C 1 1

Hochschule Benedikt XVI. Heiligenkreuz
0 6 6 9 2 0 9




Prof. P. Dr. Karl Wallner OCist



Newman’s Apologia and the Drama of Faith and
A Literary-Theological Classic in a Secular Age

eingereicht am:

20. September 2010


Frater Edmund Waldstein OCist


Stift 1
A - 2532 Heiligenkreuz
02258 8703 (241)

Digital übermittelt:

20. September 2010


my ‘dolcissimo patre,’ with heartfelt gratitude, deepest
respect, and unfeigned love,
by his student,
Frater Edmund Waldstein OCist


I thank Prof. Herbert Zeman, who gave me the idea for this essay. I would also like to
thank the participants of his seminar “Geschichte der religiösen Dichtung im
europäischen Zusammenhang,” in which the idea was conceived, and to which an
earlier form of it was presented. I would especially like to thank Frater Johannes Paul
Chavanne OCist who persuaded Prof. Zeman to lead the seminar, and collected the
participants. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Karl Wallner OCist, my advisor.
I must also thank my superiors, Abbot Gregor Henckel Donnersmarck OCist;
my former prior, Abbot Christian Feurstein OCist; and my current prior, P. Simeon
Wester OCist, for causing me to begin and helping me to finish this project. I also thank
my confreres in Heiligenkreuz for their assistance—especially Frater Kilian Müller
OCist, Frater Damian Lienhart OCist, and Frater Leopold Storczer OCist. The
Oratorians of the Vienna Oratory received me as their guest for three weeks while I was
writing this thesis. I thank them all—especially the Praepositus, P. Felix Selden, Cong.
Orat., and the pastor of St. Rochus, P. Florian Calice, Cong. Orat. I also thank Muireann
Simpson and Bailey Fator who gave me valuable encouragement (not to mention sushi!)
during my stay in Vienna.
Whatever other faults the following essay may have, at least it is not original. To
be original is usually to be wrong. The works on which I have explicitly based it on are
listed in the bibliography, but a far more important source are the persons I have learned
from. Obviously, I cannot list everyone who has influenced my thought on these
matters, but I would like to acknowledge at least some of those who have particularly
influenced this essay.
First my parents Michael and Susie Waldstein, my first teachers, who were also
the first to introduce me to Newman’s Apologia. Their influence in this essay is
especially strong in the account of the rise of secular reason, Francis Bacon’s key role in
that process, and in my use of the works of Charles De Koninck.
Next I want to acknowledge the help of Thomas Howard, to whom this essay is
dedicated. He taught me to read literature, and interpret it theologically. Ever since I
was a little homeschooler sitting in on his classes on Dante and T. S. Eliot he has taken
a most generous interest in me; reading everything that I have written and returning it
“like a serve in tennis” with insightful comments. His influence on this essay is
especially apparent in the literary analysis of the Apologia and in the account of

My tutors and fellow students at Thomas Aquinas College, California, are one of
the main sources of my argument. Among the tutors I would particularly like to thank:
Matthew Walz, Karen Zedlick, and Paul O’Reilly, with whom I read Plato and
Aristotle; Michael Paietta with whom I read Virgil and Lucretius; Richard Ferrier, who
gave me the key to the comparison between Virgil and Newman; John Baer, with whom
I read Augustine; Michael McLean, John Neumayr, Ronald McArthur, and John Francis
Nieto, with whom I read St. Thomas; Marcus Berquist, R. Glen Coughlin, David
Quackenbush, and Ronald Richard, with whom I studied the rise of modern science;
Kevin Kolbeck, with whom I read Bacon and modern philosophy up to Kant; John
Francis Nieto (again), with whom I read modern philosophy after Kant and Newman’s
Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; and especially Sean Collins, who
directed my thesis against Enlightenment political theory. Among my fellow students I
especially want to acknowledge the influence of: Nicholas Bucher, Ryan Burke, Roy
Axel Coats, Br. Patrick Carter OSB, Caleb Cohoe, Samantha (McCall) Cohoe, Rose
(Ferrier) Froula, Daniel Grimm, David Grothoff, Catherine (Joliat) Feil, Joel Feil, Frater
Jacob (Joseph) Hsieh OPraem, Joseph Kenney, Peter Knuffke, Andrew Lang, Br.
Andrew Norton OSB, Catherine Ryland, Thomas Aquinas Short, Elijah White, and
Henry Zepeda.
In addition to Herbert Zeman and P. Karl Wallner OCist, I thank all my







Heiligenkreuz—especially P. Maximilian Heim OCist, who taught me to see the
relation faith and reason as a drama; Wolfgang Klausnitzer, who taught me much about
that drama; and P. Kosmas Thielmann OCist, who introduced me to Alasdair
MacIntyre’s works, and awakened my interest in postmodern and “post-postmodern”
Finally I thank Peter Kwasniewski for helping me formulate my critique of the
Enlightenment, Walter J. Thompson for an excellent summer seminar on faith and
reason, and Thorsten Gubatz for his challenging critique of my interpretation of
Descartes. My apologies to all whom I have inadvertently omitted from this list.


Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................... ii
I. Introduction ............................................................................................................... 3
II. The Drama of Faith and Reason: From the Areopagus to the End of the MiddleAges .............................................................................................................................. 8
Act One: Platonism and Augustine ................................................................ 8
Act Two: Aristotelianism, Aquinas, and the “Unitary Mentality” of the High
Middle Ages ............................................................................................................ 10
The End of the Middle Ages and the Beginnings of Act Three: Voluntarism,
Nominalism, Humanism, and the Reformation ...................................................... 15
III. Secular Reason ...................................................................................................... 20
A. The Origins of the Enlightenment in England ................................................... 20
The Tudors ................................................................................................ 20
Francis Bacon ........................................................................................... 21
B. Descartes and the Genesis of Secular Reason on the Continent ........................ 22
Prologue to Cartesianism: Wars of Religion, Baroque Scholastics, the
Revival of Skepticism ......................................................................................... 22
Descartes ................................................................................................... 24
C. Forms of Secular Reason and Options for a Religious Response ...................... 28
D. The Secularization of England from the Enlightenment to the Victorians ........ 31
The Age of Locke and Newton ................................................................. 31
Joseph Butler............................................................................................. 34
Whigs, Tories, and Dr. Johnson; or the Tragedy of the Conservative ...... 36
Coleridge and the Germans....................................................................... 38
Darwinism and Victorian Complacency ................................................... 40
Liberal Anglicanism in the 1830s ............................................................. 41
IV. Enthusiasm, or the Spiritual Lineage of Mrs. Proudie ......................................... 44
Characteristics of Enthusiasm ...................................................................... 44
A Borderline Case: Pascal and the Costume Drama of Jansenism .............. 46
Spener and Zinzendorf ................................................................................. 51
Methodism .................................................................................................... 53
Anglican Evangelicals .................................................................................. 57
V. Newman Enters the Stage: Mission and Occasion ................................................ 60
Newman’s Religious Background ................................................................ 60
The Oxford Movement ................................................................................. 60
Newman’s Frustration .................................................................................. 62
Kingsley’s Attack ......................................................................................... 63
VI. Newman’s Lines: the Literary Artistry of the Apologia ....................................... 69
Why Narrative? ............................................................................................ 69
Dramatic Prose ............................................................................................. 70
Rhythm and Sentence Structure ................................................................ 70
Imagery and Amplification ....................................................................... 72
Epic and Dramatic Structure ........................................................................ 75
History of my Religious Opinions up to 1833 .......................................... 76
History of my Religious Opinions from 1833 to 1839 ............................. 76
History of my Religious Opinions from 1839 to 1841 ............................. 77
History of my Religious Opinions from 1841 to 1845 ............................. 78
Position of my Mind since 1845 ............................................................... 78
A Spiritual Aeneid ........................................................................................ 78
VII. Ex Umbris et Imaginibus in Veritatem: Faith and Reason in the Apologia ........ 83
Special Pleading?.......................................................................................... 83


Platonism, Empiricism, or Aristotelianism? ................................................. 84
Three Principles of Newman’s Philosophical Character .............................. 88
Docility to the Real ................................................................................... 88
Man is Not the Measure of Things ........................................................... 92
Docility to Human Teachers ..................................................................... 93
Probability the Guide of Life ........................................................................ 95
Probability................................................................................................. 95
The Illative Sense and Phronesis .............................................................. 96
James Munro Cameron and the Dragon ....................................................... 97
Conscience and Dogma ................................................................................ 99
Theandric Truth and the Vision of Peace ................................................... 102
No Medium Between Atheism and Catholicity.......................................... 108
VIII. The Achievement and its Limits ...................................................................... 112
IX. Epilogue: Newman, the Postmodern, and the Post-Postmodern ........................ 115
X. Works Cited ......................................................................................................... 122
A. John Henry Newman’s Works ......................................................................... 122
B. Studies of Newman .......................................................................................... 122
D. Other Works Cited ........................................................................................... 122


Peter Henrici has compared the history of the relation between Christian faith and

philosophical reason to a drama. The history which began with St. Paul on the
Areopagus and continued through the patristic synthesis of Christianity and Platonism,
the scholastic synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelianism, and the modern
disintegration of that synthesis, is indeed full of dramatic elements: ironies, sudden
turns, and above all conflict and tension. Henrici sees this drama as the “axis” of the

history of Christianity. Even a non-Christian philosopher such as Leo Strauss sees “the
very life of Western civilization” as being the tension between its two roots: biblical

theology and Greek philosophy. The central act of this drama, Henrici argues, was the

estrangement of faith and reason that began in the Enlightenment. Henrici is here
following Pope John Paul II who, in his summary of the history of faith and reason in
the Encyclical Fides et Ratio, reserves the comparison to drama for the section entitled
“The drama of the separation of faith and reason” with deals with this period.


The Enlightenment estrangement between faith and reason was (and indeed is)
the driving force behind a process of “secularization,” a gradual erosion of religious
faith in Western life. Reason estranged from faith, “secular reason” to use John

Milbank’s term, was able to propose a new goal of human life to replace the religious
one. The Progress of man’s power over nature as brought about by secular reason itself
was to bring about a heaven on earth. The search for a new synthesis between faith and
reason, an overcoming of their estrangement, thus became a matter of vital importance
to Christians. But a long time elapsed before any serious attempt was made in this
direction. In a recent study of the Catholic philosophical tradition Alasdair MacIntyre
traces how Christian thought more and more disappeared from the intellectual life of the

West. In certain Catholic orders, indeed, the scholastic synthesis continued to be taught

and elaborated, but the copious commentaries and disputations of late-Baroque


Peter HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio: Die Enzyklika zum dritten Jahrtausend.” Lecture at the Theologische
Hochschule Chur, June 15, 1999. http://www.kath.ch/pdf/fides_et_ratio_henrici.pdf (01.06.2010
HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 2.
Leo STRAUSS, “The Mutual Influence of Philosophy and Theology,” in: Faith and Political Philosophy:
the Correspondence between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, 1934-1964, ed. and trans. Peter EMBERLY,
Barry COOPER (Columbia, Missouri 22004) 217-233, at 217-218.
HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 5-6.
Pope JOHN PAUL II, Fides et Ratio (Rome 1998).
John MILBANK, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Malden-Oxford 22006).
Alasdair MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities: a Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical
Tradition (Lanham – Plymouth 2009) ch. 15.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 132-133.

scholasticism have the luxuriance of flowers grown in a green house; they were
sheltered from the open air. The Dominican theologian Charles-René Billuart (16851757) was certainly a great thinker, and his intellectual life was good in itself; but, for
all the influence he had on the intellectual culture of the West, he might as well have
gone fishing.
MacIntyre argues that it was not till the middle of the 19th century, in the work
of John Henry Newman, that a Christian response was given that was able to usher in a
new debate between Christianity and secular reason. MacIntyre points to two
“remarkable and providential” events which lead to Newman formulating his position.
The first of these was the founding of a Catholic University in Ireland, which lead to the
Publication of Newman’s The Idea of a University (1858), the second was an attack on
Newman by the popular writer Charles Kingsley, which was the occasion of Newman

publishing his Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864). MacIntyre focuses more on the first of
these works; in the present essay I shall focus more on the second, which I consider the
more important. Newman expounded the elements of his understanding of the relation
between faith and reason most fully in An Essay on the Development of Christian
Doctrine (1845) and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), but the vision
there enunciated is implied in The Idea of a University, and it is expressed and
illustrated in the Apologia.
The Apologia traces Newman’s own conversion to the Catholic Church. If this
personal story was able to escape the marginalization of Catholic thought and give a
new turn to the drama of faith and reason, it was because of the stature of the person
who told it. MacIntyre puts this as follows:
What gave Newman’s story a huge interest for many of his educated contemporaries,
Catholic and non-Catholic alike, was the extraordinary quality of Newman’s mind,
character, and intelligence. This was someone of high intellectual powers, of notable
integrity, someone well aware of the claims of the Enlightenment, a reader of Hume and
Gibbon, someone who understood what was at issue in contemporary philosophical
debate, someone with a distinctively modern sensibility and literary style, who at a time
when Catholicism seemed to be intellectually impoverished and unable to come to terms
with the claims made in the name of secular reason, had identified himself with the
Catholic faith. So the questions for his contemporaries were: What would this
identification amount to? What would become of Newman in what was still to him the
alien culture of the Catholic Church?

MacIntyre’s account is somewhat oversimplified. Newman’s story did indeed
have a huge interest for his contemporaries, but MacIntyre does not mention how that
interest was in fact brought about by of the tremendous literary and theological


MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 136-138.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 137-138.


achievement of the Apologia. For it was not as though Victorian England was waiting
with baited breath for Newman to explain his conversion. In fact, at his conversion
Newman had lost the influence on the national intellectual life that he had won in his
youth, and lived in relative obscurity, till his Apologia once again put him at the center
of the debate.
To understand just how improbable Newman’s achievement was one must recall
the cultural situation of Victorian England. I shall therefore describe the process of
secularization that began with the Enlightenment, and how it had reached a highpoint of
confidence in Victorian England. The Victorians saw England as leading the world in a
linear progression from the superstition of the Middle Ages to a fully enlightened
civilization. The religion that appealed most to the Victorians was the liberal
Christianity of Newman’s opponent Charles Kingsley, which substituted the optimism
of progress for Christian hope— to the point of practically identifying the scientific,
technological and commercial success of British society with the coming of the
kingdom of God. Liberal Christianity was impatient of what it saw as the irrelevant
subtlety of speculative doctrine; it was a very practical religion. For Newman to make a
history of the theological investigations that lead him to abandon the religion of
England for the “superstitions of Rome” of “huge interest” to Victorian England was a
challenge indeed.
Newman accepted the challenge, I will argue, because it gave him an
opportunity to strike a blow in the battle that he considered to be the mission of his life.
Newman, throughout his life, saw it to be his mission to give his contemporaries a way
to find faith in the face of the tide of unbelief which he saw engulfing them.
How was Newman able to rise to the challenge? Part of the answer lies in the
literary artistry that makes the Apologia one of the great classics of English literature.
Its literary value was recognized from the start and has never been in question since. At
its appearance in 1864 one reviewer wrote that he doubted that any autobiography of

such “thrilling interest” had appeared since Augustine’s Confessions. The Patriot went
even further, calling it “a far deeper revelation, and a far greater moral achievement”

than even the Confessions. A Life of Newman published in 1904 claims that no
autobiography in the English language has been more read than the Apologia, and that it

was to the 19th century what Boswell’s Life of Dr. Johnson was to the 18th.

The Union Review, II (1864) 481, cited in: Vincent Ferrer BLEHL, S.J., “Early Criticism of the
Apologia”, in: John Henry NEWMAN, Apologia Pro Vita Sua: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. David J.
DELAURA, (New York 1968) 409-419, at 418, footnote 19.
The Patriot, July 21, 1864, cited in: BLEHL, “Early Criticism” 418.
William BARRY, Newman (Literary Lives ed. Robertson NICOLL, New York 1904) 133.

In the 20th century, even the Bloomsbury Group considered the Apologia a
masterpiece. If anyone might have been expected to be dismissive of Newman it was
Bloomsbury critic Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), who was not only vociferously
opposed to Newman’s theology, but was also famous for pouring scorn on much of
Victorian literature. And yet, this is how he writes of the Apologia:
If Newman had died at the age of sixty, today he would have been already forgotten, save
by a few ecclesiastical historians; but he lived to write his Apologia, and to reach
immortality, neither as a thinker nor as a theologian, but as an artist who has embalmed
the poignant history of an intensely human spirit in the magical spices of words.

Strachey’s anti-clericalism lead him to underestimate the extent to which Newman was
to reach immortality as a theologian and thinker, but it is undeniable that Newman’s
literary fame is primarily founded on the Apologia.
Newman scholar Ian Ker, sees a certain irony in this; for the Apologia, although
the result of a controversy, is strikingly different in tone from the polemical works

which make Newman “probably the greatest controversialist in the English language.”

In fact, Ker argues, the Apologia is “unique among Newman’s published works, not

only in its form and content, but also in its style and tone.” In place of the rhetorical
eloquence, at which Newman excelled, the Apologia is marked (still according to Ker)

by calm documentation of facts. This has to do with the circumstances which lead to
the writing of the Apologia, circumstances which led Newman to give “a History of His
Religious Opinions” (as he put it in the subtitle) in order to prove his own integrity
against slander.
Ker thus advises caution in calling the Apologia an autobiography, even a

spiritual autobiography. The often made comparison to Augustine’s Confessions can
be misleading, since the Apologia is more concerned with the authors intellectual
development than with his spiritual life. It is a theological autobiography rather than a

spiritual one. Thus, unlike Augustine, Newman writes practically nothing about his
prayer life, his struggles with temptation etc.
I cannot agree with Ker in seeing Newman’s controversial writings as a greater
literary achievement than the Apologia. It was precisely the challenges that Newman
faced in making a calm exposition of his theological development – written seemingly


Lytton STRACHEY, Eminent Victorians (London 1918) 16.
Ian KER, John Henry Newman (Oxford – New York 22009) 549; “Introduction,” to: John Henry
NEWMAN Apologia pro Vita Sua, ed. Ian KER (London: Penguin Classics, 1995) xi-xxxiv, at xxx.
KER, John Henry Newman 548-549.
KER, John Henry Newman 549.
KER, John Henry Newman 548.
KER, John Henry Newman 548.

ad hoc in reply to a definite accusation – into an enduring classic, that make it such an
astonishing achievement.
I shall therefore offer an analysis of the literary artistry with which Newman
solved his task, the literary techniques that he used to “embalm the poignant history of
an intensely human spirit.” Following this I shall examine the philosophical and
theological vision that Newman conveys through that history. The description of the act
of faith, the theory of the role of the Church in transmitting and developing the faith, the
relation between authority and private judgment; in short, Newman’s attempt at
showing modern man the possibility of faith in a dogmatic creed. The main elements of
Newman’s synthesis will be found in his distinctive development of Aristotelian
epistemology, his attention to the role of conscience, and his insight into the theandric
logic of the presence of Divine Revelation in the world.



A. Act One: Platonism and Augustine
In order to understand Newman’s role in the drama of secularization it is chiefly
necessary to understand how secularization played out in England. England indeed
played a key role in the process of secularization, and the history of England’s rise as
dominant world power is intimately bound up with it. It is important to see this
connection in order to understand the Victorian attitude towards secularization. It is no
accident that, as we shall see, the attack which provoked Newman’s Apologia came in a
review of a history of Tudor England, for the disintegration of the medieval order and
the beginning of the Enlightenment in England coincided with the rise of the house of
Tudor. But if we are to understand the drama as it played out in England we cannot
avoid at least a limited consideration of developments elsewhere, and if we are to
understand the “central act” of the drama of faith and reason, it is first necessary to
recall the basic lines of the first two acts of the drama. I therefore begin with a rough
sketch of the drama from the beginning of Christianity to the end of the Middle Ages.
The reader will have to be patient as I will not be able to avoid going into a certain
number of details of Augustinian and Thomistic theology which may at first seem
irrelevant—these details are, however, vital for understanding both the Enlightenment
separation of faith and reason and the extent to which Newman drew on the tradition in
answering it.
Henrici points out that already in the New Testament Christianity is not
presented as an irrational mystery cult, but as a teaching that is in harmony with reason.
Henrici points to the famous scene of St. Paul on the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:2231), where the Apostle astonishingly appropriates the Greek philosophical critique of

irrational myth. Thus from the very beginning Christianity finds itself identifying the
God of Jesus Christ with the God of the philosophers. At the same time though it
proposes teachings which go beyond the philosophical, and which the philosophers find
it hard to accept. When St. Paul speaks of the Resurrection the Athenians abruptly lose
interest in listening to him (Acts 17:31-33).
The Patristic age was marked by an attempt to appropriate Greek philosophy for
Christians. It was by no means a smooth process, while philosophical terms were used

HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 2-3

by the great Fathers to explicate the mysteries of Christianity, they were also used by
heretics such as Arius to, as it were, explain Christianity away. In the West this process
was brought to perfection in the towering figure of St. Augustine (354-430).
It was especially in his encounter with Platonism, in his attempt to untangle from
Platonism what was consonant with Christianity from what was repugnant to it, that St.
Augustine developed his teaching on the relation of faith to reason. Augustine found in
neo-Platonism the school of philosophy closest to Christianity, but at the same time he
found elements there which he could not reconcile with Christianity; thus he could read
in Plotinus of the Divine Logos, through which all things were, but he could not read of
that Logos becoming flesh.


For Platonism the real world is the world of intelligible forms emanating from a
divine principle. The visible world in which we live is a world of shadows, vague
reflections of the real world of ideas, darkened by contact with matter; the human soul
is truly at home in the world of ideas but has been exiled to the realm of shadows.
Through a process of self-purification man has to learn to see beyond the shadows and
recover knowledge of the forms. Matter is the cause of all ignorance and evil.
Augustine did not accept the idea of matter as a principle of evil. Matter is
created by God and is good. The principle of darkness and evil for Augustine is to be
found in the disorder of the will which, wounded by original sin, turns away from the

true goal. But Augustine accepts that what is most real are the intelligible forms, which

he interprets as ideas in the mind of God. And knowledge of those forms must still be
attained through a process of Purification. Knowledge indeed begins with the senses,
but it but it has to move beyond them to grasp forms that the sensible world reflects but

does not contain. To attain to the forms it is necessary to receive light from God. Thus
even in natural knowledge God, hidden in the soul, is the true teacher.
But there are mysteries to which natural knowledge cannot attain, as the example
of Plotinus above illustrates. Augustine sees that these mysteries have to be accepted on
the authority of the God who reveals them. Nevertheless, natural reason still has a role
to play even here. Once the mysteries are accepted on authority philosophical reason

can help to understand what they mean. Philosophy thus becomes an entirely ancillary
discipline for Augustine, a useful skill that one must learn in order to do theology


MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 21-22.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 24-25.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 26.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 26.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 27.


properly. Augustine’s view of the relation of philosophy to theology determined the
intellectual path of the West for centuries, but MacIntyre points out that there is a
certain ambivalence in Augustine’s position which was to determine much of the
dramatic tension of medieval philosophy:
Philosophy is […] at once independent of theology and yet dependent upon it in
Augustine’s scheme. It is independent insofar as it has its own standards of enquiry and
argument. But it is dependent in that the point and purpose of its enquiries and the
significance of the conclusions of its arguments can only be understood from within a
theologically committed standpoint. And this double character of the relationship
between of philosophy to theology leaves it open to Augustine’s successors to interpret
his position in more than one way, so that there are both later Augustinians—notably
Aquinas—who treat philosophy as an independent form of enquiry, and later
Augustinians who insist that philosophy has no legitimate place except within and
subordinated to the theological enterprise.

Augustine’s account of the subordination of philosophy to theology fits with his
general view of the primacy of order and subordination. The deepest desire of the soul
is union with God, and all its other desires ought to be subordinated to this, but through
original sin other desires (especially lust and pride) try to take its place. Interior peace
has to be sought by regaining the proper order. Similarly the whole universe is created
by God for his own glory, and its highest fulfillment is in the order that reflects God’s
beauty, but through sin the order of the universe is disturbed. In The City of God
Augustine explains how God is to renew the lost order of the whole, so that all of

creation can become a “vision of peace.” This peace of the whole universe is the

highest created goal it is, “it is the end of our good.” Augustine was thus able to
Christianize the “cosmocentric” world-view of pagan philosophy by integrating
elements of it into a theocentric world-view. The purpose of each contingent being is to
contribute to the whole cosmos, but that cosmos is now seen as radically ordered to

B. Act Two: Aristotelianism, Aquinas, and the “Unitary Mentality” of the
High Middle Ages
The greatest exponent of the ancient view of the cosmos was Aristotle, of whom
Augustine had only slight knowledge. It was the re-discovery of Aristotle in the 12th and
13th centuries that was to bring the next act in our drama. While Aristotle’s logic was
known in the West, it was not till the 13th century that his works on physics,
metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and politics became known. They were mediated to

MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 29-30.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 29-30.
De Civitate Dei, XIX, 11. Trans. Marcus DODS. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.pdf
(14.07.2010 08:59).
De Civitate Dei, XIX, 11.

the Latin West by Arabic and Jewish scholars, who had already begun the tortuous
process of reconciling them with monotheistic faith.


Aristotle had of course rejected the Platonic view of the sensible world as a land
of shadows, a by-product of the intelligible world. For Aristotle the material substances
are real; they are composites of matter and form with their own interior order to an end.
Knowledge does not consist in recollecting eternal forms, but in abstracting the
universal forms from the particular things we sense. The synthesis of monotheism with
Aristotelianism seemed thus more difficult than with Platonism. How is the creator-God
related to Aristotelian substances? This was the question which dominated the Islamic,
Jewish and Christian interpretation of Aristotle in the Middle Ages.


Just how difficult it was is illustrated by the great Arabic commentator on
Aristotle, Avicenna (ibn Sīnā, 980-1037). Avicenna had memorized the Koran by the

age of ten, but the version of Aristotelianism that he later developed contradicts the
teachings of the Koran on a number points. Most famously he taught the eternity of the
material world, that God knows only universals not particulars, and that the soul is
immortal and the only part of man that can be immortal. Theologians such as Algazel
(Al Ghazālī, 1058-1111) were to point out the incompatibility of these teachings with
the Islamic teachings on creation, providence, and the resurrection of the dead—
teachings which Islam had in common with Judaism and Christianity.


In the West the teachings of Avicenna and other Arabic Aristotelians caused
fierce debate. Conservative Augustinian theologians rejected them with horror, while
others welcomed them because of the authority of their master Aristotle. It was the
greatest of all Christian thinkers, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who was to find the
most convincing solution to the problem. St. Thomas’s achievement was to preserve the
theological insights of Augustine while appropriating what was best in the philosophy
of Aristotle and his commentators.
Thomas preserved Augustine’s Platonism as far as the cause of the being of
things is concerned. For Thomas, as for Augustine, the being of things is a reflection of
the mind of God. But Thomas rejects Augustine’s Platonic teaching that (in this life) our
knowledge of things comes from attaining to the forms in the mind of God. He accepts
Aristotle’s account of natural substance, and how knowledge is abstracted from it. He
sees natural knowledge as being really gained by abstraction from things: “nihil est in


HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 4; MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities ch. 7.
HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 4.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 45.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 49.

intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu:” “nothing is in the intellect that was not

previously in sense.” This allows Thomas to make the distinction between philosophy
and theology much clearer. Philosophy is given independence in its own sphere as a
mode of learning that begins with our experience of the world around us and ascends to
knowledge of the cause which created them, of whom they are a reflection, and to
whom they tend as their end. And yet philosophy is also at the same time an ancillary
discipline to theology in the way in which Augustine argued. For, as Augustine taught,
there are certain truths to which philosophy cannot attain, and which we accept merely

on the authority of the God who revealed them, and philosophy has a role in helping us

to understand what is meant by those truths. Neither philosophy nor theology have the
kind of directly infused knowledge that Augustine attributed to both. We have already
seen why this is true of philosophy; of theology it is true because what is infused by
God is faith by which one assents to God’s revelation. Faith gives theology absolute
certainty about its truths, but not the kind of apprehension of them that we really desire,
and which will finally come in heaven.
In the De Veritate Thomas brings up Augustine’s account of the infusion of
knowledge, but he is careful not to attribute to Augustine, attributing it instead
(delicious irony!) to Avicenna. And he objects to it with an argument based on a very
Augustinian account of order:
[Some] also hold that knowledge is caused in us only by an agent free of matter. For this
reason Avicenna holds that the intelligible forms flow into our mind from the agent
intelligence […] [This] opinion excludes proximate causes, attributing solely to first
causes all effects which happen in lower natures. In this it derogates from the order of the
universe, which is made up of the order and connection of causes, since the first cause, by
the pre-eminence of its goodness, gives other beings not only their existence, but also
their existence as causes.

This passage shows how Thomas’s Aristotelian account of substance allows him to
deepen the Augustinian teaching on the order of the cosmos.
Thomas developed a rich theology of creation to account for the relation of God
to natural substances. God is infinite and self-sufficient goodness, and has no need to
create anything. But since He loves his own goodness He decides to represent it in

De Veritate q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19, trans. Robert MULLIGAN, ed. Joseph KENNY.
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer2.htm (14.07.2010 16:46).
Summa Theologiae Ia q. 1 a. 1.
Summa Theologiae Ia q. 1 a. 5 ad 5: “This science can in a sense depend upon the philosophical
sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer. For it
accepts its principles not from other sciences, but immediately from God, by revelation.” Trans. Fathers
of the English Dominican Province. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1001.htm#article5 (14.07.2010
De Veritate q. 11 a. 1 c, trans. James MCGLYNN, ed. Joseph KENNY.
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer11.htm (14.07.2010 17:29).


creatures. The complete goodness which God possesses in a perfectly simple and
undivided way is reflected by the multitude of creatures in a divided way; each creature
reflects a different aspect of the Divine goodness as no one creature can represent the
Divine goodness as a whole.39 The substantial nature of each creature is thus seen as a
real participation in the divine goodness. And that participation is all the greater the
more reality the creature—thus the Aristotelian substance turns out to manifest God
better than the Platonic shadows. But it belongs to the very account of goodness that it

be one, it follows that the multitude of creatures must be brought together, in some
way, so as to imitate the Divine unity. They are brought together by order:
The multiplicity and distinction existing among things were devised by the divine
intellect and were carried out in the real order so that the divine goodness might be
mirrored by created things in variety, and that different things might participate in the
divine goodness in varying degree. Thus the very order existing among diverse things
issues in a certain beauty, which should call to mind the divine wisdom.41

Of course each substance reflects an aspect of the Divine goodness, and is
therefore in itself a good, an end, so that each thing is also for itself. But it is even more
for the sake of the order of the whole. Thomas explains this from a general principle:
If we wish to assign an end to any whole, and to the parts of that whole, we shall find,
first, that each and every part exists for the sake of its proper act […] secondly, that less
honorable parts exist for the more honorable, […] and, thirdly, that all parts are for the
perfection of the whole […] In the parts of the universe also every creature exists for its
own proper act and perfection, and the less noble for the nobler, as those creatures that
are less noble than man exist for the sake of man, whilst each and every creature exists
for the perfection of the entire universe. Furthermore, the entire universe, with all its
parts, is ordained towards God as its end, inasmuch as it imitates, as it were, and shows
forth the Divine goodness, to the glory of God.42

Thus, while God intends each creature as a good in its own right, that which He
principally intends is the good of the order of the whole universe. Thomas uses this
insight in a famous passage of the De Veritate, where he explicitly takes up ancient
cosmo-centrism. Since in deepening Augustine’s view of the cosmo-centrism he also
explicates further the relation of philosophy to theology I quote the passage at length:
A thing is perfect in two ways. First, it is perfect with respect to the perfection of its act
of existence, which belongs to it according to its own species. But, since the specific act
of existence of one thing is distinct from the specific act of existence of another, in every
created thing of this kind, the perfection falls short of absolute perfection to the extent

Summa Contra Gentiles I, 75. The Following paragraphs are based in part on my 2007 essay “Qui
Posuit Fines Tuos Pacem.” http://www.scribd.com/doc/31549176/On-Peace-as-the-Final-Cause-of-theUniverse (15.07.2010 08:05) 2-6.
Summa Contra Gentiles II, 45.
“Unity belongs to the idea of goodness… as all things desire good, so do they desire unity, without
which they would cease to exist. For a thing so far exists as it is one.” Summa Theologiae Ia q. 103 a. 3 c.
Compendium theologiae I 102. Trans. Cyril VOLLERT.
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Compendium.htm#102 (15.07.2010 08:18).
Summa Theologiae Ia q 65 a 2 c.

that that perfection is found in other species. Consequently, the perfection of each
individual thing considered in itself is imperfect, being a part of the perfection of the
entire universe, which arises from the sum total of the perfections of all individual things.
In order that there might be some remedy for this imperfection, another kind of perfection
is to be found in created things. It consists in this, that the perfection belonging to one
thing is found in another. This is the perfection of a knower in so far as he knows; for
something is known by a knower by reason of the fact that the thing known is, in some
fashion, in the possession of the knower. Hence, it is said in De Anima that the soul is, “in
some manner, all things,” since its nature is such that it can know all things. In this way it
is possible for the perfection of the entire universe to exist in one thing. The ultimate
perfection which the soul can attain, therefore, is, according to the philosophers, to have
delineated in it the entire order and causes of the universe. This they held to be the
ultimate end of man. We, however, hold that it consists in the vision of God; for, as
Gregory says: “What is there that they do not see who see Him who sees all things?”

Thus, just as each individual substance exists for its own sake, but more for the
sake of the whole cosmos, and the whole cosmos exists for the sake of the glory of God;
so philosophical insights are good in their own right, but exist more for the sake of
philosophical wisdom—the knowledge of the whole cosmos—but philosophical
wisdom is itself ordered to theological wisdom, which is merely a foretaste of the vision
of God that we shall enjoy in heaven.
Aquinas’s vision of the World as a cosmos of Aristotelian substances ordered to
the glory of God fits with the social life of the High Middle Ages. From the beginning
of the 11th century to the middle of the 13th Europe experienced what Christopher
Dawson has called a “centripetal movement.”44 This movement was marked both a
greater differentiation of different areas of life, and by a greater unity brought about by
ordering different spheres in the hierarchical and subsidiarist whole of “Christendom.”
Thus the view of the world as a unified, cosmos, ordered by and to God, was reflected
in a view of Christian society as a political image of the cosmos. In the intellectual life
this was the age of the formation of the Universities, in which different sciences were
increasingly differentiated from each-other, but at the same time ordered to theology,
conceived of as the Queen of sciences, because she gave a view of the whole to which
the particular sciences contributed parts.


Despite the many contradictions that were inherent in the High Middle Ages,
they were characterized by what Monsignor Giussani called a “unitary mentality.”46
This is manifested in the great artistic achievements of the age—such as the gothic


De Veritate q. 2 a. 2 c; MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 82.
Christopher DAWSON, The Dividing of Christendom (New York 1965) 19. The following paragraphs
are partly based on my 2006 Bachelor Thesis at Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula: Thomas
WALDSTEIN, Unity, Order, and Peace: On the Superiority of Traditional Hereditary Monarchy Over
Modern Liberal Democracy. http://www.scribd.com/doc/32460739/Monarchy-Bachelor-Thesis-2006
(15.07.2010 10:09) 17-19.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities ch. 8, esp. 64.
Luigi GIUSSANI, Why the Church? (Montreal 2001) ch. 3.

cathedrals where one can see a vast order all converging on God. But perhaps the
greatest artistic expression of the unitary mentality is Dante’s Commedia. Dante (12651321) was an avid reader of St. Thomas, and nothing could be more Thomistic and
medieval than the perfect sphere’s through which Dante ascends. Dante, however, was
writing in the 14th century when the centripetal movement had been replaced by a
centrifugal one, and the unitary mentality that he expressed so well was fast
disintegrating. In fact, Dante is also the poet who has more than any other immortalized
the strife between Ghibellines and Guelphs, and the ignoble role that many of the popes
played in this struggle—one of the key factors in the decline of the Middle Ages.

C. The End of the Middle Ages and the Beginnings of Act Three:
Voluntarism, Nominalism, Humanism, and the Reformation

We now approach what Henrici calls the peripateia of the drama of faith and reason.
“From the late Medieval period onwards,” John Paul II writes, “the legitimate
distinction between [philosophy and theology] became more and more a fateful

separation.” Henrici points out the tragic irony of how this came about; for, it was out

of very theological concerns. Although St. Thomas was quite influential in his time,
especially in his own Dominican order, his teaching was not able to achieve the kind of
global acceptance that Augustine’s had enjoyed before him. Extreme Augustinians
continued to reject his views, and theologians from the rival Franciscan Order, felt free

to simply ignore him. Thus Bl. John Duns Scotus (ca. 1266-1308) developed a rival
conception of the relation of the creator to created substances.
Pope Benedict XVI reads Scotus’s move as the beginning of the disengagement
of the Christian faith from the philosophical Logos that the New Testament itself calls
for. For him it is the betrayal of authentic Christianity. In the famous Regensburg
Lecture he said:
In the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder [the] synthesis
between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called
intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism
which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas
ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have
done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise […] to the image of
a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and
otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an
authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and
hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always
insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created

HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 5.
JOHN PAUL II, Fides et Ratio §45.
HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 4-5.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 97-98.

reason there exists a real analogy […] God does not become more divine when we push
him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the
God who has revealed himself as logos.

Benedict shows what the true tragedy of Scotus’s move is; Scotus wanted precisely “to
make God more divine” by his theory, but he ended up doing the opposite. Scotus
considered the Aristotelian account of substances too pagan, in making created
substances too independent of God. His voluntarism was designed to overcome this
perceived independence. His approach was further developed by another Franciscan
philosopher William of Ockham (1283-1387). In the Nominalism of Ockham God
determines the order of substance by an entirely arbitrary act of His will. Thus
substances reflect only God’s power, not His beauty, goodness, and wisdom; they are
no longer seen as really participating being from God. The interior, natural order to the
good, that Thomas emphasizes so much, is replaced by a wholly external ordering to an

entirely arbitrary end that might just as well have been something else. There are thus
for Ockham no universals to be abstracted from the particulars of sense. Our so-called
universals are merely names that we more or less arbitrarily affix to things that appear

similar to us; hence the appellation “Nominalism.” Philosophy under this conception
could not avoid degenerating into the sort of idle mind-games that early-modern
philosophy was to find so much delight in ridiculing.
In the late Middle Ages the “Via Moderna” of the Nominalists replaced the “Via
Antiqua” of the followers of Thomas and the other great scholastics at most

universities. For just as Thomas’s teaching fit with the centripetal movement of the
high Middle Ages, so Ockham’s teaching fit with the centrifugal movement that
followed it.
The church had been the main agent of the centripetal movement, and it was

carried forward mostly by “waves” of church reform. Two forces of great importance
in bringing about these “waves” were the super-political authority of the Holy See and
the reforming activity of the ecclesial movements which periodically appeared—first
the various monastic orders, and then the Franciscans and Dominicans, and so on. But,

Pope BENEDICT XVI, “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture in the
Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 12, 2006.
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_benxvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html (15.07.2010 11:55).
I am indebted to Prof. Michael Waldstein for allowing me to see the manuscript of his forthcoming
book on the theology of Pope John Paul II (Michael WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body:
Scripture, Thomism or Phenomenology? [MS, Ave Maria 2010]) which has a very helpful section on the
genesis of modern philosophy. The discussion of Nominalism is at 100-102.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 101.
HENRICI, “Fides et Ratio” 4.
The following paragraphs are largely based on: WALDSTEIN, Unity, Order, and Peace 17-22.

from the middle of the thirteenth century the movement began to lose its force. Wars,
plagues, declining populations, and economic depression had a demoralizing effect on
Christendom. Then came the Avignon Papacy and Western Schism, which seriously
weakened the Holy See. When the Western Schism ended the energies of the papacy
became more and more concentrated on the complicated politics of Italy, where a
revival of the ancient Mediterranean system of city states was in progress. This led to an
estrangement between the Holy See and the periodically arising ecclesial reform
movements with which it had traditionally been allied. These movements which had
previously been the champions of the unitary mentality came to be increasingly
distrustful of the old order. Thus the two chief factors that were the key to the building
up of the high Middle Ages were no longer effective.


One can see how quickly the centrifugal movement progressed by comparing
Dante’s Commedia to the verses of Petrarch (1304-1374), the next great poet in Italy,
only one generation after Dante. One sees in him already a loss of the unitary mentality.
Petrarch’s verses capture a man who lives in a discordant world that does not offer any
assistance to him in his search for God:
Qual grazia, qual amore o qual destino
mi darà penne in guisa di colomba,
ch' i' mi riposi e levimi da terra?
What grace, what love, or what destiny
Will give me wings like a dove
That I may rest and lift myself up from earth? (Rime Sparse 81)57

While for Dante man could be led to God by an order that included the totality
of creation, including nature and grace (Virgil, Beatrice, Lucy etc.), for Petrarch man is
stuck in a world in which God is a remote being who once intervened, but is now out of
For man in this situation his greatness could no-longer consist in submitting to
the order established by God; it had to be sought elsewhere. Humanism arose as a
response to this need, and became the ideological basis for the revival of the ancient
Mediterranean system of city states, which has been mentioned. In humanism the ideal
is to become great as an individual—to rise above the mundane to be a genius, or a
demi-god. For the humanist life is understood most fundamentally in terms of
achievement. The humanists turned to the literature of classical antiquity for much of
their inspiration, finding there a spirit akin to their own. Life for the humanists was sad,
but man could raise himself above this cruel fate by his own nobility.

GIUSSANI, Why the Church? ch. 3; DAWSON, The Dividing of Christendom chs. 2-3.
Trans. Robert DURLING, Petrarch’s Lyric Poems (Boston 1976) 184-185. A brilliant analysis of this
passage can be found in: GIUSSANI, Why the Church? 35-36.

As the revival of the city-states proceeded, humanism lost some of its bitterness,
and in the Italian renaissance we see the notion of an ordered and intelligible cosmos
again given more weight in the account of reality, but this cosmos is now considered in
a less vertical, more pantheistic way, and man is now at the centre.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1429-1527) represents the extent to which humanism
began to replace the theo-centric view of the cosmos with an anthropocentric one. For
Machiavelli the ultimate end of man is not a category that has relevance for his life here
on earth. Everything is judged in terms of the “expedient,” that is, what tends to
increase power and glory. The city is no longer seen as part of a more complete order,
but rather it is looked at in the same way as the individual—purely in terms of what it
can achieve. Machiavelli shows most clearly what the consequences of the humanist
position are, but, partly because of that fact, he was “ahead of his times” in some


While the Renaissance was in its flower in Italy, in Germany the Protestant
Reformation was beginning. As noted above, the religious reform movements which
periodically appear in Western Europe had been changing in character as time
progressed and their traditional alliance with the Holy See was broken (witness the
Wycliffites and Hussites). Because of their distrust of ecclesiastical authority they
began more and more to emphasize the individual and his conscience. The Reformation
was the by far the most successful of these movements, and the most extremely
individualist. Luther, of course, teaches the freedom of the individual Christian from the
tyranny of priests: only sacred scripture has authority over him. But the principle of
Sola Scriptura also has another implication; it accepts an almost total separation of faith
and reason. In the Regensburg Lecture Benedict XVI draws out this aspect:
Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were
confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an
articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer
appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical
system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure,
primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a
premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to
become once more fully itself.

Luther had of course been trained in the Via Moderna, and in one way his
rejection of philosophy is in fact the logical conclusion of the project begun by Scotus,
but in another way the attempted rejection of philosophy is a failure; for Luther’s
theology is full of implicit philosophy, and this philosophy is Nominalism. The

Leo STRAUSS, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago-London 1958) passim but esp. 78.
BENEDICT XVI, “Faith, Reason and the University.”
Otto H. PESCH, “Luther,” in: LThK4 6 (2006) 1129-1140, at 1129.

Lutheran doctrine of imputed righteousness, for example, is profoundly nominalist.
Instead of man being made righteous by a real participation in God’s life through grace,

he is merely arbitrarily called righteous by God. The Reformation was a tremendous
popular success in Germany, but it is unlikely that it could have survived politically had
it not been for schism in England.


PESCH, “Luther” 1134.


A. The Origins of the Enlightenment in England
1. The Tudors
I have claimed that the disintegration of the medieval order and the beginning of the
Enlightenment in England coincided with the rise of the house of Tudor, and indeed
already Henry VII (1457 – 1509), the founder of the Tudor dynasty, made certain key
decisions which were to erode the medieval way of life and the world view of
Christendom. When he came to power in 1485 England was weakened both by the
hundred years war with France (1337 – 1453) and the Wars of the Roses (1455 – 1485),
civil wars which decimated the English nobility. The effects of these two wars gave

Henry the opportunity to begin the remolding of England along new lines. By the
peace of Etaples Henry VII gave up English claims to French territories, a key step in
the development of English nationalism. Removed from the continent the English could
less and less conceive of themselves as part of the higher unity of “Christendom.” The
weakening of the English nobility through the Wars of the Roses enabled Henry to
strengthen the monarchy, thus ending the hierarchy of subsidiary feudal authorities and
leading English subjects to see themselves primarily as members of the English nation.
At the same time it lead to the an increase in the power of the mercantile class, with

which Henry allied himself. The Intercursus Magnus lead to an explosion of the wool
trade that was to be a driving force behind the fundamental changes represented by the

agricultural and industrial revolutions. Those revolutions resulted in the contractual
and mechanistic relations typical of modern social life.

Henry VII’s artistic, warlike, and profligate son, Henry VIII, could scarcely
have been less like his miserly, unadventurous father, but he accelerated the movement
of England away from the medieval order. Henry VIII was enchanted by the Humanism
of the Italian Renaissance. He saw himself as a Renaissance hero. Left by his father
with a strengthened monarchy and full treasuries, he was reluctant to see himself as
subordinate to the greater order of Christendom – it seemed to him that he should be
directly under God.


Lacey BALDWIN SMITH, “England under the Tudors,” in: EBrit15 29 (2007) s.v. “United Kingdom”
BALDWIN SMITH, “England under the Tudors” 48:1:a.
BALDWIN SMITH, “England under the Tudors” 48:1:b.
BALDWIN SMITH, “England under the Tudors” 49:2:b-52:2a.
Andrew COLLINSON, “England IV: Reformationszeit,” in: TRE 9 (1982) 636-642, at 637.

And thus when the Pope crossed his will, he declared himself supreme head of
the church in England. Although Henry himself tried to remain Catholic theologically,
the political necessities that followed on his schism led him to seek alliances with
Protestants. The Protestant not only contributed to the survival of Protestantism on the
continent, it also lead under Henry’s son Edward VII and (after the Catholic interval of
the reign of Mary I) his daughter Elisabeth I to a protestantization of the Church of

England. It was in the reign of Elizabeth that saw the formation of the tense mixture of

Protestant and Catholic elements typical of Anglicanism. It was also in the reign of
Elizabeth and her successor, James I, that Francis Bacon began the Enlightenment.
2. Francis Bacon
One of the key figures in the founding of the European Enlightenment was the politician

and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626). In many ways a typical product of the
Tudor era, Bacon was heavily influenced by the radical Nominalist view of reality
implicit in the Calvinist theology of his mother, the daughter of an exile in Geneva


during the reign of Mary I. Although Bacon himself was to reject Calvinism, he
retained the Nominalist view of the world as empty of intrinsic good. This fits with
Bacon’s enthusiastic reception of the “realistic” political philosophy of Machiavelli.


Machiavelli’s a-moral account of the mechanics of power was plausible to a generation
which could no longer see the political order as a reflection of a divinely ordered
cosmos. Bacon proposes extrinsic, worldly goods as the goal for Machiavellian
Realpolitik. As a member of the Elizabethan parliament Bacon proposed a
Machiavellian British imperial policy, justified by the increase of wealth and comfort
that it would bring.


It is against this background that one must understand the so-called “scientific
revolution” that Bacon inaugurated. The essence of this revolution was the ordering of
knowledge to power. The ancient and medieval view of knowledge as primarily
contemplative, as ordered to understanding the being of things as a trace of the Creator,
was replaced by a view of knowledge as primarily practical, as ordered to human


COLLINSON, “England IV: Reformationszeit” 637-640.
COLLINSON, “England IV: Reformationszeit” 639-638.
The following discussion of Bacon closely follows WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 95-110.
Steven MATTHEWS, Theology and Science in the Thought of Francis Bacon (Aldershot – Burlington
2008) 1-2; WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 100-102.
MATTHEWS, Theology and Science 27-51.
Richard KENNINGTON, “Bacon’s Humanitarian Revision of Machiavelli,” in: On Modern Origins:
Essays in Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Pamela KRAUS and Frank HUNT (Lanham 2004); WALDSTEIN,
John Paul II’s Theology 96-97.
KENNINGTON, On Modern Origins 73-74.

power. For this purpose Bacon developed a new method of science which reduced
reality to its measurable aspects and proceeded by experimentation to discover how it
could be manipulated for human ends.
The importance of Bacon’s step for the process of secularization can scarcely be
exaggerated. Not only did it lead to an understanding of science that no longer had any
place for God, preparing the way for a conflict between science and religion, but it also
allowed science to become a replacement for religion. For Bacon had an explicitly
theological hope for his new method, as the famous final aphorism of the Novum
Organum makes clear:
There cannot but follow an improvement in man's estate and an enlargement of his power
over nature. For man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocency and
from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in
some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.

In the Encyclical Spe Salvi Pope Benedict XVI points to the centrality of this Baconian
vision for the modern relation of between faith and reason:
Up to [the time of Bacon], the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from
Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay “redemption”. Now, this
“redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise” is no longer expected from faith, but
from the newly discovered link between science and praxis. It is not that faith is simply
denied; rather it is displaced onto another level—that of purely private and other-worldly
affairs—and at the same time it becomes somehow irrelevant for the world. This
programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times and it also shapes the
present-day crisis of faith which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope. Thus hope too, in
Bacon, acquires a new form. Now it is called: faith in progress.

B. Descartes and the Genesis of Secular Reason on the Continent
1. Prologue to Cartesianism: Wars of Religion, Baroque Scholastics, the
Revival of Skepticism
The Baconian project was enthusiastically welcomed by a continental thinker who
developed it into a world-view that was compelling enough to usher in an entire new
age. A thinker who in his radical subjectivism, as well as in his complete Baconianism,
became the pivotal figure in the transition to the modern anthropo-centric world-view,
and the true father of the Enlightenment. Again, as with his intellectual forbear Scotus,
there is a tragic irony; for the thinker in question was a devout Catholic: René Descartes
Once again we can see that the new philosophy fit with, one might say was
called for, by the development of Western society. The Reformation had torn Europe


Francis BACON, New Organon, Aphorism 2.52; James SPEDDING, Robert L. ELLIS, Douglas D. HEATH,
(ed.) The Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, and Lord High Chancellor of
England 8 (Boston 1863), 162.
Pope BENEDICT XVI, Spe Salvi (Rome 2007) §17.

apart. The horrors of the so-called Wars of Religion which followed in its wake
manifested the destructive nature of this disunity. But they also seemed to reduce the
attempt to end disunity to the absurd. The longer they went on, the more insoluble the
problem seemed, till, at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Europe was finally to accept
the inevitability of Religious disunity.


At the same time even within the religiously unified countries of Southern
Europe intellectual culture was characterized by fundamental and apparently insoluble
disagreement. MacIntyre shows how in Baroque Scholasticism rival schools of thought
had developed, each violently disagreeing with the others, and each holding its own
case to be demonstrably true. Thus Thomists, Scotists, and Ockhamists had each
developed their position into a “system” which they could defend against all comers.


Jesuit theologians such as Luis de Molina (1535-1600), Gabriel Vásquez (1549 or 15511604), and especially Francisco Suárez (1548-1618) developed their own systems,
incorporating elements of both the Via Moderna and the Via Antiqua, but violently
disagreeing with both (and with each other) on some issues.


Suárez’s system was to

become the version of “scholasticism” most familiar to early modern philosophers, and
it anticipates them in some remarkable ways.

Though Vásquez and Suárez somewhat moderate Scotus’s univocism, they do
not recover the true interiority of substance. By failing to distinguish matter and
privation Vásquez provides a more subtle form of univocism: the imposition of form on

matter is entirely arbitrary. Only God’s will had been relevant to Scotus’s voluntarism,
but Vásquez, Suárez, and Molina use it to come up with a new account of the human
will as well. In their thought human will is given the kind of absolute arbitrary selfdetermination that Scotus had reserved to God. Charles De Koninck points out just how
radical the implications of this are from a Thomist perspective:
Vásquez […] Suárez and Molina [take] exactly the same attitude toward freedom; free
will is cut away from God, it is drawn outside of being to come back upon it. Logically,
being will become a subject to act upon. But this time we are putting the accent on


Frans A. M. Alting von GEUSAU, Highlights from Recent History: A Reader for “The New West and the
New Europe,” Phoenix Institute Europe (Nijmegen 2003) 17-18.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 106-109.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 108-109; Romanus CESSARIO, A Short History of Thomism
(Washington, D.C. 2003) 76-78.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 109.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 109; Laurence RENAULT, “Suárez,” in: LThK4 9 (2006)
1065-1068, at 1066-1067.
Charles DE KONINCK, Letter to Mortimer Adler, Quebec June 15, 1938.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/7815329/folder-32-part-6 (17.07.2010 22:29)

freedom. To a Thomist this means that in creating free beings God literally alienates his
power as absolute cause of all “esse.”

What De Koninck is pointing to is that the logical consequence of conceiving human
freedom in the way in which Vásquez, Suárez, and Molina do, is an anthropo-centric
universe. God is no longer the cause of all being, and man’s relation to being will
logically become the relation which Scotus’s God had to it; it will become an object for
him to determine by his arbitrary will. “Molina gave the fullest possible expression to
humanism in his theory of free will,” De Koninck continues, but he hastens to add, “I
am of course referring to logical implications.” Indeed it is only the failure to see the
logical consequnces of their positions that prevented Vásquez, Suárez, and Molina from
being “the real modern philosophers,” as De Koninck calls them.


While Suárez ’s philosophy became more influential than Thomism, Scotism, or
Ockhamism, it was not able to “defeat” the rival systems. Disagreement simply became
The situation was rife for a revival of skepticism, the mistrust of the power of
reason to attain to the truth. Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), who had experienced
the devastation of the Wars of Religion first hand, was one of the most influential of the

neo-skeptics who sprang up. Montaigne begins with the fact of the disagreements of

competing schools, and argues that no conclusion can in fact be proven. He applies
what he takes to be the method of the ancient skeptics; bringing arguments against any
assertion that is made in order to show that in fact there are never sufficient grounds for

holding anything. Montaigne applied his skepticism not only to philosophy but also to
theology; one ought to make peace in religion, since after all, there is no way of
knowing who is right.


2. Descartes
Like Montaigne, Descartes was scandalized by the disagreements of philosophers, but
unlike Montaigne he considered skepticism even worse.


Descartes was a talented

mathematician, and he was painfully struck by the contrast between the clarity and
certitude of mathematics and the obscurity and disagreement reigning in philosophy.
Looking back on his early life in the Discourse on Method (1637) he recalls his delight
in the certainty of mathematics, but he writes, “I was astonished that foundations, so

DE KONINCK, Letter to Mortimer Adler.
DE KONINCK, Letter to Mortimer Adler.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 109-110.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 110.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 110.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 110-113.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 113-114.


strong and solid, should have had no loftier superstructure reared on them.” In contrast
he saw in philosophy lofty edifices raised on the shakiest of foundations. Thus he rejects
all previous philosophy as worthless:
I saw that [philosophy] had been cultivated for many ages by the most distinguished men,
and that yet there is not a single matter within its sphere which is not still in dispute, and
nothing, therefore, which is above doubt […] When I considered the number of
conflicting opinions touching a single matter that may be upheld by learned men, while
there can be but one true, I reckoned as well-nigh false all that was only probable.

Thus Descartes set himself to make mathematics more fruitful and philosophy more
certain. The two tasks were related, but in the second Descartes saw a divinely given
mission. In 1628 the saintly Cardinal Bérulle had been impressed by hearing Descartes
holding forth on the uselessness of probability and the necessity of certainty. Bérulle
told Descartes that he would be responsible to God for the proper use of his gifts, and
Descartes took his words as a sign that he was divinely destined to find a certain method
of finding the truth.


The method which Descartes devised to find certainty was to doubt everything
till he found something that he could not doubt. Descartes finds that he can doubt even
everything proposed by the evidence of his own senses: the whole sensible world, even
his own body. But when it comes to his own existence he finds that he cannot doubt it:
cogito ergo sum. The point of certainty that Descartes finds is thus entirely subjective
and interior; he has found the existence of a “thinking thing.” He then proceeds to try to
find a way to derive certainty about other things from this primal certitude. He does this
through an ontological proof for the existence of God, who he then argues, cannot be
deceiving us through our senses, the sensible world therefore exists. The relation of the
thinking thing to the extrinsic world, whose existence he has proved by this circuitous
route, is of course entirely extrinsic; the outside world becomes a featureless “res
extensa” totally foreign to the thinking subject and totally without interior goodness and
order. Descartes may not have been much impressed by the teachings of Suárez when

he heard them from his teachers at the Jesuit college of La Fleche, but the world view
he developed is really a more radical version of Suárez.
By integrating this world-view into the program sketched by Bacon, Descartes
drew out implication which Suárez had not. Descartes had been fascinated by Bacon


René DESCARTES, Discourse on Method, in: The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes.
Trans. John VEITCH (New York 1901) 148-204, at 153.
DESCARTES, Discourse on Method 153-154.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 114-115.
Steven M. NADLER, Arnauld and the Cartesian Philosophy of Ideas (Manchester 1989) 148-149.


from the beginning of his career. In the Discourse on Method Descartes recounts that
he had at first hesitated to publish his new method of philosophy:
I learned that persons to whom I greatly defer, and whose authority over my actions is
hardly less influential than is my own reason over my thoughts, had condemned a certain
doctrine in physics […] and this led me to fear lest among my own doctrines likewise
some one might be found in which I had departed from the truth.

The condemnation of a “certain doctrine in physics” to which he refers is of course the
case of the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), whose clash with the Roman
Inquisition was to become the symbol par-excellence of the so-called conflict between
science and religion. It is a testimony to the psychological effect of the Galileo Case,
even in his own day, that it nearly caused Descartes to abandon the project that he had
seen as a divinely granted mission. It was the realization of the Baconian possibilities of
a new system of philosophy that caused Descartes to change his mind:
I believed that I could not keep [my speculations] concealed without sinning grievously
against the law by which we are bound to promote, as far as in us lies, the general good of
mankind. For by them I perceived it to be possible to arrive at knowledge highly useful in
life; and in room of the speculative philosophy usually taught in the schools, to discover a
practical, by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, air the stars, the
heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various
crafts of our artisans, we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which
they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature.

Thus the motive that moves Descartes to publish is no-longer the desire to find a firm
foundation for the truth, but rather to further the Baconian project of “redeeming” man
by giving him power over nature. Indeed the only truths that could interest Descartes
were the truths of himself and his God; the whole rest of the universe, the featureless,
pointless, res extensa was merely an object for the imposition of his will.
Descartes is thus at the beginning of one of the strangest features of modern
intellectual life: the separation of philosophy and science. Much of post-Cartesian
philosophy was to lose itself in the endless subtleties of subjectivist epistemology
“prolegomena to nothing;” while post-Cartesian “natural science” became an entirely
anti-philosophical enterprise, ordered not to understanding the world but to dominating
Descartes’s method was able to bring that reduction to measureable aspects
which Bacon had demanded. The method of doubt weeds out everything except clear
and distinct (i.e. mathematical ideas) and thus reduces all of nature to properties that are


WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 113.
DESCARTES, Discourse on Method 191.
DESCARTES, Discourse on Method 192.


mathematically expressible. Descartes then proceeded to provide the mathematical
tools needed to manipulate those mathematical expressions for the sake of power. In the
same year as the Discourse on Method he published his Geometry, perhaps the turning
point in the history of modern science. Descartes’s Geometry founded modern
analytical geometry and algebra, and prepared the way for the development of the
calculus of Leibniz and Newton. Ancient mathematics had been concerned with the
contemplation of truth in demonstrations; Descartes transformed it into a tool of power.
Harvey Flaumenhaft has summarized this transformation:
By homogenizing what is studied, and by making the central activity the manipulative
working of the mind, rather than its visualizing of form and its insight into what informs
the act of vision, Descartes transformed mathematics into a tool with which physics can
master nature.

Flaumenhaft explains that the “homogenization” consists chiefly in the
“overcoming” of the distinction between magnitude and multitude, the replacement of
proportion with equation, and the reduction of mathematics into “a system of signs
referring to signs.” The manipulative work of the mind is made the central activity by
turning from the demonstration of theorems to the solving of problems.


One would fail to see just how radically Baconian Descartes really was if one
were to see the Baconian application as a kind of afterthought to his philosophical
method. Michael Waldstein points out that the entire method of Descartes’s philosophy
can only really be understood from the primacy of Baconian ambition:
Descartes’ concern […] is to embrace universal doubt as his own starting-point, not
because there are cognitive reasons for it, but because doubt is effective in the imposition
of the will to acquire a new kind of knowledge, a knowledge that will yield power over
nature. He uses doubt methodically to strip away from nature all that does not serve the
ambition for power.

Perhaps Waldstein underestimates the extent to which Descartes method of doubt was
originally devised to counter skepticism, but it seems that he is right that in the mature
formulation of it in the Discourse on Method and the Meditations on First Philosophy, it
is consciously chosen as the method most likely to yield power. Hans Urs von Balthasar
argues that even the proof for the existence of God is totally subordinated to Baconian
ambition in Descartes’s mind:
[One can observe]…the emergence of an hegemony of instrumental reason which seeks
above all manipulative power over nature and which can do without the personal pole of
gratitude and goodness since it reduces nature to mere facticity, thus understanding itself

WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 115.
Harvey FLAUMENHAFT, “Introduction,” to: APOLLONIUS of Perga, Conics, Books I-III. Trans. R. Cateby
TALIAFERRO, ed. Dana DENSMORE (Santa Fe 2000) xix-xxxviii, at xxiii-xxiv.
FLAUMENHAFT, “Introduction” xxiv.
WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 115.

and employing itself as a mere instrument of power…Descartes “speaks of God only in
connection with the necessity of an absolute grounding of human knowledge, that is, in
the interests of securing the possibility of mastery over nature.”

Indeed, beyond gaining some epistemological assurance, it is hard to see what a
Cartesian subject really needs from God. The Cartesian subject is the first cause of his
own self-knowledge, and he is equally the first cause of the arbitrary choices of his free
will. All he needs from things outside of him is an object on which to impose the power
of the will; he needs a res extensa, it is hard to see why he needs God. In a letter to the
Queen of Sweden Descartes seems to have recognized this:
Now free will is in itself the noblest thing we can have, since it makes us in a way equal
to God and seems to exempt us from being his subjects; and so its correct use is the
greatest of all the goods we possess; indeed there is nothing that is more our own or that
matters more to us. From all this it follows that nothing but free will can produce our
greatest happiness.101

That free will absolves us from being God’s subjects is indeed the logical consequence
of Cartesian philosophy, but Descartes could scarcely have seen the full import of his
words, for he remained a Catholic till the end of his life. Others were to see the
implications of Descartes much more clearly. While subsequent philosophers were to
abandon much of Descartes’s system, the subjectivist starting point, the view of the
world as an empty res extensa, and hence the primacy allotted to the imposition of free
will, were to endure in ever new forms, and to determine further course of the drama of
faith and reason.

C. Forms of Secular Reason and Options for a Religious Response
It is of capital importance to understand just how great a challenge Descartes’s
philosophy represented for Christianity. To Greek philosophy, especially in its Platonist
form, the doctrine of the incarnation had been “foolishness.” It had necessitated a great
intellectual effort on the part of the fathers, especially Augustine, to integrate the two.
But he had been able to do so because of the resources of Greek philosophy itself, its
openness to the totality of being, and its ability to see the visible world as in some way
participating in the invisible. The integration had reached a far greater depth in Aquinas,
since the Aristotelian view allowed for a richer account of participation. But in the
Cartesian view the “foolishness” of the incarnation is much more radical. Recall how
Pope Benedict XVI explains the predicament of faith with reference to Bacon:

Hans Urs von BALTHASAR, Theodramatik, 5 vols. (Einsiedeln 1973-1983), III.142-3. Citation
following: WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 118. Balthasar himself quotes Ulrich HOMMES,
Transzendenz und Personalität (Frankfurt 1972) 63.
René DESCARTES, Letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, November 20, 1647, in: The Philosophical
Writings of Descartes III: The Correspondence. Trans. John COTTINGHAM, Robert STOOTHOFF, Dugald
MURDOCH, Anthony KENNY (Cambridge 1991) 324-326, at 326.

It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level—that of
purely private and other-worldly affairs—and at the same time it becomes somehow
irrelevant for the world.

This predicament is deepened by Bacon’s disciple Descartes. The view of the
world as a meaningless res extensa, and of the subject as a self-sufficient res cogitans,
mean that the realm of truth is the realm of the interior of the subject. If faith is to have
any meaning at all it must be with reference to the interior acts of the res cogitans. The
external world is the realm of mere facticity (or rather factability), the realm in which
the subject creates a world for himself by the imposition of his sovereign power. What
possible purpose could the incarnation serve in this view? How can the entrance of God
into the realm of the res extensa bring about any redemption? How can it serve the
revelation of any relevant truth? How can “obedience unto death” be what is required of
those who are the origin of their own freedom? These are the questions with which
Enlightenment theology was to struggle. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729-1781)
famous denial that “zufällige Geschichtswahrheiten” (contingent historical truths) could
be the grounds of “notwendige Vernuftswahrheiten” (necessary truths of reason) seems
self-evident in a world transformed by Descartes.


Faced with this challenge, Christians tried various ways to preserve the
relevance of their religion. These attempts can be reduced to three basic options; two
which leave the Enlightenment conception of reason basically untouched, taking
opposite routes to finding a place for Christianity within it, and a third which attempts
to challenge secular reason. The third option, the option of so-called “Catholic
philosophy,” is faced with the problem of trying to find a hearing for itself in a world
which takes the assumptions of secular reason as self-evident. It was Newman’s
accomplishment to find a way to make the third option heard.
The first option consists in a kind of subjectivist “ultrasupernaturalism.” Instead
of appealing to an authoritative tradition, claiming to faithfully hand down the
revelation given in the incarnation, it appeals to a direct encounter with God in the
interior of the religious subject’s heart. The direct appeal to the divine pre-empts any
attacks of reason. It does not have to defend the plausibility of a revelation of God
through incarnation, through entry into the res extensa, it can appeal to a direct
experience every bit as self-evident (to those who have experienced it) as the Cartesian
cogito. In his classic study of this option Ronald Knox calls it by its derogatory 18th


BENEDICT XVI, Spe Salvi 17.
Bruno FORTE, “Historia Veritatis,” in: Ian KER, Terrence MERRRIGAN (edd.), Newman and Faith
(Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs 31, Leuven 2000) 75-92, at 76-78.

century name, “enthusiasm.”


I shall return to enthusiasm in the next chapter, but in

this chapter I am mainly concerned with the second option, the history of which is more
or less coterminous with the history of secular reason itself.
I shall call the second option “liberalism.” Liberalism is the attempt to find a
place for Christianity within the scheme of secular reason by reducing Christianity to a
symbol of some universal “content” intelligible on secular reason’s own terms. This can
be done in a number of ways, which correspond to different variations of secular reason
itself. The first consists in reducing the Christian God to a kind of machine maker, who
constructed the Cartesian machine, and perhaps plays some role in helping us to
understand it or gives us rules for how he wants us to behave in it. This route quickly
leads to the rejection of Christianity for deism and then atheism. A second route is to
reduce Christianity to some kind of “morality” which is then given a niche in the
Enlightenment scheme. This seems to be the route that Pope Benedict is principally
thinking of when he writes of faith being displaced to the level of purely private affairs
and becoming irrelevant to the world. Closely related to this route is the route which
tries to escape irrelevance by turning Christianity into a kind of symbol of the progress
of secular reason itself. This route endows secular faith in progress with an explicitly
religious significance. It indentifies the progress of technology, commerce, and
democracy with the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The different routes followed by liberalism follow the different routes taken by
philosophy after Descartes. Under the influence of the so-called “empiricist” direction
of philosophy, a form of “rationalist” Christianity developed that is scarcely
distinguishable from the deism and “naturalistic” atheism, that are the typical products
of empiricism. The so-called “idealist” version of post-Cartesian philosophy, lead in
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to the definitive statement of a Christianity reduced to a
perfectly interior and private “morality” without relation to any real God. In Georg
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), and his myriad imitators, idealism lead to an
identification of the “content” of Christianity with secular progress itself. This view lead
many to pantheism, but in its most radically consistent form it lead to a new and highly
sophisticated form of atheism: the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx (1818-1883).
In England the “empiricism” of John Locke (1632-1704) lead to the dominance
in the 17th and 18th centuries of the empiricist route for liberalism. The romantic
reaction against 18th century rationalism, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1772-1834)
appropriation of German idealism, lead to the idealist route of liberalism finding entry

Ronald KNOX, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion With Special Reference to the XVII
and XVII Centuries (Oxford 1950).

into England. Finally the evolutionary biology of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) opened
the way for a superficial and speculatively weak synthesis of the two versions of
liberalism in popular Victorian writers such as Newman’s opponent Charles Kingsley. It
is this English development of liberalism that I shall try to trace in outline, along with
the tragically inadequate attempts of its “conservative” critics to oppose it.

D. The Secularization of England from the Enlightenment to the Victorians
1. The Age of Locke and Newton
The triumph of the Baconian project in England did not at first seem certain. Charles I
took the throne one year before Bacon’s death, and during his reign the religious
tensions which had been held in check by Elisabeth and (to a lesser extent) by James I
came violently to the fore. Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645) and the “Caroline
Divines” developed Anglican theology along neo-Catholic and patristic lines, while the
Calvinist party grew ever more radical. This conflict issued in the civil war between

king and parliament that was to have lasting effect on the English mind.

It was under the influence of the chaos of the civil war that Thomas Hobbes
(1588-1679) developed his social contract theory of the political order. Hobbes had
been Bacon’s private secretary, and he corresponded with Descartes. John Milbank has
argued that Hobbes (along with his very different continental contemporary Baruch
Spinoza (1632-1677)) “constructed” the secular in the social order. That is, he marked
out a world of purely human power to which religion was no-longer relevant.


Hobbes’s social contract theory was developed into a form that really fit the emerging
social and economic order by the philosopher whose thought more than any other
dominated “the long 18th century:” John Locke (1632-1704).
Locke’s philosophy is generally called “empiricist.” This is a bit misleading.
What is meant by it is summed up by John Stuart Mill:
[The theory] proclaimed by Locke, and commonly attributed to Aristotle[, was] that all
knowledge consists of generalizations from experience. Of nature, or anything whatever
external to ourselves, we know, according to this theory, nothing, except the facts which
present themselves to our senses, and such other facts as may, by analogy, be inferred
from these. There is no knowledge a priori; no truths cognizable by the mind’s inward
light, and grounded on intuitive evidence. Sensation, and the mind’s consciousness of its
own acts, are not only the exclusive sources, but the sole materials of our knowledge.


COLLINSON, “England IV: Reformationszeit” 640-641.
MILBANK, Theology and Social Theory 10-26.
John Stuart MILL, “Coleridge,” in: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill 10: Essays on Ethics,
Religion, and Society, ed. John M. ROBSON, (Toronto-London 1985)
http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/241/21494 (27.07.2010 19:29).

To compare Locke’s starting point with Aristotle’s shows a superficial understanding of
both. Aristotle was a real “empiricist;” he saw all knowledge as founded on experience.
Locke is an incorrigibly post-Cartesian, subjectivist “empiricist.” Locke indeed rejects
Descartes’s opinion that there are clear and distinct ideas which are not derived from
“experience,” but what does Locke mean by experience? At the very beginning of
Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding he lays down what he takes to be a

self-evident principle: “idea is the object of thinking.”

A little later he writes,

“Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception,
thought, or understanding, that I call idea.”


This is all very Cartesian. For Aristotle the

object of thought and sensation is not idea but thing; we first sense some external thing
and then only by reflection do we come to know that it is by means of some impression
within ourselves that we sense it. Locke starts not with the thing experienced but, in
typical Cartesian fashion, with his own mind. He looks into his mind and sees various
ideas there, and then the question naturally arises—where did these ideas come from?
Locke then considers that there must be some power in objects to produce the
ideas in us. He tries to distinguish between what is in the object really and separately,
and what is merely in us as an effect of the real. Such qualities as size, number, figure,
and motion are primary qualities really in bodies, but qualities such as light, heat, color
etc. are merely secondary effects of the primary qualities.


Locke is too mediocre a

thinker to see—what his follower Bishop George Berkely (1685-1753) was to see all to
clearly—that his distinction between primary and secondary is altogether arbitrary; once
one takes ideas to be the objects of thought what need has one of an external world at
all? But Locke’s theory had the effect of confirming the Cartesian view of the world as
a meaningless res extensa.
Locke remained a Christian, but the form of Christianity that he defends in his
The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) is scarcely distinguishable from deism.


Locke developed Hobbes’s social contract theory of the state into a form that
really fit the emerging social and economic order. Following his radically subjectivist
epistemology, he developed a radically individualist political theory, that founded the
legitimacy of the state in the free consent of its citizens, who consent for the sake of


John LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding [1690] II,1,1
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10615/pg10615.html (27.07.2010 19:34).
LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding II,8,7.
LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding II,8.
James A. HERRICK, The Radical Rhetoric of the English Deists: the Discourse of Skepticism, 16801750 (Columbia, South Carolina 1997) 47.

preserving their property.


In this liberal view of society the ever more powerful

merchant class, which had been steadily growing since the time of Henry VII, found a
world-view that fit its own contractual and self-centered mode of life.


Adam Smith

(1723-1790) was to develop the secular science of economics to fit this mode of life.

Smith “liberates” economics from being subordinated to the common good, founding it
instead on the primacy of self-interest. He posits a primacy of efficiency, founded on
division of labor, in the making of artifacts, thus replacing human art with a kind of
mechanical production.
Alasdair MacIntyre argued in After Virtue that it is as mistaken to separate the
history of thought and the history of social life, as it is to reduce one to the other.
Political and social life embody thought; thought is an action in a world of political and

moral actions.

Thus Locke’s social contract politics and Smith’s “liberal” economics

stood in a “symbiotic” relation to actual social life. This relation lead to the Siamese
twins of industrial capitalism, which began in and spread from England, and social
contract democracy, which began in the rebellion of England’s North American
colonies and spread from there. In industrial capitalism and social contract democracy
the main features of secular reason are concretely embodied. The nominalist
substitution of arbitrary power for goodness and truth, anthropocentrically transformed
by Descartes, is the implicit principle of capitalism and democracy. This is why secular
reason, once begun, became so difficult to dislodge; it became implicit in the very form
of life of the West. The more the social embodiment of secular reason progressed the
more people saw the philosophical positions implicit in it as self-evident truisms. This is
strikingly illustrated less than a century after Locke’s death in the American
Declaration of Independence (1776), where the social contract theory of government,
which Locke attempted to prove, is explicitly proposed as “self-evident.”
Locke’s most distinguished philosophical disciple was David Hume (17111776). Hume developed Locke’s epistemology in a decidedly skeptical direction. There
could be no real certainty about anything outside the mind. Hume thought that it was
absurd to doubt the conclusions of Baconian science, since they were confirmed by the
power which they yielded, but he saw no such reason to give credit to religious


John LOCKE, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter LASLETT (Cambridge Texts in the History of
Political Thought, ed. Raymond GEUSS, Quentin SKINNER, Cambridge 31988).
WALDSTEIN, Unity, Order, and Peace 24-25.
MILBANK, Theology and Social Theory 30-36.
Alasdair MACINTYRE, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Indiana 32007 [1981]) 61.



By doing away with the idea of causality Hume does away with

cosmological proofs for the existence of God,


and by subjecting accounts of miracles

to his skeptical critique he does away with common arguments for revelation.


Perhaps nothing contributed more to cementing the emerging world view in the
English imagination than Isaac Newton’s (1643-1727) mathematical physics. Alexander
Pope’s epitaph, intended for Newton, gives a good sense of the strength of the
impression left by the Principia: “Nature and Nature's Laws lay hid in Night / God said,
Let Newton be! and all was Light.”


Newton triumphantly applied the methods of

Bacon and Descartes to Physics. Reducing the world to its metric aspect and describing
it in terms of blind “laws,” he formed an image of the world as a kind of huge machine:
lifeless, rigid, and empty. The popular mind in this climate was apt to listen to the cool
deism of Matthew Tindal (1657-1733) or the skeptical atheism of Hume and Thomas

Paine (1737-1809), as well as the flippant worldliness of the French philosophes.
2. Joseph Butler

Newman and the Tractarians considered the 18th century a kind of perigee for
Anglicanism, “it was an evil day.”


“Since the High Church movement commenced,”

the liberal Anglican Mark Pattison mockingly wrote, “the genuine Anglican omits that

period from the history of the Church altogether.”

One of the few thinkers of that

period whom the Tractarians did include in their “catena patrum” was Bishop Joseph
Butler (1692-1752). Butler was a key influence on Newman’s thought. In the Apologia
Newman writes that reading Butler’s Analogy of Religion was an “era” in his “religious
opinions.” Butler’s “inculcation of a visible Church,” as an “oracle of truth and a pattern
of sanctity,” and his emphasis on “the duties of external religion, and of the historical
character of revelation,”


helped turn Newman toward High Church ideas, but of

particular importance were two principles of Butler’s thought, which Newman was to
see as key to articulating the relation between faith and reason. The first of these is the

J. M. CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” [1960], in: The Night Battle (London 1962) 219-243, at
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 132.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 126-127.
Alexander POPE, “Epitaph Intended for Sir Isaac Newton,” in: Andrew CROZIER (ed.), The Works of
Alexander Pope (Ware 1995) 138.
Ronald KNOX, God and the Atom (London 1945) 29-30; Margaret C. JACOB, “The Enlightenment
Critique of Christianity,” in: Stewart J. BROWN, Timothy TACKETT (edd.), The Cambridge History of
Christianity VII: Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution 1660-1815 (Cambridge-New York 2006)
John Henry NEWMAN, “Selina, Countess of Huntington” [1840], in: Essays Critical and Historical 1
(London, new ed. 1907) 387-425, at 389.
Mark PATTISON, “Tendencies of Religious Thought in England, 1688-1750,” in: Essays and Reviews
(London 1860) 254-329, at 255.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 21.

“analogy between the separate works of God,”


which was helpful to Newman in

formulating his “sacramental principle.” The second Newman describes thus:
Butler's doctrine that probability is the guide of life, led me, at least under the teaching to
which a few years later I was introduced, to the question of the logical cogency of faith,
on which I have written so much.

One of the things that Butler does in his Analogy of Religion is to defend
revealed religion against deists. The deists held that the orderly clock maker God of
nature could not be responsible for the fantastic miracles and weird mysteries of the
Bible. Butler argues that in fact nature is far more mysterious and odd than Newtonians
think, and thus far more analogous to God’s workings in revelation than the they think.
In fact, Butler argues, nature doesn’t make any sense without revelation, since only a
future judgment can rectify the freakish injustices of nature.


Butler conceived of man’s relation to God as far different from the relation of a
watch to its maker. In his sermons he shows this through an analysis of conscience that
was to be a key influence on Newman. Human nature, according to Butler, is so
constituted that we find in ourselves various desires directed toward many different
objects. In trying to decide which of these desires to satisfy we appeal to two different
principles which are both founded in our nature: self interest and benevolence toward


Sometimes we go one way sometimes the other, but the strange fact, that

Butler sees as empirically verified, is that we do not always follow the stronger impulse:
we can stand as it were apart from our desires and judge them. This is because of the
principle of conscience:
There is a superior principle of reflection or conscience in every man which distinguishes
between the internal principles of his heart as well as his external actions, which passes
judgment upon himself and them, pronounces determinately some actions to be in
themselves just, right, good; others to be in themselves: evil, wrong unjust.

Conscience is thus an unconditional authority, we can disobey it, but we can never deny
its authority over us.


Butler is an apologist, and like many apologists he is so eager to convince that
he often concedes too much to his opponents. Thus in the Analogy when he is arguing


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 21.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 21.
Joseph BUTLER, The Analogy of Religion to the Constitution and Course of Nature (London 1834
[1736]); Sheridan GILLEY, Newman and his Age (London 22003) 58; cf. Newman’s summary of the main
argument in: John Henry NEWMAN, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London, new ed. 1924)
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 140.
Joseph BUTLER, Five Sermons, ed. Stephen L. DARWELL (Indianapolis 1983) 37; quoted in:
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 140.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 140-141.

against Locke’s thesis that there is no identity between a person at one time and another,
he is too ready to grant that in the case of other substances, such as a tree, there is no
perduring identity, and this even though he can see that a tree has, “a continuation of the

same Life, communicated under the same Organization.”

This is a tendency which

one sees in many “conservative” adversaries of secular reason.
3. Whigs, Tories, and Dr. Johnson; or the Tragedy of the Conservative
Locke’s liberal ideology became the philosophy of the Whigs. The Whigs had begun in
opposition to the Stuarts, asserting the primacy of parliament over the monarch and
resisting catholicizing influences. The Tories conversely supported the Monarch. When
the “Glorious Revolution” (1688) overturned the Stuarts and brought William of Orange
to the throne, the Whigs suddenly became supporters of the ruler, while the Tories
supported attempts to restore Stuart rule. This constellation slowly changed as the Stuart
cause became more and more hopeless. The new constellation did not become fully
apparent till the reign of George III (1760-1820). It came fully to light during the
American Revolution (1775-1783) when the Whigs sympathized with the rebels on
Lockean grounds, while Tories supported the King.
This shift appears with particular clarity in the great poet, essayist, and critic Dr.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). In his youth Johnson was a passionate Jacobite, a
supporter of Stuart restoration, but at the ascension of George III, he softened toward
the house of Hannover. Perhaps he thought the Jacobite cause already lost (which it
was), but he also genuinely admired George III. When the Whigs attacked George III
for disrespecting the “rights of parliament” Johnson sprang to the king’s defense, and
gave the following tribute:
Every honest man must lament that the faction [the Whigs who attacked the king] has
been regarded with frigid neutrality by the Tories, who, being long accustomed to
signalise their principle, by opposition to the Court, do not yet consider that they have at
last a King who knows not the name of party, and who wishes to be the common father of
all his people.

But he continued to regret his change. Boswell recounts an anecdote that captures
Johnson’s regret so well that I quote it in full:
One day, when dining at old Mr. Langton’s where Miss Roberts, his niece, was one of the
company, Johnson, with his usual complacent attention to the fair sex, took her by the
hand and said, ‘My dear, I hope you are a Jacobite.’ Old Mr. Langton, who, though a high
and steady Tory, was attached to the present Royal Family, seemed offended, and asked
Johnson, with great warmth, what he could mean by putting such a question to his niece?
‘Why, Sir, (said Johnson) I meant no offence to your niece, I meant her a great
compliment. A Jacobite, Sir, believes in the divine right of Kings. He that believes in the

BUTLER, The Analogy of Religion 333.
James BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson [1791], ed. David WORMERSLY (London 2008) 318.

divine right of Kings believes in a Divinity. A Jacobite believes in the divine right of
Bishops. He that believes in the divine right of Bishops believes in the divine authority of
the Christian religion. Therefore, Sir, a Jacobite is neither an Atheist nor a Deist. That
cannot be said of a Whig; for Whiggism is a negation of all principle.’

The contempt of the Whigs for divine authority lead Johnson to say, “the first

Whig was the devil.”

But the tragedy of Dr. Johnson is the tragedy of all

conservatives; the more the liberals advance the more the conservatives find themselves
defending liberal positions.
While Johnson despised the positions of his adversaries, his speculative grasp of
the roots of those principles was not comprehensive and deep enough. Thus Bacon was
one of his favorite authors,


and he seemed to see no connection between his

philosophy and the Whigs. In his theology Johnson was famous for taking Catholic


but his Tory devotion to the established Church lead him to such

contradictory positions as that John Milton (whose theology he despised) ought to be
honored more than Alexander Pope (his favorite poet), because Pope was a Roman


The post-Johnsonian Tories were again the party of “King and Church.” They
were still more or less “High Church,” but they had become much less theological than
Butler or Johnson had been. The Bishop of London was famously to scandalize
Newman by remarking that belief in the Apostolic Succession had gone out with the



he was only slightly exaggerating.

BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 228.
BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 699.
BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 628.
The most famous example is the following dialogue between Boswell and Johnson: “I had hired a
Bohemian as my servant while I remained in London, and being much pleased with him, I asked Dr.
Johnson whether his being a Roman Catholick should prevent my taking him with me to Scotland.
JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir, if HE has no objection, you can have none.' BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, you are no
great enemy to the Roman Catholick religion.' JOHNSON. 'No more, Sir, than to the Presbyterian
religion.' BOSWELL. 'You are joking.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I really think so. Nay, Sir, of the two, I
prefer the Popish.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the Presbyterians have no church,
no apostolical ordination.' […] I proceeded: 'What do you think, Sir, of Purgatory, as believed by the
Roman Catholicks?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is a very harmless doctrine. They are of opinion that the
generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment, nor so good
as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits; and therefore that God is graciously pleased
to allow of a middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see, Sir, there
is nothing unreasonable in this.' BOSWELL. 'But then, Sir, their masses for the dead?' JOHNSON. 'Why,
Sir, if it be once established that there are souls in purgatory, it is as proper to pray for THEM, as for our
brethren of mankind who are yet in this life.' BOSWELL. 'The idolatry of the Mass?' JOHNSON. 'Sir,
there is no idolatry in the Mass. They believe God to be there, and they adore him.'” BOSWELL, The Life
of Dr. Johnson 313-314.
BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 387.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 37. The Non-jurors were clergymen loyal to the Stuarts who
refused to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary and their successors.

3. Coleridge and the Germans
The dry atmosphere of 18th century rationalism produced a reaction in the romantic
movement. The English romantics poets Robert Southey (1774-1843), William
Wordsworth (1770 1850), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) recoiled from the
idea of nature as a machine. Nature was to them a realm of numinous mystery grasped
intuitively by the imagination. Wordsworth gave the most brilliant poetical expression
to this view, but it was Coleridge, who was able to supply the philosophical
underpinnings for it. Coleridge travelled in Germany and became acquainted with
German Idealism and Romanticism. In German Idealism Coleridge thought that he had
found a way of making room for the numinous and divine apart from the realm of
Kant had begun the idealist project in reaction to the irrationalist account of
experience in Hume.


The data of sense experience being the unintelligible chaos that

Hume describes, how was knowledge to be saved? Kant’s solution is a “Copernican
revolution;” instead of seeing knowledge as the conformity of the mind to things he sees
it as the conformity of things to the mind. Things in themselves are entirely
unintelligible, the mind conforms them to itself by imposing its own structure on
experience. Thus space and time are devices which the mind uses to organize
experience; they do not measure things in themselves, but only the way things are in our
mind. In Kant’s view “pure reason” is concerned entirely with things insofar as they are
objects of the mind, constituted according to the a-priory categories of the mind itself.
Kant therefore limits the use of pure reason to the structuring of experience in the
empirical sciences. The attempts of deists at a cosmological proof for the existence of
God is thus nonsense; neither the statement “God exists” nor the statement “God does
not exist” can have any truth or falsity, they are simply outside the scope of theoretical
reasoning. Instead, Kant finds room for God in the realm of practical reason, as a
property of the moral imperative (“I must act as if there were a God”).
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was dissatisfied with Kant’s insistence that
there are such things as “things in themselves,” however irrelevant to knowledge. For
Fichte the mind does not simply conform reality to its own categories; it constitutes
reality itself.


Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) developed Fichte

along decidedly pantheistic lines; in knowing nature the subject knows not only itself,
but also “the absolute,” a kind of divine super-subject to which everything is finally

My entire account of Kant closely follows WALDSTEIN, John Paul II’s Theology 126-135.
Jutta GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit: Die Erschließung der „Offenbarung“ bei John
Henry Newman (Frankfurt am Main 2009) 192.

identical. Nature is the absolute subject qua object of its own knowledge.


Hegel was

of course to reject Schelling’s way of introducing the absolute by making everything
one as “the night in which all cows are black,” and replace it with a dynamic view in
which the absolute spirit arises out of the dialectical self-negation of the finite in
history. That story goes beyond our subject however, for Coleridge did not consider
Hegel a serious alternative to Kant and Schelling.


Coleridge distinguishes between “understanding” and “reason.” Understanding
“concerns itself exclusively with the quantities, qualities, and relations of particulars in
time and space.”


This is the realm of Kantian “pure reason.” Reason, on the other

hand, is concerned with knowing the infinite whole of reality as one.


But this leads to

a conflict in man, for understanding cannot accept the idea of oneness that is unlimited:
Hence the natural man is always in a state either of resistance or of captivity to the
understanding and the fancy, which cannot represent totality without limit: and he either
loses the one in the striving after the infinite, that is, atheism with or without polytheism,
or he loses the infinite in the striving after the one, and then sinks into anthropomorphic

Thus Coleridge cannot accept Kant’s limitation of God to the moral realm, for that is to
lose the one in the striving after the infinite. Christianity brings the resolution, for
Christianity is,
the consideration of the particular and individual, (in which respect it takes up and
identifies with itself the excellence of the understanding) but of the individual, as it exists
and has its being in the universal (in which respect it is one with the pure reason).

Coleridge understands this solution very much along the lines of Schelling. In
the Biographia Literaria Coleridge starts with the particular subject, the principle of
whose knowledge is itself:
[In] the SUM or I AM […] object and subject, being and knowing, are identical, each
involving and supposing the other. In other words, it is a subject which becomes a subject
by the act of constructing itself objectively to itself.

He then tries to show how the particular does not really know itself till it knows itself
“in deo” the absolute ground of being and knowledge.


Thus he writes,

Andrew BOWIE, “Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling,” in: The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), ed. Edward N. ZALTA.
http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/schelling (28.07.2010 20:10).
Douglas HEDLEY, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion: Aids to Reflection and the Mirror of the Spirit
(Cambridge 2000) 28-29.
Samuel Taylor COLERIDGE, Lay sermons (London 31852) 63.
COLERIDGE, Lay sermons 64.
COLERIDGE, Lay sermons 64.
COLERIDGE, Lay sermons 65.
Samuel Taylor COLERIDGE, Biographia Literaria; or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and
Opinions (Boston-New York 1834 [London 1817]) 157.
COLERIDGE, Biographia Literaria 158.

philosophy [passes] into religion, and religion become inclusive of philosophy. We begin
with the I KNOW MYSELF, in order to end with the absolute I AM. We proceed from
the SELF, in order to lose and find all self in GOD.

Although Coleridge’s mystical view was worlds away from the dry rationalist
religion of quasi-deist theologians, his view of the role of the Church of England ended
up being pretty close to theirs. Coleridge saw the Church’s main role in “cultivating”
the people through education rather than in “performing religious ceremonies.”


Coleridge remained solidly within the confines of secular reason. While protesting
against the mechanistic view of nature, he loved Francis Bacon, whom he interpreted
(rather implausibly) as a proto-Coleridgean.


Already in Coleridge, therefore, the

Romantic reaction against rationalism is searching for a synthesis with the rationalist
faith in progress.


4. Darwinism and Victorian Complacency
The 19th century from the Battle of Waterloo on saw an expansion of British industry,
commerce, and empire unprecedented in history. The Baconian promise seemed to have
finally delivered. At the same time Coleridge and the Romantics wanted to change the
mechanical world view into one that was more dynamic, historical, and mystical. The
work that did the most to synthesize the emerging world-view and impress it on the
popular imagination of the Victorians was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species,
published in 1859, nine years after Newman’s conversion and five years before the
publication of the Apologia. Ronald Knox describes how Darwin changed the English
The public mind underwent a fresh process of conditioning; all mechanism yesterday, it
was all evolution to-day. And evolution was a category under which you could rearrange
every department of experience; civilization was evolving, freedom was evolving,
thought was evolving, religion was evolving […] Instead of the endless wheels that used
to turn in our heads when we could not get to sleep, nightmare figures succeeded;
‘dragons of the prime that tore each other in their slime.’

The dynamic Darwinian view fit Baconian ambition even better than the
mechanical Newtonian view had. Knox describes how “faith in progress” (to use Pope
Benedict’s term) was strengthened by the evolutionary view. For the Victorians faith in
the progress of man in subduing the earth became a pseudo-scientific faith in the


COLERIDGE, Biographia Literaria 160.
Douglas HEDLEY, “Theology and the Revolt Against the Enlightenment,” in: Sheridan GILLEY, Brian
STANLEY (edd.), The Cambridge History of Christianity VIII: World Christianities, c. 1815-c.1914
(Cambridge-New York 2006) 30-52, at 42.
HEDLEY, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion ch. 4.
Walter E. HOUGHTON, “The Issue Between Kingsley and Newman,” in: NEWMAN, Apologia (ed.
DELAURA) 390-409, at 391.
Ronald KNOX, God and the Atom (London 1945) 31.

evolutionary destiny of the British nation.


We shall see how Newman’s opponent

Charles Kingsley was to put this very explicitly. “Victorian complacency” was the
attitude of an age which saw itself fulfilling the redemptive promise of Bacon, a nation
on whose empire the sun never set, and whose wealth exceeded that of all previous
ages. Knox, illustrates this attitude with the following memory of his Victorian
Only those of us, I think, who were born under Queen Victoria know what it feels like to
assume, without questioning, that England is permanently top nation; that foreigners do
not matter, and if the worst comes to the worst, Lord Salisbury will send a gun-boat.

5. Liberal Anglicanism in the 1830s
The French Revolution had lead to a reaction against extreme “Whiggery.” In the early
19th century the Tories under Lord Liverpool presided over an alliance between the state
and an Anglican Church that seemed to be recovering, but the hope was short-lived.


Sheridan Gilley has described how the Industrial Revolution brought about social
changes that lead to an alienation from the Church among the populace. The spread of
dissent, religious indifference, and the influx of Irish Catholic workers into England
made the Church a minority in many parts of the country, making the Tory confessional
state less and less tenable. The Whigs, who had also become more moderate after the
French Revolution, were able to ally themselves with all the progressive elements in
society. In 1830 a Whig government was elected with a mandate to reform the


This lead to a major crises of the Anglican Church. We shall presently see

how the Oxford movement was born in the response to that crisis, but now our concern
is with the kind of Anglicans who favored the reform.
The liberal Anglicans of the 1830s, whom the Whig government installed in
various positions of eminence, were much more cautious than liberal theologians on the
continent. On the continent Hegel’s disciple David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) was
publishing his Leben Jesu, which tried to refute the historicity of the gospel for the sake
of showing forth its “universal” content of Hegelian philosophy. It was not till thirty
years later that liberal Anglican theologians were to publish Essays and Reviews (1860),
which brought German higher criticism of the Bible into the mainstream of Anglican
thought—though in the service of a philosophy that was rather Coleridgean than
Hegelian. The liberals of the 1830s were still too much under the influence of the
reaction to the horrors of the French revolution. They tended to follow the model of

KNOX, God and the Atom 53.
KNOX, God and the Atom 53-54.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 82.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 82-83.

Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), “who had held up to scorn and execration Strauss’s Leben
Jesu without reading it.”


Lytton Strachey, whose remark I have just quoted, paints a

picture of Dr. Arnold’s liberalism that could hold for many of his contemporaries:
He was, as he constantly declared, a Liberal. In his opinion, by the very constitution of
human nature, the principles of progress and reform had been those of wisdom and justice
in every age of the world—except one: that which had preceded the fall of man from
Paradise. Had he lived then, Dr. Arnold would have been a Conservative. As it was, his
Liberalism was tempered by an ‘abhorrence of the spirit of 1789, of the American War,
of the French Economistes, and of the English Whigs of the latter part of the seventeenth
century’; and he always entertained a profound respect for the hereditary peerage. It
might almost be said, in fact, that he was an orthodox Liberal. He believed in toleration
too, within limits; that is to say, in the toleration of those with whom he agreed.

“Toleration” was the main religious principle which the Whigs required of their
theological minions. The best picture of such a liberal is a fictional one: Bishop Proudie
in Trollope’s Barchester Towers. Trollope describes the contrast between Proudie and
the old high-and-dry Anglicans as follows:
Some few years since, even within the memory of many who are not yet willing to call
themselves old, a liberal clergyman was a person not frequently to be met. Sydney Smith
was such and was looked on as little better than an infidel; a few others also might be
named, but they were rarae aves and were regarded with doubt and distrust by their
brethren. No man was so surely a Tory as a country rector—nowhere were the powers
that be so cherished as at Oxford. When, however, Dr. Whately was made an archbishop,
and Dr. Hampden some years afterwards regius professor, many wise divines saw that a
change was taking place in men's minds, and that more liberal ideas would henceforward
be suitable to the priests as well as to the laity. Clergymen began to be heard of who had
ceased to anathematize papists on the one hand, or vilify dissenters on the other. It
appeared clear that High Church principles, as they are called, were no longer to be surest
claims to promotion with at any rate one section of statesmen, and Dr. Proudie was one
among those who early in life adapted himself to the views held by the Whigs on most
theological and religious subjects. He bore with the idolatry of Rome, tolerated even the
infidelity of Socinianism, and was hand and glove with the Presbyterian Synods of
Scotland and Ulster.

Barchester Towers is presumably set in the 1850s, but the famous scene when
Archdeacon Grantley visits the Proudies for the first time might be a sketch of the
parties in the English Church of the 1830s:
There were four persons there, each of whom considered himself the most important
personage in the diocese—himself, indeed, or herself, as Mrs. Proudie was one of them—
and with such a difference of opinion it was not probable that they would get on
pleasantly together.


STRACHEY, Eminent Victorians 202.
STRACHEY, Eminent Victorians 197.
Anthony TROLLOPE, Barchester Towers [1857], ed. Michael SADLEIR, Frederick PAGE (Oxford-New
York 1996) 18-19.
TROLLOPE, Barchester Towers 35.

Bishop Proudie represents the liberals, Dr. Grantley the High Church, Mrs. Proudie and
Mr. Slope represent the Evangelicals. The Bishop’s party might seem to have the wind
of history behind it, but in the short term, as we know, victory belonged to his wife.


A. Characteristics of Enthusiasm
Every reader of Trollope will agree that Mrs. Proudie is much more interesting than her
husband. If one situates them within the three options for a religious response to the
Enlightenment, that I sketched above, Bishop Proudie is solidly in the calm and boring
sphere of liberalism; Mrs. Proudie is in the heady and wild movement of enthusiasm.
She was [Trollope writes] a tyrant, a bully, a would-be priestess, a very vulgar woman,
and one who would send headlong to the nethermost pit all who disagreed with her; but
that at the same time she was conscientious, by no means a hypocrite, really believing in
the brimstone which she threatened, and anxious to save the souls around her from its

Mrs. Proudie can be seen in a long line of “would-be priestesses.” For, while
enthusiasm did not break out with full force till the 17th and 18th centuries, Ronald Knox
shows that it was foreshadowed in many Christian movements throughout the


And from New Testament days on these movements were nearly always

marked by, “exercise of prophetic ministry by the more devout sex.”
enthusiasm is largely a history of female emancipation.”



“The history of

Mrs. Proudie seems

positively mild in comparison with the formidable catalogue of her predecessors that
Knox lists:
Martha Simmonds escorting Naylor into Bristol, with cries of Hosanna, Madame Guyon
training up her directors in the way he should go, the convulsionary priestesses going
through the motions of saying mass at St. Médard […]

Despite its long lineage Knox shows that enthusiasm is primarily a phenomenon
of the 17th and 18th centuries, and takes many of its theological resources from the
Protestant Reformation of the 16th. If one examines the perduring characteristics of
enthusiasm throughout the centuries, it not difficult to see why it should be that it comes
into its own in the age of Enlightenment, so much so that, as Knox notes, “for a hundred
and fifty years, it becomes the major preoccupation of religious minds, obscuring from
contemporary view the rise of atheism.”


The first characteristic of the enthusiast which Knox notes is simply impatience
with mediocrity: “he expects more evident results from the grace of God than we

Anthony TROLLOPE, An Autobiography [1883], ed. Michael SADLEIR, Frederick PAGE (Oxford-New
York 1980) 276.
KNOX, Enthusiasm esp. 4-5, and chs. II-VII.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 20.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 20.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 20.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 4.



The transformation by the supernatural must be evident in all true Christians.

Dissatisfaction with mediocrity and striving for a greater transformation in grace are of
course perfectly praiseworthy, but what distinguishes enthusiastic movements from
other perfectionist movements (such as the monastic movement) is the insistence that
everyone is required to live as they do, and the consequent inevitable tendency to break
off unity with the wider community of Christians. It is the tendency to see one’s own
group as the true Church, and Christendom in general as a sham.


In morals the enthusiast is either a strict rigorist or advocate of antinomianism,
the idea that supernatural man is no longer bound by the moral law which bound natural


But, Knox continues, the enthusiast’s conception is not limited to morals, he has

a complete view of religion:
Hitherto [religion] has been a matter of outward forms and ordinances, now it is an affair
of the heart. Sacraments are not necessarily dispensed with; but the emphasis lies on a
direct personal access to the author of our salvation, with little of intellectual background
or liturgical expression.

The anti-rational and anti-liturgical spirit of enthusiasm leads to an emphasis on the
emotional experience of the presence of God. Interior peace and joy are the proof of
authenticity of religious experience, and the states which the soul chiefly tries to
achieve in prayer.


Knox points out that this leads to a certain anthropocentrism, “not

God’s glory but your own salvation preoccupies the mind.”


Knox sees the foundation of all these tendencies in a peculiar view of the
relation of grace to nature. Instead of the Catholic account of that relation, in which
grace builds on and perfects nature, “elevates it to a higher pitch, so that it can bear its
part in the music of eternity,” but does not destroy it, enthusiasm sees grace as replacing


This conception of the relation of grace and nature is particular manifest in the

enthusiast’s idea of the relation of faith and reason:
Especially [the enthusiast] decries the use of human reason as a guide to any sort of
religious truth. A direct intimation of the divine will is communicated to him at every
turn, if only he will consent to abandon the ‘arm of the flesh’—man’s miserable intellect,
fatally obscured by the fall. If no oracle from heaven is forthcoming, he will take refuge
in sortilege; anything, to make sure that he is leaving the decision in God’s hands.


KNOX, Enthusiasm 2.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 1.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 2.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 2.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 2.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 3.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 3.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 3.

Knox identifies a remarkably complete catalogue of these and other enthusiastic

tendencies in New Testament Corinth.

He shows how accompanying the Patristic and

Medieval movements to synthesize faith and reason (which I analyzed above) there was
a recurring undercurrent of anti-rational enthusiastic heresies; indeed, the fathers and
doctors often developed their synthesis in polemics against these heresies.


But it is

clear that it was in the world as transformed by Descartes that the committed Christian
would feel the attraction of this anti-rational form of religion more powerfully than ever

B. A Borderline Case: Pascal and the Costume Drama of Jansenism
Early 17th century anti-rational enthusiasm is associated mostly with movements among
uneducated common people in Protestant countries—with Anabaptists, Ranters,
Quakers, and a myriad other groups.


But I pass all these over to come to a rather

atypical and unlikely example: the Jansenist movement and its most brilliant defender
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). How can a coterie of hyper-intellectual French aristocrats,
obsessed with the subtleties of Augustinian theology and Cartesian epistemology, be
classified as enthusiasts? How can Pascal, not only a brilliant mathematician and
scientist, but also one of the most famous apologists for Christianity be classed with
those who despise reason in matters of faith? Knox admits these difficulties, but gives
reasons which I find convincing for nevertheless classing Jansenism with the
I take up what is admittedly a borderline case for a very particular reason. In
Pascal and the Jansenists one sees how the Enlightenment was able to move even the
most unlikely candidates into enthusiasm. In Pascal one sees a man who came very
close to taking what I have termed the “third option.” Pascal’s conception of the relation
of faith and reason comes very close to Newman’s, indeed in many details it anticipates
Newman; that in the final analysis it has to be classed as enthusiasm is a testimony to
the great difficulty which the Enlightenment presents to the Christian thinker, and to the
magnitude of Newman’s accomplishment in escaping the danger to which Pascal
Nothing in our drama of faith and reason is as theatrical as the story of
Jansenism; it is like a play within a play. Knox compares it to a period drama, or to a


for its leaders had a magnificent sense of the dramatic; children of the grand

KNOX, Enthusiasm ch. II.
KNOX, Enthusiasm chs. III-VI.
KNOX, Enthusiasm ch.VII.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 176-177.

siècle, they seemed to be wearing costumes and consciously playing parts.



Arnauld (1591-1661) demonstrated this sense of the dramatic in the action which we
can take as the beginning of the play when she slammed a door in the faces of her
astonished parents. At the age of eleven Mère Angélique had been made abbess of the
Cistercian Abbey of Port Royal near Paris by her influential parents. At the age of
sixteen she suddenly began a reform of her Abbey.


The rule of enclosure had not been

followed strictly up to that point, Mère Angélique showed the seriousness of her
purpose by re-instating it in theatrical fashion; when her parents visited on 25th of
September, 1609 (the famous “journée du guichet”) she told them through a newly
constructed grill that they could no-longer enter her convent.


In the course of her

reform Mère Angélique’s was to take Port Royal out of the Cistercian Order,


and to


bring it under the influence of the rigorist theologian Saint-Cyran (1581–1643).


collected a group of devout men (the “solitaries”) who lived near Port Royal and formed
the nucleus of the Jansenist party.


The Jansenists received their name from a friend of Saint-Cyran, the Dutch
Bishop Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), whose posthumously published book on
Augustine’s doctrine of grace, was condemned at the instigation of the Jesuits.



Royal and its friends, especially Mère Angélique’s younger brother Antoine, took to its


Jansen had only intended to give a defense of Augustine’s doctrine against

new teachings on free will advanced by Jesuit theologians, but of course Jansen, and
even more Antoine Arnauld, had very different philosophical assumptions from


I will not attempt to expound the Jansenist doctrine of grace, nor their

various related practices, which Knox adduces to show their enthusiasm, instead I want
to concentrate on their attitude toward reason as exemplified in Pascal.
Pascal’s main contribution to Jansenist controversy are the Provincial Letters, in
which he brilliantly tears the heirs of Molina to shreds, but he is most famous for a work
aimed at the followers of Descartes. Pascal saw the implications of Descartes’s views
much more clearly than Descartes himself. In a famous passage he explains why

KNOX, Enthusiasm 188-192.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 177-178.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 189; Alexander SEDGWICK, The Travails of Conscience: The Arnauld Family and
the Acien Régime (Cambridge, Massachusetts- London 1998) 44.
SEDGWICK, The Travails of Conscience 51-52.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 178.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 178.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 179.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 179-180.
For Antoine Arnauld’s philosophy, heavily influenced by Descartes, see: MACINTYRE, God,
Philosophy, Universities 122-128.

Descartes’s philosophy brought about an intellectual climate that was not hospitable to
orthodox Christianity:
I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to
dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion;
beyond this, he has no further need of God.

A generation under the spell of Descartes tended either to deism – God was reduced to
something which had put the world in motion – or (in the case of those willing to
dispense with the limited god of deism) to atheism. Pascal set himself to give an
apology for the Christian religion for this generation. Though he never completed his
project, the notes that he made for his apology have become famous under the name of
Pascal’s relation to Descartes is complex. On the one hand he accepts
Descartes’s vision of the universe as a mathematical machine devoid of intrinsic
meaning and order, but on the other hand he is not convinced by Descartes’s attempted
refutation of skepticism. Pascal paints a frightening picture of man lost in the vast
spaces of the Cartesian universe, without any knowledge of what he is or why he is
placed in the random corner that he finds himself in, all he knows is that he doomed to
die, but he does not know what death will bring.


In this situation man is tortured by a

sense that he is made for better things. His reason gives him the appetite for true
knowledge of his fate, but fails to give him that knowledge; for none of the arguments
that it brings up are sufficient to refute skeptical doubt. But his nature prevents him
from entirely succumbing to doubt:
What then shall man do in this state? Shall he doubt everything […] Nature sustains our
feeble reason, and prevents it raving to this extent. Shall he then say, on the contrary, that
he certainly possesses truth—he who, when pressed ever so little, can show no title to it,
and is forced to let go his hold? What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a
monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile
worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and
refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confutes the sceptics [sic],
and reason confutes the dogmatists.

The concept of human nature that Pascal here introduces to explain why we can
never really assent to the skeptical arguments of reason is foreign to Cartesian

Blaise PASCAL, Pensées. Trans. W.F. Trotter (New York 1958) 23.
“I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible
ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of
me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I
see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this
vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time
which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which
was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as
an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must
soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.” PASCAL, Pensées 55.
PASCAL, Pensées 120-121.

anthropology. Pascal appeals to experience to show that man is not simply the Cartesian
subject: “the heart has reasons, which reason does not know.”


It is to the heart that

Christianity appeals. But its appeal is not heard, for man caught in his miserable tangle
seeks diversion to conceal his misery from himself. What is needed is conversion. Once
his heart has been touched and converted by God, and he has become a Christian, man
can see the answer to his mystery. For Christianity teaches man that he is fallen through
original sin, which explains his ignorance and misery, and that he has been redeemed by
Jesus Christ, through he will receive the perfection for which he yearns.


Thus reason does come to see the necessity of Christianity, but only after one
has become a believer. In this Pascal thinks that he is following Augustine,


but there

is an important difference, for while Augustine held that it is the mysteries of the
incarnation and redemption that reason cannot see till it has been illumined by the faith,
for Pascal it is even the very existence of God. Pascal had no use for philosophical
proofs for the existence of God. In the famous Memorial, the scrap of paper that Pascal
kept sewn into his cloths, Pascal had recorded a mystical encounter with God, which
includes the words, “God of Abraham God of Isaac, God of Jacob. Not of philosophers
and the learned.”


Of course, the “God of the philosophers” which Pascal is rejecting

here is not the living God who filled Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle with wonder and
reverence, but the fictitious God whom Descartes introduced to secure his
epistemology. We can see this quite clearly in the following passage from the Pensées:
The God of Christians is not a God who is simply the author of mathematical truths, or of
the order of the elements; that is the view of heathens and Epicureans […] But the God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and
of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who
makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites
Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love,
who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself. All who seek God without
Jesus Christ, and who rest in nature, either find no light to satisfy them, or come to form
for themselves a means of knowing God and serving Him without a mediator. Thereby
they fall either into atheism, or into deism, two things which the Christian religion abhors
almost equally.

Here we see the great difference between Pascal and his beloved St. Augustine.
Augustine saw the heathen philosophers, especially the Platonists, as having had a real
encounter with the living God. That God filled them with desire, but they had no hope
of attaining to Him. Christianity came to reveal that God Himself desired them, and

PASCAL, Pensées 78.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 118-120.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 119-120.
Blaise PASCAL, “Memorial,” trans. Elizabeth T. KNUTH, Ed. Olivier JOSEPH.
http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/pascal.html (19.07.2010 21:17).
PASCAL, Pensées 153-154.

even (scandalously to a Platonist mind) became man that men might find Him. It is
important to see this point, in order to understand the point which the drama of faith and
reason has reached in Pascal. To make the point absolutely clear I quote the following
passage from Plotinus, one of the Platonists whom Augustine read:
That alone, simple, single and pure, from which all depends and to which all look and are
and live and think: for it is cause of life and mind and being. If anyone sees it, what
passion will he feel, what longing in his desire to be united with it, what a shock of
delight! […] But how shall we find the way? What method can we devise? How can one
see the ‘inconceivable beauty’ which stays within the holy sanctuary and does not come
out where the profane may see it?

The “heathen” philosophy of the likes of Plotinus need not be a preamble to
deism or atheism; it is far more suited to being a preamble to the Christian faith. But
Pascal, living in a world transformed by Descartes, is no longer able to achieve the
synthesis of faith and reason that Augustine and Aquinas were. Pascal takes a typically
enthusiast turn. He appeals to a direct experience of the presence of God, the mystical
experience detailed in the Memorial, an experience totally separate from reason.



inability of the Jansenists to accept the condemnation of their theology by the Church is
tied up with this enthusiastic element, implicitly they were appealing to the authority of
God speaking in the interior of their souls against the authority of the Church the
custodian of the revelation given in time, in the res extensa.
But how did Pascal nevertheless intend to write an apology for the Christian
faith, if he thought that even belief in God was dependent on conversion to Christianity?
Pascal’s approach is to begin again with the perplexity which man finds himself in.
There is either a God or not, reason can prove neither.


Man cannot be guided by proof

here, but he must make a decision. There is no possibility of not deciding, for supposing
he says he cannot decide, then he has ipso facto decided against God; for if there is a
God eternal damnation await those who do not believe in Him, whether convinced
atheist or hesitating agnostic. Thus a choice must be made. Pascal compares the choice
to a wager: “to which side shall we incline? […] A game is being played at the
extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you

wager?” Put like that it becomes obvious that it would be foolish to wager on there not
being God; what would could one gain from choosing that side? If there is no God
whatever one does is meaningless; believers and non-believers are in exactly the same
situation, the non-believer will not even have the satisfaction of seeing himself proved

PLOTINUS, Enneads I.6 “On Beauty” 7-8, trans. A. H. ARMSTRONG, in: David E. COOPER (ed.),
Aesthetics: the Classic Readings (Malden-Oxford 1997) 55-64, at 62, 63.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 220-225.
PASCAL, Pensées 66.
PASCAL, Pensées 66.

right, since he will be annihilated at death. If, on the other hand, there is a God, then the
believer will receive eternal life while the unbeliever receives eternal damnation.
But there is a problem. For it is Pascal’s position that it is impossible to believe
“at will” so to speak. One can see the folly of not believing all one likes, belief will only
come through the grace of conversion. “I confess it, I admit it,” Pascal has his
imaginary interlocutor say, “But, still, […] I am not released, and am so made that I

cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?” Pascal advises his interlocutor to
purify his passions, to prepare for conversion by living after the pattern of the Christian
life. The idea seems to be that when the stumbling-block of disordered passion is
removed the heart will be ready to receive grace.


C. Spener and Zinzendorf
The strand of enthusiasm which leads to Evangelical Anglicanism begins with a man
who was “very much the contemporary of Jansenism”


(in several senses), Philipp

Jakob Spener (1635-1705), the founder of Pietism. Lutheran Germany was more fertile
ground for enthusiasm than grand siècle France. Luther’s own theology proved a rich
mine for enthusiasts; the emphasis in the early Luther on the invisible Church, the
individualistic conception of man’s relation to God, the contempt of reason etc. All
these elements were taken up with a vengeance by Spener. Spener felt that the Lutheran
Reformation had been strangled by its institutionalization as the state religion of the
Protestant principalities.


Formed groups of pious people which he called

“ecclesiolae,” little churches within the Lutheran church.


The meetings of the ecclesiolae focused on personal meditation and mystic
“experience” of God.



They a-liturgical meetings lead by not clergyman, but by lay

PASCAL, Pensées 68.
“Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your
passions. […] Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions.
These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you
would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water,
having masses said, etc. […] it is this which will lessen the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.”
PASCAL, Pensées 68. MacIntyre does not think that Pascal is being serious here, but MacIntyre’s
argument is based on a common misreading of the passage. According to this misreading the passage is
suggesting a course of psychological conditioning, by going through the motions of belief, rather than a
course of purifying the passions by living according to the Christian ideal. The one detail that supports the
common reading is the reference to taking holy water and attending masses etc., but surely, this can be
read as providing occasions for the workings of grace, rather than as psychological conditioning.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 121.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 206.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 398-399.
Hartmut LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe,” in: BROWN, TACKETT (edd.), The Cambridge
History of Christianity VII 33-53, at 33-37.
W.R. WARD, “Evangelical Awakenings in the North Atlantic World,” in BROWN, TACKETT (edd.), The
Cambridge History of Christianity VII 329-347, at 332.

men and (significantly) lay women.


Very soon the ecclesiolae began to be estranged

from the official Lutheran church. In typical enthusiast fashion they rejected the
authority of Lutheran theologians, and relied on direct inspiration from God. One
historian describes the enthusiastic workings of the ecclesiolae as follows:
These early disciples of Spener were suspicious of the teachings of Lutheran orthodoxy
as taught in theological faculties at German Universities. At the same time, they were
prepared to listen to what they considered direct inspiration and revelation, and such
revelation could be given, as they believed, to women as well as men. Rather than defer
to the authority of the corps of male pastors, they relied on spiritual bonding, on
improvised prayers, and on the hope of that they would receive direct inspiration from
God on how to understand certain passages in the Scriptures.

One cannot help wondering how God inspired them to understand 1 Corinthians 14:34.
Spener’s spirituality was focused on the emotional experience of one’s own
wretchedness and a inward conversion to Christ the Redeemer.


But he also

emphasized that the truly converted had to live a life of service in the world to prepare
for the second coming.


Spener’s disciple August Hermann Francke (1663-1727)

became very active in social work, founding orphanages and schools at Halle.



pietism was to attain great influence in Prussia till Frederick II (1712-1786) attacked it
in the name of Enlightenment deism.


Frederick’s attack lead to a redoubling of pietist

efforts to spread their influence outside of Germany. The man chiefly responsible for
these efforts was Spener’s godson and Francke’s pupil Nikolaus Ludwig Graf von
Zinzendorf (1700-1760).
Zinzendorf was an eminently practical man with a talent for organization. He
offered a home to all who sympathized with his views on his private estate in Saxony.


Among those who took him up on his invitation were a number of so-called “Moravian
Brethren,” a group of enthusiasts who traced their spiritual to Johann Hus through

Johann Amos Comenius.

They built a village on Zinzendorf’s land which was soon to

be the center of a world-wide movement, the village of Herrnhut.


Herrnhut was a

typical pseudo-monastic enthusiast community, very tightly knit, and making its
decisions based on Divine inspiration, often revealed through drawing lots.


LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 36-37.
LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 36-37.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 410.
WARD, “Evangelical Awakenings” 330.
LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 37.
LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 40-41.
LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 39; KNOX, Enthusiasm 400.
KNOX, Enthusiasm ch. XVII.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 401.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 420.



community experienced explosive growth, and soon the Herrnhütter (or Moravians as
they were called in the Anglophone world) had communities in other places: in the
Rhineland, in Holland, and in North America.


They also began missions to African

slaves in the West Indies and Eskimos in Greenland.


Zinzendorf’s collection of enthusiasts of various stripes was less theologically
consistent than pietism. Zinzendorf tolerated many kinds of theological opinion, but he
united his coalition in other ways. Like Francke he placed great emphasis on social
activism, especially education, and on missionary work.
great emphasis on music.



But most especially he placed

The hyper-sentimental hymns of Herrnhut became the main

expression of Zinzendorf’s spirituality. Zinzendorf’s spirituality is a more optimistic
version of Spener’s pietism. Instead of emphasizing the consciousness of one’s own
wretchedness, he emphasized the immediate and joyful experience of the love of God.


In his hatred of Enlightenment deism Zinzendorf expressed a kind of extreme
Christo-centrism. In prayer, he held, one ought not to have anything to do with anyone
save Christ the mediator.


Still, it is almost incredible that he really said the words

attributed to him by a scandalized visitor to a Moravian settlement: “As to praying to
the Father, it is no better than praying to a wooden or stone God.”


Words that surely

make Pascal’s invective against the “God of the philosophers” seem mild and balanced,
but they proceed from similar causes.
Zinzendorf did not have a rigorist temperament, and indeed the Moravians partly
deserved their reputation for antinomianism.


The instance of this tendency that gave

the most scandal was the eccentric view on the holiness of sexual intercourse which
Zinzendorf held.


As we shall see, Zinzendorf’s view of the matter strikingly resembles

that taken by Newman’s adversary Charles Kingsley, but Zinzendorf’s main claim on
our attention lies in his influence on an Anglican clergyman of a very different stamp:
the founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791).

D. Methodism
In 18th century England the proliferation of enthusiastic movements of the 17th century
were petering out, but things were ripe for a revival. The stifling air of Enlightened

LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 39.
LEHMANN, “Continental Protestant Europe” 39.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 404-405.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 404.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 410.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 408.
Quoted in: KNOX, Enthusiasm 408.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 414.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 413.

rationalism called for some reaction.


Small movements began springing up among the

emerging proletariat of the industrial revolution.
from continental Europe.



And new impulses began to come in

The enthusiasts were still extremely marginal and confined

to the most uneducated classes. The educated classes of the 18th century, both Whig and
Tory, looked on them with an amused disdain. Boswell once went to see a Quaker
woman preach out of curiosity. When he told Johnson, Johnson made a remark which
brilliantly expresses the cultivated 18th century gentleman’s dismissive attitude toward
enthusiasm: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is
not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all.”


But in his friend John Wesley Johnson recognized something which he was
compelled to respect. There is a note of surprise in Johnson’s remarks on Wesley, as
though he did not know exactly what to think, of so much bustle and zeal:
John Wesley’s conversation is good, but he is never at leisure. He is always obliged to go
at a certain hour. This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have
out his talk, as I do.

He even gives a kind of apology for Wesley’s style of preaching as being the only way
of reaching the common people. It is worth quoting Johnson’s apology at length to get a
sense of the respect which Wesley was able to command:
[Johnson] observed, that the established clergy in general did not preach plain enough;
and that polished periods and glittering sentences flew over the heads of the common
people, without any impression upon their hearts. Something might be necessary, he
observed, to excite the affections of the common people, who were sunk in languor and
lethargy, and therefore he supposed that the new concomitants of methodism might
probably produce so desirable an effect […] Whatever might be thought of some
methodist teachers, he said, he could scarcely doubt the sincerity of that man, who
travelled nine hundred miles in a month, and preached twelve times a week; for no
adequate reward, merely temporal, could be given for such indefatigable labour.

“That man” was of course John Wesley. John Wesley came from a genteel

family of high-church Anglicans.

His brother Charles founded a society at Oxford in

which undergraduates serious about their faith met for prayer, self-examination, the
planning of good deeds, and the reading of the Bible.



When John joined, the society

KNOX, Enthusiasm 462.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 82.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 462-466.
BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 244.
BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 648.
BOSWELL, The Life of Dr. Johnson 325. Italics added.
Mark A. NOLL, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (A
History of Evangelicalism 1, Downers Grove, Illinois 2003) 66.
NOLL, The Rise of Evangelicalism 68.

began to grow, and it soon drew the derision of other undergraduates, who mocked
under such names as “Holy Club,” “Enthusiasts,” and “Methodists.”


In 1735 John and Charles (both now ordained as Anglican clergymen) set out to
preach in North America.


In their ship were a group of Moravians from Herrnhut,

Wesley was impressed by the fact that the Moravians were not afraid to die in a storm.
He asked them why, and they answered that it was because they had faith. Wesley had
thought that he had had faith as well, but now he was unsure.


In America Wesley

spoke to one of the leaders of the Moravians, Gottlieb August Spangenberg (17041792), about this, he describes Spangenberg’s reaction as follows:
[Spangenberg said] ‘Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a
child of God?’ I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it and asked,
‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ I paused and said, ‘I know He is the Saviour of the world.’
‘True,’ replied he; ‘but do you know He has saved you?’

On his return to England this question haunted him. He was convinced that he needed to
gain true faith, but he did not as yet know it what this faith consisted in, “ still I fixed
not this faith on its right object: I meant only faith in God, not faith in or through


In London he met another Moravian leader, Peter Böhler (1712- 1775), who

explained to him that he needed to have an emotional experience of his redemption in


Soon enough Wesley thought that he had found this conversion, while reading

Luther on Romans:
I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation;
and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved
me from the law of sin and death.

But soon Wesley began to doubt whether his conversion was really authentic.
For the Moravian view was that conversion if authentic was complete; there was no
room for improvement in the converted. Wesley was “too honest” to say this of


For reassurance he travelled to Herrnhut to meet Zinzendorf.

impressed by Herrnhut, but did not find the reassurance he sought.




He was very

On his return to

NOLL, The Rise of Evangelicalism 68.
NOLL, The Rise of Evangelicalism 82.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 467.
John WESLEY, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, Feb. 7, 1736, ed. John EMORY (New York 1837)
WESLEY, The Journal, May 24, 1738, 73.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 467.
WESLEY, The Journal, May 24, 1738, 74.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 468.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 468-469.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 469.

England he began preaching in the fields, and the effects convinced him of the that his
conversion had been real. These effects were quite dramatic:
[Wesley] was preaching, at Bristol, to people who cried in the agonies of death, who were
struck to the ground and lay there groaning, who were released (so it seemed) with a
visible struggle then and there from the power of the devil.

This lead to a break with the Moravians, whose idea of conversion he saw refuted, and

who began to see as quietist and antinomian.

Separate from the Moravians, Wesley began an extraordinary labor of preaching,
converting thousands and thousands. He had begun the “Revival” the “Great
Awakening” that marks the beginning of modern Evangelicalism in Britain and
America. A great many others, the greatest of whom was George Whitefield (17141770), contributed almost as much to the movement as Wesley.


Wesley was not a

great organizer. The person who gave the movement what unity it had, and acted as
“oracle” to its luminaries, and who has almost as much claim as Wesley to founding

modern Evangelicalism, was Selina, Countess of Huntington (1707-1791).

The only

one of the great preachers whom the Countess of Huntington could not keep under her

influence was Wesley himself.

He quarreled with the Countess, Whitefield, and the

others over the doctrine of predestination (he was Arminian they were Calvinist).


Wesley’s Methodist association was conceived of as a voluntary society within
the Church of England. But admitted all the converted, even if they were not members
of the Church. That made a break with Anglicanism seem likely, but it seemed
inevitable when Wesley decided to “ordain” Methodist ministers for the newly
independent United States. Such a flagrant contradiction of the episcopal structure of
Anglicanism should have lead to a break immediately. But in typical latitudinarian
fashion the Anglicans ignored it, and Wesley died an Anglican. The break came five
years after his death.


Knox makes a rather odd comparison between Wesley and a clergyman of the
next century. Both founded ascetical movements at Oxford, both seemed destined to do
great things for the Anglican Church, but both were on the whole to damage her
position in the sight of her contemporaries, these and a great many other parallels Knox
draws between Wesley and a man who could have scarcely been less like him in

KNOX, Enthusiasm 472.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 470-472.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 489-497.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 483-489.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 488-489.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 497-503.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 506-512.

character: John Henry Newman.


If Wesley damage the Church of England’s position,

he also had a lasting effect both on her, and on English Christianity in general. Knox
sums up that influence as follows:
[Wesley] and the other prophets of the Evangelical movement, have succeeded in
imposing upon English Christianity a pattern of their own. They have succeeded in
identifying religion with a real or supposed experience. […] England […] was committed
[…] you did not base your did not base your hopes on this or that doctrinal calculation,
you knew. For that reason the average Englishman was […] singularly unaffected by
reasonings which would attempt to rob him of his theological certainties […] For that
reason, also, he expects much [...] of his religion in the way of verified results […]
Otherwise […] he abandons the practice of it.

Newman had to fight against this pattern in the attempt to revive a very different
form of religion from Evangelicalism. But he was also to recognize much good in the
Evangelicals, and tried to appropriate that good for a less subjectivist and enthusiastic
religion. In an essay on Lady Huntington he pays the following tribute to Wesley:
The history of Methodism is, we do not scruple to say, the history of a heresy; but never
surely was a heresy so mixed up with what was good and true […] interest, pity and
admiration we do feel for many of the principal agents in it; and if the choice lay between
them and the reformers of the sixteenth century (as we thankfully acknowledge it does
not,) a serious inquirer would have greater reason for saying, “Sit anima mea cum
Westleio,” than “cum Luthero,” or “cum Calvino.”

E. Anglican Evangelicals
Within the main stream of the Anglican Church the old Calvinist Low-Church party was
both heavily influenced by the revival and highly critical of it.


It was this party that

developed into the Evangelical of the Church of England in Party of Newman’s day.



retained the Calvinist picture of a world divided between the elect, mysteriously
predestined by God, and the rest of mankind destined to eternal loss.


And it took over

the Methodist view of conversion as an interior experience that gave the assurance of
election by God. It focused on rigorous self examination, discerning the emotional
sensation of sin, terror, news of salvation through Christ, and assurance of salvation.
was, however highly critical, of what it saw as the vulgarity of Methodism.





despite the respect commanded by Wesley and the best efforts of the Countess of


KNOX, Enthusiasm 422-423.
KNOX, Enthusiasm 547-548.
NEWMAN, “Selina, Countess of Huntington” 387-388.
John WALSH, Stephen TAYLOR, “Introduction,” to: John WALSH, Colin HAYDON, Stephen TAYLOR
(edd.), The Church of England c.1689-c.1833: From Toleration to Tractarianism (Cambridge 1993) 44.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 15-24.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 15-24.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 21.
WALSH, TAYLOR, “Introduction” 44.

Huntington’s, Methodism kept an air of disreputable and plebeian enthusiasm, that did
not appeal to the educated.
At Clapham, in the South of London, an influential group of upper-class
Anglican Evangelicals was formed including William Wilberforce (1759-1833), and

Hannah More (1745-1833).

The Clapham Evangelicals placed great emphasis on the

practical results of Evangelical conversion. Wilberforce is mainly famous for being the
driving force behind the abolition of the slave trade.


Their admirable social work

acted as a kind of proof for the authenticity of their conversion against accusations of
enthusiasm. Wilberforce’s and More tried to defend Evangelical conversion against the
accusation of being mere emotional enthusiasm, and prove it to be a bulwark against the
really dangerous atheist enthusiasm of the French Revolution.


In her Masterpiece

Practical Piety, More gives a measured defense of the Evangelical position, which it is
worth quoting at length:
Among the many mistakes in religion, it is commonly thought that there is something so
unintelligible, absurd, and fanatical in the term conversion, that those who employ it run
no small hazard of being involved in the ridicule it excites. […] This arises partly from
the levity and ignorance of the censurer, but perhaps as much from the imprudence and
enthusiasm of those who have absurdly confined it to real or supposed instances of
sudden or miraculous changes from profligacy to piety. But surely, with reasonable
people, we run no risk in asserting that he, who being awakened by any of those various
methods which the Almighty uses to bring his creatures to the knowledge of himself,
who, seeing the corruptions that are in the world, and feeling those with which his own
heart abounds, is brought, whether gradually or more rapidly, from an evil heart of
unbelief, to a lively faith in the Redeemer […] whose humility keeps pace with his
progress; who, though his attainments are advancing, is so far from counting himself to
have attained, that he presses onward with unabated zeal, and evidences, by the change in
his conduct, the change that has taken place in his heart.

More’s defense does not really touch the enthusiastic core of her idea of religious
conversion. The subtitle of her book is the Influence of the Religion of the Heart on the
Conduct of the Life, and she sees conversion as very much an emotional matter. In
saying that she it need not be complete at once, and that it must evidenced by a change
in conduct, she is merely following Wesley’s critique of the Moravians.
The enthusiastic element is very subtle in the Clapham Evangelicals, but it is
always there. Thomas Scott (1747-1821), loosely associated with Clapham, in his


Stewart J. BROWN, “Movements of Christian Awakening in Revolutionary Europe, 1790-1815,” in:
BROWN, TACKETT (edd.), The Cambridge History of Christianity VII 575-595, at 578-579.
Christopher Leslie BROWN, “Christianity and the Campaign Against Slavery and the Slave Trade,” in:
BROWN, TACKETT (edd.), The Cambridge History of Christianity VII 517-535, at 528.
BROWN, “Christianity and the Campaign Against Slavery” 528-529; BROWN, “Movements of Christian
Awakening” 578-579.
Hannah MORE, Practical Piety; Or the Influence of the Religion of the Heart on the Conduct of the
Life (London 171838) 29-30.

account of his conversion, The Force of Truth (a work which we shall see was an
important influence on Newman), tries to meet the charge head on:
It would be very well if some of those, who so readily accuse whole bodies of apparently
religious persons of enthusiasm, would favour us with their determinate definition of an
enthusiast. In its original meaning the word has a very favourable sense, and implies, that
by a divine influence upon the soul, a man is filled with an ardour and warmth of zeal in
the cause he is engaged in.

Scott truly has a great devotion to truth, and he is quite justified in saying that he
is not “endeavouring to banish reason, argument, sobermindedness, and morality out of
the world.”


I doubt that St. Augustine or St. Thomas would quibble much with the

following passage:
[We do not] desire thee to renounce thy reason, but only to make this reasonable
concession; that where thy reason would determine one way, but God hath expressly
determined another way, thou wouldst allow him to understand his own mysteries better
than thou dost; and that therefore thou oughtest, by faith, exercised upon the veracity of
God, to receive those matters implicitly, and without reasoning, which God hath revealed,
and which thy reason feels to be.

But the enthusiastic element is of course that he knows his doctrine to be of God, not
because of the testimony of the Church, but because of the “ardour and warmth of zeal”
that he feels so strongly; that is an argument that could be given just as well by a


Thomas SCOTT, The Force of Truth: An Authentic Narrative (New York 1825 [orig. London 1779])
SCOTT, The Force of Truth 176.
SCOTT, The Force of Truth 177.


A. Newman’s Religious Background
All three of the options for a religious response to the Enlightenment, that I have
described, are of great importance in the Apologia. In his youth Newman was converted
to the Evangelical option of moderate enthusiasm, but he increasingly became
disillusioned with it, and became one of the founders of the movement that tried to
propose what I have called the third option. It was in articulating this option that
Newman saw his mission in life. An integral part of this mission lay in combating the
liberal option, which he saw as the most dangerous temptation, because it appealed most
to spirit of the age. Charles Kingsley, who provoked Newman to write the Apologia,
was a great popularizer of the liberal option.
Newman was born in 1801 to a family of rather tepid low-church Anglicans.


At the beginning of the Apologia Newman describes how as a boy of fourteen he was
attracted to Enlightenment atheism, reading Paine, Hume and Voltaire with pleasure.


When he was fifteen, however, he underwent his first conversion through the influence
of Evangelical writers.



He was especially attached to Scott’s Force of Truth.

Newman was to retain the Evangelical genius for self-examination even after
abandoning its subjectivist piety.


He abandoned Evangelicalism’s clean Calvinist

division of the world into converted and unconverted reals, while retaining from it a
strong sense of the supernatural, an unshakable belief in Trinitarian dogma, and even
(oddly enough) a love of the Fathers, whom he first met in the Evangelical Joseph
Milner's Church History.


B. The Oxford Movement
In 1816, the same year as his conversion to Evangelicalism, Newman left school to
begin university studies. His father was at fist unsure whether to send him to Oxford or




As Sheridan Gilley writes, “the fate of a world of ideas trembled on [the]

Oxford and Cambridge were both still ecclesiastical corporations at that time,

GILLEY, Newman and his Age 7-14.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 15-16.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 16.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 17.
KER, John Henry Newman 95.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 18-19.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 25
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 27.

but while Cambridge with its “Protestant and scientific ethos” was the centre of
Anglican liberalism, Oxford was the home of Toryism.
Newman fell in love with Oxford, but he did not immediately take up “High
Church” ideas. After taking his degree he was elected a fellow of Oriel College, at that
time the most progressive college. There he came somewhat under the influence of
liberals, of one of whom he writes, “he, emphatically, opened my mind, and taught me
to think and to use my reason.”


But while the liberals taught him to distrust simplistic

arguments for Christianity, they did not lead him to doubt the central tenants of
Christianity itself.
Under liberal influence Newman drifted away from Evangelicalism, but it was
also his experience working as a curate in an Oxford parish that led him to reject
Evangelicalism. He saw that the Evangelical account of conversion simply did not
work; religion was not simply a matter of emotional conversion, any more than it was
simply a matter of logical demonstration. Newman began to develop his account of faith
as an act of the whole man that he was to explain most fully in An Essay in Aid of a
Grammar of Assent. It was also his experience of pastoral work that began to lead him
toward a more Catholic sacramental theology. It was now that he came under the
influence of John Keble (1792-1866) and Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-1836). Keble
and Froude came from a High Church background, but they were interested in finding a
more aesthetic and mystical form of High Churchmanship than the a-theological “Highand-Dry Churchmanship” of post-Johnsonian Tories. Then came the crises of the
Anglican Church due to the Whig reforms of the 1830s.
In 1832 Newman and Froude travelled to the Mediterranean. While abroad they
prepared for a counter offensive against the liberals. On their return in 1833 they started
publishing the so-called “Tracts for the Times.” The Oxford Movement was born. With
Froude’s early death and Keble’s retirement to the country it was Newman who was to
bear the brunt of the work, though his magnetic personality quickly attracted a host of
followers. The Oxford Movement tried to recover the neo-Patristic “via media” between
Protestant and Tridentine Catholic theology of the Stuart High Church divines, but it
quickly went beyond them. It went to the Fathers themselves and sought to find in the
Apostolic tradition to which they witnessed a sure foundation for religion. Not content
with recovering the tradition, Newman attempted to find a new way of justifying it. In
his theory of development he articulated an innovative account of tradition that owed
much to what was best in the new sense for history that was imminent in his time. But it


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 22.

was this theory of development that finally lead him out of the Anglican Church. He
saw that the Anglican position was in fact inconsistent – liberalism was the logical
consequence of the Reformation and the objective tradition was only to be found in the
Roman Church.

C. Newman’s Frustration
The years from his conversion to the Catholic Church in 1845 to the publication of the
Apologia in 1864 were years of frustration for Newman. Newman had been one of the
most influential men in the Anglican Church – and therefore in the nation – but at a
blow all his influence was gone. When he converted to Rome the Anglicans very
naturally saw him as a traitor. What was worse, they interpreted his final publications in
the Anglican Church—especially the famous Tract 90, which argued for a Catholic

interpretation of the 39 Articles —as proving that he had already been a traitor as an
The Catholic Church in England which Newman entered was a tiny little
community with practically no effect on the intellectual life of the nation. While
Newman found ecstatic great joy and peace in Catholic sacramental life, he found the
intellectual climate of the Church under Pius IX stifling. Even in the first glow of his
conversion, when living in Rome to prepare for ordination, he complained that people
were at no trouble to deepen their views.


He strongly felt that the need for a deepening

of views. He was impatient of the facile apologetics of the Pian Age, he understood the
true weight of the modern objections to Christianity and the need to take them seriously
and meet them with deeper arguments. But the Pian Church was not disposed to look
kindly at his ideas. Ironically it was particularly his Essay on the Development of
Christian Doctrine that came up for criticism. The dynamic view of tradition that he
articulated there sat ill with the static view which had prevailed in Catholic apologetics
since Trent.
In the years 1845- 1864 Newman tried again and again to find some way of
improving some things. In 1863 he wrote in his private journal:
To aim […] at improving the condition, the status, of the Catholic body, by a careful
survey of their argumentative basis, of their position relatively to the philosophy and
character of the day, by giving them juster views, by enlarging and refining their minds
[…] has been my line.


Anglican Articles of Faith, drawn up in 1563 against Catholics and extreme Protestants – members of
the University of Oxford were required to sign the Articles.
KER, John Henry Newman 329.
Cited in: Martin J. SVAGLIC, “Why Newman Wrote the Apologia,” in: NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DE
LAURA) 373-387, at 385.

But his attempts were again and again frustrated by the shortsightedness of English
bishops and Roman cardinals. In the same journal entry he wrote of why the mistrust of
both Catholics and Protestants so frustrated him:
I am noticing all this opposition and distrust, not on their own account […] but because
they have (to all appearances) succeeded in destroying my influence and my usefulness.

He was convinced that he had a useful work to do in formulating what I have called the
third option for a religious response to secular reason, but he was prevented. He needed
a chance to clear his name. That chance came from an unexpected source: Charles

D. Kingsley’s Attack
The Rev. Charles Kingsley was the quintessential Victorian. In 1864, the year of his
attack on Newman, Kingsley was not only one of the most popular novelists in the
nation, he was also a particular favorite of Victoria and Albert, who had nominated him
first as private chaplain to the queen, and then as Regius Professor of Modern History at
Cambridge University.


Kingsley was himself a graduate of Cambridge, and is a

typical representative of its ethos. He was an enthusiastic devotee of the philosophy of
Francis Bacon. In a lecture to students of natural science he gave the following
reflections, which I quote at length, because they show with remarkable clarity how
Kingsley had adopted what I have called liberal option for a religious response to the
secular world-view; he had simply imbued the Victorian faith in progress with a
religious significance:
Remember that while England is, and ever will be, behindhand in metaphysical and
scholastic science, she is the nation which above all others has conquered nature by
obeying her; that as it pleased God that the author of that proverb, the father of inductive
science, Bacon Lord Verulam, should have been an Englishman, so it has pleased Him
that we, Lord Bacon’s countrymen, should improve that precious heirloom of science,
inventing, producing, exporting, importing, till it seems as if the whole human race, and
every land from the equator to the pole must henceforth bear the indelible impress and
sign-manual of English science. And bear in mind, as I said just now, that this study of
natural history is the grammar of that very physical science which has enabled England
thus to replenish the earth and subdue it. Do you not see, then, that by following these
studies you are walking in the very path to which England owes her wealth ; that you are
training in yourself that habit of mind which God has approved as the one which He has
ordained for Englishmen, and are doing what in you lies toward carrying out, in after life,
the glorious work which God seems to have laid on the English race, to replenish the
earth and subdue it?


SVAGLIC, “Why Newman Wrote the Apologia” 387.
Susan CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk: a Life of Charles Kingsley (New York 1975) 201-211.
Charles KINGSLEY, “On the Study of Natural History,” in: Miscelanies Vol. II (Cambridge-London
1863) 346-366, at 363-364.

It is not surprising that Kingsley was one of the first clergymen to
enthusiastically accept Darwin’s theory of evolution.


He identified the quasi-

Darwinian view of the “destiny” of his nation as simply the work of divine Providence.
Walter Houghton has argued that Kingsley arrived at this view due to an inner conflict
that was typical of his age.


Houghton’s thesis is supported by details provided by

Kingsley’s biographer, Susan Chitty.
As a boy Kingsley was mostly interested in science and the beauty of the natural


The Evangelical faith of his father came in conflict with his natural

inclinations, especially as he began to feel the pull of “carnal desire.” Chitty argues that
it was the mingled fascination and fear with which he regarded his sexuality that
plunged Kingsley into a spiritual crisis as an undergraduate at Cambridge, so that for a
time he lost his faith.


It was his love for Fanny Grenfell that enabled him to regain his

faith. Miss Grenfell was under the influence of the Oxford Movement, and at first
Kingsley fell under its influence as well. Miss Grenfell had intended to become a kind
of High-Anglican nun.


At first Kingsley thought of following her example and

becoming a monk. In Chitty’s view he saw in monasticism a way of fleeing his


But his sexual appetite proved too strong. To reconcile his inner conflict

Kingsley “convinced himself that […] the act of sex was a kind of sacrament.”



lead to a violent reaction against the Oxford Movement; Kingsley came to hate the
whole atmosphere of other-worldliness and asceticism championed by the Tractarians.


Celibacy became the chief object of his hatred, and he wrote a kind of private manifesto

against it that he kept in a box with his most precious possessions.

He fell more and

more under the influence of liberal followers of Coleridge (especially Thomas Carlyle),
and began to indentify earthly prosperity with the Kingdom of God.


W. E. Houghton points to a passage in one of Kingsley’s novels where one of
the characters gives perfect expression to the view that Kingsley had begun to adopt
himself. The character is writing to a Catholic relative:
When your party compare sneeringly Romish Sanctity, and English Civilisation, I say,
‘Take you the Sanctity, and give me the Civilisation!’ […] Give me the political

CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 214-215.
HOUGHTON, “The Issue Between Kingsley and Newman” esp. 397-398.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 43-44.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 55-58.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 54.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 59.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 17.
HOUGHTON, “The Issue Between Kingsley and Newman” 398.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 59.
HOUGHTON, “The Issue Between Kingsley and Newman” passim.

economist, the sanitary reformer, the engineer; and take your saints and virgins, relics and
miracles. The spinning-jenny and the railroad, Cunard's liners and the electric telegraph,
are to me, if not to you, signs that we are, on some points at least, in harmony with the
universe; that there is a mighty spirit working among us.

The phenomenal popularity of Kingsley’s novels in Victorian England has probably
much to do with the fact that his contemporaries found his rather simplistic version of a
Baconian/Coleridgean/Darwinian Christianity a congenial world-view.
It is remarkably fitting that Kingsley’s controversy with Newman began with his
review of a History of Tudor England. Oddly enough, the history in question was by J.
A. Froude, the violently anti-Catholic younger brother of Newman’s friend Richard
Hurrell Froude. Kingsley begins his review with fulsome praise for the newly awakened
historical consciousness of his generation. He even praises the Oxford Movement for
contributing to knowledge of history.


But the effect of the praise is short lived as the

rest of the review is concerned with attacking the view of British history which the
Oxford Movement – and especially converts from it to “Romanism” – had developed.
He analyzes the reign of Queen Elisabeth, which he reads as the story of the shaking off
of the evil influence of Catholicism. He closes with an appeal to remember that
Elisabeth’s cause was “the cause of freedom and of truth, which has led these realms to
glory,” and a warning against the anti-English attitude of “those who have lately joined,
or are inclined to join, the Church of Rome,” and are teaching the young to prefer “the
cause of tyranny and of lies,” which Elisabeth opposed. “After all,” he closes, “Victrix
Causa Diis placuit.” It was a thought dear to his heart: the successful cause is right!


The mention of Newman comes in the context of explaining the bad influence of
Catholicism on morality, that Elisabeth had such difficulty shacking off:
Truth, for its own sake, had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman
informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon
which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the
wicked world which marries and is given in marriage. Whether his notion be doctrinally
correct or not, it is at least historically so.

Newman, who did not know who the review was by, felt in incumbent on him to
defend the honor of the Catholic priesthood. He wrote a brief protest to the publishers of
the magazine, calling their attention to the fact that no work of his had been cited to
support the astonishing claim that he taught that truth was no virtue.


Charles KINGSLEY, Yeast [1849], quoted in: HOUGHTON, “The Issue Between Kingsley and Newman”
Charles KINGSLEY, Review of Froude's History of England, Vols. VII. - VIII., Macmillan's Magazine
IX (January 1864) 211-224, at 212.
KINGSLEY, Review of Froude's History 224.
KINGSLEY, Review of Froude's History 217.

I should not dream [Newman wrote] of expostulating with the writer of such a passage,
nor with the editor who could insert it without appending evidence in proof of its
allegations. Nor do I want any reparation from either of them. I neither complain of them
for their act, nor should I thank them if they reversed it. Nor do I even write to you with
any desire of troubling you to send me an answer. I do but wish to draw the attention of
yourselves, as gentlemen, to a grave and gratuitous slander, with which I feel confident
you will be sorry to find associated a name so eminent as yours.

The publishers forwarded the letter to Kingsley, who at once wrote to Newman
claiming authorship of the review. A correspondence ensued it which Kingsley claimed
that his statement was justified by many of Newman’s works, but especially on a certain
sermon of Newman’s Anglican period, he did not however quote any passage of that
sermon which supported his statement. When Newman pointed this out to him, he
published a brief apology for his review in the next number of the Magazine. Newman
was however not satisfied with the Apology, since it gave the impression that Kingsley
had confronted him with a definite text, and that he had then disputed Kingsley’s
interpretation. He published a pamphlet containing the correspondence, appending some
reflections in the form of a dialogue summarizing the correspondence. I quote the
dialogue at length, not only because it provides a brilliant example of Newman’s
famous powers of irony, but because it gives the proper context for understanding the
violence of Kingsley subsequent attack:
Mr. Kingsley begins then by exclaiming,—‘O the chicanery, the wholesale fraud, the vile
hypocrisy, the conscience-killing tyranny of Rome! We have not far to seek for an
evidence of it. There's Father Newman to wit: one living specimen is worth a hundred
dead ones. He, a Priest writing of Priests, tells us that lying is never any harm.’
I interpose: ‘You are taking a most extraordinary liberty with my name. If I have said
this, tell me when and where.’
Mr. Kingsley replies: ‘You said it, Reverend Sir, in a Sermon which you preached, when
a Protestant, as Vicar of St. Mary's, and published in 1844; and I could read you a very
salutary lecture on the effects which that Sermon had at the time on my own opinion of
I make answer: ‘Oh ... Not, it seems, as a Priest speaking of Priests;—but let us have the
Mr. Kingsley relaxes: ‘Do you know, I like your tone. From your tone I rejoice, greatly
rejoice, to be able to believe that you did not mean what you said.’
I rejoin: ‘Mean it! I maintain I never said it, whether as a Protestant or as a Catholic.’
Mr. Kingsley replies: ‘I waive that point.’
I object: ‘Is it possible! What? waive the main question! I either said it or I didn't. You
have made a monstrous charge against me; direct, distinct, public. You are bound to
prove it as directly, as distinctly, as publicly;—or to own you can't.’
‘Well,’ says Mr. Kingsley, ‘if you are quite sure you did not say it, I'll take your word for
it; I really will.’
My word! I am dumb. Somehow I thought that it was my word that happened to be on
trial. The word of a Professor of lying, that he does not lie!
But Mr. Kingsley re-assures me: ‘We are both gentlemen,’ he says: ‘I have done as much
as one English gentleman can expect from another.’


John Henry NEWMAN to Messrs. Macmillan and Co., Birmingham Dec. 30, 1863, in: NEWMAN,
Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 299.

I begin to see: He thought me a gentleman at the very time that he said I taught lying on
system. After all, it is not I, but it is Mr. Kingsley who did not mean what he said.

Kingsley realized that he was being made to look like a fool. In reply he lashed
out in a bitter pamphlet, “What then does Dr. Newman mean?” The extraordinary
mixture of contradictory accusations, truncated quotations from Newman, and blatant
appeals to popular anti-Catholic prejudices, has given Kingsley’s pamphlet, “its
reputation even among Kingsley’s admirers for ‘bad logic and hot-headed


The bad logic comes from Kingsley trying to show Newman to be a

clever, plotting, Jesuitical liar, propagating a crafty and knavish ethics; and at the same
time a credulous fool for believing in wonder-working relics, the Immaculate
Conception, and (above all) in the idea that celibacy could be pleasing to God. Perhaps
his most serious charge was that Newman had craftily staid in the Church of England
even after he was convinced of Catholicism in order to lead Anglicans astray, with
reference to Newman’s dialogue above he writes:
In an utterly imaginary conversation, [Newman] puts [the epithet ‘Protestant’] into my
mouth, ‘which you preached when a Protestant.’ I call the man who preached that sermon
a Protestant? I should have sooner called him a Buddhist. At that very time he was
teaching his disciples to scorn and repudiate that name of Protestant, under which, for
some reason or other, he now finds it convenient to take shelter. If he forgets, the world
does not, the famous article in the British Critic (the then organ of his party), of three
years before—July, 1841—which, after denouncing the name of Protestant, declared the
object of the party to be none other than the ‘Unprotestantising’ the English Church. But
Dr. Newman convicts himself. In the sermon before, as I have shown, monks and nuns
are spoken of as the only true Bible Christians, and in the sermon itself a celibate clergy
is made a note of the Church. And yet Dr. Newman goes on to say that he was not then ‘a
priest, speaking of priests.’ Whether he were a priest himself matters little to the question;
but if he were not speaking of priests, and those Romish ones, when he spoke of a
celibate clergy, of whom was he speaking? But there is no use in wasting words on this
‘economical’ statement of Dr. Newman's.

Newman immediately began a response, he explains the purpose in a letter to a
I am writing my answer to Kingsley’s pamphlet … the whole strength of what he says, as
directed rhetorically to the popular mind, lies in the antecedent prejudice that I was a
Papist while I was an Anglican … the only way in which I can destroy this, is to give my
history, and the history of my mind, from 1822 or earlier, down to 1845.

Newman published the Apologia in seven weekly installments, meaning that
each installment had to be written in a single week – an extraordinarily small space of


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 308-309.
SVAGLIC, “Why Newman Wrote the Apologia” 377.
Charles KINGSLEY, “What, then, does Dr. Newman mean?” in: NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA)
310-340, at 335-336.
KER, John Henry Newman 542.


On some days he worked for over twenty hours.


and he often broke into tears over the memories that he conjured up.



The effort gave him much


Keble, hearing of this, wrote to his old friend not to trouble himself with defending
himself against “such trash as Mr. Kingsley’s.” Newman should concern himself with
more important things, “all Christendom wants you to take your stand against the
infidelity which seems to [be] enveloping us all.”


But Newman knew that the best

way for him to take that stand was to write the Apologia.


GILLEY, Newman and his Age 338.
KER, John Henry Newman 545.
KER, John Henry Newman 543.
GILLEY, Newman and his Age 338.
SVAGLIC, “Why Newman Wrote the Apologia” 379.


A. Why Narrative?
The first two installments of the Apologia (abridged into a short preface in the second
edition) were introductory. The first criticized Kingsley’s unfair method of controversy,
the second explained that “the true mode of meeting Mr. Kingsley” was for Newman to
give a history of his religious opinions. The next four parts are much longer, and contain
that history itself, narrated as an autobiography in the first person. The final part
contains a general answer to Kingsley, in more expository style.
In his essay “Newman as a Prose Writer,” L. E. Gates tried to give an account of
Newman’s use of autobiography in strict rhetorical terms. Reading the Apologia strictly
as a defense against Kingsley’s attack, without wider intentions, he is confronted with a
problem of proportion:
Of the 384 pages of the original edition of the Apologia, only the last 93 pages are
devoted to the actual refutation of Kingsley’s charges; the 238 pages that precede are
merely persuasive, and simply prepare the way for the final defense. Probably in no other
piece of writing is the actual demonstration so curiously small in proportion to the means
that are taken to make the logic effective.

Gates tries to solve this difficulty with an account of Newman’s ideas of persuasion. He
sees the key in “Newman’s realization of the elusive nature of truth and of the great

difficulty of securing a welcome for it in the minds and hearts of the mass of men.”

Citing Newman’s Oxford University Sermons, Gates shows how Newman thought that
good arguments were not enough to persuade – what is needed is the imaginative and
moving presentation of the concrete realization of facts, and the influence of living


While the logical processes of Newman’s intellectual development give

coherence to the story, Gates argues, its persuasiveness comes from its personal tone
and matter, its “dramatic vividness” and “embodiment of life.”


While I think that Gates has a too contracted view of the intention of the
Apologia, his point about dramatic presentation of life is well made. Let us take a look
at the literary technique through which Newman achieved dramatic vividness.


Lewis E. GATES, “Newman as a Prose Writer,” in: Three Studies in Literature (New York 1899) 64123, at 77.
GATES, “Newman as a Prose Writer” 72.
GATES, “Newman as a Prose Writer” 81.
GATES, “Newman as a Prose Writer” 81.


B. Dramatic Prose
1. Rhythm and Sentence Structure
In its review of the Apologia, the London Times noticed the immediacy of the
description: “if Dr. Newman’s autobiography lacks the calm grace of a retrospect, it has
all the fire of a description of the present moment.”


How did Newman achieve this

immediacy? W. E. Houghton has suggested that part of the answer lies in the way that
Newman makes the rhythm and syntax of his prose reflect the mental states that he
describes. Houghton illustrates this by juxtaposing actual quotes from Newman with
paraphrases couched in more expository style. Let us consider two examples.
One example is taken from a passage where Newman is discussing his attempt to
give a Catholic reading of the Anglican 39 Articles. In reply to the objection that the
Articles were drawn up to exclude “Popery” in the first place he gives the following
Newman’s Text

Houghton’s Paraphrase

Not any religious doctrine at all, but a political The Popery which England hated in the
principle, was the primary English idea of sixteenth century was not Roman Catholic
"Popery" at the date of the Reformation. And doctrine; it was the supremacy of the Pope.
what was that political principle, and how That was the great question in the days of
could it best be suppressed in England? What Henry and Elizabeth. So far as doctrine was
was the great question in the days of Henry concerned, they were both rather pro-Catholic
and Elizabeth? The Supremacy;—now, was I and anti-Protestant. Henry firmly believed in
saying one single word in favour of the purgatory and attacked justification by faith
Supremacy of the Holy See, in favour of the alone. Elizabeth had no conscientious scruples
foreign jurisdiction? No, I did not believe in it against the mass, and she never liked the
myself. Did Henry VIII religiously hold marriage of the clergy. Therefore, when the
Justification by faith only? did he disbelieve articles were framed, hostility to Popery did
Purgatory? Was Elizabeth zealous for the not mean hostility to Roman doctrine but to

marriage of the Clergy? or had she a Roman jurisdiction.
conscience against the Mass? The Supremacy
of the Pope was the essence of the "Popery"
[…] at the time of the composition of the



The Times, June 16 1864, 12, cited in: Martin J. SVAGLIC, “The Structure of Newman’s Apologia,” in:
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 441-452, at 440.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 73.
Walter E. HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past,” in: NEWMAN, Apologia (ed.
DELAURA) 427-441, at 435.

Houghton’s paraphrase presents the argument more clearly, but what Newman actually
wrote is much more lively. But, Houghton argues, Newman did not chose his mode of
expression merely to enliven an abstract argument – he was dramatically re-creating the
way that argument had originally occurred to him:
Are we to call this merely a rhetorical device to enliven abstract material? Is it not rather
the imaginative re-creation of his own reaction at the time – the excited and irritated
answer he made to himself, talking out loud as anyone does at such a moment?

Another example is a passage where Newman is speaking about his mixed
feelings toward the “extreme” young men who had joined the movement, and adopted
more Rome-friendly views than the movements founders:
Newman’s Text

Houghton’s Paraphrase

Though I neither was so fond (with a few On the one hand, I was not so fond of the
exceptions) of the persons, nor of the methods

persons nor of the methods of thought which

of thought, which belonged to this new school, belonged to this new school, as of the old set.
as of the old set, though I could not trust in As for the persons, I could not trust in their
their firmness of purpose, for, like a swarm of

firmness of purpose, and I felt greater love for

flies, they might come and go, and at length be my old friends. As for the methods, I still
divided and dissipated, yet I had an intense retained my old life-long prejudices and my
sympathy in their object and in the direction in ingrained fears of Rome, and the decision of
which their path lay, in spite of my old friends, my reason and conscience was against her
in spite of my old life-long prejudices. In spite usages. On the other hand, I did have an
of my ingrained fears of Rome, and the intense sympathy in their object, and in the
decision of my reason and conscience against direction in which their path lay because I had
her usages, in spite of my affection for Oxford a secret longing love of Rome, the author of
and Oriel, yet I had a secret longing love of English Christianity, as well as a true devotion

Rome the Mother of English Christianity, and to the blessed Virgin.

I had a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Again Houghton’s paraphrase has more clarity. Newman’s syntax is complex almost to
the point of obscurity. Houghton argues that Newman used the more complex structure
to reflect the very sense of wavering and being pulled back and forth that he is


By means of the following diagram of the structure of Newman’s passage

and of his own paraphrase Houghton illustrates how Newman’s structure contrives to


HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 436.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 133.
HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 430-431.
HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 431.

give the sense of wavering back and forth. Disapproval of the “extreme young men” is
represented by the leftward direction and approval of them by the right:
The Structure of Newman’s Text


The Structure of Houghton’s Paraphrase

The diagram succeeds in showing how the complexity of Newman’s passage,
which can at first appear to be the result of breathless haste and carelessness, is in fact
carefully structured to accurately reflect the state of mind that he is describing. In fact,
one can make the point more generally. It has often noted that Newman’s style in the
Apologia gives a “natural” or “conversational” impression, rather than a studied or
rhetorical one,


we can now see that this impression is in fact the result of very careful

rhetorical craftsmanship.
2. Imagery and Amplification
Newman’s attempt to dramatically re-present the story of the development of a living,
feeling, thinking mind in its struggle with the faith presented him with great difficulties.
Houghton points to a text from one of Newman’s sermons where he himself shows this
The end proposed is that of delineating, or, as it were, painting what the mind sees and
feels: now let us consider what it is to portray duly in form and colour things material,
and we shall surely understand the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of representing
the outline and character, the hues and shades, in which any intellectual view really exists
in the mind, or of giving it that substance and that exactness in detail in which consists its
likeness to the original.

In order to “paint” his mind Newman made much use of metaphor and imagery.
Newman was one was one of the great masters of metaphor, and puts it to exuberant use

in his polemical writings, but his use is more subtle in the Apologia.


HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 431.
HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past”434.
John Henry NEWMAN, Sermons, Chiefly on the Theory of Religious Belief, Preached before the
University of Oxford (London 1843) 263; HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past”
KER, John Henry Newman viii, 549.

An instance of the use of imagery and metaphor comes in the passages where
Newman recalls the effect that reading about the Monophysite and Donatist heresies
had on him. Newman uses a startling image to expresses his sense of surprise at finding
in the study of the Monophysites an argument against Anglicanism:
Here, in the middle of the fifth century, I found, as it seemed to me, Christendom of the
sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries reflected. I saw my face in that mirror, and I was a

The image of suddenly seeing one’s own reflection allows the reader to enter into the
emotional shock that Newman’s reading gave him. Ian Ker has pointed out that part of
the effectiveness of the passage lies in the fact that it makes feel as surprised at our own
interest in “the dim historical events of the early Church” as Newman was at the
Anglicanism of the Monophysites.


From the image of reflection Newman turns to the image of shadow. “The

shadow of the fifth century was on the sixteenth.”
Houghton’s expression


He then “modulates” – to use

– to a different meaning of shadow: “It was like a spirit rising

from the troubled waters of the old world, with the shape and lineaments of the new.” A
little further on, after Newman has seen similar things in the Donatists, he takes up the
same imagery again:
I became excited at the view thus opened upon me […] After a while, I got calm, and at
length the vivid impression upon my imagination faded away. […] I had to determine its
logical value, and its bearing upon my duty. Meanwhile, so far as this was certain,—I had
seen the shadow of a hand upon the wall. It was clear that I had a good deal to learn on
the question of the Churches, and that perhaps some new light was coming upon me. He
who has seen a ghost, cannot be as if he had never seen it. The heavens had opened and
closed again. The thought for the moment had been, "The Church of Rome will be found
right after all;" and then it had vanished. My old convictions remained as before.

The way in which this passage develops and re-enforces the images of light and
shadow, by a pattern of repetition, and alteration between dead and live metaphors, has
been closely analyzed by Houghton.


He shows how Newman first switches back and

forth between abstract idea and imaginative metaphor and then fuses them. In the first
sentence the “view” is taken abstractly, but then in the second – linked to the first by the
transition from “excited” to “calm” – the view becomes a “vivid impression” which
“faded away.” Then we go back to even greater abstraction with “logical value,” before
swinging to the even more imaginative with the ghostly vision of “the shadow of a hand

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 97.
KER, “Introduction” xxviii-xxix.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 97.
HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 433.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 99.
HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 434.

upon the wall.” Then comes a final abstract/metaphorical pair – linked to the first
through the verbs “opened” and “faded” – finding “new light” is followed by seeing the
ghost and the heavens open. Finally dead and live metaphor are fused in the final
sentence in which “it had vanished” refers both to the abstract “view” of Rome and to
the image of the ghost and the opening heavens etc. “Writing of this kind,” Houghton
concludes, “has the fullness and integration of great poetry.”


Sometimes the poetic effect is achieved by allusion to passages from classical
poetry. At the start of the 1830s just as the Whigs had come to power, Newman was
reading up for a book on the Arians. He contrasts what he saw of the early Church with
the present day Church of England:
With the Establishment thus divided and threatened, thus ignorant of its true strength, I
compared that fresh vigorous power of which I was reading in the first centuries. In her
triumphant zeal on behalf of that Primeval Mystery, to which I had had so great a
devotion from my youth, I recognized the movement of my Spiritual Mother. “Incessu
patuit Dea.” The self-conquest of her ascetics, the patience of her martyrs, the irresistible
determination of her bishops, the joyous swing of her advance, both exalted and abashed

“Incessu patuit Dea” is a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid (1.405),



Aeneas recognizes his mother Venus in the grace of her step. By applying Virgil’s
breathtaking description of the sudden revelation of divine Beauty to a more worthy but
less easily described object, Newman allows us to see the true beauty of that object as it
appeared to him.
Perhaps the most famous instance of this technique comes when Newman is
describing how Froude and he were planning their attack on liberalism, while still away
in Italy. Eager to return to England and join the fray, they choose as a motto for a
projected publication series the words of Achilles on returning to battle, “You shall
know the difference, now that I am back again.” (Iliad 18.125)


This allusion not only

magnificently catches Newman and Froude’s mood, it also serves for what R. A. Colby


HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 434.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 37.
Newman is closely following Virgil in the entire passage. Here is Virgil:
“dixit, et avertens rosea cervice refulsit,
ambrosiaque comae divinum vertice odorem
spiravere. pedes vestis defluxit ad imos:
et vera incessu patuit dea. ille ubi matrem
agnovit tali fugientem est voce secutus...”
H.R. Fairclough translates thus:
“As she turned away, her roseate neck flashed bright. From her head her ambrosial tresses breathed
celestial fragrance; down to her feet fell her raiment, and in her step she was revealed a very goddess. He
knew her for his mother, and as she fled pursued her.” (VIRGIL, Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid 1-6. Trans.
H. R. FAIRCLOUGH, (Loeb Classical Library 63, Cambridge 1916) 290-291.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 39-40.

has called “amplification”


– that is to say, it gives a sense of the weight of what they

were doing in starting the Tractarian movement by comparing it to the deeds of great
heroes. Homer’s words “The mightiest were these, and with the mightiest they fought”
(Iliad 1.267) might just as well be applied to the Tractarians, who began a national
movement, lead by some of the greatest thinkers and preachers of the day, against the
seemingly invincible forces of liberalism.
But Colby argues that such allusions have a more fundamental role than mere
amplification; Newman and Froude’s return from Italy mark a turning point in
Newman’s story, and the use of the classical allusion points to a carefully thought out

epic and dramatic structure in the Apologia.

C. Epic and Dramatic Structure
Colby uses Newman’s early study of Aristotle’s Poetics to identify the elements of
classical epic and drama that he used to structure the Apologia. Three main structural
elements are identified, two from epic and one from tragedy: battle-defeat-triumph
(Iliad); voyage-rough seas-arrival (Odyssey);
(Oedipus Rex).



and reversal-discovery-suffering

Colby depends on Martin Svaglic, who had analyzed the first of these

elements in detail. According to Svaglic the element of battle-defeat-triumph is taken
from the biblical idea of the spreading of the truth as a battle. On his account it is
Newman who is “conquered by truth:” “hence the special irony of Kingsley’s charge
that truth for its own sake was not a virtue for Newman.”


But things are a bit more

complicated; for Newman is initially fighting for the truth against liberalism, although
he is mistaken in thinking that the truth lies in the Via Media between Rome and
Protestantism. But then the very reading that he does to prove this view lead to the
discovery that he is really in the camp that he was trying to fight: Anglicanism ends up
being a half-way house toward atheism. At the same time the voyage that he began in
looking for a deeper view of the truth, and that led him through stormy seas of
controversy, ends and he arrives in a safe port.
We can summarize how the three structural elements play out chapter by

chapter, more or less following Colby and Svaglic.



Robert A. COLBY, “The Poetical Struture of Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua,” in: NEWMAN,
Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 452-465, at 455.
COLBY, “The Poetical Struture” 455.
COLBY, “The Poetical Struture” 464-465.
COLBY, “The Poetical Struture” 459.
SVAGLIC, “The Structure of Newman’s Apologia” 447.
COLBY, “The Poetical Struture” 456-460; 463-465.
SVAGLIC, “The Structure of Newman’s Apologia” 447-442.

1. History of my Religious Opinions up to 1833
The battle is gradually prepared. Newman, converted to the central tenants of
Christianity at a young age, falls in love with the Patristic conception of the Church,
which he learns from Anglican authors. He dreams of restoring that vision to the present
day Anglican Church, which he finds weak divided, and at the mercy of the liberals who
are allied with atheists and Papists.
He sails to Italy, the physical voyage foreshadowing the spiritual voyage which
is to follow. But as yet he does not see Rome in its true light. Hearing of the latest
humiliation of his Church at the hands of the Whig government, he had “fierce thoughts
against the liberals.”



He is now eager for the battle: “I began to think that I had a

“Exoriare aliquis:” “let some [avenger] arise.” (Aenead 4.625) “You shall

know the difference, now that I am back again!”
When Froude and Newman leave Rome they bid farewell to Msgr. Nicholas
Wiseman, the future Archbishop of Westminster, who hopes that they will visit Rome a
second time. But Newman has no premonition of what is to come, and answers, “we
have work to do in England.”
movement of 1833.”


The chapter ends with the “the start of the religious


2. History of my Religious Opinions from 1833 to 1839
The next chapter is the chapter of initial triumph. “We prospered and spread.”



supreme confidence in his cause, Newman through his writings and influence sets a
movement in motion that extends itself throughout the country and even beyond:
The Movement and its party-names were known to the police of Italy and to the backwoodmen of America. And so it proceeded, getting stronger and stronger every year, till
it came into collision with the Nation, and that Church of the Nation, which it began by
professing especially to serve.

The collision was to come through Tract 90, in which Newman tries to give a new
reading of the 39 Articles. Newman anticipates the reaction to Tract 90 that he is going
to describe in the next chapter. Tract 90 is going to be condemned by the Bishops,
whom Newman had set out to serve. “My occupation was gone.”



NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 40.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 40.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 40.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 41.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 69.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 70.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 78; cf. SHAKESPEARE, Othello III.iii.357.

3. History of my Religious Opinions from 1839 to 1841
The next chapter brings the crisis. The prose becomes more dynamic as Newman begins
to tell of “the course of that great revolution of mind, which led me to leave my own
home, to which I was bound by so many strong and tender ties.”


At the start of the

chapter Newman is still at the height of his confidence. But then comes the discovery.
“The Long Vacation of 1839 began early,”


he writes ominously. He reads about the

Monophysites and sees his own face reflected in theirs. Hardly was he finished with the
Monophysites, when an even greater blow came through an article by Nicholas
Wiseman. Wiseman cited St. Augustine’s words against the Donatists: “securus judicat
orbis terrarum.” Newman is painfully struck by the words: he had rested his position on
the Fathers, but here was the greatest of the fathers claiming that the Universal Church
judges right. In a flash Newman saw his Via Media theory, which held that antiquity
out-trumped the present voice of the great body of Christians, destroyed:
What a light was hereby thrown upon every controversy in the Church! not that, for the
moment, the multitude may not falter in their judgment,—not that, in the Arian hurricane,
Sees more than can be numbered did not bend before its fury, and fall off from St.
Athanasius,—not that the crowd of Oriental Bishops did not need to be sustained during
the contest by the voice and the eye of St. Leo; but that the deliberate judgment, in which
the whole Church at length rests and acquiesces, is an infallible prescription and a final
sentence against such portions of it as protest and secede.

This is the discovery, and Newman drives it home with powerful imagery:
Who can account for the impressions which are made on him? For a mere sentence, the
words of St. Augustine, struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words
before. To take a familiar instance, they were like the ‘Turn again Whittington’ of the
chime; or, to take a more serious one, they were like the ‘Tolle, lege,—Tolle, lege,’ of the
child, which converted St. Augustine himself. ‘Securus judicat orbis terrarum!’ By those
great words of the ancient Father, the theory of the Via Media was absolutely

He uses the images of Dick Whittington and St. Augustine, rather of figures from Greek
tragedy, because the discovery here is “eucatastrophic” rather than catastrophic.
But still Newman does not quite give up hope in the Anglican position; the
vision fades. His ship is beset by storms, but he still sees cogent arguments against
Rome that prevent him turning. What worries him now are the arguments against
Anglicanism: chiefly that the 39 Articles seem to be inconsistent with Patristic theology.
And so he publishes Tract 90, and the Anglican bishops show their true colors by
condemning it.


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 81.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 96.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 98.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 98-99.

4. History of my Religious Opinions from 1841 to 1845
The next chapter begins in gloom. Newman gives up his position as Vicar of the
University Parish in Oxford and retires to Littlemore, near Oxford. All the imagery is of
death and cessation of activity. The dynamic Prose of the last two chapters gives way to
a slow mournful rhythm: “A death-bed has scarcely a history; it is a tedious decline,
with seasons of rallying and seasons of falling back.”


All he wants is to be allowed to

die in peace, but he is harassed in his retreat by journalists and busybodies of all kinds
who have heard that the famous Mr. Newman is up to no good. “Cowards!” he cries, “if
I advanced one step, you would run away; it is not you that I fear: ‘Di me terrent, et
Jupiter hostis.’”


(Aenead XII.895) Now he is quoting the defiant words of the

threatened Turnus: “the gods [only] I fear, and the enmity of Jupiter.”
The later part of the chapter slowly shifts in imagery from darkness to light, and
from dying to development. For it was in writing his book on development that
Newman again began to see light. He is at last received into the Roman Church by
Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Passionist missionary. The close of the chapter harks back
to the end of chapter one. The Roman Catholic vicariate-Apostolic in which Oxford lies
is that of Nicholas Wiseman. Wiseman calls Newman to himself and then sends him to
Rome. Leaving Littlemore Newman writes to a friend, “it is like going on the open


Newman had left Rome telling Wiseman that he would never return in 1833 –

now it is Wiseman who sends him back.
5. Position of my Mind since 1845
The blissful opening of the last chapter gives the image of the ship coming into port: “it
was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to

this day without interruption.”

D. A Spiritual Aeneid
Commenting on the combination of Iliad and Odyssey themes in the Apologia, Colby
remarks, “it is probably no coincidence that Newman uses more allusions from Virgil

than from Homer, the Aeneid combining the plots of the Odyssey and the Iliad.”


half a century after the publication of the Apologia another convert from Anglicanism,
Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957), a fellow of Newman’s undergraduate college
Trinity, and like Newman one of the most distinguished preachers in the Anglican

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 121.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 138.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 182.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 184
COLBY, “The Poetical Struture” 465, note 5.

Church of his day, published the story of his own conversion under the title A Spiritual
Aenead. Knox was acutely aware of the parallels between himself and Newman



much of what he says about the relation of his book to the Aeneid applies just as well to
the Apologia, and therefore I quote it at length. Considering the home coming theme of
the Odyssey, Knox writes:
I have dared to take my title from a poem even richer in associations. For an Aeneid
involves not merely coming home, but coming home to a place you have never been in
before – one that combines in itself all that you valued in the old home with added
promises of a future that is new. In an Aeneid, as in an Odyssey, you may be driven from
your course; but, to crown the sense of adventure, in an Aeneid you do not even know
where your port lies; you are bidden Ausonium quicumque est, quaerere Thybrim; [5.83]
you must make experiments, hark back to beginnings, throw yourself upon a celestial
guidance. Nor is it, as in an Odyssey, the thought of familiar scenes and remembered
faces that hurries you on when you are tempted to linger, it is a mere sense of mission,
imperiously insistent, that inflames your discontent: cunctus ob Italiam terrarum
clauditur orbis. [2.233]

It is precisely this sense of going toward a home that one has never been before, of
throwing oneself on celestial guidance, and being driven by imperious sense of mission
that suffuses the whole of the Apologia.
It is scarcely necessary to point out the central importance of Rome in both the
Aeneid and the Apologia. Knox writes:
Troy is undisturbed and in a sense unreflective religion; in most lives it is over thrown,
either to be rebuilt or to be replaced. The Greeks are the doubts which overthrow it. The
‘miniature Troy’ of Helenus is the effort to reconstruct that religion exactly as it was.
Carthage is any false goal that, for a time, seems to claim finality. And Rome is Rome.

For Newman Troy would be evangelicalism, the Greeks are the liberals, little Troy is
the early phase of the movement, Carthage is the Via Media, and Rome is Rome.
But the relation between the Aeneid and the Apologia goes even deeper than the
thematic and structural parallels. The key is the allusion to Aeneid 2 in the opening to
chapter III. Chapter III is the turning point of the book, and in its opening Newman
shows what he is really trying to do with the whole work. Let me quote the passage in
And now that I am about to trace, as far as I can, the course of that great revolution of
mind, which led me to leave my own home, to which I was bound by so many strong and
tender ties, I feel overcome with the difficulty of satisfying myself in my account of it,
and have recoiled from the attempt, till the near approach of the day, on which these lines
must be given to the world, forces me to set about the task. For who can know himself,
and the multitude of subtle influences which act upon him? And who can recollect, at the
distance of twenty-five years, all that he once knew about his thoughts and his deeds, and
that, during a portion of his life, when, even at the time his observation, whether of

Evelyn WAUGH, Monsignor Ronald Knox (Boston-Toronto 1959) 161, 300.
Ronald KNOX, A Spiritual Aeneid (London 1918) 1-2.
KNOX, A Spiritual Aeneid, Preface.

himself or of the external world, was less than before or after, by very reason of the
perplexity and dismay which weighed upon him,—when, in spite of the light given to him
according to his need amid his darkness, yet a darkness it emphatically was? And who
can suddenly gird himself to a new and anxious undertaking, which he might be able
indeed to perform well, were full and calm leisure allowed him to look through every
thing that he had written, whether in published works or private letters? yet again,
granting that calm contemplation of the past, in itself so desirable, who can afford to be
leisurely and deliberate, while he practises on himself a cruel operation, the ripping up of
old griefs, and the venturing again upon the ‘infandum dolorem’ of years, in which the
stars of this lower heaven were one by one going out? I could not in cool blood, nor
except upon the imperious call of duty, attempt what I have set myself to do. It is both to
head and heart an extreme trial, thus to analyze what has so long gone by, and to bring
out the results of that examination. I have done various bold things in my life: this is the
boldest: and, were I not sure I should after all succeed in my object, it would be madness
to set about it.

Newman was not exaggerating about the pain that writing the Apologia gave him. His
sensitive and reserved nature really did feel as though it was being ripped into.


But he

sees a value in the operation that is deeply Virgilian. W. E. Houghton points out that the
whole passage echoes the opening of book II of the Aeneid; the allusion to “infandum
dolorem” is supposed to make sure that nobody misses the allusion.


In the passage alluded to, Aeneas has been asked to recount the fall of Troy, and
he is reluctant to recall the piteous sights in which he played no small part:
Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum
eruerint Danai; quaeque ipse miserrima vidi,
et quorum pars magna fui. Quis talia fando
Myrmidonum Dolopumve aut duri miles Ulixi
temperet a lacrimis? Et iam nox umida caelo
praecipitat, suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.
Sed si tantus amor casus cognoscere nostros
et breviter Troiae supremum audire laborem,
quamquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit,
Too deep for words, O queen, is the grief you bid me renew, how the Greeks overthrew
Troy’s wealth and woeful realm – the sights most piteous that I saw myself and wherein I
played no small role. What Myrmidon or Dolopian, or soldier of the stern Ulysses, could
refrain from tears in telling such a tale? And now dewy night is speeding from the sky
and the setting stars counsel sleep. Yet if such is your desire to learn of our disasters, and
in few words to hear of Troy’s last agony, though my mind shudders to remember and
has recoiled in pain, I will begin. (2.1-12)

Now, it would be easy to unfold how Newman has used the Virgilian imagery to
amplify his own predicament, how he matches Aeneas with every shudder, and how
Virgil’s musical line “suadentque cadentia sidera somnos” is chillingly transformed into
“years, in which the stars of this lower heaven were one by one going out.” But what

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 81.
KER, John Henry Newman 543.
HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past” 432-433, including footnote 3.
Trans. FAIRCLOUGH 317.

this passage most of all shows is that Newman was following Virgil at a deeper level;
he was trying to convey the same vision of the deep sadness in greatness of mortal life
in its relation to the divine.
Houghton refers to a passage on Virgil from Newman’s Essay in Aid of a
Grammar of Assent which is of such great help in understanding Newman’s poetic
vision that once again I quote at length:
Passages, which to a boy are but rhetorical common-places, neither better nor worse than
a hundred others which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by heart and thinks
very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in his own flowing versification, at
length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of
life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and
vivid exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of some
chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine hills, have lasted
generation after generation, for thousands of years, with a power over the mind, and a
charm, which the current literature of his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is
utterly unable to rival. Perhaps this is the reason of the medieval opinion about Virgil, as
if a prophet or magician; his single words and phrases, his pathetic half lines, giving
utterance, as the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness, yet hope of better
things, which is the experience of her children in every time.

I think the key ideas here are sadness and hope. Virgil’s sadness is deeper than that of
the other great classical authors because of his hope. Compare the famous line which
Aeneas speaks on seeing the images of Troy, “sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia
tangunt,” (1.462) with Lucretius on the pain of birth, “cui tantum in vita restet transire
malorum” (De Rerum Natura 5.227). Lucretius does not see any meaning in the pains of
birth; his sadness is simply despair at the meaninglessness of life. Virgil sees great
meaning in the fall of Troy – it is ordered to the rise of Rome – and this gives his
sadness a different quality. There is a paradox here. Lucretius’s sadness is shallow,
because he is hopeless, and thus lacks a sense of the nobility of mortal life. Virgil’s
sadness is deep because he sees human life as playing out a meaningful and divinely
guided destiny, his sadness sees the nobility of mortal existence in its very pain and
For Virgil mortal things touch the heart because of a nobility which comes from
their being ordered to something greater than themselves. The Christian Middle Ages
saw Virgil as a prophet because he is practically unique among the pagans in having a
linear, teleological view of history. For Virgil the god’s have destined Rome to great
things, and the role of the hero is to contribute to that destiny. It is this grand hope that
makes Virgil so different from Homer. Homer has an essentially cyclical view of
history; the endless quarrels of the gods go round and round. The role of the hero for

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 78-79; HOUGHTON, “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past”
433, footnote 3.

Homer is simply to win great honor in a harsh world, to achieve lasting fame. There is
no possibility of contributing toward some final goal.
It is Virgil’s view, transformed of course by a far greater hope, that Newman is
trying to express. Newman is trying to “touch the heart” by the portrayal of the nobility
and sadness of mortal existence played out in the attempt to reach for the divine and
strive for the eternal goal. That is where the greatest fascination of the Apologia comes
from – the pathos and nobility of the relation to divine Providence. Everything in the
Apologia serves this goal. The restraint and concentration on the essentials, which, as
Ker points out, give much greater effect to the personal details that are divulged.
brilliant “pen portraits” of various minor characters, analyzed by Colby,




and all the

devices already analyzed here: they all serve the purpose of showing the relation to the
great Divine Plan as the true drama of human life, and that which gives it its true
If Homer has a more sparkling surface than Virgil, Virgil has more depth. I think
a similar point can be made about the Apologia in comparison to Newman’s more
polemical works such as The Present Position of Catholics in England. I cannot agree
with Ian Ker’s position that it is an anomaly that Newman’s literary reputation is based
mainly on the Apologia, since his most original contribution to English letters is found
in the brilliantly funny, sarcastic imagery of the works of controversy.



controversial works are a sparkling, splashing fountain-show of rhetorical brilliance, but
the Virgilian depths of the Apologia present us with a far greater literary achievement.


KER, “Introduction,” to: NEWMAN Apologia, ed. Ian KER xxvii.
COLBY, “The Poetical Struture” 461-463.
Above: Introduction.


A. Special Pleading?
We are now in a position to see that the dramatization of Newman’s journey of faith in
the first four chapters of the Apologia was certainly more than “an enormously elaborate
and ingenious piece of special pleading” to prepare the way for the fifth, as Gates


The Apologia was not merely written to clear Newman’s name so that he

could strike a blow against secularism in such works as The Grammar of Assent; it was
itself a blow. By moving the hearts of his readers through the pathos and nobility of the
relation of his mortal life to divine Providence, Newman was able to mount a challenge
to the prejudices of secular reason. For in his own life Newman can show his readers,
can make “real” to them, a different way in which faith can relate to reason. This way of
presenting his conception of faith and reason itself fits with his idea of the way in which
man actually moves toward the truth. Gates himself quotes a passage from Newman’s
polemic The Tamworth Reading Room that hints at this:
The heart is commonly reached […] by means of direct impressions by the testimony of
facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks
subdue us, deeds inflame us.

Thus David J. DeLaura is able to point out that if Newman can convince the reader,
“literarily,” that his religious experience is subtle, deep, authentic, comprehensive, and
both intellectually and emotionally satisfying, then “half his battle is won,” for the
reader can no longer simply rationalize or psychologize that experience.


Let us now examine the “intellectual satisfaction” of Newman’s “religious
experience.” How does Newman in fact see the relation of faith and reason? How can
he make that relation intelligible to modern man without falling into the trap of letting
secular reason set the terms of the debate, thus ensuring that his solution stays within
the confines of secular reason itself? I want to point out three key elements of
Newman’s solution. The first is an Aristotelian epistemology. Newman developed
Aristotle’s epistemology along his own lines; especially the aspect of it found in the
account of intellectual virtue, which Newman develops particularly in its relation to

GATES, “Newman as a Prose Writer” 78.
GATES, “Newman as a Prose Writer” 81; John Henry NEWMAN, “The Tamworth Reading Room,”
[1841] in: Discussions and Arguments (London, new ed. 1907) 254-305, at 293.
David J. DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy,” in: NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 492503, at 495.

moral virtue, along lines already suggested by Aristotle in the Ethics. In developing this
account Newman deepened it with a very Augustinian sensitivity to the weaknesses of
fallen nature, and a very Butlerian sense of the importance of antecedent probability.
His epistemology is further deepened by bringing it into contact with a further Butlerian
concept, the imperious voice of conscience. Newman’s explication of conscience I take
to be the second element of his synthesis. The third and most important element is
Newman’s account of divine revelation and its handing on in the tradition of the
Church. It is particularly Newman’s “theandric” account of the development of
doctrine, and the harmonious relation between reason and authority of the Church that it
establishes, that enables him to avoid the twin traps of liberalism and enthusiasm. I shall
refer in my account to The Grammar of Assent and the Essay on Development, where
the first two and last elements are respectively unfolded, but I shall try to show that in
the Apologia’s dramatic recreation of how these elements functioned in Newman’s own
life represents a kind of implicit proof of their claims.

B. Platonism, Empiricism, or Aristotelianism?

It has often been said that Newman was born a Platonist.

Speaking of his childhood

Newman writes:
I used to wish the Arabian Tales were true: my imagination ran on unknown influences,
on magical powers, and talismans ... I thought life might be a dream, or I an Angel, and
all this world a deception, my fellow-angels by a playful device concealing themselves
from me, and deceiving me with the semblance of a material world.

This sense of the material world as a veil and a sign of an unseen world, more real and
more important, remained with Newman and deepened all his life. We will see how,
under the influence of the Church Fathers, he developed this insight into his
“sacramental principle.” For his memorial tablet Newman chose the words, “ex umbris
et imaginibus in veritatem:”


out of the shadows and images of the created world to the

beatific vision of Truth Himself. But this is an element of Platonism that, as we have
seen, he shares as much with St. Thomas as with St. Augustine. The question which are
concerned with here is whether his Platonist ontology lead Newman to develop a
Platonist epistemology. Clearly it did not. In the first chapter of the Grammar of Assent
he writes:
All things in the exterior world are unit and individual, and are nothing else; but the mind
not only contemplates those unit realities, as they exist, but has the gift, by an act of


GILLEY, Newman and his Age 8-9; CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 230.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 14.
KER, John Henry Newman 698.

creation, of bringing before it abstractions and generalizations, which have no existence,
no counterpart, out of it.

Knowledge of things is not caused by their ideal forms, but by contemplating the things
themselves, or abstracting universals from them; it is founded, in a word, on experience.
The passage that I have just quoted sounds very Aristotelian, but as we saw there
is another school that claims to found knowledge on experience: the empiricist school of
Locke and Hume. In a short but influential essay, the analytical philosopher and convert
to Catholicism J. M. Cameron (1910-1995) argued that in his epistemology Newman is
really a follower of Hume.


Of course Cameron admits that Newman comes to very

different conclusions than the empiricists, but he claims, “in the process of absorption
what had been taken from [Hume] was […] transformed, not so much in its logical
content as in its logical role.”


He seems to be indicating that Newman accepted

Hume’s principles, but drew different conclusions from them. Cameron is not quite
ready to claim this explicitly (and with good reason). He does say, “Newman’s caste of
mind and intellectual sympathies are, in philosophical matters, always with the
empiricist school.”


Cameron pours elaborate scorn on the idea of Newman as an

Aristotelian. He claims that those who so argue are merely acting from a Thomist
The question of Newman’s orthodoxy having been settled by the conspicuous judgement
of the Church in elevating him to the cardinalate, [Catholic commentators] have thought
it a duty to rebut charges of sophistry and skepticism; and such rebuttals have too often
taken the sad form of arguing that since Newman is theologically orthodox, and since (so
it is commonly believed) there is a necessary connection between theological orthodoxy
and ‘thomist’ metaphysics, then it must be possible to show that au fond Newman is not
far from the ‘thomist’ position […] ‘That three Popes approved of Newman and his
teaching does not prove that Newman was an Aristotelian.’

Cameron is using a rather cheap rhetorical trick here; it is a case of the thief crying
“stop thief!” For it is really Cameron that is trying to force Newman into a position
consonant with his own philosophy. Thus after dismissing all Aristotelian
interpretations, without troubling to examine the arguments for them, he goes on to
dismiss the Grammar of Assent as “somewhat overvalued.”


The Grammar of Assent is

relentlessly Aristotelian from start to finish, and at the end Newman writes, “as to the
intellectual position from which I have contemplated the subject, Aristotle has been my


NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 9.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” passim.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 222.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 220.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 224 with footnote 7, Cameron’s quotes: A. J. BOEKRAAD,
Review of Cardinal Newman Studien 8 (Maynooth 1958) 142.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 223.



Is it not a bit odd that in an essay largely on Newman’s theory of knowledge

Cameron should ignore the most complete statement of that theory that Newman
offered? For Cameron “what is most interesting” in Newman’s philosophy is found in
remarks mad en passant in his works not primarily concerned with philosophy.



the most interesting things end up being (how could it be otherwise?) where Newman
“transcends the common empiricist position” and anticipates the concerns of Cameron’s
own philosophical school: 20th century Analytical Philosophy (along with those of the
other great school of Cameron’s time, Existentialism).


Cameron’s analysis is able to show that Newman had an acute sense of the
power that empiricism had to influence minds. Thus Cameron quotes Newman writing,
It is indeed a great question whether atheism is not as philosophically consistent with the
phenomena of the physical world, as taken by themselves, as the doctrine of a creative
and governing power.

Cameron’s interpretation is that Newman basically accepts Hume’s principles and
concludes that reason cannot draw from the world a conclusion one way or the other as
to whether it has a divine cause. But in many other places Newman is careful to exclude
just such a misunderstanding.
“Logic leads to right conclusions when the principles are write and to wrong
conclusions when the principles started with are wrong.”


Newman wrote those words

with reference to controversy over the following statement from the Apologia:
I came to the conclusion that there was no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism
and Catholicity, and that a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which
it finds itself here below, must embrace either the one or the other.

Newman explained that what he meant was that the same bad principles which lead men
reject the Catholic Church would, if consistently applied, lead them to disbelieve in


Addressing the same topic in a note to the Grammar of Assent he writes, “I have

but argued, that the same sophistry which denies the one may deny the other.”



when he says “it is a great question etc.” he does not mean that it is a question without
an answer; and Hume’s answer comes from assuming false principles.


NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 430; Joshua P. HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism of
John Henry Newman,” in: Modern Age 45 (Fall 2003) 333-342, at 336.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 223.
CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 222.
NEWMAN, Universtity Sermons 186, quoted in: CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 235-236.
John Henry NEWMAN, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman 29, ed. Charles Stephen
DESSAIN et al. (Oxford 1976) 317-318: quoted in: KER, John Henry Newman 726-727.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 156.
KER, John Henry Newman 727.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 500.

Newman sees taking up false principles as a matter of a bad habit of mind, a
wrong approach to thinking. Newman explains that in the Grammar of Assent it is
precisely his intention to sketch out the proper intellectual approach in religious matters:
The multitude of men indeed are not consistent, logical, or thorough; they obey no law in
the course of their religious views; and while they cannot reason without premisses, and
premisses demand first principles […] they do not recognize what this involves […] there
is a certain ethical character, one and the same, a system of first principles, sentiments
and tastes, a mode of viewing the question and of arguing, which is formally and
normally, naturally and divinely, the organum investigandi given us for gaining religious
truth, and which would lead the mind by an infallible succession from the rejection of
atheism to theism, and from theism to Christianity, and from Christianity to Evangelical
Religion, and from these to Catholicity.

Joshua P. Hochschild has shown how Newman developed his conception of this method
out of Aristotle’s treatment of intellectual and moral virtue in the Ethics.


I shall return

to Hochschild’s analysis presently, but I want to begin with a more general comparison
of Aristotle’s approach to thinking and Newman’s.
Aristotle’s views on epistemology and on the right general approach to seeking
the truth are referred to throughout his works; in the Organon, the De Anima, the Ethics,
the Metaphysics etc. And then of course one can see Aristotle’s approach in action, so to
speak, in everything he wrote. A great Aristotelian Thomist of the 20th century, Charles
De Koninck (1906-1965), distilled the Aristotelian approach in his lecture “Three
Sources of Philosophy.”


Discussing Aristotle’s epistemology in which the mind must

“grope in umbra intelligentiae,”


since it is posterior to and dependent on the things it

understands, he writes:
As regards philosophy, the human condition is highly embarrassing. Appetite has so
much more to do with our thinking than reason […] That a man should spend most of his
life in error, and only here and there, after long and much endeavor, catch a glimpse of
the truths philosophy is after is only natural.

That appetite has such a deep affect on our thinking is something that Newman saw
with great clarity. This is why he calls his organum investigandi “a certain ethical
character.” Hochschild quotes a letter from Newman to his publisher in which he wrote,
“My book is to show that a right moral state of mind germinates or even generates good
intellectual principles.”


What are these good intellectual principles?

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 499.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 336-340.
Charles DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy,” in: Proceedings of the American Catholic
Philosophical Association 38 (1964) 13-22. http://www.scribd.com/doc/13716489/three-sources-ofphilosophy (29.07.2010 21:00).
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 18.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 19.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 337, quoting: John Henry NEWMAN, The Letters
and Diaries of John Henry Newman 25, ed. Charles Stephen DESSAIN et al. (Oxford 1973) 51.

De Koninck identifies three key intellectual principles that an Aristotelian
ethical character fosters in Aristotelians. He sums them all up in his sketch of the
intellectual character of Aristotle’s greatest disciple:
In St. Thomas we are constantly aware of a docility toward things, toward the
shortcomings of his own mind, and toward that other source of philosophy, the great
spirits who already know, and even those who have shown us what not to do.

These three intellectual principles all have the character of virtues, they are habits of
mind that lead it to avoid error. I shall now take these three up one by one to show that
they are as important to Newman as to St. Thomas and Aristotle.

C. Three Principles of Newman’s Philosophical Character
1. Docility to the Real
In commenting on Aristotle’s habit of arguing from the way things are commonly
spoken of, St. Thomas writes:
Whatever is peculiar to individuals in their way of speaking seems to arise from the
proper conceptions of each, but what is commonly observed among all would seem to
arise from natural inclination.

De Koninck unfolds the distinction made here. “Common conceptions” arise from an
immediate inclination of nature before any constructive attempt at learning is made. The
constructive endeavor consists in trying to know more determinately what is known
confusedly in common conceptions.


Thus our idea of motion arises from an immediate inclination of nature—we
know that there is motion and can recognize it when we see it. When we try to define
motion, however, we must move away from our immediate experience and abstract the
essential elements of motion. And this is difficult to do. Many of the pre-Socratic
philosophers ended up denying the possibility of motion on the basis of their definitions
of it.


And this shows the danger of learning; “the possibilities of defining something

badly or inadequately are as countless as the ways of missing a target.”


In Aristotle’s

view the Pre-Socratics have committed a capital mistake; for instead of admitting that
their definition of motion must be wrong, they ended up denying what they had set out
to explain. Proper conceptions are supposed to explicate what we know in common
experience, and draw out what is implicit in it, not replace it.

DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 21.
In I de Coelo, lect 2, trans. Fabian R. LARCHER, Pierre H. CONWAY [Slightly modified].
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeCoelo.htm (29.07.2010 22:21); cf. DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of
Philosophy” 13.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 13.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 17.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 14.

An excellent example of the temptation to supplant common conceptions with
proper is provided by Locke’s account of experience that I analyzed above. He defined
experience as the appearance of an idea in the mind, and all the rest of his account of
knowledge is based on that definition. De Koninck points out that by this fateful
substitution an infinite array of “philosophical systems” is possible, each consistent with
itself but not with reality.


The temptation is so strong because proper conceptions are

more clear and manageable than common conceptions are. De Koninck argues that
modern philosophy from Descartes on is essentially concerned with attempting to
establish some “clear” proper conception as absolutely first merely by an act of will. “It
is no wonder that this kind of clarity would eventually lead to the priority of will even
with respect to the truth of what things are.”


It is thus of first importance to the Aristotelian philosopher to remain in contact
with common conceptions, to resolve all his proper conceptions to them. Aristotle
himself is a great example of this, his plodding attention to the obvious is in fact what
many later philosophers found so annoying in him.


Newman is also a great example

of this faithfulness to common conceptions, this “docility to things.” This appears with
particular clarity in Newman’s celebrated distinction between the real and the notional.
The distinction between the real and the notional is somewhat different from the
distinction between common and proper conceptions, but it contains that distinction
virtually while developing it ways which Aristotle did not. In the Grammar of Assent
Newman introduces the distinction between the real and the notional in a passage which
I have already quoted from. I quote it more fully here:
By our apprehension of propositions I mean our imposition of a sense on the terms of
which they are composed. Now what do the terms of a proposition, the subject and
predicate, stand for? Sometimes they stand for certain ideas existing in our own minds,
and for nothing outside of them; sometimes for things simply external to us, brought
home to us through the experiences and informations we have of them. All things in the
exterior world are unit and individual, and are nothing else; but the mind not only
contemplates those unit realities, as they exist, but has the gift, by an act of creation, of
bringing before it abstractions and generalizations, which have no existence, no
counterpart, out of it. Now there are propositions, in which one or both of the terms are
common nouns, as standing for what is abstract, general, and non-existing […] These I
shall call notional propositions, and the apprehension with which we infer or assent to
them, notional. And there are other propositions, which are composed of singular nouns,
and of which the terms stand for things external to us, unit and individual […] and these
I shall call real propositions, and their apprehension real.


DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 16-17.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 17-18.
E.g. Descartes’s annoyance at Aristotle’s discussion of motion: DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of
Philosophy” 17.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 9-10.

Real apprehension is thus something that arises immediately from our concrete
experience, while notional apprehension arises from a deliberate, constructive attempt at
The notional is necessary if knowledge is to advance, but it must never lose
touch with the real:
Each use of propositions has its own excellence and serviceableness, and each has its own
imperfection […] Without the apprehension of notions, we should for ever pace round
one small circle of knowledge; without a firm hold upon things, we shall waste ourselves
in vague speculations. However, real apprehension has the precedence, as being the scope
and end and the test of notional; and the fuller is the mind’s hold upon things or what it
considers such, the more fertile is it in its aspects of them, and the more practical in its

The notional is thus for the sake of explicating and drawing out what is contained in the
real, and it must therefore always remain in touch with the real. This is what I meant by
saying that Newman’s distinction contains the Aristotelian distinction virtually; it is a
guard against “philosophical systems” in De Koninck’s sense. But that is not to say that
the “real” in Newman’s sense is just another word for “common conceptions.”
Common conceptions in the sense in which we have discussed them are general
truths confusedly known in the concrete. They are “the one among the many.” This is
why they are revealed in common speech. In the passage quoted above St. Thomas is
referring to the conception revealed in the common custom of saying all only of three or
more, while both is used to refer to two. De Koninck gives as further examples,
“[conceptions] gathered under the word one, or being, or same.”


These conceptions

arise from a first movement of nature and therefore have absolute certitude. The real for
Newman includes all such conceptions where we are, or think we are, catching hold of
concrete things. Thus for Newman, to apprehend a proposition as real is not reason
enough for us to assent to it, though it inclines us to do so. This difference makes
Newman’s “real” useless for the purposes of demonstrative argument, but it increases
its usefulness in probable argument, and matters of action, a hundred-fold.
Newman’s real has great elasticity. He points out that what might be notional for
one man can be real for another:
The same proposition may […have] a notional sense as used by one man, and a real as
used by another. Thus a schoolboy may perfectly apprehend, and construe with spirit, the
poet’s words, ‘Dum Capitolium scandet cum tacitâ Virgine Pontifex;’ he has seen steep
hills, flights of steps, and processions; he knows what enforced silence is; also he knows
all about the Pontifex Maximus, and the Vestal Virgins; he has an abstract hold upon
every word of the description, yet without the words therefore bringing before him at all
the living image which they would light up in the mind of a contemporary of the poet,

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 34.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 13.

who had seen the fact described, or of a modern historian who had duly informed himself
in the religious phenomena, and by meditation had realized the Roman ceremonial, of the
age of Augustus.

This passage brings up an important point; it is not necessary for real apprehension to
have actual sense experience of the thing in question. It is therefore possible to “realize”
things which were at first only notional. In fact, as Ian Ker points out,



apprehension can be had even of “things” which are not sensible at all. Ker proves this
from the continuation of the text that we have just quoted,
Again, ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patriâ mori,’ is a mere common-place, a terse
expression of abstractions in the mind of the poet himself, if Philippi is to be the index of
his patriotism, whereas it would be the record of experiences, a sovereign dogma, a grand
aspiration, inflaming the imagination, piercing the heart, of a Wallace or a Tell.

The principle of the primacy of the common good enunciated by Horace with merely
notional apprehension, is apprehended really by those who have “experienced” that
principle as concretely embodied in their own lives. This is of vital importance in the
sphere of action, for it is the strength of the real that it impels to action. Newman
explains why this is so:
Of these two modes of apprehending propositions, notional and real, real is the stronger; I
mean by stronger the more vivid and forcible. It is so to be accounted for the very reason
that it is concerned with what is either real or is taken for real; for intellectual ideas
cannot compete in effectiveness with the experience of concrete facts. Various proverbs
and maxims sanction me in so speaking, such as, ‘Facts are stubborn things,’ ‘Experientia
docet,’ ‘Seeing is believing;’ and the popular contrast between theory and practice, reason
and sight, philosophy and faith. Not that real apprehension, as such, impels to action, any
more than notional; but it excites and stimulates the affections and passions, by bringing
facts home to them as motive causes. Thus it indirectly brings about what the
apprehension of large principles, of general laws, or of moral obligations, never could

The assent to real propositions is the guide of action. Theology is both a
speculative and a practical science. Living in a secular age, this double character
presents itself to Newman in way in which it could not to Aristotle, in his pre-Christian
age, or St. Thomas, in his Christian one. In the secular age the claims of Christianity
present themselves as uncertain, but vital for the conduct of our lives. It becomes
therefore a matter of great importance for him to find a way of opening up a way to a
real assent to Christianity:
Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for every thing, we shall never come to action
[…] It is very well as a matter of liberal curiosity and of philosophy to analyze our modes
of thought: but let this come second, and when there is leisure for it, and then our
examinations will in many ways even be subservient to action. But if we commence with

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 10.
KER, John Henry Newman 641.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 10.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 11-12.

scientific knowledge and argumentative proof, or lay any great stress upon it as the basis
of personal Christianity, or attempt to make man moral and religious by libraries and
museums, let us in consistency take chemists for our cooks, and mineralogists for our

We shall presently see what the way he opens up consists in, but first it is important to
notice a certain feature of this passage: “If we insist on proofs for every thing, we shall
never come to action.” The habit of insisting on proofs for everything comes from a
failure to see the limits of the human mind.
2. Man is Not the Measure of Things
On the Aristotelian view the human mind is posterior to and measured by the things that
it knows. Thus it cannot set the terms for its own knowledge, it must accept the degree
of clarity or obscurity demanded by the object. Newman explicitly quotes Aristotle on
this point:
A well-educated man will expect exactness in every class of subject, according as the
nature of the thing admits; for it is much the same mistake to put up with a mathematician
using probabilities, and to require demonstration of an orator.

De Koninck sees the Cartesian tendency to substitute clear proper notions for obscure
common ones as a protest against this necessity of allowing things to dictate the clarity
of our thought to us.


Hochschild quotes a text where the early Newman makes a

similar point about the rationalists, “to Rationalize is to ask for reasons out of place; to

ask improperly how we are to account for certain things.”

Hochschild compares this

to a passage in Aristotle’s Metaphysics on those who deny the principle of
contradiction: “These people demand that a reason shall be given for everything […]
they seek a reason for things for which no reason can be given.”


Their mistake is really to try to make their own minds the measure of reality.
Newman is particularly aware of the danger of applying this way of thinking to revealed
truth. In fact he takes this to be the very essence of religious liberalism. In the Apologia
he defines liberalism thus:
By Liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in
which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any
successful issue, and therefore is out of place. Among such matters are first principles of
whatever kind; and of these the most sacred and momentous are especially to be reckoned
the truths of Revelation. Liberalism then is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment
those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of


NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 95-96.
Nicomachean Ethics I.3 (1094b.20), quoted in: NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 414.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 18-19.
John Henry NEWMAN, On the Introduction of Rationalistic Principles into Religion (Tracts for the
Times 73), quoted in: HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 338.
Metaphysics IV.6 (1011a8-13); HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 339.

claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest
for their reception simply on the external authority of the Divine Word.

Here he exposes the whole project of secular reason: having willfully substituted its
own ideas for reality, secular reason makes itself the measure of all things, including
God Himself.
3. Docility to Human Teachers
It was typical of Descartes that just as he mistrusted the testimony of his senses, so also
he mistrusted all human teachers.


Aristotle, in contrast, always examines the opinions

of other philosophers with great care. A perfect example is the first book of the Physics
where he examines even the wildest speculations of the Pre-Socratics with painstaking
and elaborate care. He is able to learn much from them in his attempt to find proper
conceptions that truly reflect the common conceptions. He learns from the predecessors
what problems his account will have to overcome, what aspects of natural things it will
have to account for, and (by the negative example of their denial of the obvious) what
pitfalls it will have to avoid. If knowledge is gleaned from experience, we can learn
much from the experience of our predecessors. This is the third of the intellectual
principle’s which De Koninck identified, “docility toward […] the great spirits who

already know, and even those who have shown us what not to do.”

Newman was acutely aware of the necessity of learning from the experience of
others. In the Grammar of Assent he quotes Aristotle on this question:
We are bound to give heed to the undemonstrated sayings and opinions of the
experienced and aged, not less than to demonstrations; because, from their having the eye
of experience, they behold the principles of things.

The Apologia is largely a history of Newman’s encounters with persons and writers who
informed his mind, and from whom he developed his own positions.
At his conversion Newman was painfully aware of the fact that his defection
from a cause which he had defended with such conviction would lead many people to
skepticism, to mistrusting all certitude. In the Apologia he describes this problem:
The most oppressive thought, in the whole process of my change of opinion, was the
clear anticipation, verified by the event, that it would issue in the triumph of Liberalism.
Against the Anti-dogmatic principle I had thrown my whole mind; yet now I was doing
more than any one else could do, to promote it. […] How could I ever hope to make [my
friends] believe in a second theology, when I had cheated them in the first? with what


NEWMAN, Apologia, (ed. DELAURA) 218.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 20-21.
DE KONINCK, “Three Sources of Philosophy” 21.
Nicomachean Ethics VI.11 (1143b11-14), quoted in: NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 341; HOCHSCHILD,
“The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 339.

face could I publish a new edition of a dogmatic creed, and ask them to receive it as

He transcribes a letter that he wrote to one of these friends at the time which it is worth
examining in detail, since it gives a clear idea of Newman’s attitude of docility toward
human teachers, even in religious matters, and his justification of that attitude. He
claims that it is our duty to be docile to the “system” in which one finds oneself, that is
to the human teachers whom one happens to come under the guidance of:
Is it not one’s duty, instead of beginning with criticism, to throw oneself generously into
that form of religion which is providentially put before one? Is it right, or is it wrong, to
begin with private judgment? May we not, on the other hand, look for a
blessing through obedience even to an erroneous system, and a guidance even by means
of it out of it?

He goes on to describe the role of conscience in guiding one out of such a system, a
point to which I will return, but know it is of importance to look a bit more closely at
what he means here. A little earlier in the letter he describes what his own course has
As a matter of feeling and of duty I threw myself into the system which I found myself in.
I saw that the English Church had a theological idea or theory as such, and I took it up. I
read Laud on Tradition, and thought it (as I still think it) very masterly. The Anglican
Theory was very distinctive. I admired it and took it on faith. It did not (I think) occur to
me to doubt it; I saw that it was able, and supported by learning, and I felt it was a duty to
maintain it. Further, on looking into Antiquity and reading the Fathers, I saw such
portions of it as I examined, fully confirmed (e.g. the supremacy of Scripture). There was
only one question about which I had a doubt, viz. whether it would work, for it has never
been more than a paper system…

Thus he began not with Cartesian suspicion of his teachers, but with docility to them,
trying to be led to reality through their experience and wisdom, but always measuring
their thought against reality itself.
The whole Apologia is an illustration of how this process works. Newman
follows Evangelical theologians with docility in his youth, absorbing what is real in
their encounter with God, but he measures their conception of conversion with his own
pastoral experience and finds it wanting. He adopts the system of Archbishop Laud and
the Caroline divines, but he finds it only a “paper system.” In the Fathers he sees a
system which has reality, a theology which is embodied in life, and witnessed with the
blood of martyrs:
[To the unreality of Anglicanism] I compared that fresh vigorous power of which I was
reading in the first centuries. In her triumphant zeal on behalf of that Primeval Mystery,
to which I had had so great a devotion from my youth, I recognized the movement of my
Spiritual Mother. “Incessu patuit Dea.” The self-conquest of her ascetics, the patience of

NEWMAN, Apologia, (ed. DELAURA) 160.
NEWMAN, Apologia, (ed. DELAURA) 161-162.
NEWMAN, Apologia, (ed. DELAURA) 161.

her martyrs, the irresistible determination of her bishops, the joyous swing of her
advance, both exalted and abashed me.

He then comes to see that this reality is embodied in his own day in the Roman Catholic
Church. But, as we have seen, real apprehension is not sufficient for real assent.

D. Probability the Guide of Life
1. Probability
Summing up the whole process of his conversion, Newman points to the importance
that probable reasoning played in it:
I say, that I believed in a God on a ground of probability, that I believed in Christianity on
a probability, and that I believed in Catholicism on a probability, and that these three
grounds of probability, distinct from each other of course in subject matter, were still all
of them one and the same in nature of proof, as being probabilities—probabilities of a
special kind, a cumulative, a transcendent probability but still probability; inasmuch as
He who made us has so willed, that in mathematics indeed we should arrive at certitude
by rigid demonstration, but in religious inquiry we should arrive at certitude by
accumulated probabilities.

The “rigid demonstration” of Geometry gives knowledge of which we are absolutely
certain; we know that the interior angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles and
we know that we know it. In the Grammar of Assent Newman points out that we assent
to certain truths which we cannot possibly demonstrate. We assent to them, that is
unconditionally hold them to be true; what is more, we assent to our assent, that is we
are certain of them. Newman gives a number of examples, two of which I want to
The first example is our certitude that Britain is an island. We are absolutely
certain of this, but unless we have our selves circumnavigated it we cannot prove it. If
asked to bring forward arguments, we could bring a number of probable arguments, but
none of these would be sufficient to justify our certitude. Where does that certitude
come from?


The second example that Newman brings is his certainty that the works of
Terence, Virgil, Horace, Livy, and Tacitus, were genuinely from Augustan age, and not
(as a certain author had argued) forgeries from the thirteenth century.
slightly less complex case, suggested by Alfred Noyes,



Let me take a

which illustrates the same

point. A pop-intellectual claims that Spenser’s Faërie Queene and Shakespeare’s
Hamlet were both written by Francis Bacon. A man who has read all three authors

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 37.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 157.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 294-296.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 296-298.
Alfred NOYES, The Opalescent Parrot (Freeport, New York 1968 [1928]) 132-133.

closely for many years, and has attained a real apprehension of their literary style and
color of mind, is absolutely certain that the author of the Faërie Queene did not write
Hamlet, and that the author of the New Atlantis wrote neither. But again, if he is asked
to produce arguments he can only bring a number of probabilities, none of which
justifies his absolute certitude. Why? The problem is that when he produces arguments
he must abstract and enter the realm of the notional, but the concrete fact does not admit
of universal demonstration. His certitude is based on the myriad complexity of a
concrete fact really apprehended, and he cannot translate it into notions that do justice to
the reality.
Thus the “accumulated probabilities” that Newman speaks of as giving him the
certitude arrived at in his religious inquiry, are not a collection of probable, notional
arguments added up till all together they prove what none of them separately can, but
rather the quasi-infinity of probabilities following from the real apprehension of the
The kind of probability that Newman describes as guiding him in the Apologia is
antecedent probability, as used by Butler. He describes how a real apprehension of God
leads him to assent to Divine revelation, how he is then lead from the real apprehension
of Divine revelation to see the antecedent probability of authoritative tradition, how the
real apprehension of authoritative tradition leads him to see the antecedent probability
of development of doctrine, and then how the real apprehension of the development of
doctrine brings him to assent to the truth of the Catholic Church. In the Grammar of
Assent he was to flesh his account out by a consideration of how the real apprehension
of God is derived from conscience.
2. The Illative Sense and Phronesis
Newman calls the intellectual virtue which sanctions assent in concrete matters “the
illative sense.” The mind has the power of controlling its own reasoning and judging
whether to assent. The illative sense is this power perfected by habit.



compares this to what Aristotle calls phronesis or practical wisdom, which Newman
explains as “the faculty which guides the mind in matters of conduct […] directing,

controlling, and determining principle.”

In a footnote he makes the relation to

phronesis more precise:
Though Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, speaks of phronesis as the virtue of the
doxastikon generally, and as being concerned generally with contingent matter (vi. 4), or
what I have called the concrete, and of its function being, as regards that matter,

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 353.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 353-354.

aletheuein toi kataphanai eapophanai (ibid. 3), he does not treat of it in that work in its
general relation to truth and the affirmation of truth, but only as it bears upon ta prakta.

Hochschild gives a convincing account of how to interpret what Newman is saying
here. Newman, Hochschild argues, is saying that Aristotle had in fact included the
illative sense virtually in phronesis, by saying that phronesis is the virtue of the thinking
part of the soul that deals with the contingent or concrete. Aristotle’s phronesis is thus
really meant to include the illative sense, but Aristotle only developed it with respect to

moral action because of the subject of the Ethics.

What is more, Hochschild argues,

Newman is justified in his reading of Aristotle:
Newman has rightly perceived that he is developing the virtue of phronesis in a direction
that Aristotle had already indicated. Introduced as a virtue for guiding action, for
Aristotle it is primarily an intellectual virtue (a perfection of thought), not a moral virtue
(a perfection of desire). Aristotle likens it to “perception” and “judgment,” and it is clear
that phronesis includes nous (“intuition,” “understanding,” sometimes simply “sense”),
the virtue—which is also a part of sophia or wisdom—by which the intellect is able to
grasp undemonstrable truths.

Hochschild considers the whole of The Grammar of Assent to be “the
enthronement of phronesis,” a task complemented by the “enthronement of sophia” in
The Idea of a University.


He therefore concludes that a key part of Newman’s

philosophical project is offering a “reinvigorated articulation of the two central
Aristotelian intellectual virtues.” In the Apologia one of these, phronesis is poetically
brought to life, one might apply the word of St. Thomas,
The poet’s task is to lead us to something virtuous by some excellent description [and this
pertains] to the philosophy of reason, for it belongs to reason to pass from one thing to

E. James Munro Cameron and the Dragon
I have said that the three elements of Newman’s synthesis of faith and reason are an
Aristotelian epistemology, a Butlerian account of conscience, and a theandric theology
of revelation and tradition. Before turning to conscience as the next element, a word is
in order on where the discussion of the first element has brought us with respect to J. M.
Cameron’s idea of Newman as an empiricist. We have seen how Newman recognized in
the disciples of Locke a tendency to disengage the notional from the real, and a
temptation to make human reason the measure of all things. We have also seen that he
proposes another approach to reason, one rooted in docility to the real and in

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 353, footnote 1.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 336-337.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 337.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 337.
In Posteriorum Analyticorum, lect. 1, trans. Fabian R. LARCHER, ed. Joseph KENNY.
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/PostAnalytica.htm#02 (30.07.2010 19:52).

Aristotelian intellectual virtue. What Cameron’s analysis shows is that Newman had an
acute awareness of the danger empiricism, the ease with which the human mind slips
into them, and the difficulty it has in attaining Newman’s solution. To argue from that
that Newman was au fond an empiricist is (to borrow an image from David Foster

Wallace ) a bit like concluding that St. George was eaten by the dragon from the fact
that he was aware of how dangerous it was.
One wonders how Newman himself would have responded to Cameron’s
caricature of the argument given by Catholic authors for his Aristotelianism/Thomism.
Recall that Cameron claimed that the argument concluded to Newman’s
Aristotelianism/Thomism from a supposed necessary connection between theological
orthodoxy and Aristotelian/Thomist philosophy. Perhaps Newman would not have
thought the argument such a bad one, after all he writes in The Idea of A University,
[Aristotle] is the oracle of nature and of truth. While we are men, we cannot help, to a
great extent, being Aristotelians, for the great Master does but analyze the thoughts,
feelings, views, and opinions of human kind. He has told us the meaning of our own
words and ideas, before we were born. In many subject-matters, to think correctly, is to
think like Aristotle; and we are his disciples whether we will or no, though we may not
know it.

Aristotle is the oracle of nature and truth because he was so attentive to those common
conceptions which arise from a movement of nature and ensure our contact with the
real. That being so, it seems that Newman would see a “necessary connection” between
some kind of Aristotelianism and orthodoxy. In one sense though, Cameron is of course
right that Aristotle is not an Aristotelian Thomist. He does not use the technical
language of the authors whom Cameron is ridiculing. Hochschild notices this fact:
Newman communicates Aristotelian ideas, not hardened and familiar in the technical
terminology of scholastic manuals, but renovated and re-imagined in the vigorous
language of his personal style.

But he hastens to add that this makes Newman even more Aristotelian. I think we are
now in a position to give better reasons for this than Hochschild. The danger of the
scholastic manuals is the danger of all philosophy: to disengage proper conceptions
from common conceptions, to make technical definitions the starting point instead of
reality itself. It is a great testimony to J. M. Cameron’s philosophical acumen that he
seems to have recognized this. In a footnote he qualifies his rejection of a Thomist

Wallace uses the image against a similar argument with respect to a completely different thinker:
“Saying that ∞ drove Cantor mad is sort of like mourning St. George’s loss to the dragon: it’s not only
wrong but insulting.” David Foster WALLACE, Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞ (New York
2003) 7.
John Henry NEWMAN, The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated (London, new ed. 1907) 109110; HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 334.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 341.

interpretation of Newman by saying, “I may add, too, that when I speak of ‘thomism’, it
is the ‘thomism’ of the textbooks, not the philosophy of Aquinas, I have in mind.”


F. Conscience and Dogma
Above I quoted Newman as saying that our maker willed that in mathematics we should
arrive at certainty by demonstration, but in religious inquiry by accumulated
probabilities. In the continuation of that passage Newman speaks of God guiding us in
this process:
He has willed, I say, that we should so act, and, as willing it, He co-operates with us in
our acting, and thereby enables us to do that which He wills us to do, and carries us on, if
our will does but co-operate with His, to a certitude which rises higher than the logical
force of our conclusions.

One way in which God exercises this guidance is through the faculty of conscience,
conceived very much along the lines laid out by Bishop Butler.
The process of being lead on by probabilities begins with a real apprehension of
God, this leads to seeing the antecedent probability of revelation etc., and once we have
apprehended the next step conscience compels us to assent to it. But conscience plays a
double role here, for it is conscience through which we attain to a real apprehension of
God in the first place. Newman summarizes this other role of conscience immediately
before the text I have just quoted:
I am a Catholic by virtue of my believing in a God; and if I am asked why I believe in a
God, I answer that […] I feel it impossible [not to believe] in the existence of Him, who
lives as a Personal, All-seeing, All-judging Being in my conscience.

In the Grammar of Assent Newman explains that while conscience has but a single act,
this act has two aspects, which can be considered separately. The first aspect is
conscience as “a moral sense” and “a judgment of the reason.”
appears as “a sense of duty” and a “magisterial dictate.”



In its second aspect it

The first aspect leads me to

see an evil action as wrong, the second authoritatively forbids me from committing it.
It is particularly in the second aspect that, Newman argues, implies a relation to
something exterior:
Conscience does not repose on itself, but vaguely reaches forward to something beyond
self, and dimly discerns a sanction higher than self for its decisions, as is evidenced in
that keen sense of obligation and responsibility which informs them.


CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 224, footnote 7.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 157.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 156.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 105.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 105.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 107.

Newman contrasts conscience with the sense of the beautiful, that sense distinguishes
between beautiful and ugly, just as conscience does between good and evil. The sense
of the beautiful, however, is mainly concerned with admiring objects in themselves,
conscience is primarily concerned with one’s own personal acts.


And conscience

inspires emotions that are associated with personal relation:
If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened, at transgressing the
voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are responsible, before
whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear.

Thus conscience impresses on the mind the sense of a personal judge. Unlike the
notion of God arrived at through demonstrations of his existence, the impression given
us by conscience is real; it is the impression of a concrete person. Newman explains his
receptivity to religious It is on account of this impression that children (at least some
children) are receptive to religious doctrine; they do not receive doctrine as merely
notional, but as making more exact the picture of one whom they feel as a real


They need this doctrines since the impression formed by conscience, while

vivid, is not very clear. The impression and the religious doctrines act on each other
reflexively; the doctrines make persons more attentive to the impression, guard it from
fading, while the impression gives allows a real assent to doctrines, distinct from and
complementary to the notional assent also given to them.


From this Newman makes a point about the relation between the real
apprehension of God and dogma, that is of key importance in understanding the
Apologia. He notices the fact that people often suppose there is an opposition between
dogma and “vital religion.” They consider dogmatic formulations merely “formal,” and
think that holding them makes of religion “religion a matter of words or of logic,
instead of […] the heart.” Newman admits that one way of taking dogmatic formularies
is as notions, but he claims that they can also be used as “as the expression of facts, not


Moreover, these expressions are necessary to the religion of the heart as

denoting the facts both to ourselves and to others. But their main purpose consists in
They are useful in their dogmatic aspect as ascertaining and making clear for us the truths
on which the religious imagination has to rest. Knowledge must ever precede the exercise
of the affections. We feel gratitude and love, we feel indignation and dislike, when we
have the informations actually put before us which are to kindle those several emotions.
We love our parents, as our parents, when we know them to be our parents; we must

NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 107-109.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 109.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 110-116.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 115-121.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 120.

know concerning God, before we can feel love, fear, hope, or trust towards Him.
Devotion must have its objects; those objects, as being supernatural, when not
represented to our senses by material symbols, must be set before the mind in

Thus Newman argues that the idea of a “vital religion” free from the trammels of dogma
is nonsense. The real apprehension of God in conscience is useless without dogma:
The formula, which embodies a dogma for the theologian, readily suggests an object for
the worshipper. It seems a truism to say, yet it is all that I have been saying, that in
religion the imagination and affections should always be under the control of reason.
Theology may stand as a substantive science, though it be without the life of religion; but
religion cannot maintain its ground at all without theology. Sentiment, whether
imaginative or emotional, falls back upon the intellect for its stay, when sense cannot be
called into exercise; and it is in this way that devotion falls back upon dogma.

It is this “truism,” that religious sentiment must be guided by reason, that
Newman shows in his own life as dramatized in the Apologia. He shows how his real
apprehension of God through conscience, impels him, under the guidance of reason and
conscience itself, to assent to the dogmatic creed of Catholicism. The dramatic
representation of his own experience of conscience as appealing to an authority beyond
it constitutes a kind of implicit “argument” for the existence of God, insofar as it invites
the reader to attend to the voice of conscience in himself. Thus, as David J. DeLaura
argues, the Apologia “asks for more—demands more—than mere sympathy and


DeLaura sees in this the explanation for the emotional edge that

continues to haunt criticism of the Apologia, “Its power, its ‘danger,’ remain the fact
that it can, and often does, confront and transform readers.”


On account of this

DeLaura claims that if Newman’s literary power can convince the reader that his
religious experience is subtle, deep, authentic, comprehensive, and both intellectually
and emotionally satisfying, then “half his battle is won,” for the reader can no longer

simply rationalize or psychologize that experience.

But is his experience really so intellectually satisfying? David Hume famously
wrote, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend
to any other office than to serve and obey them.”


J. M. Cameron makes a tongue-in-

cheek comparison between this position and a certain priority of desire over reason that
he sees in Newman: “the ends of human action are for him determined by desire and not


NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 120-121.
NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent 121.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 496.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 496.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 495.
David HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature [1739]. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4705/4705-h/4705h.htm (30.07.2010 21:13); CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 238.

by reason, by passion or by a moral perception refined by grace.”
comparison to be taken seriously,



He does not mean is

but the question remains: isn’t the assent to dogma,

which Newman claims is guidance by reason, really just an irrational act motivated by
Newman’s overpowering desire for a pie in the sky?
In his attack on Newman, Kingsley had claimed that assent to Catholic beliefs is
in itself proof of contempt for reason:
Dr. Newman ‘firmly believes that portions of the true Cross are at Rome and elsewhere,
that the crib of Bethlehem is at Rome,’ &c. And more than all; he thinks it ‘impossible to
withstand the evidence which is brought for the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius,
at Naples, and for the motion of the eyes of the pictures of the Madonna in the Roman
States.’ How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the Morning! But when I read
these outrages upon common sense, what wonder if I said to myself, ‘This man cannot
believe what he is saying?’

On Kingsley’s interpretation Newman’s position that “in religion the
imagination and affections should always be under the control of reason,” is a cloak for
a violent suppression of reason to desire. Kingsley sees Newman as the very worst kind
of enthusiast:
I have tried, as far as I can, to imagine to myself Dr. Newman’s state of mind; and I see
now the possibility of a man’s working himself into that pitch of confusion, that he can
persuade himself, by what seems to him logic, of anything whatsoever which he wishes to
believe; and of his carrying self-deception to such perfection that it becomes a sort of
frantic honesty, in which he is utterly unconscious, not only that he is deceiving others,
but that he is deceiving himself.

It thus becomes a central concern to show how assent to dogma really does constitute
guidance by reason in religious matters, and this involves expounding how divine
revelation is given to the world.

G. Theandric Truth and the Vision of Peace
Jutta Graf, in a thorough and careful study, has shown how central Newman’s theory of
the development of doctrine was to his life and thought.


It was writing his book An

Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, as we have seen, that finally led to his
conversion to Catholic Church. “I saw that the principle of development not only
accounted for certain facts,” Newman writes in the Apologia, “but was in itself a
remarkable philosophical phenomenon, giving a character to the whole course of

CAMERON, “Newman and Empiricism” 238.
He is playing on different senses of the word “reason,” taking it here in a restricted sense used by
Newman in some of his sermons: reason as exemplified in Bacon and Newton (“Newman and
Empiricism” 237). In another essay Cameron discusses Newman’s use of “reason” in a broader sense,
recognizing that in that sense “moral perception refined by grace” is not opposed to reason: J. M.
CAMERON, “The Logic of the Heart” [1957], in: The Night Battle 203-218, at 215-218.
KINGSLEY, “What, then, does Dr. Newman mean?” 324.
KINGSLEY, “What, then, does Dr. Newman mean?” 324.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit passim.


Christian thought.”

And he immediately notices that there is an analogy between this

principle in the life of the Church and “the concatenation of argument by which the
mind ascends from its first to its final religious idea.”


Graf points out that there are two ways in which the development of doctrine in
the Church and in Newman’s own spiritual journey are related. On the one hand, just as
in every development there are principles which remain the same ensure that
development is not corruption, so there are principles in Newman’s religious thought
which perdured through all his development.


But more importantly, those principles

are the very same. Graf explains that the principles of the development of doctrine are a
dogmatic principle, which follows on the fact that revelation is from God and
guarantees immutability within developement, a sacramental principle, which follows
on revelation being entrusted to mortal man in history and which necessitates
development, and finally the principle of an authority capable of ensuring the
authenticity of development.


The first two of these principles were adopted by

Newman early on, and carried him on till he reached his goal. The third he at first held
in a purely negative version, as the conviction that the Roman Church was in the wrong,
it was not till his conversion that he was to find it in the gift of infallibility granted to
the Catholic Church.


Thus by describing his own theological development in the Apologia Newman is
at the same time giving us his theory of development, and thus giving an account of
dogma that he sees as refuting Kingsley’s attack on his rationality.
The first principle of religion that Newman came to hold was the dogmatic
principle. The impression of divinity made by his childhood conscience was faint and in
danger of strangulation till his fifteenth year, when he began to read the Evangelicals, “I
fell under the influences of a definite creed, and received into my intellect impressions
of dogma, which, through God's mercy, have never been effaced or obscured.”



“impressions” Newman means what I explained above; he did received them “as the
expression of facts, not notions,” as confirming and expressing the real apprehension of
God in his soul. The most important of the Evangelical influences on Newman was
Thomas Scott, “to whom (humanly speaking) I almost owe my soul.”


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 156.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 156.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit 29.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit 29-46.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit 45-46.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 16.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 17.


From Scott

Newman adopted a strong faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, and a sense of the
importance of striving for holiness.


Summing up the principles that he held at the start of the Oxford Movement
Newman describes his hold on the dogmatic principle thus:
From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know
no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a
mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery. As well can there be filial love without
the fact of a father, as devotion without the fact of a Supreme Being. What I held in 1816,
I held in 1833, and I hold in 1864. Please God, I shall hold it to the end.

The second principle that Newman adopted was the sacramental principle. In his
first conversion to Evangelicalism Newman saw his relation to God as absolutely
immediate “solus cum solo,” the only source of doctrine was the Bible, as the Word of
God Himself, there was no other mediation between God and creature.


It was when,

as a student at Oxford, Newman read Butler’s Analogy that he began to revise this view.
Butler taught Newman to recognize, “a visible Church, the oracle of truth and a pattern
of sanctity, […] the duties of external religion, and […] the historical character of


Newman writes that two aspects in particular became underlying

principles of his thought. The first is the use of probability that I have already examined.
The second is the basis of the sacramental principle:
The very idea of an analogy between the separate works of God leads to the conclusion
that the system which is of less importance is economically or sacramentally connected
with the more momentous system, and of this conclusion the theory, to which I was
inclined as a boy, viz. the unreality of material phenomena, is an ultimate resolution.

Graf unfolds this text, showing that Newman is indicating that his childhood
impression inclined him to assent to Butler’s theory as more real than the Evangelical,
but that he developed the conception further than Butler had, into a theory of God’s
action in the world, both in nature and in revelation.


Of great help to Newman in

developing this theory was his reading of the Church Fathers.
Newman had been devoted to the Fathers from his youth, but it was not till he
came under the influence of Keble and Froude, who thought the testimony of the
Fathers the basis of the Anglican system, that he began to read them systematically.


Newman became particularly devoted to the Alexandrian school, especially Clement
and Origen,

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 17.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 51.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit 41, 48-51.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 21.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 21.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit 51-52.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 26-33.

Some portions of their teaching, magnificent in themselves, came like music to my
inward ear, as if the response to ideas, which, with little external to encourage them, I had
cherished so long. These were based on the mystical or sacramental principle, and spoke
of the various Economies or Dispensations of the Eternal. I understood these passages to
mean that the exterior world, physical and historical, was but the manifestation to our
senses of realities greater than itself.

These greater realities cannot be fully grasped by the human mind or expressed by
human language, and thus they were first hinted at in allegories and representations:
Nature was a parable: Scripture was an allegory: pagan literature, philosophy, and
mythology, properly understood, were but a preparation for the Gospel. The Greek poets
and sages were in a certain sense prophets; for ‘thoughts beyond their thought to those
high bards were given.’

The revelation in the Old Testament lead the chosen people closer and closer to the
knowledge of the eternal God, but it was merely preparing for the full revelation:
In the fullness of time both Judaism and Paganism had come to nought; the outward
framework, which concealed yet suggested the Living Truth, had never been intended to
last, and it was dissolving under the beams of the Sun of Justice which shone behind it
and through it. The process of change had been slow; it had been done not rashly, but by
rule and measure, ‘at sundry times and in divers manners,’ first one disclosure and then
another, till the whole evangelical doctrine was brought into full manifestation.

Newman was to further develop this idea. The Incarnation was the fullness of
revelation. The Gospel received by the Apostle’s is the full Gospel, but their real
apprehension of it could not be expressed all at once in notionally. To conserve and
defend the Gospel it is constantly necessary to express its teachings notionally, but such
notional expressions can never measure up to the fullness of the idea of revelation
imprinted in the heart of the Church. “And thus room was made for the anticipation of
further and deeper disclosures, of truths still under the veil of the letter, and in their
season to be revealed.”


The final unveiling will come at the end of the world:

The visible world still remains without its divine interpretation; Holy Church in her
sacraments and her hierarchical appointments, will remain, even to the end of the world,
after all but a symbol of those heavenly facts which fill eternity. Her mysteries are but the
expressions in human language of truths to which the human mind is unequal.

This teaching already virtually contained Newman’s whole theory of
development. For, granting that the final unveiling comes at the end of the world, it is
still true that the Church throughout her History developes doctrine in the sense of
drawing out ever new notional expressions for the really apprehended idea of the
Gospel which she holds in her heart.


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 34.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 34.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 34.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 34.

What Newman learned from Keble, Froude, and the Fathers is that revelation is
entrusted to the Church founded on the Apostles and the bishops in their succession.
The real apprehension of the Gospel can only be passed down in the sacramental,
liturgical, and hierarchical community of the Church. No single believer with his Bible
is able to adequately receive revelation. It becomes a problem for Newman whether the
Anglican church is an authentic part of the Church founded on the Apostles. It still has
Bishops, but it tolerates so many Protestant opinions inimical to Newman’s theory. He
tries to rest his case on antiquity; the Anglicans have a continuous succession of bishops
from the time of Augustine, and an (almost) continuous line of High-Church divines
who understood the Anglican Church according to Patristic principles.
The greatest objection to Anglicanism is its lack of universality; it is not
connected to the rest of Christendom. The Church which has the greatest prima facie
claim to universality is the Roman Church, but Newman sees some of its teachings as
irreconcilable with the teachings of the Fathers. He frames the problem in an imaginary
debate between an Anglican and a Roman Catholic:
The Anglican disputant took his stand upon Antiquity or Apostolicity, the Roman upon
Catholicity. The Anglican said to the Roman: ‘There is but One Faith, the Ancient, and
you have not kept to it;’ the Roman retorted: ‘There is but One Church, the Catholic, and
you are out of it.’

But the problem with resting his case on antiquity turns out to be that antiquity judges
against him. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum.” Augustine’s words show Newman that
Catholicity is the trump argument: Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell will not
prevail against the Church is a promise that the Church as a whole will be preserved
from committing herself to error.
They decided ecclesiastical questions on a simpler rule than that of Antiquity; nay, St.
Augustine was one of the prime oracles of Antiquity; here then Antiquity was deciding
against itself. What a light was hereby thrown upon every controversy in the Church! not
that, for the moment, the multitude may not falter in their judgment,—not that, in the
Arian hurricane, Sees more than can be numbered did not bend before its fury, and fall
off from St. Athanasius,—not that the crowd of Oriental Bishops did not need to be
sustained during the contest by the voice and the eye of St. Leo; but that the deliberate
judgment, in which the whole Church at length rests and acquiesces, is an infallible
prescription and a final sentence against such portions of it as protest and secede.

But even after seeing this specter in the mirror, Newman still hesitates, he still
cannot stomach much of the Roman Catholic religion as actually practiced. And it is
only when he turns to a systematic exposition of the development of doctrine that his
doubts disappear. When he considers the Roman doctrine and discipline he finds that all


NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 90-91.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 98.

of it can be explained by the principle of development; the drawing out of ever new
implications of the Gospel as entrusted to the Church.
And then Newman sees the Roman Church as that which he has been looking for
all along: the guarantee of both the dogmatic and sacramental principles. As Graf shows
Newman comes to understand these principles as an unfolding of the mystery of the


Revelation, like the Incarnation itself, is “theandric:” divine and human.


In the Essay on Development he writes, “I will consider the Incarnation the central truth

of the gospel, and the source whence we are to draw out its principles.”

The first

principle that Newman draws out of this is:
The principle of dogma, that is, supernatural truths irrevocably committed to human
language, imperfect because it is human, but definitive and necessary because given from

Just as the God in becoming man retains all his perfection but in his human nature
submits himself to the vicissitudes of mortal life, so the immutable truth, when it is
entrusted to human language has to undergo development.
Following on the principle of dogma Newman draws out a number of other
principles. The correlative of dogma is faith; the truths of revelation, proposed by the
authority of God, can be assented to absolutely. Faith on this understanding is not an
enthusiastic experience, but an act of intellectual assent, founded on the apprehension of
an absolute authority. Thus faith “opens a way for inquiry, comparison and inference,

that is, for science in religion.”

This is the principle of theology: the intellect can

inquire into truths which it assents to on authority; it can show that they do not
contradict the truths it knows by natural reason, it can exclude false interpretations, and
try to reach a deeper understanding of God through them.
The dogmatic principle emphasizes the divine nature of revelation. The
sacramental principle emphasizes that this revelation is entrusted to man. It must be
expressed and mediated in visible forms:
The doctrine of the Incarnation is the announcement of a divine gift conveyed in a
material and visible medium, it being thus that heaven and earth are in the Incarnation
united. That is, it establishes in the very idea of Christianity the sacramental principle as
its characteristic.


GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit esp. 31-34.
GRAF, Von Schatten und Bildern zur Wahrheit 33.
John Henry NEWMAN, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame, Indiana
1989) 324.
NEWMAN, Development of Doctrine 325.
NEWMAN, Development of Doctrine 325.
NEWMAN, Development of Doctrine 325.

One principle that follows from the sacramental nature of revelation is the mystical
sense of Scripture, “Words must be made to express new ideas, and are invested with a
sacramental office.” By the sacramental order man is brought not only to a knowledge
of God, but to a sharing in the Divine Life. This is the principle of grace, by which we
share in the divine life of Christ who has accepted our human life. The principle of
asceticism makes fallen human nature submissive to grace by mortifying it. This is at
the same time “a revelation of the malignity of sin, in corroboration of the forebodings
of conscience.”


Finally, what the incarnation reveals is “that matter is an essential part

of us, and, as well as mind, is capable of sanctification.”

The two principles are preserved by the incarnational structure of the Church.
The Church receives the divine Revelation, and it lives in her through her sacramental
and hierarchical life. Thus Newman recognizes the Church as the “Blessed Vision of
Peace.” His reason can find rest in Her as the locus of theandric truth. Guided by his
intellectual virtue, and by conscience, Newman gained a real apprehension of God, he
assents to this apprehension, he finds the Gospel of the Incarnation consonant with his
apprehension of God, he assent to it draws certitude from the myriad antecedent
probabilities following on a real apprehension of God. From the Incarnation he can
dogmatic and sacramental principles, and is lead on by them to finally assent to the
Church, which the Incarnate God founded to mediate His Grace and Truth to man.
And thus Newman escapes the trap of secular reason. He avoids the pitfall of
enthusiasm in seeing faith as intellectual assent. He avoids the trap of liberalism by
allowing that assent to inform his view of reality, so that he can see matter as “an
essential part of us […] capable of sanctification.”

H. No Medium Between Atheism and Catholicity
In the last chapter of the Apologia Newman writes of the perfect intellectual satisfaction
that he had found:
From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my
religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been
idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no
variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect
peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my
conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not
conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more selfcommand; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and
my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.


NEWMAN, Development of Doctrine 326.
NEWMAN, Development of Doctrine 326.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 184.

Once he gave a real assent to the authority of the Church, his reason had no
difficulty in accepting everything that She taught. He can see a great many difficulties
with religious doctrine, but there is no reason to doubt something because it has
difficulties. He illustrates this with an example from mathematics: one can have
difficulty working out a mathematical problem, but this does not lead one to doubt that
it has an answer, or that a particular answer (supposing a particular answer is given) is
the right one.


Thus Newman admits that the doctrine of transubstantiation is “difficult,

impossible, to imagine,” “but how is it difficult to believe?”

In fact, once the praeambula of faith have been assented to there is no difficulty
in assenting to truths which, by their nature, must transcend the power of human
imagination and intellect. The greatest difficulty, Newman says, is to assent to the
existence of God. And this sheds light on why he had claimed that there is “no medium,
in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity.”


He shows how revealed

religion is both the buttress and the natural complement of natural religion.
Starting with a real apprehension of God in his conscience Newman looks at
“the world of men,”


and seems to see that truth denied. For human civilization

presents itself as such an aimless chaos of random achievement and blind catastrophe,
of contradictory philosophies and wars between nations, and more besides:
The greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain
hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil,
physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading
idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race,
so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, ‘having no hope and without
God in the world[.]’

The effect looking into the world and not seeing God reflected in it gives
Newman the feeling he would have, “if I looked into a mirror, and did not see my


And he sees here a mystery beyond human solution. If there really is a God

men are somehow estranged from him. He compares it to seeing a boy of refined and
noble bearing cast upon the world without anyone to provide for him or any knowledge
of where he came from. “I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with
his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were



Thus he comes to the doctrine of original sin.

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 184.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 185.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 156.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 186.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 186.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 187.

And then he comes to the point of how the authority of the Church—quite apart
from its role in proposing truths above reason—is the buttress of the truth about God
known in natural religion. For how would God intervene to safeguard the truth of his
existence being lost in the pitfalls confronting human thought? Newman asks:
[What] must be the face-to-face antagonist, by which to withstand and baffle the fierce
energy of passion and the all-corroding, all-dissolving scepticism of the intellect in
religious inquiries? 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 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 know that even the unaided reason, when correctly exercised, leads to a
belief in God, […] but 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
a simple unbelief in matters of religion.

Given the “embarrassing condition” of human reason (to use De Koninck’s phrase), and
supposing it to be God’s will to do something about it, what will He do. One solution
would be an infallible authority:
I am far from saying that there was no other way,—but there is nothing to surprise the
mind, if He should think fit to introduce a power into the world, invested with the
prerogative of infallibility in religious matters. […] It would be an instrument suited to
the need; and, when I find that this is the very claim of the Catholic Church, not only do I
feel no difficulty in admitting the idea, but there is a fitness in it, which recommends it to
my mind.

Thus the authority of the Church is a mercy of the Creator. Far from being an
arbitrary power which forces men to submit to doctrines which their reason must know
to be absurd, it is a protection to reason against its own dangers.
And so the alternative hinges on whether one assents to the being of God. The
same intellectual virtues that lead to an assent to the being of God lead to an assent to
the claims of the Church, and the same failings that lead to denying the Church can lead
to denying God.
At the end of the Development of Doctrine Newman makes an appeal to his
reader. It is immediately aimed at Anglicans, but mediately it is an appeal to take the
right side of the alternative between atheism and Christianity. It is worth qoting the
famous passage in full:
Such were the thoughts concerning the ‘Blessed Vision of Peace,’ of one whose longcontinued petition had been that the Most Merciful would not despise the work of His
own Hands, nor leave him to himself;—while yet his eyes were dim, and his breast laden,
and he could but employ Reason in the things of Faith. And now, dear Reader, time is
short, eternity is long. Put not from you what you have here found; regard it not as mere
matter of present controversy; set not out resolved to refute it, and looking about for the
best way of doing so; seduce not yourself with the imagination that it comes of
disappointment, or disgust, or restlessness, or wounded feeling, or undue sensibility, or

NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 187.
NEWMAN, Apologia (ed. DELAURA) 189

other weakness. Wrap not yourself round in the associations of years past, nor determine
that to be truth which you wish to be so, nor make an idol of cherished anticipations.
Time is short, eternity is long.



It is the salvation which he had seen with his eyes that Newman proposes also to
the readers of the Apologia, urging them to pass from delusion to truth: ex umbris et
imaginibus in veritatem.


NEWMAN, Development of Doctrine 445.


In terms of its immediate intention the Apologia was a tremendous success. Newman
was fully vindicated against Kingsley’s charges. Kingsley did not reply to the


and in fact he his health broke down, and did not recover for a full year.


The Apologia was an instant best-seller, and it pleased both Anglican and Catholic

readers, though it also find critics in both groups.

Anglican readers where pleased by

the gentleness with which Newman describes his old friends, and the publication of the
Apologia began a slow process in which many of Newman’s old friends, who had
broken with him at his conversion, took up relations with him again.


Newman became

a national figure again. On his elevation to the College of Cardinals, fifteen years after
the publication of the Apologia, a friend of his, coming out of a Catholic church in
London, was approached by a workman who said:
Are you Catholic? Is this Cardinal Newman’s church? Do you know him? Tell him the
workmen of England are rejoiced that the Pope has done so good a deed as to make him a

The anecdote was remarkable in showing how much Newman had done to erode
popular anti-Catholicism.
The subtle exposition of the relation between the authority of the Church and

human reason and faith, was, as Ker shows in his analysis,

partly aimed at Newman’s

fellow Catholics. Newman’s theology had only a mixed success among the Catholics of
his own day, being violently attacked by extreme ultra-montanes, but it had a lasting
influence on Catholic Theology.


As MacIntyre shows Newman’s achievements were able to open up a way of
ending the “Catholic absence from philosophy.”


But, as MacIntyre also points out, the

return of Catholic philosophy was attended by risks. The ease with which thinkers have
been coopted by those whom they attempted to convince, and found themselves back in
the net of secular reason, is eloquent testimony to the difficulty of the task.


Towards the those caught in secular reason Newman shows a way of allowing
faith to be harmonized with their reason. But, while Newman suggests a different, view

CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 235.
CHITTY, The Beast and the Monk 238.
KER, John Henry Newman 560-561.
KER, John Henry Newman esp. ch. 15.
KER, John Henry Newman 723.
KER, John Henry Newman 549-558.
KER, “Introduction” xxxi.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities 136 seq.
MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy, Universities esp. 179-180.

of reality, a view informed by the participatory Platonism of the Fathers, he does little to
flesh it out. Newman does not work out a full ontology. He suggests that there is rival to
the nominalism of secular reason, but he does not address the roots of secular reason’s
own nominalism. We will look in vain in Newman for an explicit critique of Baconian
ambition, showing how nominalist contempt for truth and goodness became deeply
impressed in Western culture. Newman’s strength lies in his literary power; he
challenges the secular reader to question his assumptions, but he does not show the
reader what the root of those assumptions is.
Secularism has proceeded ever faster in the century and a half since the
publication of the Apologia. But as the late David J. DeLaura (1930-2005), one of the
most distinguished American scholars of Victorian literature, suggested the Apologia
has stood as a “prophecy” challenging “the complacent secularism of the modern

world.” .
The continuing emotional edge to criticisms of the Apologia shows, DeLaura
argues, that readers have felt its “danger.”


DeLaura discusses various strategies which

secular literati in the twentieth century have used to try to escape this danger, without
having to deny Newman’s evident literary power. The chief strategy is
“aestheticization:” Newman’s work allows a “suspension of belief” in which one “sees
the world as he sees it.” We have already seen an example of this strategy in the passage
by Lytton Strachey cited in the introduction, where Strachey tries to consider Newman
purely as a great artist, while insulating himself from the challenge which Newman
gives. But the emotional edge to writings about Newman shows that this strategy has
not been very successful. For the Apologia, “asks for more—demands more—than mere

sympathy and understanding.”

Suspension of disbelief does not work with Newman,

because as soon as one allows the “literary and imaginative appeal” of his work to affect

one, one has invited the religious question in.

DeLaura places Newman along with Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and T.S. Eliot,
as a prophet against the secular world, whose power continues to challenge it.


At the

very least, the magnitude of Newman’s endowments make it difficult for the secular
humanist with literary sensibilities to be quite so dismissive of the religion to which
Newman was committed.


That, I suppose, is some sort of victory. But far more

DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 498.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 493.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 496.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 495.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 498.
DELAURA, “Newman’s Apologia as Prophecy” 497.

important is the victory represented by those (and while a minority, they are not few)
who have succumbed to the “danger” of Newman and allowed themselves to be
transformed by his book, and have followed the path he marked out. They have “felt the
difference” that Newman made in the battle, and they can say to him what Dante says to
Virgil: “Tu se’ lo mio maestro e ’l mio autore:” “thou art my master, and my author
thou!” (Inferno 1.87)



Trans. Henry Wadsworth LONGFELLOW, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri 1 (Boston 1867) 4.


In a letter to Mortimer Adler, Charles De Koninck discusses the uselessness of trying to
argue with modern philosophers. They have concealed the principles of their thought
from themselves. They consider univocism, voluntarism, and nominalism, as simply
given for reason; they do not consider that their view is in fact the result of a decision to
pursue power instead of truth. Thus the true philosopher can never come to any real
meeting of minds with his adversary. “Throughout the modern period,” he writes, “true
philosophy has led a hidden life. Cajetan, for instance, and John of St. Thomas, who did

very little about their times.”

they do?”

He sees no solution to this problem: “What else could

I want to suggest that partly through the influence of Newman, but also

because of developments in “postmodern” philosophy a possibility might be arising
which De Koninck did not anticipate.
Hochschild’s analysis of Newman’s Aristotelianism is in the service of an
attempt to propose Newman as an example for North American “conservatives.” I am
afraid this is a Quixotic endeavor. Hochschild’s argument is that the “conservative
mind” arose in reaction to the Enlightenment, that the mistake of Enlightenment
epistemology was contempt for tradition, that therefore “conservatives” have to
formulate a counter-epistemology showing the importance of tradition, and that
Newman’s “re-imagened Aristotelianism” provides just such a counter-epistemology.


But to see the conservative mind as permanently in “reaction to Enlightenment
innovation” is to ignore the way in which conservatism has developed since the days of
Dr. Johnson. If 18th century conservatism was a tragedy, 21st century conservatism is a
farce. The philosophy which Dr. Johnson rightly saw as “a negation of all principle,” is
embodied in and guarded by liberal democracy and industrial capitalism. And surely no
political movement today is so committed to democracy and capitalism than North
American conservatism.
There is only one political movement since the 19th century that has launched
anything like a serious attack on capitalism and democracy, but it is a movement which,
far from providing an escape from secular reason’s contempt for truth and goodness,
provides an exaggeration and a kind of reductio ad absurdum of secular reason: Marxist
Communism. Marx was acutely aware of the enslavement and alienation of man caused
by “liberal” capitalism. He sought the solution in a world revolution which would free

DE KONINCK, Letter to Mortimer Adler.
DE KONINCK, Letter to Mortimer Adler.
HOCHSCHILD, “The Re-Imagined Aristotelianism” 340-341.

man from his self-alienation in the commodity. But Marx’s solution is in fact merely a
more consistent application of the principles of liberalism. In dialectical materialism the
Baconian ambition for power over nature is brought to its ultimate limit; freed from
Cartesian dualism Marx can see the domination of matter by man as the extension of
man himself: reality itself becomes makeable; man starts by alienating himself in the
commodity, but the dialectical negation of that alienation ends by making the world
nothing other than an extension of man. Man becomes “all in all” (cf. 1 Corinthians


Instead of pantheism we have pan-anthropism; not an abstract pan-anthropism

like Fichte’s but one with consequences, a materialist pan-anthropism.
Marx’s vision was so intellectually satisfying because it provided something like
wisdom. Dialectical materialism provided an escape from the inevitable fragmentation
of Enlightenment knowledge; for every science could be related to the over-arching
history of the dialectical self-negation of matter.
But communism did not work. Instead of replacing the individual good of
capitalism with a common good, a good which by its excellence could be participated in
by all, it replaced it with a totalitarian private good; a good which was in fact the good
of no-one the good of “the species.” The goal of Marxist dialectics was to eventually

make the individual identical to this species,

but of course real communism never got

to that point, it stopped at the totalitarian alienation of the good to the abstract
individual of the “transitional” state.
The advantage of capitalism is that it works. Because it appeals to the lower
parts of man it is addictive. The supposed “freedom” of the individual is in fact
admirably suited to enslaving the individual to his passions. The best description of how
this works is David Foster Wallace’s horrifying, terrifying novel Infinite Jest.



world of Infinite Jest is the world of late capitalism; a world in which everyone is
alienated and enslaved, knows that he is alienated and enslaved, but keeps on doing
what alienates and enslaves him. Every attempt to escape is itself integrated into the
system. Just as Wallace’s addicts try to free themselves from the problems caused by
“the substance” by recourse to that very substance, so, as Slavoj Žižek never tires of


Charles De KONINCK, On the Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists, and the
Principle of the New Order, Apendix V [1943], The Writings of Charles De Koninck 2, ed. and trans.
Ralph MACINERY (Notre Dame 2009) 143-147.
De KONINCK, On the Primacy of the Common Good 105-108.
David Foster WALLACE, Infinite Jest (New York [1996] 2006).

pointing out, anti-capitalist revolutionary gesturing has itself become a capitalist


Friedrich Nietzsche had seen through the supposed rationality of the
Enlightenment. As MacIntyre points out, Nietzsche’s claims about the priority of will
over intellect, while nonsense if they are taken universally, are an accurate description
of what “reasonable” discourse had become in the Enlightenment.


Nietzsche (at least

some of the time) saw his discovery as liberating; there was an excitement to the idea of
the strong man who gave up the pretence of reason and imposed his power on the world.
In the wake of the totalitarian horrors of Nazism and Stalinism, French “leftNietzscheans” could no longer delight in the worship of violence. Postmodern
philosophy was born out of the desire to overcome the violence of Enlightenment
reason without falling into the violence of totalitarianism. The solution was to replace
the implicit nihilism of secular reason with an explicit nihilism; not power was to be
worshiped but weakness, not unity but plurality. Jacques Derrida’s (1930-2004)
famous/infamous maxim “there is no ‘outside the text’”


gives the key to how this

philosophy worked. The text is not a medium through which an author signifies
something about reality. There is no author and no reality, for both come to us only
through the text and the text is the not-quite successful attempt at imposing meaning
through arbitrary power. Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998) argued that “metanarratives” the stories imposed to give meaning to the whole of reality had to be
abandoned. Let the attempt to impose a unitary meaning be given up! Let everyone tell
his own little story! Let us rejoice in the infinite variety and heterogeneity of life! Thus
“pluralism” became the greatest of goods and “tolerance” the greatest of virtues.


The problem with the postmodernism is that it violently imposes its own metanarrative of no imposition of meta-narratives. The imposition of “politically correct
language” (i.e. language which does not contradict the postmodern meta-narrative of
pluralism) is particularly violent because its imposers cannot even pretend that they are
appealing to some rational standard; that would destroy their philosophy.
Nowadays the avant-garde of continental philosophy is dissatisfied with
postmodernism. Postmodernism is seen as playing into the hands of late capitalism. The

E.g.: Slavoj ŽIŽEK, “First as Tragedy, then as Farce,” lecture at the Royal Society for the
encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, March 10, 2010.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvakA-DF6Hc (02.08.2010 20:26).
MACINTYRE, After Virtue ch. 9.
Quoted in: Peter ENGELMANN, “Einführung” to Peter ENGELMANN (ed.), Postmoderne und
Dekonstruktion: Texte Französischer Philosophen der Gegenwart (Stuttgart 1990) 21.
ENGELMANN, “Einführung” passim; Gerard LOUGHLIN, “‘To Live and Die Upon a Dogma’: Newman
and Post/Modern Faith.” New Blackfriars 84.986 (2003) 179-98, at 184-187.

postmodern man is completely at the mercy of late capitalist appeals to his lower nature,
precisely because he cannot prop his resistance up with any meta-narrative. One of the
terrorists in Infinite Jest, Rémy Marathe, discusses this in a scene where he is arguing
with Steeply, an American secret agent, about the American capitalist life style.
Marathe argues that one has to worship something. “Chose your temple well,” he says,
because “all other of you say free choices follow from this.”


The sting of his remark

lies in the fact that Steepley is after him because Marathe’s terrorist group has begun
distributing a movie so addictively entertaining that the Americans are afraid it is going
to incapacitate the nation. Marathe suggests that if the Americans knew what to worship
they would not be so afraid of not being able to resist “the supposed entertainment.”
Steeply tries to launch a sort of pop-postmodern defense of freedom untrammeled by
devotion to any higher ideal. Marathe insists this cannot work:
‘Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective,
narrow self’s sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are
by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself.’ A silence ensued this.

It is no surprise that the exaltation of plurality and meaninglessness should issue
in the alienation of being a citizen of nothing. It precisely as reaction to this impasse
that one can understand the so-called “theological turn” in contemporary philosophy.
Whether they want to consider themselves theists (Gianni Vattimo) or atheists (Alain
Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Žižek) the avant garde “turn to theology for help.”


How theology is integrated into philosophy varies much among these thinkers, but in
general one can say that “paradoxical” aspects of Christianity are employed to try to
save nihilism from leading to the unmotivated alienation described by Wallace.
Nihilism itself is not challenged. Now, in itself this theological turn would not be very
interesting—just one more Hegel-style attempt at misappropriating Christianity for a
secular philosophy (perhaps a bit more blasphemous than other such attempts). But the
theological turn has lead to a debate with considerable points of interest.
Since the death of Derrida in 2004 his place as the most celebrated living
philosopher has been taken by one of his severest critics, the Lacanian-Hegelian neoMarxist Slavoj Žižek. Žižek is, in fact, “not only the most famous living philosopher,
but perhaps the only properly famous living philosopher.”


Žižek’s theological turn

began in the late 90s. Since then he has published several books on Christianity, as well

WALLACE, Infinite Jest 107.
WALLACE, Infinite Jest 108.
John D. CAPUTO, Review of The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, by Slavoj Žižek and
John Milbank, Creston Davis (ed.), in: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2009).
http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=17605 (02.08.2010 21:06).
Adam KOTSKO, Žižek and Theology (London-New York 2008) 1.

as referring to theological themes in much of his other work.


In 2009 a debate was

published between Žižek and the High Church Anglican theologian, John Milbank.



his part of the book Žižek summarizes a passage from Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg
Lecture. I think it is worth quoting the passage its original form:
This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has
nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and
rejecting the insights of the modern age. […] The intention here is […to] overcome the
self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and […to] once more
disclose its vast horizons. […] The West has long been endangered by […] aversion to
the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The
courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is
the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of
our time.

Žižek sees with remarkable clarity what Pope Benedict is saying in this passage:
The ‘reason’ of which the Pope speaks is a reason for which [...] modern science itself
[...] is irrational. The ‘reason’ of which the Pope speaks is the premodern teleological
Reason, the view of the universe as a harmonious Whole in which everything serves a
higher purpose.

And then Žižek makes a key move; he examines the root of the difference between
premodern and modern reason and finds it in “the ‘voluntarist’ idea elaborated by,
among others, Duns Scotus and Descartes.”


Žižek rejects Pope Benedict’s vision of reason, claiming that the true meaning of
Christianity can only be found in another view. He finds this other view in Jacques
Lacan’s (1901-1981) idea of the “non-All” (pas-Tout). Instead of grounding reason in
“the unexplainable X who enables us to explain everything,” he grounds it in the idea
that material reality is “non-All,” radically incomplete in itself.


And in this he sees the

true essence of Christianity: Christ’s death on the cross reveals that “there is no big


guaranteeing reality. Reality has no secure foundation. And this reveals man’s

freedom, indeed his divinity, to himself. Since reality is incomplete man is not
determined by it (neither by God nor by a complete physical universe). And in this
Žižek sees Christanity as the key to escaping from the postmodern capitulation to
capitalism. For, the radical freedom revealed in the cross opens up the possibility of
“renewing all things in Christ;” no longer determined by “the law” (i.e. a complete
reality) man can remake things in a radically new way. The community of the Holy

KOTSKO, Žižek and Theology 1-2.
Slavoj ŽIŽEK and John MILBANK, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, ed. Creston
DAVIS (Boston-London 2009).
BENEDICT XVI, Regensburg Lecture; cf. ŽIŽEK, MILBANK, The Monstrosity of Christ 83.
ŽIŽEK, MILBANK, The Monstrosity of Christ 84. Use of capitals sic.
ŽIŽEK, MILBANK, The Monstrosity of Christ 84.
ŽIŽEK, MILBANK, The Monstrosity of Christ 88-93.
ŽIŽEK, MILBANK, The Monstrosity of Christ 76.

Spirit (those who have realized their freedom from the law) can proceed to throw off
their enslavement to capital in a “Pauline-Marxist” revolution.
But this sophistical neo-Hegelian blasphemy is beside the point—the point is
that in Žižek we have modern philosopher that De Koninck could talk to; one who does
not conceal the implicit principles of secular reason from himself. For Milbank, the
theologian who is talking to Žižek, this represents a kind of breakthrough. In his
excellent review of Monstrosity of Christ Dan Miller explains why:
Žižek accepts Milbank’s historical meta-narrative concerning the divergence between a
Catholic metaphysics of analogical participation in the divine and a Protestant/nominalist
intellectual shift which ultimately culminates in a secular death-of-God voluntarism. The
point of divergence lies in the fact that Žižek proudly embraces the Protestant/nominalist
position opposed by Milbank […] This divergence marks one of the most valuable
aspects of the text: Milbank is accustomed to responses rejecting his meta-narrative[…]

Milbank’s meta-narrative can be seen as a re-formulation of Newman’s
alternative between Catholicism and atheism. In fact, Milbank is heavily influenced by
Newman. As a High Church Anglican Milbank is steeped in Tractarian theology, but he
is also influenced by the use of Newman made by Alasdair MacIntyre.


MacIntyre had

used Newman’s unfolding of the workings of traditions in An Essay on the Development
of Christian Doctrine to mould is own view of the workings of tradition on which his
scathing critique of the Enlightenment in After Virtue is based.


Milbank took

MacIntyre’s critique of the Enlightenment further. While MacIntyre focuses on moral
philosophy, Milbank brings a sensitivity to ontological questions, and an insight into the
nature of nominalism and voluntarism.


In Milbank’s first major book Theology and

Social Theory he developed an account of secular reason uncovering its inevitable


He ends with a rhetorical flourish that is modeled on the appeal at the end of

Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine:


Dan Miller, Review of The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, by Slavoj Žižek and John
Milbank, Creston Davis (ed.), in: Sophia 49 (2010) 165-167, at 166-167.
http://www.springerlink.com/content/h845263xx6422251/fulltext.pdf (03.08.2010 21:40).
MILBANK, Theology and Social Theory viii; for an account of the relation of Newman to Milbank’s
school “Radical Orthodoxy” see: LOUGHLIN, “To Live and Die Upon a Dogma” 194-196.
MACINTYRE, After Virtue xii.
MacIntyre gives a surprisingly irenic view of Scotus and Ockham in: MACINTYRE, God, Philosophy,
Universities ch. 12.
While I am in sympathy with the overall intention of Milbank’s meta-narrative, I do not think that
Milbank has a sufficient grasp of the Catholic alternative to nihilism (he is, after all, still an Anglican).
For an excellent Catholic perspective on Milbank’s project see: Javier MARTÍNEZ, “Beyond Secular
Reason: Some Contemporary Challenges for the Life and the Thought of the Church, as Seen from the
West.” Lecture at the Conference “Orthodox Theology and the West in the XXth Century: History of a
Meeting” (Bergamo 2004).
http://theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/papers/Archbishop_BeyondSecularReason.pdf (04.08.2010 07:32).
I also think that Milbank concedes too much to the postmodern critique of reason; he is insufficiently

[The] Catholic vision of ontological peace now provides the only alternative to a nihilistic
outlook. Even today, in the midst of the self-torturing circle of secular reason, there can
open to view again a series with which it is in no ontological continuity: the emanation of
harmonious difference, the exodus of new generations, the diagonal ascent, the path of
peaceful flight…

If Milbank’s alternative is a reformulation of Newman, some of the responses to
it sound like a re-formulation of Kingsley. In his review of Monstrosity of Christ John
Caputo writes:
Milbank and the authors who swim around him in the ‘school’ of ‘Radical Orthodoxy’
flatter themselves with the insufferable conceit that the entire world may be divided into
either medieval Thomistic metaphysicians— or nihilists! They remind us, in case we
might have forgotten, why no one trusts theology.

I end by quoting the passage of Kingsley of which I am reminded; for Kingsley has
played the thankless role of villain in our drama, and it is gracious to give him the last
word; it is a word singularly inapplicable to Newman, but it is quite applicable to
Kingsley himself, as to so many others caught in the net of secular reason:
When I read these outrages upon common sense, what wonder if I said to myself, ‘This
man cannot believe what he is saying?’ I believe I was wrong […] I see now the
possibility of a man[, …] by what seems to him logic, […] carrying self-deception to
such perfection that […] he is utterly unconscious, not only that he is deceiving others,
but that he is deceiving himself.


MILBANK, Theology and Social Theory 442.
CAPUTO, Review of The Monstrosity of Christ.
KINGSLEY, “What, then, does Dr. Newman mean?” 324.


A. John Henry Newman’s Works
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An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Notre Dame, Indiana, 6th ed. 1989.
Apologia Pro Vita Sua: An Authoritative Text, Basic Texts of the Newman-Kingsley
Controversy, Origin and Reception of the Apologia, Essays in Criticism, ed.
David J. DeLaura. Norton Critical Editions, New York 1968.
Apologia pro Vita Sua, ed. Ian Ker. London 1995.
Discussions and Arguments. London, new ed. 1907.
Essays Critical and Historical 1. London, new ed. 1907.
The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated. London, new ed. 1907.
Sermons, Chiefly on the Theory of Religious Belief, Preached before the University of
Oxford. London 1843.

B. Studies of Newman
Barry, William, Newman, Literary Lives, ed. Robertson Nicoll, New York 1904.
Blehl, S.J., Vincent Ferrer, “Early Criticism of the Apologia”, in: Newman, Apologia,
ed. DeLaura (q.v.) 409-419.
Cameron, J.M., “Newman and Empiricism” [1960], in: The Night Battle. London 1962,
Forte, Bruno, “Historia Veritatis,” in: Ker, Ian, Merrrigan, Terrence (edd.), Newman
and Faith. Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs 31, Leuven 2000, 7592.
Gates, Lewis E., “Newman as a Prose Writer,” in: Three Studies in Literature. New
York 1899, 64-123.
Gilley, Sheridan, Newman and his Age. London, 2nd ed. 2003.
Houghton, Walter E., “The Issue Between Kingsley and Newman,” in: Newman,
Apologia, ed. DeLaura (q.v.) 390-409.
Houghton, Walter E., “Style and the Dramatic Re-creation of the Past,” in: Newman,
Apologia, ed. DeLaura (q.v.) 427-441.
Ker, Ian, “Introduction,” in: Newman, Apologia, ed. Ker (q.v.) xi-xxxiv.
Ker, Ian, John Henry Newman. Oxford – New York, 2nd ed. 2009.
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De Laura (q.v.) 310-340
Loughlin, Gerard, “‘To Live and Die Upon a Dogma’: Newman and Post/Modern
Faith.” New Blackfriars 84.986 (2003) 179-98.
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DeLaura (q.v.) 373-387.
Svaglic, Martin J., “The Structure of Newman’s Apologia,” in: Newman, Apologia, ed.
DeLaura (q.v.) 441-452.

D. Other Works Cited
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Benedict XVI, Pope, Spe salvi. Rome 2007.

Benedict XVI, Pope, “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections.”
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Boswell, James, The Life of Dr. Johnson, ed. Wormersly, David. London 2008.
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Collinson, Andrew, “England IV: Reformationszeit,” in: Theologische
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Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri 1. Trans. Longfellow, Henry
Wadsworth. Boston 1867.
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Kennington, Richard, On Modern Origins: Essays in Early Modern Philosophy, ed.
Pamela Kraus and Frank Hunt, Lanham 2004.
Kingsley, Charles, Miscelanies Vol. II. Cambridge-London 1863.
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1983 in Rom geboren und getauft. 1984-1988 Wohnhaft in Boston (Massachusetts);
1988-1993 und 1994-1996 in South Bend (Indiana); 1993-1994 in Tübingen (BadenWürttemberg); 1996-2002 in Gaming (Niederösterreich); 2002-2006 in Santa Paula
“College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test,” 2002 an der “American International
School” in Wien.
2002-2006 Studium an dem Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula (Kalifornien).
Abschluss am 13.5. 2006 mit der Verleihung des „Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts.“
2006 Eintritt in die Zisterzienserabtei Heiligenkreuz.
2007 Einfache Profess und Beginn des Studiums der Theologie in Heiligenkreuz.
2010 Feierliche Profess und Diakonenweihe in Heiligenkreuz.

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