Knowledge Better Than Confusion

The need for sound knowledge of the faith, and how Blessed Newman is a good guide

When we are faced with with disappointments and setbacks, questions with no answers, pain that seems to have no meaning, with the truly inexplicable … what then?

The search for answers to the unanswerable, for meaning in our lives, for reasons to get up in the morning is often what drives us to a moment of conversion. In that moment of conversion, when “we are cut to the heart”, if all goes well we will ask that most profound question … “what must I do to be saved?”

Like the early converts who asked St. Peter, we need answers that are actually true. Not just for our own salvation, but for all whom ask us their own big questions. And not just once, but “early and often” … as we deepen in our conversions, as each of us grows in the interior life, stumbling yet bouncing back, making progress, we need reliable guides, guides steeped in truth. While we work out our salvation in “fear and trembling”, it is essential that we can become confident, confident that we are working with answers that are actually true.

Truth? What is Truth?

In the answers to these profound questions – the most profound questions! – Blessed Cardinal Newman came to understand very deeply that this truth is found in the Faith, most fully understood, conserved, developed, protected, and proclaimed in the Catholic Church. He relentlessly searched for answers, and at great cost to himself followed the Church Fathers to the source, to the Church herself. The Catholic Church was the church of the Fathers.

Not just the Church that we see in our lives today, but the Church as she truly is, “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible (mighty) as an army with banners” This is how CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters describes the reality of the Church as it appears to those who oppose her.

In this search Cardinal Newman dove deeply into history, into the Early Church Fathers, into the controversies, the councils, the scandals and allegations, the lives of sinners and saints, into the whole breadth and depth of the Church in time and space.

In his “deep dive” he not only was persuaded himself, but inspired by his own discoveries Newman coined one of the most provocative and ultimately true claims about the search for truth – “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant” (from An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

Examples of the truth of this claim abound. Countless stories on The Journey Home (EWTN) have some form of “then I discovered the Early Church Fathers” … after which you just know that the guest is on their way, with Blessed Cardinal Newman, into visible union with the Church. Go to just about any gathering place of recent converts (such as Called to Communion, a community of Catholics who originally were shaped via Reformed theologies), and the conversion stories often have the same aspect, despite the many and varied journeys themselves.

Over the past few years a friend made just such a journey himself. Starting out as an ardent Christian but far removed from the Church, issue after issue fell to those revealing, sometimes difficult encounters with the truth of the Faith, with the historic Church. Coming up on the first year of his entry into full communion, he began looking at his library to see whether there were any volumes that would be best to remove, that might no longer be “reliable guides to the truth”. Almost immediately he came across a long trusted volume of “Bible Answers”, whose mistaken answer to a question about the brothers of Jesus replicated, almost exactly, an argument put forth in the early fourth century by Helvidius … an argument he now recognized as having been thoroughly refuted by St. Jerome around 383 AD!

So that sadly erroneous book went into recycling, and another case was made for the need for all of us to be “deep in history”, to know our faith, to walk with Blessed Newman in discovering the truth.

Here we see a good example of how to be “deep in history” … in this profound phrase and in all of his abundant writings we have much to learn from Blessed Newman. Yet perhaps his most eloquent teaching was the example of his very life, a relentless search for and embrace of the Faith, of Truth.

May we do the same!

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