Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Whately and Newman on Private Judgement

The animus directed towards Catholics in the 19th. century particularly in Ireland was systemic being reflected in both social and legal attitudes. Reacting to that gave great scope to Irish wits and incendiary patriots. Trollope’s chilly sneers which are unnoticed by the majority of modern readers represent the politer end of the cultural bias. Why for instance did Paul Cardinal Cullen fight against the non-denominational educational system proposed by Archbishop Richard Whately? Might it have to do with the fact that Cullen’s father was only able to buy land after the relaxation of the Penal Laws. He sent his son to Rome to be trained for the priesthood because Maynooth which was just up the road required that the students swear an oath of allegiance to the crown. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells me that during his 30 years in Rome the future first Irish Cardinal struggled against the machinations of British agents. Take it as a given: the Empire is interested in everything.

I have admitted I am a prize ignoramus on History amongst other things. However reading in my quiet corner the various publications of Whately and Newman I am inclined to think that reaction clouds the judgement and suspicion destroys the possibility of the recognition of an ally on the other side. The mention of the term ‘judgement’ brings me neatly around to the topic of ‘private judgement’ a supposedly Protestant bulwark against Romanism foundering in blind faith. I speculate whether the move to declare Papal infallibility might not be the throwing the house keys on the table in that game. I notice also that Cullen had a hand in drafting the declaration on Infallibility and that Newman was lukewarm prior to its passing but naturally accepted it as an element of collective wisdom later.

The chief source of my understanding (for this note) of Whately’s attitude to private judgement in his annotation to the Essay Of Unity in Religion by Francis Bacon. His view seems to this reader the more magnanimous and conciliatory when contrasted with that of Newman. He was of course a master of Rhetoric. Cullen his bete noir used a more Hiberno-Roman way. The latter deployed the methods of the strategist MacKevilly perhaps better known under the Latinised form of his name. Establish a committee but make sure you appoint every last one on it. That’s the Irish way.

Whately writing on Private Judgement:

What the Romanist means by renouncing' private judgment' and adhering to the decisions of the Church is, substantially, what many Protestants express by saying, We make truth the first and paramount object, and the others, unity. The two expressions, when rightly understood, denote the same; but they each require some explanation to prevent their being understood incorrectly, and even unfairly.

A Roman Catholic does exercise private judgment, once for all, if (not through carelessness, but on earnest and solemn deliberation) he resolves to place himself completely under the
guidance of that Church (as represented by his priest) which he judges to have been divinely appointed for that purpose. And in so doing he considers himself, not as manifesting indifference about truth, but as taking the way by which he will attain either complete and universal religious truth, or at least a greater amount of it than could have been attained otherwise. To speak of such a person as indifferent about truth, would be not only uncharitable, but also as unreasonable as to suppose a man indifferent about his health, or about his property, because, distrusting his own judgment on points of medicine or of law,
he places himself under the direction of those whom he has judged to be the most trustworthy physician and lawyer.

On the other hand, a Protestant, in advocating private judgment, does not, as some have represented, necessarily maintain that every man should set himself to study and interpret for himself the Scriptures (which, we should recollect, are written in the Hebrew and Greek languages), without seeking or accepting aid from any instructors, whether under the title of translators (for a translator, who claims no inspiration, is, manifestly, a human instructor of the people as to the sense of Scripture), or whether called commentators, preachers, or by whatever other name. Indeed, considering the multitude of tracts, commentaries, expositions, and discourses of various forms, that have been put forth and assiduously circulated by Protestants of all denominations, for the avowed purpose (be it well or ill executed) of giving religious instruction, it is really strange that such an interpretation as I have alluded to should ever have been put on the phrase ' private judgment.' For, to advert to a parallel case of daily occurrence, all would recommend a student of mathematics, for instance, or of any branch. of natural philosophy, to seek the aid of a well-qualified professor or tutor. And yet he would be thought to have studied :n vain, if he should ever think of taking on trust any mathematical or physical truth on the word of his instructors. It is, on the contrary, their part to teach him how —by demonstration or by experiment—to verify each point for himself.

On the other hand, the adherents of a Church claiming to be infallible on all essential points, and who, consequently, profess to renounce private judgment, these (besides that, as has been just said, they cannot but judge for themselves as to one point—that very claim itself) have also room for the exercise of judgment, and often do exercise it, on questions as to what points are essential, and for which, consequently, infallible rectitude is insured.

(Bacon's Essays)
((This edition is very readable on my very cheap 10inch tablet. For the reader of Bacon completely uninterested in the Annotations of Whately the footnotes to the mother text clarifying usages, Latin idiom and the translation of tags is an excellent resource.))

Newman’s works pullulate with references to ‘private judgement’. cf: Characteristics
My source in this note for Newman’s view is taken from
British Critic

Whately’s ‘Annotation’ is based on a ‘Charge’ (Exhortation/Sermon) to Clergy which was later than the work of Newman and has the advantage of matured reflection on the part of the older man. The audience is of course different. At the time of Newman’s Essay The British Critic was a Tractarian publication cf:British Critic/Wikipedia Article
so the tone is one of scorn with a soupcon of persiflage.

 If a staunch Protestant's daughter turns Roman, and betakes herself to a convent, why does he not exult in the occurrence? Why does he not give a public breakfast, or hold a meeting, or erect a memorial, or write a pamphlet in honour of her, and of the great undying principle she has so gloriously vindicated? Why is he in this base, disloyal style muttering about priests, and Jesuits, and the horrors of nunneries, in solution of the phenomenon, when he has the fair and ample form of Private Judgment rising before his eyes, and pleading with him, and bidding him impute good motives, not bad, and in very charity ascribe to the influence of a high and holy principle, to a right and a duty of every member of the family of man, what his poor human instincts are fain to set down as a folly or a sin.

Probably Whately reading this could doubt the bona fides of Newman and sniff dissimulation. For myself I think Newman was on the bank and wanted to get into the boat. Instead of hopping briskly in he leaned against the boat fearful of losing his footing on the bank. He was now fully stretched out and in danger of a dunking.
 He has cast around the institutions and powers existing in the world marks of truth or falsehood, or, more properly, elements of attraction and repulsion, and notices for pursuit and avoidance, sufficient to determine the course of those who in the conduct of life desire to approve themselves to Him. Now, whether or no what we see in the Church of Rome be sufficient to warrant a religious person to leave her (a question, we repeat, about which we have no need here to concern ourselves), we certainly think it sufficient to deter him from joining her; and, whatever be the perplexity and distress of his position in a communion so isolated as the English, we do not think he would mend the matter by placing himself in a communion so superstitious as the Roman; especially considering, agreeably to a remark we have already made, that even if he be schismatical at present, he is so by the act of Providence, whereas he would be entering into superstition by his own. Thus an Anglo-Catholic is kept at a distance from Rome, if not by our own excellences, at least by her errors.

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