September 21, 2010

Pious No No

Garry Wills, writing on "Stealing Newman" in his blog at the New York Review of Books launches an assault on papal misdemeanors in the truth department. If nothing else, it shows the extent to which traditionalists (such as the current pontiff) can rewrite their own tradition and history to suit current needs. Progressives, it seems, have no monopoly on revisionism.

For myself, I am finding the adulation of Newman as a great mind to be less than well substantiated by the evidence. He strikes me as one of those people who can be smart without being wise; or what the English call "clever." He was bold enough, in his Development of Doctrine, to point to the essential inadequacy of the Vincentian Canon but his replacement notion, that the development of doctrine could safely be conferred to curial hands, is scarcely a defensible thesis, as his own dismay over the first Vatican Council's extravagant claims for the papacy indicate. Curial custody of development is no surer a defense against error than the Apostolic Succession was against heresy, for all of the trust that Irenaeus put in it. (Strangely enough, some Roman Catholics think Newman was trying to save Vincent's doctrine rather than replace it.) In his faith-based urge to indefectibility and a secure harbor in the See of Rome, Newman, with all his smarts, missed or chose to ignore the obvious fact that his Anglican heritage had long proclaimed: "the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome...General Councils... (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining to God." (The Articles of Religion, XIX, XXI)

That is a hard truth, but it is the truth, whatever pious fictions some wish to promulgate.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Paul said...

Deliciously clever title, Tobias.

Alas, B16, for all his alleged intellectual prowess, has not been demonstrating great allegiance to facts (with their notorious liberal bias). He has great allegiance to centralized power, however.

June Butler said...

I find Newman's swim across the Tiber surprising in light of the writings of his that I have read recently. Most of his works that I read when I was a college studentat a Jesuit university, lo these many years ago, were from after Newman's conversion to Rome.

Lately, I've read more of his writings while he was still an Anglican, and I've been surprised at the great changes in his thinking that led him to be convinced that Rome was the one, true church. He made great leaps, which I realize took place over a number of years, but which I yet find rather amazing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Paul. I couldn't resist the pun...

Mimi, I confess to finding JHN slightly tragic in a low-key way. In particular when the rug was pulled from under him at Vatican I, and he had to make an uneasy peace with his conscience. Behind that gentle smile (in the famous late portraits) I detect a kind of wistful regret, and the peace which comes with surrender to something which deep down one knows is not quite right, but, "c'est la vie, I've made my bed and now shall lie in it, and it isn't really all that uncomfortable..."

Unknown said...

It seems to me that, for whatever reason, John Henry Newman was on a life-long quest filled with questions. He is far from the uncritical son of Rome sitting in his oratory rooms, writing tomes of adulation in re the Bishop of Rome. After all, he is quoted as saying, “It is not good for a pope to live 20 years. He becomes a god and has no one to contradict him” (in reference to Pius IX and some years after his being received into the Roman Catholic discipline of the Faith). What appears at first glance to be restlessness of faith, belief, and theology--was he ever completely at ease--might well be symptoms of what we term 150 years later 'continual conversion of life.' We get to watch him wrestling with his self, God, and the Church in living colour. I suspect that today he would be a voracious blogger.

JCF said...

I read a history of Anglo-Catholicism a few years ago (it was written at the turn of the last century), and it characterized Newman & (RC convert) Co by their weakness: instead of staying and FIGHTING for Tract 90, they cried "Uncle . . . Peter!" and went sniveling off to Rome [I hope this characterization doesn't come across as (male) homophobic, but there is a certain "Wussy" stereotype there. If only those Tract 90 defenders had been a Big, Bunch o' Burly Bulldykes! *LOL* (I can say this, because I resemble it ;-) )]


But I really want to talk about (RC) Newman's contention that "the development of doctrine could safely be conferred to curial hands":

I would respond to TEC's detractors (who often say "You put your doctrine up for a vote!").

Yes, the democracy of our General Convention is a TERRIBLE way to discern doctrine . . . it's simply better than all the others (Apologies to W. Churchill!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, James. I agree entirely -- JHN would be burning up the blogosphere. That, in part is why the portrait of the "loyal son" that Benedict 16 portrays, there is a much more dynamic figure, with that slightly elegaic edge in old age I referred to above. I wish him the last laugh...

JCF, yes, precisely the point. I'm not sure of Lewis Carroll's joke about which clock is better: one that runs slow or one that doesn't run at all (obviously the latter since it is absolutely to the second twice a day!) was meant to favor this contrast in governing styles, but it works!

WSJM said...

"That is a hard truth, but it is the truth, whatever pious fictions some wish to promulgate."


MarkBrunson said...

My father scandalized an RC friend by saying that he always thought "Pio Nono" is a sign on a Vatican fountain.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Bill. Mark, your father was much more daring in his punning than I!

Christopher Brown said...

Take a look at the "Grammar of Assent" -- Bernard Lonergan read it 11 times. Undoubtedly Newman's most serious book but any standard. A remarkable study on the nature of believing that anticipates much of the modern discussion on the topic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher, I shall indeed. I've only read from the Tracts, "Development" and the Apologia, and the odd sermon. Something a little deeper may be more rewarding!

June Butler said...

Mark, I had to return to express my appreciation of your father's pun.

Not that there's anything wrong with yours, Tobias!

John Hamilton said...

I am not a scholar of John Henry Cardinal Newman, but I think that some of his contributions are what are sorely needed in today's apologetic for Faith. First, His grammar of assent begins to explore that faith is not a product of deduction... but neither is it a totally subjective personal matter either. This is a huge corrective to the way we pursue all knowledge in the mistaken belief that the scientific method is anything different to how we make other important decisions.

It was the amount of vitriol, for which he was in no small part responsible for engendering, that drove Newman to the Church of Rome. Unable to step out and wait for the dust to settle he capitulated.

Now that the Anglican Communion itself is dissolving the question still needs to be asked how do Christians maintain unity. Some amount of that is the ability to stay in relationship without always getting one's way. Rome's solution I think is a sell out to the way of Empire, but it has the strength of still valuing obedience. I think Newman's choice could invite us to humbly ask why is he Body of Christ dissolving into so many factions, and what is God's wish for us? I think the questions he raises are still the important ones regarding faith and ecclesiology.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Good points, John, and I have downloaded "Grammar" to read when I've finished with a reread of the Apostolic Fathers I"m wading through at present.

But I've touched on the issue of "visible unity" before, suggesting it is chimerical if it means a single world-church institutionally rather than organically. See

Agnlican Triad

Heterosecutal Communion

and most importantly:
What would Gamaliel do?

Where I say,
My point here is that maybe God's plan for the church never was an institutional unity in which all members were the same, and part of a single institutional administration, but rather institutional variety in a fellowship of equals. I'm not just being "Anglican" here: I think of all those organs of the body with their different functions all working together -- and yet the eye is not the hand, the foot not the eye, and so on. Maybe it is the gift of the Episcopal Church to be an eye for a certain kind of justice, and for Nigeria to be a voice for a call to faithfulness; for England to be a hand for balance, the Caribbean and Central America a heart for joy and celebration. And beyond this: to the Roman Catholics for a call to seriousness in reflection, the Baptists and Pentecostals for a dose of the Spirit, the Moravians for their music and the Orthodox for their spirituality.

I noted on the floor of the General Convention that Jesus said we were to be one "as I and the Father are one." Well, as the old symbol shows us, the Son is not the Father and the Father not the Son, yet each and both is and are fully God. What if we were to acknowledge the fullness of the Church present in every separate organ, each a "person" in this wonderful divine embodiment; rather than pine for an external "unity" that "confuses the persons" into a single monochrome entity in which the eye and hand lose all distinction. What if each of the churches was to be seen as a hypostasis of the one ousia; fully and substantially the church -- as completely as Christ is present in each separate fragment of the bread that once was one, but now is many?

Perhaps we should accept that what has endured -- a church with many and various members and traditions -- is really what is "of God" -- and that, if we could accept it and stop bickering about our differences (and criticizing each others' gifts), we might then be about the tikkun olam that is God's purpose for the church in the world. What might that accomplish?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Haller,

I think that he Gamaliel principle should apply to those who wish to peel of the Episcopal Church toward Uganda, Rwanda, Argentina or whatever. Generosity of spirit by all would have been and still could be a better choice than an all out battle.

I personally don't have a dog in the fight, but the naked hostility all around is sad and not a great witness to the world outside the Church. Even the ELCA and LCMS manage at times to work together as Lutherans.

I'm headed to the Ordinariate and I hope we will be able to view each others as fellow Christians, maybe even as fellow Anglicans and Catholics in some warm, fuzzy sense, and continue to have the warm relations that Catholics and Anglicans have enjoyed as long as I remember.

God bless

Ordinariate bound

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


Although I have my caveats about the Gamaliel Principle, (as I once told Archbishop Runcie, many things of God have passed away, and many things not of God have endured) I have long supported the right of individuals to follow their conscience and affiliate with the church of their choosing -- indeed, I support sectarianism over a monolithic model for ecclesial form, as God's will, at least as far as the Gamaliel principle attests; there never having been a single monolithic hierarchy governing all Christians, and there never will be.

So I am a complete supporter of laissez-faire in this respect. I do not, however, believe that such individual choices to move to another church include a necessary grant of real property or furnishings or funds. That is where most of the tension lies, as I see it.

As for you, God bless you in your journey, and may the Lord open the way before you in grace and peace.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly I have not read much of Newman, but I have read The idea of a University and was moved. EmilyH

Anonymous said...

Wills' article was a polemic, nothing more.

Is there any writeen evidence produced by any biographer or scholar on Newman that he did not accept the dogmatic propositions of Vatican I?

The fact-free writing here is that of Gary Wills, not Benedict XVI.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Emily, I never claimed Newman was not a good writer. I will add "University" to my reading list along with "Assent."

Fr. Michael, it depends on what you mean by "accept." As he wrote against at least one of the dogmas earlier, he may simply have adopted a judicious silence. You appear once again to have missed the point that this is what I see as poignant -- for a thoughtful mind to submit itself to propositions it finds wrong for the sake of... what? As with Rowan, it is a phantom: there has never been a single centrally governed monolithic Church in Christian history; and the idea that there should be has caused much pain and suffering. By your fruits you will know them.

And as for fact-free, well, that is simply a flippant falsehood. Benedict is a liar, and very likely a criminal. The facts are on display. Justice will come, but his tragic choices to be an "organization man" and promote the cover-up of the pedophile scandal will forever mark him and his pontificate.

rick allen said...

"Benedict is a liar."

This is becoming a mantra, apparently. What, exactly, is his lie?

As I have commented elsewhere, Professor Wills calls Benedict a liar for allegedly stating that that Newman was a "model of submission to church authority." Now how such a judgment is exactly a "lie," I don't know. As I understand it, a lie is a statement contradicting a fact that the liar knows is true.

An opinion cannot be a lie. A mistake is not a lie. So I am unsure what to make of Professor Wills' accusation that Benedict is a "liar" because he proposes Newman as a model of obedience.

Furthermore, if the pope, as a liar, really believed that Newman was not a model of obedience, why in the world would he then set him on the road to sainthood? It just doesn't make sense.

Newman's view on conscience, the papacy, and the Vatican Council are set out in some detail here:

...if anyone cares.

The irony of all this "Benedict is a liar" business is that the whole bruhaha with Kingsley started precisely when Kingsley asserted that the "Roman" clergy cared nothing for the truth, and that Father Newman had confirmed as much.

I think, then, if you are going to call a prominent memeber of a rival religious organization a "liar," you should at the minimum say what fact he has denied, and how we can know that his statement was known to him not to be true when he said it. Mere disagreement never makes anyone a "liar."

I, too, by the way, would consider Newman a model of submission to Church authority.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, Benedict lied and misrepresented his connection with the pedophilia cover up. You can find the evidence if you want to. He is now facing a subpoena, which he will likely use his position to ignore.

I agree that Newman is a model of submission.