Pages

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

That toast quote again

A recent article by John Cornwell in the Times calls into question the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Venerable John Henry Newman. The website for the cause for the canonisation of Newman has responded briefly to Cornwell's article: John Cornwell’s analysis of Newman’s miracle is seriously flawed. A further article is promised later this week.

Damian Thompson has also responded to other aspects of the article. See: 'Papal bull: Why Cardinal Newman is no saint,' says Sunday Times. When is this going to stop?

Cornwell's article ends with the much misused and misunderstood toast quote from Newman about drinking to conscience first and the Pope afterwards. If any of the detractors of Newman were interested in knowing what Newman actually intended, his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk is now available, along with his other works, at the Newman Reader. Here is a link to the relevant section (5).

Newman was responding to the charge made by Gladstone that the infallibility of the Pope made Catholics "moral and mental slaves" and compromised their loyalty and civil duty. He offers a brilliant answer to this particular charge in section 4 (Divided Allegiance), demonstrating along the way the manner in which Gladstone misrepresented Vatican I's Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus. He gives a sensible explanation of what is understood to be the proper exercise of the authority of the Pope, and the limit to that authority in the extreme circumstance of its misuse, quoting Bellarmine and others in support.

It is from this point that Newman discusses conscience since he has admitted that "there are extreme cases in which Conscience may come into collision with the word of a Pope." He says that conscience is the apprehension of the divine law which is the supreme rule of conduct. He points out that this Christian understanding of conscience is opposed to the subjective view of conscience which sees it as a creation of ourselves rather than the voice of God. Newman describes the popular understanding which is familiar to us today, though sadly now within the Church as well as outside of it:
When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman's prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one's leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way.
In a point which is relevant to discussions of our own time, Newman defends Quanta Cura and Mirari Vos by showing that when they condemned liberty of conscience, they were speaking of the popular and false understanding of conscience, not the Catholic sense. He compares it to the use of the word "reformation", saying that if Catholics were to express their meaning fully, they would speak of "the so-called reformation". He points out that if the Pope condemned the reformation, it would be utterly sophistical to say that he had opposed all reforms.

On the question of a collision, in extreme circumstances, between "conscience truly so called" and a particular exercise of papal authority, Newman says:
Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Primรข facie it is his bounden duty, even from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly. He must vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which, at the very first rumour of a command, places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it, asks itself whether he is not exceeding his right, and rejoices, in a moral and practical matter to commence with scepticism. He must have no wilful determination to exercise a right of thinking, saying, doing just what he pleases, the question of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, the duty if possible of obedience, the love of speaking as his Head speaks, and of standing in all cases on his Head's side, being simply discarded.
Newman follows up on his argument by citing Catholic authorities in support of his description of Catholic teaching, and invites Gladstone to offer evidence from Catholic authorities for his (mis)understanding of the teaching.

In his parting shot, Newman makes a sardonic allusion to a correspondence in the Times between Lord Arundell of Wardour and Lord Oranmore and Browne. This followed an article in the paper criticising Catholics for drinking the toast of Pius IX before the Queen. (Lord Arundell justified this in terms of the priority of the spiritual over the temporal order.) This much misused toast quote with which Newman finishes the chapter, is a gentle tour de force, turning the tables on Gladstone:
I add one remark. Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink — to the Pope, if you please, — still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.
In the context of his carefully argued letter, Newman is allowing himself a witty reference to a slightly absurd controversy over after-dinner toasts. His implied challenge to Gladstone is for him to drink to conscience before the Queen. On Newman's argument, Catholics are loyal to both Pope and Queen precisely because they have a true understanding of conscience as the "participation of the eternal law in the rational creature". Gladstone needs to show how he can justify loyalty to the Queen and civic duty without a proper understanding of conscience and the law of God.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...