August 30, 2009


Newman Reader - Essays Critical & Historical I - Rationalism 1:

RATIONALISM is a certain abuse of Reason; that is, a use of it for purposes for which it never was intended, and is unfitted. To rationalize in matters of Revelation is to make our reason the standard and measure of the doctrines revealed; to stipulate that those doctrines should be such as to carry with them their own justification; to reject them, if they come in collision with our existing opinions or habits of thought, or are with difficulty harmonized with our existing stock of knowledge. And thus a rationalistic spirit is the antagonist of Faith; for Faith is, in its very nature, the acceptance of what our reason cannot reach, simply and absolutely upon testimony....


...Conduct such as this, on so momentous a matter, is, generally speaking, traceable to one obvious cause. The Rationalist makes himself his own centre, not his Maker; he does not go to God, but he implies that God must come to him. And this, it is to be feared, is the spirit in which multitudes of us act at the present day. Instead of looking out of ourselves, and trying to catch glimpses of God's workings, from any quarter,—throwing ourselves forward upon Him and waiting on Him, we sit at home bringing everything to ourselves, enthroning ourselves in our own views, and refusing to believe anything that does not force itself upon us as true. Our private judgment is made everything to us,—is contemplated, recognized, and consulted as the arbiter of all questions, and as independent of everything external to us. Nothing is considered to have an existence except so far forth as our minds discern it. The notion of half views and partial knowledge, of guesses, surmises, hopes and fears, of truths faintly apprehended and not understood, of isolated facts in the great scheme of Providence, in a word, the idea of Mystery, is discarded...

Like most of the Christian thoughts I post, this would still be true even if we knew that God did not exist. Rationalism would still be an abuse of reason. Because there would still be large realms of existence that our private judgement would not be adequate to understand.

And also because rationalism would still be psychologically wrong. Or perhaps one should say, anthropologically wrong. If our own selves are "contemplated, recognized, and consulted as the arbiter of all questions," as Newman puts it, we are in big trouble. One will be guiding oneself by imagining a compass, and then following where it leads.

Posted by John Weidner at August 30, 2009 4:05 PM
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