on the right to discuss “religious subjects”

For is not this the error, the common and fatal error, of the world, to think itself a judge of Religious Truth without preparation of heart? “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” “He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” “The pure in heart shall see God:” “to the meek mysteries are revealed; ” “he that is spiritual judgeth all things.” “The darkness comprehendeth it not.” Gross eyes see not; heavy ears hear not. But in the schools of the world the ways towards Truth are considered high roads open to all men, however disposed, at all times. Truth is to be approached without homage. Every one is considered on a level with his neighbour; or rather the powers of the intellect, acuteness, sagacity, subtlety, and depth, are thought the guides into Truth. Men consider that they have as full a right to discuss religious subjects, as if they were themselves religious. They will enter upon the most sacred points of Faith at the moment, at their pleasure,—if it so happen, in {199} a careless frame of mind, in their hours of recreation, over the wine cup. Is it wonderful that they so frequently end in becoming indifferentists, and conclude that Religious Truth is but a name, that all men are right and all wrong, from witnessing externally the multitude of sects and parties, and from the clear consciousness they possess within, that their own inquiries end in darkness?

John Henry Cardinal Newman, Sermon 10 (Epiphany 1839) “Faith and Reason, Contrasted as Habits of Mind”

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A note to my readers: I like this quotation a lot.  The sources that called it to my attention yesterday seem to be using it polemically in the context of some internal Orthodox squabbles.  I’m not Orthodox and I don’t have a dog in that fight, but I still really like this sentiment.

 

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2 responses to “on the right to discuss “religious subjects”

  1. Sometimes jewels of wisdom come from those (like children) who have a fresh perspective about an issue and haven’t been trained in the conventional approaches. To stifle all commentary except for those of the academic elite is sometimes to miss out on fresh thinking. Though there is danger in a little learning, there is even more in elitism, i.e. “Let the clergy tell you what to do.”

    That said, I do hate it when those who know little try to talk as if they already knew it all. If we are going to speak (and yes, I’m often in the “know little” category), we must do so humbly and without dogmatism.

  2. Yes, I think you’re right.

    And I think Newman would agree with you. It is precisely your point that he is making, i.e. you can’t just approach discussions of doctrine or any matter of the faith from a solely intellectual or academic perspective (“or rather the powers of the intellect, acuteness, sagacity, subtlety, and depth, are thought the guides into Truth”). You can approach such discussions only if your heart, your frame of mind, is prepared to do so (note the Scriptures that Newman cites: “The pure in heart shall see God:” “to the meek mysteries are revealed; ” “he that is spiritual judgeth all things.” “The darkness comprehendeth it not.”)

    Hope you are having a good holiday.

    Chris

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