Disc. 8, conclusion: Newman’s definition of a gentleman

Having distinguished between a morality purely based on reason to that founded on religious beliefs, and having pointed out some of the errors of the former, Newman gives his now-famous definition of a gentleman, indicating the character which can be espoused by both:

“The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;—all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome.”

A gentleman neither boasts nor gossips. He thinks well of others and treats them with kindness, observing the maxim that we should conduct ourselves with our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.

Newman continues, a gentleman “has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.”

In a controversy his arguments are clear and go the point. “He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive.” He shows consideration and indulgence with his opponents.

Next Newman asserts that true knowledge respects religion as can be seen in a gentleman who is agnostic.

“If he be an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent; he honours the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without assailing or denouncing them.”

Newman notes that such a man practices religious toleration, and often has a religion, which embodies the ideas of the sublime and majestic, sometimes attributing everything to some unknown principle with the attributes of perfection which he calls God. From this belief his logical powers take him to a number of deductions that make him resemble a disciple of Christ.

Newman concludes that such are the traits of an ethical character, which a cultivated intellect can form, apart from religious principles. Yet, these are seen both in holy men and in profligate.

“They may subserve the education of a St. Francis de Sales or a Cardinal Pole; they may be the limits of the contemplation of a Shaftesbury or a Gibbon. Basil and Julian were fellow-students at the schools of Athens; and one became the Saint and Doctor of the Church, the other her scoffing and relentless foe.”

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *