Chapter 2. Early life at home and at Oxford—Newman's dogmatic creed—His book on the Arians

{16} JOHN HENRY NEWMAN was born in London on the 21st of February, 1801. He was the son of Mr. John Newman, a member of the banking firm of Ramsbottom, Newman, & Co., who at one time lived near Bloomsbury Square, in the garden of which John Henry Newman and Benjamin Disraeli used to play together about 1810. The bank failed soon after the peace of 1815 had caused the contraction of the paper currency and the rapid fall of prices, and this made it necessary for Newman to take his degree without reading for honours, at the earliest possible age.

Mrs. Newman was a Miss Fourdrinier, a member of a Huguenot family which had settled in London as paper manufacturers, and had introduced some important improvements into the machinery of paper making. She was a moderate Calvinist, and taught her children to read and love Scott, Romaine, Newton, Milner, and all sincere thinkers of that school. From a child Newman was taught to take great delight in the Bible, and to the effect produced on him by Scott's essays and commentary, he declares that he may almost {17} be said "to owe" his "soul." It was Scott's "bold unworldliness" and "vigorous independence of mind" which so deeply impressed him. "He followed truth," says Dr. Newman, "wherever it led him, beginning with Unitarianism, and ending in a zealous faith in the Holy Trinity;" and it was Scott who first planted deep in his mind "that fundamental truth of religion." Indeed, before he was sixteen he had made "a collection of Scripture texts in proof of the doctrine," with remarks, he believes, of his own upon them. And upon this foundation, no doubt, was erected that firm faith in the necessity of dogma as part and parcel of revelation on which in later life he so often insisted. The two principles which he borrowed from Scott as "the scope and issue of his doctrine" were "Holiness before peace," and "Growth the only evidence of life." From the time when, as a boy, he read Law's Serious Call, Dr. Newman dates his firm inward assent to "the doctrine of eternal punishments as delivered by our Lord Himself," in as true a sense as he held that of eternal happiness, though, as he remarks, he has tried in various ways "to make the truth less terrible to the reason." When he was only fifteen he took great delight in reading the extracts from the Fathers which Milner gives in his Church history, and which prepossessed him in favour of the conceptions of ecclesiastical influence and life which he found there, even at the very time when he was induced to take up from Newton's book on the prophecies, a notion so inconsistent with the belief of the primitive Church, as that the Church of Rome is Antichrist—a conception which for many years, he declares, " stained" his imagination, even after his intellect had given judgment against it. {18}

And in the same year, the autumn of 1816, when he was not yet sixteen, he was taken possession of by the conviction that it was God's will that he should lead a single life, a conviction which held its ground ever since with certain brief intervals of a "month now and a month then," up to the age of twenty-eight, after which it possessed him without any break at all. Add to these impressions, clearly not very coherent, since his admiration for the early Fathers was certainly wholly inconsistent with his belief that Rome was Antichrist, the rather capricious doctrine which he borrowed from a book of Romaine's, that men know whether they are elect or not, and that, if elect, they are of course sure of their "final perseverance,"—a view which he held till a year or two after he had taken his degree at Oxford, when it gradually faded away,—and we find enough material for theological fermentation in his dreamy and profoundly susceptible mind. His love of music and his skill in it no doubt added to the charm of a somewhat dreamy life.

Newman took his degree in 1820, a few months before he completed his twentieth year, and, as I have said, his name did not appear in the honours list at all, as his graduation was hurried on in consequence of his father's failure, which rendered it necessary that he should, as soon as possible, be independent of external aid. His early University life, of five or six years, was spent at Trinity College, and he is said to have published in 1821 two cantos of a poem on St. Bartholomew's Eve, which I have never seen. No doubt the Huguenot traditions in his mother's family rendered that event one of the most impressive to him in all the range of modern ecclesiastical history, and perhaps it is a matter {19} of some surprise that it did not prove to have exerted greater influence than it actually did, as an antidote to his patristic prepossessions, especially in connection with Newton's teaching that Rome is Antichrist.

In 1823 Newman was elected to a fellowship in Oriel College, then the most distinguished in the University. It was at this time that he was most lonely, not having as yet formed any close friendships in Oriel, and feeling, as he says, rather "proud of his college" than at home there. Dr. Copleston, who was at that time Provost of Oriel, to whom Newman afterwards paid so fine a tribute in his lectures on The Idea of a University, once met him taking his lonely walk, and said to him with a bow "Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus," a sentence which must always have described Dr. Newman's feeling for solitude, though he soon formed an intimate friendship with Dr. Pusey, which lasted to the end of the latter's life; though it was, of course, more or less broken in upon by Dr. Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism. In the same year he first read Butler's Analogy, and gathered from it two principles, which, as he tells us himself, profoundly influenced his future course of thought. The one was that you should interpret the less certain aspects of what is called natural religion, in the sense of revealed religion, and not vice versā, in other words, that you should take the sacramental system of revealed religion as the key to natural religion, and look at material phenomena as intended to convey, and actually conveying, spiritual influences. This teaching perfectly fell in with his boyish dream that the world was not what it seemed, and that a certain disguise of higher influences under a material mask might be involved in the structural principles of the {20} universe. And this teaching was confirmed later by Newman's profound love for Keble's Christian Year.

Keble was a fellow of his new College, and his volume of poems so entitled was published in 1827, when Newman was already beginning to exercise a considerable influence at Oriel as a tutor of his College and as an examiner in the University. The doctrine "that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen" was suggested by Butler's principle that there is a real analogy between the system of nature and the system of revelation, and that the latter should teach us to interpret the former rather than the former to interpret the latter, while Keble's poetry suggested a hundred ways in which that analogy might be traced.

The second principle which Newman learned from Butler was, that "probability is the guide of life." But he could not, as he tells us, accept this as satisfactory in the region of religious belief. If it were possible to act on such a principle, "the celebrated saying, 'O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul,' would be a legitimate form of devotion; but," as Newman asks, "'who can really pray to a Being about whose existence he is seriously in doubt?'" Might not the word "seriously" be omitted? Who could really pray to a highly probable God, to a God for the reality of whose existence he thinks there are even ninety-nine chances against one? Is it prayer till you recognize your mental contact with the object of prayer? Indeed Newman felt this so strongly, and felt so profoundly the certainty of God's relation to himself, that he learned to draw a distinction between the reasons which he could give for any belief and the certainty with which he held it, holding that reasons which in themselves {21} only amount to probabilities are often transformed into absolute certitude by the action of the Divine will. Thus Newman accepted Butler's teaching only so far as it displayed the rational preparation for belief, but rejected it so far as it suggested that any doubt as to the highest truths might remain.

During the earlier part of his life at Oriel College Newman made a fast friendship with Dr. Hawkins, afterwards the Provost of the College, and he attributes to the influence of Dr. Hawkins that finer care in the use of words, that delicacy in discriminating between cognate ideas, that habit "of obviating mistakes by anticipation, which to my surprise has since been considered, even in quarters friendly to me, to savour of the polemics of Rome." Dr. Hawkins was a fine scholar, and a scholar who was no more of a casuist than any man must be who is careful in distinguishing between different though closely related ideas. It seems to me that no greater mistake was ever made than in ascribing to the influence of Roman Catholic craft and casuistry that delight which Cardinal Newman has always taken in distinguishing between closely related yet quite different thoughts, and which he learned at Oxford, mostly from Dr. Hawkins, partly also from Dr. Whately. I am far from familiar with Roman Catholic controversy, but, so far as I know it, it seems to me to be rather deficient than prolific in the sort of subtlety which springs out of refined scholarship. Casuistic subtlety is one thing, and scholarly or psychological subtlety quite another. The former, which appears to be so abundant in the manuals of pastoral theology and morality, is a subtlety that has been organized for a particular practical purpose, and {22} which often ignores the most important differences when that practical purpose is not in question. But the sort of subtlety in which Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Whately were very soon surpassed by their companion and pupil was a very different thing—a subtlety born of meditation, self-scrutiny, and a genuine delight in the comparison of words and thoughts,—which were compared and contrasted, not for any ulterior purpose, but solely for the scientific pleasure derived from accurate classification and self-discipline.

Dr. Hawkins also taught Newman "the doctrine of tradition," namely, that the tradition of the Church was the original authority for doctrinal statements, and that Scripture was never intended to supply the first converts with their doctrinal creed, but only to afford the verification of that creed with which the tradition of the Church had furnished them. Just in the same way no one would look in the law-reports for the systematic doctrines of English law, or in parliamentary debates for the accepted principles of the English constitution; but when the principles of English law and of the English constitution had been explicitly laid down, the authorities which laid them down would verify them by references respectively to the law reports or parliamentary debates.

Thus Newman early came to assume that the living Church was the body to which we must still cling, both for the explicit statement of our creed and for the explicit exposition of rites and their significance; while he regarded Scripture only as containing that body of facts to which the Church referred as her authority for the creed which she inculcated, and for the worship she enjoined. {23}

In his book on The Arians of the Fourth Century Newman gave full expression to his confidence that dogma is the backbone of religion, and this he has always asserted with the utmost consistency and energy. "From the age of fifteen," he says in the Apologia, "dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion; I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion as a mere sentiment is to me a dream and a mockery. As well can there be filial love without the fact of a father, as devotion without the fact of a Supreme Being. What I held in 1816 I held in 1833, and I hold in 1864. Please God I shall hold it to the end. Even when I was under Dr. Whately's influence I had no temptation to be less zealous for the great dogmas of the faith, and at various times I used to resist such trains of thought on his part as seemed to me (rightly or wrongly) to obscure them." [Note 1] I suppose that all clear-headed men will agree with Cardinal Newman in admitting that, without the confession of certain intellectual truths, and without a careful sifting of what these truths are, there is no possibility of the safe preservation of any Divine revelation. But surely in this and other similar passages of his works he a little confuses between the intellectual conceptions which are necessarily implied in the fact of revelation, and the life and character which are the subjects of revelation. It is perfectly true that we cannot have filial feelings without a father or mother, and that we cannot have a father or mother without a full intellectual assent to the assertion of their existence, and to a good many other statements {24} as to the mind and character of that father or mother. But it is also perfectly true that many of those statements will be more or less mistaken,—deflected from the truth by our natural incapacity to enter fully into the mind and character of others. And therefore it does not in the least follow that, though there can be no true worship without our admitting the existence of God, and various great truths about God, all that we say about God need be nearly as certain as the very fact of His existence must be, nor even that all that is revealed about God need be quite as clear and quite as free from liability to misunderstanding as the great fact itself of His existence and of His holiness. If the great object of Christ's incarnation was the revelation of God Himself to the world, not the revelation of dogmas concerning God, then the primary object of Christ's life, and of the life of the Church, was the unveiling of the reality, for which purpose the due definition and guarding of dogma was only a secondary and subordinate duty. As the Church itself, admitted, and even maintained, it was quite possible both to feel rightly and to think rightly in relation to God without using the best or most accurate words to express those right thoughts and right feelings; and again, it is perfectly easy to conceive that a multitude of Christians may have had the right feelings towards God without having had the most accurate and clearly defined thoughts concerning His essential being. Dogma is essential in order to display and safeguard the revelation, but dogma is not itself the revelation. And it is conceivable that in drawing out and safeguarding the revelation, the Church may not unfrequently have laid even too much {25} stress on right conceptions, and too little on right attitudes of will and emotion. Dogma is only subsidiary to that unveiling of God to man which is the single aim of revelation, and instead of being made subsidiary, it is sometimes made to stand in the place of that to which it ought to be purely instrumental.

In his first theological book, that on The Arians of the Fourth Century, Newman himself admitted this when he said, "while the line of tradition, drawn out, as it was, to the distance of two centuries from the Apostles, had at length been of too frail a texture to resist the touch of subtle and ill-directed reason, the Church was naturally unwilling to have recourse to that novel though necessary measure of imposing an authoritative creed on those whom it invested with the office of teaching. If I avow my belief that freedom from symbols and articles is abstractedly the highest state of Christian communion, and the peculiar privilege of the primitive Church, it is not from any tenderness towards that proud impatience of control in which many exult as in a virtue, but first because technicality and formalism are, in their degree, inevitable results of public confessions of faith; and next because, where confessions do not exist, the mysteries of Divine truth, instead of being exposed to the gaze of the profane and uninstructed, are kept hidden in the bosom of the Church far more faithfully than is otherwise possible, and reserved, by a private teaching through the channel of her ministers, as rewards in due measure and season for those who are prepared to profit by them—for those, that is, who are diligently passing through the successive stages of faith and obedience." [Note 2] {26}

The admission that "technicality and formalism" necessarily follow on dogmatic definitions is important, but hardly adequate to the truth. The real danger is, that the pains taken to understand, and avail themselves of, theological safeguards against error, shall supersede in men's minds the habit of gazing steadily at the fulness of the Divine character as gradually unveiled to them, though the diffusion of this habit is the end and aim of Hebrew prophecy and the purpose of Christ's life and death and resurrection. Dogma is analysis and inference, and necessarily inadequate analysis and inference. Such analysis and inference are forced on the Church by denials which tend to obscure the revelation given. But for those who were not likely to have been tempted and misled by those denials, dogmatic teaching may be positively mischievous as fixing their attention too exclusively on those aspects of revelation which are the least likely to develop a spiritual life. In The Arians of the Fourth Century Newman illustrated very effectively what he found in dogma that was really essential to the true apprehension of revelation.

And I cannot better deal with this early and very careful bit of work than by giving some specimen of its bearing on Newman's great principle that dogma is of the very essence of revelation. The book was finished in July, 1832, before the movement of 1833 began, and was published at the end of 1833. It may be said to have closed the first section of Newman's life. It is in many respects of high interest for its close reasoning and strict fidelity to principle, though it displays little of the literary skill of his later writings, being, indeed, dry almost to grittiness. If God, he says, did not send {27} His own Son into the world to be a ransom for sinners, and to inspire them with a new passion of devotion to their Creator, and a new loathing for the evil in themselves, then the whole story of revelation, of which the climax is anticipated in the account of Abraham's willingness to give up his only son Isaac at the invitation of God, is a dream, and the life of men on earth is robbed of its spiritual mainstay. Yet, in order to safeguard the truth of this revelation, if once it be denied and dissected by the sceptic, how much dogmatic analysis and definition, and of precautionary explanation is necessary! In fact, the whole Arian and Nestorian controversies are raised at once, so soon as an objector begins to recount the difficulties which beset the mind when it encounters such a revelation as this. If Christ were separate from God, then the love of God in giving up Christ to death for man would be in no wise specially attested; the sacrifice of Isaac would have been, in fact, a greater sacrifice, relatively to the power and character of the human being who made it, than was the sacrifice on Calvary. But if Christ were God, how much has to be explained in order to save this teaching from the alternative objection of either publishing to the world the love of a God who could cease to exist, or publishing something like a dramatic fiction in place of the greatest and most mysterious of all truths. Scripture insists, remarks Newman, that Christ is not only spoken of as God's Son in respect of His pre-existent nature, but in respect of His human nature, and that, in order to fix this idea firmly in our minds, He is called not only the Son of God in the state in which He lived before He appeared on earth, but absolutely God's "Son," or "only-begotten" Son. And this is announced in terms {28} which are intended to assert that whatever was in God was in the Son of God. "As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself ... that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father;" but then the word "Son" implies subordination, and Christ Himself asserted "My Father is greater than I;" and there the Arian conception at once enters, and if the word "Son" be too much insisted on in the sense which it bears in our human relations, there will be a tendency either to regard the Son of God as a creature, and therefore, so far as He is worshipped, there will be a tendency to worship a creature as Creator; or else in denying the Son of God the true Divine nature, to withdraw from Him all worship properly so called, which the Arians and Unitarians, who have legitimately developed the Arian idea, actually have done. But against this degradation of Christ from the divinity so persistently asserted for Him in Scripture, the whole drift of the revelation protests. And in order to secure the idea of "Son" from the materialistic misconceptions so engrafted on it, the revelation of Christ as the Word, or Reason, or Wisdom of God is given us, "to denote His essential presence in the Father in as full a sense as the attribute of wisdom is essential to Him." And also to denote His mediation—that it is through Him that the Father speaks to men—this declaration that the Son is also the Word of God is subjoined, and guards us against the impression that He is as individually distinct from the Father as a human son from a human father; indeed, it compels us to think of Him as identified with the Father in some sense much closer than sonship in its human aspects would imply. But here again comes in the {29} danger, that in speaking of Christ as the Word or Wisdom of God, the sense of a separate personality would be obliterated, which would end in the notion that the Father died upon the cross. To obviate this danger Christ is spoken of as the Word of God in a separate personality, as a permanently existing, real, and living Word, not as the mere breath or voice of the Father. All these definitions are requisite in order to protect the notion that Christ was at once "of God" and "in God," without both of which it would be impossible to read His life and death at once truly and spiritually and to give Him the love and worship which He claims. I have been obliged to summarize, but this close piece of reasoning will give an age which has almost forgotten what the claims of theological dogma are, some insight into Newman's vigorous and strenuous work.

Of course I have no intention of following Newman through the careful and scholarly book on the Arians. My only object is to make it quite clear, that in defending dogma he was defending what is at once essential to the very life and essence of the story of Christ's sacrifice for man in which Divine revelation culminates, and yet that in thus defending it, there is very great danger of losing sight of the core of the revelation, and indeed a moral certainty that many of those who would never have killed the soul of revelation by insisting on analyzing and dissecting its meaning for themselves, have been diverted from what is most moving and most elevating in it by the necessity of studying definitions and explanations for which they had no craving and would never have asked. I think the book shows that to some extent Newman underrated this unfortunate {30} effect of dogma on the most spiritual minds, and that he thought of dogma a little too much as the essence, instead of as the mere protective covering, of revelation. The substance of revelation is the character of God, and dogma is only necessary to those whose minds cannot enter into this marvellous revelation of the character of God and of His love for man without asking a hundred questions to which, in our present state, only very imperfect and unsatisfactory answers can be given—answers that only show how much greater are the difficulties of the semi-sceptics than of the hearty believers, and do not show that Christian faith is itself free from serious difficulty. In fact, the only attitude in which the mere intellect of man can rest easily, is the attitude of ignoring the whole difficulty and acquiescing in pure agnosticism. But then that is an attitude in which the soul of man cannot rest at all,—nor even the intellect of a man who has a soul as well as an intellect. But for the predominantly intellectual, dogmatic theology is a noble study, especially if it is so pursued as to remind them that the most it can effect is to point out the path of least resistance for the understanding that is coupled with a Christian heart and soul, and the much greater difficulties into which the understanding must plunge if it passes into a heretical region of thought. Theology, no doubt, is to some extent truly described as a line of escape which passes between the devil and the deep sea. If we are to believe with all our hearts the only life-giving story of the Creator's purposes and love, of which human history has furnished us with any trace, we must take our way between moral recklessness and self-will on the one side, and that apathy which springs out of utter despair of finding {31} a solution for the problem of life on the other side. And no doubt even that way is not without its perils, but these perils can, I think, be shown to be much less than those of believers who, while clinging to the gospel of Christ, try to get rid of all the subtleties and distinctions of theological science. And this is what Newman's book on the Arians so carefully and elaborately shows.

The book, too, has another interest besides the great precision and delicacy with which Newman traced out the precise positions of the various heretical thinkers, from Sabellius to Arius, including the whole school of semi-Arians, who were the antagonists of Athanasius. It shows Newman's delight in the Alexandrian school of theology, with its emphatic teaching as to the secondary or allegorical interpretation of Scripture, its reserve and its very gradual unfolding of the mysteries of Christianity to its catechumens, its conception of the Divine "economy" of revelation, and its doctrine that fragments of the teaching that had been carefully concentrated and kept continuous for the benefit of the Jews, are to be found scattered widely through the Pagan world. Newman was the first to deny that Arianism was of Alexandrian origin, and to maintain, what scholars now generally admit, that it originated in Antioch. Indeed, Newman loved the Greek theology so well that he quickly discovered its essential orthodoxy, and the Judaizing affinities of the Arian heresy, which had previously been supposed to originate with Arius himself. Newman's book was meant as a vindication of the Alexandrian school of theology from all direct responsibility for that heresy. And in this I believe he fully succeeded. {32}

As a great deal of the prejudice against Dr. Newman has been founded on his defence of the Alexandrian principle of spiritual economies to be practised by men in teaching revealed truth, just as it was practised by God in revealing it, I must say a few words on that subject. Newman pleads that St. Paul was practising an "economy" when on Mars hill he availed himself first of the altar erected to the Unknown God, and next of the authority of a Greek for the doctrine of God's fatherhood, instead of starting from the ground of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was of course his own starting-point; nay, that the first chapter of the book of Job, in which Satan is represented as commissioned by God to tempt Job and prove his fidelity, and the twenty-second chapter of the first book of Kings, in which God is represented as asking for a lying spirit to entice Ahab to his destruction by inducing the prophets of Israel to prophesy falsely concerning his engagement with the king of Syria at Ramoth-gilead, are both evidently "economical" in the sense that they do not convey absolute truth concerning the ways of God, but only "substantial truth in the form in which we were best able to receive it." Again, he argues that the Mosaic dispensation as a whole is an obvious "economy" "simulating unchangeableness, though from the first it was destined to be abolished." In any case, our Lord's own declaration, "I have yet many other things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth, for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever things He shall hear, those shall He speak; and He shall show you things to come," is as express a sanction of {33} "economy" as belonging to the very principle of God's revelation as can well be conceived; and it seems almost trivial to say that that which the providence of God sanctions, the prudence of man should not despise. Of course it is quite another question whether the conceit of prudence may not suggest, and sometimes practise, a mischievous reticence, and keep back portions of the Divine revelation which, if not withheld, would be the best fitted to make a profound impression on the heart. That is a question of individual judgment and moral insight; but to contend that the principle of economy is to be condemned in toto, is about as silly as to contend that what is suitable for impressing the hearts of grown-up men and women, is equally suitable for impressing the hearts of children; or that what is fitted for the ears of the highly-educated, is equally fitted for the ears of the ignorant and superstitious. I do not myself think that Newman can be justly accused of any disposition to push the principle of "economy" to excess. If he has ever done so, it is only by making occasional alterations in the original text of his own books without calling attention to them. And this has, I think, been rather due to a dislike for avowing the variations in his own judgment than to any dislike for speaking his mind freely enough while he is about it. The principle of "economy" is nothing in the world but good sense applied to the question of the best mode of bringing home God's truth to the minds of others.

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1. Apologia, p. 120.
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2. Arians of the Fourth Century, chap. i. sec. ii.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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