PHILOMYTHUS; An Antidote Against Credulity; A Discussion of Cardinal Newman's Essay on Ecclesiastical Miraclesby Edwin A. Abbott
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A glance at the title-page prepares one for the sharpest kind of antagonism. Few points of agreement on this subject can be expected to exist between a Roman Catholic Cardinal who supports the necessity of Scripture miracles and the credibility of ecclesiastical miracles, and an English Broad-Churchman who repudiates ecclesiastical miracles as an insult to reason and an offense to faith, and regards belief in the miraculous in the Scriptures to be unessential to modern Christian faith.
It is keen, close, analytic, destructive criticism throughout.
Cardinal Newman's historical and logical methods have often found critics, but one will probably nowhere find a more uncompromising arraignment than this.
Nonetheless, this is a clever book on an important subject, the work of a man evidently sincere in his convictions. The continuance or cessation of miracles in the Church is a question of practical interest, which cannot be settled off-hand by Romanist, Protestant, or Skeptic.
If the first-named assumes that miracles still exist, one has to overcome the difficulty of accounting for the doubtful evidence by which most ecclesiastical miracles are supported, and for the frivolity by which many are characterized. If the Protestant denies all miracles since the age of the Apostles, he has to admit that many Biblical stories of supernatural events rest on evidence as assailable as the legends; while the skeptical thinker has the difficult task of proving a negative in demonstrating that there has been no instance of the exercise of supernatural power.
Edwin Abbott should have expressed himself differently, and given his work a less objectionable title, but must be commended both his courage and straightforwardness in exposing as a dangerous error the opinion that credulity is a virtue.
Cardinal Newman was a great man, perhaps a great saint; but he may have been a most dangerous guide and was not a man of compromises. He could not comprehend the practical bent of English theology. To him, the Bible is infallibly true. And it is on precisely this ground that opponents of Christianity desire to take their stand.
Newman saw this, and resolved to believe all or nothing. Herein lies part of the secret of his marvelous influence. He had looked skepticism full in the face and knew what it meant. The road to heaven seemed to him like the bridge no broader than a razor's edge with the abyss of doubt beneath. Newman knew the agony of doubt and the peace of believing, and many who have felt the difficulties of religion recognize in the Cardinal one who had surmounted them.
Abbott deserves gratitude for demonstrating that the fascination of Newman's career ought not to render us blind to the falsity of his system. The logical powers of a mind on which such praise is lavished by his admirers has been exercised in the medieval fashion of attaching importance to syllogisms rather than facts. The honesty of Newman is seen in the candor with which he lays bare the workings of his mind; his very inconsistencies reveal the purity of his heart. But Edwin Abbott perceived the infinite pathos of Newman's struggle for light and guidance ending in the delusive peace of self-deception, he recognizes the danger of others falling into a similar error.
Abbott had a manly love of truth, and his faith is of the courageous type which enables him to look facts unflinchingly in the face. There are passages in "Philomythus" which kindle our enthusiasm, and the whole chapter on Legal Proofs is admirable, especially the concluding paragraph.
If there are any faults of Edwin Abbott's work, they lie on the surface, and we must deal with them solely because they will deter many from recognizing the value of his conclusions. An author who sneers at Cardinal Newman as a "Proteus" and patronizes "poor Kingsley" as "fiery straightforward but slightly clumsy," exposes himself to misunderstanding, even when his method is sound and many of his arguments irrefutable.
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