeaning, and baseless those religions are; what poor attractions they have to say for themselves.
Multitudes, indeed, are of no religion at all; and you may not be surprised that those who cannot even bear the thought of God, should not feel drawn to His Church; numbers too, hear very little about Catholicism, or a great deal of abuse and calumny against it .
. . . . Now I mean to say that the great mass of men in this country have not this particular virtue called faith, have not had this virtue at all. As a man might be without eyes or without hands, so they are without faith; it is a distinct want or fault in their soul; and what I say is, that since they have not this faculty of religious belief, no wonder they do not embrace that, which cannot really be embraced without it. They do not believe any teaching at all in any true sense; and therefore they do not believe the Church in particular.
Now, in the first place, what is faith? It is assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, because God says it is true, who cannot lie. And further than this, since God says it is true, not with His own voice, but by the voice of His messengers, it is assenting to what man says, not simply viewed as a man, but to what he is commissioned to declare, as a messenger, prophet, or ambassador from God.
In the ordinary course of this world we account things true either because we see them, or because we can perceive that they follow and are deducible from what we do see; that is, we gain truth by sight or by reason, not by faith. You will say indeed, that we accept a number of things which we cannot prove or see, on the word of others; certainly, but then we accept what they say only as the word of man; and we have not commonly that absolute and reserved confidence in them, which nothing can shake.
We know that man is open to mistake, and we are always glad to find some confirmation of what he says, from other quarters, in any important matter; or we receive his information with negligence and unconcern, as something of little consequence, as a matter of opinion; or, if we act upon it, it is as a matter of prudence, thinking it best and safest to do so. We take his word for what it is worth, and we use it either according to our necessity, or its probability. We keep the decision in our own hands, and reserve to ourselves the right of re-opening the question whenever we please.
This is very different from Divine faith; he who believes that God is true, and that this is His word, which he has committed to man, has no doubt at all. He is as certain that the doctrine taught is true, as that God is true; and he is certain, because God is true, because God has spoken, not because he sees its truth or can prove its truth. That is, faith ha two peculiarities; it is most certain, decided, positive, immovable in its assent, and it gives this assent not because it sees with the eye, or sees with the reason, but because it receives the tidings from one who comes from God.
This is what faith was in the time of the Apostles, as no one can deny; and what it was then, it must be now, else it ceases to be the same thing. I say, it certainly was this in the Apostles' time, for you know they preached to the world that Christ was the Son of God, that He preached to the world that Christ was the Son of God, that He was born of a Virgin, that He had ascended on high, that he would come again to judge all, the living and the dead. Could the world see all this? Could it prove it? How then were men to receive it? Why did so many embrace it? On the word of the Apostles, who were, as their powers showed, messengers from God. Men were told to submit their reason to a living authority.
John Henry Newman, Oratorian
Moreover, whatever an Apostle said, his converts were bound to believe; when they entered the Church, they entered it in order to learn. The Church was their teacher [the Magisterium]; they did not come to argue, to examine, to pick and choose . . . No one doubts, no one can doubt this, of those primitive times. A Christian was bound to take without doubting all that the Apostles declared to be revealed; if the Apostles spoke, he had to yield an internal assent of his mind; it would not be enough to keep silence, it would not be enough not to oppose it: it was not allowable to credit in a measure; it was not allowable to doubt.
No; if a convert had his own private thoughts of what was said, and only kept them to himself, if he made some secret opposition to the teaching, if he waited for further proof before he believed it, this would be a proof that he did not think the Apostles were sent from God to reveal His will; it would be a proof that he did not in any true sense believe at all. Immediate, implicit submission of the mind was, in the lifetime of the Apostles, the only, the necessary token of faith; then there was no room whatever for what is now called private judgement."
Newman goes on to show that the basis of private opinions not grounded in the faith of the Church can only lead to confusion as each person becomes their own pope.
"No one could say [like the New Agers now do]: 'I will choose my religion for myself, I will believe this, I will not believe that; I will pledge myself to nothing; I will believe just as long as I please, and no longer; what I believe to-day I will reject tomorrow, if I choose. I will believe what the Apostles have as yet said, but I will not believe what they shall say in time to come." No; either the Apostles were from God, or they were not; if they were, everything that they preached was to be believed by their hearers; if they were not, there was nothing for their hearers to believe.
To believe a little, to believe more or less, was impossible; it contradicted the very notion of believing: if one part was to be believed; it was an absurdity to believe one thing and not another; for the word of the Apostles, which made the one true, made the other true too; they were nothing in themselves, they were all things, they were an infallible authority, as coming from God. The world had either to become Christian, or to let it alone; there was no room for private tastes and fancies, no room for private judgement.
. . . . And you know that the persistent declaration of the first preachers was: 'Believe and thou shalt be saved': they do not say, 'prove our doctrine by our reason,' nor 'wait till you see before you believe': but, 'believe without seeing and without proving, because our word is not our own, but God's word'.
. . . . St. Paul significantly calls the revealed doctrine 'the word of hearing,' in the passage I quoted; men came to hear, to accept, to obey, not to criticise what was said; and in accordance with this he asks elsewhere: 'How shall they believe Him, whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.'
Now, my dear brethren, consider, are not these two states or acts of mind quite distinct from each other;--to believe simply what a living authority tells you, and to take a book such as Scripture, and to use it as you please, to master it, that is, to make yourself the master of it, to interpret it for yourself, and to admit just what you choose to see in it, and nothing more?
Are not these two procedures distinct in this, that in the former you submit, in the latter you judge? At this moment I am not asking you which is the better, I am not asking whether this or that is practicable now, but are they not two ways of taking up a doctrine, and not one? is not submission quite contrary to judging? Now, is it not certain that faith in the time of the Apostles consisted in submitting? and is it not certain that it did not consist in judging for one's self.
. . . . There is, I repeat, an essential difference between the act of submitting to a living oracle, and to his written words; in the former case there is no appeal from the speaker, in the latter the final decision remains with the reader.
. . . . Since men now-a-days deduce from Scripture, instead of believing a teacher, you may expect to see them waver about; they will feel the force of their own deductions more strongly at one time than at another, they will change their minds about them, or perhaps deny them altogether; whereas this cannot be, while a man has faith, that is, belief that what a preacher says to him comes from God.
This is what St. Paul especially insists on, telling us that Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are given us that 'we may all attain to unity of faith,' and, on the contrary, in order 'that we be NOT as children tossed to and fro, and carried about by every gale of doctrine'.
Now, in matter of fact, do not men in this day change about in their religious opinions without any limit? Is not this, then, proof that they have not that faith which the Apostles demanded of their converts? If they had faith, they would not change. Once believe that God has spoken, and you are sure He cannot unsay what He has already said; He cannot deceive; He cannot change; you have received it once for all; you will believe it ever.
Such is the only rational, consistent account of faith; but Protestants [rationalists and freethinkers] laugh at the very notion of it. They laugh at the very notion itself of men pinning their faith (as they express themselves) upon Pope or Council; they think it simply superstitious and narrow-minded, to profess to believe just what the Church believes, and to assent to whatever she will say in time to come on matters of doctrine. That is, they laugh at the bare notion of doing what Christians undeniably did in the time of the Apostles.
Observe, they do not merely ask whether the Catholic Church has a claim to teach, has authority, has the gifts; -- this is a reasonable question; -- no, they think that the very state of mind which such a claim involves in those who admit it, namely, the disposition to accept without reserve or question, that THIS is slavish. They call it priestcraft to insist on this surrender of the reason, and superstition to make it . . . [and] boast of not being led blindfold, of judging for themselves, of believing just as much and just as little as they please, of hating dictation, and so forth .
. . . . What they feel now, my brethren, is just what both Jew and Greek felt before them in the time of the Apostles, and what natural man has felt ever since. The great and wise men of the day looked down upon faith, then as now, as if it were unworthy the dignity of human nature: 'See your vocation, brethren that there are not,' among you, 'many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not may noble; but the foolish things of the world hath God chosen to confound the strong, and the mean things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that He might destroy the things that are, that no flesh might glory in His sight'.
. . . . the same Apostle speaks of 'the foolishness of preaching'. Similar to this what our Lord had said in His prayer to the Father: 'I thank Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto the little ones'.
|Altar in Newman's room at the Oratory in Birmingham|
Now, is it not plain that the men of this day have just inherited the feelings and traditions of these falsely wise and fatally prudent persons in our Lord's day? They have the same obstruction in their hearts to entering the Catholic Church, which Pharisees and Sophists had before them; it goes against them to believe her doctrine, not so much for want of evidence that she is from God, as because, if so, they shall have not their own cultivation or depth of intellect, and because they must receive a number of doctrines, whether they will or no, which are strange to their imagination and difficult to their reason. The very characteristic of the Catholic teaching and of the Catholic teacher is to them a preliminary objection to their becoming Catholics, so great, as to throw into the shade any argument however strong, which is producible in behalf of the mission of those teachers and the origin of that teaching.
. . . . They have not in them the principle of faith; and I repeat, it is nothing to the purpose to urge that at least they firmly believe Scripture to be the Word of God. In truth, it is much to be feared that their acceptance of Scripture itself is nothing better than a prejudice or inveterate feeling impressed on them when they were children.
. . . . If, then, faith be now the same faculty of mind, the same sort of habit or act, which it was in the days of the Apostles, I have made good what I set about showing. But it must be the same; it cannot mean two things; the Word cannot have changed its meaning."
Cardinal Newman goes on to show the unbreakable link between personal faith with the united witness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church expressed by its single Magisterium (teaching authority) which transcends individual opinion or, what Newman calls, private judgement.
" Either say that faith is not necessary now at all, or take it to be what the Apostles meant by it, but do not say that you have it, and then show me something quite different, which you have put in the place of it. In the Apostles' days the peculiarity of faith was submission to a living authority; that is what made it so distinctive; this is what made it an act of submission at all; this is what destroyed private judgement in matters of religion.
If you will not look out for a living authority, and will bargain for private judgement, then say at once that you have not the Apostolic faith . . . and then confess that this is the reason why you are not Catholics.
. . . . Why do not blind men see the sun? because they have no eyes; in like manner it is vain to discourse upon the beauty, the sanctity, the sublimity of the Catholic doctrine and worship, where men have no faith to accept it as Divine. They may confess its beauty, sublimity, and sanctity, without believing it; they may accept knowledge that the Catholic religion is noble and majestic; they may be struck with its wisdom, they may admire its adaptation to human nature, they may be penetrated by its tender and winning bearing, they may be awed by its consistency. But to commit themselves to it, that is another matter.
. . . . Has faith changed its meaning, or is it less necessary now? Is it not still what is was in the Apostles' day, the very characteristic of Christianity, the special instrument of renovation, the first disposition for justification, one out of the three theological virtues? God might have renewed us by other means, by sight, by reason, by love, but He has chosen to "purify our hearts by faith"; it has been His will to select an instrument which the world despises, but which is of immense power.
[God] preferred it, in His infinite wisdom, to every other; and if men have it not, they have not the very element and rudiment, out of which are formed, on which are built, the Saints and Servants of God. And they have it not; they are living, they are dying, without the hopes, without the aids of the Gospel, because, in spite of so much that is good in them, in spite of their sense of duty, their tenderness of conscience on many points, their benevolence, their uprightness, their generosity, they are under the dominion(I must say it) of a proud fiend; they have this stout spirit within them, they determine to be their own masters in matters of thought, about which they know so little; they consider their own reason better than any one's else; they will not admit that any one comes from God who contradicts their own view of truth.
What! is none their equal in wisdom anywhere? Is there none other whose word is to
be taken on religion? . . . Is there none to wrest from them their ultimate appeal to themselves? Have they in no possible way the occasion or opportunity of faith? Is it a virtue, which, in consequence of their transcendent sagacity, their prerogative of omniscience, they must give up hope of exercising?
If the pretensions of the Catholic Church do not satisfy them, let them go somewhere else, if they can. If they are so fastidious that they cannot trust her as the oracle of God, let them find another more certainly from Him than the House of His own institution, which has ever been called by His name, has ever maintained the same claims, has ever taught one substance of doctrine, and has triumphed over those who preached any other.
Since Apostolic faith was in the beginning reliance on man's word, as being God's word, since what faith was then such it is now, since faith is necessary for salvation, let them attempt to exercise it towards one another, if they will not accept the Bride of the Lamb. Let them, if they can, put faith in some of those religions which have lasted a whole two or three centuries in a corner of the earth.
Let them stake their eternal prospects on kings and nobles and parliaments and soldiery, let them take some mere fiction of the law, or abortion of the schools, or idol of a populace, or upstart of a crisis, oracle of lecture-rooms, as the prophet of God. Alas! they are hardly bested if they must possess a virtue, which they have no means of exercising, - - if they must make an act of faith, they know not on whom, and know not why!
. . . . It is a matter of grace. There are, to be sure, many cogent arguments to lead one to join the Catholic Church, but they do not force the will. We may know them, and not be moved by them to act upon them. We may be convinced without being persuaded. The two things are quite distinct from each other, seeing you ought to believe, and believing; reason, if left to itself, will bring you to the conclusion that you have sufficient grounds for believing, but belief is the gift of grace.
You are then what you are, not from any excellence or merit of your own, but by the grace of God who has chosen you to believe. You might have been . . . the freethinker of Europe, with grace sufficient to condemn you, because it had not furthered your salvation. You might have had strong inspirations of grace and have resisted them, and then additional grace might not have been given to overcome your resistance.
. . . .You look up, and you see, as it were, a great mountain to be scaled; you say, "How can I possibly find a path over these giant obstacles, which I find in the way of my becoming Catholic? I do not comprehend this doctrine, and I am pained at that; a third seems impossible; I never can be familiar with one practice, I am afraid of another; it is one maze and discomfort to me, and I am led to sink down in despair."
. . . . look up in hope, trust in Him who calls you forward. "Who art thou, O great mountain, before Zorobabel? but a plain." He will lead you forward step by step, as He has led forward many a one before you. He will make the crooked straight and the rough plain. He will turn the streams, and dry up the rivers, which lie in your path.
"He shall strengthen your feet like harts' feet, and set you up in high places. He shall widen your steps under you, and your tread shall not be weakened." "There is no God like the God of the righteous; He that mounts the heaven is thy Helper; by His mighty working the clouds disperse His dwelling is above, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He shall cast out the enemy from before thee, and shall say, Crumble away."
"The young shall faint, and youths shall fall; but they that hope in the Lord shall be new-fledged in strength, they shall take feathers like eagles, they shall run and not labour, they shall walk and not faint."
John Henry Newman, 'Faith and Private Judgement' from 'Discourses addressed to Mixed Congregations' 1849.