Disc.8, Newman: the world cloaks pride with “modesty”

In the penultimate discourse of the “Idea of a University” on the relation between Knowledge and Religious Duty, Newman explains that knowledge by itself is only able to provide a superficial morality.

According to Newman, Lord Shaftesbury picks and chooses out of Christianity what he wishes, “he discards the theological, the mysterious, the spiritual; he makes selection of the morally or esthetically beautiful.”

For Shaftesbury “embellishment of the exterior is almost the beginning and the end of philosophical morality. This is why it aims at being modest rather than humble; this is how it can be proud at the very time that it is unassuming.”

Newman explains that humility is a virtue hard to achieve, one with many counterfeits. In fact it was not conceived as a virtue by ancient civilizations. It had no word to express it or rather conveyed a reproach.

Newman contrasts the meaning of humility for Christians and for the world. For Christians “It is the act of a superior, who protests to himself, while he commits it, that he is superior still, and that he is doing nothing else but an act of grace towards those on whose level, in theory, he is placing himself.”

For the world “the word, “condescension” is a stooping indeed of the person, but a bending forward, unattended with any the slightest effort to leave by a single inch the seat in which it is so firmly established.”

Newman then notes that since the English society of his time is not Pagan it will not cast off humility, but it cannot love it, and instead chooses modesty, which has the appearance of humility but is concerned primarily with outward deportment. Since this “modesty” is a superficial virtue “it admits of being associated with principles or qualities naturally foreign to it, and is often made the cloak of feelings or ends for which it was never given to us.” Even pride gets a new name; is called self-respect and ceases to be disagreeable. It is attired in delicacy and gentleness and becomes the driving force behind industry, frugality, honesty and obedience.

In this way, pride “becomes the safeguard of chastity, the guarantee of veracity, in high and low; it is the very household god of society, as at present constituted, inspiring neatness and decency in the servant girl, propriety of carriage and refined manners in her mistress, uprightness, manliness, and generosity in the head of the family.” This has an effect on society at large: “It diffuses a light over town and country; it covers the soil with handsome edifices and smiling gardens; it tills the field, it stocks and embellishes the shop.”

This “modesty” has a horror to exposure and a keen sensitivity to notoriety. It detests gross adulation although it does not shun flattery. And thus “vanity is changed into a more dangerous self-conceit.”





6 Comment(s)
  • George Bonilla Posted April 3, 2012 11:28 pm

    Oh! How wrong have I been, thinking that humility and modesty could be interchangeable in its use–but of course, it pleases the ego. 🙂

    • frjuanvelez Posted April 4, 2012 2:51 am

      Yes, Newman makes a good observation: although humility should be followed by modesty, at times modesty is a guise for pride, and secular knowledge without religious faith will praise such modesty.

  • Susan Posted April 15, 2012 11:27 am

    Could you please explain the paragraph that begins “In this way, pride………..”? What exactly is being said here? Thank you.

    • frjuanvelez Posted April 15, 2012 4:36 pm

      Newman points out that the motive behind continence (here he employs the word chastity), order, respectability, industriousness is often a veiled pride. And the person who acts in this way almost thinks that he is being humble; his pride takes on the appearance of humility. An excessive and disordered self-love is the motive for his continence, order, decency, etc.

  • Susan Posted April 15, 2012 6:56 pm

    Thank You! Newman seems to make so much sense about what’s going on in the world! I just read a novel about him and now cannot wait to read your book. I want to know so much more about him. The comment you made about his views on education as an end in itself and not a means to a job… Do you have a direct quote on that that i could use? God bless.

  • frjuanvelez Posted April 15, 2012 8:53 pm

    In Discourse 5 of the Idea of a University you will find the following quote and others: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/discourse5.html

    “I am asked what is the end of University Education, and of the Liberal or Philosophical Knowledge which I conceive it to impart: I answer, that what I have already said has been sufficient to show that it has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end, though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward.”

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