Prior to the canonization of St. John Henry Newman I ordered Saint John Henry Newman His Life and Works from the Catholic Truth Society.
It’s a slim volume that has a short biography of the new saint and short samples of his writing on various subjects. I’m finding it a helpful introduction that has whet my appetite for more.
This quote from Chapter 5 “The Way to Faith” has stayed with me.
True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little really rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air. When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands . . . they substitute for it a feeling, notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason, which they may hand over, and dote upon. They rather aim at experience (as they are called) within them, than at him that is without them.
Loving faith leads to Christ. It may be “blind and without feeling” Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification 336
Contrast the above quote with this one, a more familiar quote of St. John Henry Newman, that is also in the book:
Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself, but it is a messenger from him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ.
The supremacy of conscience
True faith as something as clear as air or water through which one sees Christ; but then he speaks of conscience as a messenger from Christ who “speaks to us behind a veil.”
As I have pondered these sayings, I recall the classic work of English Catholic mysticism, The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous 15th Century monk. I encountered this work when I was in college, during a time in my life when I held organized religion, particularly Christianity, in derision. But this profound little volume spoke to me despite my prejudices and contempt even then and its insights have stayed with me and deepend with experience over the decades.
So, Newman has led me to revisit The Cloud of Unknowing, which is available online with an introduction by Evelyn Underhill. Here’s the introduction to Chapter Six
BUT now thou askest me and sayest, “How shall I think on Himself, and what is He?” and to this I cannot answer thee but thus: “I wot not.”
For thou hast brought me with thy question into that same darkness, and into that same cloud of unknowing, that I would thou wert in thyself. For of all other creatures and their works, yea, and of the works of God’s self, may a man through grace have fullhead of knowing, and well he can think of them: but of God Himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why; He may well be loved, but not thought. By love may He be gotten and holden; but by thought never. And therefore, although it be good sometime to think of the kindness and the worthiness of God in special, and although it be a light and a part of contemplation: nevertheless yet in this work it shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt step above it stalwartly, but Mistily, with a devout and a pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above thee. And smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love; and go not thence for thing that befalleth.