Forward by Hilaire Belloc

[From Apologia pro Vita Sua, edited for college use by Daniel M. O'Connell, S.J.,
 Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1930.]

{vii} Newman's Apologia has had an effect upon the world both greater than might have been expected and also of a different sort from what he himself would have expected. The book bears the character which you so often find in work that makes for the strengthening of the Catholic Faith, that it is an instrument in the hand of some other than its author.

In what then lies the peculiar effect of this book? In what its value?

Here any man may interrupt me and say, "In the style. Newman wrote a marvelous English. That accounts for the effect."

Now I admire to the very limits of admiration the prose style of the great Cardinal, and I think I may say without impertinence why I admire it, and that I have a right to admire it; for prose I would always distinguish from rhetoric. Lucidity—that is (a) knowing what you have got to say (b) saying it (c) so writing that what you intended is exactly reflected in the mind of the reader—lucidity is the test of prose. Now I turn over and over again to that book of Newman's written in his early vigor, "The Arians of the Fourth Century," and am lost in astonishment at the admirable quality of the prose. Here is a man writing upon a subject which only a few scholars consider; which has nothing in itself of general interest; which involves a quantity of tedious detail, yet the diction is such that it carries you on like a river, without effort: an amazing achievement.

If this be true of that book, how much more true must it be of the Apologia, written on what was a burning question of the time and round about what will be a matter of strong interest for ever—the approach of one mind towards the Catholic Church.

Yes, the Apologia of Newman conquers by its style, yet its style is far from being the main cause of its profound effect, its present (and increasing) position in European letters and in the story of our civilization. Its style alone, nay, its matter {viii} alone, would not have achieved these things. What has achieved them?

The place of the Apologia is due to the fact that it puts conclusively, convincingly, and down to the very roots of the matter, the method by which a high intelligence, not only Anglican but of Oxford, and from the heart of Oxford, accepted the Faith.

It is one of the myriad converging proofs of Catholic Truth that its appeal is multiform. From its beginnings men appreciated that. It is all bound up in the story of Whitsuntide (in the octave of which this is written). One man and woman thus, another man, another woman in a wholly different way, from attitudes most adverse, from positions each, in the eyes of an opponent, impossibly hostile, repeats the famous words, "My Lord and my God."

Of all angles from which a man could approach that central reality of this world, which is called the Faith, of all points of departure from which the midmost of the sphere could be reached, Newman's was the most astonishing. Hence I think the effect, hence the excitement roused by his act, hence the stunning effect of his famous explanation. Not only did he come out of Anglicanism, but out of that very quintessence of all that Anglicanism meant—Oxford; and out of the quintessence of that quintessence; out of the pulpit of St. Mary's, the University Church.

Today, mainly on account of Newman himself, we are accustomed to the conception of a struggling, attempted compromise between things so helplessly antagonistic as Anglicanism and the Faith.

In Newman's time it was not so. The contrast was prodigious, the effort at unity, as it were, unnatural. True, there had been strong stirring because the high intellect of England had never completely acquiesced in the political arrangements of the sixteenth century. Long before Pusey and the rest began their reinterpretation of Protestantism in pseudo-Catholic terms, there had come from men still unknown appreciations of the truth. I have in my own library a very remarkable book (written at Oxford also) dating from long before the Tractarians; it is called "Sacramental Absolution at Oxford." It is a book racy, humorous, full of energy, delightful to read and, I am afraid, quite forgotten. It ought to be reprinted. {ix}

But, though things were thus stirring, not only was the overt act on Newman's submission to the church enormous; it was also revolutionary. You may potter about as much as you like with "isms" and half-truths and compromises, and all will be well; but make the great declaration of the Faith and you are in for martyrdom. Moreover, you strike a note quite different from anything the compromisers have ever heard before.

But all this requires an explanation. For to the great mass of the English-speaking world (a false category by the way— a common language is not a principle of unity, as is a common philosophy) the nature of Anglicanism is unknown, and Oxford is but a name. Let me try to explain both these terms. I have lived among them all my life and know something of them.

When the new millionaires of the sixteenth century, who had built their sudden enormous fortunes upon the loot of religion (with the Cecils at their head) puzzled how they might make those fortunes secure, they had to deal with the fact that the England of Elizabeth was a Catholic England. The anti-Catholic minority was less than it is today in numbers, in power far less, than it is in Italy or even in Ireland. But the quarrel between Reformers and Traditionalists (many among the latter being slack supporters of corruption) had not yet crystallized into two opposing religious camps. Thus many bishops of the French church were asking for the Mass in the vernacular, a delegate from the French monarchy had suggested the marriage of the clergy. All was still in flux.

The new millionaires under the guidance of the Cecils (Elizabeth had no real power) determined on two things; first, to make the change as vague as possible and as elastic as possible, (subject always to their determination that the Mass and the full Catholic spirit should not return, lest they lose their plunder); secondly, to use as a weapon against the Universal Church the particular and local spirit of patriotism. Hence what is called in England the National Establishment, that is, the Church of England.

It is not a body of doctrine (it has never professed any body of doctrine with definition); it is a National Institution, exclusive of the Catholic Church and particularly of the central rite of the Mass because these are universal and not local. {x} National feeling and the National Church were inextricably combined. The Catholic of the sixteenth century was the man who had asked help of the foreigner against his fellow citizen; the Catholic today is made to feel that he is an alien. This was the ardent emotion out of which Newman came. Let no one imagine that the English Established Church is a mere "Episcopalian sect." Its numbers even on the widest definition include but a small minority of the people, but every Englishman thinks of it as a national thing, and his. Every Englishman not a Catholic strongly affirms his right (as we have seen during the recent discussion on the Prayer Book) to have his say upon this English thing: part of his possessions.

Men must worship something, and this religion of patriotism was the religion out of which all Newman's training came. What an awful decision to break ties like these!

If it be true that Anglicanism is the expression of English patriotism in religion, Oxford is, as I have called it, the very quintessence of Anglicanism: not of doctrines, for there are no doctrines, save repudiation of the Catholic Church. A man may deny the Resurrection, the Incarnation or what he will, so that he remain national and deny the Universal Church. Oxford means the very heart of this national thing, the Church of England.

Now Newman was not only of Oxford, nor only in Oxford; he was, if one may use the metaphor, Oxford itself. He trembled with delight in his membership of this essentially anti-Catholic body; and when I say "essentially anti-Catholic" I mean the very word I use—"essentially." Not adventitiously, not as one out of many attributes, but as the very idea that makes Oxford what it is, you will there find opposition to the Catholic Church; to Ireland, to Poland, to Catholic culture as a whole, to Catholic history, to Catholic morals.

Out of all that came Newman. To have been an undergraduate at Oxford College was his happiest memory. To be elected a Fellow of an Oxford College his proudest moment. He lived within an extremely narrow Oxford circle, responding vividly to its every function. He was Oxford as Jane Austen was of the drawing room or Dickens of London. Even those parallels are not nearly strong enough. He was Oxford as Foch is of the French Army or as an intensely loving husband and father is of his own family. {xi}

Hence, not consciously at all, the "Branch Theory" of the English Church arose to save, if it might be, the Catholic spirit, in what of its nature exists for the destruction of Catholicism.

And out of that Newman came! And in what suffering!

Truly it may be said that they who bear witness are martyrs always.

The Apologia was written against a man, Kingsley, who had made an accusation which would not have galled in any other surrounding as it did in those surroundings. He had accused Newman of falsehood and insincerity. A Catholic from almost anywhere else in Europe than from Oxford would have laughed aloud at accusations of insincerity from the peculiar atmosphere of the English Church. Not so Newman. Newman well understood the penetrative power of that accusation in England. He knew to the quick the impact against which he must defend himself. We know what the reaction was. It produced the great, the strongly founded book, standing stronger after so many years, which the reader has here before him.

Almost for the first time Newman compelled his generation to the use of exact reason. Almost for the first time in the long controversies whereof his audience had heard but confused affirmations, he threw the enemy upon the defensive; and since the time when he so acted the effect of his counter attack has spread over wider and wider circles.

And here it is that I must conclude with the universal effect of the book. Of the Anglican Church Europe knows little and cares less, and will know still less and care still less as its dissolution proceeds. Of Oxford, European civilization as a whole takes no account, regarding it today for what in the main it is, a playground for rich young men, and certainly not the same kind of thing, nor even the tolerated equal of Paris or Leipsig or any other of the great universities of our time.

Yet over all Europe the effect of the Apologia continues increasing even beyond that of the noble "Grammar of Assent."

Such is the power of three things combined, interest in reality, an ardor to defend reality, use of the reason for the defense {xii} of reality. The appetite, the task, the weapon, the three between them are most worthy of a man.

H. Belloc
May 20, 1928.

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