Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O., wrote to one of his nephews, John Rickards Mozley. This was the final entry in a series of letters the Venerable wrote to try to answer his nephew's questions about the Church.
Dec. 3, 1875.
MY DEAR JOHN,
Your letter puts me into a great difficulty. It is my heart's desire to bring you nearer to me in opinion, and so to explain my own religious views as to excite in you interest and sympathy for us; to reduce difficulties, and to inspire hope that Catholics and Protestants are not so far apart from each other as is commonly said; in a word, to throw myself into the sentiment which has led you to write, and to co-operate with it. But I cannot feel you have gone to the bottom of the matter, and it would not consist with that truth and frankness due to all men, and especially to one with whom I am so united in affection as yourself, not to say so.
I agree with you, then, but I go far beyond you in holding, that the difference between Catholics and Protestants is an ethical one; for I think that in pure Catholics and pure Protestants (I mean, by so speaking, that most Protestants are tinged with Catholicity, and most Catholics with Protestantism) this difference is radical and immutable, as the natures of an eagle and a horse are, except logically, two things, not one. Opposition to physical science or to social and political progress, on the part of Catholics, is only an accidental and clumsy form in which this vital antagonism energises—a form, to which in its popular dress and shape, my own reason does not respond. I mean, I as little accept the associations and inferences, in which modern science and politics present themselves to the mass of Catholics, as I do those contrary ones, with which the new philosophy is coloured (I should rather say, stained) by great Professors at Belfast and elsewhere.
Dealing with facts, not with imaginations, prejudices, prepossessions, and party watchwords, I consider it historically undeniable—
1. First, that in the time of the early Roman Empire, when Christianity arose, it arose with a certain definite ethical system, which it proclaimed to be all-important, all-necessary for the present and future welfare of the human race, and of every individual member of it, and which is simply ascertainable now and unmistakable.
Next, I have a clear perception, clearer and clearer as my own experience of existing religions increases, and such as every one will share with me, who carefully examines the matter, that this ethical system ([ethos] we used to call it at Oxford as realised in individuals) is the living principle also of present Catholicism, and not of any form of Protestantism whatever—living, both as to its essential life, and also as being its vigorous motive power; both because without it Catholicism would soon go out, and because through it Catholicism makes itself manifest, and is recognised. Outward circumstances or conditions of its presence may change or not; the Pope may be a subject one day, a sovereign another; primus inter pares in early times, the episcopus episcoporum now; there might be no devotions to the Blessed Virgin formerly, they may be superabundant of late; the Holy Eucharist might be a bare commemoration in the first century, and is a sacrifice in the nineteenth (Of course I have my own definite and precise convictions of these points, but they are nothing to the purpose here, when I want to confine myself to patent facts which no one ought to dispute); but I say, even supposing there have been changes in doctrine and polity, still the ethos of the Catholic Church is what it was of old time, and whatever and whoever quarrels with Catholicism now, quarrels virtually, and would have quarrelled, if alive, 1800 years ago, with the Christianity of Apostles and Evangelists.
2. When we go on to inquire what is the ethical character, whether in Catholicity now or in Christianity in its first age, the first point to observe is that it is on all hands acknowledged to be of a character in utter variance with the ethical character of human society at large as we find it at all times. This fact is recognised, I say, by both sides, by the world and by the Church. As to the former of the two, its recognition of this antagonism is distinct and universal. As regards Catholicism, it is the great fact of this very day, as seen in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. On the other hand, we know that in the Apostolic Age Christians were called the "hostes humani generis" (as the Quarterly called Catholics within this two years), and warred against them accordingly.
This antagonism is quite as decidedly acknowledged on the side of the Church, which calls scciety in reprobation "the world," and places "the world" in the number of its three enemies, with the flesh and the devil, and this in her elementary catechisms. In the first centuries her badge and boast was martyrdom; in the fourth, as soon as she was established, her war-cry was, "Athanasius contra mundum"; at a later time her protests took the shape of the Papal theocracy and the dictatus Hildebrandi. In the recent centuries her opposition to the world is symbolised in the history of the Jesuits. Speaking, then, according to that aspect of history which is presented to the eyes of Europeans, I say the Catholic Church is emphatically and singularly, in her relation to human philosophy and statesmanship, as was the Apostolic Church, "the Church militant here on earth."
3. And, what is a remarkable feature in her ethos now and at all times, she wars against the world from love of it. What, indeed, is more characteristic of what is called Romanism now than its combined purpose of opposing yet of proselytising the world?—a combination expressed in our liturgical books by the two senses of the word "conterere," that of grinding down and of bringing to contrition. How strikingly, on the other hand, does this double purpose come out in the Apostles' writings? We have three primitive documents, each quite distinct in character from the other two, differing in accidents and externals, but all intimately agreeing in substantial teaching, so that we are quite sure of the genius and spirit of Christian ethics from the first: I mean, (1) the Synoptical Gospels, (2) St. Paul's Epistles, (3) St. John's Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse. Now, the first of these says, "Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. The disciple is not above his Master. Fear them not. I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword." "I pray not for the world," says the third, "the world hath hated them because they are not of the world. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. The world lieth in wickedness." And the second, "In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, and were by nature the children of wrath even as the rest." And yet, "Preach the gospel to every creature," says the first; "God so loved the world, that," &c., says the third; and "He will have all men to be saved," says the second. After avowals such as these in our primary authorities, it will be a hard job to discover any Irenicon between Catholicity and the moral teaching of this day.
4. This will be still clearer as we examine the details of our ethics, as developed from our fundamental principles. The direct and prime aim of the Church is the worship of the Unseen God; the sole object, as I may say, of the social and political world everywhere, is to make the most of this life. I do not think this antithesis an exaggeration when we look at the action of both on a large scale and in their grand outlines. In this age especially, not only are Catholics confessedly behindhand in political, social, physical, and economical science (more than they need be), but it is the great reproach urged against them by men of the world that so it is. And such a state of things is but the outcome of apostolic teaching. It was said in the beginning, "Take no thought for the morrow. Woe unto those that are rich. Blessed be the poor; to the poor the gospel is preached. Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent. Not many wise men, not many mighty, not many noble are called. Many are called, few are chosen. Take up your cross and follow me. No man can have two masters; he who loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. We walk by faith, not by sight; by faith ye are saved. This is the victory that overcometh the world, our faith. Without holiness no man can see the Lord. Our God is a consuming fire." This is a very different ethical system from that whether of Bentham or of Paley.
5. I am far from saying that it was not from the first intended that the strict and stern ethics of Christianity should be, as it was in fact, elastic enough to receive into itself secular objects and thereby secular men, and secular works and institutions, as secondary and subordinate to the magisterium of religion—and I am far indeed from thinking that the teaching and action of the world are unmixed evil in their first elements (society, government, law, and intellectual truth being all from God), and far from ignoring the actual goodness and excellence of individual Protestants, which comes from the same God as the Church's holiness; but I mean that, as you might contemplate the long history of England or France, and recognise a vast difference between the two peoples in ethical character and national life, and consequent fortunes, so, and much more, you can no more make the Catholic and Protestant ethos one, than you can mix oil and vinegar. Catholics have a moral life of their own, as the early Christians had, and the same life as they—our doctrines and practices come of it; we are and always shall be militant against the world and its spirit, whether the world be considered within the Church's pale or external to it.
6. Coming back to your letter, I should not wonder if you think I have mistaken its drift, and have been beating the air. I do not think I have, though I have thought it best to fall back upon the previous question.
I have meant to say that, though our opposition to science, &c., ceased ever so much, we should not thereby be more acceptable in our teaching to the public opinion of the day.
Ever yours affectionately,
JOHN H. NEWMAN.
P.S.—Thank you for what you tell me of your new abode. On reading this over I find it more difficult to follow its course of thought than I could have wished.