Monday, April 04, 2011

Denominationalism and Sectarianism: Cardinal Newman Nails its Fundamental Error and Notes the Inevitable Bitter Fruits That Unfold from It

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book of quotations from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: The Quotable Newman: Theology and Church History.

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. . . there is such a thing as religious truth, and therefore there is such a thing as religious error. We learn that religious truth is one—and therefore that all views of religion but one are wrong. . . . our religious creeds and professions at this day are many; but Truth is one: therefore they cannot all be right, or rather almost all of them must be wrong. That is, the multitude of men are wrong, so far as they differ; and as they differ, not about trivial points, but about great matters, it follows that the multitude of men, whether by their own fault or not, are wrong even in the greater matters of religion. . . . Doubtless if men sought the truth with one tenth part of the zeal with which they seek to acquire wealth or secular knowledge, their differences would diminish year by year. Doubtless if they gave a half or a quarter of the time to prayer for Divine guidance which they give to amusement or recreation, or which they give to dispute and contention, they would ever be approximating to each other. We differ in opinion; therefore we cannot all be right; many must be wrong; many must be turned from the truth; and why is this, but on account of that undeniable fact which we see before us, that we do not pray and seek for the Truth? . . . Some men will tell us that this difference of opinion in religious matters which exists, is a proof, not that the Truth is withheld from us on account of our negligence in seeking it, but that religious truth is not worth seeking at all, or that it is not given us. The present confused and perplexed state of things, which is really a proof of God's anger at our negligence, these men say is a proof that religious truth cannot be obtained; that there is no such thing as religious truth; that there is no right or wrong in religion; that, provided we think ourselves right, one set of opinions is as good as another; that we shall all come right in the end if we do but mean well, or rather if we do not mean ill. That is, we create confusion by our negligence and disobedience, and then excuse our negligence by the existence of that confusion. It is no uncommon thing, I say, for men to say, "that in religious matters God has willed that men should differ," and to support their opinion by no better argument than the fact that they do differ; and they go on to conclude that therefore we need not perplex ourselves about matters of faith, about which, after all, we cannot be certain. . . . How are the sheep of Christ's flock scattered abroad in the waste world! He came to gather them together in one; but they wander again and faint by the way, as having lost their Shepherd. What religious opinion can be named which some men or other have not at some time held? All are equally confident in the truth of their own doctrines, though the many must be mistaken.

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. 8, Sermon 13: “Truth Hidden When Not Sought After,” 1843)


romishgraffiti said...

. . . there is such a thing as religious truth, and therefore there is such a thing as religious error. We learn that religious truth is one—and therefore that all views of religion but one are wrong

This reminded me of the atheist quip that goes something like "I contend that we are both atheists. I just reject one more God than you."

I've never understood why atheists think this is such a crusher. It's as goofy as saying "I contend we are both bachelors. I am just not married to one less woman than you."

Dave Armstrong said...

LOL Atheists think all their arguments are unanswerable. :-)

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Dave, This excerpt highlights one of the problems with with "private judgment". When folks withhold giving assent to an authority outside of themselves as the final arbiter of what religious truth is, they lose the ability to measure their understanding against the yardstick provided by that outside authority and without that ability to "measure", one is only left with their own opinion.

This also highlights the problem with "sola scriptura" as well. Most Christians, Protestant and Catholic, can agree the God's revlation contained in the Scriptures is true. But how do sincere people reconcile differences of opinion as to what God has revealed unless there is another authority outside of oneself to aid in ascertaining the verity of the differing opinions as to the truth found in Scripture? That is why in my mind assent to the authority of the Church is so important.

I am looking forward to getting the book when it comes out. One of my most cherished books (non-biblical) in my personal library is an original "Characteristics from the Writings of J.H. Newman, Being Selections Personal, Historical, Philosophical, and Religious, from His Various Works." London: H.S. King & Co, 1876 by W.S. Lilly.

God bless!

Dave Armstrong said...

Exactly right, Paul. Sometimes I wonder how I ever believed this stuff as a Protestant, but we go with what we know, and few ever presented Catholicism to me till the late 80s.

I have that book you mention! Do you have an old copy actually from that time?

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Dave, I do. My son got it for me at an used book/thrift store. It was originally in a convent library in Wheeling, WVA. It sits on the shelf next to my "Father" Fulton Sheen's "Way of the Cross" book that I found in a Goodwill store a couple of years ago. No matter how much stuff one can find on the internet in the public domain, there is nothing like actualy hold a book and turning the pages.

BTW, do you think that Bl. Newman will be made a doctor of the Church anytime in the near future? Also, I read some time ago that some scholars were looking into opening a cause for G.K. Chesterton. Have you heard whether that went anywhere?

God bless!

Dave Armstrong said...

I'm convinced he will one day be a Doctor of the Church. I have no idea how long that will take.

I heard about GKC but don't know any details about that. It seems unlikely to me but would be wonderful if it happened.

I'm always in favor of more laypeople and married people being proclaimed saints.