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Newmania 11: "A particular Providence"

Another wonderful sermon of Newmans is entitled "A Particular Providence as Revealed in the Gospel." Here are two paragraphs to tempt you in:

How gracious is this revelation of God's particular providence to those who seek Him!

how gracious to those who have discovered that this world is but vanity, and who are solitary and isolated in themselves, whatever shadows of power and happiness surround them! The multitude, indeed, go on without these thoughts, either from insensibility, as not understanding their own wants, or changing from one idol to another, as each successively fails. But men of keener hearts would be overpowered by despondency, and would even loathe existence, did they suppose themselves under the mere operation of fixed laws, powerless to excite the pity or the attention of Him who has appointed them. What should they do especially, who are cast among persons unable to enter into their feelings, and thus strangers to them, though by long custom ever so much friends! or who have perplexities of mind they cannot explain to themselves, much less remove, and no one to help them; or who have affections and aspirations pent up within them, because they have not met with objects to which to devote them; or who are misunderstood by those around them, and find they have no words to set themselves right with them, or no principles in common by way of appeal; or who seem to themselves to be without place or purpose in the world, or to be in the way of others; or who have to follow their own sense of duty without advisers or supporters, nay, to resist the wishes and solicitations of superiors or relatives; or who have the burden of some painful secret, or of some incommunicable solitary grief! In all such cases the Gospel narrative supplies our very need, not simply presenting to us an unchangeable Creator to rely upon, but a compassionate Guardian, a discriminating Judge and Helper.God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. He "calls thee by thy name." He sees thee, and understands thee, as He made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strength and thy weakness. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathises in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests Himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of thy spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of thy head and the cubits of thy stature. He compasses thee round and bears thee in his arms; He takes thee up and sets thee down. He notes thy very countenance, whether smiling or in tears, whether healthful or sickly. He looks tenderly upon thy hands and thy feet; He hears thy voice, the beating of thy heart, and thy very breathing. Thou dost not love thyself better than He loves thee. Thou canst not shrink from pain more than He dislikes thy bearing it; and if He puts it on thee, it is as thou would put it on thyself, if thou art wise, for a greater good afterwards. Thou art not only His creature (though for the very sparrows He has a care, and pitied the "much cattle" of Nineveh), thou art man redeemed and sanctified, His adopted son, favoured with a portion of that glory and blessedness which flows from Him everlastingly unto the Only-begotten. Thou art chosen to be His, even above thy fellows who dwell in the East and South. Thou wast one of those for whom Christ offered up His last prayer, and sealed it with His precious blood. What a thought is this, a thought almost too great for our faith! Scarce can we refrain from acting Sarah's part, when we bring it before us, so as to "laugh" from amazement and perplexity. What is man, what are we, what am I, that the Son of God should be so mindful of me? What am I, that He should have raised me from almost a devil's nature to that of an Angel's? that He should have changed my soul's original constitution, new-made me, who from my youth up have been a transgressor, and should Himself dwell personally in this very heart of mine, making me His temple? What am I, that God the Holy Ghost should enter into me, and draw up my thoughts heavenward "with plaints unutterable?"

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" Thou art chosen to be His, even above thy fellows who dwell in the East and South. "JAK --Yes, magnificent. (I say that, of course, because I love to think that God's concern for us -- no, make that ME -- is as real as Newman says it is :-)I wonder about the statement above. Does this refer to the unconverted Orientals and Africans? Is this an instance of the exclusiveness of Church teaching concerning the unbabtized? (I left that spelling to show that I'm really Southern Baptist ;-) I also don't understand these opening sentences:"How gracious is this revelation of Gods particular providence to those who seek Him! how gracious to those who have discovered that this world is but vanity, and who are solitary and isolated in themselves, whatever shadows of power and happiness surround them! "Is he saying that the contemplative life is the best for all because this world has no value? This would be inconsistent t with the rest of what he says -- that individual people are most precious (and, of course, this assumes that they/we are part of this world).

Ann: That clause: "Thy fellows who dwell in the East and South" has a biblical ring to it, but I can't find any specific text that might be its source. It's possible that it is a reference to Asians and Africans, who did not have the benefit of the Gospel's having been preached to them. As for the first sentence, I don't think he is referring to the contemplative life, but to a committed Christian life built negatively on the perception of this world cannot satisfy--"shadows of power and happiness"--shadows, not anything substantial. As does the Bible, I think Newman uses the term "world" with several different meanings.

I agree that this is a magnificent sermon. There was a comment, some newmania back, about Newmans possible lack of empathy. (It was perhaps a comment from Ann Olivier?) I sometimes feel the same something about the Olympian tone -- but passages like this provide an answer. Newman does imagine, and evoke, the various ways of feeling solitary and isolated, e.g., those who have perplexities of mind that they cannot explain to themselves, much less remove, and no one to help them. This is both very abstract and very particular; and the number and force of such examples argue a fluid imagination and an ability to empathize that is novelistic. (And surely a matter of empathy, since one can scarcely imagine Newman having perplexities of mind which he could not ultimately explain, or indeed, remove.) I havent read Newmans two novels, Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert (1848), and Callista: A Sketch of the Third Century (1855), for a very long time. Loss and Gain was his first publication after his 1845 conversion, and its a novel of ideas presented through a large number of characters, but theyre not without psychological depth and there is a real attempt to show why personalities have the kind of thinking that they do. That is, empathy.

Mr. Englert --It seems to me that Newman choosing an artisan as his heroine in Callistus shows a great deal of empathy with "ordinary" people, that he realized that they could be every bit as serious as the academics. I bet he never would have used the term "pew warmer".

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.