25 July 2010

Newman on the Saints

Logismoi has long been a particularly hagiocentric blog, and the figure of the Saint in the Tradition of the Church, in scholarship, and in literature at the centre of my concerns. Thus, I offer a brief selection on the Saints from the great John Henry Newman as a short little Sunday post:

The Saints are the glad and complete specimens of the new creation which our Lord brought into the moral world, and as ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’ as Creator, [1] so are the Saints the proper and true evidence of the God of Christianity, and tell out into all lands the power and grace of Him who made them. [2] What the existence of the Church itself is to the learned and philosophical, such are the Saints to the multitude. They are the popular evidence of Christianity, and the most complete and logical evidence while the most popular. It requires time and learning, the powers of attention and logical consecutiveness, and comprehensiveness, to survey the Church of all ages and places as one, and to recognize it, as to the intellect, it is, and must be distinctly recognized, as the work of God alone; to most of us it is the separate portions and in one sense incomplete of this great phenomenon which turn our minds to Catholicism; but in the life of a Saint, we have a microcosm, or whole work of God, a perfect work from beginning to end, yet one which may be bound between two boards, and mastered by the most unlearned. The exhibition of a person, his thoughts, his words, his acts, his trials, his fortunes, his beginnings, his growth, his end, have a charm to every one, and when he is a Saint they have a Divine influence and persuasion, a power of exercising and eliciting the latent elements of Divine grace in individual readers, as no other reading can claim. [3]

I’m not entirely certain of the implications of Newman’s observation, ‘What the existence of the Church itself is to the learned and philosophical, such are the Saints to the multitude’, though he seems to be trying to explain it in the next couple of sentences. But I thought this a good description of the power of the Saints’ Lives. It is not for nothing that Newman was considered ‘the most eminent religious thinker in the British Isles’ of his time. [4]

[1] Psalm 18:1 (LXX).

[2] It is interesting to note that verse 5 of Psalm 18 (LXX), to which Newman alludes in the last part of this sentence, is used as a Prokeimenon text on the feasts of certain Saints in the Orthodox Church.

[3] Vincent Ferrer Blehl, ed., The Essential Newman (NY: New American Library, 1963), pp. 334-5.

[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity & Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism (Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen, 1992-1993) (New Haven, CT: Yale, 1993), p. 5.


Taylor said...

Glad to see some Newman. I am doing an independent study on 'Newman and the Fathers' this coming fall. At the moment I'm making my way through Arians of the Fourth Century. It is a joy to read, as well-written as it is informative: Hillaire Belloc called it one of the greatest works of prose in the English language. Pelikan, in an interview he did with the NPR show 'Speaking of Faith', said that he thinks Newman, if he had had a real opportunity, would have felt more at home with the Orthodox than the Roman Catholics, indicating Newman's unease with the doctrine, affirmed in his lifetime, of papal infallibility. When asked to raise a toast to the pope at at dinner, Newman famously said, "To conscience first, and then the pope!"

aaronandbrighid said...

Nice quote! I've long intended to read more Newman, having read parts of Apologia and Idea of a University in college. I also read bits of Grammar of Assent, following a reference in an essay of Lewis's, when I was working on my Master's thesis last year.