2016 (Vol. 49, no. 2) Voice of Reason: Studies of John Henry Newman
Contributing Editor Paul H. Schmidt
“Saturated Perception: The Intersection of the Perceptual and the Ratiocinative in Newman’s Account of Conscience”
Frederick D. Aquino
For Newman, the moral sense (or the capacity to sense the divine voice) is a fundamental component of conscience. However, it is not entirely clear whether the moral sense is strictly perceptual in nature or if, in fact, the ratiocinative saturates the process of perceiving moral truths. In certain texts, Newman seems to think that the moral sense entails an immediate (perhaps non-inferential) awareness of the divine voice. In Grammar of Assent, for example, Newman describes conscience as the capacity to “perceive the voice, or the echoes of the voice, of a Master, living, personal and sovereign reality” (GA, 111-2). In other texts, Newman thinks that an implicit kind of reasoning saturates such awareness of the divine (or perception of moral truths): “so alert is the instinctive power of an educated conscience, that by some secret faculty, and without any intelligible reasoning process [That is, by an implicit act of reasoning], it seems to detect moral truth wherever it lies hid, and feels a conviction of its own accuracy which bystanders cannot account for” (US, 4.13).
In this article, I explain (using Newman’s notion of an “educated conscience”) in what sense the ratiocinative shapes (or saturates) the perceptual. Sensing the divine voice has a perceptual component, especially given Newman’s emphasis on the basic aspect of conscience, but antecedent training plays a crucial role in how we perceive the divine voice. In employing the language of an “educated conscience,” what Newman seems to allow is the saturation of conscience by a kind of implicit reasoning, the operation of which is external to a person’s awareness (in contemporary epistemological terms, Newman sounds like an externalist). An important part of the spiritual life involves the training of spiritual perception. However, such training does not take place in a vacuum but is conditioned by the relevant background beliefs, practices, and virtues in a congenial environment. As in other domains, the training of spiritual perception has its own method of inquiry, principles, practices, and goals. The education of conscience likewise involves moral, spiritual, and intellectual preparation. Thus, sensing the divine requires the formation of a stable, properly oriented, and discerning habit of mind. Phenomenologically speaking, all humans are endowed with the capacity to sense the divine (and the relevant moral truths) via conscience. However, the notion of an educated (and saturated) conscience seems to suggest that not all operate on the same level in terms of detecting (accurately) moral truths. In other words, Newman seems to be making a distinction between uncultivated and cultivated levels of conscience.
“Cor ad cor loquitur: Emotion and the Communion of Believers in Newman’s Writings”
John Henry Newman delivered, in his lifetime, well over a thousand sermons, homiletic efforts distinguished by a directing logic, very much the voice of reason. That much, by even a casual perusal, contemporary readers can still comprehend. Yet, even without Matthew Arnold’s personal experience of that “most entrancing of voices, breaking the silence with words and thoughts which were a religious music—subtle, sweet, mournful,” anyone approaching the sermons or others of Newman’s varied writings must be captivated by the overt emotion that informs the word, spoken or written. If, as Newman maintains in the Apologia, it is “the concrete being that reasons” and “the whole man that moves,” this person, for Newman, lives, moves, and has an integrated rational and emotional being in relationship with the Logos en Sarkhei, the Word in the Flesh.
What is now termed Incarnational theology lay at the core of Newman’s persistent construing and celebrating of divine grace, divine presence. That Newman found the Incarnation “the central aspect of Christianity” may clarify his concern with the sanctification that comes through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and it may explain his almost irritable dismissal of “paper logic” to embrace a fully human, fully personal, fully passible, and therefore fully emotional Logos. Conversion and ongoing spiritual conversation will partake of reason but also will remain the language of the heart for the pilgrim soul who, when he was elevated to Cardinal, adapted from Saint Francis de Sales the motto cor ad cor loquitur. The passionate sentiment that informs both early and late sermons is particularly disclosed in Newman’s deliberations upon the Real Presence, reflections that also prove significant in his two novels, Loss and Gain and Callista, and also in certain of his more studied theological discourses. For Newman, divinity comes to humanity through two communions, the Eucharist and the body of believers, and the “religious music” of Newman’s voice may best be heard in his full-hearted calling to his fellows to apprehend and to appreciate the God Who became Man so that man might become God.
“‘…matter or manner…’: Assessing the Influence of John Henry Newman on Matthew Arnold’s Idea of ‘the State’”
Shannon N. Gilstrap
Examinations of Matthew Arnold’s work will often invoke a reference to John Henry Newman, whose last years at Oxford coincided with the arrival of an impressionable Arnold. Reading across Arnold’s range of literary, socio-political, educational, and religious publications, one cannot help but notice, as David DeLaura did in his definitive study of the two men, that Arnold frequently engages the Cardinal as a partner in conversation, alternately as a supporting figure and an argumentative foil. Arnold’s complex uses of Newman’s ideas across a vast and evolving critical output is difficult to navigate. An exchange between the two stands in evidence of this complexity. Arnold writes to Newman, “I can truly say that no praise gives me such pleasure as to be told … that a thing I have said reminds people, either in manner or matter, of you.” Newman, however, gently deflates Arnold by responding that he is “sensitively alive to the great differences of opinion which separate us. I wish with all my heart I could make them less; but there they are, and I can only resign myself to them, as best I may.” Undaunted, Arnold continued his commitment to Newman both through published references and intimate correspondence. Newman’s person or ideas glint in every facet of Arnold’s cultural criticism because the two men saw similar areas of nineteenth-century British life needing critical attention—education, poetry, religion, social issues—and, moreover, saw them as interconnected. In this way, Newman and Arnold’s points of connection can be examined beyond their content and into structural parallels—that is, more in “manner” and not only “matter.” Attention, then, to common patterns or structures of thought between the two men must be compiled from across their writings. Lionel Trilling notes that for every literary judgment Arnold makes one can read an underlying social and political judgment, and vice versa. For this reason, the influence of Newman on Arnold in disparate areas has been the subject of many critical works, most importantly DeLaura’s Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England. Thus, one more of Arnold’s ideas or terms might repay consideration in light of Newman’s influence. This essay will explore whether and how one of Arnold’s political ideals—the State—might emerge from or seek to align itself with some area of Newman’s thought, an alignment that, although subtle, would spring from an inarguably foundational relationship between Newman and Arnold.
“Character and Probability: the Literary Foundations of John Henry Newman’s Epistemology”
At the heart of many of John Henry Newman’s best known works is a fascination with the way we come to know the truth about immaterial realities: how do we know whether a person is trustworthy? Whether a belief is warranted? Whether one moral value is greater than another? Central to his view of these matters was a peculiar theory of probability: he thought that we come to most of our views about immaterial reality as a result of multiple converging indications, many of them quite subtle, which come together to suggest the likelihood, or probability, of such-and-such a truth. Unlike most modern theories of probability since Pascal, Newman’s was not quantitative but qualitative, and as such not precisely measurable; yet he held it to be an essential and misunderstood means of understanding in every person’s daily life, and much of his writing was devoted to bringing out its reality and importance. His Oxford University Sermons and Grammar of Assent theorize this view of “convergent probabilities,” and his Apologia pro vita sua and novels dramatize it. In this essay, I propose to argue, first, that Newman’s theory of probability is rooted in a specific, late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century literary culture, a culture whose own roots reach back to the ethical, rhetorical, and poetic thought of Aristotle. In support of that claim, I will examine Newman’s own probabilism against the backdrop of Aristotle himself, the Aristotelian literary theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the Aristotelianism of early-nineteenth-century Oxford. Second, I will show that Newman’s Aristotelian conception of probable reasoning has several important elements in common with the realist tradition in nineteenth-century fiction, beginning with Jane Austen and moving on toward George Eliot. Seeing Newman and the literary realists as part of the same epistemological tradition will, I argue, shed helpful light on both.
“T. S. Eliot’s ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ and The Idea of a University”
My essay, or influence study, will argue that Eliot’s 1919 manifesto owes a neglected and considerable debt to Newman’s Idea of a University, a work that Eliot assigned for his class “Modern English Literature,” which he taught in his capacity as University of London Extension lecturer, every fall and winter, from fall 1916 up to the winter of 1918-19. I will argue that Eliot, in his description of “an ideal order” of literary “monuments,” draws considerably from Newman’s vocabulary regarding “a truly great intellect” (Idea, Svaglic, ed., 101): “one which takes a connected view of old and new, past and present, far and near, and which has an insight into the influence of all these on one another; without which there is no whole, no center. It possesses the knowledge, not only of things, but of their mutual and true relations” (101). Eliot’s discussion of “the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole” is highly consistent with Newman’s analysis of the intellect and “true enlargement of mind”: “the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence” (Newman 103). The juxtaposition of these passages from Eliot and Newman speaks for itself, but I will carefully compare their shared vocabulary, which reflects similar views of a unified field of knowledge that grows over time. Related aspects of Newman’s influence on Eliot’s essay include their shared sense of historical consciousness—what Eliot calls the “historical sense”—and Eliot’s adaptation of what Newman calls “the Mind of Human Kind” (Newman 189), which Eliot calls “the mind of Europe.” Finally, in light of these similarities, I will consider the outstanding difference between Newman and Eliot, namely, Eliot’s concept of impersonality. I argue that Eliot’s “impersonality” is in fact a form of individual expression by means of a literary tradition, and therefore an aesthetic variant of, not an entire departure from, Newman’s conjunction of the individual and tradition in The Idea of a University (111, see also 134).
“‘Ars est celare artem’: Rereading the Parochial and Plain Sermons”
In 1868, W. J. Copeland, John Henry Newman’s former curate at Oxford and a lifelong friend, reissued with his mentor’s permission the eight volumes of the Parochial and Plain Sermons for a new generation of readers who had not been privy to Newman’s own austere and haunting voice at St. Mary’s two decades before. Coming in the wake of the personal triumph of Newman’s Apologia, which had created a new climate of sympathy for the one-time Anglican apostate and now ageing Roman Catholic priest, the republication of the sermons constituted another stage in the healing of a long-time rift between Newman and his former Oxford colleagues.
For the most part the sermons have stood primarily as a testament not only to Newman’s faith during an early Victorian crisis of belief but as a spiritual guidepost to the modern seeker. Yet although an earlier generation of Newman scholarship (perhaps well into the 1960s) could be faulted for an over-concentration on Newman the rhetorician, Newman’s artistry is today getting short shrift in a climate of preparation for what seems likely to be his canonization, and to reclaim him for courses in Victorian prose requires looking beyond the well-trodden grounds of the Dublin University lectures or the Apologia to bring the modern student to an appreciation of his many-faceted literary genius. An understanding of the strangely reticent and yet dramatic appeal of his sermons does not undercut, but indeed underwrites, that fuller apprehension of his complex place in both literary and religious history.
To focus my own argument, in the face of the over 1500 pages of homiletics reissued by Copeland, I will concentrate (not entirely arbitrarily) on the first volume of the Parochial Sermons, which Newman dedicated to Edward Bouverie Pusey on 1 March 1834. Collecting 26 sermons, the first two (1825-26) predating his years as Vicar of St. Mary’s and the last (December 1833) coming five months after his return from Sicily in time to hear John Keble’s Assize sermon, which he regarded as the starting point of the Oxford Movement, Newman’s volume shows him building on (and never really rejecting) his early conversion to Evangelicalism and his increasing grasp of the possibilities of the sermon, not only as an instrument for inducing a renewed spiritual commitment in the hearer but as a form of cultural critique.
I will pick out two or three sermons illustrating Newman’s range, including “The Religion of the Day,” a work which bears comparison with Carlyle’s “Characteristics” and Mill’s “The Spirit of the Age” in its sense of cultural crisis in a period of transition. My procedure suggests how Newman’s own re-collection of his sermons and his imposition of an order on them for the purposes of constructing a single volume enriches the way they may be read, while other more local strategic details—of tone, exegesis, and appeal to audience—fall into place as the product of an artistry of reticence.
2017 (Vol. 50, no. 1)
21st-Century American Crises: Reflections, Representations, Transformations
Contributing Editors Ana Fernández-Caparrós and Anna M. Brígido-Corachán
The articles collected in the following special issue explore and assess the notion and
experience of crisis as a defining feature of twenty-first-century American culture. While the turn of the
new millennium was received with general optimism, the first two decades of the 21st century
proved to be much more tumultuous than expected for US society. If the terrorist attacks of
9/11/2001 shattered to pieces both the real and the symbolical sense of national security, the
ensuing international military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and natural catastrophes such
as hurricane Katrina, notoriously heightened the sense of historical downfall. The situation was
further aggravated by the current financial crisis, which may be the worst the world has seen
since the Great Depression. Yet there is a pervasive notion that the United States is facing
much more than an economic crisis, as the twenty-first century has unleashed the need to reevaluate
moral, civic, and communal values defining the social and cultural imaginaries of Western
The representation of loss, change, and recent historical trauma associated with this most
recent set of interrelated American crises is the starting point in most of the essays presented.
However, they also take into account the etymology of the Greek word krisis, whose origin is
to be found in krinein, meaning “to separate, decide, judge”, which indicates that a time of
crisis forces individuals and whole societies to embrace self-assessment and a process of
critique, and reconsider thus old standards of thought. Downfalls might prompt new
beginnings, new conditions of experience, new living scenarios, new ways of thinking and
whole new modes of re-imagining identities, of reconfiguring social and political relationships.
Thus, crucially, this issue tackles mobilizations, reflections, and reconfigurations in recent
American literature and art, in other words, the role of twenty-first-century crises as catalysts for
change and transformation in a variety of fields: socioeconomic, artistic, urban,
environmental, cultural, human. If Richard Drew’s iconic image of “The Falling Man” became
a symbol of the fall of the nation in the early twenty-first century, bringing to an end what had
been termed “the American Century,” this volume specifically considers our potential for
overcoming disaster and how the need to re-imagine, re-shape, re-invent new modes of being,
experiencing and working has been staged in the United States in recent times.
The issue of how this rapid succession of crises has been represented is not limited to the
literary and performative arts. The first section of this volume introduces a series of essays that
have been contributed by specialists in American history, theatre and cultural studies that
strategically complement the articles collected in the second section, which more specifically
address literary and cinematic responses to the new scenarios and how these redefine the
American narrative imagination in the new millennium.