Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman on the Nature and Pursuit of Truth


 . . . it is obvious that to be in earnest in seeking the truth is an indispensable requisite for finding it. Indeed, it would not be necessary to notice so evident a proposition, had it not been for the strange conduct of the ancient philosophers in their theories concerning nature and man. It seems as though only one or two of them were serious and sincere in their inquiries and teaching. Most of them considered speculations on philosophical subjects rather in the light of an amusement than of a grave employment,— as an exercise for ingenuity, or an indulgence of fancy,—to display their powers, to collect followers, or for the sake of gain. . . . truth is too sacred and religious a thing to be sacrificed to the mere gratification of the fancy, or amusement of the mind, or party spirit, or the prejudices of education, or attachment (however amiable) to the opinions of human teachers, . . . 

(Oxford University Sermons, Sermon 1: “The Philosophical Temper, First Enjoined by the Gospel,” 2 July 1826)

That Truth, which St. Paul preached, addresses itself to our spiritual nature: it will be rightly understood, valued, accepted, by none but lovers of truth, virtue, purity, humility, and peace. Wisdom will be justified of her children. Those, indeed, who are thus endowed may and will go on to use their powers of mind, whatever they are, in the service of religion; none but they can use them aright. Those who reject revealed truth wilfully, are such as do not love moral and religious truth. . . . If men turn unto fables of their own will, they do it on account of their pride, or their love of indolence and self-indulgence. . . . Is it not plain that earnestness is necessary for gaining religious truth? . . . let us consider for an instant how eagerly men in general pursue objects of this world; now with what portion of this eagerness do they exert themselves to know the truth of God's word? Undeniable, then, as is the doctrine that God does not reveal Himself to those who do not seek Him, it is certain that its truth is not really felt by us, or we should seek Him more earnestly than we do. Nothing is more common than to think that we shall gain religious knowledge as a thing of course, without express trouble on our part. Though there is no art or business of this world which is learned without time and exertion, yet it is commonly conceived that the knowledge of God and our duty will come as if by accident or by a natural process. Men go by their feelings and likings; they take up what is popular, or what comes first to hand. They think it much if they now and then have serious thoughts, if they now and then open the Bible; and their minds recur with satisfaction to such seasons, as if they had done some very great thing, never remembering that to seek and gain religious truth is a long and systematic work. And others think that education will do every thing for them, and that if they learn to read, and use religious words, they understand religion itself. And others again go so far as to maintain that exertion is not necessary for discovering the truth. 

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VIII, Sermon 13: “Truth Hidden When Not Sought After,” 17 October 1830)

. . . it has been upheld in the world not as a system, not by books, not by argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such men as have already been described, who are at once the teachers and the patterns of it . . . 

(Oxford University Sermons, Sermon 5: “Personal Influence, the Means of Propagating the Truth,” 22 January 1832)

I fear it must be confessed, that our kindness, instead of being directed and braced by principle, too often becomes languid and unmeaning; that it is exerted on improper objects, and out of season, and thereby is uncharitable in two ways, indulging those who should be chastised, and preferring their comfort to those who are really deserving. We are over-tender in dealing with sin and sinners. We are deficient in jealous custody of the revealed Truths which Christ has left us. We allow men to speak against the Church, its ordinances, or its teaching, without remonstrating with them. 

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. II, Sermon 23: “Tolerance of Religious Error,” Dec. 1834)

. . . an attempt to make numbers, and not the Truth, the ground of maintaining, or not maintaining, this or that creed, as if we had any reason whatever in Scripture for thinking that the many will be in the right, and the few in the wrong? 

(Tracts for the Times #83, 1838)

What is right and what is happy cannot in the long run and on a large scale be disjoined. To follow after truth can never be a subject of regret; . . . I say, then, that never to have been troubled with a doubt about the truth of what has been taught us, is the happiest state of mind . . . 

(Tracts for the Times #85, Sep. 1838)

There are ten thousand ways of looking at this world, but only one right way. The man of pleasure has his way, the man of gain his, and the man of intellect his. Poor men and rich men, governors and governed, prosperous and discontented, learned and unlearned, each has his own way of looking at the things which come before him, and each has a wrong way. There is but one right way; it is the way in which God looks at the world. Aim at looking at it in God's way. Aim at seeing things as God sees them. Aim at forming judgments about persons, events, ranks, fortunes, changes, objects, such as God forms. Aim at looking at this life as God looks at it. Aim at looking at the life to come, and the world unseen, as God does. Aim at "seeing the King in his beauty." All things that we see are but shadows to us and delusions, unless we enter into what they really mean. . . . That a thing is true, is no reason that it should be said, but that it should be done; that it should be acted upon; that it should be made our own inwardly. 

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. V, Sermon 3: “Unreal Words,” 2 June 1839)

Only one is the truth and the perfect truth; and which that is, none know but those who are in possession of it, if even they. But God knows which it is; and towards that one and only Truth He is leading us forward. He is leading forward His redeemed, He is training His elect, one and all, to the one perfect knowledge and obedience of Christ; not, however, without their cooperation, but by means of calls which they are to obey, and which if they do not obey, they lose place, and fall behind in their heavenly course. 

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VIII, Sermon 2: “Divine Calls,” 1843)

Truth is the principle on which all intellectual, and therefore all theological inquiries proceed, and is the motive power which gives them effect; but the principle of popular edification, quickened by a keen sensitiveness of the chance of scandals, is as powerful as Truth, when the province is Religion. 

(Via Media, Vol. I, Preface to the Third Edition, 1877)

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