Saturday, February 11, 2017

"half a truth is an error, and nine-tenths of a truth no better"

"Men may have glowing imaginations, warm feelings, or benevolent tempers; they may be very little aware themselves how far they are removed from Catholicism; they may even style themselves its friends, and be disappointed it does not recognize them; they may admire its doctrines, they may think it uncharitable in us not to meet them half way.  All the while, they may have nothing whatever of that form, idea, type of Catholicism, even in its inchoate condition, which I have allowed to some individuals among them. . . .  This is why some persons have been so taken by surprise at the late outburst against us in England, because they fancied men would be better than their systems.  This is why we have to lament, in times past and present, the resolute holding off from us of learned men in the Establishment, who seemed or seem to come nearest to us.  Pearson, or Bull, or Beveridge, almost touches the gates of the Divine City, yet he gropes for them in vain; for such men are formed on a different type from the Catholic, and the most Catholic of their doctrines are not Catholic in them.  In vain are the most ecclesiastical thoughts, the most ample concessions, the most promising aspirations, nay, the most fraternal sentiments, if they are not an integral part of that intellectual and moral form, which is ultimately from divine grace, and of which faith, not carnal wisdom, is the characteristic.  The event shows this, as in the case of those many, who, as time goes on, after appearing to approach the Church, recede from her.  In other cases the event is not necessary for their detection, to Catholics who happen to be near them.  These are conscious in them of something or other, different from Catholicism, a bearing, or an aspect, or a tone, which they cannot indeed analyze or account for, but which they cannot mistake.  They may not be able to put their finger on a single definite error; but, in proportion to the clearness of their spiritual discernment, or the exactness of their theology, do they recognize, either the incipient heresiarch within the Church's pale, or the unhopeful inquirer outside of it.  Whichever he be, he has made a wrong start; and however long the road has been, he has to go back and begin again.  So it is with the bodies, institutions and systems of which he is the specimen; they may die, they cannot be reformed."

     John Henry Newman, The idea of a university defined and illustrated, Discourse V ("General knowledge viewed as one philosophy"), ed. I. T. Ker (Oxford:  The Clarendon Press, 1976), 433-434 (Appendix I).  The headline is from p. 430, and is similar to this one from p. 429.
     Newman says "men", but means "bodies of men".  Having just allowed for an authentic approach on the part of the rare non-Catholic individual, he has here returned to his main thesis, which has "to do with systems, institutions, bodies of men" (432).
     Needless to say, the same point could be made from the Protestant (or any other) angle.  How often do Protestants, too, say, upon the conversion of a friend to Catholicism, that they had seen it coming years before?  Nor would Newman disagree.  So far as I can tell, he would be the first to admit that Protestantism, too, is a kind of self-consistent (albeit in his view heretical) seed.  Catholics,too, "may grow into an idea by degrees, and then at the end they are moving on the same line, as they were at the beginning, not a different one, though they may during the progress have changed their external profession" for a Protestant one (431).

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