Page images
[ocr errors]

in his attempt to prove their indefectibility. The candour of the discussion is beyond praise, and the skill with which it is conducted is as great as the candour ; but the reader feels that the attempt is hopeless. A belief may be so firmly established that we cannot think the opposite, for a time; but new discoveries, new experiences, new points of view may arise, which are capable of changing even such a belief. And there is a deeper irresistible agency which transforms or destroys beliefs so gradually that it may easily be overlooked. This is the Zeitgeist or spirit of the age, producing a certain psychological “atmosphere” or “climate,” favourable to the life of certain modes of belief, unfavourable and even fatal to the life of others. No “certitude" can stand for long against this transforming force. This is why some of the doctrines and methods of Cardinal Newman's own Church are impossible to-day : the modern mind refuses even to discuss them.

In dealing with the “indefectibility of certitude” Newman dwells on the special

1 Ch. vii. $ 2.

marks of that feeling to such an extent as to be almost compelled to conclude that most of us cannot tell which of our beliefs are permanent certitudes, and therefore true, and which are not. Although the spontaneous rejection of the opposite is a fair psychological test of the firmest sort of belief, to make this a test of truth is to shut our eyes to any further evidence that may be forthcoming. Froude justly observes, “the reasonable person would say that instead of rejecting suggestions incompatible with such prepossessions, one is bound to welcome them and look for them with the most scrupulous impartiality.” In the end Newman is driven to appeal to a test outside that of mere felt conviction ; minds which are highly cultivated all round, are the only reliable guides in discovering the certitudes in which we ought to rest. This is an appeal to those who are wisest and best; their firm convictions are true! With this test of truth we need have no serious quarrel. But it would require to be stated in quite a different form ; those convictions are truest which best serve man's highest life.

[ocr errors]

It is easy to see the spirit of Newman's argument-how he was led to his conclusion. Thus (1) he points out that what is once true is always true: hence true knowledge must be permanent knowledge. (2) In view of his theistic presupposition he assumes that the human mind is made for truth, and so rests in truth as it cannot rest in falsehood. (3) When, therefore, we find that the mind can form beliefs which after investigation has confirmed their probability — become irreversible and are accompanied by a specific sense of intellectual satisfaction and repose, what is more natural than to suppose that those beliefs in which the mind can rest must be true, and since it is possible to rest in them unconditionally, must be absolutely true? Yet the test fails, as we have seen. It is natural for us to form firm and solid beliefs; but this is not to have certainty in the intellectual interpretation of them. Newman showed, as we saw, that however wisely we interpret the grounds of our belief, we fall short of finding conclusive reasons for it; and this same law holds good of the belief itself. The fact is that the principles from

which he started are erroneously conceived. We grant that the human mind is made for truth : this follows equally from Newman's theistic presupposition and from our postulate of the Rationality of the World. But this does not show that we are made for the attainment of absolute or perfect truth. Again, we are made for feeling and action as well as for knowing truth; and usually we may be conscious of a principle quite clearly enough to act upon it safely, while we are in doubt or confusion when we try to state it in the intellectual form of a truth. We grant also that what is once true must be always true, with the reservation that truth from its nature as a work of thought must grow; and its growth is not a process in which old absolute truths remain with new ones added on to them; it is a process in which old truth becomes organically modified and transformed and taken up into a new and wider truth : there can be no growth without the operation of a negative and critical element. That is why old forms of truth which survive unchanged hinder true development. That


is why Catholicism cannot be a true development of Christianity.

The motive of Newman's argument is of course to show how, while we cannot prove that the Catholic Church, or any other institution, is an infallible authority, we may yet feel certain that it is, and rest in that certainty, if we can only find some probable reasons in its favour. But this is possible only when we shut our eyes to the multitude of probable reasons against it. He has not given us a complete systematic statement of all the probabilities in its favour; but one of the most important is this : the early spread of Christianity, and the bravery and endurance of primitive Christians, are inexplicable apart from the assumption that a miraculous power was at work. This would be maintained by many who would with us entirely reject Newman's view that Catholicism is identical with Christianity.

We saw that the state of the ancient world was such that the spread of Christianity was no mystery; positive constructive ideas were needed, of a universal kind, that

« PreviousContinue »