Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Newman, Gilson & Naturalism

Dear Friends,

As 2016 draws to a close, I have once more been drawn to the wonderful works of Fr. Jaki for inspiration. I  have read practically all of Fr. Jaki's books these past few years and indeed I am overdue another read of many of them. One book had eluded me these past few years and I have only recently rectified the matter - "Newman's Challenge", an essay collection of Father Jaki's writings on Newman.

I have truly left the best wine till last!

A wonderful collection and I felt compelled to break my internet silence and share some snippets of Ch. 12 Evolution with you. The extracts from Newman and Gilson, masterfully researched and surfaced by Fr. Jaki are a timely reminder of the dominance of naturalism in the subconscious worldview of many now and many years ago.


In his reply of March 25, 1884, to [St. George] Mivart, Newman could, of course, easily show Mivart that both before his conversion and after it he saw much good in [the Church of England]. But precisely because he had learned as an Anglican about the foremost good, or the fact that "our Lord has set up a church," he had to join the Catholic Church as the only one that dared to remain a "teaching Church". His next phrase is one of his most fearfully prophetic utterances ever and should greatly help in seeing that no ecumenical syncretism was implied in his utterance, reported at the start of this essay, "to go the whole hog with Darwin".

With an eye on the Church of England, Newman stated that "an experiment is going on; whether a Christian Church can be without a definite, recognized Creed. It is a problem that cannot be worked out within a generation." (1). A little over three generations later the experiment seems now to have reached a fateful dénouement within the Church of England where the principle of religious evolution is held high as the supreme dogma to believe in....

Newman was a fighter who could be at home in the Catholic Church chiefly because, as he put it in the Grammar, its Founder came to launch a spiritual warfare which would go on until the end of time. (2) This aspect of Newman's Catholicism calls for a special treatment both because it is central to his spiritual physiognomy and also because it goes particularly against the grain in these days when an obligatory smile has become the feature of a "face-lifted" Catholicism. Here let is suffice to register Newman's view that the Darwinian ideology was nothing short of an "epidemic" taking a disastrous toll among Christians...

"Doubtless theologians have meddled with science, and now scientific men are paying them off by meddling with theology. With you, I see nothing in the theory of evolution inconsistent with an Almighty Creator and Protector; but these men... conclude that there is no truth in religion. It is dreadful to think of the number of souls that will suffer while the epidemic lasts; but truth is too powerful not in the end to get the upper hand." (3)

One wonders whether Newman expected that the epidemic not only would last for another century but also would gain enormously in strength. Etienne Gilson was a good observer in noting that in almost every case when a Catholic became infected with even such a spiritually coated "evolutionism" as the one in Teihard's poetry in prose, the germs of a spiritual demise began to operate. (4) To all those who today take Newman for a forerunner of Darwin, he would repeat that he asked Mivart long ago not to take his idea of dogmatic development as something even remotely similar to Darwin's evolutionary views.

Extracts from p. 283-285 "Evolution", Chapter 12 Newman's Challenge. 

(1) Letters and Diaries, vol. 30, p. 338
(2) Grammar p. 344. In the Apologia Newman spoke of "that awful never dying duel" (p. 328)
(3) Letters and Diaries, vol. 27 p. 43  
(4) "You cannot get any benefit or any enlightenment from thinking about Teilhard. The ravages he had wrought, that I have witnessed, are horrifying." Letters of Etienne Gilson to Henry de Lubac p.136