Rorate Caeli

Newman, the Prophet

On the birthday of Venerable John Henry Newman.


For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of Liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrines in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

Hitherto the civil power has been Christian. Even in countries separated from the Church, as in my own, the dictum was in force, when I was young, that 'Christianity was the law of the land.' Now, everywhere that goodly framework of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone, or is going everywhere; and, by the end of the century, unless the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten. Hitherto, it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure submission of the masses of our population to law and order; now the Philosophers and Politicians are bent on satisfying this problem without the aid of Christianity. Instead of the Church's authority and teaching, they would substitute first of all a universal and thoroughly secular education, calculated to bring home to every individual that to be orderly, industrious, and sober is his personal interest. Then, for great working principles to take the place of religion, for the use of the masses thus carefully educated, it provides the broad fundamental ethical truths, of justice, benevolence, veracity, and the like, proved experience, and those natural laws which exist and act spontaneously in society, and in social matters, whether physical or psychological - for instance, in government, trade, finance, sanitary experiments, and the intercourse of nations. As to Religion, it is a private luxury, which a man may have if he will; but which of course he must pay for, and which he must not obtrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance.

The general nature of this great apostasia is one and the same everywhere; but in detail, and in character, it varies in different countries. For myself, I would rather speak of it in my own country, which I know. There, I think it threatens to have a formidable success; though it is not easy to see what will be its ultimate issue.

At first sight it might be thought that Englishmen are too religious for a movement which, on the continent, seems to be founded on infidelity; but the misfortune with us is, that, though it ends in infidelity as in other places, it does not necessarily arise out of infidelity. It must be recollected that the religious sects, which sprang up in England three centuries ago, and which are so powerful now, have ever been fiercely opposed to the Union of Church and State, and would advocate the unChristianising of the monarchy and all that belongs to it, under the notion that such a catastrophe would make Christianity much more pure and much more powerful. Next the liberal principle is forced on us from the necessity of the case. Consider what follows from the very fact of these many sects. They constitute the religion, it is supposed, of half the population; and recollect, our mode of government is popular. Every dozen men taken at random whom you meet in the streets have a share in political power — when you inquire into their forms of belief, perhaps they represent one or other of as many as seven religions; how can they possibly act together in municipal or in national matters, if each insists on the recognition of his own religious denomination? All action would be at a deadlock unless the subject of religion was ignored. We cannot help ourselves. And, thirdly, it must be borne in mind, that there is much in the liberalistic theory which is good and true; for example, not to say more, the precepts of justice, truthfulness, sobriety, self-command, benevolence, which, as I have already noted, are among its avowed principles, and the natural laws of society. It is not till we find that this array of principles is intended to supersede, to block out, religion, that we pronounce it to be evil. There never was a device of the Enemy so cleverly framed and with such promise of success. And already it has answered to the expectations which have been formed of it. It is sweeping into its own ranks great numbers of able, earnest, virtuous men, elderly men of approved antecedents, young men with a career before them.

Such is the state of things in England, and it is well that it should be realised by all of us; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it. I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth.

Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.

"Mansueti hereditabunt terram,
Et delectabuntur in multitudine pacis."
[Psalm 36:"The meek shall inherit the earth,
and shall delight in the abundance of peace"]
Biglietto Speech
Rome, May 12, 1879

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9 comments:

  1. Wonderful. Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous12:50 AM

    How insightful! This really does explain the current problems we have in the liberal democracies. Everywhere religion is seen as a fetish of the illogical believer. Unfortunately beacuse there are so many Christian sects, let alone other religions contradicting eachother indifference results. Either they are all "religion" and the same or all false in most peoples minds,or it is all too difficult....so reject it all. I suspect Protestant Christianity will wither and this will leave the larger Catholic and Orthodox Churches reduced but stronger. I pray daily for the reunion of The Catholic and Orthodox Churches........Christianity must unite to remain credable.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily."

    Hark the herald voice is sounding, Ecumania is near, it seems to say. Multi-sect chapels at St Paul without the Walls
    And Cardinal Kasper in eclectic disarray.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Happily, modern society has resolved one of the problems that nagged at Newman: "Consider what follows from the very fact of these many sects. They constitute the religion, it is supposed, of half the population; and recollect, our mode of government is popular. Every dozen men taken at random whom you meet in the streets have a share in political power — when you inquire into their forms of belief, perhaps they represent one or other of as many as seven religions; how can they possibly act together in municipal or in national matters, if each insists on the recognition of his own religious denomination? All action would be at a deadlock unless the subject of religion was ignored."

    Our democracies recognize religious freedom and have experience no bad effects from a culture of religious pluralism.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous4:21 PM

    "Our democracies recognize religious freedom and have experience no bad effects from a culture of religious pluralism."

    HUH !?? I am dumbfounded by this statement.

    Please reread the article, Sir.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Anonymous of 08:51,
    Contraception? Spread by protestants to other faiths, then to the Catholic faith, then to abortion, etc. That's good for, what, 30 million murders or so?
    Religion includes morality. Moral disagreement leads to moral weakness, which leads to empowerment of immorality, which leads to death of body and soul.
    You're an atheist, right? Just got too much time on your hands, looking for a little entertainment?
    Joe B

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous7:00 PM

    anonymous of 17:27 said:

    Anonymous of 08:51,
    Contraception? Spread by protestants to other faiths, then to the Catholic faith, then to abortion, etc. That's good for, what, 30 million murders or so?

    THE
    DESERTS
    OF
    ONAN
    (Genesis 38:8-10)


    If you plant
    God's seed,
    It grows.

    With holy
    Intent,
    An openness glows.

    Then to man,
    God
    Provides,

    Wisdom to
    Know,
    Grace which guides.

    So abundance
    Will spread,
    Propagate,

    Feed the early,
    Feed the
    Late.

    And you,
    Fruitful souls,
    A cornucopia fills -

    While the deserts
    Of Onan remain
    Wastelands of spills.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous1:01 PM

    Wonderful Musical Oratorio (fevorino, motets, hymns and superb organ music) at Birmingham Oratory last night to celebrate Newman's birthday.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous12:52 PM

    There is another side to JHN, such as this from his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk: “If either the Pope of the Queen demanded of me an ‘Absolute Obedience,’ he or she would be transgressing the laws of human nature and human society. I give absolute obedience to neither."

    ReplyDelete

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