Chapter 28. 'The Grammar of Assent' (1870)

{242} DURING the period we have been reviewing, from 1866 to 1868, in which the contest on the Infallibility of the Papacy was so keen, Newman was engaged in writing his 'Essay in aid of a Grammar of Assent.' For years, as we have seen, he had been urged by W. G. Ward to write on Faith and Reason—a work which should be in some sense a sequel to the Oxford University Sermons 'On the Theory of Religious Belief.' He had again and again taken notes for it; and the subject was to have been dealt with in the 'Prolegomena' to the ill-fated translation of the Scriptures. His keen realisation of the sceptical standpoint, and of the fallacy of Catholic faith in the eyes of the sceptic, is vividly presented in the following memorandum of 1860 on 'The Fluctuations of Human Opinion':

'(1) We cannot get beyond a judgment such that it denies itself soon and melts away into another—nothing fixed and stable.

'(2) Hence what does Catholicism do but arbitrarily fix what is not fixed, and perpetuate by an unnatural and strained force what else would be transitory. It assumes and wills that this or that should be true which is not true to the mind except for a time or more than something else.

'(3) We cannot get beyond a certain degree of probability about anything, but Catholicism enforces a certainty greater than Mathematics.

'(4) and making it a sin to doubt, artificially prolongs an opinion. It is but an opinion that the Church is infallible, but we commit a man to it and make it a sin to doubt it. If he argued himself into it, why may he not argue himself out of it? If it is a conclusion from premisses at first why not always?

'(5) How can there be a revelation; for the certainty of it must depend on uncertain premisses? Such seems the state of human nature. In this state of things what does Catholicism {243} do but unnaturally prolong a particular state of opinion and pretend to a certainty which is impossible?'

This plausible view of the inherent uncertainty of religious opinions had been considered by him both at Oxford (in the University Sermons) and at Dublin in a lecture already cited in these pages [Note 1]. But he felt that he had more to say on the subject, and had several times turned his mind to it.

After the abandonment of the 'Prolegomena' he had again contemplated a book on the same theme, but on somewhat different lines—more distinctly as an account of the basis on which minds unacquainted with scientific theology or philosophy could and did rest their religious belief. This particular plan had been mentioned in 1860 in a letter to Dr. Meynell, Professor of Philosophy at Oscott. Dr. Meynell had read Newman's University Sermons and referred in a letter to his keen appreciation of their value. Newman thus replied to him:

'The Oratory, Birmingham: Jan. 23rd, '60.
'My dear Dr. Meynell,—Your letter has given me most exceeding pleasure. First, because you really have taken the trouble to read my book through, when I could not have fancied you would have done more than read parts. Next, because you corroborate my own impression, that what Mr. Mansel has said I have said before him. And thirdly because you think I have avoided many of his errors.

'Since I sent it you I have had some correspondence with a dear old Protestant friend, who wished me to write a book, on what would really be the same subject expanded—so now I am more inclined to do something or other on the subject, but less certain whether or not to re-issue the Sermons. If I wrote a new work, it would be on "the popular, practical, and personal evidence of Christianity"—i.e. as contrasted to the scientific, and its object would be to show that a given individual, high or low, has as much right (has as real rational grounds) to be certain, as a learned theologian who knows the scientific evidence.

'Your opinion of my sermons is the second favourable judgment that I have had—some years ago some priests in France translated nine of them into French.
'Yours very sincerely
JOHN H. NEWMAN,
of the Oratory.' {244}

Let it be remembered that the ordinary reply in the current school treatises to the question, 'How can the uneducated man have sufficient reason for belief in Christianity?' was that such a one has reasons sufficient to satisfy his own limited intellect. This clearly left a difficulty unsolved. For a fallacious argument might satisfy an uncritical and uneducated mind. In the University Sermon on 'Wisdom as contrasted with Faith and Bigotry' Newman had met the difficulty by the suggestion that the Faith of the simple involved a semi-conscious share in the Wisdom of the Church as a whole. The single-hearted love of truth secured some participation in a deeper intellectual and philosophical system and process of proof than the individual mind could explicitly formulate or appreciate. In the 'Essay on Assent' he developed a part only of this line of thought. He analysed the large part played in the formation of convictions by 'implicit'—or 'subconscious' reasoning, as it afterwards came to be called. An uneducated man 'with a heart and an eye for truth' might reason well—though the process could not be formally and consciously analysed by him. He would come to a right conclusion, though his expressed arguments might be inadequate or faulty. There were, moreover, grounds of conviction too personal to be adequately expressed. These played a large part in the religious convictions of educated and uneducated alike. Yet from their nature they could not be fully set forth in formal treatises. This line of thought had been already sketched in the University Sermon, 'Explicit and Implicit Reason.' The 'Essay on Assent' in the end did not, then, confine itself to an examination of the grounds for faith accessible to the uneducated. It dealt rather with those personal grounds of belief which the educated and uneducated may have in common—grounds largely independent of technical studies and arguments which could be appreciated only by the learned few. And it dwelt on the depth and importance of these informal and personal proofs.

Newman found a difficulty in some quarters in making the necessity of his work—or its very object—understood. Even among educated Catholics there were many who learnt more or less mechanically the recognised credentials of the Church {245} as well as its doctrines. They did not really weigh the adequacy of the proofs, which they accepted on the word of that Church whose authority the proofs themselves professed to establish. To reflect on the vicious circle which this involved was in their eyes to admit a doubt against Faith. This was an attitude quite at variance with the teaching of the best theologians, but in fact it was widely prevalent. And W. G. Ward and Newman, who were on this subject in close sympathy, had found even so able a man as Cardinal Wiseman not wholly free from the confusion of thought which it involved. This became apparent in a conversation between the three men in 1859, and Newman clinched the matter and somewhat staggered the Cardinal with the question, 'Then pray, your Eminence, what is the difference between Faith and Prejudice?'

As Catholics came to be more and more in contact with the modern world and with able men who did not accept Christianity, and learnt thus to realise the force of objections to their belief, such a way of looking at the matter must clearly afford a very insecure basis for its defence.

While the subject had, as we have seen, been in Newman's mind for years, the decisive influence leading him to write on the lines finally chosen came with dramatic suddenness, and is described in a letter to Mr. Aubrey de Vere, written in August 1870, immediately after the publication of his 'Essay':

'As to my Essay on Assent,' he wrote, 'it is on a subject which has teazed me for these twenty or thirty years. I felt I had something to say upon it, yet, whenever I attempted, the sight I saw vanished, plunged into a thicket, curled itself up like a hedgehog, or changed colours like a chameleon. I have a succession of commencements, perhaps a dozen, each different from the other, and in a different year, which came to nothing. At last, four years ago, when I was up at Glion over the Lake of Geneva, a thought came into my head as the clue, the "Open Sesame," of the whole subject, and I at once wrote it down, and I pursued it about the Lake of Lucerne. Then when I came home I began in earnest, and have slowly got through it.'

The thought that came to him at Glion was, as he says in a 'Memorandum' to be cited shortly, that Certitude is a form of Assent, and that to treat of the psychology of Assent as {246} distinguished from inference was the key to his book. The exposition of this view of the case proved to be an important part of his work, but perhaps not the most important. Assent is treated in his book as being in its nature unconditional. The act of assent to a new conclusion is a definite step taken by the mind in response to many rational influences, latent as well as conscious, and not as the mere mechanical or passive recognition then and there of an inference from premisses. This is perhaps his newest and subtlest contribution to the problem. But it was not probably that which was most helpful to the average reader. The doctrine of the 'illative sense' has become by general consent the most characteristic lesson taught by the 'Essay.' This doctrine it was that met one special philosophical difficulty, which prompted him to write.

I have said above that one avowed object of the 'Essay on Assent' was to show that simple and uneducated minds could have rational grounds for belief in Christianity without knowledge of its scientific evidences. But the other lacuna in Christian apologetic, to fill which the book was written, was that expressed in the letter to Mr. Capes already cited [Note 2]. He desired to view the unbeliever's attitude truly. He treated it as being due to the assumption of false first principles. This account did not get rid of the unbeliever's responsibility, but it left intact his sincerity. Both his own cast of mind and his familiar intimacy with such earnest doubters as William Froude, made him feel how little cogent for the age to come, when believer and doubter must be in daily intercourse, was a line of apologetic which implied that there must be conscious insincerity in the doubter or Agnostic.

The supposition that the case for Christianity could be drawn up with the completeness of a barrister's brief, and that as so stated it was in itself conclusive to any honest mind, was false to obvious facts. Unbelievers were not as a rule hic et nunc dishonest men whose bad dispositions held them back from recognising a clearly convincing proof of Christianity. And one reason why this fact was not adequately recognised among Catholic theologians was that {247} believer and unbeliever lived very largely apart and the unbeliever's mind was not familiarly known by the believer. The position maintained by Christian apologists stamped them in the eyes of the mass of strenuous and able thinkers on religion as sectarian and bigoted. While not disputing the recognised teaching in the Catholic schools that the reasons ascertainable on behalf of the Christian revelation were such as should lead 'a prudent man' to believe, and to exclude a 'prudent' doubt, Newman set himself to examine the nature of the evidence and the conditions for its apprehension: and unbelief appears in his pages not as due to conscious dishonesty, but as resulting from an attitude which precludes full knowledge of the evidence. His work included an analysis of the mind of believer and unbeliever and of the differences between them. He drew attention to the subtle personal appreciation on the part of the religious mind, which made it find so much more evidence for Christianity in the acknowledged facts of its history than the irreligious mind could see. The general outcome of this portion of the book was to show the important place held by antecedent conditions among the reasons convincing the believer. And among these conditions were the experiences and action of the individual mind. The religious mind instinctively and by degrees accumulated evidences of which the irreligious mind—reasoning on different principles—remained wholly or partially unaware. The action of the will and of moral dispositions was gradual. Moral defect must in the long run lead the mind to miss the deepest grounds of belief. But this was something very different from insincerity. To quote a sentence written by Newman on the subject to the present writer, 'The religious mind sees much which is invisible to the irreligious mind. They have not the same evidence before them.'

Newman did not deny that one reasoned rightly, the other wrongly. He did not deny that there might be responsibility for the false principles which led to unbelief—for the failure of the unbeliever to recognise the deeper principles which a Christian thinker adopts (as he phrased it a little later) 'under the happy guidance of the moral sense.' But he did away with the old contrast, to which Protestants as well as Catholics had long been accustomed, between {248} believer and unbeliever as two men looking at and apprehending precisely the same evidence, which was so obviously cogent that only a man whose will was here and now perverse could disbelieve. He substituted a far subtler analysis in which circumstance and education played their part in the power of mental vision on the particular subject; in which the appreciation of reasons was personal, and gradual; religious earnestness and true principles being necessary not only to the acceptance of the reasoning for Christianity, but to its adequate apprehension.

The book was actually begun amid the hills of Switzerland, where he was travelling with Ambrose St. John in August 1866.

The negotiations concerning Oxford interrupted his work. But it was resumed in the summer of 1867. In the summer of 1868 the first draft was nearly finished. Henry Wilberforce at this time consulted him on a controversy between two of his acquaintance, a Catholic and a Freethinker, on the grounds of religious belief. This led Newman, who was full of his subject, to write at length to his friend upon his forthcoming work:

'As to what I have done, I cannot tell if it is a Truism, a Paradox, or a Mare's nest. Since it certainly may be any one of the three, the chance of its being anything better is not encouraging. I consider there is no such thing as a perfect logical demonstration; there is always a margin of objection even in Mathematics, except in the case of short proofs, as the propositions of Euclid. Yet on the other hand it is a paradox to say there is not such a state of mind as certitude. It is as well ascertained a state of mind, as doubt—to say that such a phenomenon in the human mind is a mere extravagance or weakness is a monstrous assertion which I cannot swallow. Of course there may be abuses and mistakes in particular cases of certitude, but that is another matter. It is a law of our nature, then, that we are certain on premisses which do not reach demonstration. This seems to me undeniable. Then what is the faculty (since it is not the logical Dictum de omni et nullo) which enables us to be certain, to have the state of mind called certitude, though the syllogism before us is not according to the strict rules of Barbara? I think it is [phronesis] which tells when to {249} discard the logical imperfection and to assent to the conclusion which ought to be drawn in order to demonstration but is not quite. No syllogism can prove to me that Nature is uniform—but the argument is so strong, though not demonstrative, that I should not be [phronimos] but a fool, to doubt. Now the [phronesis] may be easily biassed by our wishes, by our will. This is even the case in Mathematics and Physico-mathematics; as the Dominican opposition even to this day to the Copernican system may be taken to illustrate. So again in history &c. a cumulative argument, though not demonstrative, may claim of us, i.e. by the law of our nature, by our duty to our nature, i.e. by our duty to God, an act of certitude. Paper logic, syllogisms, and states of mind are incommensurables. It is obvious what room there is for the interference of the will here. None are so deaf as those who won't hear.

'Now I know that to say all this and no more, is to open the door to endless disputes. The only thing to be done is to rest the whole on certain first principles, and to say if you can't take my first principles, I can't help it. But to find the first principles is the difficulty.

'St. John says "he that believeth in the Son hath life—and he that believeth not the Son hath not life." I say I see no difficulty here, another says the idea is absurd. What are we to do when we thus differ in first principles? "Qui vult salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat." No man, certainly, has a right to say this—but why may not God say it? And if my [phronesis] assures me that there is such evidence for God having said it (evidence qualis et quanta) that I am bound in duty to believe it, why must I not believe both the doctrine and the fearful sanction of it? If a person tells me that his [phronesis] does not see the existence of such evidence, as is sufficient, that is another matter; but I am arguing against the principle that [phronesis] is a higher sort of logic—whereas even mathematical conclusions, i.e. the issues of extended calculations, require to be believed in by the action of [phronesis]; for how can I be sure, I tease myself by saying again and again—how can I be sure, that here or there my logical vigilance has not failed me? I have not got every step in every course of mathematical reasoning necessary for the conclusion, clearly before my eyes at once. And we know what command nervous persons are obliged to exert over themselves lest they should doubt whether even they see or feel; or whether they know anything at all. Should not I be an ass if I did not believe in the existence of India? {250} Yet are there not scores of persons who have had evidence of a quality and quantity indefinitely higher than mine? for I have not been there and they have. I should think myself a fool, if I said "I have some doubt about the existence of India," or "I am not certain about it," or "I reserve the point." I am certain; YOU, my good Sir, are certain too— you confuse two things quite distinct from each other—want of completeness in Barbara &c., which is a scientific rule of the game, and a habit of mind;—a calculating machine and a prerogative of human nature. An objection is not a doubt—ten thousand objections as little make one doubt, as ten thousand ponies make one horse; though of course a certain amount of objection ought, as my [phronesis] tells me, to weigh upon my decision, and to affect my existing belief. A great deal of confusion arises from the double sense of a lot of cognate words—e.g. "conclusion" means both the proposition drawn from two premisses, and the state of mind in which I find myself after reviewing the argument, the relation of my mind to a thing expressed in a certain proposition; and this helps the real intellectual mistake made by sceptical thinkers.

'The key, however, of the position, in the controversy which is before us, is this—and to gain that on either side is the victory—whether you may or may not rationally keep your mind open to change on a point on which your [phronesis] has already told you to decide one way. Here I say there is a difference between science and religion, between religion of nature and the Catholic religion—but it would take too long a time to explain and indeed I have not yet fully worked the whole matter out in my mind to my satisfaction. I should ask, does not nature, duty and affection teach us that a difference is to be made between things and persons? Ought I to be as open to listen to objections brought to me against the honour, fidelity, love towards me of a friend, as against the received belief that the earth is 95 million miles from the Sun? Again there is a truth which no natural reason can gain, revealed. God may put His own conditions on the development of that truth—and, (though at first sight paradoxical) He may make one of those conditions [thus foreseen] to be a slowness to receive more truth—(I don't mean of course a slowness to be taught, but a slowness to see that He is teaching). This condition may be necessary on conservative reasons, from the extreme difficulty to human nature of retaining what is supernatural, so that, if we took in new truths too quickly, we might lose the old. Thus it might have been injurious to the thorough reception, {251} the accurate complete mapping out of the doctrine of the Incarnation, if the Immaculate Conception B.V.M. and her other prerogatives had been too readily received—or again the doctrine of Man's free will and responsibility, one of the characteristic doctrines of Christianity, might never have made its way against the fatalism and recklessness of heathen times, if St. Austin's doctrines of Grace and original sin had been taught too early. And thus I resign myself to many things said and done by good men, which, though they have in them the leaven of prejudice and uncharitableness, are based on a wish to keep simply to what they have received. However this is one of those subjects which in the beginning of this letter I said were too large for a letter. One thing I must add, as having omitted. When I am asked why I cautiously and promptly exclude doubts, I answer I do so because they are doubts; I don't see the need of excluding objections. The mind is very likely to be carried away to doubt without a basis of objections sufficient in the judgment of the [phronesis] to justify it. The imagination, not the reason, is appealed to. How could God exist without beginning? In reason this is no objection, for reason tells us that something must have been without beginning. But to the imagination it is an overpowering difficulty. To a half educated man I should say, strangle the doubt—don't read the book which so affects you. This is not bidding him not to listen to reasons, but to insufficient reasons, to false reasons, which are a temptation to him. The rule "strangle doubts" is a rule of the Confessional, not a point of dogmatic theology ... And as to prayer, usum non tollit abusus. God has given His friends a privilege—that of gaining favours from Him—A father says to his child going to school, "Now mind you write to me once a week." And he rewards him in various ways, if he is obedient in this respect—We are God's children—we are not grown men—Saints would worship God solely because He is God—We all love Him for Himself, but, considering what we are, it is merciful that He has made hope as well as faith and love, a theological virtue. But this is but a poor and scanty exposure of a wonderful paradox.

'As there are things in this letter, which I have not till now put on paper, please keep it. I am sure I don't know what others will think of it. I only know, it is only plain common sense to me. If you have anything to say upon it, write.'

While thus full of his subject, Newman showed his first draft to some friends familiar with the theology of the schools, {252} and was, as often before, discouraged to find how little they appreciated the urgency of the difficulty he was endeavouring to meet, and how ready they were to find matter for censure in those modes of expression which gave individuality and originality to his work. Here was a sadly sufficient answer to the remonstrance made by Wilberforce himself for the comparatively small amount he had published of late years:

'The Oratory: Aug. 12th; 1868.
'My dear H. W.,—Thank you for the trouble you have taken in copying my letter, and for the encouragement you give me, which I sorely need. I know any how, that, however honest are my thoughts, & earnest my endeavours to keep rigidly within the lines of Catholic doctrine, every word I publish will be malevolently scrutinized, and every expression which can possibly be perverted sent straight to Rome—that I shall be fighting under the lash, which does not tend to produce vigorous efforts in the battle, or to inspire either courage or presence of mind. And if from those who ought to be friends, I cannot look for sympathy—if, did I do my work ever so well, they will take no interest in it, or see the use of it, where can I look for that moral aid which carries one through difficulties? where for any token that Providence means me to go on with my work?

'I don't think my various occupations here are the cause of my doing so little. I was full of household work when I wrote my Anglican difficulties and Catholicism in England—but I was not encompassed then by a host of ill wishers, and I was younger. Now it tires me to be a long time at one matter, and from fatigue I cannot write things off. Also my present subject is one which can only gradually be thought out.

'As to my engagements here, a Superior must have them. We are very few Fathers, and each has his work—one has the jail—another the orphanage—two have the school—another has the parish—another the Poor Schools. The great domestic works, the care of the Library, the Sacristy, the Accounts, necessarily in great measure fall to me, at least at intervals. Now I am at the Library. The Oxford matter, correspondence & accounts, took up an untold mass of time,—and tired me, so that they wasted more. And now that I am getting so old, I wanted to go through all my correspondence &c. &c. which will be close employment for some years.
'Ever yours affectionately,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.' {253}

He persevered with his work, but somewhat sadly. He writes of it on September 3 to Ambrose St. John:

'I am getting on with my Opus (Essay of Assent) but ungratefully. I have got downhearted about it, as if "cui bono?" Wallis has been looking at it, and though he is complimentary, what he really thinks I cannot tell. I have not touched the violin since I saw you except last Sunday, when I drew such doleful sounds from it, that I at once left off.'

Newman's haunting fear—as we see in subsequent letters—was of the men who knew much and understood little; who could bring to bear a large array of expressions stamped 'orthodox' against him, yet had not such perception of the real problems in question as to enable them to distinguish between contradictions mainly or merely verbal, and fundamental contrarieties. His unceasing protest, moreover, was against the 'nihilism' of condemning able works of apologetic on technical grounds, without appreciating the urgent difficulties which made them necessary, and without supplying anything in their place to meet those difficulties. The work of a writer who has true insight into the sources of contemporary unbelief may be indispensable, even though it may contain incidental error. Some words in a Dublin lecture expressed a feeling on this subject which was habitual with him. 'Perhaps the errors of an author are those which are inseparable accidents of his system or of his mind, and are spontaneously evolved, not pertinaciously defended. Every human system, every human writer is open to just criticism. Make him shut up his portfolio, good! and then perhaps you lose what, on the whole and in spite of incidental mistakes, would have been one of the ablest defences of Revealed Truth ever given to the world.' [Note 3]

Newman was far too uncertain of his own work to place it confidently in the category named in this passage. But it represented the thoughts of a whole life. Such thoughts had been invaluable to him, and they might help others. They should be given their full chance. And he feared lest on the contrary they might be censured by those who neither understood them nor needed them, simply because his phrases did not run in the accustomed groove. His fears were to {254} some extent fulfilled when he showed his work in proof to a theological friend, as we see from the following letter to Henry Wilberforce:

'August 20, 1869.
'It is sad to hear anyone speak as if his work was done, and he was but waiting to go—not sad—as if it were not good to go; but [it is] not good to be in the world still, with one's work done—for what does one live for except to work? And then my thoughts glanced off from you and came down on myself with dismal effect—for what am I doing, what have I been doing for years, but nothing at all? I have wished earnestly to do some good work, and continually asked myself whether I am one of those, who are "fruges consumere nati"—and have, to the best of my lights, taken what I thought God would have me do—but again and again, plan after plan has crumbled under my hands and come to nought. As to the Oxford matter my heart sank under the greatness of the task and I think it would have shortened my life, still it was work and service—and, when it was shut up, though I felt for the moment a great relief, yet it came upon me sorrowfully as a fresh balk and failure. Upon its settlement, I took up to write a book upon some questions of the day, (you know the sort of questions, about faith &c.) and now (in confidence) I think this will be stopped after my infinite pains about it. Our theological philosophers are like the old nurses who wrap the unhappy infant in swaddling bands or boards—put a lot of blankets over him—and shut the windows that not a breath of fresh air may come to his skin as if he were not healthy enough to bear wind and water in due measure. They move in a groove, and will not tolerate anyone who does not move in the same. So it breaks upon me, that I shall be doing more harm than good in publishing. What influence should I have with Protestants and Infidels, if a pack of Catholic critics opened at my back fiercely, saying that this remark was illogical, that unheard of, a third realistic, a fourth idealistic, a fifth sceptical, and a sixth temerarious, or shocking to pious ears? This is the prospect which I begin to fear lies before me—and thus I am but fulfilling on trial what I said in my "Apologia" had hitherto kept me from writing, viz. the risk of "complicating matters further." There was a caricature in Punch some years ago so good that I cut it out and kept it. An artist is showing to a friend his great picture just going {255} to the Exhibition—the friend says "Very good, but could you not make the Duke sitting and the Duchess standing, whereas the Duchess sits and the Duke stands?" I cannot make a table stand on two or three legs—I cannot cut off one of the wings of my butterfly or moth (whatever its value) and keep it from buzzing round itself. One thing is not another thing. My one thing may be worth nothing at the best—but at least it is not made worth something by being cut in half.

'You must not for an instant suppose that I am alluding to the acts of anyone whose opinion I have wished to have upon what I have written—but through a kind friend I come more to see than I did, what an irritabile genus Catholic philosophers are—they think they do the free Church of God service, by subjecting it to an etiquette as grievous as that which led to the King of Spain being burned to cinders.'

Dr. Meynell—the friend above alluded to in Newman's letter to Mr. Wilberforce—had, as we have seen, expressed great admiration of the Oxford University Sermons on Faith and Reason, and he was at the same time a trained scholastic philosopher and theologian. To him, then, Newman appealed to read the proof sheets of his work, sending the first instalment on July 2, 1869. The text of Dr. Meynell's criticisms I have not found, but Newman's own part of the correspondence, though not wholly intelligible without the criticisms to which his letters refer, is characteristic. We see in his letters his general desire to avoid even forms of expression which have been for good reasons discouraged by high theological authority. One noteworthy point of debate is Newman's use of the word 'instinct,' which is so generally associated with impulses below the rational nature that Dr. Meynell naturally demurred to it as applied to rational knowledge. But in Newman's own use of the term it includes the spontaneous inferences of the 'illative sense'—processes of subconscious reasoning—as well as the lower instincts; and he suggested that to express the instinct of brutes which has no rational character some other phrase ought to be devised. Newman's work was primarily psychological, and the distinction between the spontaneous act of the mind and the mind's subsequent reflection on its own spontaneous act, was so important a psychological fact that he desired to make no change of expression which would obscure it. {256} Where, however, a change of words will not obscure his meaning he readily consents to it. He shows in this correspondence, as in many other cases, a strong consciousness of his own want of familiarity with the literature of metaphysics, and at the same time a keen confidence in his own thoughts, as distinguished from the wisdom of his expressions. The latter must, he recognises, be affected by the use of phrases both in the history of philosophy and in the Catholic Schools. He is quite prepared to correct expressions, and to think out his view again with such an object. But it if should prove that he could not bring out his thought without showing 'an irreconcilable difference' between 'its conditions and what the Church teaches or has sanctioned' he feels that he must drop his work altogether. There were some bad half-hours, when he feared that he must give over his work—as the letters to Wilberforce have already shown. But in the end the correspondence makes it clear that Dr. Meynell, though he regarded Newman's book as treading often on new and unfamiliar ground, passed it entirely on the score of orthodoxy.

'Your experienced eye,' Newman writes in sending the proofs, 'will see if I have run into any language which offends against doctrinal propriety or common sense. I am not certain that you will not suddenly light on a wasp-nest, though I have no suspicion of it—but when a matter has not been one's study it is difficult to have confidence in oneself.'

Dr. Meynell's criticisms arrived before the end of the month, and I make some extracts from Newman's share in the correspondence which ensued.

'July 25th.
'I thank you very much for your criticisms which will be very useful to me ...

'However the next sheet will be my great difficulty—and I shall not wonder if it was decisive one way or the other. You will find I there consider that the dictate of conscience is particular—not general—and that from the multiplication of particulars I infer the general—so that the moral sense, as a knowledge generally of the moral law, is a deduction from particulars.

'Next, that this dictate of conscience, which is natural and the voice of God, is a moral instinct, and its own {257} evidence—as the belief in an external world is an instinct on the apprehension of sensible phenomena.

'That to deny these instincts is an absurdity, because they are the voice of nature.

'That it is a duty to trust or rather to use our nature—and not to do so is an absurdity.

'That to recognize our nature is really to recognize God.

'Hence those instincts come from God—and as the moral law is an inference or generalisation from those instincts, the moral law is ultimately taught us from God, whose nature it is.

'Now if this is a wasp-nest tell me. If the Church has said otherwise, I give it all up—but somehow it is so mixed up with my whole book, that, if it is not safe, I shall not go on.'

'July 27.
'I am extremely obliged to you for the trouble you are taking with me—and I hope my shying, as I do, will not keep you from speaking out. Pray bring out always what you have to say. I am quite conscious that metaphysics is a subject on which one cannot hope to agree with those with whom in other matters one agrees most heartily, from the extreme subtlety—but I am also deeply conscious of my own ignorance on the whole matter, and it sometimes amazes me that I have ventured to write on a subject which is even accidentally connected with it. And this makes me so very fearful lest I should be saying anything temerarious or dangerous—the ultimate angles being so small from which lines diverge to truth and error.

'Be sure I should never hastily give over what I am doing, because I should have trouble in correcting or thinking out again what I have said—but if I found some irreconcilable difference, running through my view, between its conditions and what the Church teaches or has sanctioned, of course I should have no hesitation of stopping at once.

'So please to bear with me if I start or plunge.'

'Aug. 12.
'I send you with much trepidation my Asses' Bridge. Not that I have not many skeleton bridges to pass and pontoons to construct in what is to come, but, if I get over the present, I shall despair of nothing. Recollect, all your kindness and considerateness cannot alter facts; if I am wrong, I'm wrong—if I am rash, I'm rash,—yet certainly I do wish to get at King Theodore over the tops of the mountains if I can.' {258}

'Aug. 17.
'I only do hope I am not spoiling your holiday. You are doing me great service.

'To bring matters to a point, I propose to send you my chapter on the apprehension and assent to the doctrine of a Supreme Being. If you find principles in that chapter, which cannot be allowed, res finita est. As to your remarks on the printed slips, let me trouble you with the following questions.

'1. You mean that it is dangerous to hold that we believe in matter as a conclusion from our sensations—for our belief in matter is in consequence of our consciousness of resistance, which is not a sensation. Will it mend matters to observe that I don't use the word "sensations"—but experiences? and surely resistance is an experience—but if we infer matter from resistance, therefore we infer it from experience.

'2. By instinct I mean a realization of a particular; by intuition, of a general fact—in both cases without assignable or recognizable media of realization. Is there any word I could use instead of instinct to denote the realization of particulars? Still, I do not see how you solve my difficulty of instinct leading brutes to the realization of something external to themselves? Perhaps it ought not to be called instinct in brutes—but by some other name.

'3. Am I right in thinking that you wish me to infer matter as a cause from phenomena as an effect, from my own view of cause and effect. But in my own view cause is Will; how can matter be Will?

'4. "Hypothetical realism," yes—if conclusions are necessarily conditional. But I consider Ratiocination far higher, more subtle, wider, more certain than logical Inference—and its principle of action is the "Illative Sense," which I treat of towards the end of the volume. If I say that Ratiocination leads to absolute truth, am I still an hypothetical realist?'

'Aug. 18, 1869.
'I send you by this post the MSS. which I spoke of in my last.

'On second thoughts I don't see how I can change the word "instinct"—I have not indeed any where used it for the perception of God from our experiences, but in later chapters I speak of Catholic instincts,—Mother Margaret's instincts, the instinct of calculating boys, in all cases using the word "instinct" to mean a spontaneous impulse, physical or intelligent, in the individual, leading to a result without assignable or recognizable intellectual media. {259}

'Would it do, if I kept the passage and put a note to this effect,—"I speak thus under correction, and withdraw it prospectively, if it is contrary to the teaching of the theological Schola"?'

'Aug. 20, 1869.
'Pray forgive me if unknown to myself and unintentionally I have led you to think, quite contrary to my thoughts, that you wrote dogmatically. Just the contrary, and you are doing me a great service in letting me see how matters stand in the philosophical school.

'Forgive too the treacherousness of my memory, though by "composition" I meant the composition of my matter, the drawing out of my argument, etc.

'Nothing can be clearer than your remarks. Now let me say I had no intention at all of saying that I know, e.g. that I have a sheet of paper before me, by an argument from the impression on my senses—"that impression must have a cause—" but it is a perception (that is, a kind of instinct). I have used the word "perception" again and again; that perception comes to me through my senses—therefore I cannot call it immediate. If it were not for my senses, nothing would excite me to perceive—but as soon as I see the white paper, I perceive by instinct (as I call it) without argumentative media, through my senses, but not logically by my senses, that there is a thing, of which the white paper is the outward token. Then, when I have this experience again and again, I go on from the one, two, three etc. accompanying perceptions of one, two, three etc. external objects, to make an induction "There is a vast external world." This induction leads to a conclusion much larger than the particular perceptions—because it includes in it that the earth has an inside, and that the moon has a further side, though I don't see it.

'Therefore I hold that we do not prove external individual objects, but perceive them—I cannot say that we immediately perceive them, because it is through the experience as an instrument that we are led to them—and though we do not prove the particular, we do prove the general, i.e. by induction from the particular. I am sanguine in thinking this is in substance what you say yourself.'

The office of informal censor did not prove entirely easy. Considering the intellectual eminence of the writer and the rigid principles of scholastic philosophy, to sanction or to check the new and subtle arguments submitted for censorship {260} was a difficult alternative; and in August Dr. Meynell spoke of giving up his task. This was a great blow to Newman:

'The Oratory: Aug. 21st, 1869.
'My dear Dr. Meynell,—Your intention to give up has shocked and dismayed me more than I can say—shocked me because I fear I must have said something or other in writing which has scared you, and dismayed me, for what am I to do?

'I quite understand that you must feel it a most unpleasant responsibility (though, of course, I shall not tell anyone) and an endless work, for when will it be finished? It is enough to spoil your holiday, and to bother your professional work, and I really have not a word to say besides thanking you for what you have already done for me, and begging you to forgive me if, like a camel when they are loading it, I have uttered dismal cries.

'Well, now I am in a most forlorn condition, and, like Adam, I feel "the world is all before me." Whom am I to ask to do the work which you have so kindly begun? I shall not get anyone so patient as you, and, alas, alas, what is to come is, for what I know, more ticklish even than what you have seen.

'I have availed myself of all your remarks in some way or other, though I have not always taken them pure and simple.

'Thank you for saying you will say Mass for me. It is a great kindness.
Ever yours most sincerely,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

'P.S. I have not said what I feel most sadly, your language about your own littleness. If you are little, I must be less, because you are really teaching me. I should be a fool if I did not avail myself most thankfully of your remarks.

'You know, anyhow, you have promised me some remarks on the MS.'

Dr. Meynell, however, in the end resumed his work, and all went peacefully thenceforward. One interesting point was raised in connection with the 'illative sense.' Dr. Meynell apparently desired to treat as really identical the spontaneous judgments of the mind and their subsequent reasoned analysis. Newman's candid psychology made him demur to this.

'You are ten times more likely to be right on such a point than I am,' he wrote; 'however, at present I don't {261} follow you, though I will think about it. My reason is this, that consciousness or reflection on one's acts is an act different in kind from those acts themselves. Its object is distinct. If I walk, my eyes may watch my walking. If I sing, my ears listen to my voice and tell me if I am in tune. These are acts of reflection on my walking and singing, are they not? but the original act is bodily, and the reflex act is mental. I assure you I most deeply feel that I may be out of my depth ... I am not sure, from what you said, whether you read the enclosed bits of theology. Please to cast your eye over them. I must have a theological eye upon them, and one of your eyes is theological though the other is philosophical.'

'I am quite ashamed to think what I have cost you in paper, pens, ink, stamps and time,' Newman writes to his censor as the revision approaches completion.

When the book was published its author wrote his formal thanks.

'The Oratory: Feb. 20/70.
'My dear Dr. Meynell,—I ought before now to have written you a letter both of congratulation and thanks on the termination of the long and teasing task which you have so valiantly performed in my behalf. All I can say is that whatever be the amount of trouble you have had from your charitable undertaking, my amount of gain from it has been greater. What the positive value of my volume is I do not know; but this I do know, that, many as are its imperfections and faults, they would have been many more and much worse but for you.

'Now I want you to accept some keepsake in token of my gratitude and as a memorial for after years. I don't care what it is, so that it is something you would like. This is why I don't send you something without asking, for it might be as unwelcome to you, when it came, as the elephant in Leech's picture. But give me two or three sets of books to choose out of, or picture-books, or astronomical instruments, or images or what you please.

'Believe me, my dear Dr. Meynell,
Most sincerely yours in Xt.,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

Newman wrote of the book shortly before its completion to his friend Mr. Serjeant Bellasis, to whom it was to be dedicated: {262}

'Tell me your style and title "Edward Bellasis Esqr, Serjeant-at-Law"? You will still let me put your name, won't you, to the beginning of my book? I suppose it will be my last. I have not finished it. I have written in all (good and bad) 5 constructive books. My Prophetical Office (which has come to pieces)—Essay on Justification—Development of Doctrine—University Lectures (Dublin) and this. Each took me a great deal of time and tried me very much. This, I think, has tried me most of all. I have written and rewritten it more times than I can count. I have now got up to my highest point—I mean, I could not do better, did I spend a century on it, but then, it may be "bad is the best."

Newman chose for the full title of his book, 'An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent,' as if to disclaim as emphatically as possible any pretension to a final treatment of his subject. His aim was simply to rouse in men's minds certain perceptions as to their mental processes, rooted in the experience of mankind, but dormant, or apt to be dormant, because their practical importance is not directly obvious. And he trusted that these perceptions, once properly roused, would account for and justify important beliefs which could not adequately be proved by explicit logical arguments. The method of the book is predominantly empirical, not theoretical. Its author does not begin by laying down the law as to how people ought to think, but studies rather to show them how they do think. The greater part of the work consists in an elaborate study of the mental operations which we find underlying the processes of Apprehension, Inference (whether Formal or Informal), Assent, and Certitude; and here, besides the contrast already noticed between Inference and Assent, appears another, equally new and striking, between 'Real' and 'Notional' Apprehension or Assent. All this is illustrated by numberless examples, touched with a force and poetic beauty, or sometimes a pungent humour, which is scarcely paralleled in any of Newman's other works, and which make the book well worth reading for its literary merit alone. To give any adequate idea of the beauty of the work by extracts, in this place, would be quite impossible.

The philosophical value of the 'Essay on Assent' does not at all depend on its being regarded as completely meeting the difficulty it contemplates. Nor does it depend on {263} Newman's general theory being accepted in its entirety. Its reasoning and illustrations have a value for students of psychology far beyond its definite conclusions, which are to some extent tentative. To the power of spontaneous action in the human reason, whereby it draws its conclusions from premisses of which it is only in part explicitly conscious, and judges those conclusions to be warranted, he gives the name of 'illative sense.' The mind is, he says, 'unequal to a complete analysis of the motives which carry it on to a particular conclusion, and is swayed and determined by a body of proof which it recognises only as a body and not in its constituent parts.' He instances the reasons possessed by most of us for believing that England is an island. We have learnt the belief among the other indubitable facts of geography. But if anyone attempts to state his reasons for regarding the facts as certain, whether he will in the end justify it successfully or not, the very effort will at least show that his existing belief has been as a fact determined by a body of proof recognised in the mass as amply sufficient, but not hitherto put into logical form. A few plausible reasons for the belief at once occur to the mind, but falling far short of demonstration. And similarly, religious belief actually rests for most men, he holds, not on scientific demonstrations, but on arguments which are in their more obvious statement and when reduced to formal propositions only probable arguments, the reasons being informal in character, and the verbal arguments only symbols of those subtler grounds which make belief as deep as it is, and justify its depth.

'I am suspicious then of scientific demonstrations in a question of concrete fact, in a discussion between fallible men. However let those demonstrate who have the gift; "unus quisque in suo sensu abundet." For me, it is more congenial to my own judgment to attempt to prove Christianity in the same informal way in which I can prove for certain that I have been born into this world, and that I shall die out of it. It is pleasant to my own feelings to follow a theological writer, such as Amort, who has dedicated to the great Pope, Benedict XIV., what he calls "a new, modest, and easy way of demonstrating the Catholic religion." In this work he adopts the argument merely of the greater probability; I prefer to rely on that of an accumulation of {264} various probabilities; but we both hold (that is, I hold with him), that from probabilities we may construct legitimate proof, sufficient for certitude. I follow him in holding, that, since a good Providence watches over us, He blesses such means of argument as it has pleased Him to give us, in the nature of man and of the world, if we use them duly for those ends for which He has given them; and that, as in mathematics we are justified by the dictate of nature in withholding our assent from a conclusion of which we have not yet a strict logical demonstration, so by a like dictate we are not justified, in the case of concrete reasoning and especially of religious inquiry, in waiting till such logical demonstration is ours, but on the contrary are bound in conscience to seek truth and to look for certainty by modes of proof, which, when reduced to the shape of formal propositions, fail to satisfy the severe requisitions of science.

'Here then at once is one momentous doctrine or principle, which enters into my own reasoning, and which another ignores, viz. the providence and intention of God; and of course there are other principles, explicit or implicit, which are in like circumstances. It is not wonderful then, that, while I can prove Christianity divine to my own satisfaction, I shall not be able to force it upon anyone else. Multitudes indeed I ought to succeed in persuading of its truth without any force at all, because they and I start from the same principles, and what is a proof to me is a proof to them; but if anyone starts from any other principles but ours, I have not the power to change his principles, or the conclusion which he draws from them, any more than I can make a crooked man straight. Whether his mind will ever grow straight, whether I can do anything towards its becoming straight, whether he is not responsible, responsible to his Maker, for being mentally crooked, is another matter; still the fact remains, that, in any inquiry about things in the concrete, men differ from each other, not so much in the soundness of their reasoning as in the principles which govern its exercise, that those principles are of a personal character, that where there is no common measure of minds, there is no common measure of arguments, and that the validity of proof is determined, not by any scientific test, but by the illative sense.'

Newman applies his theory to Natural Religion as well as to Revealed. In the case of Natural Religion, while accepting the argument from 'Order' as having a valid place in the constructive {265} proof of Theism, he lays far more stress on the argument from Conscience. Few pages in the book are more characteristic than the following, which describes the functions of Conscience in impressing on the imagination our personal relations with the living God:

'Conscience too, considered as a moral sense, an intellectual sentiment, is a sense of admiration and disgust, of approbation and blame: but it is something more than a moral sense; it is always, what the sense of the beautiful is in certain cases; it is always emotional. No wonder then that it always implies what that sense only sometimes implies; that it always involves the recognition of a living object, towards which it is directed. Inanimate things cannot stir our affections; these are correlative with persons. 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. If, on doing wrong, we feel the same tearful, broken-hearted sorrow which overwhelms us on hurting a mother; if, on doing right, we enjoy the same sunny serenity of mind, the same soothing, satisfactory delight which follows on our receiving praise from a father, we certainly have within us the image of some person, to whom our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and waste away. These feelings in us are such as require for their exciting cause an intelligent being: we are not affectionate towards a stone, nor do we feel shame before a horse or a dog; we have no remorse or compunction in breaking mere human law: yet, so it is, conscience excites all these painful emotions, confusion, foreboding, self-condemnation; and on the other hand it sheds upon us a deep peace, a sense of security, a resignation, and a hope, which there is no sensible, no earthly object to elicit. "The wicked flees, when no one pursueth"; then why does he flee? whence his terror? Who is it that he sees in solitude, in darkness, in the hidden chambers of his heart? If the cause of these emotions does not belong to this visible world, the Object to which his perception is directed must be Supernatural and Divine.'

Let it be noted that in several letters Newman distinctly intimates his opinion that portions of his theory need revision. {266} He believed he had hit on an important line of thought. To ventilate it some one must take the first step—and was not likely to break fresh ground without saying what might need some modification in its expression. Moreover its style was popular rather than scientific.

'As to my book,' he wrote to the Jesuit Father Walford, 'it is always most difficult to be exact in one's language, nor is it necessary to be exactissimus in a work which is a conversational essay, not a didactic treatise. It is like a military reconnaissance, or a party in undress, or a house in Committee; it is in English, not in Latin; it is a preliminary opening of the ground, which must be done at one's ease, if it is done at all.'

Newman's feelings when he had finished his last chapter are given in a letter to Sister Imelda Poole:

'In fest. SS. Nominis Jesu.
'My dear Rev. Mother,—I said Mass this morning for all your intentions.

'I have just written the last sentence of my book. A good day to finish it on, especially considering the subject of the last few pages.

'But I have not finished it really: I have but brought it to an end. I have to correct, re-write, re-transcribe, sixty or seventy pages of (what will be) print. It will be a month or six weeks before it is out.

'Oh! what a toil it has been to me—for three years—how many times I have written it—but so I have most of the books I have published, and since last April I have been at work almost incessantly. I wonder what it will turn out to be; for I never was so ignorant before, of the practical good and use of anything I have written. Its use will be a matter of fact which can only be ascertained by experience.

'I have at times been quite frightened lest the labour of thought might inflict on me some terrible retribution at my age. It is my last work. I say work because "work" implies effort—and there are many things I can do without an effort. This is the fifth constructive work which I have done—two as a Protestant, three as a Catholic.

'Pray for me and believe me
Yours most sincerely in Xt.,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

It soon became known that the book was practically ready, and friends became eager to learn the day of publication. But {267} the work of final correction was anxious and laborious. He writes to Hope-Scott on January 2, 1870:

'I am engaged, as Bellasis knows, in cutting across the isthmus of Suez; though I have got so far as to let the water in to the canal, there is an awkward rock in mid channel near the mouth which takes a deal of picking and blasting. And no man of war will be able to pass through, till I get rid of it. Thus I can't name a day for the opening.'

The book was ready in February; it was dedicated to Mr. Serjeant Bellasis 'in memory of a long, equable, and sunny friendship.' [Note 4] Newman received the specimen bound copy on February 21st—his sixty-ninth birthday. On the following day he wrote to Henry Wilberforce:

'The Oratory: Feb. 22nd, 1870.
'My dear Henry,—Thank you for your affectionate letter. I am now in my 70th year; wonderful!

'I shall say Mass for you all on the 24th. It is singular how many deaths of friends group round the 21st. On the 21st is Miss Roberts', Johnson's and Bowden's aunt, whom I knew from 1818. On the 22nd Henry Bowden's first wife, and my great friend Mr. Mayers. On the 23rd Archdeacon Froude, and on the 24th dear John. Besides on the 28th are Hurrell Froude and Manuel Johnson, and on the 13th Father Joseph Gordon. Then on the 3rd is Robert.

'I sent up the last corrections of my book on the evening of the 20th, and a specimen of it bound came down on the 21st. So I date it the 21st.

'Agnes shall have it, as soon as it is out. It has run to 100 pages more than it ought. I hoped it would be 380—it is 487—and a fat book. People will say, much cry and little wool—so, all this labour has issued in this dry, humdrum concern. Tell Agnes she is bound not to begin at the end, not to skip, but to get it up from the first page on. And she will have a profitable Lent exercise of mortification.
'Ever yours affectionately,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

To Miss Holmes he wrote on March 2: {268}

'You will be disappointed with my Grammar, and so will every one be. It is what it is, and it is not what it isn't—and what it isn't most people will expect that it is. It won't be out for 10 days or a fortnight yet. It is my last work—I say "work," for though I may fiddle-faddle henceforth, a real piece of labour will be beyond me. This is what old men cannot do—and when they attempt it, they kill themselves. An old horse, or an old piece of furniture, will last a long time, if you take care of it,—so will the brain—but if you forget that it is old, it soon reminds you of the fact by ceasing to be.'

To Father Coleridge he wrote after the publication of his book:

'The Oratory: March 13, 1870.
' … I have tried to be as exact as I possibly can theologically in what I have written, and hope I have observed all the landmarks which theologians have laid down, but I know, even if I succeed in having the consciousness of this so far, still the main question is, whether I have added anything to the difficult subject of which I have treated, or have left it more confused than I found it.

'However, anyhow I have got a great burden off my mind—for 20 or 30 years I have felt it a sort of duty to write upon it, and I have begun again and again but never could get on, and again and again I have in consequence stopped. Now, whether I have done it well or ill, still I have done it. I have no further call on me. I have done my best, and given my all, and I leave it to Him to prosper or not, as He thinks fit, for Whom I have done it. I say the incubus is off my mind and it is hardly too much to say that I look forward to death more happily, as if I had less to keep me here. I suppose it will be my last work—meaning by "work" anxiety and toil. Myself, I don't think it my worst—but then I recollect it is often said that an author thinks his worst work his best.'

The book did not pass without criticism, and the criticisms led to interesting letters. Mr. Leslie Stephen and Mr. FitzJames Stephen both attacked it in Fraser's Magazine. Others criticised it from the scholastic standpoint. It was of course contrary to scholastic precedent to dwell almost exclusively as he had done on Conscience as the argument for the existence of God. Mr. Brownlow wrote to him as though he had recognised no argument for Theism from the visible creation; but Newman pointed out that this was an {269} exaggeration. It is interesting that he had been suspicious of Paley's argument from 'Design,' even before the evolution theory suggested a weak point in it. But the argument from 'Order' was recognised in the 'Grammar of Assent.' He writes thus to Mr. Brownlow [Note 5] on the subject:

'The Oratory: April 13th, 1870.
'My dear Brownlow,—It is very pleasant to me to hear what you say about my new book—which has given me great anxiety. I have spoken of the argument for the being of a God from the visible Creation at page 70 paragraph 1. "Order implies purpose" &c. I have not insisted on the argument from design, because I am writing for the 19th Century, by which, as represented by its philosophers, design is not admitted as proved. And to tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for 40 years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design. You will say that the 19th Century does not believe in conscience either—true—but then it does not believe in a God at all. Something I must assume, and in assuming conscience I assume what is least to assume, and what most will admit. Half the world knows nothing of the argument from design—and, when you have got it, you do not prove by it the moral attributes of God—except very faintly. Design teaches me power, skill, and goodness, not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion.'

Before the end of the year Father Harper, the Jesuit, had written an elaborate attack on the book from the standpoint of a thoroughgoing scholastic.

Of this criticism, which appeared in successive articles in the Month, Newman wrote thus to Father Coleridge:

'The Oratory: Febry. 5, 1871.
'My dear Fr. Coleridge,—I began to read Fr. Harper's papers, but they were (to my ignorance of theology and philosophy) so obscure, and (to my own knowledge of my real meaning) so hopelessly misrepresentations of the book, that I soon gave it over. As to my answering, I think I never answered any critique on any writing of mine, in my life. My "Essay on Development" was assailed by Dr. Brownson on one side, and Mr. Archer Butler on the other, at great length. Brownson, I believe, thought me a Pantheist— {270} and sent me his work to Rome, by some American Bishop. Mr. Butler has been lauded by his people as having smashed me. Now at the end of twenty years, I am told from Rome that I am guilty of the late Definition by my work on Development, so orthodox has it been found in principle, and on the other side Bampton Lectures have been preached, I believe, allowing that principle. The Guardian acknowledges the principle as necessary, and the Scotch Editors of Dorner's great work on our Lord's Person, cautioning of course the world against me, admit that development of doctrine is an historical fact. I shall not live another 20 years, but, as I waited patiently, as regards my former work, for "Time to be the Father of Truth," so now I leave the judgment between Fr. Harper and me to the sure future.

'Father Mazio said of my "Development," "I do not know how it is, but so it is, that all these startling things, Mr. Newman brings them round at the end to a good conclusion," and so now the Quarterly (if I recollect) talks in a kind sense of my surprises, and the Edinburgh of my audacity. I do not mean myself to surprise people or to be audacious, but somehow, now at the end of life, I have from experience a confidence in myself, and, (though with little of St. Cyprian's sanctity, but with more of truth, as I trust, in my cause) I am led to take to myself some portion of the praise given him in Keble's line, and to "trust the lore of my own loyal heart." I trust to having some portion of an "inductive sense," founded in right instincts.

'My book is to show that a right moral state of mind germinates or even generates good intellectual principles. This proposition rejoices the Quarterly, as if it was a true principle—it shocks the Edinburgh, as if Pascal and others were much more philosophical in saying that religion or religiousness is not ultimately based on reason. And the Guardian says that whether this view will or will not hold is the problem now before the intellectual world, which coming years is to decide. Let those, who think I ought to be answered, those Catholics, first master the great difficulty, the great problem, and then, if they don't like my way of meeting it find another. Syllogizing won't meet it.

'You see then I have not the very shadow of a reason against Fr. Harper's future papers, as I think they will all go ultimately, after I am gone, to the credit of my work.

'While I say this, of course I am sensible it may be full of defects, and certainly characterized by incompleteness and {271} crudeness, but it is something to have started a problem, and mapped in part a country, if I have done nothing more.
'Yours most sincerely,
JOHN. H. NEWMAN.'

It was a fact of great importance at the moment that W. G. Ward, who had opposed Newman so strongly on the question of Papal claims, welcomed the 'Grammar' enthusiastically in an article in the Dublin Review. W. G. Ward's reputation for staunch orthodoxy made this fact largely outweigh in the general Catholic mind the opposition to it on the part of Father Harper, the Jesuit, in the Month, on the lines of scholastic philosophy.

W. G. Ward helped the immediate acceptance of the book both by intimating his concurrence with its general line of thought, and by pointing out that some of the views set forth by Newman and criticised by such modern scholastics as Father Harper, had been already urged by the best thinkers among the schoolmen. Moreover, Mr. Ward wrote the following statement—vivid if slightly paradoxical—of the general difficulty which Newman's book was designed to answer, a difficulty which its hostile Catholic critics appeared not to apprehend, and to which they certainly did not offer any alternative solution.

'Catholics are taught (so the non-Christian philosopher objects) to regard it as a sacred duty that they shall hold, most firmly and without a shadow of doubt, the truth of certain marvels which are alleged to have taken place nineteen centuries ago. As to examining the evidence for those truths, the great mass of Catholics are of course philosophically uncultured and simply incompetent to such a task. But even were they competent thereto, they are prevented from attempting it. Except a select few of them, they are all forbidden to read or knowingly to hear one syllable of argument on the other side. Under such circumstances, proof for their creed they can have none; any more than a judge can have proof who has only heard witnesses on one side, and them not cross-examined. So far from proportioning their assent to the evidence on which their doctrine rests, the assent claimed from them is the very highest, while the evidence afforded them is less than the least.

'But take even any one of the select few who are permitted to study both sides of the question. He will tell you {272} quite frankly that his belief was as firm before his examination as it is now; nay, and that he regards it as a sin, which unrepented would involve him in eternal misery, if he allowed himself so much as one deliberate doubt on the truth of Catholicity. I place before him some serious difficulty, which tells against the most central facts of his religion: he had never heard of the difficulty before, and he is not now at all sure that he will be able to answer it. I should have expected, were it not for my knowledge of Catholics, that the confidence of his conviction would be diminished by this circumstance; for, plainly, an unanswered difficulty is no slight abatement from the body of proof on which his creed reposes. But he says unblushingly that if he were to study for ten years without seeing how to meet the point I have suggested, his belief in his Church, whose claim of authority he recognizes as divinely authorized, would be in no respect or degree affected by the circumstance.

'Nor is it for themselves alone, but for all mankind, that Catholics prescribe this rebellion against reason. They maintain that every human being, to whom their Gospel is preached, is under an obligation of accepting with firmest faith the whole mass of Catholic facts—the miraculous Conception, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.; while it is simply undeniable that 999 out of every 1000 are absolutely incapable of appreciating ever so distantly the evidence on which these facts are alleged to repose.

'Nor, to do them justice, do they show the slightest disposition to conceal or veil their maxims. The Vatican Council itself has openly anathematized all those who shall allege that Catholics may lawfully suspend their judgment on the truth of Catholicity, until they have obtained for themselves scientific proof of its truth [Note 6].

'I have no general prejudice against Catholics; on the contrary, I think many of them possess some first-rate qualities. But while their avowed intellectual maxims are those above recited, I must regard them as external to the pale of intellectual civilization. I have no more ground on which I can argue with a Catholic than I have ground on which I can argue with a savage.' {273}

In private, as well as in public, W. G. Ward expressed his admiration of the work, and spoke of it as forming the basis of a new and important Catholic philosophy. He wrote his congratulations to the author, and Newman replied to him as follows:

'My dear Ward,—It is a very great pleasure to me to receive your letter, both as expressing a favourable opinion of my book and as recording a point of agreement between us on an important subject. It would be strange indeed if I were not quite aware, as I am, that there are portions of my theory which require finishing or revising. I expect it to be my last work, meaning by work labour and toil.
'Yours affectionately in Christ,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

To Aubrey de Vere he wrote to much the same effect:

'You must not think that I am sure myself that I have done any great thing—for I have felt very little confidence in it—though words like yours, and you are not the only person who has used such, are a very great encouragement to me—but I could not help feeling that I had something to give out whatever its worth, and I felt haunted with a sort of responsibility, and almost a weight on my conscience, if I did not speak it, and yet I could not. So that it is the greatest possible relief at length to have got it off my mind—as if I heard the words "he has done what he could." And, while I say this, I really am not taking for granted that your favourable criticism is the true one—and I recollect that what a man thinks his best work is often his worst. But then I think, too, that sometimes a man's failures do more good to the world or to his cause than his best successes—and then I feel as if I could die happier now that I have no Essay on Assent to write, and I think I shall never write another work, meaning by work a something which is an anxiety and a labour. "Man goeth forth to his work and to his labours until the evening," and my evening is surely come—though not my night.'

W. G. Ward pursued the subject in the Dublin Review in several articles. He owned to certain minor differences with Newman's book. But, as I have said, he insisted not only upon its value, but on the consistency of its most characteristic positions with views held by the greater schoolmen of {274} earlier and more recent times. He chose Father Kleutgen to represent the latter and de Lugo the former. On the knowledge of God through Conscience, and on the quasi-instinctive apprehension by the religious mind 'with a heart and an eye for truth' of the reasons both for Theism and for Christianity his citations were equally effective [Note 7].

This article in the Dublin told strongly in favour of the view that there was nothing in Newman's treatment different in kind from that of the really great Catholic thinkers, scholastic or other; that the opposition to his book came mainly from those who were not thinkers—who judged only by traditional modes of expression which were current in the text-books, without realising the ideas which were involved.

The book had a wide circulation, and was read in the families which specially loved its author, by those who did not understand it as well as by those who did.

'I am glad you like my Grammar of Assent,' Newman writes to a friend, 'and am amused that you should turn it to the purposes of educating Margaret. "Thirty days hath {275} September" and the Multiplication Table will do no harm. Reading itself is only a trick of artificial memory.'

He had, as we have seen, been especially anxious to help those who, from their own lack of technical knowledge, were tried by the popular arguments of the day against religious belief. He was gratified to find that the chapter on Certitude had had just the effect he desired in the case of his friend Miss Holmes:

'It will please me much,' he writes to her on March 26, 'if you say of the last 100 pages what you say for the chapter on certitude—for they were written especially for those who can't go into questions of the inspiration of Scripture, authenticity of books, passages in the Fathers, &c. &c.—especially for such ladies as are bullied by infidels and do not know how to answer them—a misfortune which I fear is not rare in this day. I wanted to show that, keeping to broad facts of history, which everyone knows and no one can doubt, there is evidence and reason enough for an honest inquirer to believe in revelation.'

He sent the book also to those who felt the deficiencies of current apologetic—who desiderated a more candid observation of facts, in dealing with the mixed subjects covered by apologetic and theology. Many Catholic writers seemed to him to apply exclusively the deductive method, belonging to theology proper, to fields in which historical evidence is both weighty and relevant. The appositeness and value of the Baconian method appeared to be ignored by them. The 'Grammar of Assent,' with its minute psychological observations, was a step in the desired direction, and Newman sent it to one who had expressed to him the above criticism. In reply to his enthusiastic letter of thanks Newman wrote as follows:

'My dear Sir,—I thank you for the very kind way in which you have received my book.

'The only drawback to my satisfaction is that you expect much more from it than you will find. You have truly said that we need a Novum Organum for theology, and I shall be truly glad if I shall be found to have made any suggestion which will aid the formation of such a calculus. But it must be the strong conception and the one work of a great genius, {276} not the obiter attempt of a person like myself who has already attempted many things and is at the end of his days.
'I am, my dear Sir,
Most truly yours,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

The author had opportunities of learning the effect of his book on persons in doubt. One such reader expressed her objections to its line of argument in a letter to Mr. Brownlow, forwarded by him to Newman, who thus replied:

'The Oratory: April 29, 1871.
' ... As you will see, she confuses the conclusion from evidence, with the act of assent which depends on the will. No one on earth can have evidence strictly sufficient for an absolute conclusion, but I may have evidence so strong that 'I may see it is my duty to give my absolute assent to it. I have not absolute demonstration that my father was not a murderer, or my intimate friend a sharper, but it would not only be heartless, but irrational, not to disbelieve these hypotheses or possibilities utterly—and, anyhow, in matter of fact men generally do disbelieve them absolutely—and therefore the Church, as the Minister of God, asks us for nothing more in things supernatural than common sense, than nature asks of us in matters of this world. I believe absolutely that there is a North America—and that the United States is a Republic with a President—why then do I not absolutely believe, though I see it not, that there is a Heaven and that God is there? If you say that there is more evidence for the United States than for Heaven, that is intelligible—but it is not a question of more or less; since the utmost evidence only leads to probability and yet you believe absolutely in the United States, it is no reason against believing in heaven absolutely, though you have not "experience" of it. But you have said all this to her.

'She says there are persons who are certain of the Christian religion because they have strictly proved it—no one is certain for this reason. Every one believes by an act of will, more or less ruling his intellect (as a matter of duty) to believe absolutely beyond the evidence.

'She says "acts of certitude are always made about things of which our senses or our reasons do, or can take cognizance"—our senses do not tell us that there is a "United States" and our reason does not demonstrate it, only makes it probable. 'Try to analyze the reasons why one {277} believes in the United States. We not only do not, but we could not make a demonstration; yet we assent absolutely.

'"How can any human testimony make me quite certain that I am hearing a message from God?" None can, but human testimony may be such as to make me see it is my duty to be certain. Action is distinct [from] a conclusion—yet a conclusion may be such as to make me see that action is a duty—and so belief is not a conclusion—yet [a conclusion] may be such as to make me see that belief is a duty—And, as I cannot act merely because I ought to act, so I cannot believe merely because I ought to believe.

'I may wish both to act and to believe—though I can do neither—and, as I ask God for grace to enable me to act, so I ask Him for grace to enable me to believe.

'"It is the gift of God—why does He not give it me?" Because you do not perseveringly come to Him for the gift, and do your part by putting aside all those untrue and unreal and superfluous arguings.

'"To see and touch the supernatural with the eye of my soul, with its own experience, this is what I want to do." Yes, it is—You wish to "Walk, not by faith, but by sight." If you had experience, how would it be faith?

'Of course every one must begin with reason. If your friend cannot bring herself to feel that what I have said above, which is what our theologians say, is so far rational that she is bound to act on it, I do not see what can be said. But I think it plain that she is no fit recipient of the Sacraments, unless she feels that faith is ever more than, ever distinct from, an inference from premisses, and tries and prays and desires with all her heart to exercise it. But, while she persists in saying that it is irrational, or unreasonable, or unphilosophical, or unjustifiable, because it is more than reason, that is, more than an inference, while she thinks that in order to be true to the law of her mind, to nature, to herself, she must not aim at any belief stronger than the premisses, whereas human nature, human sense, and the laws of the mind, just say the reverse, I don't think she can be absolved.

'I have answered you to the best of my ability, and praying the Giver of all grace to guide you and to disenchant her, for she is like a fly in a spider's web.
'JOHN H. NEWMAN.'

Six months after the 'Grammar' was published, Newman wrote as follows in his journal: {278}

'Oct 30, 1870. How unpleasant it is to read former memoranda—I can't quite tell why. They read affected, unreal, egotistical, petty, fussy. There is much in the above, which I should tear out and burn, if I did as I wished. One writes in particular humours—Perhaps if I looked over it six months hence, I should like what now I don't like. I wonder whether I shall burn it all when I am going to die. Perhaps I shall leave it for what is valuable in it.

'Since I published my Essay on Assent last March, I have meant to make a memorandum on the subject of it. It is the upshot of a very long desire and effort—I don't know the worth of it, but I am happier to have at length done it and got it off my hands. Authors (or at least I) can as little foretell what their books will be before they are written, as fathers can foretell whether their children will be boys or girls, dark or fair, gentle or fiery, clever or stupid. The book itself I have aimed at writing these twenty years;—and now that it is written I do not quite recognise it for what it was meant to be, though I suppose it is such. I have made more attempts at writing it than I can enumerate ...

'These attempts, though some of them close upon others, were, I think, all distinct. They were like attempts to get into a labyrinth, or to find the weak point in the defences of a fortified place. I could not get on, and found myself turned back, utterly baffled. Yet I felt I ought to bring out what my mind saw, but could not grasp, whatever it was worth. I don't say it is worth much, now that it has come out, but I felt as if I did not like to die before I had said it. It may suggest something better and truer than it to another, though worth little in itself. Thus I went on year after year. At last, when I was up at Glion over the Lake of Geneva, it struck me: "You are wrong in beginning with certitude—certitude is only a kind of assent—you should begin with contrasting assent and inference." On that hint I spoke, finding it a key to my on ideas.'

Top | Contents | Biographies | Home


Notes

1. See Vol. I., p. 393.
Return to text

2. See Vol. I., pp. 244, 247.
Return to text

3. See Idea of a University, p. 477.
Return to text

4. The story runs that Newman nearly passed the final proof of the dedication without noticing that the printer had put 'funny' for 'sunny.' I believe this to be true; but a further story was also circulated (which is fabulous) that the words ran in the proof 'in memory of a long squabble and funny friendship.'
Return to text

5. Afterwards Bishop of Clifton.
Return to text

6. 'Si quis dixerit parem esse conditionem fidelium, etc., ita ut Catholici justam causam habere possint fidem, quam sub Ecclesiae magisterio jam susceperunt, assensu suspenso in dubium vocandi donec demonstrationem scientificam credibilitatis et veritatis fidei suae absolverint, anathema sit.'—Dei Filius, c. 3, canon 6.
Return to text

7. Against those who objected to Newman's speaking of our knowledge of God through Conscience as though it were a heterodox doctrine of Divine immanence he could quote with effect the words of Kleutgen that God 'makes Himself felt within us by his moral law as an August Power to which we are subject.' Against those who objected that Newman's 'illative sense' placed reason on a level with irrational instinct he quoted the words of the same writer: 'how many truths there are concerning duty, concerning nature and art, which a man of good judgment knows with perfect accuracy without being distinctly cognisant how he passes in successive judgments from one truth to another.' Kleutgen goes so far as to use the very word 'instinct' of the spontaneous knowledge of God of which Newman had spoken as coming to us through our Conscience. He represents the object of a philosophy of Theism as being to show that the instinct is rational. 'Why,' he writes, 'should not science take as the object of its researches that knowledge of God which we instinctively possess ... philosophy is able and is bound to show that that method of reasoning from the world's existence to God's to which our intellect is spontaneously impelled, is conformable to the clearly known laws of our thought.'

De Lugo speaks expressly of the illative sense as 'virtus intellectus et voluntatis, ut uno actu brevissimo et subtilissimo attingant compendiose totam illam seriem motivorum,' etc.

W. G. Ward himself goes a step further in Newman's direction, maintaining that even after philosophy has done its best, the still unanalysed motives for belief—its 'implicit grounds' as he calls them—remain the strongest in the evidences for Christianity and Catholicity, as the Conscience presents the strongest argument for Theism.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Biographies | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2004 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.