When Newman received the biglietto signifying his elevation to the rank of Cardinal, he made a speech which has often been quoted; and I am going to quote it yet again and not least because it beautifully enunciates the essential continuity of his life as a Catholic with his years as an Anglican. But, at the end, I wish to draw attention to a very important realisation of Newman's which is not so often quoted or appreciated. So here he goes:
For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. ... the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are a matter of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. ... As to Religion, it is a private luxury which a man may have if he will; but which of course he must pay for, and which he must not intrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance.
[Note the deft, almost imperceptible skill - so characteristic - with which Newman points to us the paradox that this 'liberalism' is itself a doctrine, an imposed and inexorable dogma. But it is his next observation which, I feel, gives us tremendous material for thought; when he adds that:]
There is much in the liberalistic theory which is good and true ... justice, truthfulness, sobriety, self-command, benevolence ....
[Ah, we incautiously surmise, Liberalism isn't too bad after all; he admits that Liberalism has its Good Side. But no. Newman has tricked us. He is playing exactly the opposite game. In the spirit of the argumentum ad hominem, he is about to pounce. Let us watch carefully, and analyse, how the cat jumps.
Remember that in his earlier years Newman had been preoccupied with the concept of Antichrist. At the heart of this biblical notion, there is a realisation that the greater an evil and the closer it comes to Ultimate Evil, the more sumptuously the Enemy adorns it with rags and tatters of the good and the true and the noble. An error will be so much more dangerous precisely because it has been made to look so beautiful. So ... Blessed John Henry goes on:]
There never was a device of the Enemy, so cleverly framed, and with such promise of success.
Despite its superficial charms, indeed, because of its apparent beauties, Liberalism is diabolical, a trick of Satan.
There is a great warning for us as we, more than a century later, face the devices of the Enemy in our own time.
Just one modern example of this will be enough for today: our blessed Lord did not say to the woman in the Johannine pericope de adultera "Go; and sin some more". Whenever, whoever, decks out encouragement or tolerance of adultery in nobly coloured biblical garments, whether 'Mercy' or any other scriptural tags, we know that the Spirit of the Antichrist is abroad.