Newman on doubt

Tomorrow marks the first time we shall keep the memoria of Blessed John Henry Newman. The date chosen marks not his death, as is usual, but his conversion to Roman Catholicism. The Church has chosen to include a passage from his classic spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro vita sua, as the second reading for Matins/the Office of Readings.

In it Newman talks of the seamless transition he experienced in “swimming the Tiber”. With all the social and personal upheaval and even distress his conversion caused him, he felt that settling at last in the bosom of the Church was like coming into harbour after sailing stormy seas. More importantly, he teaches that difficulties in belief do not necessarily lead to doubts. In fact, to believe what is difficult is at the heart of the act of faith: there is no virtue to accepting the obvious. The passage is worth reading in full (see my post a few days back for a link to the texts for the memoria), but this following excerpt stands out for me:

I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached.

Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power.

If we can have faith in the great unprovable, God himself, all other difficulties fade in comparison.

Bl John Henry Newman – pray for us.

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