Friday, September 26, 2014

Rutler on Newman, good stuff

From George Rutler's Beyond Modernity(Ignatius Press, 1987). As Guy Noir rightly describes it:
... a tour de force of theologizing historically and philosophically in a manner inspiring [and completely unlike so many] dry similar attempts. If C.S Lewis was "a Mind Awake," Rutler is "a Mind in the Hopper"! This ought to be a preface to some sort of Newman theology, since it easily bests other explanations I have read of him. I was very glad to find it buried in ETWNs impressive reading archive. Along with John Senior's chapter, it makes Newman seem relevant and not Victorian. Written too long before the canonization ...
Indeed. And so here is the choice excerpt, Fr. George W. Rutler's "Newman and the Power of Personality" (EWTN document library, posted 1996):
The many accounts of Newman's manner, his look, and above all his voice, might make us think that we have read enough. And we certainly know by now that his voice was as silver and his style crystal. But there are those, among whom is anyone of reason, who would want more; and this because, as he stooped somewhat in the pulpit and dimmed the lamp before a sea of undergraduates who were missing their dinner to be there, the silver of the voice mellowed the way gold is meant to; and his pellucidity was less like a sensible equation and more like a sensual form. This is a mystery of Newman, and one should want to learn more about it, for it is the mystery common to all persons: personality.

As a working definition, too slight to fill out a whole system, human personality is the vernacular evidence of the speechless soul, the natural expression of the supernatural endowments in will and intellect, much as graciousness is the declaration of grace. Man is an unfinished being, but he is not mute. A greatness of Newman is the way he represents the personality properly as a spiritual deduction and shows how its development, as any art, attains full worth when it is faithful to a spiritual theme. As every agnostic painting called "Mother and Child" is a surreptitious Madonna and Christ, so the "real character" begrudgingly respected by the cynic is a clandestine ikon.

Any list of Newman's inventive gifts to the modern critic must in some way include the illustration of how the higher reference perdures even as the cultural climate obscures it; into lengthening shadows of behaviorism, he pokes the glimmer of a thing good in content and holy in potential. He calls it personality and describes it in such a torrent of allusion that one would think the only perfectly mature personality has to be that of the saint.

To the latest catch-phrase about "growing as a person," Newman would reply that there is no other way to grow, and as for "getting in touch with your feelings," he would say precisely that there is no other way to touch. Actually, the Victorian Liberals anticipated the muddled thought behind the jargon, although they spoke it more elegantly; they shared the mistaken idea of perfection as endless growth rather then the attainment of an end, so that the substance of perfection is "not a having and a lasting but a growing and a becoming." That expression is not from the latest suburban sensitivity session; it belongs to Matthew Arnold. Now everyone knows that persona is defective until it obliges But this is common sense only because there is an uncommon reason behind it. If the Liberal optimist sees the personality as a puzzle, the Christian knows it to be a mystery. For a mystery does not contradict reason; it compels the reason to acknowledge a depth beyond observable reference. Newman compares mystery to an island which seems to be alone and wafted in the water but which is the summit of a submerged mountain range. A mystery, we should then say, is the sort of mountain you do not climb, but descend, to conquer. This is the principle of depth psychology to which God shows a favor by his Incarnation. The self knows only part of itself until it acknowledges the unseen self. The cry of the isolated is: "I want to be me." Newman would persist: "Who else can you be?" But only the true principles beneath becoming and being, underlying contingency and its source, can make the man on an island a man on a mountain, like St. Paul: "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20)." This is the descent from the topical ego to the fundament of being. Newman's own life models what that means.

The was Newman's fitting equivalent of a since only the personal exposition of his own character's formation could be an adequate vehicle for that idealist epistemology modified by a sensationalist psychology with which he described individual assent to divine propositions. It was a complete rejection of abstract and rationalist philosophies in favor of a personalist theory by which the individual grasps the truth by reasoning in response to definite points. Psychological and phenomenological as the approach was, it was also metaphysical since the entire order had been constructed through the providence of God. Integral conduct cannot be anthropocentric.33

As a pioneer in theological anthropology, Newman was a precursor of the personalist method of Pope John Paul II. The Cardinal's appeal to patrology as a way of personalizing Thomist realism parallels the Pope's reference to the phenomenological existentialists for the same purpose. The great issues of human consciousness, participation in history, man and the moral good, figure large for both. The author of the might have called in some way his own. Wojtyla's collaborator, Mieczyslaw Krapiec, may be doing by the philosophical anthropology of his book what Newman undertook in the . Not for nothing has Wojtyla matched Newman's enthusiasm for inventive literary drama, the most instinctive vehicle for expounding the phenomenon of consciousness.

Although Newman intimated the election in this century of a pope from a distant land, he did not defer his personalist theme to a later and greater authority. It reverberated in his first book when he said that Revelation serves men in the way it "clears up all doubts about the existence of God as separate from and independent of nature; and shows that the world depends, not merely on a system, but on a Being, real, living and individual."35 The reason no one will be a martyr for a conclusion is that martyrs in one sense are the conclusion. The conclusion is the resolution of an affinity for something greater than the self. Christian martyrs conclude the indwelling in their souls of the Holy Spirit himself and, through him, of the indwelling of the Father and the Son. The life of grace, which frees the person from the tyranny of the "I" also introduces the personality to friendship of the "Thou."

Newman rejected any Nonconformist tendency to stress belief rather than the object of belief (which is why he objected to Evangelicals who preached "conversion" instead of Christ), and he opposed any proclivity among Catholics to portray grace as some kind of autonomous quality or entity in the soul. Justification could mean but one thing, and all accounts of grace had to heed it: ". . . to receive the divine presence within us, and to be made a temple of the Holy Ghost." Grace is "a personal favour, a loving presence" and thus Newman, in the words of Dessain, "refused to separate the presence of God as a friend from the change in his creature that was a consequence of that presence."36 In complement to this reality, he embarked upon a career of mortification which has been much ignored by biographers; this meant, of course, the constant mortifications of temperament in his dealings with others, but also corporal mortifications including the fervent use of the discipline. As early as 21, it was recognized that no saint had made the mistake of denying death to the lower senses. Decline of the interior life of the soul, and especially in the Religious orders today, is directly attributable to that inflated error.37 This egoism permeates society, so that from the unmotivated cleric to the hyperactive "young upwardly-mobile professional," the personality provides the world little because the person is primarily occupied with consuming. Every instance of decadence in piety is evidence of an attempt to replace habitual grace with constant gratification. A neurotic personality consumes distractions because it is bored; the weaker the personality the more likely is it to follow trends. The consecrated life is nothing if it does not contradict this banality. Newman knew that in his own age, but would surely have been astonished by how Catholics themselves have become symptomatic of banality in the present age. The Preacher called this "vanity of vanities." That means: a man who will not conclude who he is, will always behave as an hypothesis.

Positively speaking, Newman's model of total psychological consecration has had an enormous effect on Christian apologetics, not only schematically as with the highest voices in the Church, but also methodically in the case of modern writers who have been compelled both by Newman's grasp of being and the way he expressed it: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, the early Graham Greene, Paul Claudel, Flannery O'Connor and, perhaps even through more obscure associations, Sigrid Undset. Words of Newman have their place in the modern literary canon, so that:
The more a man is educated whether in theology or secular science, the holier he needs to be if he would be saved. That devotion and self rule are worth all the intellectual cultivation in the world. That in the case of most men literature and science and the habits they create, so far from insuring these highest of gifts, indispose the mind towards their acquisition.38
God has made man to become man, not half a man or a man arrested in conscience, but a man alive to authenticity. …

He was equally convinced, more than most intellectuals in his era of progressivist optimism, that man has to be taught himself anew, recovering what he has lost of self-knowledge through the "form of infidelity of the day" which we would call secular humanism. As sin imposes an unrelieved conformity upon souls, so true maturation in holiness secures the most creative individuality, which is greatly different from individualism: "Moses does not write as David; nor Isaias as Jeremias; nor St. John as St. Paul . . . Each has his own manner, each speaks his own words, though he speaks the while the words of God. They speak for themselves . . . with their own arguments, with their own deductions, with their own modes of expression."41 Newman simply witnesses to the elementary principle of redemption: Grace, both sanctifying and habitual, delivers the personality from the worst of all tyrannies, slavery to the self. Slavery such as this masquerades as a species of liberation when, in fact, it is an arrested development. The less mature the personality is, the more anonymous it seems. There are no two saints alike; this cannot be said of sinners.

In the , for instance, the noble characters are singular, like the most accomplished Augustan portrait busts; and the baleful ones woven in and out of Newman's gossamer pages are more like stereotypes of certain pathologies and less like heroically tragic figures. Were the writing superficial, the sadder characters would be brighter; but it is precisely because Newman is so careful to reveal all that can be revealed that he exposes the illusion of the vibrant muddle and original cliche. What is his right to do this, but that egoism is not self-absorption, for it is really absorption in everything else as though it were the self? So the victim gains the whole world and loses his own soul in the transaction. The egoist in fact betrays the vital ego by behaving as though the self were anything but the self. Newman marked it among those of his own day who defined themselves as Gentlemen, and he would observe it today in the Determinist who cannot organize his own life and so decides to restructure Guatemala. Once a party or a nation or an economic theory substitutes for the person, then it is easy to conclude that God himself is only a self-projection. That merely shows too high an opinion of the self, or too low an opinion of the projection. In any case, it disorders the person and disorients the personality. On a cosmic scale, this makes Hell the state where persons are alone together. Whatever its music, it must be in the earphones you see on people today walking through streetcrowds as though there were no crowds. Here is the high-tech repetition of theHeraclitean inability to answer the question of the one and the many.

Newman had seen his culture already in need of this remonstrance as it was fast abandoning, through the negligences of Liberal individualists who thought that contingent being can be its own source of perfection, both the cosmic sense of creation in the sacramental order and kinetic personalism as it obtained in the classical assumptions about universal man. The first stabs of modernity were aggravating an old moral wound:
Cicero says that Plato and Demosthenes, Aristotle and Isocrates, might have respectively excelled in each other's province, but that each was absorbed in his own; his words are emphatic; "quorumuterque, suo studio delectatus, alterum." Specimens of this peculiarity occur every day. You can hardly persuade some men to talk about any thing but their own pursuit; they refer the whole world to their center, and measure all matters by their own rule, like the fisherman in the drama, whose eulogy of his deceased lord was, that he was so fond of fish.42
Something like the fisherman was the radical feminist who recently wrote in of an indulgent bishop: "He affirmed me in my okay-ness."

The Ciceronic spectrum, as it shone on mediaeval and renaissance horizons, was vanishing around Newman, and he could detect the rudiments of a new thing cruel in its vapidity: a society little offended by heresy and schism because it has little commitment to truth and unity, disposed to collectivism because it cannot comprehend universality. This was his intimation of what would come to be called the post-Christian age by moderns whose confidence at this very moment is being shattered by somewhat more reflective thinkers who are coming to call themselves post-modern. But that is another matter.

The matter at hand is Newman. For if we have approached his theory of personality, we have done that theory little credit unless we see that we have been discussing himself. And if his theory is that personality can be a power, then he is that theory's proof. The way the very recollection of his name compels us to think about this, is proof of the proof. The more he sought to disappear, the more vividly he emerged as testament to the force of "unaffected humility and unpretending love." He did not think the world had anything to lose in 1845 when, at the age of forty-four, he decided that his creative years were over. But the sunset of his life lasted forty-five more years. In it he settled his earthly affairs by completing the substance of volumes, including what is possibly the most influential epistemology of modern record, and the greatest autobiography in the English language, besides his thousands of letters. Controversial as often as he renounced controversy, his hymns were still sung by those who figured him out of harmony with the age. And with disregard for the normal bounds of its editorial policy, he was eventually canonized by the London . It was a constructive use of retirement, a conspicuous power of effacement.

In the youth of his maturity, he had gazed at his audience with bright eyes in a dim light; in the fullness of that maturity, he watched another audience more dimly in a brighter light. When the eyes at last were shut, Cardinal Manning, who did not often give the impression of eagerness to place the light of Newman on a lampstand, swept aside the external dispositions which impede the empathy of great men for each other: "A noble and beautiful life is the most convincing and persuasive of all preaching, and we have all felt its power."

This was a fair thing to say of one whose personality may yet be judged by the Church to bear the stamp of heroic purity, humility and devotion. If so, the great Church will know universally what the little congregation at Littlemore knew precisely when it was parted long ago from one who "told you what you knew about yourself or what you did not know; has read to you your wants or feelings, and comforted you by very reading . . ."

36 Charles Dessain: "Cardinal Newman Considered as a Prophet" in Concilium, Vol. 7, No. 4 (September 1968), p. 42.

37 On mortification, cf. 14, 18, 21, 66, 86; , V, pp. 1-2; also Meriol Trevor: The Pillar of the Cloud, pp. 203-4, 332, 453-4, 538-9.

38 JHN to W. Ward in Wilfrid Ward, The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Vol. II (N.Y.: 1912), pp. 515-516.