Part VI: Does God Love Us: An Examination of the Epistemology of John Henry Newman

Does God Love Us?
An examination of the Epistemology of John Henry Newman

"Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration." (James 1: 17)

"After all, man is not a reasoning animal; he is a seeing, feeling, contemplating, acting animal." (Newman, Grammar of Assent, p. 90))

Epistemology is the philosophical science of how we know, and of what we can know. It deals with the depths of the human mind and its relationship to reality, both natural and supernatural. In other words, it is concerned, in the most profound sense, with mental health. Therefore, when things go wrong here, they go wrong everywhere. It is here where the razor edge of truth cuts between intellectual sanity and insanity, where man’s true relationship to God is either nourished and sustained, or poisoned and aborted. It is also here where Liberalism and Modernism are born and nourished.

It is the thesis of this article that the epistemology of Cardinal John Henry Newman is profoundly skewed, and constitutes a proto-type of that Modernist mentality which now ravages the Roman Catholic Church. Newman wrote his book titled An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent expressly to explain his epistemology. Before entering into an analysis, however, we need to do some preparatory analysis of classical Catholic and Thomistic epistemology.

At the heart of Christianity is a resounding “yes”” to the question posed in the title of this article: Does God love us? Foundational to this question concerning God’s love for us is another. Does this love of God for man entail that He endowed man with the ability and faculties to know Him and to come to Him? Did God create us in such a way as to make knowledge of Him something that is fully natural to the human mind and heart? If not, then it would seem that man has some justification for not knowing and loving God, and that any judgment of God upon us for not knowing and worshipping Him in spirit and truth would be the act of a capricious and unjust tyrant. Implicitly responding to this question, St. Paul writes:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” (Rom 1:18-20).

St. Thomas writes, “all knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q. 22, a.2). Thomas rightly teaches, of course, that all of our knowledge, barring a direct infusion from God, comes through the senses. We come into this world with no innate ideas or knowledge, and this includes no knowledge of God. The “natural” knowledge of God of which Thomas speaks is therefore acquired through the encounter of man’s mind with the world, and through sense experience. It is, in other words, natural, but not innate.

But there is a very important truth involved here which I think is often missed. The human mind, in order to posses such “natural knowledge” of God, must be in possession of an innate, intellectual light which is structured in such a manner as to know, in a finite and analogical manner, as God knows. St. Thomas writes:

“And thus we must needs say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are contained the eternal types.” (I, 84, 5).

This created participation by the human intellect in the uncreated intellectual light of God operates in response to both areas of human knowledge – natural and supernatural. The passage from St. Thomas quoted immediately above speaks of this light as specifically related to our knowledge of created things. Simply put, God sees the substance known as man and man sees likewise; God sees a tree, man sees a tree. Man, in other words, does not just know the “units” of individual sense data, but his intellect is so constituted by God so as to immediately abstract to the knowledge of the substantial nature of things. Man naturally knows “universals,” which are the “eternal types” (the “kinds” of Genesis) of God’s creation. The very foundation of all intellectual sanity, therefore, is man’s knowledge of “abstractions” which the modern-day empiricist dismisses as mere human fabrications.

But what about God and the supernatural truths which constitute His very Being? Does the created structure of the intellectual light within us also possess a structure which “naturally” responds to supernatural truths? Did God so constitute a relationship between Himself and our own minds as to make it a fully natural thing for us to “hear” the voice of Revelation, even though the truths involved may be quite abstract and even appear to involve things that are contradictory to previous experience and thought?

A remarkable explanation of this relationship is available to us in the writings of Newman’s contemporary and alleged arch-rival, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning. His work, The Glories of the Sacred Heart, contains a chapter titled “Dogma the Source of Devotion.” After quoting Our Lord’s words, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Cardinal Manning offers the following analysis (selected quotes):

“He (Jesus) declared that all truth was contained in Himself; and when the Apostle said that he judged himself to ‘know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” he meant the same thing, namely, that he who knows Jesus Christ aright knows the whole Revelation of God, the radiance which flows from the Person of Jesus Christ.”

“Now our Divine Lord, speaking to the woman of Samaria, said, ‘You adore that which you know not,’ because they were an idolatrous people, of mixed race…and they had a sort of fragmentary knowledge of the old revelation; but they did not rightly know the True God; and so much as they did know of the True God, they did not know truly. Therefore they could not worship Him ‘in spirit and in truth.’”

“From these words I draw one conclusion, namely, that knowledge is the first and vital condition of all true worship.”

“My purpose, then, will be to trace out the connection between what the world scornfully calls dogma and devotion, or the worship of God ‘in spirit and in truth.’”

“Now, first of all, let us see what is dogma….It means the precise enunciation of a divine truth, of a divine fact, or of a divine reality fully known, so far as it is the will of God to reveal it, adequately defined in words chosen and sanctioned by a divine authority.”

“Every divine truth or reality, so far as God has been pleased to reveal it to us, casts its perfect outline and image upon the human intelligence. His own mind, in which dwells all truth in all fullness and in all perfection, so far as He has revealed of His truth, is cast upon the surface of our mind, in the same way as the sun casts its own image upon the surface of the water, and the disc of the sun is perfectly reflected from its surface.”

Dogmas or doctrines, in other words, are not in any way to be regarded as weak and humanly fabricated “notions” (the word used by Cardinal Newman for such intellectual formulations), but rather as a powerful divine radiance cast upon our intellectual light, a radiance which finds a natural response in the soul of one who sincerely seeks the truth. This is why, in Cardinal Manning’s words:

“If when a divine truth is declared to us, our hearts do not turn to it, as the eye turns to the light; if there be not is us an instinctive yearning, which makes us promptly turn to the sound of the divine voice, the fault is in our hearts; for just in proportion as we know the truth we shall be drawn towards it.”

Finally, I cannot resist offering one more marvelous passage taken from Manning’s work, The Four Great Evils of Our Day:

“God, who is the perfect and infinite intelligence – that is, the infinite and perfect reason – created man to His own likeness, and gave him a reasonable intelligence, like His own. As the face in the mirror answers to the face of the beholder, so the intelligence of man answers to the intelligence of God. It is His own likeness.”

Cardinal Manning’s words constitute a beautiful elaboration of Our Lord’s simple declaration, “Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice.” (John 18:37). It should be added that the Gospel of John is replete with teachings concerning the nature of Christ as the light of truth, and of man’s response, or lack of response to this light and truth: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” I would highly recommend to all readers that they reread the entire Gospel of St. John with the specific intent of noting all of this imagery concerning the power of the light and truth of Christ which finds a fully natural response in the created intellectual light of man, and a corresponding rejection in those who have of their own free will obscured this light: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” And further:
“For everyone that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.” (John 3:20-21).

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Gospel of John is a premier object for deconstruction by Modernists. It firmly establishes Dogma and the Divine Deposit of Faith (the “radiance” emanating from Christ) as the absolute and vital foundation of our entire Faith, as being the light of truth which is the very life of the soul, and to which the human soul naturally responds. God’s love is thus fully justified. All the blame for man’s turning away from the light of God’s truth lies within the will of each individual man who does so. As Cardinal Manning said, “the fault is within our hearts.”

It must also be added that Christ’s words are for all men at all times. The light of Christ’s truth is not something that must wait upon the growth and maturation of man’s experience and intellectual and religious evolution. It is there to be received and assented to by any human heart, at any time and in any culture, which has not betrayed its own inherent, God-given light.

Dogmas, in other words, are not simply abstract formulations which comprise a “notional” faith. They are not merely confessions of Faith designed to bind us together in a unity of belief and worship. They are the very vitality of the entire spiritual life. St. Thomas saw fit to treat of the “Nature of Sacred Doctrine” in the very first Question of his Summa. There, he writes:

“On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. Xiv, 1), to this science [Sacred Doctrine] alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected and strengthened.”

This begetting, nourishing, protecting, and strengthening of our faith is, of course, intimately incarnated into all our other faculties. Sensations, life experiences, and the imagining and memory faculties all play very important parts. But it is the intellectual light in man which is created with the structure – this structure involving abstraction at its most sublime level – to transform all these experiences into true knowledge of God and of His revealed truth. Here lies the real vitality of man, even of the most simple and unlearned of men, and here is where man “hears” the voice of God.

Such is true Catholic epistemology. To undermine it in any way is to enter upon a path of decay involving all things human.

Newman: The Grammar of Assent

The epistemology of John Henry Newman, on the other hand, is established upon a rejection of the abstractions and “universals” of the intellect as constituting “real” knowledge. It is also, therefore, constructed upon the rejection of abstract, dogmatic truth as the foundation of our spiritual vitality. It is, in other words, Thomistic epistemology turned upside down.

The core distinction which Newman establishes is between “real” apprehension and “notional” apprehension of propositions or statements. This, in turn, gives rise to a corresponding distinction between “real” assent and “notional” assent to any given statement or proposition.

We should immediately note that whatever Newman places under the category of “real” apprehension and assent is bound to receive an aura of respectability, solidity, genuineness, truth, and “vitality.” On the other hand, anything categorized as “notional” will automatically carry the connotation of being unsubstantial and superficial (despite the fact that the word “notion” had a very respectable use and meaning in scholastic philosophy – a philosophy which Newman thoroughly rejects). In their current usage and connotation the words “notion” or “notional” in fact carry definitions which, at least when applied to truth and our perception of reality, are immensely demeaning: superficial, whim, fancy, knickknack. In other words, the deck has been stacked from the beginning.

The philosophical (metaphysical) reasons for this “stacking” become evident very early in Ch. I of the Grammar of Assent. Newman writes:

“All things in the exterior world are unit and individual, and are nothing else [they thus constitute, in Newman’s schema, the objects of “real” apprehension and assent]; but the mind not only contemplates those unit realities as they exist, but has the gift, by an act of creation, of bringing before it abstractions and generalizations [which Newman fully equates with “notions”], which have no existence, no counterpart, out of it. (p. 29).[All page references to the Grammar of Assent refer to the 1979 University of Notre Dame edition, with an introduction by Nicholas Lash).

The above paragraph constitutes a very succinct summary of the philosophical-epistemological position known as empiricism. It is the reigning philosophical position of our day. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is often considered the founding Father of empiricism (along with John Locke). In Grammar of Assent, Newman designates Bacon as “our own English philosopher” (p. 275), approves his “separating the physical system of the world from the theological” (p. 282), and describes his “genius” in having firmly separated the concept of causation from the concept of “final cause” and “design” (p. 290). Empiricism is in fact the root philosophical system from which is derived the scientific reductionism which I have explored in other articles. It is the prime cause of the retreat of modern Catholic philosophers and theologians from the metaphysics of St. Thomas, and it is the mother of all philosophical subjectivism in opposition to philosophical realism. It is also therefore the precursor of full-blown Modernism.

It must also be noted that in the realm of Catholic philosophy, the above paragraph from Newman also constitutes a clear statement of the philosophical position of Nominalism. If the reality of all things in the exterior world is only unit and individual, and if universals (dog, man, tree, etc) are not real in themselves, but rather only human fabrications or creations, then they are only “names,” totally lacking in real content. They are simply arbitrary mental generalization and categorizations. They do not correspond to the “eternal types” to be found in the “intellectual light” of God for all eternity. All this, of course, flies directly in the face of Thomistic metaphysics and natural philosophy.

The entirety of the Grammar of Assent is therefore devoted to elaborating an allegedly valid grounds for assenting to the Catholic Faith, established not upon the vertical dimension of Faith as so aptly delineated by Cardinal Manning (the light of the human intellect responding to the radiance of Divinely Revealed Truth), but rather upon an experiential foundation which is a dimension within the interior of man that corresponds to the empirical foundations of man’s outer perceptions. This dimension, this empiricism of the soul, is called by Newman the “illative sense.”

However, before immersing us in what he has to say about the alleged “real” world of the “illative sense,” Newman spends a great deal of effort in attempting to totally strip the “notional sense” of any real vitality in our spiritual lives. It is astounding, and extraordinarily tedious, the extent to which Newman repeats his conviction that abstract “notions” or ideas, which includes all theological and doctrinal formulations, have no “real” power, strength, or effect on our belief or conduct. I understand that this might be hard for the reader to accept, and so I feel it necessary to offer the following sampling from the pages of Grammar of Assent:

“Of these two modes of apprehending propositions, notional and real, real is the stronger; I mean by stronger the more vivid and forcible. It is so to be accounted for the very reason that it is concerned with what is either real or is taken for real; for intellectual ideas cannot compete in effectiveness with the experience of concrete facts.” (p. 31).

“I have said that our apprehension of a proposition varies in strength, and that it is stronger when it is concerned with a proposition expressive to us of things than when concerned with a proposition expressive of notions; and I have given this reason for it, viz. that what is concrete exerts a force and makes an impression on the mind which nothing abstract can rival.” (p. 47).

“Real apprension, then, may be pronounced stronger than notional, because things, which are it objects, are confessedly more impressive and affective than notions, which are the objects of notional. Experiences and their images strike and occupy the mind, as abstractions and their combinations do not.” (p. 50).

“A mystery [such as the Trinity] is a proposition conveying incompatible notions, or is a statement of the inconceivable….It is equally plain, that the assent which we give to mysteries, as such, is notional assent; for, by the supposition, it is assent to propositions which we cannot conceive, whereas, if we had had experience of them, we should be able to conceive them, and without experience assent is not real.” (p. 55).

“But, if all this be so, much more does it apply to our speculations concerning the Supreme Being, whom it may be unmeaning, not only to number with other beings, but to subject to number in regard to His own intrinsic characteristics. That is, to apply arithmetical notions to Him may be as unphilosophical as it is profane. Though He is at once Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the word ‘Trinity’ belongs to those notions of Him which are forced on us by the necessity of our finite conception, the real and immutable distinction which exists between Person and Person implying in itself no infringement of His real and numerical Unity [Note: while Newman is right in saying that the distinction between Persons does not infringe on God’s Unity, it is indeed heretical to label the numerical distinctions in the Trinity as unmeaning and profane.]

“Theology, as such, always is notional, as being scientific; religion, as being personal should be real.” (p. 62). [Note: In other words, just as Newman credited Bacon with having separated science from theology in the empirical realm, so now Newman separates theology from religion in the realm of the vitality of Faith.]

”In its notional assents as well as in its inferences, the mind contemplates its own creations [All Dogmas are therefore to be considered human creations] instead of things; in real, it is directed towards things, represented by the impressions which they have left on the imagination. These images, when assented to, have an influence both on the individual and on society, which mere notions cannot exert.” (p. 76).

We must not here be simplistic. It would be tempting at this point to assert that Newman does not believe that dogmas have a role to play in our faith. This would be wrong. He flatly states, “It stands to reason that all of us, learned and unlearned, are bound to believe the whole revealed doctrine in all its parts and in all that it implies according as portion after portion is brought home to our consciousness as belonging to it.” (p. 130). Nor does he deny that the Church is the infallible guardian of this revelation: “The word of the Church is the word of the revelation. That the Church is the infallible oracle of truth is the fundamental dogma of the Catholic religion.”(P. 131).

We come here to the heart of the question concerning the Epistemology of Newman. The question we need to ask is not whether he teaches that assent to all Catholic doctrine is necessary for Catholics – this, as we have just seen, he answers in the affirmative. At the same time, however, we have also established that he believes that these doctrines are abstractions, and that despite the fact that they are to be considered revelations from God, they are at the same time abstract creations of the human intellect, which have little power or strength in themselves to elicit a vital response of faith and religious belief in the mind and heart of man. In other words, we are not considering here whether Newman believes that dogma is revealed by God, but whether these dogmas as abstract truths possess real vitality in themselves for the faith of the believer. In point of fact, he does not. The vitality of the vertical dimension of our faith, as elucidated above by St. Thomas and Cardinal Manning, is herewith eliminated or severely diminished. Unlike Thomas and Manning, Newman simply does not believe that dogma and sacred doctrine are “that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected and strengthened.”

It remains, therefore, to examine what Newman proposes to us as being the wellspring of a vital faith. In order to do so, we must take our eyes off heaven and heavenly doctrine, and lower them to the interior experiences of individual man. In so doing, we will be entering the same domain which the Modernist proposes as the source of all “real” and “vital” religious faith. We enter the realm of evolving consciousness and experience.

The Illative Sense

The word “illative” (from the Latin illatus –“brought in”) is a synonym for “inferential”. In the Finno-Ugric language group (Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian), there is an actual case called the “illative case.” In these languages, a suffix is added to a noun which denotes “in to,” such as “in to the house.” In other words, for Newman, the illative sense is that inferential “sense,” derived from experience and various degrees of reflection upon that experience, which brings us “in to” assent, and even “in to” what Newman alleges to be certitude, in regard to truth.

Basically, in the Grammar of Assent, Newman invested 20 years (by his own admission) and almost 400 pages of dense ruminations attempting to do two things: 1) deprive the abstract formulations of dogma and the speculative and logical findings of theology (especially St. Thomas) of any real vitality in religious certitude and belief and, 2) to prove that the illative sense (inferential conclusions derived from experience, and the images which they produce in our minds) is the real and vital source of not only faith, but also our certitude in the possession of truth.

I have already extensively documented Newman’s words in regard to the first of these efforts. It remains for us to examine the second.

Possibly the most effective approach to understanding the illative sense is to examine Newman’s teaching concerning the only way in which dogma can become real to us. Very simply, according to Newman, they only become “vital” and “real” if they are somehow lowered into the world of imagination. Thus, for instance, Newman describes such a process in regard to “Belief in One God.” He roots our certainty and assent to this belief in our own intuitive conscience, and the imaginative projections consequent upon a child’s experiential relationships to his father and mother. From these experiences the child forms the illative sense of a Person behind all of creation to whom he is responsible and subject to judgment. In other words, the only means by which dogma can become real for man, woman, or child is if it is transformed into images attractive to the illative sense.

As I have said earlier, this does not mean that doctrine and dogma in themselves do not play a role in Newman’s epistemology. They play a role of “check,” but not of vitality. He flatly refers to them as “broad but shallow.” Newman states that the imagination, and the affections which accompany it, must always be under the control of reason, that religion “cannot maintain its ground at all without theology, and that religious vitality and sentiment must always fall back upon dogma for its “stay.” (p. 109). But the true Catholic position – that the Sacred Deposit of Faith is that by which Faith is “begotten, nourished, protected, and strengthened,” and that such doctrine is a “radiance” emanating from Christ which draws forth assent and certitude from the intellectual light within man – is something profoundly foreign to Newman’s thought.

It should also be obvious that, although there is obviously some commonality to man’s experience in this world, the illative sense of one man is profoundly different from another. To therefore found assertion and certitude in Faith upon such “illation” is therefore to make each man’s faith an island unto himself. In his chapter on The Illative Sense, Newman writes:

“Certitude is a mental state, certainty is a quality of propositions. Those propositions I call certain, which are such that I am certain of them….And reason never bids us be certain except on an absolute proof; and such a proof can never be furnished to us by the logic of words, for as certitude is of the mind, so is the act of inference which leads to it. Every one who reasons, is his own centre; and no expedient for attaining a common measure of minds can reverse this truth.

Faith: Catholic Assent and Certitude

The traditional Catholic view on Faith and certitude is radically different.

Following is the marvelous definition of Faith to be found in Chapter III of The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith of the First Vatican Council:

“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. For faith, as the Apostle testifies, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”

If faith “is the substance of things hoped for,” then the Sacred Doctrines which comprise the objects of Revelation are the primary source of the hope and vitality of that faith. Further, if faith is a supernatural virtue which requires inspiration and the assistance of divine grace, then our certainty in matters of faith is ever dependent upon this supernatural assistance. It is therefore quite astounding that in a work, allegedly Catholic, which is totally occupied with establishing the grounds for assent and certainty in matters of faith, that Cardinal Newman only once treats of the role and necessity of God’s grace in assent and certainty. And he does so only to say that such grace and supernatural assent have no place in the Grammar of Assent:

“Nor, lastly, does this doctrine of the intrinsic integrity and indivisibility (if I may so speak) of assent interfere with the teaching of Catholic theology as to the pre-eminence of strength in divine faith, which has a supernatural origin, when compared with all belief which is merely human and natural. For first, that pre-eminence consists, not in its differing from human faith, merely in degree of assent, but in its being superior in nature and kind , so that the one does not {187} admit of a comparison with the other; and next, its intrinsic superiority is not a matter of experience, but is above experience . Assent is ever assent; but in the assent which follows on a divine announcement, and is vivified by a divine grace, there is, from the nature of the case, a transcendent adhesion of mind, intellectual and moral, and a special self-protection, beyond the operation of those ordinary laws of thought, which alone have a place in my discussion.” (p. 155-56).

The above passage, despite the fact that it might elicit an initial favorable impression, precisely exposes that epistemological error which has been the subject of my analysis. If divine faith, made possible through divine grace, and flowing from the Sacred Doctrine which is the object of that Faith, possesses a “pre-eminence of strength,” which “has a supernatural origin when compared with all belief which is merely human and natural,” is “superior in nature and kind,” and involves a “transcendent adhesion of mind,” then why in a work totally dedicated to assent and certainty in matters of faith does it not occupy an absolutely pre-eminent place in the discussion? What is more, if such divine faith and the grace which vivifies it involves a “pre-eminence” of strength in terms of the vitality of our faith, then why do we not encounter any serious consideration of the fact that this strength and vitality must involve a “radiant” relationship between divine dogma and the “light” which constitutes the human intellect?

The fact is that the “illative sense” is the most ragged of beggars when it comes to “the evidence of things unseen.” What, for instance can it do with the Trinity? It can certainly carry some “life-experiences” and “imaginings” concerning the words designating the Three Persons of the Trinity up to the door of this Mystery, but can it really understand anything about Father, Son, or Holy Spirit as Divine Persons from such images? The fact is, however, that the abstract ideas of doctrine do indeed vitalize our faith concerning these Divine Persons.

For instance, the illative sense can tell us nothing about the hypostatic union – of the mystery of Jesus Christ as being the union of both human and divine natures in the one Divine Person of the Second Person of the Trinity. And yet this abstract mystery possessed the vitality to inspire many martyrs in its defense. Many books have been written about the effects which this doctrine alone has had upon Western civilization – especially in regard to the concept of the innate dignity of all human beings, a truth of immense vitality and consequences which is derived from the abstract concept that God has united human nature to Himself.

And what has the illative sense to do with the Holy Spirit? Are we to limit our image and knowledge of the Third Person of the Trinity to a Dove or something ghostly-like moving over the waters?

And as to the Trinity itself – the actual unity of Three-in-One – the illative sense is absolutely silent. But the intellect can be very active and fruitful in regard to the truths here involved, even to the point of providing further substance for the imagination. It is simply foolish to believe that the intellectual concepts that the Son is “One-in-Being” with the Father and that therefore Truth is identical with Being – or that the Holy Spirit must always proceed from the Son just as Love must always proceed from Truth – do not possess the vitality to produce imaginings, passions, and actions in human life.

Nor does such vitality in doctrine only penetrate to the most unfathomable of Mysteries. We may possess, for instance, a fairly strong “illative sense” in regard to the reality and human virtue of purity. But none of this “experience” can make the leap to the declaration of the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. But once this dogma, with all its abstractions, fully casts its light upon human intelligence, it then possesses tremendous vitality to affect our daily living and worship.

In this regard, I remember a story once told to me by a Mexican missionary. He rode in taxis which would be ringed with semi-pornographic pictures, and in the midst of these would be an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This abomination was made possible not because the vitality of the illative sense was weak in relation to the image of Our Lady – there is nothing stronger in the religious vitality of the illative sense of the Mexican people than devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rather, it was the vitality of the doctrine that was weak in such men’s lives. It quite literally failed to protect Our Lady from blasphemous associations, and to defend these men themselves from the sin of impurity. Further, it would be inane to suggest that this lack of doctrinal vitality is inherent in the “notional”(doctrinal) belief in itself. There have now been many tens of thousands of home-schooled Catholic children who have vitally imbibed this doctrine (with the help of images, but not with these images comprising the primary vitality in regard to assent to this truth), and whose young lives have been integrated into the living concept of purity which is its fruit.

In other words, the reason that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their homes was not ringed with pornography was precisely because of the vitality of doctrine in their lives.

Further Consequences

The elevation of the “illative sense” to centrality in epistemology has immense consequences for all areas of Catholic life and worship – consequences which are now endemic in the Church. Underneath all the subtleties and obfuscations, Newman’s epistemology enshrines “lived-experience” as the most vital principle in our assent of faith. As said previously, this amounts to an “empiricism of the soul,” and is a fundamental tenet of Modernism. It is no wonder, therefore, that both George Tyrrell and Alfred Loisy, generally seen to be founders of Modernism, considered Newman to be their precursor. Tyrrell in fact declared himself to be a “devout follower of Newman.”

The “illative sense” is by its very nature evolutionary. The experience of man grows and evolves, as does the illative sense, and it almost inevitably reflects the fluctuating and tremendously varying ambiences and beliefs of the dominant and historically determined culture. Even more obvious, as I have already pointed out, it varies extremely from one man to another. Newman’s fundamental truth governing religious assent and certitude for any particular individual is that “Every man is his own centre; and no expedient for attaining a common measure of minds can reverse this truth.”

A primary consequence of placing this evolutionary and relativistic principle of growth at the center of what it means to assent to and possess certainty in regard to the Catholic Faith is the dominance of Modernist ecumenical theories at the heart of the current apostolic posture and activities of the Church. If the illative sense is ever growing and evolving, and if it alone is the primary sources of “real” assent and belief; and if each man is at a different stage in this evolutionary process, and therefore in possession of whatever mixture of errors and truths are peculiar to his own state of “illative” evolution, then the attainment of truth itself must be considered an evolutionary process. Theoretically therefore, no man can be judged for his present rejection of the truth, or for not coming to the fullness of truth. This is why any militant condemnations (such as Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus) of such things as indifferentism, religious pluralism and separation of Church from State, Paganism, Islam, or Protestantism are virtually impossible to the “illative sense” of a Catholic Church now dominated by the epistemological orientation of which Newman is a primary architect. St. Paul’s depiction of the Christian mission, as exemplified in the following passage, is absolutely inconsiderable in a Church now dominated by Newman’s epistemology:

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels [false illative senses?], and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor 10:4-5).

The ecumenical orientation now dominant in the Church leads us to one final and extremely important point concerning the consequences of Newman’s epistemology. We have seen that he denied the “realness” of our assent to dogmatic formulations, but at the same time professed submission to them. Thus we see that he vehemently opposed the Papal Definition of Infallibility as “inopportune,”, but personally submitted to it when it was promulgated. He aggressively used every means to undermine the doctrinal status of the Syllabus (a subject which I hope to examine in a future article), and yet professed personal submission to its condemnations. In other words the ecumenism inherent in Newman’s epistemology also leads to a profound duplicity.

All of this should ring a bell in tradition-minded Catholics. Such apparent duplicity reflects the roller-coaster ride which we have endured over the past 45 years. On the one hand a Pope, Vatican Congregation, Cardinal, or Bishop will issue a document truly stating a Catholic doctrine. However, several weeks, months, or years later, we find this same doctrine being somehow profoundly contradicted by the decisions, lack of decisions, actions, or words of the same individual or office. For instance, on Wednesday, Oct 22, 1986, Pope John Paul II emphatically taught the Catholic truth that “It is only in Christ that all mankind can be saved.” Five days later his presence offered moral sanction to Paganism as He prayed beside these false religions at Assisi. In similar duplicity and contradiction did Benedict XVI stand praying alongside the Imam while facing Mecca in a Mosque in Turkey. And, in possibly the most glaring example of such duplicity in the last couple of years, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council of Life, professed belief in the Church’s condemnation of all abortion as intrinsically evil, while at the same time writing an article in L’Osservatore Romano in which he condemned the “hastiness” of Bishop Sobrinho’s excommunication of the doctors who performed an abortion on a nine year old Brazilian girl pregnant with twins, stating that the doctors’ decision was a “difficult” one not deserving of condemnation.

And, of course, it is this same duplicity which justifies the alleged Catholic politician who personally professes to be pro-life, while at the same time voting to fund abortion.

In other words the epistemology exemplified in John Henry Newman, and now incarnate in the Church, enshrines not only empiricism as the fundamental principle of knowledge in the human soul, but also establishes a schizophrenic relationship between “notional” belief and “real” belief, and therefore between dogma and practice.

Such is the madness of our times. It literally “blesses” a man hearing and believing one thing and doing its opposite. In words from St. James, which I have quoted before:

“For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.”

It is our sacred duty to revive the memory of who we once were. The only means available for such a mission are the same two weapons prescribed for us by St. Paul – the destruction of false philosophy (“counsels”) and the “capturing of every intelligence unto the obedience of Christ.” It would appear that there is now strong momentum to make John Henry Newman a kind of patron for the “New Evangelization,” and even to have him declared a Doctor of the Church. Such honors would constitute an incalculable harm to the memory of the Church. His erroneous counsels, as examined in this article, must therefore be engaged in battle, and destroyed.