Against the idea of a method that anyone may, in principle, use to attain truth, Newman points to something less easy to define, something learnt by example, something rather like a skill or a developed insight or sensitivity working through sympathy, something whose archetype is not the clever arguing of a debater, but the humble understanding of the saint, whose faith is tested and proven in a life.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983). 141.

Father Louth proceeds to consider Newman’s understanding of the nature of faith, in which faith is understood as both an act of the intellect, and as intimately connected to action. However, for Newman, intellectual excellence includes an aspect of intuitive knowledge and it is this that constitutes genius. Louth comments:

What Newman is doing here is to explore the shallowness of the view that reduces the intellect to mere ratiocination, and to argue that the deepest level of the intellect transcends ratiocination and has an intuitive grasp of what it understands. He is seeking to show that it is what the Greeks called nous that is the deepest level of the intellect. (138)

This deepest level of the intellect is something essentially moral that leads to action.

Moreover, Newman rejects the dichotomy between reason and the will that had become common in the West since Saint Bernard. To say that faith is an intellectual act goes further than simply a concern with reasons, arguments and evidence, for the real reasons why we do things lie deep. Such reasoning is usually implicit and can only rarely be made explicit. Faith is a “presumption, not a proving”. It is less concerned with evidence than with anticipations and presumptions; not a passive reception of knowledge, but a “reaching forward of the mind”. Faith is a skill rather than a method, something that can be compared to a mountaineer’s skill in scaling a cliff, which relies on an inward faculty rather than a set of rules. Such a skill is acquired by practice, the practice of love, humility and trust in God. It finds its archetype in the life of the saint and specifically in the Mother of God who Newman calls “our pattern of Faith”.

She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to submit to Reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing. And thus she symbolizes to us, not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church also… (141 – Newman)

In the next post I will continue with Father Louth’s discussion of Iris Murdoch and Josef Pieper.