Saturday, March 13, 2004

On March 13th, 1845
Venerable Newman's sister Jemima wrote him the following anguished letter, as he was struggling through the last stages of his conversion.
"You imagine rightly in thinking the communication at the end of your letter would give me a great deal of pain.(ed. The letter to which she was replying has not survived, but it is thought that at the end of it Venerable Newman confided to his sister his intention of resigning his Oriel Fellowship that October in preparation for his reception into the Catholic Church) I can think of nothing else since, and yet seem to be without the power of writing to you. Yet I can hardly say why it is so, for I am far from taken by surprise; indeed, I have been dreading to hear something of this sort for some time past. You have sufficiently warned me of it. Yet I have so much sanguineness in my composition that I always hope the worst misfortunes may be averted till they are irremediable. And what can be worse than this? It is like hearing that some dear friend must die. I cannot shut my eyes to this overpowering event that threatens any longer. What the consequences may be I know not. O dear John, can you have thought long enough before deciding on a step which, with its probable effects, must plunge so many into confusion and dismay? I know what you will answer?that nothing but the risk of personal salvation would lead you to it; and I quite believe it. I know you have all along had the greatest regard for others, and acted upon it for some time past. But think what must be our feelings who cannot entertain your views, but can only deplore it as a grievous mistake! And I feel bitterly how many good sort of people would not do you justice, but judge you very hardly indeed. It is a real pain and grief to think of you as severed from us, as it were, by your own sentence. I am much afraid, dear John, you may be taken by surprise by what I say, and expect I shall receive this event more easily. Indeed I cannot; it is to me the great proof of the badness of this world and the unfortunate times we live in that such a one as you should take the line you have taken ... Pray excuse the incoherence of this letter. I am afraid it is very strange, and does not express one small portion of my feelings. Our poor distracted Church seems to me in pieces, and there is no one to help her, and her children's sympathies seem all drawn off another way. And how sad it is to me that I cannot say these things to you without your thinking me in error and in the wrong way, and not to have found the true way! Is there not enough in the world to make one weary of it, to all who try to see things as they really are? I am so afraid I have said wrong things, as well as not said what I intended; but I am really writing in great trouble and discomfort. Pray forgive me if I have not been as considerate as I ought to be, and wish earnestly to be, for I know your trial must be great indeed.
Believe me, ever yours very affectionately,
The Venerable wrote in reply:
"I have just received your very painful letter, and wish I saw any way of making things easier to you or to myself.

If I went by what I wished, I should complete my seven years of waiting. Surely more than this, or as much, cannot be expected of me? cannot be right in me to give at my age. How life is going! I see men dying who were boys, almost children, when I was born. Pass a very few years, and I am an old man. What means of judging can I have more than I have? What maturity of mind am I to expect? If I am right to move at all, surely it is high time not to delay about it longer. Let me give my strength to the work, not my weakness-years in which I can profit the cause which calls me, not the dregs of life. Is it not like a death-bed repentance to put off what one feels one ought to do?

As to my convictions, I can but say what I have told you already, that I cannot at all make out why I should determine on moving, except as thinking I should offend God by not doing so. I cannot make out what I am at except on this supposition. At my time of life men love ease. I love ease myself. I am giving up a maintenance involving no duties, and adequate to all my wants. What in the world am I doing this for (I ask myself this), except that I think I am called to do so? I am making a large income by my sermons, I am, to say the very least, risking this; the chance is that my sermons will have no further sale at all. I have a good name with many; I am deliberately sacrificing it. I have a bad name with more. I am fulfilling all their worst wishes, and giving them their most coveted triumph. I am distressing all I love, unsettling all I have instructed or aided. I am going to those whom I do not know, and of whom I expect very little. I am making myself an outcast, and that at my age. Oh, what can it be but a stern necessity which causes this?

Pity me, my dear Jemima. What have I done thus to be deserted, thus to be left to take a wrong course, if it is wrong? I began by defending my own Church with all my might when others would not defend her. I went through obloquy in defending her. I in a fair measure succeed. At the very time of this success, before any reverse, in the course of my reading it breaks upon me that I am in a schismatical Church. I oppose myself to the notion; I write against it-year after year I write against it, and I do my utmost to keep others in the Church. From the time my doubts come upon me I begin to live more strictly; and really from that time to this I have done more towards my inward improvement, as far as I can judge, than in any time of my life. Of course I have all through had many imperfections, and might have done every single thing I have done much better than I have done it. Make all deductions on this score, still, after all, may I not humbly trust that I have not so acted as to forfeit God's gracious guidance? And how is it that I have improved in other points if in respect of this momentous matter I am so fearfully blinded ?

Why should I distress your kind heart with all my miseries? Yet you must know them, to avoid the greater misery of looking at me externally, and wondering and grieving over what seems incomprehensible. Shall I add that, distressing as is my state, it has not once come upon me to say, O that I had never begun to read theology! O that I had never meddled in ecclesiastical matters! O that I had never written the Tracts, &c.! I lay no stress on this, but state it ... Of course the human heart is mysterious. I may have some deep evil in me which I cannot fathom; I may have done some irreparable thing which demands punishment; but may not one humbly trust that the earnest prayers of many good people will be heard for me? May not one resign oneself to the event, whatever it turns out to be? May one not hope and believe, though one does not see it, that God's hand is in the deed, if a deed there is to be; that He has a purpose, and will bring it to good, and will show us that it is good, in His own time? Let us not doubt, may we never have cause to doubt, that He is with us. Continually do I pray that He would discover to me if I am under a delusion; what can I do more? What hope have I but in Him? To whom should I go? Who can do me any good? Who can speak a word of comfort but He? Who is there but looks on me with a sorrowful face??but He can lift up the light of His countenance upon me. All is against me?may He not add Himself as an adversary? May He tell me, may I listen to Him if His will is other than I think it to be!

So, my dear Jemima, if you can suggest any warnings to me which I am not considering, well, and thank you; else do take comfort, and think that perhaps you have a right to have faith in me, perhaps you have a right to believe that He who has led me hitherto will not suffer me to go wrong. I am somehow in better spirits this morning, and I say what it occurs to me to say at the time. Have I not a right to ask you not to say, as you have said in your letter, that I shall do wrong? What right have you to judge me? Have the multitude who will judge me any right to judge me? Who of my equals, who of the many who will talk flippantly about me, has a right? Who has a right to judge me but my Judge? Who has taken such, pains to know my duty (poor as they have been) as myself? Who is more likely than I to know what I ought to do? I may be wrong, but He that judgeth me is the Lord, and 'Judge nothing before the time.'

His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts. He may have purposes as merciful as they are beyond us. Let us do our best, and leave the event to Him? He will give us strength to bear. Surely I have to bear most; and if I do not shrink from bearing it others must not shrink. May I do my best; am I not trying to do my best?-may we not trust it will turn to the best? "