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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Newman on habits and considering perfection: virtues against the rudeness of the world

Blessed Newman also helps us with our approach to perfection. Note this from Sermon Three at Oxford, 1831. One of his points is that is one forms habits of character early in one's life, based on Christian doctrine, one may withstand temptations of all kinds, including intellectual temptations.

We cannot keep from forming habits of one kind or another, each of our acts influences the rest, gives character to the mind, narrows its freewill {53} in the direction of good or evil, till it soon converges in all its powers and principles to some fixed point in the unbounded horizon before it. This at least is the general law of our moral nature; and such fearful expression does it give to every event which befalls us, and to every corresponding action of our will, and especially with such appalling interest does it invest the probation of our early years, that nothing but the knowledge of the Gospel announcements, and above all of the gracious words and deeds of our Redeemer, is equal to the burden of it. And these are intended to sustain the threatenings of the visible system of things, which would overwhelm us except for the promise, as the hearing of the promise on the other hand might puff us up with an unseeming presumption, had we no experience of the terrors of Natural Religion.

Thomas Aquinas writes much on the habits which are virtues. Here is Newman again:

The consistency of virtue is another gift, which gradually checks the rudeness of the world, and tames it into obedience to itself. The changes of human affairs, which first excited and interested, at length disgust the mind, which then begins to look out for something on which it can rely, for peace and rest; and what can then be found immutable and sure, but God's word and promises, illustrated and conveyed to the inquirer in the person of His faithful servants? Every day shows us how much depends on firmness for obtaining {94} influence in practical matters; and what are all kinds of firmness, as exhibited in the world, but likenesses and offshoots of that true stability of heart which is stayed in the grace and in the contemplation of Almighty God?

Contemplation of God and firmness of character help virtue to grow. Novelty interferes. Let us consider how timely Newman's ideas are for us today. The world would change if Catholics allowed themselves to grow in virtue. What a great thought.