24 June 2015

An old and familiar voice...


I keep a copy of Cardinal Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua on my desk.  It's old and dog-eared. It has underlinings in it from my college days when I first read it. In fact, I can remember snatching odd moments between classes just to read a few pages and to savour one or another point he was making. Ultimately, this book would be instrumental in my own conversion to the Catholic Church, and some things I wrote on the title page bear that out. The first thing I wrote was, “I, too, am following the steps of Cardinal Newman – I left the Episcopal Church on 12th January 1982.” Beneath that I wrote, “I was made deacon in the Catholic church on Aug. 7, 1983.” Under that, “ordained Priest – Aug. 15, 1983.” And then finally, “ad Jesum per Mariam.

For me, part of the brilliance of Cardinal Newman’s writing is the innocent faith that shines through. I can remember reading passages such as this, and then having a light go on in my mind:

"People say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is difficult to believe; I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible to imagine, I grant - but how is it difficult to believe? Yet Macaulay thought it so difficult to believe, that he had need of a believer in it of talents as eminent as Sir Thomas More, before he could bring himself to conceive that the Catholics of an enlightened age could resist “the overwhelming force of the argument against it.” “Sir Thomas More,” he says, “is one of the choice specimens of wisdom and virtue; and the doctrine of transubstantiation is a kind of proof charge. A faith which stands that test, will stand any test.” But for myself, I cannot indeed prove it, I cannot tell how it is; but I say, “Why should not it be? What's to hinder it? What do I know of substance or matter? just as much as the greatest philosophers, and that is nothing at all;” - so much is this the case, that there is a rising school of philosophy now, which considers phenomena to constitute the whole of our knowledge in physics. The Catholic doctrine leaves phenomena alone. It does not say that the phenomena go; on the contrary, it says that they remain: nor does it say that the same phenomena are in several places at once. It deals with what no one on earth knows any thing about, the material substances themselves. And, in like manner, of that majestic Article of the Anglican as well as of the Catholic Creed, - the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity. What do I know of the Essence of the Divine Being? I know that my abstract idea of three is simply incompatible with my idea of one; but when I come to the question of concrete fact, I have no means of proving that there is not a sense in which one and three can equally be predicated of the Incommunicable God."

He writes in the same way about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:

"Let me take the doctrine which Protestants consider our greatest difficulty, that of the Immaculate Conception. Here I entreat the reader to recollect my main drift, which is this. I have no difficulty in receiving it: if I have no difficulty, why may not another have no difficulty also? why may not a hundred? a thousand? Now I am sure that Catholics in general have not any intellectual difficulty at all on the subject of the Immaculate Conception; and that there is no reason why they should. Priests have no difficulty. You tell me that they ought to have a difficulty - but they have not. Be large-minded enough to believe, that men may reason and feel very differently from yourselves; how is it that men fall, when left to themselves, into such various forms of religion, except that there are various types of mind among them, very distinct from each other? From my testimony then about myself, if you believe it, judge of others also who are Catholics: we do not find the difficulties which you do in the doctrines which we hold; we have no intellectual difficulty in that in particular, which you call a novelty of this day. We priests need not be hypocrites, though we be called upon to believe in the Immaculate Conception. To that large class of minds, who believe in Christianity, after our manner, -in the particular temper, spirit, and light, (whatever word is used,) in which Catholics believe it, - there is no burden at all in holding that the Blessed Virgin was conceived without original sin; indeed, it is a simple fact to say, that Catholics have not come to believe it because it is defined, but it was defined because they believed it."

Every time I make a return visit to the Apologia I find myself nodding in agreement, confirming that my journey took the right path those many years ago.