St. John Henry Newman, the Traditionalist — Part 2: Quotations
|Newman wearing a saturno and a winter cappa
(Warning: not Bergoglio-approved haberdashery!)
Today I would like to make good on my claim that Newman would oppose just about every trend in the Church today, except for the active role taken on by laity — I mean, by conservative and traditional laity who pass on and defend the Catholic and Apostolic Faith in spite of the resistance or indifference of their shepherds, a situation that echoes the fidelity of the laity during the Arian crisis, as Newman carefully documented. I shall quote particularly sparkling passages from his writings. Some of these will be found in the book that I announced on Monday, Newman on Worship, Reverence, and Ritual: A Selection of Texts (US | UK), but most are from other places in his writings. I am not putting these in any particular order, nor am I attempting to canvas his entire career or cherrypick the “best.” Like most great authors, Newman wrote an astonishing amount, and wherever one dips in, one is apt to find treasure.
Ancient Israel as a Model and Warning
In my opinion, one of Newman’s greatest strengths as a biblical exegete is his keen sense, indebted to the Church Fathers, that the Old Testament is not just a record of a particular ancient people or nation, but a mirror we hold up to our faces to see our own image. The virtues of Israel are the virtues of Christians, and their vices our vices.
A splendid example of his approach is the following passage, in which he explains that it would make no difference to have miracles, if we have not faith and love, illustrating the more general (and uncomfortable) truth that Christianity does not somehow automatically make us better than the ancient Israelites. It gives us more access to truth and grace — that is all. We can still imitate their disbelief, even as the best of them foreshadowed our saints and indeed are counted among our saints.
What is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts, and devote ourselves to His service, if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as most assuredly it is not?
What was it that made the Israelites disobedient, who had miracles? St. Paul informs us, and exhorts us in consequence. “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness … take heed … lest there be in any of you” (as there was among the Jews) “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the Living God.” Moses had been commissioned to say the same thing at the very time; “Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep My Commandments always!”
We cannot serve God, because we want the will and the heart to serve Him. We like any thing better than religion, as the Jews before us. The Jews liked this world; they liked mirth and feasting. “The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play;” so do we. They liked glitter and show, and the world’s fashions. “Give us a king like the nations,” they said to Samuel; so do we. They wished to be let alone; they liked ease; they liked their own way; they disliked to make war against the natural impulses and leanings of their own minds; they disliked to attend to the state of their souls, to have to treat themselves as spiritually sick and infirm, to watch, and rule, and chasten, and refrain, and change themselves; and so do we. They disliked to think of God, and to observe and attend His ordinances, and to reverence Him; they called it a weariness to frequent His courts; and they found this or that false worship more pleasant, satisfactory, congenial to their feelings, than the service of the Judge of quick and dead; and so do we: and therefore we disobey God as they did, — not that we have not miracles; for they actually had them, and it made no difference.
We act as they did, though they had miracles, and we have not; because there is one cause of it common both to them and us — heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 8, sermon 6, Miracles no Remedy for Unbelief)
In a similar vein, Newman speaks of how even the incarnate Christ remains the “hidden Savior” of Israel, one whose presence calls for reverential fear and faith in things unseen. We can quarrel and commit blasphemy towards Christ just as the Jews of His day did:
If He is still on earth, yet is not visible (which cannot be denied), it is plain that He keeps Himself still in the condition which He chose in the days of His flesh. I mean, He is a hidden Saviour, and may be approached (unless we are careful) without due reverence and fear. I say, wherever He is (for that is a further question), still He is here, and again He is secret; and whatever be the tokens of His Presence, still they must be of a nature to admit of persons doubting where it is; and if they will argue, and be sharpwitted and subtle, they may perplex themselves and others, as the Jews did even in the days of His flesh, till He seems to them nowhere present on earth now. And when they come to think him far away, of course they feel it to be impossible so to insult Him as the Jews did of old; and if nevertheless He is here, they are perchance approaching and insulting Him, though they so feel. And this was just the case of the Jews, for they too were ignorant what they were doing. It is probable, then, that we can now commit at least as great blasphemy towards Him as the Jews did first, because we are under the dispensation of that Holy Spirit, against whom even more heinous sins can be committed; next, because His presence now as little witnesses of itself, or is impressive to the many, as His bodily presence formerly.” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 4, sermon 16, Christ Hidden from the World)
|One of very few pictures we have of Newman in liturgical garb|
Church Services Too Long and In Need of Modification?
Newman sees the liturgical services (or “ordinances”) of the Church as an opportunity to test our actual resolve to be holy, to attend in faith and love to God’s presence. If we cannot bring ourselves to go to church at a set time to meet the Lord and to concentrate our minds on Him when the means are provided to us, why should we presume that we will succeed in putting our minds on Him elsewhere, when no consistent means are given? Back in Newman’s day, proposals were afoot for shortening and simplifying the Church’s public worship, and he opposed them staunchly. As we know, one of the principal goals of twentieth-century liturgical reform in the Catholic Church was to abbreviate all the ceremonies, because they were considered too long for Modern Man.Ô This tendency was at work in Pius XII’s Holy Week deformation before the epitome of exiguity was achieved in the hieratic haiku of the rites of Paul VI. Newman has something helpful to say to this self-sabotaging reformism:
If any one alleges the length of the Church prayers as a reason for his not keeping his mind fixed upon them, I would beg him to ask his conscience whether he sincerely believes this to be at bottom the real cause of his inattention? Does he think he should attend better if the prayers were shorter? This is the question he has to consider. If he answers that he believes he should attend more closely in that case, then I go on to ask, whether he attends more closely (as it is) to the first part of the service than to the last; whether his mind is his own, regularly fixed on what he is engaged in, for any time in any part of the service? Now, if he is obliged to own that this is not the case, that his thoughts are wandering in all parts of the service, and that even during the Confession, or the Lord’s Prayer, which come first, they are not his own, it is quite clear that it is not the length of the service which is the real cause of his inattention, but his being deficient in the habit of being attentive. If, on the other hand, he answers that he can fix his thoughts for a time, and during the early part of the service, I would have him reflect that even this degree of attention was not always his own, that it has been the work of time and practice; and, if by trying he has got so far, by trying he may go on and learn to attend for a still longer time, till at length he is able to keep up his attention through the whole service. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 1, sermon 11, Profession without Hypocrisy)
Newman makes mention of the Lord’s Prayer, which for him exemplifies the value of simple, clear, unemotional, formal prayer — as long as it remains true to its type:
Christ gave us a prayer to guide us in praying to the Father; and upon this model our own Liturgy is strictly formed. You will look in vain in the Prayer Book for long or vehement Prayers; for it is only upon occasions that agitation of mind is right, but there is ever a call upon us for seriousness, gravity, simplicity, deliberate trust, deep-seated humility. Many persons, doubtless, think the Church prayers, for this very reason, cold and formal. They do not discern their high perfection, and they think they could easily write better prayers. When such opinions are advanced, it is quite sufficient to turn our thoughts to our Saviour’s precept and example. It cannot be denied that those who thus speak, ought to consider our Lord’s prayer defective; and sometimes they are profane enough to think so, and to confess they think so. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 1, sermon Sermon 14, Religious Emotion)
One wonders what Newman would have said about a pope twisting the last line of the Lord’s Prayer to say something that the Greek New Testament doesn’t say, and then to enforce his “new and improved” version on segments of the Church. We know what he would say about a pope abandoning the Latin language for Catholic worship:
The Mass must not be said without a Missal under the priest’s eye; nor in any language but that in which it has come down to us from the early hierarchs of the Western Church. (Idea of a University, Part II, ch. 6: “University Preaching,” 1855)
Along similar lines, Newman preached on the quality of zeal that befits the confessor of Christ, and complained quite movingly of coreligionists who dared to suggest purging verses from the Psalter because they were no longer fitting to recite. We pick up the thread where he is telling us how much we are supposed to keep learning from the Old Testament. Watch where he goes with the Psalter:
A certain fire of zeal, showing itself, not by force and blood, but as really and certainly as if it did — cutting through natural feelings, neglecting self, preferring God’s glory to all things, firmly resisting sin, protesting against sinners, and steadily contemplating their punishment, is a duty belonging to all creatures of God, a duty of Christians, in the midst of all that excellent overflowing charity which is the highest Gospel grace, and the fulfilling of the second table of the Law.
And such, in fact, has ever been the temper of the Christian Church; in evidence of which I need but appeal to the impressive fact that the Jewish Psalter has been the standard book of Christian devotion from the first down to this day. I wish we thought more of this circumstance. Can any one doubt that, supposing that blessed manual of faith and love had never been in use among us, great numbers of the present generation would have clamoured against it as unsuitable to express Christian feelings, as deficient in charity and kindness?
Nay, do we not know, though I dare say it may surprise many a sober Christian to hear that it is so, that there are men at this moment who (I hardly like to mention it) wish parts of the Psalms left out of the Service as ungentle and harsh? Alas! that men of this day should rashly put their own judgment in competition with that of all the Saints of every age hitherto since Christ came — should virtually say, “Either they have been wrong or we are,” thus forcing us to decide between the two. Alas! that they should dare to criticise the words of inspiration! Alas! that they should follow the steps of the backsliding Israelites, and shrink from siding with the Truth in its struggle with the world, instead of saying with Deborah, “So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord!” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 3, sermon 13. Jewish Zeal, a Pattern for Christians)
Yet Paul VI did exactly what Newman railed against: he had “parts of the Psalms left out of the Service” (that is, the Liturgy of the Hours of 1970), following the steps of the backsliding Israelites. See this link for a full listing of the omitted verses.
I would go further and say that Newman, of all modern theologians, is the one whose thought stands most opposed, as a matter of principle, to the postconciliar liturgical reform.
There never was a time since the apostles’ day when the Church was not; and there never was a time but men were to be found who preferred some other way of worship to the Church’s way. These two kinds of professed Christians ever have been — Church Christians and Christians not of the Church; and it is remarkable, I say, that while, on the one hand, reverence for sacred things has been a characteristic of Church Christians on the whole, so, want of reverence has been the characteristic on the whole of Christians not of the Church. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 8, sermon 1, Reverence in Worship)
Did those who radically altered the inherited liturgy, with its profound spirit of reverence exhibited and inculcated in a thousand turns of phrase, bows of the head, kisses of the altar, bending of the knees — did they “prefer some other way of worship” to what had been, for so many centuries, “the Church’s way”? Did they show “reverence for sacred things” or rather an appalling “want [lack] of reverence”? As if continuing his train of thought, Newman says in a different sermon:
It is scarcely too much to say that awe and fear are at the present day all but discarded from religion. Whole societies called Christian make it almost a first principle to disown the duty of reverence; and we ourselves, to whom as children of the Church reverence is as a special inheritance, have very little of it, and do not feel the want of it. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 5, sermon 2, Reverence, a Belief in God’s Presence)
A Church is Like Heaven — or Should Be
Newman’s vision of what heaven will be like is all the more challenging to read in the postconciliar period, when his comparison of it to services in church seems to apply to nearly no Catholic parish except those that have resolutely returned to tradition:
Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like, — a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God. We praise Him, worship Him, sing to Him, thank Him, confess to Him, give ourselves up to Him, and ask His blessing. And therefore, a church is like heaven; viz. because both in the one and the other, there is one single sovereign subject — religion — brought before us. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 1, sermon 1. Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness)
Such views about the afterlife and the way in which a church service should emulate the state of beatitude would probably be written off today by many as “romantic” or “romanticized,” as much as would be Guéranger’s reconstruction of medieval monasticism, Mocquereau’s reinterpretation of plainchant, or Pugin’s and Viollet-le-Duc’s reclamation of Gothic architecture. Yet what all of these 19th-century geniuses had in common is their strong artistic intuition and lively religious imagination. In short, they were not rationalists and historicists, but believers and emulators.
Newman was concerned about the worldliness that ever threatened to creep into the Church, as he complains about “the American Church,” i.e., the Episcopalians.
If this view of things is allowed a footing, a sleek gentlemanlike religion will grow up within the sacred pale, with well-warmed chapels, softly cushioned pews, and eloquent preachers. The poor and needy, the jewels of the Church, will dwindle away; the clergy will sink in honour, and rich laymen will culminate. Already, Mr. Caswall informs us, “there are churches which rather resemble splendid drawing-rooms than houses of worship, and in which the poor man could hardly feel himself at home. Handsome carpets cover every part of the floor,” and “the pews are luxuriously cushioned in a manner calculated to invite repose.” (Essays Critical & Historical, Volume 1, VIII. The Anglo-American Church)
We are not far here from the utterly non-transcendent comfortable religion that Bishop Barron years ago, before he busied himself with the more urgent business of evacuating hell, memorably dubbed “beige Catholicism.” Not heaven on earth, but a second-rate country club.
|Carpeted and cushioned churches: Newman is not amused|
Refraining From or Approaching Holy Communion
The question of who may or may not, who should or should not approach to receive the true Body of Christ in the most holy sacrament of the altar has always been and will always be a pressing one in the Church, as it is a matter of spiritual life or death: those who receive worthily grow in God’s friendship, while those who receive unworthily, that is, in a sinful condition offensive to God, heap damnation on themselves, until and unless they repent. When Newman speaks about the receiption of communion, even in the Anglican context, he is dreadfully serious about what he believes is at stake for souls (and indeed, as any Thomist would say, if an Anglican believes his Eucharist is truly Christ, he would commit a further grave sin by receiving it with grave sin on his conscience):
The true reason why people will not come to this Holy Communion is this, — they do not wish to lead religious lives; they do not like to promise to lead religious lives; and they think that that blessed Sacrament does bind them to do so, bind them to live very much more strictly and thoughtfully than they do at present. Allow as much as we will for proper distrust of themselves, reasonable awe, the burden of past sin, imperfect knowledge, and other causes, still after all there is in most cases a reluctance to bear, or at least to pledge themselves to bear, Christ’s yoke; a reluctance to give up the service of sin once for all; a lingering love of their own ease, of their own will, of indolence, of carnal habits, of the good opinion of men whom they do not respect; a distrust of their perseverance in holy resolves, grounded on a misgiving about their present sincerity. This is why men will not come to Christ for life; they know that He will not impart Himself to them, unless they consent to devote themselves to Him. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 7, sermon 11. Attendance on Holy Communion)
Would that we had a mere fraction of this sense of self-awareness among us today, when the vast majority of those present at any Mass walk up to receive, without heeding St. Paul’s instruction to examine their consciences for impediments! If one had to choose between this pervasive laxity and the bad old days when few received, the latter situation was far better, as simply being more honest. Christian love builds on truth, not on free lollipops for all comers. Mortal sinners used to refrain from committing an act of sacrilege. Today, they get what has been called the “Sin-nod.”
Newman understood sacramental logic better than all the bishops at the various Bergoglian Synods that have wasted the time, money, and patrimony of the Catholic Church:
If the dead bodies of Christians are honourable, so doubtless are the living; because they have had their blessedness when living, therefore have they in their sleep. He who does not honour his own body as something holy unto the Lord, may indeed revere the dead, but it is then a mere superstition, not an act of piety. To reverence holy places (right as it is) will not profit a man unless he reverences himself. Consider what it is to be partaker of the Body and Blood of Christ. We pray God, in our Church’s language, that “our sinful bodies may become clean through His body;” and we are promised in Scripture, that our bodies shall be temples of the Holy Ghost. How should we study, then, to cleanse them from all sin, that they may be true members of Christ! We are told that the peril of disease and death attends the unworthy partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Is this wonderful, considering the strange sin of receiving it into a body disgraced by wilful disobedience? All that defiles it, intemperance or other vice, all that is unbecoming, all that is disrespectful to Him who has bought our bodies with a price, must be put aside. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 1, sermon 21, The Resurrection of the Body)
I take it as a peculiar virtue in Newman that he uncompromisingly sizes up sin for the gross disorder it is, and sees the entire work of the Church to consist in freeing man from sin so that the divine life may take root in him. In a famous passage, our author articulates a view that is not just worlds apart from the currently reigning moral theology, but, one might say, its direct and categorical opposite.
“The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.” I think the principle here enunciated to be the mere preamble in the formal credentials of the Catholic Church, as an Act of Parliament might begin with a “Whereas.” It is because of the intensity of the evil which has possession of mankind, that a suitable antagonist has been provided against it; and the initial act of that divinely-commissioned power is of course to deliver her challenge and to defy the enemy. Such a preamble then gives a meaning to her position in the world, and an interpretation to her whole course of teaching and action. (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, ch. 5, quoting internally from Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, Volume 1, Lecture 8)
It cannot be denied that “the Catholic Church” about which Newman spoke so majestically and with such certitude in the preceding passage is in mortal danger today, fifty years after the last Council, languishing in a sickness that, from all appearances, is unto death, and will require a divine Physician to heal. From time to time, Newman could wax apocalyptic, as in this Anglican sermon where he is reflecting on the internal schisms of his own community, in words that tragically apply today to the Catholic Church he recognized by her notes and praised for her unity:
Alas! I cannot deny that the outward notes of the Church are partly gone from us, and partly going; and a most fearful judgment it is. “Behold … the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.” “All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over them, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.” This in good measure has fallen upon us. The Church of God is under eclipse among us. Where is our unity, for which Christ prayed? where our charity, which He enjoined? where the faith once delivered, when each has his own doctrine? where our visibility, which was to be a light to the world? where that awful worship, which struck fear into every soul? And what is the consequence? “We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.” (Sermons on Subjects of the Day, Sermon 22. Outward and Inward Notes of the Church, citing Isa. xiii. 10; Amos viii. 9, 10; Ezek. xxxii. 8; Isa. lix. 10)
Yes, these passages are stern and sobering. They are not the happy-clappy stuff of BunnyLuv liturgy. Newman could see the developing secularism of England, Europe, America, the deepening shadow of infidelity that threatened to suffocate the entire West. He knew that there was only one answer: absolute faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His revelation, without compromise, without shame, without cowardice, and with the joy that comes from resting in the truth of God’s love, which is too intense to leave us, Grand Inquisitor-style, in our self-absorbed mediocrity. For Newman there is not, nor could there be, a “new paradigm” for Christianity; there is the one and only paradigm, already given, given once and for ever. Our work is to conform to it, not to transform it; to apply it, not to subvert it.
|“Are you listening? Or are you one of those rigid Catholics
who wear birettas and love doctrinal formulations more than God?
Oops… I just canonized you, so I guess we’re good to go.”
A Lighter Interlude
There is plenty of humor, especially of a satirical kind, in Newman’s work. I shall offer just one example, especially pertinent to readers of NLM. How often do we bump into people who insist on repeating their liturgical mistakes, because “that’s the way we’ve always done it (or: the way it’s always been done)”?
It is related by the learned Dr. Bentley . . . [that] his opponent happened to spell wrongly the name of a Greek town; and when he was set right, he made answer that it was the custom of our English writers so to spell it, and he proceeded to quote as many as five of them in proof of his assertion. On this Bentley observes, “An admirable reason, and worthy to be his own; as if the most palpable error, that shall happen to obtain and meet with reception, must therefore never be mended.” After this, the slashing critic goes on to allude to the instance of an unlearned English priest, truly or not I know not, “who for thirty years together” (perhaps it was on taking the first ablution in the Mass) “had always said, ‘Quod ore mumpsimus,’ instead of ‘Quod ore sumpsimus,’ and when, says Bentley, “a learned man told him of his blunder, ‘I’ll not change,’ says he, ‘my old Mumpsimus for your new Sumpsimus.’” (Present Position of Catholics in England, Lecture 3, Fable the Basis of the Protestant View)
A contemporary parallel: “I’ll not change my old Missa murmurata for your new Missa lecta,” or, “I’ll not change my rubricae personales for your rubricae generales.”
I would like to close with a well-known meditation in which Newman reminds us that God has made us and placed us here, right now, for a reason, whether we grasp it or not, and that each of us has our role in the great scheme of things — in the working out of His plan for the salvation of men and the triumph of the Cross:
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me — still He knows what He is about.
O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, Thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to Thee. I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I — more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be — work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see — I ask not to know — I ask simply to be used. (Meditations and Devotions, Part III, I. Hope in God — Creator, n. 2)
How moving is this meditation, when we think of Newman’s own heroic fidelity, often under very trying circumstances, to the “definite service and mission” God entrusted to him! And how moving for us today, when so many Catholics feel themselves to be “in sickness, in perplexity, in sorrow,” at the spirit of worldliness that has swept through and conquered the human side of the Church!
What a marvel to behold the sublime realism, the integrity and honesty, the unbending trust in Providence disclosed in this meditation and prayer. Christ will conquer. Truth and righteousness will have the final word. We are not likely to see it or know it in this life, but we still beg the Lord to use us for His glory, to work in and through us during our pilgrimage of faith. “I do not ask to see / The distant scene — one step enough for me.”
St. John Henry Newman, pray for us.
|Newman’s private chapel, where he offered the Tridentine Mass
(photo courtesy of Liturgical Arts Journal)
Visit www.peterkwasniewski.com for articles, sacred music, and classics reprinted by Os Justi Press (e.g., Benson, Scheeben, Parsch, Guardini, Chaignon, Leen).
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