Newman’s understanding of the relationship between faith and reason

Newman finds fault with a certain tendency among the faithful, whereby they are complacent with what is given in scriptures. As a result, they no longer inquire and seek to acquire new knowledge. In other words, they are “not persuaded thereby to see and hear more, are not moved to act upon their knowledge. Seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not; they are contented to remain as they are”. (p.1) Newman argues that faith does not preclude rationality. Yet, he equally condemns those who lack faith at the cost of embracing rationality. These people, lacking in the faculty of religious belief, can only acquire incomplete knowledge.

According to Newman faith is about assenting to a doctrine as veritable, even when faced with lack of sensory evidence to back up its claims. Since God cannot lie, what is revealed will have to be true. At the centre of Divine faith is the total lack of doubt in the heart and mind of the believer. This is so because “God is true, because God has spoken, not because he sees its truth or can prove its truth.” (p.2)

What Newman deems necessary is conviction in belief. It simply would not do to claim to believe and also think rationally at the same time. If one part of the scriptures were believed it, the entirety is to be believed in. In the example of the Apostles, the fact of one being true, made the others true too, as they all derived from the infallible authority of god. The world had “either to become Christian, or to let it alone; there was no room for private tastes and fancies, no room for private Judgment.” (p.3) Hence, Newman makes his stance clear on the dichotomies of faith and reason.

The crucial difference between the time of the Apostles and now is that there is only recorded message presently. People back then would have found it more credible to hear the divine word from the Apostles firsthand. There is a key difference “between the act of submitting to a living oracle, and to his written words; in the former case there is no appeal from the speaker, in the latter the final decision remains with the reader.” (p.4) Hence in contemporary Christianity, which is centered on written scripture, a degree of application of rationality is warranted. Such being the case, Newman qualifies by stating that they have not in them the principle of faith. It is nothing to the purpose “to urge that at least they firmly believe Scripture to be the Word of God. In truth, it is much to be feared that their acceptance of Scripture itself is nothing better than a prejudice or inveterate feeling impressed on them when they were children.” (p.6)

Works Cited:

Lumen Fidei, Encyclical Letter To the Bishops Priests and Deacons Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on Faith, Published by FrancisEncyclicals.

John Henry Newman, Discourse 10, Faith and Private Judgment, Newman Reader, Published by The National Institute for Newman Studies, 2007.