From Marginalia (1936)
by Paul Elmer More
I have said that it is the function of reason to deal with the contraries of experience in the field of "practical conduct." But this, it may be said, is only the superficial aspect of dualism; for the root of the matter, it should seem that we must look not to the logical faculty at all, but must penetrate to some deep substratum of the temperament or the emotions, to some obscure region of the soul itself, out of which spring the conflicting impulses to the religious and the worldly life. There, in that darkness where definitions fail us, lies the origin of the apparent and definable bifurcations. It is a division of what finally interests, and the nature of the dividing force, in so far at least as it touches religion, can be studied better in Newman perhaps than in any other English writer.
More than once Newman has said that from an early age the two things which seemed of importance to him were God and his own soul. One can understand why he put the matter in this form; yet I think an attentive reading of his works will show that what stood out for him against his own soul was not so much God as the whole Otherworld of which God may be the sovereign King but which can never be absorbed into his being. God indeed is present to Newman's mind; and at times, as in the great passage of the Apologia, comes magnificently to the front. But in general I do not find that sense of a personal Lord and Lover dominating his imagination as it does, for example, a St. Theresa. Rather, his imagination is haunted by that invisible realm beyond or outside of the range of the senses, which was called Ideal by Plato as constructed of Forms, or Ideas, seen by the eye of the soul, or Noetic by the later Platonists as grasped by the nous, or Spiritual by St. Paul. This to Newman, as I take it, even more than the being of a personal God, was the one thing important, the one thing he must make real to his soul against all the distractions of the world. For the mystery of this sense of the Otherworld is that, though never an illusion, it is strangely elusive. To this paradox Newman returns more than once in his books, the most elaborate passage being that in The Idea of a University, which I have quoted in an appendix to The Religion of Plato. It is never an illusion, I say; never a power that deceives or allures into evil and error; but it is elusive, impalpable, slipping from our grasp when we think we have it most firmly fixed, and hard to make concrete to the imagination and to impose on the will; lying like the shadowed reflections of the sky on the surface of a quiet pool but vanishing away when a breeze ruffles the mirror. The glory of Newman's genius as a master of language lay in his power of conveying to the reader some derivative notion of the reality of that noetic sphere of which he himself was, apparently by birthright, a citizen. In this gift, and not in philosophic argument, where in truth Newman was not strong, resided his royal prerogative over the souls of others; there we get the force of his chosen motto, cor as cor loquitur; there by feebler wings he can be followed at a distance,
Sailing with supreme dominion Thro' the azure deep of air.But beside this realm of the Spirit lies another kingdom, that of nature, as we call it, which is not at all retiring or evasive. Rather it is visible, palpable, insistent, ever clamorous of attention. It is not elusive, but by a strange paradox illusory, the very heart and fountain of illusion. That is to say its real substance is less than its apparent substance, and its promises end in deception, disappointment, sometimes even in despair. But of the noetic world the truth and substance become more real by testing, and its promises are more than fulfilled if you grasp it tightly, cling to it, and obey its laws. And it follows too that just as the noetic world grows more real and solid, this phenomenal world loses in reality and substance. This is a law of experience to which Newman was keenly awake, and there is no more characteristic passage in his works than this in the first volume of his Parochial Sermons:
And should it so happen that misfortunes come upon us (as they often do), then still more are we led to understand the nothingness of this world; then still more are we led to distrust it, and are weaned from the love of it, till at length it floats before our eyes merely as some idle veil, which, notwithstanding its many tints, cannot hide the view of what is beyond it;--and we begin, by degrees, to perceive that there are but two beings in the whole universe, our own soul, and the God who made it.That, I take it, if we think of "God" as a synonym for the noetic world where He abides, points to the centre of Newman's religious life and is the core of his message. Certainly, at least, it is that in him which enchained so many of my younger years.
A lovelier ode to spring was never indited than Horace's Solvitur acris hiems, in which we can almost hear the breaking of the fetters of winter and catch the chanties of busy men as that draw their boats down to the sea, and can see the Graces once more dancing their rounds on the flowered meadows. All the earth is filled with the joy of the great resurrection. And then the moral: O little men, be not deceived. Think not that your winter is to be followed by any spring. From such long hope the brevity of life cuts you off. Already the night is closing upon you, and you are on the way to that dull home of death where no joy is and from whence there is no return. This is not the only ode in which Horace bids us forgo the long hope--spem longam reseces; such a deprivation is the very root of his philosophy, carpe diem, snatch the day and be not credulous of any morrow.
Nor was the idea peculiar to Horace among the pagan poets. Catullus gives it a new pathos by expressing it in his tripping hendecasyllables: The sun may trick his beams and flame once more in the forehead of the morning sky (to borrow Milton's adaptation in "Lycidas"), and the wasted moon may round out her orb, but for us when once our little light has set--
Ours is nothing but one long night of slumber.And then I turn to the most fragrant of the Christian poets:
How fresh, 0 Lord, how sweet and cleanNo one can read Horace and George Herbert together without feeling that a whole world of emotion has slipped in between them; for the very gist of Herbert's song, in the lines that follow, is hope, the long hope, that the returning spring bade the ancient poets cut away. We do not often, I think, pause to consider the change that came into the world with the advent of this new hope. Christianity may seem to have failed in so many ways; it has done so little for the morals and intelligence of civilization, so little to mitigate the evils of social and international injustice, so little to impose restraint on the insurgent passions of mankind; but this one thing it has effected, the offering of hope, the long hope, to the souls of individual men. You cannot forget it, cannot hide away the fact:
Une immense esperance a traverse la terre.Goethe, in one of those strange glimpses into the secret of Christianity that occasionally pierced his pagan armor, has used this for what is perhaps the most dramatic moment in Faust. His hero has gone through all the learning of the age, and found nothing but emptiness and disappointment. In his distress he has called for help upon the Earth- Spirit, with whom he claims kinship, and he has been contemptuously rebuffed. There is nothing left for him but escape from the fret of living into the deep slumber of oblivion. The cup of poison is at his lips, when from the cathedral nearby there floats through his window the refrain of the Easter song, for it is the dawn of that day when the new hope was born:
Christ is arisen!The contrast would have been even more startlingly effective if the Easter chant had been preceded by the great speech in which Faust strips off the various decorous illusions of life, ending with the curse upon patience and hope. But with all his dramatic sense Goethe lacked the faculty of dramatic construction, as could be shown by other scenes in Faust. For instance, Gretchen's heartbroken prayer to Mary should have been made in the cathedral and followed closely by the terrible answer of the monkish chant: Dies irae, dies illa, instead of being separated by so much irrelevant matter. But we must not be hypercritical. As it stands, that juxtaposition of Faust's despair with the pledge of the world's hope is a stroke of pure genius.
I like to think historically of the advent of this hope as indicated by three quotations from the Greek. The first is from the great chorus of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus: "Sing woe! sing woe! but let the good overcome." It is, as it were, a desire, not a hope, but a desire prophetic of fulfillment.
The second is from the Phaedo of Plato, giving Socrates' intimations of immortality to his circle of timid friends on that last day of seeming defeat: "Fair is the prize [of immortality], and the hope great."
And the third was the utterance of another, also on the day of seeming defeat: "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
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