CARDINAL NEWMAN ON LIBERALISM IN RELIGION.
CARDINAL NEWMAN'S remarkable speech in Rome on Monday, in acknowledgment of the Pope's act in con- ferring upon him the Cardinal's hat, is curiously misunderstood into an attack on the principle of toleration, by some of our contemporaries. For some time back a discussion has been going on in the English Press as to the proper word to describe Cardinal Newman's type of Roman Catholicism. Should he be called a Liberal, or a Conservative ? Should he rank as one who wishes to modify the system of the Roman Church in the Liberal sense, or who wishes to fortify it in the Conservative sense? Cardinal Newman answers the question by an address, in which he rehearses and repeats what he has been saying for forty years as to the principle which he, at least, has always termed "Liberalism in Religion." To that principle he is as steadfastly opposed as ever. But what is it pre- cisely that he means by it ? He means by it the teaching that religion is a matter of feeling, rather than of truth ; that it is a sentiment, not a revelation ; that it need not rest on any positive basis of clear conviction ; that it is a vague sensibility, which may be trusted to grope its way into a kind of sym- pathy with very many different forms of creed, without really accepting any ; and that, consequently, all religious opinions should be treated as purely subjective, and so far as possible eliminated from public life and political organisation. It is easy to see why this view of matters should have been named Liberalism in Religion. If accepted, it makes people of course what is called very liberal in their appreciation of all sorts of different creeds. It lavishes a great deal of sympathy everywhere, on condition of giving adhesion no- where ; and indefinitely increases the sphere of spiritual intercourse, while dissipating the unpleasantness of having to avow in any case grave disapprobation and moral recoil. It is now a great many years since Cardinal Newman, then, we believe, Vicar of St. Mary's, Oxford, preached a sermon, on the "Religion of the Day," in which he avowed his firm conviction that "it would be a gain to this country were it vastly more superstitious, more bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion, than at present it shows itself to be. Not, of course, that I think the tempers of mind herein implied desirable, which would be an evident absurdity ; but I think them eminently more desirable and more promis- ing than a heathen obduracy, and a cold, self-sufficient, self- wise tranquillity." Referring to the then uppermost phase of religion of the educated world, "full as it is of security, and cheerfulness, and decorum, and benevolence," "I observe," said Dr. Newman, in the same sermon, "that these appearances may arise either from a great deal of re- ligion, or from the absence of it ; they may be the fruits of shallowness of mind and a blinded conscience, or of that faith which has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And if this alternative be proposed, I leave it to the common-sense of men to decide (if they could get them- selves to think seriously) to which of the two the temper of the age is to be referred." That was an attack on the spirit of "Liberalism in Religion," by the Vicar of St. Mary's, Oxford, certainly sharper in tone than the new one delivered by Cardinal Newman to his Roman Catholic audience in Rome ; and:ron the whole, we should say that the spirit of the new Cardinal's latest and maturest utterance, though identical in substance with convictions held by him long before he became a Roman Catholic, is milder and more hopeful than the spirit of his words on the same subject in his earlier days. He holds now, as then, that in this sense Liberalism in religion, as he calls it, is fatal to all religion, and that it imports (as who can doubt that it really does ?) the speedy and rapid decay of all deep religious conviction. But he holds this belief now— if we may judge from the tone of his speech en Monday—with
more sense of the misfortune of the case, and less of the sin, with more hope for the revival of serious belief under the very reign of secularism itself, and less indignation against the empty self-complacency of Liberalism in religion, than he did. He admits—if we understand him rightly—that the State cannot properly teach any one religion to a people amongst every dozen of whose citizens there are probably seven different forms of religious belief. And he admits, too, that there is much that is, in the truest sense, good, in the vague morality of the day, even as the world of secular thought understands it, much that is better in it perhaps, and more really desirous of knowing the truth, than Dr. Newman in his old Oxford days would have been disposed to admit.
For the defect of Dr. Newman's view of Liberalism in religion,—taken at least, as in any sense a complete view of wide religious sympathies, as compared with very strict principles rigidly limited by defined opinions,—is this, that it does not account for the fact that on all sides of religious be- lief, the opinions which were once most rigid and definite seem to be those which have most rapidly become formal, hollow, and unreal. The old Evangelical system was rigid and definite, if ever a system was rigid and definite. Where is it now ? To what school of thought does the sentimental decay of modem religion which Dr. Newman regrets, owe more of its adherents than to the school once called Evangelical ? Again, where shall we look for less reality of intellectual life at least, than to the modern Ritualists, who found themselves, if ever any religious section of thinkers founded themselves, on most definite and rigid standards of orthodoxy, both theological and devotional ? Again, probably Dr. Newman would himself be inclined to admit that it is the most rigid party in his own Church which has recently most endangered the hold of that Church on the world at large. It is the narrow kind of rigidity in relation to religious opinion which all over the world, among the Roman Catholics, among the Anglicans, among the Wesleyans, among the Independents, among the Scotch Presbyterians, and among the Unitarians, has most seriously endangered the belief of the world, and does most to prejudice Christianity in the eyes of those belonging to the same fold as the theological martinets themselves. Take which Church you will, and you will find that in pro- portion to the definiteness and rigour of the systematic theology enforced by it, has been the reaction against faith,—that only those teachers who have given a large and genial and modest interpretation to the outlines of their creed have kept their hold on the adhesion of their dis- ciples. Cardinal Newman can himself testify to this from a long personal experience, in relation at least to his own
Church ; and the chiefs of the more liberal movements in pro- bably every other Church have had a good deal of the same experience. How, then, shall we account for this apparent paradox, that while "Liberalism in religion," when pushed to the point indicated by Cardinal Newman, is destruc- tive of all faith, the stricter Conservatism seems even more destructive of it ? Our own explanation would be this,—that the denial of all absoluteness in religious truth, and the attempt to make absolute truths of mere refinements of the human intellect, really play into each other's hands ; that Revelation consisted in the presentation of certain great facts and divine objects to the conscience of mankind, real enough and imposing enough to kindle new life and new affec- tions in men, but also far too great and too much beyond us, to admit of those strict, definite, and sharply-marked intellectual outlines which the active intellect of almost all Churches is always endeavouring to draw. Assuredly, no Church has suffered more from the attempt to over-define what is beyond us, than the Church which claims for herself infallibility,—an in- fallibility which the new Cardinal, while cordially accepting it, is, in conjunction with many others of his Church, most solicitous carefully to limit. Assuredly, if "Liberalism in religion" has been the immediate antecedent of the decay in faith, the immediate antecedent of that Liberalism has been a kind of dogmatism for which, in its relation to theology at least, the human mind is quite unfitted, and against which, in our belief at least, Revelation itself is full of warning.