Alvin Kimel at Pontifications has been posting a fascinating series of letters of J.H. Newman (post-conversion) addressed to various Anglican objectors. Even viewed through one side of the correspondence it's obvious that the stakes were high, and that all parties were in dead earnest about the claims made by the Catholic Church. Here's an excerpt from an 1848 letter to Mrs. William Froude:
Now can you, my dear Mrs Froude, say this, that, directly you feel sure you ought to believe the Catholic Faith, you will begin making efforts to control your mind into belief? You see, I will not admit your language, that 'you cannot believe,' you can. The simple question is, whether you ought. If you do not feel you ought, (I hope such a state of mind will not last -- but) that is a reason why you should not; but it is no reason, because it is not true, to say, 'I don't believe because I can't.'
I know a person, now a Catholic, convinced before his reception that he ought to believe, but not able to bring himself to make an act of faith. He remained kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament for hours, trying to make it and unable, praying for grace yet without an answer, till, when midnight approached, his friend (not I) who was with him, again and again asked him to let them both go to bed, but he would not. At length he was enable to make the act. After the triumph over himself, he said to his friend, as if a weight were off his mind, 'Now may I adore the Blessed Sacrament,' and, leave being give him, and threw himself down before It. It is not often that the will is brought so distinctly and directly into exercise, but in reality faith is always so begun, so sustained, so increased. This, and this only, makes martyrs.
At a time when both clergy and laity petulantly take leave of the Catholic Church as if she were a college canoeing club ("I don't feel affirmed...") for personal and subjective reasons, Newman's controversies provide a tonic reminder that intellectual integrity requires persons to abandon falsehood even when it is comfortable and attractive, and to embrace the truth even when it is repellent. Some folks have shirked their duty, but it's good to remember that others haven't.
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