Thursday, May 7, 2009

Apologia Pro Vita Sua. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1)

Garden City, New York: Image Books. A Division of Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1864 (1956)

Why read it? If you are a fan of argumentation, you’ll love it. If you are interested in an explanation of Catholic doctrine, you will find it helpful. Otherwise, a good skimming is enough. By reputation, Dr. Newman was well known as the staunch Anglican who converted to Catholicism. This book is a review of his religious thoughts leading to his conversion.

When Charles Kingsley suggested that Dr. Newman did not believe in truth for truth’s sake, inferred from some of Dr. Newman’s sermons while an Anglican, Dr. Newman got his dander up, stated accurately that he never said that and the two exchanged acerbic words about each other’s honesty. It was that exchange that led to Newman’s Apologia. Not an apology asking for forgiveness, but an explanation of his thoughts on religion.

The Oxford Movement, as part of Newman's Anglican career, began with a study of the early Christian Fathers, which then led to his converting to Catholicism.

One section at the end of the book deals with the whole topic of lying that is really very interesting with all sorts of quotes on the topic. The only mention of a lie in the Ten Commandments is the Ninth in which we are commanded not to bear false witness against our neighbors. But Newman cites any number of examples that seem to imply lying—half-truths, silence, etc.—that seem to be implied lies for the purpose of deceiving but are not forbidden as one of the Ten Commandments. So, is lying, except in the sense of the Ninth Commandment, a sin?

Another interesting section concerns Catholicism, especially its belief in miracles, which Kingsley had called incredible and unscientific, without any good evidence. And Newman also presents a masterful explanation of the Catholic belief in the Pope’s infallibility. He points out as part of that explanation the belief that the development of Catholic doctrines takes time, even centuries, before being promulgated as Catholic doctrines.

Newman is opposed to what he calls “Liberalism,” which he defines as making the world and its daily existence more important for people than the afterlife with God.

In writing style, his sentences tend to be long and convoluted. I start a sentence and I wonder, “When will it ever end?” For example, this sentence on page 202: “After thus stating the phenomenon of the time, as it presented itself to those who did not sympathize in it, the Article proceeds to account for it; and this it does by considering it as a re-action from the dry and superficial character of religious teaching and the literature of the last generation, or century, and as a result of the need which was felt both by the hearts and the intellects of the nation for a deeper philosophy, and as the evidence and as the partial fulfillment of that need, to which even the chief authors of the then generation had borne witness.” Now that’s a jaw full.

Why read it? For those interested in a defense of the Catholic religion; for those who want to read a masterful argument in response to perceived charges of untruthfulness, you will be rewarded with some thought-provoking ideas. For most people, the argument develops so slowly and in such often convoluted logic that reading a single sentence a page will help you find the interesting parts, the parts that are direct and clear. Reading a single sentence a page is one method of what Francis Bacon describes as “Some books are to be tasted.” To which I add, “…and when caught up in the flow of the text, keep reading.” RayS.

Next Blog: Sample quotes (2)

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