Wednesday, January 12, 2011
For Thoughts On the Bride of Christ Like These, Circa 1906
The book is entitled Newman, Pascal, Loisy and the Catholic Church. It turns out that Loisy was excommunicated in 1909, but he doesn't figure prominently in the book so I'm mystified as to why he is included in the title. Maybe it was for "sizzle" when it was published.
As a result, I've been reading the book by Williams as well as various essays of Blessed John Henry Newman, especially the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Suffice it to say that the mystery man Williams peaked my interest by synthesizing thoughts of Pascal's that are similar to Newman's while arguing persuasively against some of Newman's critics like Matthew Arnold and Andrew Fairbairn.
I could quote huge swaths of both Newman's essays and Williams book to you. But you can read them on your own. Who is W.J. Williams? Evidently an English convert to the Catholicism. The January 1907 edition of The Dublin Review notes the following about him,
Mr W. J. Williams has given us a most remarkable work, a veritable treasure trove of deep thought on the foundations of religious belief, and a book which is, for those who rightly understand it, a very powerful apologia for the Catholic Church. Our chief object here is to indicate the angle, as it were, at which Catholics should read it, in order to profit by it and to avoid entirely misconception.
The book is in effect the work of a man who has lived a life of thought, kept company with thinkers of all schools, and kept a notebook wherein to set down his thoughts. The writer is familiar with many varieties of interpretation of the universe, gnostic and agnostic; he has gone through much heart-searching and has, mainly through the influence of the writings of Pascal and Cardinal Newman, come to the conclusion that in the Church is to be found the solution of doubts and the deepest philosophy of belief. He has set down, we take it, from time to time, with absolute candor the pros and cons as they come before him.
He has joined the Church, and he gives to the world the frank story of his reasoning—the summary of his notes. To tamper with it, to remodel it, to omit what is not on the beaten track of accepted Catholic thought, to change its phrases for those familiar to Catholic ears, nay, even to omit forms of argument which are, in their present state, inadmissible in the light of the Catholic conclusions would be to destroy the value of the book.
Motivated new Catholic layman writes a book—look out below! What follows is from the 1st section of the last chapter of Book II. They strike a chord with me because they say what I was thinking, but couldn't verbalize, when I decided to become a Catholic about 100 years after W.J. wrote these words.
The Mission of the Church (Section 1)
"The Catholic Church," says Abbé Loisy, "maintains hope in the world." She maintains hope in the world against the gnosticism and agnosticism into which the world has ever been divided; the gnosticism which would shut up the hope of man in a system suitable, at the best, only to a single stage in man's knowledge; and the agnosticism which would deny that any progress or development in religion is possible, because religion is concerned only with what cannot be known.
She has discovered the general attitude of man to what he calls Divine and worships; she has summed up and presented to man his general relation to the infinite; she has found that "the soul of man is naturally Christian," and she declares that the relation of man to God gives her the right to found on experience the relation of God to man. If such a proceeding appears optimistic, she declares that such optimism has become its own justification; if optimism is an error, among the possible conceptions of the best end of man, which may all conceivably be erroneous, it is the wisest of errors and, if in assuming the possibility of progress, arriving at ever new aspects of truth and a perpetual development of religious ideals, she turns out to have been wrong, she has, at least, made the greatest spiritual experiment possible to man and has failed only with the failure of mankind.
Because man has felt himself to be the Son of God, she has declared that God is His Father; because man has conceived himself to be of God's offspring, she has declared God to be the author and giver of life; because man has felt the necessity for consciousness in his Deity, she has declared that God is a Trinity; because man has discovered ever new depths of horror in sin she has confessed that moral evil is worse than physical and that she cannot fathom the depth, or find the end, of hell.
Because man has declared that he cannot find God; that God is infinitely distant from him and infinitely unlike him, she has declared that God is infinite, and because man has found God to be nearer than a brother—nearer than hands and feet—she has declared that the kingdom of God is within man. For her, God is as truly infinite in the heart of man as in the constellations, and though all partake of Him He is as wholly one in a child as in the universe.
She makes no explicit mention of a system of God slowly brought out by Scripture and the Church ; but she takes it for granted that through the hearts of mankind comes, for all time, that realization of things which, at last, if it "comes full circle" shall indeed be the system of God. She denies that it is possible for the scholar to find for himself in Scripture what parts are the word of God and what are not; she has found by experience that even when such a procedure has seemed most plausible it has led to anarchy in opinion and fanaticism in action; she therefore affirms that all Scripture is the word of God, but that history, tradition or the experience of man—expressed in the authoritative decrees of the Church—is the sole judge of what is permanent in Scripture and what is temporary, and therefore, what is, in an ultimate sense, Divine. In other words, man, by throwing himself upon Scripture, finds by experience what it is which continues to support him and what fails beneath his weight.
Now it is easy to say, and it will be said, that such language as this is not the language of the "Church," and that a Catholic cannot consistently speak in this manner. The Church speaks of revelation, inspiration and the "deposit" of the faith, and would condemn any who should speak of these things as coming from man and not rather through them, or as if history, tradition and experience were the same thing.
But the Church does not deny that, regarded from without, revelation does come from man and that tradition is history and experience. On the contrary, she affirms that this is the case. She adds, indeed, that they are more. But this she does on the authority she has acquired from the immediate success of her primary assumption and on the authority which has accrued to her from the intrinsic and extrinsic evidences of her mission. It is with the extrinsic evidences alone that we have here to deal.
And in this case the Church speaks by her acts as well as by her words. If she seems unconscious in her express declarations of the variety and splendor of her growth; if she makes no boast of being continually in the process of reconciling Greek thought and Roman organization; if she regards it as no matter of triumph to have attempted the reconciliation of the Old Testament and the New, it is none the less true that these things she has to some extent accomplished, and is still in the act of achieving;—nor does it detract from her majesty that she has acted as one of the forces of nature from motives which lie too deep in the heart of things to be expressed in the terminology of any particular age.
These reconciliations, indeed, are a task far beyond the scope of a single century; the differences between Greek and Roman civilization are differences which lie at the very base of man's thought; the differences between the Old Testament and the New lie as deep; any boast of success in these things would at any given moment seem premature and superficial; it will have taken her perhaps 2,000 years to realize the fact that she has been facing these problems in anything like their true proportions; but on this reconciliation and on this resolution of uttermost difference in a higher unity depends the whole hope of man. For if in such different manners man was always travelling towards a consistent conception of things then man has been progressing from the beginning; but if these differences never can be reconciled, then there may be progress for individuals but certainly there would be no progress for man.
It was her fortune to come into the world when these uttermost differences that lay in the hearts of men had found a high degree of expression and it was a matter of supreme importance to her welfare that she was compelled to start her journey through the ages not from Christ alone, but from Christ and the Synagogue; not from the East alone but from Rome, as well as from Jerusalem; not from Rome only but from Athens also and Antioch and Corinth and Alexandria; and those who would reject everything but "primitive doctrine" may well despair of Christianity, for in their sense she can scarcely be said to have been primitive at all, because Christ Himself would seem to have borrowed from the teaching of Scribes and Pharisees and Rabbins who lived before He came.
It is because the Church has assumed the possibility of reconciling the world to its past; and civilizations, philosophies and nations to each other, on the basis of what is common to all, that she has been able to maintain that hope in the world which philosophers ought to protect, but which they have very nearly succeeded in destroying.
"When the stir and rush of new ideas," says a candid and thoughtful writer, "have passed into acquiescence and the debris of shattered prejudice has been cleared away, it will be seen that, if the name of Christianity appears unsuitable to the phase of faith embodying this new discernment, it will be only because we have associated that name with limitations which oppose themselves to the idea of growth and force us to take up an attitude towards the past incompatible with that atmosphere of promise which the idea of evolution spreads everywhere around us. But it is in truth only that later form of Christianity which we know as protestantism to which these ideas are strange. The elder church embodies an idea of development which it has neither exhibited nor enforced, but in which, latent and confused as it is, perhaps lies no small portion of its mystic charm and enduring dominion" (Julia Wedgwood, Ethics & Science, 1897).
The complete "Dublin Review" article is here. And the complete Newman, Pascal, Loisy, and the Catholic Church is available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.