Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Cardinal Newman versus Cardinal Manning on Tradition

I think Cardinal Manning’s writings contains some of the most refreshingly honest explanation of the true essence of Roman Catholicism against the contemporary revisionist apologists of the Roman Church.

One can get a sense of the panic and desperation which fall upon the Roman Church upon the close of the 19th century with the rise of science, modernism, and all the other isms anathemised by Pope Pius IX. But most vitally, the Roman Church was systematically being undercut by the new historical studies and criticisms conducted by Protestant Church historians as more and more of the writings of the early church came to light. During the Reformation, Romans like Cardinal Bellarmine confidently asserted that all the distinctive Roman doctrines like purgatory, Marian dogmas, etc, have always existed in the church and was the universal consensus of the Church right from the very beginning.

However the rise of historical studies and new knowledge of the actual patristic sources has laid waste to such confident claims, revealing a plurality of opinions and teachings even amongst the most venerated of Fathers and theologians. Desperate before the triumphant herald of the Protestants, who have always insisted that it is the Roman Church who had strayed from tradition in dogmatising mere opinions which have no basis in Scripture nor universality in history, the two Cardinals, Newman and Manning, immediately set out to armed the Roman Church to the teeth with any weapon they could lay their hands on.

Cardinal Newman’s weapon of choice was his romantic “Theory of the Development of Doctrine”, whereby he retrospectively reads back into the past the present Roman teachings and practices, admitting the Protestant contention that these doctrines were never there from the beginning, nevertheless he invented an implicit “seed-form” of distinctive Roman doctrine which “grew” into an explicit doctrine over time. The problem of course which such retroactive reconstructions is that with sufficient creativity, *any* present doctrine and practices can be retroactively read back into the past, and far from protecting the integrity of the Church, his theory smashed open a hole in the citadel permitting the howling winds of the Zeitgeist entry to justify *any* novel doctrine and practices as long as one can provide a clever retroactive reading of Church history leading to this new development.

Cardinal Manning’s strategy was the complete opposite. While Newman (over!)confidently asserted that, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”, Cardinal Manning believed to be too deep into history was to cease being a Roman Catholic and instead anathemise the entire enterprise of history and antiquity altogether by thundering, “…the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy”! It is instructive to note that this condemnation was given in response to “the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity.” Rather than employ Newman’s (dishonest?) attempt to force Roman doctrines backwards into the past and deny that their doctrines were not primitive, Manning simply shove the whole thing aside by declaring the complete irrelevance of history and antiquity to the Roman faith.

Personally I would of course think that Manning was the more honest cardinal of the two to refuse to attempt a sly tinkering of historical facts in aid of providing an illusion of justification for the Roman Church. With what one might call an almost Nietzchean wilfulness, Manning declared that the Roman Faith preceded history, fact and antiquity and they form no part of the Roman theological method or proof. Instead, Manning outrightly asserted that the Church simply teaches by a “perpetual living voice”, not by appeals to history, antiquity or tradition.

The logical consequences of this assertion can be seen in Cardinal Manning’s answer to “how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed”, his reply: “The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.” By this thunderbolt, the Roman Church severs its connection from antiquity and tradition permanently. The moment by moment proclamation of the “living Church of this hour” constitutes the total evidence of revelation. Neither history, antiquity and one might also add, even the Scriptures, can contradict this living voice at this hour which pronounces its judgement by a sheer divine right to the exclusion of everything else which would pretend to rise up against it.

So while Newman attempts to wallpaper over the difficulties of history with his retrospective reconstructed history, Manning refuses such tricks and outrightly denies the validity of history and antiquity altogether, placing the entire weight of the Roman faith upon the living voice of the Church which alone constitutes the maximal evidence of every Christian truth. The problem of course with this solution is that the Roman Church effectively now floats upon the an airy carpe diem postmodern cloud. Like Newman’s theory, Manning effectively throws the Roman Church into the jaws of the Zeitgeist whereby the Church’s traditions, Scripture and past have absolutely no effect upon her, only her present voice matters, what is the prevent the Zeitgiest from using the Church as a loud hailer for her own opinions?

Perhaps the most instructive lesson we can learn from the completely contradictory opinions of the Cardinals is simply that there is simply no substitute for immediacy. The Protestants of course have always argued that the Scriptures are sufficient for faith and practice, and that long before the Nicene Creed was drafted three centuries after Christ ascended into heaven, the Church was already worshipping the Triune God by adhering to the Scriptural words, and the formulas of Nicea, although helpful as a theological clarification, was not in the least necessary for faith and worship. The attempts to point away from the immediacy of the Scriptures to complex mediatories like Tradition or antiquity will collapse in the face of the facts and the messiness of history, which resists such grand revisionist narratives. This fact is tacitly even admitted by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who in his Introduction to Christianity, spoke disapprovingly of the Protestant emphasis upon the historical while exalting Catholicism’s emphasis upon the metaphysical. Eventually, one might say that perhaps Cardinal Manning never quite abandoned his Anglican-Protestant past when he did away with the mediation of antiquity and history in favour of another immediate source of authority and revelation: The Living Voice of the Church.

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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