=The Friendship between Faith and Reason: The Conversions of John Henry Newman and Gilbert Keith Chesterton Ma. Anne Teresa S. Rivera A study of the history of the Catholic Church naturally includes references to conversions of many men and women who have not only lived to attest to the greatness of Catholicism, but have also exercised their right to religious freedom, and their natural inclination to searching for religion amidst crises, controversies and changes throughout history.
Generations following the Reformation proved to be difficult times for the Catholic Church. Priests had to work in secret for fear of being imprisoned or persecuted (Core, 1995). Catholics were not sent to Oxford and Cambridge, and it was only in 1829 when Catholics were allowed to vote. Perhaps a major factor to antagonistic measures against the Church was Pope Pius IX’s seeming contribution to the restoration of the English hierarchy in 1850 (Core, 1995) so that the Catholics were publicly humiliated and abused.
The mid-nineteenth century found the Catholics held in contempt and scorned by majority of the people (Core, 1995). Yet amidst all these, many people were converting to the faith. Their conversion despite the hardships that came with it, shows testament to the strength one may find in commitment to a religion. Among the most controversial (and at the same time, most celebrated) conversions were that of John Henry Cardinal Newman and Gilbert Keith Chesterton. In fact, O’Brien comments that journalist G. K.
Chesterton’s conversion gathered as much attention ad did that of Cardinal Newman (1957). Among other things, what was common between the two was their evident affinity to spirituality which led them to explore their faiths, stray during a certain part of their lives, and despite difficulties, chose to retract and convert to Catholicism. Chesterton describes his conversion thus: “I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy” (Chesterton, 1908) I. Saints: The Surprising and the Ordinary
Cardinal Newman’s conversion came as a big surprise to a lot of people, having been a great defender of the Anglican Church, and having led the Tractarian movement that made claims against the Catholic Church. But above all this, his conversion was remarkable for he was known to be a man of great intellect. His conversion, then, proved, at a time when it was most needed, that seeking the church – or any religion for that matter did not equate to a mindless pursuit. At the same time, Chesterton is remarkable in that his venue for expression was journalism – very far from Newman’s formal theological and scholarly writings.
Yet, many people have remarked, and continue to remark that his writings express timeless thoughts and insights that are still relevant to this day. He was a simple man who would go to coffee houses and bars to debate with the likes of H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw about their beliefs and opinion – and yet still remained to be humble. In fact, these same people were his closest friends. Conversion of many people have been attributed to him, among them C. S. Lewis’, and Sir Alec Guinness’ (Pearce, 2004).
This paper will be an exploration of the lives and thoughts of these two converts, seeking to point out the similarities between the two, their influences during their time, and their fundamental beliefs and contributions that make them relevant until now. In addition, this paper seeks to explore the idea of the friendship – the connection – between faith and reason that they both recognized and expressed. II. “Out of the phantasm into the truth” Thus reads the epitaph of John Henry Cardinal Newman, who was born to an Anglican family but who died a Catholic.
Known as the foremost leader of the Tractarian Movement, and one of the greatest English converts in the Church, he was born in London on February 21, 1801 to an Anglican family (Barry, 1911). He was said to have been very fond of reading the Bible but it was not until he turned fifteen that he formed his religious conviction, that bearing Calvinistic dogmatic ideas(Barry, 1911). This conversion is often considered his conversion to the individual act of faith (Dulles, 1997) – remarkable for its being amidst the existence of trends such as the eighteenth-century deism, atheism and autonomous humanism (Gilley, 1997).
At that time, he was influenced by Calvinist thoughts as passed on by his friend Reverend Walter Myers who gave him Calvinist books that helped him answer his personal questions (Dulles, 1997). He gave up plans of studying for the Bar, and decided to take orders, he was baptized in June 13, 1824 and became the curate of St. Clement’s, Oxford (Barry, 1911). He was made vicar of St. Mary’s in 1828 and he started delivering parochial sermons displaying so great a knowledge of human nature (Barry, 1911).
During this time, he began studying early Church history as well as the writings of the Fathers of the Church. It was then that he discovered that many doctrines taught in the ancient Church had been largely abandoned by the Anglican Church (Core, 1995). At the same time, having read Bishop Thomas Newton’s Dissertation in the Prophecies, he was convinced that the pope was the Antichrist (Begley, 1997). By 1833, while he was writing his famous verse “lead, Kindly Light”, he was also writing about “the wretched perversion of truth” involving the Catholic Church (Barry, 1911).
At around the same time, he and his colleagues began a movement aimed at restoring the ancient doctrines and traditions that had been abandoned by the Anglican Church (as it became more Protestantized) – this was later called the Oxford Movement (Barry, 1911). He resigned from his tutorship in 1832, having quarreled with Dr. Hawkins about his pastoral activities included in his college work. He then went on a journey around the Mediterranean – stopping by the coasts of North Africa, Italy, Greece and Sicily – along with some friends.
They went back in July 14, 1833, and on that day was begun the Oxford movement (Barry, 1911). It was during this journey, and while in the Straits of Bonifacio when he wrote his famous verses, “Lead Kindly Light” which is hailed by all English-speaking races, it was considered the “marching song of the Tractarian host” (Barry, 1911) As part of the campaign, Newman began the “Tracts for the Times” which addressed issues about the traditions lost in the church, and the bases of such traditions. He highlighted the sacramental systems, aiming for the revival of church rituals.
His main position was that of the via media – maintaining that the English church had both the equal qualities based from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. He claimed that the Anglican Church was based from Catholic doctrines, but the Catholic church had corrupted many Church truths (Barry, 1911). At the time, he was also studying the thoughts of previous philosophers, and saw the connection between the past writers and the doctrines and religion of the time. He said “I understood . . . that the exterior world, physical and historical, was but the manifestation o our senses of realities greater than itself. Nature was a parable, Scripture was an allegory; pagan literature, philosophy, and mythology, properly understood, were but a preparation for the Gospel. The Greek poets and sages were in a sense, prophets”. This kind of thinking was first applied to the Anglican Church but would also be later used in discerning the truths about the Catholic Church. Newman held the via media to be true from 1833 to 1839, and then he via media suddenly disappeared in his thinking (Barry, 1911) he was beginning to consider the claims of the Catholic Church.
A defining move was his release of Tract 90 – aimed at discussing the corruptions against which the previously published Thirty-Nine articles were directed, and the doctrines of the Catholic Church he did not contest (Barry, 1911). Many also considered it a Catholic reading of Anglican truths. Newman was denounced by his fellow Churchmen and was even considered a traitor. Dr. Bagot, the bishop of Oxford required that the tracts should cease, and the condemnation against him would still go on for years. This affected Newman’s disposition.
For him, this was an “ex cathedra” judgment against him (Barry, 1911). He resigned as editor of his paper “The British Critic” and gave up working in St. Mary’s. He then retired to Littlemore in lay communion with several others (Barry, 1911). It was during this time when he saw the Anglican Church in a new light – akin to the Semiarians and Monophysites who held some of the truths of the Catholic Church but twisted several parts of it as well (Barry, 1911). He was also dismayed by the Anglican alliance with Prussia, seeing the church made for use.
In February 1843, by publishing a work in t a local newspaper, he retracted what he had said badly about the Roman Catholic Church, and he resigned his living (Barry, 1911). In October 9, 1845, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church – which elicited varied reactions from his countrymen – many of them were dismayed. He was later ordained in Rome and was granted permission to establish an Oratory in England of St. Philip of Neri, he then took mission in Birmingham. As Catholic, he began writing and his works were “Lectures on Anglican Difficulties”, “Loss and Gain”, and “Callista”.
Many consider this second conversion his conversion to the fullness of faith believed (Gilley, 1997) The period from 1851 to 1870 saw many of their plans rejected or abolished, however in 1847, the Irish bishops resolved to make a college of their own of which he was appointed rector in November 1851. For this duty, he wrote the “Idea of a University” a classic text describing liberal education, as well as short papers in the University Magazine and academic dissertations. He retired from rectorship in 1858. Meanwhile, he was also addressing issues of his time.
In his “A form of Infidelity of the Day: he addressed what is now called modernism, condemning this as ruin of Dogma (Barry, 1911). In “Christianity and Scientific Investigation” he held that Christian theology was scientific, although it has to be made clear the theology was deductive while empirical sciences are inductive, and therefore there should be no clash between the two (Barry, 1911). He also said that the laymen should take part in intellectual movements, urging J. M. Capes to found “The Rambler” and H.
Wilberforce, the “Weekly Register” (Barry, 1911), however this incurred a strong reaction from the Pope. He was taken up by Ward and Manning (who was also convert) and they issue broke into a quarrel. The quarrel between the two parties concerns three topics: first, the scientific history discussed in the Rambler and Newman’s concurrence, second, the proposed oratory in Oxford and third, the temporal power (Barry, 1911)The oratory was given leave although with a condition that Newman did not go there himself which defeated the whole purpose.
Incidentally,, a sharp review od Manning’s “Lectured on the Temporal Power” was attributed to Newman although it was never proven to be his writing – this disrupted the relationship between the two which was never reconciled. Over the years, he retired from the public life, until a serious accusation was raised by the person of Rev. Charles Kingsley, an Anglican minister who charged the Catholic clergy of dishonesty and of Newman having commended such (Core, 1995), he said that “truth for its own sake, had never been a virtue for the Roman clergy”..
Newman decided to clear his name and his fellow priests’. He wrote “Apologia pro Vita Sua” which is considered the greatest spiritual autobiography since “Confessions” by St. Augustine. He also serialized his reply in a newspaper for seven weeks (Core, 1995). A correspondence ensued between the two published in several pamphlets. Englishmen were astounded with his reply and logic – and inspired many to convert to Catholicism as we. He also began his “Grammar of Assent” yet this received negative reactions from others such as Manning and Talbot who accused him of bringing Oxford thoughts into the Church.
The “Grammar” was published in 1870 but it roused less attention that he would have liked for it coincided with the Vatican Council (Barry, 1911). People were also then making an issue of his views about the pope. He has previously proclaimed belief in an infallible pope, but he was taken extremely by many ultramontane apologetics (Barry, 1911). In the end, he made his position clear by accepting dogmatic definitions from Rome. For the following twenty years, Newman laid under imputations, he was ostracized by many – mainly because of his former friends Ward and Manning (Barry, 1911).
Pope Pius IX died in February 1878, and in the same month he returned to Oxford as an honorary fellow . The new pope, Leo XIII also seemed to have a more favorable view of him. He was made cardinal deacon on May 12, 1879 and in the modern times, no simple priest was immediately raised to the Sacred College. He continued writing until he died o August 11, 1890. His death was mourned by Anglicans and Catholics alike and was a great public event. III. “I dared to discover what many have discovered before”
This is how Gilbert Keith Chesterton, more popularly known as GK Chesterton or simply GKC, described his discovery of the truth of the Catholic faith and his eventual conversion into it. He would later become one of its most active defenders, and prolific writers of all time. G. K. Chesterton was born in London on May 29, 1874. Born to a middle class family, he was baptized into the Church of England and was brought up without belief in the divinity of Christ or knowledge of the Trinity. His family held on to Unitarian beliefs (Shelstad, 2010).
He studied at the University College and the Slade School of Art. During this time, he undergone a crisis of skepticism and depression – during which he became fascinated with diabolism. This skepticism also often led him to esoteric environments and decadent climate causing him to border on the most insane perspectives and positions (Gaspari, 2010), He dropped out of college and started writing in 1895. IN 1896, he met Frances Blogg, whom he would later marry (Shelstad, 2010) – Blogg was an Anglo-Catholic woman who would also influence his religious thinking.
He renewed his Christian faith while courting Blogg, and this helped him pull himself out of his spiritual crisis. From 1900 to 1908, he published several works including Robert Browning (1903), Charles Dickens (1906) and the Man who was Thursday (1908). In 1908, he wrote the classic “Orthodoxy” in which he stated his belief in the Apostle’s Creed, however, during this time he claimed to still being “a thousand miles from being a Catholic” (Shelstad, 2010).
It would seem then, that he was already defending the Catholic faith even when he was not yet converted. He continued writing in the coming years and in 1914, he experienced a physical and nervous breakdown. He became the leader of the Distributist movement after the First World War, promoting the idea of division of private property. He was converted to Catholicism by Father John O’Connor, who had been his friend on July 30, 1922. Father O’Connor would also serve as the inspiration for his Father Brown detective series.
Among his famous works during his lifetime were “Heretics” (1905), “The Man Who was Thursday” (1908) and “The Everlasting Man” (1925). He received honorary degrees from Dublin, Notre Dame and Edinburgh universities, and he died on June 14, 1936. G. K. Chesterton said that “I have known intimately by now all the best kind of Anglicanism, and I find them only a pale imitation”. He apparently realized that Anglicanism contained only some of the truths upheld by the Catholic Church, while the Catholic Church contained the whole.
He also told a friend that “he had made up his mind to be received into the Catholic Church, and that he was only waiting for Frances [his wife] to come with him, as she had led him into the Anglican Church out of Unitarianism. ” (Finch, 1986). His conversion, then, was two levels, first, his conversion from Unitarianism to Anglicanism, and then second, from Anglicanism to Catholicism. However, while his wife seems to have influenced his conversion to Anglicanism, Chesterton might have also been central to Frances’ eventual conversion to Catholicism as well.
He said: “If her side can convince me, they have a right to do so; if not, I shall go hot and strong to convince her. ” (as quoted by O’Brien, 1957). This shows a very great need for him to know the answer to his religious questions, and his desire to be one with his wife in that search. Still, he did not force his wife to make that decision, (O’Brien, 1957) During the world war, he said “Catholicism necessarily feels for Protestantism not the superiority a man feels over sticks and straws, but that he feels over clippings of his air and nails. She feels Protestantism not merely as something insufficient, but something that would never have been even that, but for herself. ” (as quoted by Finch, 275) After his conversion, he seemed to have incurred disfavor from his family , who were still majorly Anglican, and after his conversion he wrote to his mother thus: “The fight for the family and the free citizen and everything decent must now be waged by the one fighting form of Christianity . . .
I have thought this out for myself and not in a hurry of feeling . . . I believe it is the truth” (as quoted by Finch, 289) That a man such as Chesterton, so brought up without belied in Christ, and was even bordering on the diabolical, would make undergo a conversion was a very surprising event, He gives reason for this conversion, he said that after discovering the truth about the catholic faith, he could deny himself the religion any longer, or delay the acceptance of the truth.
He said: “I feel there is something mean about not making complete confession and restitution after a historic error and slander “, thus after his conversion it seems that he took it upon himself to defend the faith – as if to make up for his past misunderstanding and claims – but more than that, to proclaim the truth that he understood. He says “The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic, is that there are 10,000 reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true” (as quoted by O’Brien, 231).
Chesterton also intimated his perception of the need for conversion once one has already grasped the truth, he says ” It is not really a question of what a man is made to believe but of what he must believe; what he cannot help believing . . . He cannot treat the Church as a child when he has discovered that she is his mother”. This tells us that finding the truth compelled him to convert. IV.
Responses to issues about the faith, theology, papal authority, calls of their times Newman claimed that the first doubt was implanted in his mind when he read an Augustinian quote: “the whole world judges surely (securus judicat orbis terrarum) (Dulles, 1997). It was then that he began to see the Anglican Church as similar to the monophysites and the Semi-arians. he then sought to reassure himself that it was indeed Catholic (Dulles, 1997). Yet several incidents disillusioned him. The first one was the rejection of
Tract 90, the second one was the Anglicans’ entering into a political agreement with Prussia (which convinced him that the Anglican Church did not relish in Catholic heritage). Aside from these, he also admired the devoutness of Catholic seminarians and clerical celibacy which he took as clear sign of apostolicity (Dulles, 1997). Speaking about the Catholic Church, he said “She alone, amid all the terrors and evils of her practical system, has given free scope to the feelings of awe, mystery, tenderness, reverence, devotedness and other feelings which may especially be called Catholic” (as quoted by Dulles, 1997).
Moreover, he clarified, amidst varied reactions, that his conversion was “not guided by imagination but by reason” (Dulles, 1997). After his conversion, he took a stand radically different from that he previously held as Tractarian. He accepted that some practices in the Church were taken from paganism, but he said that the church had the power to sanctify these practices. Initially, although he was convinced that the Roman Catholic Church had held on to much of the Christian doctrine abandoned by Protestants, he still held that Rome added practices and doctrines that were not in line with the Gospel (Core, 1995).
The truth about the invocation of the saints and the primary of the pope were issues he would revisit throughout his life. For years, he also developed his thesis of via media, accepting the Anglican Church as “middle way” between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church (Core, 1995). His continuous investigation and study of Church history and the bases of the faith led him to issue Tract Ninety wherein he explained how he viewed the Thirty-Nine articles of religion (containing fundamentals of Anglican theology) and how these could viewed in the Catholic sense.
Greeted by negative reactions, he was censured by authorities causing him to reach an important dilemma – to discern whether the Anglican Church is the true Church or not – for if it wasn’t he knew he could not remain in it (Core, 1995). It was then that he set about to demonstrate how the doctrines of the Catholic Church were developed throughout the centuries. He used his “encyclopedic knowledge of church history” (Core, 1995) to show how the doctrines of the Catholic Church were based from the teachings of the Apostles.
This resulted to the writing of the book-length essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Core (1995) mentions “On the very day he reached the point where he had convinced himself of the truth of the Catholic Church, he ceased writing the book. After months of intense labor, having often worked fourteen hours a day late into the night, he knew finally that he could, and must, cross the threshold”. The story of his conversion shows how the controversies within the Church throughout history have resulted to not only bad consequences but also good ones.
It shows, as well, the resilience of the Church structure The case of Chesterton was also similar in that it was a journey of questioning and eventually finding the truth – although Chesterton’s concerns not the dogmas of the Church but mainly his personal spiritual questions throughout his life. As a child, Chesterton followed the religion of his parents which was Unitarian (Gaspari, 2010) – it denies the divinity of Christ. While his initial conversion might have been prompted by the influence of his wife, he was also motivated to know more about the faith because he recognized in himself the need to know.
Throughout this journey, he maintained, still, a level of diplomacy and friendship that are hard to expect from people when arguing about their belief. In fact he was friends with such personalities such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, with whom he constantly debated and disagreed. He also He rejected determinism and fatalism (Ahlquist, 2003) and found that Catholicism gave primacy to freedom as free will is one of the most sacred truths of catholic theology What is also remarkable about GK Chesterton is how he applied his religious philosophy to practical life.
This is very evident in his writings. He was one of the few journalists who wrote to oppose the Boer war, he also expressed his distrust of concentrated wealth and power and advocated for Distributism. At the same time, he understood that (1) progress should not be a good in itself (Ahlquist, 2003) and (2) science is only good as far as it can go, but we have there are places where it cannot go, like the reality of the soul, spiritual things, and that it is equally important. V. The Re-imagination of the Catholic The conversion of the two has also contributed on the renewal of the image of the Catholics.
Around that time, Catholics were being accused of being too old-fashioned, or behind progress. Much importance was placed upon scientific knowledge, and the Church was seen as against the progressive ideas and movements. Newman resolved the seeming conflict between faith and reason by clarifying the relations between the formal intellect and morals. To him, the “reason by which men guided themselves was “implicit” rather than “explicit”, but is reason nevertheless” (Barry, 1911). God reveal Himself, thus, through the conscience, and the conscience is not without reason but is reasonable aligned with what is true (Barry, 1911).
He also said that the difficulty in bridging the two – faith and reason – encountered by most men of that time dwells on the difficulty of understanding the goods of the faith because these more implicit. All his life, while being part of the Church, he was still in touch with the academe and continued to be a respected scholar. As a Catholic, he became the image of one refined, educated and faithful. This gave people the impression that being intellectual and faithful are not mutually exclusive. People then, began to have more respect for the faith and change their minds about it’s being non-progressive.
When he was appointed cardinal, virtually all of England celebrated the honor, for Catholics this meant they would no longer “be called intellectually inferior or morally depraved, just because they were Catholics” (Barry, 1911). Chesterton would exhibit a similar view about professing and keeping faith = to his contemporaries, his usual statement was that “Christianity is logical although not simple”. In one of his famous statements, he said “it is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all”, he means that keeping faith is a necessary human condition.
In all of his writings, he portrayed Christianity as logical and reasonable – although always adding the fact that it is beyond human reason. The devotion to Catholicism, he held, was an expression of intellectual progress. “Conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive and even adventurous life of the intellect” (Chesterton, 1929). This went again against the prevailing accusations against Christianity of being superstitious and unintellectual.
He further added that “To exalt the Mass is to enter into a magnificent world of metaphysical ideas, illuminating all the relations of matter and mind, of flesh and spirit, of the most impersonal abstractions as well as the most personal affections . . . It is precisely the dogmas that are living, that are inspiring, that are intellectually interesting. ” In saying so, he opposed those claiming the Church to be ritualistic, and affirmed the Catholic belief that the Sacraments are necessary and that these serve as signs of what are beyond the physical – the holy blessings and graces of God.
Chesterton battled against heretics at the forefront. To him “heresy is at best, a half-truth, but usually even less than that. Heresy is a fragment of truth that is exaggerated at the expense of the rest of the truth” (Chesterton, 1905). Still, he clarified that “reason is good, but that does not mean faith is bad” (Chesterton, 1905). Another similarity between the two is how they equate earning to be a Christian as learning how to think. Newman states so through his epitaph, saying “out of the phantasms to the truth” – referring to his eventual conversion to Christianity.
Chesterton, on the other hand said that “to become a Catholic is not leave off thinking but to learn how to think”. Their way of defending the Church had definitely been influenced by the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and the writings of the Church fathers and the theologians. They also realized that the Church’s having existed for so long may be testament to the truth it holds, Chest VI. Their influence until now Many writers say that Cardinal Newman and Chesterton still influence conversions to this day. Gilley (1997) points out that this may be attributed to their literary works.
Of Newman’s, the most notable are “Loss and Gain” a novel with reference to his conversion from Anglicanism, and “Callista”, another novel about conversion from paganism. Gilley (1997) also believes that Newman’s influence is strongest among the Anglicans. “Newman’s impact on Roman Catholic theology has always been enormous but no one feels this quite as strongly as the Anglican convert, whose initial objection to Roman Catholicism has also been that Rome was a papal ad clerical tyranny which allowed no freedom of conscience, nor freedom for theological thought”.
Newman’s conversion assured that “creative thought and conscience are not incompatible with proper Catholic loyalty” (Gilley, 1997). More than this, he showed that unbelief is not necessarily intellectually preeminence over belief. At the same time, Gilley (1997) points out that the Anglicans usually become unhappy with their Church whenever they experience or see a disconnect with the teachings. Perhaps, the Catholic Church’s well-defined hierarchy proved a better authority over beliefs, as everyone is expected to consult the superiors and the documents of the Church when teaching. Chesterton’s conversion, on the other hand, ppealing to those who feel they have sinned or have been wrong in the past. After all, Chesterton saw his conversion as a way “to restore his innocence” (Gilley, 1997). Chesterton’s literary works are equally embraced by people of different ages. He was a prolific funny writer, his works are appealing to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He was able to publish sixty-nine books during his life, while at least ten others were published posthumously. He has often been called a prophet in his own way, having anticipated many of the current issues today such as euthanasia, birth control, intolerance and eugenics.
Among many of his fans he is considered the modern St Thomas of Aquinas (Gaspari, 2010). Their greatest appeal to the people is how they allowed friendship between faith and reason in their lives. Even up to this day, many are still under the impression that those who welcome religion in their lives are those who have not achieved any intellectual progress – those who are uneducated or illogical. They showed how a person can be both in this world – in touch with everyone else – with the society, the academe, their contemporaries – and still live their faith.
Moreover, the similarity between the two lies not only in their shared conversion or literary sense or their intellect, but also in the fact that no matter how different they were at the start, they chose to follow that which they saw and recognized as truth. So that they seem to be two pilgrims coming from two different paths that in the end both led to Rome.