Thursday, August 22, 2013

"He for eighteen hundred years has lived in the world. . . ."

     "In the first centuries of the Church all this practical sagacity of Holy Church was mere matter of faith, but every age, as it has come, has confirmed faith by actual sight; and shame on us, if, with the accumulated testimony of eighteen centuries, our eyes are too gross to see those victories which the Saints have ever seen by anticipation."

     John Henry Newman, The idea of a university defined and illustrated, Discourse I.5 (ed. I. T. Ker (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1976), 29).
     "St. Peter has spoken, it is he who has enjoined that which seems to us so unpromising.  He has spoken, and has a claim on us to trust him.  He is no recluse, no solitary student, no dreamer about the past, no doter upon the dead and gone, no projector of the visionary.  He for eighteen hundred years has lived in the world; he has seen all fortunes, he has encountered all adversaries, he has shaped himself for all emergencies.  If ever there was a power on earth who had an eye for the times, who has confined himself to the practicable, and has been happy in his anticipations, whose words have been facts, and whose commands prophecies, such is he in the history of ages, who sits from generation to generation in the Chair of the Apostles, as the Vicar of Christ, and the Doctor of His Church" (28).
     Fascinating in this connection is the retraction (of sorts) Newman composed in 1870/1873 (587n28), in which he admits that he went too far in 1852, and was at that time "a poor innocent":
"I had been accustomed to believe that, over and above [1] that attribute of infallibility which attached to the doctrinal decisions of the Holy See, [2] a gift of sagacity had in every age characterized its occupants, so that . . . what the Pope determined was the very measure, or the very policy, expedient for the Church at the time when he determined.  This view I have brought out at some length in my 'Rise of the Universities' first published in the 'University Gazette', and in the first lecture, as delivered, on the 'Nature and Scope of Universities'.  I am obliged to say that a sentiment which history has impressed upon me, and impresses still, has been very considerably weakened as far as the present Pope is concerned . . . I cannot help thinking, in particular, that if he had known more of the state of things in Ireland, he would not have taken up the quarrel about the higher education which his predecessor left him, and, if he could not religiously have found a way of recognizing the Queen's Colleges, then at least he would have abstained from decreeing [?] a Catholic University.  I was a poor innocent as regards the actual state of things in Ireland when I went there, and did not care to think about it, for I relied on the word of the Pope, but from the event I am led to think it not rash to say that I knew as much about Ireland as he did" (587n28, citing the "Memorandum about my connection with the Catholic University" of 1870-1873, as reproduced in John Henry Newman:  autobiographical writings, ed. Henry Tristram (London & New York, 1956), 320).

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