Catholicism and Reason
A Reply to Principal Fairbairn
[The Contemporary Review, November 1885]

{656} "HOW may the Christian Faith be preached with success to an intellectual nineteenth century?" Such is the question Principal Fairbairn handles in the four very striking and suggestive papers on "The Churches and the Ideal of Religion," "Catholicism and Apologetics," "Catholicism and Religious Thought," and "Catholicism and Historical Criticism," which, as was natural in the case of so distinguished a writer, have been widely read and commented upon. That Dr. Fairbairn has shown himself learned, forcible, and eloquent, as well as a man of very kindly feeling towards those who differ from him; that he has illustrated his subject on every side, and combined history, criticism, and metaphysics after a rare and instructive manner; that, in especial, he has given proof of a most intimate acquaintance with Catholic literature during the last hundred years, I need not inform any one who has but glanced at these essays. I should like, for my own part, to add how encouraging it is, in a time of sharp antagonisms and controversies about the very foundations of Christianity, to meet with an author whose conclusions, widely as I dissent from certain of them, are dictated by a profoundly religious spirit, and have for their purpose to persuade an unbelieving age that Jesus of Nazareth is still the beginning and the end of wisdom, because He is the "only-begotten Son of God." Many things are implied in this confession, as it seems to me, which Dr. Fairbairn has overlooked or will not grant; but the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ is ever that of Christ's divine personality, and I rejoice to think of Dr. Fairbairn, and the many for whom he speaks, as on this point not separated from the Roman Communion which, even whilst criticizing it, he has described in glowing and generous terms. Thus he and we stand together on the same side of that gulf across {657} which we address agnostics, atheists, disbelievers in things unseen, and the vast crowd that neither believes nor disbelieves but is indifferent. So much I gladly recognize. However, the picture has deep shadows, if it has also agreeable and unexpected lights, for a Catholic. In defending Christianity, these four essays, I regret to say, make an assault not only upon the most venerable embodiment of it, which Dr. Fairbairn acknowledges the Roman Church to be, but upon authority itself, considered as the basis of Revealed Religion.

For example: The problem being to preach Christianity so that men shall again believe it, we are told that "we must take some higher way than the ancient one of founding and maintaining churches;" that religion must be emancipated from the churches, since these have, on the whole, "become simply the most irreligious of institutions, mischievous in the very degree of their power." "The most perfectly organized and administered ecclesiasticism," it is added, "may but effectually imprison the living Spirit of God." Even harder words follow. What is the great enemy of God in these days? Materialism, one might answer, or indifference, or systematic immorality, all of which count their disciples by thousands and tens of thousands around us. But Dr. Fairbairn proclaims that "the great enemy of God is the idea of the Church and its priesthood." Not without pain does one read or quote a sentence excommunicating at a single stroke, the Roman, the Anglican, and the Greek Churches, and charging them with a common apostasy from that which, at any rate, they have endeavoured to keep alive among men—the Gospel teaching. Visible Christianity would thus have frustrated the very purpose which it professes to carry out; between the church and the synagogue of Satan there would be no assignable difference; and the work of the Founder would need to be done over again, as if He had wrought in vain. So we are told it must. "The clamant need of our day is to recover the religious idea of Jesus." That idea, then, has been lost; historic churches are misleading caricatures of the Eternal and ought to be reformed or perhaps dispensed with; and religion as it created may abolish them. There was once a visible Christ; in Dr. Fairbairn's opinion this does not at all imply that He established or even seriously contemplated a visible Church as conveying His message to the centuries. Every social influence gains in power by taking an organic form and throwing round itself the majesty that to most men seems inseparable from greatness. Religion alone, if these Essays may be followed, has lost indefinitely more than it has gained, by condescending to possess a local habitation and a name. It is something impalpable and should have no whereabouts in the phenomenal world, if it would remain what Christ bequeathed to us. {658}

Now, I am not quite sure that I understand the meaning of the word Religion as here employed. But Christianity is a fact, and like other facts may be studied in the world's chronicles, which record its origin, growth and vicissitudes. It has never been simply invisible. From the first it has lived and wrought as a social power. Unbelievers are in complete accordance with believers on this point, if on no other. The Christian religion, as hitherto conceived, has been whatever else you please, but certainly an organized system of teaching, one church or a hundred churches, but always a body requiring from its members submission to articles, or to the Bible as cutting short disputes by virtue of its inspiration. Outside the Roman Church, no less than within it, Christians have looked upon their religion as bound up with an historic creed, with definite modes of thought, unchangeable rites, and a divinely-given authority to speak in Christ's name and captivate to His yoke every understanding. Until lately it was never imagined that a Christian was one who first proved the articles of the creed by syllogism, and then took his Master's word that they were true. This would have been deemed a superfluous and grotesque proceeding before what is called in Germany Liberal Protestantism was born. In the last century Butler and Paley allowed or insisted that to Christianity we cannot come unless by employing reason. Voltaire had learnt the same doctrine from his Jesuit teachers. But neither Voltaire nor Butler nor Paley would for a moment have dreamt that Christians prove the mysteries of Revelation by reason, or do not receive them upon authority. Who could hold the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the efficacy of Christ's death on the cross, unless he were assured that the Master had taught them? Who could prove these things to be true, or knew anything about them, except on His word, and the word of the Apostles? And what had reason to do in all this, but simply to verify the credentials set before it, and then bow to the authority they proclaimed? "Reason," said St. Augustine, "does not forsake authority when we consider who it is that we must believe." [Note 1] But Dr. Fairbairn argues that reason would forsake itself did it hearken to a voice from without; and he calls authority "a violation of law." This may be in accordance with the Protestant method, but it runs clean counter to the history of religion, which never tells of the downfall of one authority without showing how another rose upon the ruins of the first. A religion uncontrolled by authority would be the rankest "individualism." Much more so would the Christian religion divorced from the supreme infallible personality which created and sustains it. If ever the principle of authority was exemplified in this world, it was when the disciples "left all and followed {659} Him," when they staked their happiness here and hereafter on the word of faith, subdued their reason to the teaching of Christ, saw with His eyes and took hold of His philosophy. "We observe," says Augustine once more, "that He willed nothing more earnestly or more principally than that credence should be given to him." [Note 2] I am not insinuating that His disciples abdicated their reason, or were swayed by an enthusiasm of which they could render no account. But as they preached "Jesus Christ, through Whom we received grace and apostleship unto obedience of faith among all the nations for His name's sake," so did they yield to Him that obedience of faith which they pressed upon others as the first of duties. Nor can a single human being dispense with it and remain a Christian. How, believing in our Lord as the only-begotten of the Father, should we dare to dispute a syllable He uttered? But, again, who is so bold as to imagine the Bible with its principles, facts, and assumptions to be written on the tablets of his heart? Left to himself each of us would alter the message or the manner of it; and Protestantism has shown by a long experience that its method is nothing else than the atomic theory applied to religion. Let these four essays serve as an example. Their author charges Cardinal Newman with "individualism" in philosophy. The Cardinal's individualism has at least brought him into the largest communion and the oldest of churches now extant; whereas Dr. Fairbairn, standing between Rome and the Revolution, might appear to be asking these two great movements of humanity to be reconciled with each other through him. Of course he makes no such pretension; but his language, unless I deceive myself, has something of this in it. The Catholic Church, we learn, must "lay aside her high claims" and cease to be sacerdotal, hierarchical, and papal; she must renounce her mysteries, for they are only "marvels," and her sacraments, for they abound in "false supernaturalism." And why? Because authority in matters of religion is out of place. Now, granting the principle, it would seem a plain deduction from it to abandon not only the Church, but the Bible and the teaching of Christ as well. For what is the Bible, taken as an inspired volume, but an authority; what is Christ but the greatest of authorities? I can fancy a son of the Revolution answering Dr. Fairbairn to this effect—

"Reverend sir," he might observe, "you go too far or not far enough. You tell me to reject voices from without and at the same time to believe the Gospel. Is not that a contradiction? My reason does not view this world or the ways of life as your New Testament does; and I must go by the light within me. I cannot therefore take your Master's word that things are as He describes them. Nor ought you. Were you to affirm that your private judgment coincided exactly with your divine Teacher's, I should congratulate {660} you on possessing so rare an intuition; but then I should ask you whether we need any one to tell us what we can find out for ourselves. I anticipate your reply; it proves, I think, that if a dogmatic church is unreasonable, a dogmatic or inspired Christ is unnecessary. You think slightly of the Anglican Via Media. So do I. But may not your own position, reverend sir, be likewise a Via Media in the opposite direction, on the road which tends not towards Rome but towards Rationalism or a disbelief in Christianity altogether? I am speaking of the principle, not of doctrines held, as there is no need of remarking, with the greatest possible sincerity, by modern Protestants and inherited from medieval periods. But in the system you uphold reason and faith are identified rather than reconciled. I prefer to look upon my reason as self-sufficing and upon faith as a delusion. I follow no man's judgment but my own, and I view the Bible and your Master's teaching in the light of statements to be tested, not of authorities to be obeyed."

I cannot tell how, when his principle was thus urged against his doctrines, the accomplished writer could save both. It is an enterprise of great pith and moment to convert the Roman Church from her traditions; and not less so to convince M. Jules Ferry or M. Paul Bert that the Revolution is, in spite of appearances, the "resurgent spirit of Christ in man." But ere the Revolution could be persuaded to accept so mysterious a creed as Christianity without "the obedience of faith," and Rome to disown her Apostolic Succession whilst retaining creeds which, but for that succession, would long since have been extinct, we must suppose the nature of man to be new-created and revelation proved superfluous at the moment it was made certain. If reason be adequate, where is the necessity of revealed doctrines? If such doctrines be true, yet unverifiable by reason, how can we dispense with authority? But when Jesus of Nazareth walked this world, a "visible and audible authority" was "of the essence of religion." Was it an "excommunication of reason" to join His company, or "in some sort the victory of unbelief," or "the violation of law," or did it place "the rational nature of man on the side of atheism," or imply a doubt of "the sanity and contents of the reason," or confine God's grace to "artificial and ordained channels?" Surely there is no argument against an infallible Church that may not be directly turned against a visible Christ. Is it made a crime in the Church to stand between the Creator and His creatures, prescribing how they shall know and worship Him? What, then, are we to say of "the man Christ Jesus," standing between us and our Father in Heaven? Is it declared that "the authority of God can never become external, or embodied in Pope or Church or Bishop" under pain of being "so limited and conditioned as to cease to be absolute?" The thought will occur to us, but is it not limiting religion to make it depend on the life and individuality of Jesus? No, Dr. Fairbairn will loudly answer. I entreat him to consider how much, in answering thus, he has yielded to the Catholic argument. If religion, though {661} divine, universal, a thing of the heart and the conscience, the closest bond between man and his Maker, is yet, as he and I believe, a fact of history incarnate in the person of a Jewish carpenter, whom the majority of mankind have never known, whose teaching, though their salvation, has not reached them, whose life, albeit apparently a series of accidents brought to a sudden and violent end, is the pattern of human conduct and "the divine ideal realized," how, I would ask, can we expect all this to be received except on authority, or reject the visible in later ages when we have made it the beginning of the first?

Here is a conclusive argument (for all to whom our Lord's word on any subject is final) that authority does not involve either scepticism on the part of intellect, or a denial of God's providence over all His creatures, or any atheism as regards the universe. But more, Dr. Fairbairn lays it down that if a man looks on authority as essential to religion—which, I say, all Christians do—he has no choice, "he must become, or get himself reckoned, a Catholic. The Roman Church assails his understanding with invincible logic, and appeals to his imagination with irresistible charms." In a fine passage the author goes on to depict, as though he had some time been touched to the heart by them, those charms of a religion he cannot accept. Why can he not? It is only applying in history the principles which have brought him to the feet of Christ; and revering as His presence in the nineteenth century that one institution which so much as claims the charter in Ephesians, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it, that he might present the Church to Himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it might be holy and without blemish." Our author's glowing rhetoric will aptly describe the Bride of the Lamb coming down out of heaven, and he feels it to be so applicable to the Roman Church that his conclusion reads like a regret. "This sublime and august Catholicism," he allows, "may well be victorious in its appeal to the pious imagination," or, as I think he must mean, to the religious spirit. But then, "it cannot realize Christianity in the world;" it seems to the essayist a system neither true nor credible, but impotent. And its impotence is explained by the principle of authority which hinders reason from acting, condemns the intellect to distrust itself, involves the natural man in atheism, and produces unbelief on the widest scale by reaction against its usurped dominion. The proof of these things is said to be at our very doors. Read Catholic apologetics, says Dr. Fairbairn, and you will be convinced that submission to the Church is the victory of unbelief. Among Englishmen the greatest of Catholic writers is Cardinal Newman; he may be taken as the voice of the Roman Church in these realms. But, our critic goes {662} on, his Catholicism, when examined scientifically, is nothing else than transformed scepticism, of a piece with the doctrine of Lamennais, which established reason on authority, and our belief in God on the Church's teaching. Thus is the indictment presented. Identify Roman doctrine with Cardinal Newman; take the "Grammar of Assent" for an official account of the logic of Theism, and the functions and limits of the intellect, and argue thence to the necessary, though unacknowledged scepticism, recoiling from which, in a kind of religious frenzy or despair, such a temperament as the Cardinal's flings itself upon authority, and declares it infallible, lest nothing should be true.

Dr. Fairbairn is not only a candid thinker, but a man of large and genial sympathies, willing, if it be at all possible, to see "good in everything," and to own its existence in the most opposite principles. Not, therefore, without pain and surprise did one gather from his articles this severe judgment on the teacher who, more than any one else, has kindled religion afresh in the hearts of Englishmen during a long half century. But Catholics will have a further quarrel with the writer. They cannot, in sound logic, identify their Church with any individual genius, however great. Is it enough, indeed, to tell them, "St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or Petavius, or Cardinal Newman holds a certain theory, therefore you, as Catholics, must hold it too?" Surely it is well-known that saints and doctors may cherish their private views—private views which rise and decay, are circulated widely at one time only to fall by-and-by into oblivion, and the Church will look on in silence, uttering no word of praise or blame? St. Augustine is par excellence the Doctor of Grace, and has in various points so exactly caught the Church's meaning that his words are wrought into her authoritative decisions. Yet the system called Augustinian, which may be traced in many of his later writings, is but the possession of a school, has been largely discountenanced by theologians, and has no chance whatever, humanly speaking, of further approbation at the hands of Pope or Council. Not otherwise does St. Thomas Aquinas fare. His exposition of Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist could not well be surpassed in clear and subtle treatment; it is reckoned among his greatest works. Yet there are metaphysical points in which the Schola Theologorum has for centuries differed from him, touching this very subject. What, then, would a Catholic reply if Aquinas were cited in controversy, or were taken as the voice of Rome on these matters, except that he was not bound by the saint's theories, and was free, if he chose, to point out their philosophical inadequacy or to set up counter theories of his own? There is such a thing as private judgment within our borders too, as the impressive words of Cardinal Newman warn us. "It is the custom with Protestant {663} writers," he says, "to consider that, whereas there are two great principles in action in the history of religion, Authority and Private Judgment, they have all the Private Judgment to themselves, and we have the full inheritance and the superincumbent oppression of Authority. But this is not so; it is the vast Catholic body itself, and it only, which affords an arena for both combatants in that awful, never-dying duel. It is necessary for the very life of religion, viewed in its large operations and its history, that the warfare should be incessantly carried on." [Note 3] As for his own opinions, the Cardinal has never set them up as equivalent simply to the teaching of the Catholic Church; it is with an eye on them that he tells us "in religious inquiry, egotism may be true modesty." Whether theologians in the Church at large accept the "Grammar of Assent" and its theories, is a subject for investigation, not a first truth to be taken for granted. Neither is it an easy or a simple matter. To grasp the mind of so brilliant and original a genius as Cardinal Newman is evidently not the task of a day; to ascertain where it agrees and where it perhaps does not agree with the received teaching, requires such an insight into theology and so rare a power of translating the Cardinal's new and recondite terms into established formula that, as a learned acquaintance of mine is in the habit of saying, "We may hope to see it done some time in the next century." Dr. Fairbairn has drawn out his criticism of Cardinal Newman, and very instructive and resolute it is; but he has overlooked an essential preliminary, he does not prove—it has never occurred to him that he ought to prove—that Cardinal Newman's views are more imperative upon Catholics than the Augustinianism of St. Augustine, or St. Thomas of Aquin's teaching about local relations in the Eucharist.

I hope in due course to show that neither atheism nor scepticism can be fairly charged upon our great apologist; but, though they could, the doctrine of Rome, accessible in text-books of metaphysics and theology, would remain what it had been, and to that we should refer inquirers as our law on the subject of reasoned Theism. Whether it be true or false in itself, at least it cannot be mistaken. It furnishes a daily theme in our schools; it has been laid down in the decrees of the last Ecumenical Council, the standard to which all our writers, from the highest to the humblest, are anxious to conform. It may be true, and I conceive that history shows it to be true, as Cardinal Newman declares, that "It is individuals and not the Holy See that have taken the initiative, and given the lead to the Catholic mind in theological inquiry." But theological inquiry turns upon matters not yet defined by the Holy See, and in the course of it a son of the Church must be supposed to take for {664} granted whatever is de fide. Dr. Fairbairn, as I have observed, imputed to Cardinal Newman "philosophical scepticism." But he cautiously subjoins that "the scepticism is, of course, implicit, not explicit. From the latter he has tried carefully to guard himself." Why of course, except that, in the Catholic Church, philosophical scepticism is a condemned error? As Catholics we no more hold man's intellectual nature to have been utterly darkened by the Fall than we grant to Calvinists and Lutherans that his moral nature was annihilated. Has not Cardinal Newman himself affirmed—and has not Dr. Fairbairn quoted him to this very effect—that "the unaided reason, when correctly exercised, leads to a belief in God, in the immortality of the soul, and in a future retribution"? Has he not said that the being of a God, to his apprehension, though encompassed with most difficulty, is borne in upon our minds with most power, and that it is as certain to him as his own existence? Moreover, does he not in terms allow that the formal proofs for God's being amount to an irrefragable demonstration against the free-thinker and sceptic. There is here no room for questioning; the words are plain, and they express a conviction which the Cardinal had many times reiterated in treatise and sermon ere the Vatican Council proclaimed the doctrine emphatically conveyed by them.

Now, what does the Council teach? I shall take leave to indicate its drift in some words of my own, bearing on the questions raised by Mr. Tyndall in the Belfast Address. That eminent man was insisting on his right, as a professor of science, to deal with cosmology and anthropology by methods of reason, and not by appealing to sentiment, to emotion, or the heart. He was answered by one Catholic at least, as follows:—

"Whether God exists, whether the Infinite is knowable, whether there is a Cause of all things, whether the material world has been created, whether any definition of matter will allow it to be the sole and sufficient cause of life, sensation, and intelligence, whether the soul of man is immortal, whether the pursuit of our eternal happiness can be called selfish—all these questions, according to the philosophy of the Church, are under the jurisdiction of reason, are strictly scientific, and may and ought to be treated in a scientific manner. It is open to any man who has the leisure, and the necessary talent, to take them up, investigate them, and use all his experience and intelligence in their solution. The answers may be tested, compared, sought after by other and newer methods, defended by reason, without the interpolation of any emotion whatever. They may be approached from above or below, and philosophy may take its beginning in the science of cosmology, no less than in the science of logic. Is Mr. Tyndall aware," I ask, as I also ask Dr. Fairbairn, "that this is the concurrent teaching of all the Catholic schools?" I go on to say that "the Catholic Church has guaranteed the rights of intellect and has done great things to preserve them intact. But it has yet to be shown that the unaided intellect is equal to the duties which modern scientists would impose on it … If the truth of a life to come is scientifically evident, then there can be no question that in our present state there is a moral necessity {665} or revelation, and that is inconceivable unless a consequent supremacy of revelation over natural science be conceded. What is the nature of that supremacy has been explained often enough." [Note 4]

Yes, it has been often explained, but not, these articles convince me, often enough. Men still need to be reminded of the words of the Vatican Council; and even then they may find courage to charge that august assembly with scepticism and constructive atheism. Not so will the candid critic who has no system to maintain. The Vatican Council, in distinguishing faith from reason and assigning to each its rights and privileges, not identifying things which by their nature are distinct, yet reconciling them as both coming down from the Father of lights and serving one and the same purpose, has been true to the Christian tradition of eighteen centuries. It affirms in the Church's name that "God, the beginning and the end of all things, is knowable by the natural light of human reason," and it lays under a ban all those who deny that He may thus naturally be known "through the things that are made." Would Dr. Fairbairn call this scepticism? Or what does he say to the following?—"Not only can faith and reason never be at variance, but they lend each other reciprocal aid; for right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith, and, enlightened by its beams, cultivates the science of divine things, whilst faith on its part sets the reason free from error, protects it, and instructs it in manifold knowledge." Is reason in these words declared impotent or excommunicate? Years, indeed, before the Vatican Council, Rome had ended the controversy with Lamennais' followers by asserting, through her Congregations, that "Reasoning is capable of proving with certitude the existence of God, the soul's spiritual nature, and human freedom;" and that, "Since faith is consequent upon revelation, faith cannot be urged against the atheist in proving God's existence, or against the believer in naturalism and fatalism in proving that the rational soul is a spirit and is free." Finally, it was laid down that "the use of reason goes before faith and leads man to it by the aid of revelation and of grace." Such expressions might be multiplied indefinitely from our books; and more than one very striking comment upon them is extant in the encyclicals and addresses of Pius IX., whom, if any Roman Pontiff at all, the average reader would suspect of condemning the exercise of reason and denying its rights. Yet Pius IX. speaks, in his Brief to the Archbishop of Munich, of "the just freedom of philosophy, so that it shall admit nothing within it which has not been acquired by it on its own conditions, or is foreign to itself." To philosophy he assigns the task of cultivating reason, and proving, "by arguments sought on its own principles," the existence, nature, {666} and attributes of God. But this does not hinder him, or the Vatican Council, from declaring that reason has its limits, and that truth have been revealed in the Gospel which by his own effort man could not discover. The Rationalist will demur; and so, I take it, will Dr. Fairbairn. It is in reason alone, exclaims the latter, that we find an argument of universal validity. Reason, however, as I must think, shows that authority, if provided with credentials, may furnish an argument as valid as any the intellect can afford. But does the writer imagine that the Catholic Church would deny or call in question the "universal validity" of those arguments by which God's existence is made certain to us? If he does, then he must believe also that the Church stultifies herself in every edition of every theological text-book she approves and by the work of every teacher she appoints. "Reason within man implies reason without him; he develops into a rational being because he lives in a rational world." Certainly; how otherwise? The Church also agrees with Dr. Fairbairn as to meaning, though she prefers a less obscure vocabulary, when he tells us that "to leave the theistic contents of the reason unexplicated, is to leave the theistic reason of the world unexplored and unrecognized." If Dr. Fairbairn will turn to St. Thomas Aquinas' "Contra Gentes," or to Suarez' "Metaphysics," or to Cardinal Franzelin's "De Deo Uno," or Franz Hettinger's "Apologie des Christenthums," he may satisfy himself that the work of "explicating the theistic contents of the reason" has been carried to as great lengths in Catholic as in Rationalistic circles, and by means of as large an apparatus of terms, reasonings, and definitions. Does not the very name of Natural Theology imply all this, and is it not a branch as much as Revealed Theology itself of the Catholic Encyclopædia?

But Cardinal Newman? How do I reconcile his views with what I have been affirming? For example, when he says that, if we consider "the faculty of reason actually and historically," it tends "towards a simple unbelief in matters of religion;" or speaks of the "suicidal excesses" of freedom of thought, and of "the all-corroding, all-dissolving scepticism of the intellect in religious inquiries;" again, he has put it on record that to his mind "it is a great question whether atheism is not as philosophically consistent with the phenomena of the physical world, taken by themselves, as the doctrine of a creative and governing power." This would appear to deny that "manifest reason in the things that are made" of which I spoke a moment ago. And as it is with Nature, in Cardinal Newman's view, so it seems to be with "the living busy world" of men. His whole being is full of belief in God, but, when he looks out of himself, "the world seems simply to give the lie to that great truth," and he sees in it "no reflection of the Creator." What persuades him, he {667} tells us, is the voice speaking in his conscience, but for which, when he looks into the world, he should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist. He adds, indeed, after these strong expressions: "I am far from denying the real force of the arguments in proof of a God drawn from the general facts of human society and the course of history, but these do not warm or enlighten me; they do not," he says, with the exquisite pathos that has come home to us all—"they do not take away the winter of my desolation, or make the buds unfold, and the leaves grow within me, and my moral being rejoice." He considers the world in its length and breadth, heaping up all that he knows of its miseries, its corruption, its "dreary, hopeless irreligion," "the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil;" and he concludes: "all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution." You ask, after reading these and the like words, could Montaigne or Schopenhauer exceed their bitterness or their apparent disbelief in God?

But are we not doing them violence to treat such mournful outpourings of a great and religious spirit, contemplating the ways of man, as aught else than suspiria de profundis? Were they meant for the anvil of logic, to be smitten into arguments and fashioned into syllogisms as with strokes of a hammer? They do hold a deep, an undeniable meaning for the sympathetic ear to which they are addressed; and in a most real sense they preach to us a lesson from life as it exists around us. The harm in them would be if they concluded to no God: but their conclusion is far different. Cardinal Newman does not say, does not think, that man and nature were created by a malignant demon. "The human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity;" he holds it to be certain that "it is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator," for he knows well that the Creator is righteous—so much his conscience reveals to him—and a righteous Being could not have made the world as we find it. Here, again, there may be thoughts that lie too deep for words, though not for reason "musing upon many things," and going down to depths where language becomes mysterious and almost of necessity perplexed. But he is not an atheist who recognizes the wide dominion of sin and death in this lower realm, unless St. John denied God when he wrote, Totus mundus positus est in maligno, and St. Paul, in the first of Romans, as he drew that overwhelming picture of a world given up to Satan. Surely the Bible is not the record of optimism; and devout men in all ages have felt, even as Cardinal Newman feels, that "the sight of the world is nothing else than the prophet's scroll, full of lamentations, and mourning, and woe." Do we imagine the saints of any religion as cheerful-minded men, satisfied that, on the whole, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, assured {668} of progress and the supremacy of reason in most of the human creatures they encounter, and ready to resent a gloomy description of the past or the present of mankind as "implicit" atheism? I should have thought Cardinal Newman's pages were, to an observant mind, their own justification. He grants. the promise of man's being—what reason, conscience, social forces could effect, and in their nature ought to effect, but what as a matter of history they have been hindered by some inscrutable power from effecting; and he says that such a contrast between promise and fulfilment is heart-piercing, reason-bewildering. Is it not? Or will the critic maintain with easy attitude that it leaves him unmoved? There is reason in man and outside of him; it cannot be denied; but how shall we reconcile with reason the dreadful phenomena to which Cardinal Newman points? Is it possible to do so otherwise than by asserting that the Ideal exists, that it has left sufficient tokens in the world to convince us of its existence, and that sin and pain and death must in some way be consistent with the truth of the Ideal, if only they do not triumph in the end, but are destined to be one day triumphed over? To make light of them as an illusion, or to merge them in the idea of the good they oppose, or to enthrone them above it—and all this has been attempted by philosophers—is a far less treasonable method than Cardinal Newman's, which insists that, whether we can explain them or no, they are due to an aboriginal calamity of which God was not the author, and that their existence does not warrant scepticism about His. Dr. Fairbairn has spoken of Cardinal Newman's "complex confusion of thought;" in the passages I have quoted the thought is complex, but surely not confused, and it is so because life itself is a tangled skein. Why should we pretend a simplicity in things for which there is no foundation? There are clues put into our hands; holding them fast, we guide ourselves in the labyrinth; but a labyrinth it remains till life is ended. If Dr. Fairbairn has an answer to every question, he is a happy man. We know he has not, nor feigns to have; and why should he feel surprise if a man of transcendent genius like Cardinal Newman, being conscious that life is a mystery and a problem, confesses that it staggers his reason to reconcile one thing with another? To stagger reason is not finally to overthrow it; only a sceptic would say that we must deny what we know because of what we do not know. The firmest believer in God may speak of his light as shining in a dark place. And Cardinal Newman has intended no more.

But I will not uphold against Dr. Fairbairn that the language of our illustrious writer, if construed literally, precludes all possible misapprehension. Still less do I imagine his sombre cast of thought to be universal, or even widespread, among Catholic theologians; it is more antique than the prevailing colour, and allied with Augustine {669} rather than the Jesuit and later schools, with Bishop Butler; not with Leibnitz, and in no degree with the joyous optimism that tinges a great deal of modern devotional literature. As an example of language remarkably unlike the teaching of our schools, I venture to select the words of the "University Sermons," that "it is, indeed, a great question whether atheism is not as philosophically consistent with the phenomena of the physical world taken by themselves, as the doctrine of a creative and governing power;" and these others in the comment added later, "the question is whether physical phenomena logically teach us, or on the other hand logically remind us, of the Being of a God." There is a long and unbroken consensus of divines to whom the phenomena of the physical world, taken apart from moral and psychological phenomena, and from the idea of God "which wakes up in the mind under the stimulus of intellectual training," do furnish proof of an intelligent First Cause and governing power, do teach theism to our reason, and not simply remind us of God's being already known. In like manner we must interpret "the all-corroding, all-dissolving scepticism of the intellect" as a tendency which the intellect itself can and ought to resist, a tendency not essential to it, and the result of a disposition enamoured of evil things, and bent on justifying them as best it may. "Truth is the real object of our reason;" the Cardinal has no intention of denying it. But some time or other we have all wished that the truth might not be true; and religion lays such instant practical obligations upon us, that it can be no wonder if worldly men do their utmost to warp the mirror in which not only Heaven, but Hell, is revealed. Theologians trained in the language of the schools may find, in the Cardinal's writing, phrases which must be sympathetically rendered, under pain of some inaccuracy. But, for my part, I can grant no more than this to Dr. Fairbairn; nor do I remember a piece of criticism with which I am less in agreement than his severe (and must it not be called sweeping?) indictment of the "Grammar of Assent." Its real problem, he declares, is this: "how, without the consent and warrant of the intellect, to justify the being of religion, and faith in that infallible Church which alone realizes it." He tells us further that the Cardinal's aim is to withdraw religion and the proofs concerning it from the domain of reason into that of conscience and imagination, where such reasons may exist as satisfy personal experience, but have no objective validity. I am grieved that an acute judge of books and theories like Dr. Fairbairn has felt bound to publish these words. They strike me, I confess, as wanting in insight, and, I must even say, as decidedly, though of course not intentionally, unjust. The writer seems never to have thrown himself into the spirit of the work he is criticizing; he has not viewed it from within, but rather {670} as if it were that assault upon intellect for which it has been mistaken. The likeness between its method and that of Kant in the "Critique of the Practical Reason" could not, indeed, escape so thoughtful a mind. "Kant, like Newman," says Dr. Fairbairn, "builds his argument for the Divine existence on conscience." He ought, then, even as the Cardinal, to be accused of dispensing with the warrant of intellect. But no; he is dealt with more generously. To him, it appears, "conscience is still reason, all the more that it uses the 'categorical imperative,' and his argument, unlike Newman's, is reasoned; it is not the mere echo of a 'magisterial dictate,' but is based on a universal principle, and articulates a complete theory of moral sovereignty and government. With Kant, the practical is not the contradiction of the pure reason; the one is but the supplement of the other." Let me remark a little on this. If Dr. Fairbairn can produce from Cardinal Newman a single passage that implies the scepticism of the "pure reason," I will allow that the Cardinal is at heart a disciple of Hume. He has never said or dreamt any such thing. The "pure reason," or that power in us which cognizes Kant's three Ideas, God, the World, and the Ego, may indeed go astray in some of its conclusions, but is capable of arriving at a true and certain knowledge that God, the World, and the. Ego are objective realities, not subjective delusions. Cardinal Newman makes full confession that "the unaided intellect" can achieve so much. All he grants to free-thinker and sceptic is cunning to "afford a plausible, though not a real, excuse for doubting about it." Even the "pure reason" is liable to perversion in a certain degree by sophists. No one questions the power of the mind to work out mathematical problems of the highest complexity; but Newton himself has made a slip at times.

As regards the "practical intellect," Cardinal Newman does not affirm its incompetence; on the contrary, he feels more at home in it than in speculative inquiries; to borrow Dr. Fairbairn's too emphatic phrase, "he hates the abstract and loves the concrete." He is not the first Englishman that has done so. It would be out of keeping; then, with his habits of thought, did Cardinal Newman arraign the practical intellect, or set it down as incurably skeptical. What he has arraigned is not the "practical intellect," but the intellect in practice, as it works in most men, doubtless owing to their want of fixed moral principles, "actually and historically." I should not imagine that Kant, with all his respect for the practical reason and belief in the categorical imperative, indulged in golden dreams of the wisdom, probity, and religious excellence of mankind. He too accepted, after his own fashion, the doctrine of the Fall and its consequences. But, returning to the "Grammar of Assent," it seems to me gratuitous on Dr. Fairbairn's part to assume that the {671} Cardinal's "magisterial dictate" is simply tyrannous—a Sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro rationé voluntas—any more than the German philosopher's "categorical imperative." Cardinal Newman's argument is "reasoned;" it involves the manifest righteousness of what is commanded, as well as the manifest right of Him that commands. Conscience would have no such dominion over us, the violation of its dictates would be attended with no such grief, remorse, and self-accusation as are described in a most affecting passage of the "Grammar of Assent," were its moral sovereignty not an intuition of the reason. Kant has taken the abstract way, and Cardinal Newman the way of experience, of concrete fact, which manifests its ideal worth even by existing; but these two ways are not opposed. Conscience must never be conceived of as "a blind motion;" it is reason made concrete, so to speak, in the individual, and revealing to him the moral structure of the universe, not as an otiose speculation to amuse him in a leisure hour, but as a law prescribing conduct and announcing penalties; a dictate from the Living God which tells him that man is moral and his Maker righteous. In the "Grammar of Assent" conscience does not reveal power alone, or personality alone, but holiness; it is the echo of a voice, and that the voice of an All-Holy God. Strange that critics should find in it a "native and ineradicable atheism." Its author does not, indeed, "articulate a complete theory of moral sovereignty and government." Perhaps the history of those German teachers, including Kant, who had "evolved a universe out of moonbeams and water with their complete theories," was not encouraging to a sober, religious mind. How much of Kant's complete theory is left? Dr. Fairbairn "as little accepts it as he does Dr. Newman's." He wants something more than "a moral religion," even when the latter is "transcendental and natural;" but on Cardinal Newman's offering him something more—viz., a Revelation coming to perfect and light up the conscience, to instruct it fully, and make known the mysteries of the Gospel—he turns away as from an institution ab extra. I should very much like to know what is left of historical Christianity if each man is to keep no more of it than springs up, without teacher or tradition, in his own spirit. Dr. Fairbairn holds, apparently, that "pure reason" is capable of disclosing to us not only a transcendental God (which of course is the case), but an historical Christ. By what process, I wonder?

Meanwhile, if the religion of the "Grammar of Assent" is founded on conscience revealing a righteous Judge, it does clearly not proceed without warrant from the intellect. And if the complement of Natural Religion is there said to be the Gospel, we must allow to Cardinal Newman a sure belief that Reason, Religion, and Revelation are in the nature of things agreed and not opposed, making a music {672} which, for all its complexity, is never discordant. But the facts of life are stern, and harmonies, which in tranquil moments fall distinctly on the ear, grow faint and distant as we pursue des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf. The one sure guide is conscience, whereby we feel ourselves in the presence of law and of God. Certain men, a choice and secluded company, delight in the speculative reason; their life passes under a cloudless sky, and their gaze is fixed so steadfastly on the eternal order that the tumult of the world is nothing, and less than nothing, to them; one may say of every one thus tempered, "his soul was like a star and dwelt apart." Cardinal Newman, though a recluse, is not quite moulded on this pattern. Moments of high contemplation have come to him, as serene pages bear witness in his writings; but more often his spirit has mixed in battle "far on the ringing plains of windy Troy;" it has known anguish and defeat, and the consternation of beholding its ideal trampled under foot, as if by some inexorable deity, whose pasture and prey were human hopes. He will not fabricate a theory which fills up the bottomless pit with reams of paper, if he can help it. There are divine facts, he says; let us rest upon them; conscience is a fact, not to me only, but to mankind, and it will not be argued with, nor is its existence imaginable, unless God speaks through it. "You may tell me," he would perhaps continue in answer to Dr. Fairbairn, "that conscience will establish only morality, not religion; but the temper which bows to morality because of conscience, will seek for God's voice in history as well as in the individual breast, and, perceiving in the Catholic Church those very qualities which it recognizes in conscience, will hasten to accept it as the correlative and the complement of what has been revealed within."

It is the nineteenth century; and men, whilst trusting more and more to experimental science which can prove to eye and touch whatever it has asserted, no longer display that robust faith in the à priori, in speculation and "reasoned" arguments, whereon their ancestors flourished. All things seem questionable since all have been called in question. How now shall we preach Christianity to a sceptical age? Let us, I answer, overthrow its scepticism by appealing to the first principles, to the self-authenticating facts which no sceptic can deny, though he may profess denial of them. By all means; but the task has been accomplished, with varying degrees of skill, but on the whole successfully, in hundreds of treatises which, at this moment form the text on the commentary in Catholic institutions all the world over. It is not hard to refute scepticism; the, difficulty is to get rid of it; one may say without falsehood, tamen usque recurret, although it be not, in any proper sense, natural. To overcome scepticism in the heart, to exercise the spirit that denies and denies again and denies always, a method more subtle and at {673} the same time more direct than the syllogistic must be called in. I will go further, and assert the need of a method which, not in any way discarding metaphysics, shall transmute the speculative reason itself to a living power, capable of arresting and charming the imagination. If our century, now drawing swiftly to an end, shall hear the Gospel of Christ once more, it must be from lips touched with heavenly fire. Not as though reason were a slave to emotion, or philosophy could not persuade without rhetoric, or it were lawful to doubt of the sanity and divine origin of man's intellect. But the very prevalence of scepticism shows in the age a weaker grasp of speculation; for it is the feeble, not the strong, minds to which first principles seem uncertain and vacillating. The nineteenth century is feminine, else its laws, institutions, movements in war and peace, would be governed much less by sentiment than, as a matter of fact, we know them to be. And sentiment is personal, is imaginative, is not a revolt from reason, but cannot be brought under reason by the way of abstract arguing. Fanaticism, superstition, personal prejudice, are not to be defended; nor must the dictates of reason be set aside on the ground of feeling. Nevertheless, sentiment has its place in man's nature; experience is valid as well as abstract propositions; and that highest form of experience, the communing of God with His creature in the secret of the heart, is a fit corner-stone whereon to build up religion. Now, if this be at all like the truth, Cardinal Newman, instead of proving himself an inefficient apologist, will have taken the very course demanded by the conditions of his time. Life is propagated by life; the best apology for religion is to make others feel what religion means, to show it them in act, instead of merely talking about it. When Cardinal Newman says, in criticizing Paley, "I do not wish to be converted by a syllogism," he expresses a widespread feeling. His appeal to conscience, on the other hand, strikes home; it finds in his audience a fact as certain and as objectively valid as it implies in himself; nor is there a preacher who may not convince himself by actual experiment that the response to such an appeal is instantaneous and unmistakable. So has it been with Cardinal Newman. He spoke of conscience, and the world listened. Would it have listened to metaphysics?

Resting his theism upon conscience, he cannot be said to have denied reason, or to have left it "to be crushed and subdued by authority." The will submissive to conscience is not blind; it submits because of the light which makes known that submission is reasonable, that to disobey would be the height of unreason. Why does Dr. Fairbairn argue as if the human conscience were but the instinct of a brute? Cardinal Newman has not said so. Hence there is nothing to hinder him from admitting the validity of those "formal proofs" by which reason establishes theism; and he is {674} misinterpreted when we are told that he sets conscience against intellect and intellect against conscience. To him both are authoritative in their nature, both are liable to be deceived in certain points; both have been inherited by fallen man, and therefore darkened, though not extinguished; both, finally, have a moral need of Revelation to take away their imperfections, and, under this present dispensation, to guide them towards God by a plain and accessible pathway. It is quite true that Cardinal Newman lays stress on conscience, and the majority of earlier theologians have dealt rather with the speculative reason. But differences are not contradictions; and, as I have, suggested, an explanation of the difference may be found in the character of the nineteenth century. To some extent, also, it is the outcome of Cardinal Newman's devotion to the master of the "Analogy," Bishop Butler. Does Dr. Fairbairn charge Butler with scepticism? If he does, the purpose of that deep intellect in drawing a parallel between Nature and Religion must have been overlooked by him—perhaps because he perceives the irresistible logic of the "Analogy," turning men who are resolved never to believe in religion against the laws of Nature that so triumphantly justifies it. After such a fashion God might be described as the author of evil.

Let me sum up. Dr. Fairbairn, I cannot but think, asserts for the human intellect, a range and competency belonging only to the divine. He sees the Catholic Church proclaiming a limit, not to reason itself, but to reason in fallen man, so that authority alone can teach it the unmixed truth concerning God's attributes and Providence and the contents of Revelation. Thereupon a charge is brought as if Catholicism suppressed the exercise of reason altogether in things divine, and compelled it to become sceptical and atheistic. But this is not so. Neither explicit nor implicit denial, whether of God or reason, exists among sound Catholics; the thought is due to a logic which starts from an assumption no Catholic will grant. It is a pure piece of "construction" resting on hypothesis. Furthermore, whilst feeling a legitimate pride in the splendid chapters added by Cardinal Newman to the theory of belief, our theologians would point out that so individual and self-controlled a genius, trained upon the "Analogy" and a convert in middle life, gives us rather his own mind than the received tradition. It may be, indeed, that he concedes less to reason than our schools are wont; but he upholds with them a natural faculty of arriving at metaphysical and moral truths. Nor does his fundamental principle interfere with this necessary agreement. Like Butler, he supplements, without desiring to call in question, the demonstrations which compel assent but do not always win the heart. God speaking in man is to him no outward authority; conscience is not an unreasoning impulse. {675} For the very reason that he makes it personal, a dictate addressed to the individual man, he stands at the opposite pole to Lamennais, whose theory derived all from the social organism, and nothing from the Ego. Lastly, I would offer to Dr. Fairbairn this consideration: How in the same breath can he bid us reject authoritative teaching, yet implore us to surrender heart and mind and conscience, our whole being and all it contains, to Jesus of Nazareth, who, if He was not an infallible teacher, was one of a crowd, and certainly not God's only-begotten Son? Let him reply to these words of Augustine, so germane to our present issue that they might have been written yesterday: "What else is the meaning of so many and great miracles, Christ Himself also affirming them to be wrought for no other reason than that credence might be given Him? He taught the foolish by faith; you would lead them by reason. He cried out that He was to be believed; you cry out against it. He had praise for them that believed; you rebuke them sharply." There spoke the voice of Christian antiquity. Dr. Fairbairn grants that, if we follow it, we shall yield ourselves to the Roman Church; nay, that authority cannot be allowed in any shape, or Catholics we must all become unless we will disregard both history and logic. He seems to have rehabilitated in his own fashion the dilemma which, as attributed to Cardinal Newman, he could not away with—to tell us that, obeying Christ's authority, we should go on to the consummation and acknowledge His Vicar, or else join the anarchists in their cry, Ni Dieu ni maître, and worship self-will as our only God. For self-will is consistent Rationalism. But how the world is to be persuaded of the Gospel without authority, he does not say: nor what fragments of the Gospel a capricious Liberal Protestantism disdainful of authority would leave for the world's acceptance. When this has been cleared up, Catholics will be ready to discuss the innumerable questions Dr. Fairbairn has raised concerning the Church's relation to her Master on the one hand as to modern civilization on the other.


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1. "De Vera Religione," c. 24.
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2. "De Utilitate Credendi," c. 14.
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3. "History of my Religious Opinions," p. 252.
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4. Dublin Review, January 1876, pp. 248-9.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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