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6 quotes: John Henry Newman on Church, state, and economics

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John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint on Sunday. The former leader of the Anglican Church’s Oxford Movement – who became a cardinal in 1879, 34 years after his conversion – became one of the most influential Christian writers of his day. Prince Charles attended the canonization at the Vatican, saying, “Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society.” Here are six quotations from the newly canonized Newman:

1. On Church, State, and freedom of conscience:

To pray for the triumph of religion was, in time past, to pray for the success in political and civil matters of certain sovereigns, governments, parties, nations. … But those times are gone. Catholics do not now depend for the success of their religion on the patronage of sovereigns—at least, in England—and it would not help them much if they gained it. … I think the best favour which sovereigns, parliaments, municipalities, and other political powers can do us is to let us alone.

(“On the Affairs of Ireland,” 1880.)

2. Economics is a blessing, but not an end in itself:

Political Economy is the science, I suppose, of wealth,—a science simply lawful and useful, for it is no sin to make money, any more than it is a sin to seek honour; a science at the same time dangerous and leading to occasions of sin, as is the pursuit of honour too; and in consequence, if studied by itself, and apart from the control of Revealed Truth, sure to conduct a speculator to unchristian conclusions.

(“The Idea of a University,” 1852.)

3. On the difference between government and private action, or spontaneous order:

I hope I have now made it clear, that, in saying that a free State will not be strong, I am far indeed from saying that a People with what is called a free Constitution will not be active, powerful, influential, and successful. I am only saying that it will do its great deeds, not through the medium of its government, or politically, but through the medium of its individual members, or nationally. Self-government, which is another name for political weakness, may really be the means or the token of national greatness. … Law, like medicine, is only called for to assist nature; and, when nature has done so much for a people, the wisest policy is, as far as possible, to leave them to themselves. …

[E]very one seems to find his place, as if by magic, and does his work, and subserves the rest with coolness, cheerfulness, gentleness, and without a master. … His country and his government have the gain, but it is he who is the instrument of it, and not political organization, centralization, systematic plans, authoritative acts. The polity of England is what it was before, — the Government weak, the Nation strong, — strong in the strength of its multitudinous enterprise, which gives to its Government a position in the world, which that Government could not claim for itself by any prowess done of its own.   (Emphases in original.)

(Published in “Who’s to Blame?”)

4. On government monopolies and free trade:

The gigantic system of railroads rises and asks for its legal status: prudent statesmen decide that it must be left to private companies, to the exclusion of Government. Trade is to be encouraged: the best encouragement is, that it should be free. A famine threatens; one thing must be avoided,—any meddling on the part of Government with the export and import of provisions.

(Published in “Who’s to Blame?”)

5. How the devil gains control of a person, or a society:

Do you think he is so unskilful in his craft, as to ask you openly and plainly to join him in his warfare against the Truth? No; he offers you baits to tempt you. He promises you civil liberty; he promises you equality; he promises you trade and wealth; he promises you a remission of taxes; he promises you reform. This is the way in which he conceals from you the kind of work to which he is putting you; he tempts you to rail against your rulers and superiors; he does so himself, and induces you to imitate him; or he promises you illumination, he offers you knowledge, science, philosophy, enlargement of mind. He scoffs at times gone by; he scoffs at every institution which reveres them. He prompts you what to say, and then listens to you, and praises you, and encourages you. He bids you mount aloft. He shows you how to become as gods. Then he laughs and jokes with you, and gets intimate with you; he takes your hand, and gets his fingers between yours, and grasps them, and then you are his.

(“Tract 83, Sermon 1,” delivered at Oxford on June 29, 1838.)

6. On the Christian duty to act: “Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it.” (“Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England,” 1851.)

Bonus:

Christian! hence learn to do thy part,
And leave the rest to Heaven.

(“St. Paul at Melita,” February 8, 1833.)

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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