Monday, April 14, 2014

Newman On Logic

I have just finished reading John Henry Cardinal Newman's "Apologia Pro Vita Sua," (minus the superabundant appendices) which is the story of his religious development and eventual conversion from the Anglican faith to the Catholic Church. It was an interesting read, to say the least, despite the fact that I had either no idea whatsoever, or a vague idea at best, of the nature and details of the controversies enumerated in the course of his narrative (writing like this is a side effect of having read Newman). I know enough of the true doctrine of the Church, as expounded in the Catechism, to give me a very general notion of what the controversies might have been about, but as Newman writes under the apparent assumption that his readers are well aware of their details, beyond that I was somewhat in the dark.

Despite this difficulty, the book was nevertheless fascinating, not least for the force and vitality of Newman's thought, his clarity and eloquence of expression, and a certain level of iconoclasm in regards to previously held notions of his character. I had always thought of Newman as something of a logical rigorist, firmly invfested in following the argument, the dialectic, wherever it went and acting accordingly. This assessment, if it may be called such, was based both on the thoughts of others writing about Newman, but reinforced, I must say, by his very excellent "Idea of a University," in which he ably and vigorously championed the value of a liberal education founded upon reasoned inquiry into the great works. A deeper reading of that work might have led me to suspect a balanced view of the utility, nobility and yet potential pitfalls of logic, but it did not.

Imagine my surprise, then, upon reading the following:
       "Non in in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum" -- I had a great dislike of paper logic. For myself, it was not logic that carried me on; as well might one say that the quicksilver in the barometer changes the weather. It is the concrete being that reasons; pass a number of years, and I find myself in a new place; how? the whole man moves; paper logic is but the record of it. All the logic in the world would not have made me move faster towards Rome than I did; as well might you say that I have arrived at the end of my journey , because I see the village church before me, as venture to assert that the miles, over which my soul had to pass before it got to Rome, could be annihilated, even though I had been in possession of some far clearer view than I then had, that Rome was my ultimate destination. Great acts take time.

And again, speaking of the infallibility of the Magisterium:
"I am rather asking what must be the face-to-face antagonist, by which to withstand and baffle the fierce energy of the passion and the all-corroding, all-dissolving scepticism (sic) of the intellect in religious inquiries?"

Newman was not, of course, denigrating reason, or denying it its noble and necessary place in the totality of effort which is man's religious response to the Divine invitation. In fact his very next sentence goes on to say: "I have no intention at all of denying that truth is the real object of our reason, and that, if it does not attain to truth, either the premiss (sic) or the process is in fault; but I am not speaking here of right reason, but of reason as it acts in fact and concretely in fallen man... I am considering the faculty of reason actually and historically; and in this point of view, I do not think I am wrong in saying that its tendency is towards simple unbelief in matters of religion."

In fact, recollecting "University" in light of this statement of Newman it fits well with his thoughts upon the real value, but ultimately the limitation and inadequacy of the liberal education. My unfortunate lack of a copy of "University" prevents me from quoting any relevant passages. Nevertheless, if my memory may be trusted, Newman discusses the limits of the liberal education at length in the chapter on being a gentleman. He maintained that the gentleman was a worthy, but secular ideal. It could make a man interesting, erudite, healthy, cultured, reasonable, fair-minded and many other excellent things. The one thing it could never make any man is a saint. The Church and the University exist in different but contingent spheres, and for different, but mutually supporting purposes. Thus it is incumbent upon the Church to support and encourage worthy secular pursuits, never forgetting that they are ultimately subservient to the higher goal, which is the eternal salvation of her members.

I see in this a direct corollary to Newman's thoughts on logic quoted above. While logic is a noble faculty of the human person, indeed, one of the highest, it is nevertheless not the highest. The will, the interior center, Newman's "the concrete being," is what moves, what loves, and what chooses the beatific vision. In some sense external logic is as much a marker of the invisible decisions of the inner person as it is their guide and cause.

I find strange points of contact between this notion and the insights of certain mystics (Julian of Norwich, notably), along with the metaphysics of many medieval philosophers, which postulate the existence of the interior self which, despite the stumbling, misery and confusion of the superficial ego, remains at peace and secure in God's peace through all its existence, in a "peace which passeth all understanding."

However, this is more than I can know. The practical ramification of this notion is a renewed awareness that the being which is in need of conversion, salvation and sanctification is deeper, perhaps infinitely deeper, than my superficial efforts at change. It re-emphasizes the gulf between my attempts to save my self and my utter incapacity to do so, and forces me to rely solely upon the mercy of God and the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit "intimior intimo meo" to create a new heart within me. I cannot do it myself.

The name of that reliance is faith.

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