Friday, October 18, 2019

Evening Note for Friday, October 18

Thought for the Evening: Rosmini on the Rights of the Church

One of the primary principles of Rosmini's political philosophy is what might be called a rational pluralism of societies:

It is high time for us to realise that civil society is not a universal society in the sense that it embraces all other societies and their rights. It is a particular society which exists alongside others, as it does alongside everything individual which cannot be absorbed by civil society without losing individuality. Civil society, far from being able to appropriate or encroach upon the rights of other individuals or societies, is intended to protect them, not destroy them or weaken them, nor tie them down to harm them in any other way. (AAS, p. 28)

The most obvious examples of societies in which human beings participate independently of civil society are the household and the Church. The Church, therefore, as an independent society has rights on which civil society (and therefore the state, which is erected by civil society) cannot encroach.

There are two kinds of rights: connatural and acquired. Connatural rights arise directly from the kind of society involved; acquired rights are rights to which it has title not from its very structure or nature but from some particular kind of action it performs. When it comes to the Church, Rosmini holds that there are two classes of connatural rights, those that pertain to the Church's relation to human beings generally and those that pertain to the members of the Church. There are five rights pertaining to human beings generally:

(1) The Church has a right to exist. The Church has a right to exist as a society that is constituted for the good of the human race, as well as being a society in some sense superior to other societies because of its ordering to the ultimate good of the human race and because its membership from the unalienable right of individuals to pursue truth, virtue, and happiness. This is a connatural right, not a positive right; the Church has a right to exist simply in itself, which we can recognize even before we consider the fact that it has a positive right to exist from its divine mission. Because of this it naturally has the right to defend itself and maintain its own integrity in doctrine and governance.

(2) The Church has a right to recognition as a society. The Church as a society, and the bond constituting it, is a jural fact; failure to recognize this inevitably is an injurious action against that society. To refuse to recognize, for instance, that priests, by the nature of the jural bond of the Church, cannot testify to what they have heard in the confessional itself is equivalent to an attack on the Church itself, because it is a refusal to recognize the Church as a society with its own rights and obligations. This right follows closely from the right to exist.

(3) The Church has a right to freedom in its activities. Being a member of the Church cannot reduce one's right to liberty. Therefore in its activities, the Church is free in a way that arises out of the freedom of its individual members. It also means that in its internal workings, the Church must be allowed freely to exercise rights associated with the internal jural powers that constitute it as a society -- the power to distribute the sacraments, the power to preach the word, and the power to organize itself in a way appropriate to both of these.

(4) The Church has a right to propagate itself. All human beings have the connatural right to communicate truth to others, so the Church does; all human beings have the connatural right to encourage each other in virtue, so the Church does; all human beings have the right to do good to each other, so the Church does; and the primary way in which the Church does this is by bringing in new members. Again, this is connatural; it follows just from the fact that the Church is a society with its own jural character. But, of course, the Church also has a positive right to propagate itself, arising from its divine mission.

(5) The Church has a right to ownership of property. All societies have a right to own property in such a way as is appropriate to their ends, so the Church does, as well.

There are corresponding rights of human beings that arise from the fact that they live in a human society in which they can be in relation to the Church: they all have the right to learn of the Church; they all have the right freely to join it; they all have the right to protect it from intrusion. These are, again, rights that human beings have with regard to every actual society, in some form or other.

The connatural rights of the Church with respect to her members are the rights to use the jural powers mentioned above, and to do what is required to use them appropriately. This includes the right to punish by penance, excommunication, etc.

Every legitimate society may, in addition to its connatural rights, acquire additional rights through its normal activities. For instance, the Church can have rights that it receives through its ownership of property. Rosmini notes that the modern age has been an age in which the acquired rights of the Church have been heavily trampled, its property and endowments stolen by states (Rosmini specifically mentions examples from Russia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, and Switzerland). But the fact that they are acquired does not mean that they can be canceled at whim. And connatural rights, of course, cannot be canceled at all.

Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies, Murphy, tr., Rosmini House (Durham: 2004) [AAS].

Antonio Rosmini, Rights in God's Church, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1995).

Various Links of Interest

* The National Council on Disability recently released a report concluding that current euthanasia laws in the United States do not generally have the safeguards required for protecting the rights of the disabled from violation.

* Justin E. H. Smith, Aristotle on the Generation of Birds, Lizards, Sharks, and Fish (GA 3.1-7)

* Rabbi Gil Student, Is philosophy kosher?

* Matthew Wills, Wild Rice's Refusal to be Domesticated

* Erich Przywara, Newman: Saint and Modern Doctor of the Church?

Currently Reading

Charles Williams, All Hallows' Eve
John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent
Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism
Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Martyr. He is said to have been a student of St. John the Apostle; he certainly at least knew St. Polycarp, who was. He became bishop of Antioch; he succeeded St. Evodius, who succeeded St. Peter himself. According to at least one early legend, St. Peter himself had instructed that he was to follow Evodius in the see. He was nicknamed Theophoros, God-bearer, for reasons we do not really know. He was arrested and sent to Rome. It's very unclear exactly why; while not unheard of, it was not normal practice, and there's reason to think that he was sent in chains, which was very much not normal practice. In any case, he wrote a number of short letters to various Christian communities on his way to Rome. Tradition says he was martyred in the reign of Trajan, somewhere around 115, but people have recently been making the case for his martyrdom being instead in the 130s or 140s, which would put it in the reign of Hadrian or Antoninus Pius. Tradition also says he was martyred in the Colosseum; certainly Ignatius seems to have thought that something like this was likely, since he mentions that he will be thrown to the beasts, and we have no reason to think he was wrong, but it's not a point on which we have a lot of additional evidence.

From his letter to the Ephesians (18:1-19:3), a passage which provides a good summary of what a major figure saw as the content of the Christian faith in the second century:

My spirit is made an offscouring for the Cross, which is a stumbling-block to them that are unbelievers, but to us salvation and life eternal. Where is the wise? Where is the disputer? Where is the boasting of them that are called prudent? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost; and He was born and was baptized that by His passion He might cleanse water. And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord -- three mysteries to be cried aloud -- the which were wrought in the silence of God. How then were they made manifest to the ages? A star shone forth in the heaven above all the stars; and its light was unutterable, and its strangeness caused amazement; and all the rest of the constellations with the sun and moon formed themselves into a chorus about the star; but the star itself far outshone them all; and there was perplexity to know whence came this strange appearance which was so unlike them. From that time forward every sorcery and every spell was dissolved, the ignorance of wickedness vanished away, the ancient kingdom was pulled down, when God appeared in the likeness of man unto newness of everlasting life; and that which had been perfected in the counsels of God began to take effect. Thence all things were perturbed, because the abolishing of death was taken in hand.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Are There Degrees of Assent? (Re-Post)

This is a slightly revised version of a post first published in 2007.


In ECHU IV.15.2, John Locke introduces the notion of 'degrees of assent'. On the basis of this notion he formulates his claim in IV.16.1 that the degrees of assent should be regulated by the degrees of probability. This is a fairly common view in modern philosophy; you can call to mind, for instance, Hume's famous saying, "The wise man proportions his belief to the evidence," which Hume means quite literally: the degree of belief should match the degree of evidence. Is it true, however?

J. H. Newman, in his An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, argues that it is not, by arguing that there are no degrees of assent. I'll look a bit at this argument. Some terminological issues, first. Newman makes a distinction between assent and inference as ways in which claims or propositions can be accepted. The idea is that inference is conditional: it is the connecting of claims to each other. In inference one accepts something's following as a conclusion rather than in itself. Assent has to do with the acceptance of the claim itself; and the question of the degrees of assent is whether this acceptance mirrors or echoes inference or not. This is because the connection of a thing with its evidence is precisely what inference is. Newman distinguishes two sorts of assent; they differ not in degree of assent but in the vividness or forcefulness of the thing to which one assents. In notional assent one assents to something taken notionally or abstractly; in real assent, which Newman also calls belief, one assents to it taken as psychologically powerful and living. What distinguishes notional from real assent is that when a proposition is assented to really, it is taken as something personal and important, whereas a proposition notionally assented to is not.

Now, to Newman's argument.

1) First, we need to see how assent is distinguished from inference at all. Newman argues that Locke's claims would in effect make assent indistinguishable from inference, or, at best, a superfluous echo. So the degrees-of-assent view, as put forward by Locke, raises the question of whether there is properly any such thing as assent at all. If, however, there is reason to think assent something distinct from inference, this suggests that Locke's view is wrong. So Newman suggests six points on this issue.

1a) Assents may endure without the presence of the inferential acts that originally elicited them. We may assent to something long after we have forgotten why we did so.

1b) Without tangible reason, assents may fail while the inferential acts that originally elicited them endure.

1c) Sometimes assent is not given in spite of strong and convincing arguments.

1d) There are many cases in which the arguments, good as they may be, nonetheless do not incline us toward the position at all. We see this in implicit and explicit uses of 'burden of proof': 'burden of proof' essentially throws all the weight on one side. In such cases we do not assent a little bit in proportion to the evidence; we simply do not assent at all.

1e) Moral and psychological motives may hinder assent to logical conclusions. We can infer against our will, but, as the saying goes, 'a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.'

1f) Even in the province of mathematics assent and inference must be contrasted. Simple mathematical arguments often command assent straightway; but we are often more cautious about complicated mathematical arguments. Likewise, party feeling and the like have often slowed the acceptance of mathematical conclusions. Likewise, a mathematician might well make it a rule not to accept a mathematical argument that has not been corroborated by someone else, even if he is fairly sure that the argument is sound. And so forth. Even demonstration is not ipso facto assent.

Thus there is good reason to believe that inference and assent are distinct acts of mind that can be made apart from each other. This does not mean that there is no connection between the two; but one may well be had without the other.

2) If inference and assent are distinct, however, we can ask how they are distinguishable. There are some basic prima facie reasons to think that the categorical, unconditional nature of assent is precisely what distinguishes the two:

2a)Given that inference is conditional and non-categorical, we have some reason to think that assent would be unconditional and categorical.

2b)Further, If assent is acceptance of something as true, and if we do not accept conditionally what we think to be true, then we have another reason for thinking assent to be categorical, straightforward adherence to the claim itself.

2c)Further, inference is always inference, even when demonstrative. It makes sense to say that assent gives categorical and absolute recognition to conclusions held by demonstrative inference, beyond the accepting of them merely inferentially, i.e., merely in virtue of their linkage with other propositions. If assent is categorical in such a case, however, we would need a good reason to think it is not categorical in other cases.

But we can go further and ask whether assent is conditional in the concrete as well as in abstract, demonstrative cases. There are, Newman thinks, many cases in which we accept claims without really assenting to them. For instance, we suspect them to be true, we conjecture that they might be true, we presume on the basis of what we know that they are true, we conclude they are true, etc. But these are not assents but inferences; they involve propositions insofar as they are connected with other propositions evidentially, and need not be considered assent at all. We can, of course, assent to the probability of something's being true or false; but this is not a degree of assent, but an assent to a degree of probability, which is not the same. In assent, we simply accept the claim; and it seems difficult to find any case of assent in which any 'degrees' that may not be more accurately attributed to things beside the assent itself.

3) So, looking at the facts, we find many cases in which we infer without assenting, and no cases in which it is clear that the assent is conditional; we also can find many cases in which it is clear that the assent is unconditional, even though the cases admit of no reasoning more certain than the probabilistic. And what is more, it seems to be, by a sort of unanimous witness of the human mind, a strong evidence that there is no medium, no tertium quid, between assenting and not assenting. What sorts of unconditional assents in probabilistic matters can we find? Here's Newman's list:

3a) that we exist;
3b) that we have an individuality and an identity all our own;
3c) that we think, feel, and act;
3d) that we have a present sense of good and evil, of right and wrong, of true and false, of beautiful and hideous, whatever account we may have of this;
3e) that such-and-such happened yesterday or last year;
3f) that of many things we are ignorant;
3g) that of many things we are in doubt;
3h) that of many things we are not in doubt;
3i) that our own self is not the only being existing;
3j) that there is an external world;
3k) that the world is a system with parts and a whole, a universe carried on by laws;
3l) that the future is affected by the past;
3m) that the earth is a globe;
3n) that the regions of the earth see the sun by turns;
3o) that vast tracts of the earth are land or water;
3p) that there are really existing cities on definite sites, like London, Paris, Florence, and Madrid;
3q) that, unless something has happened to them like an earthquake or terrible fire, these cities are today much what they were yesterday;
3r) that we had parents (despite having no memory of our birth);
3s) that we shall die (despite the uncertainty of the future);
3t) that we cannot live without food (despite never having tried);
3u) that the world of men has a history that precedes our time considerably (despite our not having experienced it);
3v) that there have been rises and falls of states, great men, wars, revolutions, art, science, literature, religion;
3w) that our intimate friends are not being treacherous to us;
3x) sometimes that someone is hostile and unjust to us;
3y) that we have sometimes been cruel or unkind to others, or that we have sometimes been ungenerous to those who loved us;
3z) that that we have moral weaknesses and that our wealth, health, position, and good fortune can be precarious;
3aa) that we have such-and-such physical weaknesses or flaws;
3ab) that such-and-such food or medicine is good for us;
3ac) that such-and-such food or medicine would harm us;
3ad) that we have made such-and-such mistakes, or gone through such-and-such major turning points, or had such-and-such successes;
3ae) perhaps that we have a sense of the presence of a Supreme Being;
3af) perhaps our religious beliefs;

And so forth. And in these cases, despite the fact we cannot prove them with perfect certainty, in our practical lives we simply accept them as true. We may be wrong in accepting some of them; but no one feels guilty for just simply assenting to them despite this possibility. No one is worried that their unhesitating and unqualified assent to the claim that so-and-so is their mother is not something they can back up with rigorous demonstration. Now, unless there is something fundamentally irrational about the way we think, simple assent to non-demonstrated conclusions cannot be irrational. There is no reason why we should not simply accept that Great Britain is an island, even if we cannot prove it beyond the shadow of any doubt. And Locke himself effectively admits this in several places.

4) Now, people sometimes accept the degrees-of-assent view because of some ways in which we tend to talk about the subject. So what is really going on in these cases?

4a) Take claims of modified assent, qualified assent, presumptive assent, prima facie assent, or half-assent. Newman explains many of these as indicating the difference between notional assent and real assent; in some cases we are not genuinely assenting at all; some are indications of the conditions that need to be put on the claim before we will assent to it.

4b) Sometimes we talk about conditional assent; and this, again, means we think we will assent under certain contingencies or conditions.

4c) Sometimes we are simply talking about the circumstances of assent.

4d) When we use phrases like 'firm assent' or 'weak assent', but again it can be shown that either these are differences in that to which we are assenting, or in the concomitants or circumstances of assent (e.g., our feelings about what we are assenting to, or how much it sparks our imagination).

Such is Newman's argument, stripped down a bit. H. H. Price in his Gifford Lectures, Belief, argues against Newman on this point. Unfortunately, Price's argument, although in places insightful, never really takes the trouble to fix what Newman's argument actually is, and so is a bit all over the place. Price claims that if Locke's position is false, "our human condition must be both more miserable and more intellectually disreptuable than we commonly suppose" (p. 133). He glosses the former in a later passage:

It would be more miserable, because we so often need to be able to assent to propositions on evidence which is far less than conclusive; and therefore we need to be able to assent to them with something far less than total or unreserved self-commitment, if we are to have any guidance. (p.155)

But one may assent to something without "total or unreserved self-commitment"; many notional assents are of this sort, because they do not introduce the right sort of concomitants (the additional feelings and imaginations beyond assent that make what we are assenting to seem more than a mere abstract claim). Contrary to Price's account of Newman, Newman does allow we can assent to something with less than total or unreserved self-commitment; but the issue of self-commitment goes way beyond assent, since (as one might guess from the name alone) it involves the whole person. And we may assent without committing ourselves entirely to the truth of that to which we are assenting. I may categorically assent to the claim "Great Britain is an island" without thereby committing myself to live or die in defense of that truth, and without committing myself to staking my life on the truth of the claim. But nothing in this requires that the assent itself be tentative or conditional; I don't merely accept "Great Britain is an island" insofar as it is evidentially linked with such-and-such other propositions. I simply accept it as true. I can think of other propositions to link it to, of course; but this is not involved in my assent to it.

Price further glosses his claim:

If Newman were right, our situation would also be more intellectually-disreputable than we commonly suppose. In such circumstances, where we have evidence which is less than conclusive, only two alternatives would be open to us: either complete suspense of judgement, or else an assent of the all-or-nothing ('unconditional') sort, which would be unreasonable, because nothing short of conclusive evidence could justify it. (p. 155)

But why in the world would one accept this claim? Locke himself, for instance, does not; Newman's argument isn't devoted to criticizing Locke alone, but this is one of the strengths of Newman's argument if taken as a criticism of Locke. Locke admits that there are cases in which it can be perfectly reasonable to accept as certain what we cannot prove to be certain; and he thinks, rightly, that demanding otherwise is unreasonable. Most of us do not have a demonstration showing with conclusive evidence that the sun will rise tomorrow; however, we assent to the claim unconditionally. And, indeed, isn't it more reasonable to think this reasonable than to think that we could only assent to the claim "in an intellectually reputable" way if we could rigorously demonstrate it? Price goes on to say:

When our evidence for a proposition, though not conclusive, is favourable, or favourable on balance when any unfavourable evidence there may be is taken into account, we can assent to that proposition with a limited degree of confidence; and we can then conduct our intelletual and practical activities 'in light of' the proposition, though not without some degree of doubt or mental reservation. (p. 156)

Newman has no problem with this, and it does not show that assent comes in degrees. All it shows is that a claim's relation to other claims admits of degrees, and we can recognize that. Newman allows that we can assent to something's being only-so-probable; but again, this is not the same thing as assenting-only-so-much. You can assent categorically and simply to something's being only-so-probable, an act 'in light of' that proposition. Likewise, there is nothing to prevent one from acting in light of inferences, i.e., things accepted only in virtue of their relation to another conclusion, even one does not assent to them. (E.g. a person may infer that God exists if such-and-such is true, but not assent to it, and still may hedge his bets in matters where God is concerned, for precisely the reason that such-and-such could conceivably turn out to be true.) So Price is not giving Newman's view the credit for the flexibility it actually has.

In short, Price has it exactly backwards. Our human condition is only miserable and intellectually disreputable if Locke's claims are true. Locke's claims, so far from being essential for being reasonable, make unreasonable things that are obviously reasonable. If they were true, we would all be breaking Locke's rule about assent every day, in a myriad of situations. We couldn't help ourselves, first, because it would be impossible for us to follow Locke's claim, and, second, because it would be unreasonable for us to do so. Further, we have very little evidence on which to base the claim that assent comes in degrees; so if Locke's rule should be accepted, we should not hold his first claim very strongly. And this is the best that could be said assuming that assent comes in degrees. In actual fact, we have reasons to think assent does not come in degrees, despite being associated with some things that do. And further, no one has ever given any reason to believe that assent does come in degrees beyond some vague appeals to ways of talking that can be explained more fruitfully in other ways. It seems the only real question is "Should we assent or should we not?", not "To what degree should we assent?"

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Intrepidity Unsurpassed by Any Man

Today is the Feast of St. Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada de Ávila, also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church. She is inimitable, and I think it is because, while a mystic, she is not in the slightest bit tempted by sentimentalism. (The title of this post is the description of her given in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Beauvoir not being the sort of person who would be impressed by mystic sentimentalism.) She is overwhelmingly, consistently, sometimes almost ruthlessly practical in her approach to everything. From her Way of Perfection (Chapter 17):

Remember that there must be someone to cook the meals and count yourselves happy in being able to serve like Martha. Reflect that true humility consists to a great extent in being ready for what the Lord desires to do with you and happy that He should do it, and in always considering yourselves unworthy to be called His servants. If contemplation and mental and vocal prayer and tending the sick and serving in the house and working at even the lowliest tasks are of service to the Guest who comes to stay with us and to eat and take His recreation with us, what should it matter to us if we do one of these things rather than another?

I do not mean that it is for us to say what we shall do, but that we must do our best in everything, for the choice is not ours but the Lord’s. If after many years He is pleased to give each of us her office, it will be a curious kind of humility for you to wish to choose; let the Lord of the house do that, for He is wise and powerful and knows what is fitting for you and for Himself as well. Be sure that, if you do what lies in your power and prepare yourself for high contemplation with the perfection aforementioned, then, if He does not grant it you (and I think He will not fail to do so if you have true detachment and humility), it will be because He has laid up this joy for you so as to give it you in Heaven, and because, as I have said elsewhere, He is pleased to treat you like people who are strong and give you a cross to bear on earth like that which His Majesty Himself always bore.

Teresa de Jesús

This is a surviving copy of a painting of the saint in her sixties by Juan de la Miseria (slightly modified with the hagiographic elements), so gives us the picture that has the closest depiction of the saint herself rather than someone's imagination. Unfortunately, all the stories agree that Brother Juan was not especially good at portrait painting. St. Teresa is said to have burst out laughing when, after being made to sit for it for so long, she finally saw the result.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Being Through Rest

There is still another expression for the godhead, which this surpassing of space makes intelligible: the Shechinah. The root of the word means "to lie" and "to rest." In this meaning it is generally connected with God. The use of this word as a name of God apparently is intended to describe being through rest. All change, all alteration, must be eliminated from God's being. The philosopher says: God is substance. Monotheistic religion says: God is Shechinah, absolute rest. Rest is the eternal prime cause of motion. This is also what is meant with regard to God. Motion, however, is to be excluded from his essential being. This in no way means that through the being of God motion is made impossible; rather, it is precisely through this being of rest that the being of motion becomes possible.

[Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, Simon Kaplan, tr. Scholars Press (Atlanta, GA: 1995) p. 45.]

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Newman on Development of Doctrine (Re-Post)

This was first posted earlier this year.


As a second miracle was approved earlier this year, it's likely that Bl. John Henry Newman will be canonized later this year, so it seems appropriate to say something about Newman on development of doctrine because (1) people are likely to be talking about development of doctrine using Newman as their authority and (2) Newman's account of development in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is very often misunderstood. If the past is any indication, it's particularly likely that people will try to appeal to Newman for significant changes in doctrine, incorrectly calling them 'developments', so it's probably worthwhile to start insisting that it is incorrect now rather than later.

There are two things that need to be grasped to understand An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; failure to recognize them leads inevitably to misinterpretation.

First, the essay does not give a Catholic theory of doctrinal development but an Anglo-Catholic one. Newman was an Anglican when he wrote it. This is not to say that there's anything in it that is, properly understood, inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, but Catholic doctrine, in the sense of that doctrine connected to communion with Rome, is its conclusion, not its foundation. The argument itself is developed in Anglican terms, with Butler as the primary authoritative guide, and the account of doctrine given in it is also in Anglican terms, although primarily from the Catholic-friendly side of the Anglican heritage. And the problem the essay addresses is an Anglo-Catholic problem that only arises in an Anglican context, namely, that the Catholic Church has much to recommend it as a preserver of doctrine but seems to go beyond what one can find explicitly in the Apostles and the Fathers, and is, so to speak, under accusation of having distorted the true faith. What Newman primarily concludes in the essay is that there is no argument on Anglican principles that would make Rome guilty of this accusation that would not also establish that the Church of England is guilty of the same thing. As Newman was already convinced, on Anglo-Catholic principles, that Protestantism was wrong, and the argument had convinced him that the Church of England was unable to function as the Via Media, the middle way between Protestantism and Rome, that he had thought, it dissolved the last major intellectual issues that prevented Newman from becoming Catholic.

Second, and relatedly, despite the prominence of the notion of development, it is not the primary concern of the argument. Apparent change of doctrine can be either a development or a corruption, and, structurally speaking, the primary concern of the essay is not development but distinguishing developments from corruption. If you ever come across anybody appealing to Newman about development of doctrine and not showing a significant concern for the importance of avoiding corruption, that is a serious red flag; it is a warning sign that you are probably getting a distortion of Newman.

The essay falls into major parts. The first gives a broadly Butlerian argument (i.e., based on the analogy of nature) that developments of doctrine are natural and to be expected, and confirmed to occur historically; the primary purpose of it is to explain what he means by development and to give a basic characterization of Catholic developments of doctrine, 'Catholic' being here understood in the Anglo-Catholic sense of what we find in the commonly accepted Church Fathers. As he puts it, "Christian doctrine admits of formal, legitimate, and true developments, that is, of developments contemplated by its Divine Author." This is quite important: the only things that Newman considers "formal, legitimate, and true developments" are those that are already in some way implicit in the original teaching; to recognize something as a genuine development of Christian doctrine, rather than a corruption, is to identify what there is in it that gives you reason to think that it is a living expression of the teaching received from the Apostles.

This sets up the second major part of the essay, which attempts to characterize what a living expression of apostolic teaching would be. Newman uses the analogy of a living versus a decaying body; the living body has certain characteristics to show that its growth is a growth of the body itself, whereas the decaying body is a dissolution of the body itself. On this basis he identifies seven Notes of Development, that is, marks that we are dealing with the living development of the Church and not its disintegration. These seven Notes are not all equally important, but they are all intended to be quite general -- that is, it's not a theory that is concerned solely with Church doctrine but with the healthy development or the decay and corruption of any idea at all. (It is important to Newman that his account have nothing of the ad hoc to it, so it's also important for the basic ideas to apply quite generally.) Because these Notes are attempts to differentiate the living of an idea from its dying, it's actually best to think of them as seven ways in which we can say that a doctrine, despite apparent change, is nonetheless the same. (It is also a major warning sign if people talk about 'development of doctrine' and make no effort to establish the way in which the supposed development is the same doctrine rather than their own replacement of it.) Newman himself often puts it in these terms: "There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last." Another name he gives to these marks is "Notes of fidelity in intellectual developments".

(1) Preservation of Type: If Y develops from X, Y must be the same type as X. All ideas have implications or expressions that are not at first explicit, but which can be recognized as having the same character as the original. Newman argues on historical grounds that the type that we see exhibited in the original teaching of the Apostles, and later in the Church Fathers, has very general but nonetheless identifiable characteristics (recognizable at first sight), all of which are most particularly shared by the Christian churches in communion with Rome. Thus the doctrines of the latter are occurring within a context that is consistent with the original characteristics, at least at a general level, of the Apostolic and Patristic teaching.

(2) Continuity of Principles: If Y develops from X, Y must derive its root content from X. Examples Newman mentions of principles that are relevant to the Christian faith are: dogma ("supernatural truths irrevocably committed to human language, imperfect because it is human, but definitive and necessary because given from above"), faith (acceptance of such truths with internal assent not involving sight or knowledge), theology, sacrament, Scripture including its mystical or allegorical sense, grace, asceticism, the malignity of sin, the possibility of sanctification.

(3) Assimilative Power: If Y develops from X, then in its growth from X, it must incorporate from its environment what is consistent with and appropriate to X, transmuting or rejecting the rest. That is, a living idea will necessarily absorb things from its environment, but anything that is absorbed is assimilated to it; it is not modified in order to fit arbitrary things it meets in its environment. The things it gets from its environment are unified in it, rather than its being disrupted by the environment.

(4) Logical Sequence: If Y develops from X, there must be some path, capable of being reasoned, from X to Y. This need not be strict logical deduction, although that, of course, is one kind of relevant pathway; that Y is appropriate given X is another kind of relevant pathway. Newman gives as an example Peter's extension of baptism to the Gentiles on the grounds that as Cornelius and his friends had already received the Holy Spirit (i.e., for baptism) it would be absurd to deny them water for baptism.

(5) Anticipation of Future: If Y develops from X, then there must be things that can be found in X that already pointed to or suggested what we find in Y. Thus, for instance, the Christian view of the body and of the resurrection and the honor given to martyrs that we find in our earliest depictions of Christianity already suggest some of the things that we find in Catholic veneration of relics. While Newman doesn't use it as an example, I think the Second Council of Nicaea on icons is a good example: an important aspect of the argument of the Council is that the Incarnation, in and of itself, gives a reason to reject iconclasm -- if Christ was truly Man, then he can truly be depicted as Man, and our regard for His picture, like our regard for the picture of a man, carries our attention to the Man depicted. Thus the essential principles laid down in the doctrine of the Incarnation are as it were recapitulated in a new context by the doctrine of icons; you can find in the doctrine of the Incarnation the things that suggest what one finds in the doctrine of icons.

(6) Conservative Action: If Y develops from X, then Y should come about in an attempt to preserve X. Thus for instance, all of the doctrine of the Incarnation we find in the early Ecumenical Councils are attempts to preserve what had been received.

(7) Chronic Vigor: If Y develops from X as a living expression, then Y should have the same active life as X, either continuously or recurrently over long periods of time. Vigorous corruptions flare up and then die out; lasting corruptions grow weak and decay. Only the living thing is renewed in its active influence again and again. Thus, Newman argues, the resilience of the Catholic Church is a sign that its doctrine and worship are not in any essential way corrupt -- it is the behavior of something that is living rather than rotting.

The ways in which these seven interact is diverse and complicated, and Newman gives many, many examples in the essay. But, as he notes, "It would be the work of a life to apply the Theory of Developments so carefully to the writings of the Fathers, and to the history of controversies and councils, as thereby to vindicate the reasonableness of every decision of Rome"; the whole essay is just a gesture at this, a first argument that such a vindication could very well be possible.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Callista and Newman's Theology of Conversion (Re-Post)

Since Newman is being canonized, I will be here and there over the next week re-posting a few things that I have posted here that are relevant to him. This was first posted in 2007 and then again in 2015. Mark Gallagher at Commonweal recently had an article discussing Newman as a novelist.

If no one knew that John Henry Newman had written Callista, any literary scholar puzzling over the authorship of the work would be able to determine that it was written by either Newman himself or someone thoroughly permeated with his ideas. The novel, in fact, is saturated with a Newmanian theology of conversion.

Some background may be in order. Callista is intended to be a historical romance portraying Christianity in the third century, specifically for a Catholic audience. The major characters of the work are Agellius and Callista herself. Curiously, while she is mentioned in conversation earlier, Callista does not appear in person until Chapter 10. Of the other characters, the only ones of importance are Juba and Jucundus, relatives of Agellius, and the priest Caecilius, who turns out to be a rather important historical personage, better known under one of his other names. The events take place in and around the town of Sicca Veneria (modern-day Al-Kaf or El Kef in Tunisia); while not nearly as large as Carthage to the northeast, it nonetheless is fairly important as the seat of the Proconsular Africa. The novel opens during a time of relative peace; Christianity has been declining in the area, to such an extent that Sicca has neither priest nor bishop, and the general view among the pagans in the area is that it is (finally) dying out there, although there is worry about the pervasive influence of Christians across the empire. There are, in fact, only a handful of Christians in Sicca at all, and most of those are merely nominal. While Agellius sincerely believes in Christian doctrine, his brother Juba is only nominally Christian (and that only when he feels like it, being inclined to local superstitions), and his uncle Jucundus is a pagan. Even Agellius is merely a catechumen, and has been for most of his life, not moving forward; he is "stuck fast in the door of the Church," and it's the view of both his brother and his uncle that only a little nudge will back him out. The particular nudge they think most likely to nudge him out is Callista, a beautiful and intelligent pagan Greek with whom he is smitten. Callista, however, turns out to be a more complex person than they had thought, for while she is definitely pagan, she has considerable sympathy toward Christianity. Things become complicated as the Decian persecution finally reaches Proconsular Africa and is officially put into effect there. And that's the basic line of the story.

Much of the novel is concerned with the conversion of Callista, and it is here that we see Newman's theology clearly manifested. Callista's conversion is, in essence, an interaction with three Christians: Chione, her maidservant, who has already died, and is the reason for Callista's sympathy toward Christianity; Agellius; and Caecilius, a priest who is riding around the countryside giving aid to Christians while hiding from the authorities, whose true identity we only learn in Chapter 20. In the Oxford University Sermons Newman has an important but often-overlooked sermon on personal influence as the means of propagating truth. In it Newman argues that moral truth, and in particular the truth of Christianity, is not generally propagated by miracles, arguments, or a Church hierarchy, although these may play a role in scattered cases. The real means by which moral truth is propagated in the world is personal influence, in the 'inherent moral power' we observe in some of those from whom we learn. These people are simultaneously the teachers of moral truth and the models by which we understand it. People in the world are drawn to the beauty and majesty of their characters; they recognize them to be rare and therefore precious; they regard them as in some sense out of their league; they are directly influenced by it. This is precisely the way Callista is affected by Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius; she feels that they are somehow sublime, that there is something in them which is worth having, even though she does not know quite what it is. Indeed, for a very long time she knows nothing of Christianity except that there is something attractive in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius. As the narrator expresses it (in Chapter 27):

But then again, if she had been asked, what was Christianity, she would have been puzzled to give an answer. She would have been able to mention some particular truths which it taught, but neither to give them their definite and distinct shape, nor to describe the mode in which they were realised. She would have said, "I believe what has been told me, as from heaven, by Chione, Agellius, and Cæcilius:" and it was clear she could say nothing else. What the three told her in common and in concord was at once the measure of her creed and the ground of her acceptance of it. It was that wonderful unity of sentiment and belief in persons so dissimilar from each other, so distinct in their circumstances, so independent in their testimony, which recommended to her the doctrine which they were so unanimous in teaching.

In a slave, a country boy, and a learned priest she saw something that they all shared, particularly when they spoke of divine love. She has no commitment to Christian doctrines; but the Christian image found in her three sources, however vaguely defined, does provide a conduit by which those doctrines reach her in at least a vague form and impress her. The attraction borders on worship; as the narrator says of her attitude to Caecilius, "In spite of what she had injuriously said to him, she really felt drawn to worship him, as if he were the shrine and the home of that Presence to which he bore such solemn witness."

In Chapter 28 we are introduced to another way in which Callista's process of conversion exhibits echoes of Newman's theology, because Callista recognizes a sort of divine vocation. This is briefly mentioned in the sermon on personal influence to which I've just referred, when Newman talks about those "who acknowledge the voice of God speaking within them, and urging them heaven-ward"; but it is more extensively discussed elsewhere. The most famous discussion is that in the essay on Assent. In the Oxford University Sermons, the key passage is found in the sermon on the influences of natural and revealed religion. By 'natural religion' he means not religion based on reason alone, but those admirable aspects of the attempts by non-Christian people to worship God as they should. The foundation of this natural religion is conscience. Callista explicitly affirms natural religion in this sense:

"Well," she said, "I feel that God within my heart. I feel myself in His presence. He says to me, 'Do this: don't do that.' You may tell me that this dictate is a mere law of my nature, as is to joy or to grieve. I cannot understand this. No, it is the echo of a person speaking to me. Nothing shall persuade me that it does not ultimately proceed from a person external to me. It carries with it its proof of its divine origin. My nature feels towards it as towards a person. When I obey it, I feel a satisfaction; when I disobey, a soreness—just like that which I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend. So you see, Polemo, I believe in what is more than a mere 'something.' I believe in what is more real to me than sun, moon, stars, and the fair earth, and the voice of friends. You will say, Who is He? Has He ever told you anything about Himself? Alas! no!—the more's the pity! But I will not give up what I have, because I have not more. An echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear."

However, Newman holds that there is a weak point in natural religion understood this way; namely, that while it teaches "the infinite power and majesty, the wisdom and goodness, the presence, the moral governance, and, in one sense, the unity of the Deity," it nonetheless is limited in what it can convey of the divine Personality. He later did not like this way of stating it, since obviously many theists who are neither Jewish nor Christian believe in a personal God in some way or another. But something at least analogous to this lack Callista clearly feels, because she goes on immediately to say,

"O that I could find Him!" she exclaimed, passionately. "On the right hand and on the left I grope, but touch Him not. Why dost Thou fight against me?—why dost Thou scare and perplex me, O First and Only Fair? I have Thee not, and I need Thee."

Finally, in Chapter 29, Callista begins reading the Gospel of Luke and finally recognizes in clear outline the original Image which she had found echoed in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius:

Here was that to which her intellect tended, though that intellect could not frame it. It could approve and acknowledge, when set before it, what it could not originate. Here was He who spoke to her in her conscience; whose Voice she heard, whose Person she was seeking for. Here was He who kindled a warmth on the cheek of both Chione and Agellius. That image sank deep into her; she felt it to be a reality.

This passage is suggestive of the passage on Gibbon in the later Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, in which he argues that an adequate account of the spread of Christianity has to include the Image of Christ, which was spread by personal influence in preaching and teaching, and which made it possible for people to assent to Christian doctrine with a 'real apprehension'. This is, in fact, the form of Callista's own conversion:

She now began to understand that strange, unearthly composure, which had struck her in Chione, Agellius, and Cæcilius; she understood that they were detached from the world, not because they had not the possession, nor the natural love of its gifts, but because they possessed a higher blessing already, which they loved above everything else. Thus, by degrees, Callista came to walk by a new philosophy; and had ideas, and principles, and a sense of relations and aims, and a susceptibility of arguments, to which before she was an utter stranger. Life and death, action and suffering, fortunes and abilities, all had now a new meaning and application. As the skies speak differently to the philosopher and the peasant, as a book of poems to the imaginative and to the cold and narrow intellect, so now she saw her being, her history, her present condition, her future, in a new light, which no one else could share with her. But the ruling sovereign thought of the whole was He, who exemplified all this wonderful philosophy in Himself.

Callista, then, is a novel shot through with Newman's theology. I have only considered it insofar as it relates to Callista's conversion. There are other examples that could be drawn on; for instance, part of Caecilius's striking discourse on love and omnipotence in Chapter 19 could be fruitfully compared to Newman's sermon on the omnipotence of God as the reason for faith and hope. But it suffices to show, I think, how much Callista is really an idea-novel, which probably explains some of Newman's curious choices in its composition (e.g., the two main characters, the fact that the primary character does not appear until a third of the way into the book, etc.).

Three New Poem Drafts


Hell you know exists;
it is there inside your heart
when good your thought resists,
when you take the lesser part,

not blazing torment's flame,
not towering demonial hall,
just you in your little game
and a soul grown weak and small.

A fantasy whose only cost
is reluctance to emerge;
you dream, and your way is lost,
swept by unreasoned urge.

Each vice distorts your mind,
and curves your thought around
until only your thought you find
and your voice is the only sound,

each moment that you waste
in unrepenting play
solidifying taste,
deferring waking day.

You may set your nose on high,
you may at your betters snear,
you may tell yourself a lie,
you may babble hate and fear,

but the world will be dry-eyed,
for your fangs will be removed,
nor will your empty pride
one angel's wing have moved,

for though you weep and wail,
your con is clear to view:
the patter that you sell
the saints will know untrue,

the excuses that you make
the saints will set aside,
knowing that they are fake
and hollow through inside.

No triumph will you know.
The plan rolls ever on,
and all your flash and show
is nothing to the dawn,

for like the edge, a thin, faint line,
on a vasty tesseract,
is all that you call "mine",
your widthless little tract,

and you a good will serve
whose ways you do not see.
The treadmill of your curve
cannot hold infinity.

Hell you know can be;
you've but to look inside.
I find it, too, in me,
the empty scam of pride.


Dry, and so dry,
with a chill in the sun
and a wind stripping bare
the moisture of life,
with a wrenching of nails,
with a drooping of head,
beyond what words can describe
on an unsuffering tongue,

but in a dry mouth
a bitter word of compassion
captures the truth,
the yearning to save others,
the aching of body,
and nothing to ease it
except vinegar and gall.

Shadow Realms

We are all in fact walking in the realm of the dead,
memories around us and ghosts in the head,
so many corpses beneath this endless dirt path,
so many saints saved and souls damned to wrath,
down in the cave where the shadow games are,
untouched by the rays of sun, moon, or star,
down in the underworld, shades of the real,
the fairies are hunting the children to steal,
and there do we walk, though we think that we breathe,
and ever around us the wraiths sigh and seethe.
What we call life is but life with the dead,
shadows around us and ghosts in the head.