Everybody knows about John Henry Newman. He tried to turn the Church of England into the Catholic Church, and when that didn’t work he became a real Catholic. He then wrote a bunch of books about how to start a university and apologize for everything, and then had a big fight with Pope Pius IX because they didn’t allow him to dissent about papal infallibility, so he wrote a book about how to dissent without seeming to dissent, and he was right because Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal . . . right?
|Meh. Close enough. . . .|
That is not to say there isn’t some truth in the popular image of Newman, but it’s the sort of thing one gets from the “history” of W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman in 1066 and All That (“A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates”). That is, a few half-remembered truths get mixed in with a lot of opinion and prejudice and the next thing you know, it’s written in stone.
Take, for example, the claim that Newman was trying to turn the Church of England into the Catholic Church. It sounds as if the whole thing had something to do with religion.
Well, yes, in a way, but even the most insightful commentators manage to miss the Big Picture of what was going on with that Newman guy and — not by coincidence — Robert Hugh Benson, Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, and even Fulton Sheen, following Newman’s lead. The simple fact is that it wasn’t only “religion” that was in trouble in the early nineteenth century. All of society was in danger, and the danger remains today, only much worse than it was back then.
|Knox . . . or Benson. One of those guys.|
True, “religion” — specifically Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant — was the stalking horse. That, however, was only because those behind the “new things” who were trying to change what it means to be a human person and impose their vision on society needed to capture religion before the assault on civil society (“the State”) and the family could be effective. Organized religion, particularly the Catholic Church, was taking the lead in the struggle against the “new things.”
Why? Because as long as each individual human being was viewed as a special creation of God, with all rights and powers vested in the individual human person and from thence delegated to those human tools — abstractions — called institutions (of which the State is the most important), the “new things” could make no progress. With God above the human person, and the human person above institutions, tailoring God or human nature as a reflection of God’s Absolute Nature to fit the new vision of what it means to be human would be impossible.
And that meant not merely a new religion had to be invented and promoted, but a new type of religion, one that turns Collective Man — an abstraction — into a god, and thus turns the proper order of things upside down. Instead of having God at the top, actual people in the middle, and institutions such as the State at the bottom, the new order of things had to be the State or Collective Man at the top, actual people still in the middle, and God at the bottom — an arrangement Fulton Sheen called “Religion Without God.”
So, yes, this has everything to do with religion . . . and nothing to do with religion.
Confusing, isn’t it?
Not as confused as John Henry Newman was in late December 1863 when he got up, did his morning things, and opened his mail. Puzzling Newman a bit was the fact that someone had sent him a copy of Macmillan’s Magazine for January 1864.
|James Anthony "Fake News" Froude|
That is, Newman was puzzled until he saw a passage marked in pencil in a book review of James Anthony Froude’s History of England written by “C.K.” Who this “C.K.” might be Newman had no idea (“Crazy Kook”?), but it was evident whoever it was had a grudge against Newman and the Catholic Church. As the passage read,
Truth for its own sake has never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not be, and on the whole ought not to be; — that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage. Whether his notion be doctrinally correct or not, it is, at least, historically so.
In other words, all Catholic priests are liars and have always been so, and John Henry Newman is a liar and teaches that lying is a virtue. (Of course, if everything Newman says is a lie, how do we know he is telling the truth when he says lying is a virtue? . . .)
Newman was understandably a bit irritated as well as completely baffled. He immediately sent off a note to the editors of Macmillan’s informing them that if they were going to publish something that looked very much like libel, they might at least have the decency to provide proof that what “C.K.” said was true instead of a bare assertion.
This was, in fact, a rather sensitive issue with Newman, for a few years before he had been sued for criminal libel on extremely specious grounds. He lost the case and was fined £100 (he was lucky not to have been sent to prison for a year) and incurred legal fees and court costs of around £12,000 because the documents clearing him could not be found soon enough and the judge and jury dismissed as irrelevant the testimony of eyewitnesses and overwhelming proof of Newman’s innocence.
|Charles "Big Fib" Kingsley|
So, Newman was, all things considered, very considerate in only pointing out that there was no proof that he had ever said such a thing as alleged by “C.K.” He reassured the editors of Macmillan’s that he was not going to take any action, that he didn’t even really expect an apology. He was simply pointing out that a very damaging statement had been made without proof under their auspices and that they were, however inadvertently, responsible for its having been published.
A couple of weeks later Newman gets a letter from the Reverend Charles Kingsley, the “C.K.” who had written the review. The editors, knowing how Newman had been unjustly taken to the cleaners by a bigoted judge and jury a few years previously, were understandably nervous. Newman could very easily, despite his assurances, decide to sue them, and would very likely win hands down, if only so the British courts could wipe out the shame of the demonstrably unjust judgment delivered against Newman.
In rather condescending terms Kingsley explained that he had gotten his information from a sermon Newman had preached and published while still a Protestant and sneered that he would be more than happy to issue a retraction if Newman could show that he, Kingsley, had misunderstood the sermon. As Kingsley said,
The document to which I expressly referred was one of your sermons on “Subjects of the Day,” No. XX in the volume published in 1844, and entitled “Wisdom and Innocence.” It was in consequence of that sermon that I finally shook off the strong influence which your writings exerted on me.
Newman was completely astounded. Not only was there nothing in the sermon or any of Newman’s other writings or sermons, Catholic or Protestant, that provided the basis for Kingsley’s accusation, he had never met or interacted with Kingsley in any way. Why on earth was Kingsley attacking a man he had never met, and who had for years been out of the public eye, a non-entity to all intents and purposes?
|John Henry "Prove It" Newman|
And if Kingsley was going to make any accusation of any kind, why couldn’t he stand up like a man and present his proof in a straightforward manner? Kingsley, in fact, made a big deal about being “manly” and that his Christianity was “muscular” because it was British and “manly,” not weak and womanish like Catholicism, “Roman” or Anglo.
Newman, of course, fired off a reply demanding to know precisely what words or statement in the sermon or any other writing by him could be construed as advocating lying in any form. Kingsley came back with a statement that since they were both gentlemen (at least he, Kingsley, was one), no proof was necessary, and that Newman should be satisfied that he had Kingsley’s word on it that he, Newman, had said what Kingsley alleged.
After some increasingly acrimonious exchanges in which Kingsley never actually got around to providing proof that Newman had said lying was a virtue or anything to that effect, Newman published the exchange after Kingsley dared him to, proving beyond a shadow of any doubt whatsoever that Kingsley had made a false charge against him. Outraged — for he never thought Newman would take the dare — Kingsley published a pamphlet over the objections and against the advice of his friends, What, Then, Does Dr. Newman Mean?
The 48-page rant was loaded with new accusations and easily disproved “facts” that had nothing to do with the original accusation but were intended to discredit Catholicism in favor of Kingsley’s “Muscular Christianity.” Even the most rabidly anti-Catholic of Kingsley’s friends and supporters cringed with embarrassment and shame.
|NO POT POURRI!|
The pamphlet was a serious mistake, both tactically and strategically. Tactically, it was stupid of Kingsley to continue to argue when he had already been shown to be in the wrong. Strategically, it was a colossal blunder to try and discredit Newman and the Catholic Church by making additional false accusations when he had been unable to prove the original calumny.
In response, Newman performed what is still considered one of the greatest feats in literary history. He took ten weeks to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, a full and complete explanation of the development of his “religious opinions” from childhood until he entered the Catholic Church. In the process he also shredded Kingsley’s accusations, point by humiliating point, leaving the man totally discredited, and brought the Catholic Church in England to a highpoint in public opinion after centuries of mindless chanting “No Popery!” — a slogan that is widely used today only in Northern Ireland in the U.K. and liberal/traditional (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference) Catholic organizations and institutions.
The question, of course, is Why is this relevant to the Just Third Way?
Because, as we will argue, Kingsley’s attack on Newman was not really that of a manly British Protestant against little girly man Romish superstition. On the contrary, it was really a counterattack of the “new things” of the modern world — primarily socialism in all its forms — against what G.K. Chesterton called the last bulwark of common sense and reason in the world: the Catholic Church.