12 October 2016

Newman and Liberalism and the Spirit of the Antichrist

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.

Snap! Gotcha!

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.


Savonarola said...

What is often stigmatised as "liberalism" is not indifference to truth or reduction of revelation to mere opinion, but the asking of questions that one must in all honesty inevitably ask even if we cannot definitively answer them: what does this revealed truth mean? how can we properly understand it? how does our understanding of it develop or change as human understanding in general grows?
Those who oppose so-called liberalism are often merely denying the necessity of such questions (which is intellectually dishonest) or substituting unattainable certainty for genuine faith in God - which is inter alia the ability to live with unanswerable questions. Not even Newman seems to have been immune to this temptation.

Highland Cathedral said...

In the words of my local Presbyterian minister:
“In truth, all truth about faith is temporary.”
“Christianity is no more right or correct than any other religion”
And his latest offering:
“We don't all believe literal truth (such as the world was created in seven days or Jesus walked on water) but we all believe the truth behind the story (such as love is imaginative and creative, and we can trust what Jesus is about).”

Michael Leahy said...

Savanarola, how sure are you that human understanding has grown? Perhaps knowledge and understanding are not quite the same? Is there not a danger of being complacently blinded and distracted by technology?

Anne said...

Savonarla slights the Blessed Cardinal...questioning with the same liberal mentality that the Blessed Cardinal refutes. Let Savonarla read the actual works of the Blessed Cardinal and then let us here from him on Newman's temptations. Recommendation to Savonarla....Anglican sermoms...oh such as The Ventures of Faith. Then may he discourse on what Newman meant by liberalism.

Carmel Caruana said...

Savonarola, how about applying your skepticism to your liberal skepticism itself? You might achieve an ourobouros.

Michael Ortiz said...

Highland--the world was not created in seven days. No Catholic exegetes of worth have ever claimed that. But I get your drift!

Anonymous said...

@Savanarola: These paragraphs from the Catechism of The Catholic Church answer your points, and with a famous and apposite quote from Blessed cardinal Newman.

CCC 157:"Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but "the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives."[31 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II 171, 5, obj. 3.] "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt."[32 John Henry Cardinal Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (London Longman, 1878) 239.]

CCC 158 "Faith seeks understanding":[33 St. Anselm, Prosl. prooem. PL 153 225A.] it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. The grace of faith opens "the eyes of your hearts"[34 Eph 1:18.] to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God's plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the centre of the revealed mystery. "The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood."[35 Dei Verbum] In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."[36 St. Augustine, Sermo 43, 7, 9: PL 38, 257-258.]

philipjohnson said...

Fr.The spirit of the Anti Christ is in the Vatican.In 1972 Pope Paul 6th said that the smoke of Satan is in the cracks through the wall of the Vatican.Vatican two went to far for him-and so ends this lesson.God Help us.

Jacobi said...

Questions should always be asked so that we can deepen our understanding of Faith. Christ said “Go and sin no more”

Now we can start with the obvious meaning. That is commit no sin, whether it be defrauding labourers of their wages, or sodomy or and venial sin and of course any mortal sin.

Then we think. If Christ said that, it must be possible. How?

Enough said. This is a comment after all