April 1, 2007

"he did not have much company on the road now so well known..."

For Sunday, here's yet another quote from Meriol Trevor's Newman (vol. II, Light in Winter):

...True son of Philip Neri, he had no desire to repudiate the new techniques of knowledge or to oppose theories which seemed at first sight to contradict Christian tradition: patience would reveal the truth in time. But he wanted Christians so to exercise their minds as to assimilate and contribute to what was good in natural science and social improvement, without losing their grip on the supernatural reality which was the source of true happiness and real power. He wanted to help the young generations so to orientate themselves as to be able to explore the new worlds of knowledge and yet be firmly rooted — not in the old, but in the eternal.

It was here that Newman's vision went beyond the view of many who misunderstood him, of whatever Christian allegiance. It was the partial identification, in the nineteenth century, of the eternal with the old that led to the loss of so many from Christian belief. The nostalgia for an imaginary medievalism, imitation Gothic churches, effete naturalism or unreal sentimentality of religious statues and pictures — all this was the secondary effect of deep fears, an inability to shed the habitual in order that the eternal might work freely in a world that was changing. Of course there is danger in mere novelty, but it is rarely a pressing one in the Cathulic Church, which on the human side is ruled by a multitude of old men and the customs of hundreds of years.

Newman always puzzled his contemporaries by being at the same time so ancient and so modern. He was at home with the Martyrs and the Fathers — and with scientists and factory girls. He practised fasting and penance — and was an immediate and inveterate train traveller. He read St. Athanasius and Anthony Trollope. He was a venerable man, but he talked the slang of the moment. Puseyites were disconcerted by his modernity. Catholics by his antiquity — for most of them had forgotten what their spiritual ancestors were like. Protestants are apt to imagine that it is only they who renew themselves by a return to the beginnings, but there are Catholic renascences too. Since Newman was a pioneer in the return to the Fathers, and to a new understandins of the Scriptures, he did not have much company on the road now so well known. He was regarded with suspicion by those for whom the last hundred years was the standard measure, and who could not conceive that the next hundred would be very different. Psychologically the great difference between Newman and the Ultramontanes and Anglican conservatives was that they were ridden bv fears and he was not...

Vatican Council II is associated in our minds with "dangerous mere novelty," and certainly there has been a catastrophic lot of that! A great many Catholics used the council as an excuse to say, "Wheee, I'm freee.....time to party!" But that was never the intent, and not what is in the actual documents produced by the council. The true spirit of which is now reasserting itself in the Church in a myriad of ways. (Historically, councils have usually produced 50 years or so of turmoil in the Church. So I'm signing up at the right time.) The actual results of the council will probably have their effect over centuries. The world needs them.

And it is a commonplace to say that the Venerable John Henry Newman is the "father of the Council." More than anyone else, Vatican II was about his ideas. (Such as ecumenism, return to the teachings of the Fathers, Development of Doctrine, and the correct approach to the modern world.) He saw and understood our world more than anyone else.

That's certainly been my conclusion (in my own humble realm). 9/11 was a revelatory event, and my 5½ years of blogging has been a process of peeling the onion to try to see what it was that was revealed. And then I recently discovered Newman, and found that he had explained it all 150 years ago! So he's my hero, no doubt about it.

"...An inability to shed the habitual in order that the eternal might work freely in a world that was changing." "...without losing their grip on the supernatural reality which was the source of true happiness and real power."

If you are going to "shed the habitual," you have to have a firm grip on some things that are solid and unchanging. Not just religious truths, but authoritative traditions of other kinds, such as you might find reading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. Which are themselves based on the authoritative and immemorial tradition called "the Rights of Englishmen." And, brothers and sisters, I have to tell you that you are going to have to discard the habitual whether you like it or not! Because we are all trapped in a science fiction story. We are being shoved into a time-machine and sent into the future at fearsome speed. Our world is changing drastically. Mere habits or prejudices won't be weighty enough to keep us in ballast.

That's what I'm talking about when I complain that left-leaning people are nihilists. In my generation and after, being "Left" is just a habit of thought, not the philosophical system (false though it was) that used to ballast many people's lives. (If you don't believe me, try to get a leftist in a real philosophical argument, one that goes down to first principles.) But mere habits won't cut it anymore; change is happening too fast and too scary. Which is why leftists are so brittle and angry of late. (And some rightists too—think of Paleocons like Pat Buchanan.)

Here's a link to the splendid St Phillip Neri.

Posted by John Weidner at April 1, 2007 6:31 AM
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