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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Newman and Perfection Continued

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman gives us a clear view of the mind of modern man. He not only knew his history, and the history of ideas, but also how thinking changes a person's view of virtue.

Here is a quotation from Oxford Sermon 8, one of those I have been examining in the past few days. As I was defining and examining the great sins, here is Newman perfectly describing sloth and cowardice, as well as acedia, that melancholy which causes inaction in the spiritual life and a cynicism.

And it must be confessed, so great is the force of passion and of habit, when once allowed to take possession of the heart, that these men seem to have in their actual state, nay in their past experience, long before the time of their present obduracy, an infallible witness in behalf of their doctrine. In subduing our evil nature, the first steps alone are in our own power; a few combats seem to decide the solemn question, to decide whether the sovereignty is with the spirit or the flesh; nisi paret, imperat, is become a proverb. When once the enemy of our souls "comes in like a flood," what hope is there that he ever will be expelled? And what servitude can be compared to the bondage which follows, when we wish to do right, yet are utterly powerless to do it? whether we be slaves to some imperious {146} passion, hushed indeed in its victim's ordinary mood, and allowing the recurrence of better thoughts and purposes, but rising suddenly and sternly, in his evil hour, to its easy and insulting triumph; or, on the other hand, to some cold sin which overhangs and deadens the mind, sloth, for instance, or cowardice, binding it down with ten thousand subtle fastenings to the earth, nor suffering it such motion as might suffice it for a renewal of the contest. Such, in its worst forms, is the condition of the obdurate sinner; who, feeling his weakness, but forgetting that he ever had strength, and the promise of aid from above, at length learns to acquiesce in his misery as if the lot of his nature, and resolves neither to regret nor to hope.

In the modern world, we make psychological excuses for such sin, blaming our character or personalities or weaknesses. In a sense, we are actually blaming God directly when we do this and that is the sin of pride.

Next he amuses his reason with the melancholy employment of reducing his impressions into system; and proves, as he thinks, from the confessed influence of external events, and the analogy of the physical world, that all moral phenomena proceed according to a fixed law, and that we are not more to blame when we sin than when we die.
19. (2.) The Calvinistic doctrine, if not the result, is at least the forerunner of a similar neglect of the doctrine of human responsibility. Whatever be the fallacies of its argumentative basis, viewed as a character of mind, it miscalculates the power of the affections, as fatalism does that of the passions. Its practical error is that of supposing that certain motives and views, presented to the heart and conscience, produce certain effects as their necessary consequence, no room being left for the resistance of the will, or for self-discipline, as the medium by which faith and holiness are connected {147} together. 

In other words, holiness takes effort. Newman succinctly describes the sensual person, who falls away from discernment and the habits of virtue.

 Nor is there among the theories of the world any more congenial to the sated and remorseful sensualist, who, having lost the command of his will, feels that if he is to be converted, it must be by some sudden and violent excitement. On the other hand, it will always have its advocates among the young and earnest-minded, who, not having that insight into their hearts which experience gives, think that to know is to obey, and that their habitual love of the Truth may be measured by their momentary admiration of it. And {148} it is welcomed by the indolent, who care not for the Scripture warnings of the narrowness of the way of life, provided they can but assure themselves that it is easy to those who are in it; and who readily ascribe the fewness of those who find it, not to the difficulty of connecting faith and works, but to a Divine frugality in the dispensation of the gifts of grace.

As Catholics, we know the remedies for these sins: obedience to the teaching of the Church, prayer, the sacraments, and practicing the life of the virtues.

I use photos and pictures of Newman as an older man, but remember, he was in his early thirties when he gave these amazing sermons. One is in awe of his mind and his soul.

to be continued...