Chapter 6. Balancing—Defining the Via Media

{71} NEWMAN'S life at Oxford between 1833 and 1843 was no doubt in the main one of eager ecclesiastical propagandism, but after Hurrell Froude's death in 1836 it was certainly propagandism of a less confident kind. He was deeply convinced that the Anglican Church had a great work to do; that she had ignored her true work; that she had gone to sleep at her post; that she needed awakening to the duties she had neglected; and that if once she could be induced to claim her true position, not as an establishment, but as a Church, she might take a proud position in the Church of Christ. But in spite of the ardour, and sometimes, perhaps, the fierceness, as he called it, of his propagandism, especially while Hurrell Froude was still at his side, the irony with which he met his foes, the enthusiasm with which he supported his friends, there was probably not a month during the whole decade in which he was not more or less engaged in trying to define his position, to make out precisely what the theology of his Church really was, where he was standing, whose the authority was in the name of which he spoke. He was deeply convinced that, in regard to the worship of the Virgin {72} Mary, and the invocation of saints, Rome was in the gravest error. He thought the Reformers in still graver error in their view of the Sacraments. Yet he had hard work to pilot himself and his party along that "Via Media" which they wished to regard as the true theology midway between Rome and Protestantism. Almost all his books of the period remind me of the soundings which are taken in the supposed neighbourhood of land when a ship has run for several days by the log alone, and has not been able to get the altitude of the sun at noon. Then the lead is cast every two or three minutes, while the cry of the number of fathoms found is anxiously listened to by the ship's crew and passengers.

I could not go carefully through the various publications of this period without prolonging this little book to an unconscionable length. Some of them are too technical to interest general readers, and very few of them exhibit the rare literary power of Newman's later works. But they all show the same conscientious and almost morbid desire to clear up the theological position of the party, though generally without any very satisfactory result. Newman intended, he says, to preach a second and better Reformation, a return not to the sixteenth century, but to the seventeenth, to the theology of Laud. "No time was to be lost, for the Whigs had come to do their worst, and the rescue might come too late. Bishoprics were already in course of suppression; Church property was in course of confiscation; sees would soon be receiving unsuitable occupants. We knew enough to begin preaching upon, and there was no one else to preach. I felt as on a vessel which first gets under weigh, and then clears out the deck, {73} and stores away luggage and live stock into the proper receptacles." [Note 1]

At the same time, from the very first, amidst all the hurry to preach Church principles, there was at least an equal amount of self-questioning as to what precisely the new Church principles were to be. How were the Calvinistic elements in the Anglican Church to be dealt with, and minimized? How were the authorities of the English Church to be persuaded that they ought to take a much higher stand than they had been accustomed to take, both against heresy and against the interference of the State? How was the Via Media to be made so plain and impressive that the position of the renovated hierarchy should be clearly marked out, as against both Rome on the one side, and the representatives of the Reformers and the Erastians on the other? In a word, though the movement went on merrily enough, Newman was constantly going through the process which the Germans call Orientirung—determining the true position of the new party, its precise latitude and longitude, so that it should be in no danger of being confounded with either Romanism or Protestantism.

One of the most remarkable, and certainly I think the most fascinating of all his efforts in this way, was the Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church viewed relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, published in 1837, and since republished in the volumes entitled The Via Media.

It is an extremely characteristic as well as an extremely subtle effort to discriminate the true view as to the use and abuse of private judgment, as to the {74} authority of the Church, and as to the authority of antiquity, and to discriminate these as well from the Roman Catholic view on the one side, as from the ordinary Protestant view on the other. He tells us quite frankly, that there are "conscientious and sensible men," who do not approve of the attempt he is making at all, on the ground that "though the views which may be put forward be in themselves innocent or true, yet under our circumstances they all lead to Rome, if only because the mind when once set in motion in any direction finds it difficult to stop; and again, because the article of 'the Church' has been accidentally the badge and index of that system." [Note 2] As it turned out, these "conscientious and sensible men" showed themselves to be shrewd prophets. They knew how unlikely it was that such a Church as the Church of England, which was a political compromise between opposite tendencies from the days of its separation from Rome, could successfully assert for herself anything like a strong ecclesiastical independence, and what an advantage such a Church as the Church of Rome would have in competing with the Church of England for the guidance of minds which asked for a visible authority rather than for mere spiritual persuasiveness. Newman with his usual keenness saw the difficulties of his position better than he saw the way of surmounting them.

"Protestantism and Popery," he said in his Introductory Lecture, "are real religions; no one can doubt about them; they have furnished the mould in which nations have been cast; but the Via Media, viewed as an integral system, has never had existence except on {75} paper; it is known not positively but negatively, in its differences from the rival creeds, not in its own properties; and can only be described as a third system, neither the one nor the other, but with something of each, cutting between them, and, as if with a critical fastidiousness, trifling with them both, and boasting to be nearer antiquity than either. What is this but to fancy a road over mountains and rivers which has never been cut? When we profess our Via Media as the very truth of the apostles, we seem to bystanders to be mere antiquarians or pedants, amusing ourselves with illusions or learned subtleties, and unable to grapple with things as they are." [Note 3] Nevertheless, so profound was Newman's conviction that Romanism and popular Protestantism were both astray, that he was convinced that he should succeed in virtually making this "road over mountains and rivers," which hitherto had never been cut. It was a gallant enterprise, but one that, for all practical purposes, failed. The road was never made, though a track was marked out over the mountains, and fords were found across the rivers, practicable for a few adventurous men, and which are used by a certain number of stragglers even to the present day.

One of the best parts of the book was Newman's attack on that notion that it is a great privilege to judge for oneself on subjects on which one has no means of judging wisely for oneself—a privilege to which Englishmen assuredly cling, tenaciously. He insists with great force, that to treat it as a mighty privilege that you should set out in life without any guidance is absurd in any field of thought and knowledge; but {76} if absurd in every other field, it is most absurd of all in the field of revelation, where it is so difficult to apprehend clearly the true proportions of things, and so easy to exaggerate one aspect of the Divine teaching and to ignore or even suppress another. In maintaining his Via Media as to the function of private judgment, and maintaining that it took an intermediate course between trusting absolutely to the authority of a Church which settles everything by its fiat, and the ultra-Protestant principle which pretends that every Christian should be able to make out from his Bible alone what has been revealed, Newman asserts that to use private judgment properly you must begin with the habit of obedience to those who have "natural authority" over you, no matter who they are; and must cultivate a teachable temper before you dare to cavil and scrutinize. The very best sort of investigation, he maintains, is conducted half unconsciously, without any pride in it, and without any fuss about it. People who boast of their exercise of the right of private judgment seldom exercise it in the right spirit, which cannot be one of ostentatious satisfaction at the use of such a liberty, since it should be one of eagerness to get at the truth, while eagerness to get at the truth implies eagerness to avail yourself of any help that will really serve your purpose—in other words, implies eagerness to give up your liberty to an experienced and honest guide. Those who say to themselves, "I am examining, I am scrutinizing, I am judging, I am free to choose or reject, I am exercising the right of Private Judgment," are indulging in a very strange kind of satisfaction, like the satisfaction of a person who exults in his grief for a friend, and says, "I am weeping; I am overcome and {77} agonized for the second or third time; I am resolved to weep." [Note 4] A person who said that would not be credited with feeling very deeply; and it is an equally strange infatuation, in Newman's mind, to boast of being without an opinion, and of being determined to find the truth without aid. "Who would boast," he asks, "that he was without worldly means, and had to get them as he could? is heavenly treasure less precious than earthly? Is it anything inspiring or consolatory to consider, as such persons do, that Almighty God has left them entirely to their own efforts, has failed to interpret their wants, has let them lose in ignorance at least a considerable part of their short life, and their tenderest and most malleable years? Is it a hardship or a yoke, on the contrary, to be told that what, in the order of Providence, is put before them to believe, whether absolutely true or not, is in such sense from Him, that it will inspire their hearts to obey it, and will convey to them many truths which they otherwise could not know, and prepare them perhaps for the comunication of higher and clearer views?" [Note 5] In short, private judgment, according to Newman, is at its best when it is working half unconsciously to realize the full meaning of what has been impressed upon it, and is not so much the attitude of a mind sitting in judgment, as of a mind striving earnestly to apprehend and piece together the lessons it has learned from many different quarters, without asserting any arbitrary liberty or falling into any defiant attitude. Reverence and humility are, in Newman's view, the just conditions of the right exercise of private judgment, and you cannot {78} have these conditions for forming your judgment under the most favourable form without a Church that has authority, but does not overstrain that authority. "If Scripture-reading," he says, "has in England been the cause of schism, it is because we are deprived of the power of excommunicating, which in the revealed scheme is the formal antagonist and curb of Private Judgment." [Note 6] Rome, on the other hand, does not sufficiently train the members of her communion to compare the Scriptures with her teaching, but imposes her teaching on them too absolutely as that of an infallible Church, which may dictate without any attempt to elicit and secure her children's individual apprehension and assent. Newman charges Rome with being too intellectual, too systematic in the theology she imposes. Rome professes to take a complete survey and make a complete map of the region of Divine mysteries, and so falls into the same error as the Scotch Presbyterianism, for instance, which, from a very different point of view, commits the same fault.

"When religion is reduced in all its parts to a system, there is hazard of something earthly being made the chief object of our contemplation instead of our Maker. Now Rome classifies our duties and their reward, the things to believe, the things to do, the modes of pleasing God, the penalties and the remedies of sin, with such exactness that an individual knows (so to speak) just where he is upon his journey heavenward, how far he has got, how much he has to pass; and his duties become a matter of calculation." [Note 7] Now the Via Media between the absoluteness of the Roman Church and the self-will {79} of many of the Protestant sects, which sometimes results in a system as definite and sharply defined, is the comparatively gentle authority of a Church which elicits and even cultivates the spirit of freedom in its children, but curbs it and will not allow it to go beyond a certain point in asserting either freedom of opinion or freedom of practice. Newman held that the infallibility which Rome claims not only makes her arrogant towards the private judgment of her children, but also encourages an arrogance in her dealings with "the deposit of truth" committed to her, and with the earliest traditions of the Church, that leads to virtual indifference to the authority of antiquity, and in fact to a breach with its traditions. And this he held that Rome had done in relation to the doctrine both of Purgatory and Indulgences, as well as in relation to the doctrine of Infallibility itself. He accused the Church of Rome of hardly even affecting to produce a formal proof of her infallibility, the dogma being "serviceable in practice though extravagant in theory." He thought the Roman claim of infallibility to be rather like the political maxim that "the king can do no wrong," "which vividly expresses some great and necessary principle," [Note 8] though not of course attempting any argumentative proof. "A teacher who claims infallibility is readily believed on his simple word." The Roman Church, he thought, rids herself of competition by forestalling it. "And probably in the eyes of her children this is not the least persuasive argument for her infallibility, that she alone of all Churches dares claim it, as if a secret instinct and involuntary misgivings {80} restrained those rival communions which go so far towards affecting it." [Note 9]

In the preface to the third edition of this book, published after Newman became a Roman Catholic, and in the notes appended to the Anti-Romanist portion of this volume, Newman of course retracts what he had said of the arrogance and presumption of the Roman Church, and intimates that he had spoken rather because he had confidence in the Anglican divines of the seventeenth century, whom he followed in making these statements, than because he had verified for himself all their charges against Rome. These charges were necessary, he says, to the position of the Anglican Church; and though he believed them to be true, he believed them rather on tradition than on his own knowledge. He had but partially examined the controversy, but he accepted, as he was bound to do, the authority of the divines of his own Church on its merits. In fact, he had acted on his own principle in relation to private judgment, he had accepted the bias of those whom he regarded as his proper teachers, and had only partially verified their statements for himself.

It is sometimes intimated that this assumption of the truth of charges which Newman had not fully examined savoured of that tone of mind which implies not so much a profound conviction that a creed is true, as a willing assent to its truth, of which the Roman Catholics are specially accused. And if it be a fitting subject for accusation, I think it is a just accusation; but I doubt whether it is a fitting subject for it at all. {81} If any man examines his real creed on any subject whatever, religious, moral, political, or psychological, he will find that there are in it a few articles of deep personal conviction, on which he may be truly said to be one of those adherents who help to diffuse them, but a great many articles which he accepts only because they have usually been held in connection with those on which his own conviction is earnest, and are held by those for whose general tone of mind he feels a deep respect, and from intercourse with whom he has learned the greater part of his own religious or moral or political or psychological creed.

For instance, Newman believed with all his heart, as an article of deep personal conviction, that an organized Church was necessary both to interpret Scripture and to administer the Sacraments ordained by our Lord, but he accepted almost passively as a part of the creed of those Anglican divines who had inspired him with this conviction, the opinion that Purgatory and the Invocation of Saints are not only non-scriptural but non-primitive, and cannot be identified as beliefs of the early Church at all; and again, that Rome, relying on her own assumed infallibility, had early become quite careless as to the origin of her traditions, and had allowed herself to sanction beliefs which she could not trace back to the times of the Apostles, or even of the apostolic fathers. He knew enough to know that nothing could be more plausible than such a position. He did not know enough to be sure that he should always hold it on the strength of the historical evidence alone; but if he is to be very seriously blamed for advancing it, as all his Anglican predecessors had advanced it, I think there is hardly a controversialist {82} in the world who will not be liable to blame of the same kind. I suppose the truth to be, that there is no Scriptural evidence worthy of the name, and but little evidence in the records of the primitive Church, for the doctrines and practices which Newman and the great Anglican divines of the seventeenth century condemned as Romanizing innovations on the doctrines and practices of the Apostolic Church, but that there is enough trace of them in comparatively early writings to convince those who are otherwise assured of the need of a single authority to determine controversy, that the Romanists have a fair case for asserting that these traditions have a root in the early past.

These are points on which it is quite easy for those who cannot believe in an infallible Church to feel assured that the soi-disant infallible Church has used her assumed infallibility to add to the faith of the Apostles; while it is equally easy for those who cannot believe that any Church whose authority on any matter of creed is less than absolute, is a Church worthy of the name, to accept as sufficient evidence of an undeveloped germ of doctrine or usage what those whose attitude of mind was different would regard as evidence utterly unworthy of serious notice. Newman's craving for a final human authority on matters of dogma made rapid strides between 1837, when these lectures on the Roman and Protestant controversy were written, and 1845, when he joined the Church of Rome. It is very natural, and not, I think, a matter for censure, that his estimate of the evidence for the primitiveness of the Roman Catholic creed changed to some extent as his sense of the necessity for some final tribunal in these matters steadily grew. {83}

A very much less interesting book than The Prophetical Office of the Church was the Lectures on Justification by Faith, published in 1838, which I confess I have found somewhat straw-chopping and dry. It is an attempt to show that, while the Roman theology is right in making sanctification the substance of justification, the Lutheran and Anglican theology is yet right in making justification (by which Newman means not making man just, but accounting him just) the initial stage, and sanctification only the necessary consequence of justification. It is, I think, very difficult for a layman of this generation to enter into the interest of this controversy at all. Even laymen can fully understand the magic of faith, how new and how potent a motive is furnished to man's life the moment they can discern a really Divine nature in which they may implicitly trust for the guidance of their hearts and wills. But none the less they often find it both difficult and unprofitable to enter into the finer distinctions which St. Paul has been supposed to draw between the various stages of the Divine change, and especially the "imputation" of righteousness, or "accounting righteous," which, according to Lutheran divines, precedes the making righteous. All they know is that faith is a renovating principle in the highest sense; but it does not seem to them of the highest moment to discern whether, between the gift of faith and the resulting spiritual renovation, there is or is not wedged in this somewhat unreal and, as it seems, at first sight at all events, fictitious declaration, that they are already accounted in the sight of God what they only hope to become. Newman says, with what seems unanswerable force, in these lectures, {84} "Strange it is, but such is the opinion of one of the two schools of divinity which have all along been mentioned, that God's calling us righteous implies not only that we have not been, but that we never shall be righteous. Surely it is a strange paradox to say that a thing is not, because He says it is; that the solemn averment of the living and true God is inconsistent with the fact averred; that His accepting our obedience is a bar to His making it acceptable; and that the glory of His pronouncing us righteous lies in His leaving us unrighteous." [Note 10] Strange indeed, and more than incredible, intolerable to piety. But even Newman's own statement of the case, though not open to the charge of being so intolerably paradoxical as this horrible doctrine, is to my mind full of difficulty. "Justification," he says, "is 'the glorious voice of the Lord' declaring us to be righteous. That it is a declaration, not a making, is sufficiently clear from this one argument, that it is the justification of a sinner, of one who has been a sinner; and the past cannot be reversed except by accounting it reversed. Nothing can bring back time bygone; nothing can undo what is done. God treats us as if that had not been which has been; that is, by a merciful economy or representation, He says of us as to the past, what in fact is otherwise than what He says it is. It is true that justification extends to the present as well as to the past; yet if so, still in spite of this it must mean an imputation or declaration, or it would cease to have respect to the past. And if it once be granted to mean an imputation, it cannot mean anything else, for it {85} cannot have two meanings at once. To account and to make are perfectly distinct ideas. The subject-matter may be double, but the act of justification is one; what it is as to the past, such must it be as to the present; it is a declaration about the past, it is a declaration about the present." [Note 11] And then he goes on to illustrate his meaning thus: "In the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans St. Paul makes justification synonymous with 'imputing righteousness,' and quotes David's words concerning the blessedness of those 'whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered,' and 'to whom the Lord will not impute sin.' Righteousness then is the name, character, or estimation of righteousness vouchsafed to the past, and extending from the past to the present, as far as the present is affected by the past. It is the accounting a person not to have that present guilt, peril, odiousness, ill-repute with which the past actually burdens him. If a wrong has been done you, and you forgive the offender, you count it as though it had not been, you pass it over. You view him as before he did it, and treat him as on his original footing. You consider him to have been what he has not been, fair and friendly towards you; that is, you impute righteousness to him or justify him. When a parent forgives a child, it is on the same principle. He says, 'I will think no more of it this time; I will forget what has happened; I will give you one more trial.' In this sense it is all one to say that he forgives the child, or that he counts him to have been and to be a good child, and treats him as if he had not been disobedient. He declares him dutiful, and thereby {86} indirectly forgives that past self which lives in his present self and makes him a debtor." But the illustration seems to me to tell entirely against the doctrine that imputation is a sort of legal fiction. The father forgives the child in the confidence that by relying on the child's better self, and showing him that he trusts that better self, he will fortify and strengthen the better self against the worse. Neither the child nor the father supposes for a moment that the recollection of the act of disobedience is really blotted out, or that there is any fictitious hypothesis in the case. The child knows that the first disobedience is not to be brought up against him so long as he acts on the higher spirit which has regained the victory, and that simply for the reason that the father's renewed trust is itself a renovating power, and far more potent than the principle of fear. And that is, I suppose, what is meant in the 32nd Psalm by the Lord's not imputing iniquity, for the passage runs: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile;" in other words, who is really purified from evil by the trust which God places in him. It does not seem to me that there is any trace here of a legal fiction at all. The reason God does not impute iniquity is because He sees the change of heart which grace and faith have made, because He sees that at last "in his spirit there is no guile." There is no taking for granted that the man to whom the Lord will not impute iniquity has been sinless, there is only a declaration of the intention to trust the renovated spirit in him as the best and highest means of strengthening that spirit. {87} The former struggle is recognized; the defeat is recognized; the renewal of the struggle and the victory are recognized; and the Divine trust is promised by way of securing that victory. Newman believes, of course, that the "accounting just" is followed by the being just. I should have thought that God would not, and could not, declare any man just till he was just, and that the being just must precede the Divine declaration that he is just. Nor, so far as I can see, does Newman make the matter any clearer by the following explanation of it. "God's word," he says, "effects what it announces. This is its characteristic all through Scripture. He 'calleth those things which be not as though they are,' and they are forthwith. Thus in the beginning He said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.' Word and deed went together in creation; and so again 'in the regeneration,' 'The Lord gave the word, great was the company of the preachers.' So again in His miracles, He called Lazarus from the grave, and the dead arose; He said 'Be thou cleansed,' and the leprosy departed; He rebuked the winds and the waves, and they were still; He commanded the evil spirits, and they fled away; He said to St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. John, St. James, and St. Matthew, 'Follow Me,' and they arose, 'for His word was with power.' And so again in the sacraments, His word is the consecrating principle. As He blessed the loaves and fishes, and they multiplied, so He 'blessed and brake,' and the bread became His Body." [Note 12] And that would all be applicable if what was asserted by these theologians were, that at God's word "Let the soul be just," it became just. But what they {88} say is, that He declares it to be just while it is still unjust, and by "accounting" it what it is not, by imputing to it qualities which it has not, He makes it what He had assumed it to be. This seems to me a wholly artificial sort of language, and one which tends towards the depreciation of inspired teaching, not towards its exaltation. The drift of the lectures on justification is to show that justification must issue in sanctification; but the Catholic doctrine that what justifies is either grace or charity, and that these are different names for the same reality,—grace being the word which tells us whence the gift comes, and charity the word which tells us what manner of life it causes,—seems to me much nearer the truth than any form of the Lutheran doctrine. The lectures were indeed an elaborate effort to reconcile the Lutheran view of this subject with the Catholic view, and constituted the application of the conception of the Via Media to the special subject of faith and its regenerating effects on the soul.

A much more interesting effort of Newman's to reconcile his position with Anglican doctrine was his attempt to show, in the lectures on Holy Scripture in Relatiom to the Catholic Creed, that there is no more difficulty in proving from Scripture the Church doctrines he was preaching than there was in proving from Scripture the doctrine of the Trinity, and much less than in proving the authenticity of the canon. These lectures were published in 1838 as Tract 85 of the famous Tracts for the Times, and are even more characteristic of Newman's mind and method at that time than the much more famous Tract 90. He begins by putting very strongly the difficulty in which those persons are placed who desire to believe in the authority of the {89} Anglican Church, and who have yet been taught by her that all her doctrines may be proved from Scripture. "They find that the proof is rested by us on Scripture, and therefore they require more explicit Scripture proof. They say, 'All this that you say about the Church is very specious and very attractive; but where is it to be found in the inspired volume?' And that it is not found there (that is, I mean, not found as fully as it might be), seems to them proved at once by the simple fact that all persons (I may say all, for the exceptions are very few)—all those who try to form their creed by Scripture only—fall away from the Church and her doctrines, and join one or other sect and party, as if showing, that whatever is or is not scriptural, at least the Church, by consent of all men, is not so." [Note 13] Newman admits that he had felt this difficulty very keenly himself, and says he regards it as "one of the main difficulties, and (as I think) one of the intended difficulties, which God's providence puts at this day in the path of those who seek Him, for purposes known or unknown, ascertainable or not." [Note 14] But great as the difficulty is, he states his conviction that, as he has otherwise most abundant proof of "the Divine origin of the Church system of doctrine," as of apostolical succession and the sacramental system which depends upon it, he ought not to be in any way dismayed because the evidence, though given also in Scripture, "might be given more explicitly and fully, and (if I may so say) more consistently."

This introduction to the lectures seems to me a virtual admission that without the evidence of ecclesiastical history and tradition outside Scripture, Newman {90} could never have found in Scripture adequate proof of the Church system. He did find it there when the history of the primitive Church had drawn his attention to the manner in which that Church understood and acted upon Scripture, but without the aid of that practical commentary, he clearly admits, I think, that Scripture would not have furnished him with adequate proof of the Church system. In dealing with the difficulty, he begins by owning that the general drift of his argument is of a kind to make him somewhat anxious as to its effect. Its tendency is to show that those who give up Church principles because they are not explicitly taught in Scripture, ought to give up other principles too which have always been held to be of the very essence of revelation; and he admits his reluctance to push any argument which may have the effect not of making those who do not now hold Church principles accept them, but of making them give up Christian doctrines which they had hitherto confidently held. "When I show a man that he is inconsistent," he says, "I make him decide whether of the two he loves better—the portion of truth or the portion of error which he already holds. If he loves the truth better, he will abandon the error; if the error, he will abandon the truth. And this is a fearful and anxious trial to put him under, and one cannot but feel loth to have recourse to it. One feels that perhaps it may be better to keep silence, and to allow him, in shallowness and presumption, to assail one's own position with impunity, than to retort, however justly, his weapons on himself; better for oneself to seem a bigot, than to make him a scoffer." [Note 15] But, serious as he feels this {91} difficulty to be, he holds that on the whole it avails only "for the cautious use, not for the abandonment, of the argument in question. For it is our plain duty to push and defend the truth in a straightforward way. Those who are to stumble must stumble rather than the heirs of grace should not hear." Therefore, though he admits frankly that when his argument has effect, it may have either a bad effect or a good, he has so much more confidence in the good effect it will have on men who love the truth, than in the bad effect it may have on men who love their own opinion, that he thinks it his duty to push home the argument that Scripture, if it does not explicitly establish Church doctrines, does not explicitly establish even the universally received Christian doctrines, in order that he may induce those who are disposed to Church principles to accept them frankly on implicit rather than on explicit Scripture testimony. And then Newman explains candidly what he finds to be the only Scripture testimony to two leading Church doctrines.

While Baptism and its spiritual benefits are often mentioned in the Epistles, "its peculiarity as the one plenary remission of sin" "is not insisted on with such frequency and earnestness as might be expected,—chiefly in one or two passages of our Epistles, and these obscurely (in Heb. vi. and x.). Again, the doctrine of Absolution is made to rest on but one pr two texts (in Matt. xvi. and John xx.), with little or no practical exemplification of it in the Epistles, where it was to be expected. 'Why,' it may be asked, 'are not the Apostles continually urging their converts to rid themselves of sin after Baptism as best they can, by penance, confession, absolution, satisfaction? Again, why are Christ's {92} ministers nowhere called priests, or at most in one or two obscure passages (as in Rom. xv.)?'" [Note 16]

And after a number of similar questions, comes Newman's mode of meeting the difficulty, which is to show that if we are to accept only what is plainly and consistently enforced in Scripture, we should have to sacrifice not only what are called Church doctrines, but external worship altogether, to accept Christ's saying, that the hour cometh when neither in Samaria nor at Jerusalem the Father shall be worshipped, as prohibiting all external rites, and forbidding them in principle; as denying all benefit from the Eucharist, or from Baptism, or from public worship itself. On "how many special or palmary texts do any of the doctrines or rites we hold depend? What doctrines or rites would be left to us if we demanded the clearest and fullest evidence before we believed anything?" [Note 17] Newman's drift is, that if that sort of Scripture evidence were required for every doctrine and rite, nothing of Christianity would be left beyond at most what the Latitudinarians are willing to concede. By Latitudinarianism Newman means the view that it is not at all important what doctrine a man holds, so long as he acts up conscientiously to whatever doctrine he does honestly hold. That is a view which Newman thinks simply absurd as a view of Revelation. It might be an adequate view of natural religion, but when God reveals Himself, it is obvious that He does attach great importance to the substance of the revelation given, and that He cannot possibly be indifferent what a man believes concerning Him, since He has provided so {93} elaborate an agency for giving him a true belief, or at least a much truer belief than he had before, or than, by the mere light of nature, he could have obtained. "There is an overpowering improbability," he says, "in Almighty God's announcing that He has revealed something, and revealing nothing; there is no antecedent improbability in His revealing it elsewhere than in an inspired volume." [Note 18] Hence, if Newman had to choose between Latitudinarianism and Roman Catholicism, he would have chosen the latter as far the more rational of the two views of revelation to any one who was convinced that a revelation had been made. Still he thought that the doctrine of the Via Media, that Scripture does reveal with sufficient clearness the whole Church system, if you will consent to look at what it implies, as well as at what it explicitly states, was quite tenable; but that Latitudinarianism, or indifference to doctrine so long as a man acted honestly on his own view, was utterly untenable.

Newman never seemed to think that the unveiling of God's own character was, after all, the main purpose of revelation, and that that might possibly be adequately accomplished without the aid of any elaborate Church system, or any great network of doctrine over and above the evidence of what God had actually done in order to embody that character in a human life and personality. To Newman's mind, the "dogmatic system" on which he insists, always seems to me to overshadow somewhat the central truth of revelation—the truth as to the character of God, and the significance of that truth as displayed in what He {94} had done for men. It is surely not nearly so certain that any elaborately ramified "system" has been revealed to us, as it is that God's character has been emphatically revealed in what the Son of God was and did for mankind.

Nothing can be more remarkable than the way in which Newman illustrates the principle that if you look only to the surface of Scripture, you find not only no adequate evidence for many of the greater Christian doctrines, but no adequate evidence for the inspiration of Scripture itself, and still more, no adequate evidence for the exact contents of revelation, for what Scripture consists of, for what is properly included in the canon. He described in a most graphic passage the apparently accidental character of the contents of Scripture. "It is as if you were to seize the papers or correspondence of leading men in any school of philosophy or science which were never designed for publication, and bring them out in one volume. You would find probably in the collection so resulting many papers begun and not finished; some parts systematic and didactic, but the greater part made up of hints or of notices which assume first principles instead of asserting them, or of discussions upon particular points which happened to require their attention. I say the doctrines, the first principles, the rules, the objects of the school would be taken for granted, alluded to, implied, not stated. You would have some trouble to get at them; you would have many repetitions, many hiatuses, many things which looked like contradictions; you would have to work your way through heterogeneous materials, and after your best efforts there would be much hopelessly obscure; and on the other hand, you might look in {95} vain in such a casual collection for some particular opinions which the critics are known, nevertheless, to have held, nay, to have insisted on." [Note 19]

Such is, he says, with some limitations, the character of Scripture, which is not only an apparently miscellaneous collection of writings, but one of which we only know that the primitive Church had sifted it out, and believed this to be the authentic collection, though why these books were accepted and others rejected we do not know. But what Newman infers from this is not that this account of the Bible is the true account, but that there is obviously a great deal beneath the letter of the Bible which we can only get at by trusting the authority of the Church, the same authority by which alone confessedly the canon of Scripture was determined. He regards all these criticisms on Scripture as proving not that it is what it seems to be at first sight, but that it is much deeper than what it seems to be at first sight, and what only the Church has adequately disclosed to us. His general inference from his examination is, that "whether this or that doctrine, this or that book of Scripture, is fully provable or not, that line of objection to them cannot be right which when pursued destroys Church, Creed, Bible altogether—which obliterates the very Name of Christ from the world." [Note 20] His view evidently was, that there is something analogous in the apparently accidental and miscellaneous character of Scripture to the apparently accidental and miscellaneous character of human life, which, though it is governed in every detail by Providence, and meant for the discipline and probation of {96} man, seems to be so full of what is unintentional, and what does not bear upon the discipline and probation of man. The Church reveals a hidden unity and purpose within Scripture, just as Scripture reveals a hidden unity and purpose in human life, and the true Christian has to choose between accepting this hidden unity and purpose in deference to the teaching of the Church, and entering on a course of destructive criticism which must end in breaking down the belief in revelation itself, and leaving nothing of the least value for our faith to apprehend. His whole drift was, that the Church can verify its credentials out of Scripture if men will follow her guidance in first accepting as Scripture what she has given them, and then looking devoutly for the true meaning of Scripture where she tells them to look for it; but that without this humility and trust in the Church, Scripture alone will fail us, and yield up incoherent or capricious meanings, varying with the minds of those who take upon themselves the task of interpreting it.

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Notes

1. Apologia, p. 113.
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2. Via Media, vol. i. p. 8.
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3. Via Media, vol. i. pp. 16, 17.
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4. Via Media, vol. i. p. 137.
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5. Ibid. vol. i. p. 137.
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6. Via Media, vol. i. p. 140.
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7. Ibid. p. 102.
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8. Via Media, vol. i. p. 117.
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9. Via Media, p. 117.
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10. Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, 3rd edition, p. 78.
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11. Lectures on Justification, p. 67.
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12. Lectures on Justification, 3rd edition, p. 81.
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13. Tract 85, p. 2.
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14. Ibid. p. 2.
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15. Tract 85, pp. 3, 4.
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16. Tract 85, pp. 5, 6.
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17. Ibid. p. 12.
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18. Tract 85, p. 19.
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19. Tract 85, pp. 30-31.
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20. Ibid. p. 100.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.