Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Transition
By John Henry Newman (1801–1890)
From the ‘Apologia pro Vitâ Suâ: Being a History of My Religious Opinions’

I HAD one final advance of mind to accomplish, and one final step to take. That further advance of mind was to be able honestly to say that I was certain of the conclusions at which I had already arrived. That further step, imperative when such certitude was attained, was my submission to the Catholic Church.  1
  This submission did not take place till two full years after the resignation of my living in September 1843; nor could I have made it at an earlier date, without doubt and apprehension; that is, with any true conviction of mind or certitude.  2
  In the interval, of which it remains to speak,—viz., between the autumns of 1843 and 1845,—I was in lay communion with the Church of England: attending its services as usual, and abstaining altogether from intercourse with Catholics, from their places of worship, and from those religious rites and usages, such as the Invocation of Saints, which are characteristics of their creed. I did all this on principle; for I never could understand how a man could be of two religions at once.  3
  What I have to say about myself between these two autumns I shall almost confine to this one point,—the difficulty I was in as to the best mode of revealing the state of my mind to my friends and others, and how I managed to reveal it.  4
  Up to January 1842 I had not disclosed my state of unsettlement to more than three persons…. To two of them, intimate and familiar companions, in the autumn of 1839; to the third—an old friend too, whom I have also named above—I suppose when I was in great distress of mind upon the affair of the Jerusalem Bishopric. In May 1843 I made it known, as has been seen, to the friend by whose advice I wished, as far as possible, to be guided. To mention it on set purpose to any one, unless indeed I was asking advice, I should have felt to be a crime. If there is anything that was abhorrent to me, it was the scattering doubts, and unsettling consciences without necessity. A strong presentiment that my existing opinions would ultimately give way, and that the grounds of them were unsound, was not a sufficient warrant for disclosing the state of my mind. I had no guarantee yet, that that presentiment would be realized. Supposing I were crossing ice, which came right in my way, which I had good reasons for considering sound, and which I saw numbers before me crossing in safety, and supposing a stranger from the bank, in a voice of authority and in an earnest tone, warned me that it was dangerous, and then was silent,—I think I should be startled, and should look about me anxiously, but I think too that I should go on, till I had better grounds for doubt; and such was my state, I believe, till the end of 1842. Then again, when my dissatisfaction became greater, it was hard at first to determine the point of time when it was too strong to suppress with propriety. Certitude of course is a point, but doubt is a progress: I was not near certitude yet. Certitude is a reflex action; it is to know that one knows. Of that I believe I was not possessed, till close upon my reception into the Catholic Church. Again, a practical, effective doubt is a point too; but who can easily ascertain it for himself? Who can determine when it is that the scales in the balance of opinion begin to turn, and what was a greater probability in behalf of a belief becomes a positive doubt against it?  5
  In considering this question in its bearing upon my conduct in 1843, my own simple answer to my great difficulty had been, Do what your present state of opinion requires in the light of duty, and let that doing tell; speak by acts. This I had done; my first act of the year had been in February. After three months’ deliberation I had published my retractation of the violent charges which I had made against Rome: I could not be wrong in doing so much as this; but I did no more at the time: I did not retract my Anglican teaching. My second act had been in September in the same year: after much sorrowful lingering and hesitation, I had resigned my Living. I tried indeed, before I did so, to keep Littlemore for myself, even though it was still to remain an integral part of St. Mary’s. I had given to it a Church and a sort of Parsonage; I had made it a Parish, and I loved it: I thought in 1843 that perhaps I need not forfeit my existing relations towards it. I could indeed submit to become the curate at will of another; but I hoped an arrangement was possible by which, while I had the curacy, I might have been my own master in serving it. I had hoped an exception might have been made in my favor, under the circumstances; but I did not gain my request. Perhaps I was asking what was impracticable, and it is well for me that it was so.  6
  These had been my two acts of the year, and I said, “I cannot be wrong in making them; let that follow which must follow in the thoughts of the world about me, when they see what I do.” And as time went on, they fully answered my purpose. What I felt it a simple duty to do, did create a general suspicion about me, without such responsibility as would be involved in my initiating any direct act for the sake of creating it. Then, when friends wrote me on the subject, I either did not deny or I confessed my state of mind, according to the character and need of their letters. Sometimes in the case of intimate friends, whom I should otherwise have been leaving in ignorance of what others knew on every side of them, I invited the question.  7
  And here comes in another point for explanation. While I was fighting in Oxford for the Anglican Church, then indeed I was very glad to make converts; and though I never broke away from that rule of my mind (as I may call it) of which I have already spoken, of finding disciples rather than seeking them, yet that I made advances to others in a special way, I have no doubt; this came to an end, however, as soon as I fell into misgivings as to the true ground to be taken in the controversy. For then, when I gave up my place in the Movement, I ceased from any such proceedings; and my utmost endeavor was to tranquillize such persons, especially those who belonged to the new school, as were unsettled in their religious views, and as I judged, hasty in their conclusions. This went on till 1843; but at that date, as soon as I turned my face Romeward, I gave up, as far as ever was possible, the thought of, in any respect and in any shape, acting upon others. Then I myself was simply my own concern. How could I in any sense direct others, who had to be guided in so momentous a matter myself? How could I be considered in a position, even to say a word to them, one way or the other? How could I presume to unsettle them as I was unsettled, when I had no means of bringing them out of such unsettlement? And if they were unsettled already, how could I point to them a place of refuge, when I was not sure that I should choose it for myself? My only line, my only duty, was to keep simply to my own case. I recollected Pascal’s words, “Je mourrai seul” [I will die alone]. I deliberately put out of my thoughts all other works and claims, and said nothing to any one, unless I was obliged.  8
  But this brought upon me a great trouble. In the newspapers there were continual reports about my intentions; I did not answer them: presently strangers or friends wrote, begging to be allowed to answer them; and if I still kept to my resolution and said nothing, then I was thought to be mysterious, and a prejudice was excited against me. But what was far worse, there were a number of tender, eager hearts, of whom I knew nothing at all, who were watching me, wishing to think as I thought, and to do as I did, if they could but find it out; who in consequence were distressed that in so solemn a matter they could not see what was coming, and who heard reports about me this way or that, on a first day and on a second; and felt the weariness of waiting, and the sickness of delayed hope, and did not understand that I was as perplexed as they were, and being of more sensitive complexion of mind than myself, they were made ill by the suspense. And they too, of course, for the time thought me mysterious and inexplicable. I ask their pardon as far as I was really unkind to them….  9
  I left Oxford for good on Monday, February 23d, 1846. On the Saturday and Sunday before, I was in my house at Littlemore simply by myself, as I had been for the first day or two when I had originally taken possession of it. I slept on Sunday night at my dear friend’s, Mr. Johnson’s, at the Observatory. Various friends came to see the last of me: Mr. Copeland, Mr. Church, Mr. Buckle, Mr. Pattison, and Mr. Lewis. Dr. Pusey too came up to take leave of me; and I called on Dr. Ogle, one of my very oldest friends, for he was my private tutor when I was an undergraduate. In him I took leave of my first college, Trinity, which was so dear to me, and which held on its foundation so many who had been kind to me both when I was a boy, and all through my Oxford life. Trinity had never been unkind to me. There used to be much snapdragon growing on the walls opposite my freshman’s rooms there; and I had for years taken it as the emblem of my own perpetual residence, even unto death, in my University.  10
  On the morning of the 23d I left the Observatory. I have never seen Oxford since, excepting its spires as they are seen from the railway.  11
  FROM the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervor: but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.  12
  Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them upon my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that for myself I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion: I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connection between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be many difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power.  13

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.