2009 - Vol. 28
Saints and Saintliness
John Henry Newman
Henry Newman, 1801-1890, was an influential writer and major figure from
the Church of England in the Oxford Movement. In 1845 he became a Catholic
priest and was made a Cardinal late in life in 1879.
An ordinary man thinks it enough to
do as he is done by; he will think it fair to resent insults, to repay
injuries, to show a becoming pride, to insist on his rights, to be jealous
of his honor, when in the wrong refuse to confess it, to seek to be rich,
to desire to be well with the world, to fear what his neighbors will say.
He seldom thinks of the Day of Judgment, seldom thinks of sins past, says
few prayers, cares little for the church, has no zeal for God's truth,
spends his money on himself.
Such is an ordinary Christian, and
such is not one of God's elect. For the latter is more than just,
temperate and kind; he has a devoted love of God, high faith, holy hope,
over-flowing charity, a noble self-command, a strict conscientiousness,
humility never absent, gentleness in speech, simplicity, modesty, and unaffectedness,
an unconsciousness of what his endowments are, and what they make of him
in God's sight. This is what Christianity has done in the world; such is
the result of Christian teaching; viz., to elicit, foster, mature the seeds
of heaven which lie hid in the earth, to multiply (if it may be said) images
of Christ, which, though they be few, are worth all else that is among
men, and are an ample recompense and "a crown of rejoicing" for apostles
and evangelists "in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming".
All the saints, from the beginning
of history to the end, resemble each other in this, that their excellence
is supernatural, their deeds heroic, their merits extraordinary and prevailing.
They all are choice patterns of the theological virtues; they all are blessed
with a rare and special union with their Maker and Lord... But, with all
these various tokens of their belonging to one and the same celestial family,
they may still be divided, in their external aspect, into two classes.
There are those, on the one hand,
who are so absorbed in the divine life, that they seem, even while they
are in the flesh, to have no part in earth or in human nature; but to think,
speak, and act under views, affections, and motives simply supernatural.
If they love others, it is simply because they love God, and because man
is the object either of his compassion, or of his praise. If they rejoice,
it is in what is unseen; if they feel interest, it is in what is unearthly;
if they speak, it is almost with the voice of angels; if they eat or drink,
it is almost of angel's food alone...
On the other hand, there are those,
and of the highest order of sanctity too, as far as our eyes can see, in
whom the supernatural combines with nature, instead of superseding it,
invigorating it, elevating it, ennobling it; and who are not the
less men, because they are saints. They do not put away their natural endowments,
but use them to the glory of the Giver; they do not act beside them, but
through them; they do to eclipse them by the brightness of divine grace,
but only transfigure them. They are versed in human knowledge; they are
busy in human society; they understand the human heart; they can throw
themselves into the minds of other men; and all this in consequence of
natural gifts and secular education. While they themselves stand secure
in the blessedness of purity and peace, they can follow in imagination
the ten thousand aberrations of pride, passion, and remorse. The world
is to them a book, to which they are drawn for its own sake, which they
read fluently, which interests them naturally, though, by the reason
of the grace which dwells within them, they study it and hold converse
with it for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Thus they have
the thoughts, feelings, frames of mind, attractions, sympathies, antipathies
of other men, so far as these are not sinful, only they have these properties
of human nature purified, sanctified, and exalted; and they are only made
more eloquent, more poetical, more profound, more intellectual, by reason
of their being more holy.
A child of wrath
regenerated by Gods grace
A saint is born like another man;
by nature a child of wrath, and needing God's grace to regenerate him.
He is baptized like another, he lies helpless and senseless like another,
and like another child he comes to years of reason. But soon his
parents and their neighbors begin to say, "This is a strange child, he
is unlike any other child;" his brothers and playmates feel an awe of him,
they do not know why; they both like him and dislike him, perhaps love
him much in spite of his strangeness, perhaps respect him more than they
love him. But if there were any holy priest there, or others who had long
served God in prayer and obedience, these would say, "This truly is a wonderful
child; this child bids fair to be a saint." And so he grows up, whether
at first he is duly prized by his parents or not; for so it is with all
greatness, that, because it is great, it cannot be comprehended by ordinary
minds at once; but time, and distance, and contemplation are necessary
for its being recognized by beholders, and, therefore, this special heir
of glory of whom I am speaking, for a time at least excites no very definite
observation, unless indeed (as sometimes happens) any thing of miracle
occurs from time to time to mark him out. He has come to the age of reason,
and, wonderful to say, he has never fallen away into sin.
Other children begin to use the gift
of reason by abusing it; they understand what is right, only to go counter
to it; it is otherwise with him, not that he may not sin in many
things, when we place him in the awful ray of divine Sanctity, but that
he does not sin willfully and grievously, he is preserved from mortal
sin, he is never separated from God by sin, nay, perhaps, he is betrayed
only at intervals, or never at all, into any deliberate sin, be it ever
so slight, and he is ever avoiding the occasions of sin and resisting temptation.
He ever lives in the presence of God, and is thereby preserved from evil,
for "the wicked one toucheth him not."
Nor, again, as if in other and ordinary
matters he necessarily differed from other boys; he may be ignorant, thoughtless,
improvident of the future, rash, impetuous; he is a child, and has the
infirmities, failings, fears, and hopes of a child. He may be moved to
anger, he may say a harsh word, he may offend his parents, he may be volatile
and capricious, he may have no fixed view of things, such as a man has.
This is not much to allow; such things are accidents, and are compatible
with the presence of a determinate influence of grace, uniting his heart
Reading the lives
and writings of saints
I confess to a delight in reading
the lives, and dwelling on the characters and actions, of the saints
of the first ages, such as I receive from none besides them; and for this
reason, because we know so much more about them than about most of the
saints who come after them. People are variously constituted; what influences
one does not influence another. There are persons of warm imaginations,
who can easily picture to themselves what they never saw. They can at will
see angels and saints hovering over them when they are in church; they
see their lineaments, their features, their motions, their gestures, their
smile or their grief. They can go home and draw what they have seen, from
the vivid memory of what, while it lasted, was so transporting. I am not
one of such; I am touched by my five senses, by what my eyes behold and
my ears hear. I am touched by what I read about, not by what I myself create.
As faith need not lead to practice, so in me mere imagination does not
lead to devotion. I gain more from the life of our Lord in the Gospels
than from a treatise de Deo. I gain more from three verses of St.
John than from the three points of a meditation.
...I want to hear a saint converse;
I am not content to look at him as a statue; his words are the index of
his hidden life, as far as that life can be known to man, for "out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." This is why I exult in the
folios of the Fathers. I am not obliged to read the whole of them, I read
what I can and am content...
A saint's writings are to me his
real "Life"; and what is called his "Life" is not the outline of an individual,
but either of the auto-saint or of a myth. Perhaps I shall be asked what
I mean by "Life." I mean a narrative which impresses the reader with
the idea of moral unity, identity, growth, continuity, personality. When
a saint converses with me, I am conscious of the presence of one active
principle of thought, one individual character, flowing on and into the
various matters which he discusses, and the different transactions in which
he mixes. It is what no memorials can reach, however skillfully elaborated,
however free from effort or study, however conscientiously faithful, however
guaranteed by the veracity of the writers.
[Excerpted from A Newman
Treasury, selected and edited by Charles Frederick Harrold, (c) 1943
by Longman, Green and Co., Inc., Arlington House Publisher, New Rochesse,