Disc. 8, Newman criticizes the notion of virtue as mere decency

Newman continues pointing out the errors in Shaftesbury’s notion of conscience and morality. He calls it a superficial view whereby the measure of right or wrong is visible beauty or tangible fitness. Virtue is reduced to what pleases and vice to what produces pain.

In this civilized age privacy is sacred, and detection not sin is the crime. Virtue is mere decency. Newman writes: “Scandals, vulgarities, whatever shocks, whatever disgusts, are offences of the first order. Drinking and swearing, squalid poverty, improvidence, laziness, slovenly disorder, make up the idea of profligacy: poets may say any thing, however wicked, with impunity; works of genius may be read without danger or shame, whatever their {202} principles; fashion, celebrity, the beautiful, the heroic, will suffice to force any evil upon the community.”

Even worse, the charm of good society, wit, taste and high breeding are “a screen, an instrument, and an apology for vice and irreligion.” Newman notes that at the length the intellectual refinement, which at first repelled sensuality, ends by excusing it.

After this presentation of the corruption of reason, Newman presents the main conclusion of his argument: “Under the shadow indeed of the Church, and in its due development, Philosophy does service to the cause of morality; but, when it is strong enough to have a will of its own, and is lifted up with an idea of its own importance, and attempts to form a theory, and to lay down a principle, and to carry out a system of ethics, and undertakes the moral education of the man, then it does but abet evils to which at first it seemed instinctively opposed.”

The exemplar of virtue, a caricature of what St. Paul teaches in the first letter to the Corinthians (ch. 13), has become the creation of civilization, not of Christianity. It is the model of the “gentleman” who on the surface has the proper appearance. The Church, instead, tries to cure men and keep them from mortal sin. She speaks to them of justice and chastity, and of the world to come. In Newman’s words: “She is for the many as well as for the few. She is putting souls in the way of salvation, that they may then be in a condition, if they shall be called upon, to aspire to the heroic, and to attain the full proportions, as well as the rudiments, of the beautiful.”

1 Comment
  • Deborah Villa Posted April 2, 2012 5:21 am

    The Church…. “putting souls in the way
    salvation, that they may then be called upon
    to aspire to the heroic….”

    Called to love God with out heart and soul
    and our neighbor as ourselves
    Called to imitate Christ
    Called to be sons and daughters of God
    and thus heirs to the kingdom…

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