Monday, June 27, 2005

What a perfect scene?

This is my attic. As other people will realise for those of us who like to read, nothing could be better! In fact apart from a large comfy chair (which I could never get up) or a very large pot of coffee I can't think of anything better. Unfortunately as usually happens the scene was set and I didn't have the time to read!

I did get a little chance to read today, I learnt a new word - 'glebe' not the duck, a glebe was the property owned by a church in olden times that they could raise money from. I have been reading 'Newman and his age' by Sheridan Gilley. John Henry Newman was one of my heroes in school when I was studying 19th century church history. Although in many ways I never understood him fully. He is a man full of contradiction, liberal and conservative, a strong Anglican who became Roman Catholic, he grew up evangelical and changed to high church whilst at Oxford, a man who had mediocre exam results but still managed to get into Oriel one of the best Oxford Colleges.

The past few weeks I have really started to understand things that I had a rough grasp at school. He got into Oriel because the tutors in Oriel despised the exam system, they wanted to measure a man by the way he thought, not by exam results, I haven't reached his conversion as yet I am just about reaching his involvement in the Oxford Movement. One of the things that impressed me about Newman at school was that he was considered a spiritual master. He was the man who stood up to drunken students being forced to attend church. Looking back I really don't think I ever understood what he was about. Until tonight. Sheridan Gilley is very good at looking at the spiritual journey of Newman and analysing the environment he was living in to be able to commentate on how his mind was moving and thinking.

Gilley is describing how Newman discovered a mindset that his faith was 'the unsophisticated infancy of notions'. This idea first proposed by the church fathers such as Clement was that religious truth was not a scientific concept, it was not something that has 'proof'. This truth comes from 'pious and religious feeling'. He goes on to say:

"Moral truth is gained by patient study, by calm reflection, silently as the dew falls, unless miraculously given, and when gained it is transmitted by faith and by 'prejudice'. . . which any Cambridge man might refure with the greatest ease."

What Newman is saying here is that his view of spiritual faith is not liberal, rational or scientific (like any man from Cambridge), in fact if you try to make it rational or scientific you will fail and fail utterly to understand. This is perhaps why Newman is so highly criticised by modern historians such as A.N. Wilson. All through his life he had so many disagreements and arguments, I suspect a lot of people never understood this idea, even when he was alive.

Gilley then explains how Newman found great strength in Romantic moralism and in the 'poetry' of faith:

"The most sceptical of men, like Hume and Gibbon, will also be the least poetical. 'Revealed religion should be especially poetical', and the Christian with spiritual insight will see the world through the poet's eyes."

This is what impresses me about Newman. This is why he is so important, his message is more important than ever for the people of today.

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