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Sermon 1. Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training 

by John Henry Newman 

(Note:  This sermon was preached for the

Feast of St. Monica—Sunday after Ascension, 1856, in the University Church, Dublin.)

"And when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was carried out, the only son of his mother: and she was a widow." Luke vii. 12. 

THIS day we celebrate one of the most remarkable feasts in the calendar. We commemorate a Saint who gained the heavenly crown by prayers indeed and tears, by sleepless nights and weary wanderings, but not in the administration of any high office in the Church, not in the fulfilment of some great resolution or special counsel; not as a preacher, teacher, evangelist, reformer, or champion of the faith; not as Bishop of the flock, or temporal governor; not by eloquence, by wisdom, or by controversial success; not in the way of any other saint whom we invoke in the circle of the year; but as a mother, seeking and gaining by her penances the conversion of her son. It was for no ordinary son that she {2} prayed, and it was no ordinary supplication by which she gained him. When a holy man saw its vehemence, ere it was successful, he said to her, "Go in peace; the son of such prayers cannot perish." The prediction was fulfilled beyond its letter; not only was that young man converted, but after his conversion he became a saint; not only a saint, but a doctor also, and "instructed many unto justice." St. Augustine was the son for whom she prayed; and if he has been a luminary for all ages of the Church since, many thanks do we owe to his mother, St. Monica, who having borne him in the flesh, travailed for him in the spirit. 

The Church, in her choice of a gospel for this feast, has likened St. Monica to the desolate widow whom our Lord met at the gate of the city, as she was going forth to bury the corpse of her only son. He saw her, and said, "Weep not;" and he touched the bier, and the dead arose. St. Monica asked and obtained a more noble miracle. Many a mother who is anxious for her son's bodily welfare, neglects his soul. So did not the Saint of today; her son might be accomplished, eloquent, able, and distinguished; all this was nothing to her while he was dead in God's sight, while he was the slave of sin, while he was the prey of heresy. She desired his true life. She wearied heaven with prayer, and wore out herself with praying; she did not at once prevail. He left his home; he was carried forward by his four bearers, ignorance, pride, appetite, and ambition; he was carried out into a foreign land, he crossed over from Africa to Italy. She followed him, she followed the corpse, the chief, the only mourner; she went where {3} he went, from city to city. It was nothing to her to leave her dear home and her native soil; she had no country below; her sole rest, her sole repose, her Nunc dimittis, was his new birth. So while she still walked forth in her deep anguish and isolation, and her silent prayer, she was at length rewarded by the long-coveted miracle. Grace melted the proud heart, and purified the corrupt breast of Augustine, and restored and comforted his mother; and hence, in today's Collect, the Almighty Giver is especially addressed as "Mœrentium consolator et in Te sperantium salus"; the consoler of those that mourn, and the health of those who hope. 

And thus Monica, as the widow in the gospel, becomes an image of Holy Church, who is ever lamenting over her lost children, and by her importunate prayers, ever recovering them from the grave of sin; and to Monica, as the Church's representative, may be addressed those words of the Prophet: "Put off, O Jerusalem, the garments of thy mourning and affliction; arise, and look about towards the East, and behold thy children; for they went out from thee on foot, led by the enemies; but the Lord will bring them to thee exalted with honour, as children of the kingdom." 

This, I say, is not a history of past time merely, but of every age. Generation passes after generation, and there is on the one side the same doleful, dreary wandering, the same feverish unrest, the same fleeting enjoyments, the same abiding and hopeless misery; and on the other, the same anxiously beating heart of impotent affection. Age goes after age, and still Augustine rushes forth again and again, with his young ambition, {4} and his intellectual energy, and his turbulent appetites; educated, yet untaught; with powers strengthened, sharpened, refined by exercise, but unenlightened and untrained,—goes forth into the world, ardent, self-willed, reckless, headstrong, inexperienced, to fall into the hands of those who seek his life, and to become the victim of heresy and sin. And still, again and again does hapless Monica weep; weeping for that dear child who grew up with her from the womb, and of whom she is now robbed; of whom she has lost sight; wandering with him in his wanderings, following his steps in her imagination, cherishing his image in her heart, keeping his name upon her lips, and feeling withal, that, as a woman, she is unable to cope with the violence and the artifices of the world. And still again and again does Holy Church take her part and her place, with a heart as tender and more strong, with an arm, and an eye, and an intellect more powerful than hers, with an influence more than human, more sagacious than the world, and more religious than home, to restrain and reclaim those whom passion, or example, or sophistry is hurrying forward to destruction. 

My Brethren, there is something happy in the circumstance, that the first Sunday of our academical worship should fall on the feast of St. Monica. For is not this one chief aspect of a University, and an aspect which it especially bears in this sacred place, to supply that which that memorable Saint so much desiderated, and for which she attempted to compensate by her prayers? Is it not one part of our especial office to receive those from the hands of father and mother, whom {5} father and mother can keep no longer? Thus, while professing all sciences, and speaking by the mouths of philosophers and sages, a University delights in the well-known appellation of "Alma Mater." She is a mother who, after the pattern of that greatest and most heavenly of mothers, is, on the one hand, "Mater Amabilis," and "Causa nostræ lætitiæ," and on the other, "Sedes Sapientiæ" also. She is a mother, living, not in the seclusion of the family, and in the garden's shade, but in the wide world, in the populous and busy town, claiming, like our great Mother, the meek and tender Mary, "to praise her own self, and to glory, and to open her mouth," because she alone has "compassed the circuit of Heaven, and penetrated into the bottom of the deep, and walked upon the waves of the sea," and in every department of human learning, is able to confute and put right those who would set knowledge against itself, and would make truth contradict truth, and would persuade the world that, to be religious, you must be ignorant, and to be intellectual, you must be unbelieving. 

My meaning will be clearer, if I revert to the nature and condition of the human mind. The human mind, as you know, my Brethren, may be regarded from two principal points of view, as intellectual and as moral. As intellectual, it apprehends truth; as moral, it apprehends duty. The perfection of the intellect is called ability and talent; the perfection of our moral nature is virtue. And it is our great misfortune here, and our trial, that, as things are found in the world, the two are separated, and independent of each other; that, where power of {6} intellect is, there need not be virtue; and that where right, and goodness, and moral greatness are, there need not be talent. It was not so in the beginning; not that our nature is essentially different from what it was when first created; but that the Creator, upon its creation, raised it above itself by a supernatural grace, which blended together all its faculties, and made them conspire into one whole, and act in common towards one end; so that, had the race continued in that blessed state of privilege, there never would have been distance, rivalry, hostility between one faculty and another. It is otherwise now; so much the worse for us;—the grace is gone; the soul cannot hold together; it falls to pieces; its elements strive with each other. And as, when a kingdom has long been in a state of tumult, sedition, or rebellion, certain portions break off from the whole and from the central government, and set up for themselves; so is it with the soul of man. So is it, I say, with the soul, long ago,—that a number of small kingdoms, independent of each other and at war with each other, have arisen in it, such and so many as to reduce the original sovereignty to a circuit of territory and to an influence not more considerable than they have themselves. And all these small dominions, as I may call them, in the soul, are, of course, one by one, incomplete and defective, strong in some points, weak in others, because not any one of them is the whole, sufficient for itself, but only one part of the whole, which, on the contrary, is made up of all the faculties of the soul together. Hence you find in one man, or one set of men, the reign, I may call it, the acknowledged {7} reign of passion or appetite; among others, the avowed reign of brute strength and material resources; among others, the reign of intellect; and among others (and would they were many!) the more excellent reign of virtue. Such is the state of things, as it shows to us, when we cast our eyes abroad into the world; and every one, when he comes to years of discretion, and begins to think, has all these separate powers warring in his own breast,—appetite, passion, secular ambition, intellect, and conscience, and trying severally to get possession of him. And when he looks out of himself, he sees them all severally embodied on a grand scale, in large establishments and centres, outside of him, one here and another there, in aid of that importunate canvass, so to express myself, which each of them is carrying on within him. And thus, at least for a time, he is in a state of internal strife, confusion, and uncertainty, first attracted this way, then that, not knowing how to choose, though sooner or later choose he must; or rather, he must choose soon, and cannot choose late, for he cannot help thinking, speaking, and acting; and to think, speak, and act, is to choose. 

This is a very serious state of things; and what makes it worse is, that these various faculties and powers of the human mind have so long been separated from each other, so long cultivated and developed each by itself, that it comes to be taken for granted that they cannot be united; and it is commonly thought, because some men follow duty, others pleasure, others glory, and others intellect, therefore that one of these things excludes the other; that duty cannot be pleasant, {8} that virtue cannot be intellectual, that goodness cannot be great, that conscientiousness cannot be heroic; and the fact is often so, I grant, that there is a separation, though I deny its necessity. I grant, that, from the disorder and confusion into which the human mind has fallen, too often good men are not attractive, and bad men are; too often cleverness, or wit, or taste, or richness of fancy, or keenness of intellect, or depth, or knowledge, or pleasantness and agreeableness, is on the side of error and not on the side of virtue. Excellence, as things are, does lie, I grant, in more directions than one, and it is ever easier to excel in one thing than in two. If then a man has more talent, there is the chance that he will have less goodness; if he is careful about his religious duties, there is the chance he is behind-hand in general knowledge; and in matter of fact, in particular cases, persons may be found, correct and virtuous, who are heavy, narrow-minded, and unintellectual, and again, unprincipled men, who are brilliant and amusing. And thus you see, my Brethren, how that particular temptation comes about, of which I speak, when boyhood is past, and youth is opening;—not only is the soul plagued and tormented by the thousand temptations which rise up within it, but it is exposed moreover to the sophistry of the Evil One, whispering that duty and religion are very right indeed, admirable, supernatural,—who doubts it?—but that, somehow or other, religious people are commonly either very dull or very tiresome: nay, that religion itself after all is more suitable to women and children, who live at home, than to men. {9} 

O my Brethren, do you not confess to the truth of much of what I have been saying? Is it not so, that, when your mind began to open, in proportion as it opened, it was by that very opening made rebellious against what you knew to be duty? In matter of fact, was not your intellect in league with disobedience? Instead of uniting knowledge and religion, as you might have done, did you not set one against the other? For instance, was it not one of the first voluntary exercises of your mind, to indulge a wrong curiosity?—a curiosity which you confessed to yourselves to be wrong, which went against your conscience, while you indulged it. You desired to know a number of things, which it could do you no good to know. This is how boys begin; as soon as their mind begins to stir, it looks the wrong way, and runs upon what is evil. This is their first wrong step; and their next use of their intellect is to put what is evil into words: this is their second wrong step. They form images, and entertain thoughts, which should be away, and they stamp them upon themselves and others by expressing them. And next, the bad turn which they do to others, others retaliate on them. One wrong speech provokes another; and thus there grows up among them from boyhood that miserable tone of conversation,—hinting and suggesting evil, jesting, bantering on the subject of sin, supplying fuel for the inflammable imagination,—which lasts through life, which is wherever the world is, which is the very breath of the world, which the world cannot do without, which the world "speaks out of the abundance of its heart," and which you may {10} prophesy will prevail in every ordinary assemblage of men, as soon as they are at their ease and begin to talk freely,—a sort of vocal worship of the Evil One, to which the Evil One listens with special satisfaction, because he looks on it as the preparation for worse sin; for from bad thoughts and bad words proceed bad deeds. 

Bad company creates a distaste for good; and hence it happens that, when a youth has gone the length I have been supposing, he is repelled, from that very distaste, from those places and scenes which would do him good. He begins to lose the delight he once had in going home. By little and little he loses his enjoyment in the pleasant countenances, and untroubled smiles, and gentle ways, of that family circle which is so dear to him still. At first he says to himself that he is not worthy of them, and therefore keeps away; but at length the routine of home is tiresome to him. He has aspirations and ambitions which home does not satisfy. He wants more than home can give. His curiosity now takes a new turn; he listens to views and discussions which are inconsistent with the sanctity of religious faith. At first he has no temptation to adopt them; only he wishes to know what is "said." As time goes on, however, living with companions who have no fixed principle, and who, if they do not oppose, at least do not take for granted, any the most elementary truths; or worse, hearing or reading what is directly against religion, at length, without being conscious of it, he admits a sceptical influence upon his mind. He does not know it, he does not recognize it, but there it is; and, before he recognizes it, it leads {11} him to a fretful, impatient way of speaking of the persons, conduct, words, and measures of religious men or of men in authority. This is the way in which he relieves his mind of the burden which is growing heavier and heavier every day. And so he goes on, approximating more and more closely to sceptics and infidels, and feeling more and more congeniality with their modes of thinking, till some day suddenly, from some accident, the fact breaks upon him, and he sees clearly that he is an unbeliever himself. 

He can no longer conceal from himself that he does not believe, and a sharp anguish darts through him, and for a time he is made miserable; next, he laments indeed that former undoubting faith, which he has lost, but as some pleasant dream;—a dream, though a pleasant one, from which he has been awakened, but which, however pleasant, he forsooth, cannot help being a dream. And his next stage is to experience a great expansion and elevation of mind; for his field of view is swept clear of all that filled it from childhood, and now he may build up for himself anything he pleases instead. So he begins to form his own ideas of things, and these please and satisfy him for a time; then he gets used to them, and tires of them, and he takes up others; and now he has begun that everlasting round of seeking and never finding: at length, after various trials, he gives up the search altogether, and decides that nothing can be known, and there is no such thing as truth, and that if anything is to be professed, the creed he started from is as good as any other, and has more claims;—however, that really nothing is true, nothing is certain. Or, if he {12} be of a more ardent temperature, or, like Augustine, the object of God's special mercy, then he cannot give up the inquiry, though he has no chance of solving it, and he roams about, "walking through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none." Meanwhile poor Monica sees the change in its effects, though she does not estimate it in itself, or know exactly what it is, or how it came about: nor, even though it be told her, can she enter into it, or understand how one, so dear to her, can be subjected to it. But a dreadful change there is, and she perceives it too clearly; a dreadful change for him and for her; a wall of separation has grown up between them: she cannot throw it down again; but she can turn to her God, and weep and pray. 

Now, my Brethren, observe, the strength of this delusion lies in there being a sort of truth in it. Young men feel a consciousness of certain faculties within them which demand exercise, aspirations which must have an object, for which they do not commonly find exercise or object in religious circles. This want is no excuse for them, if they think, say, or do anything against faith or morals: but still it is the occasion of their sinning. It is the fact, they are not only moral, they are intellectual beings; but, ever since the fall of man, religion is here, and philosophy is there; each has its own centres of influence, separate from the other; intellectual men desiderate something in the homes of religion, and religious men desiderate something in the schools of science. 

Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it {13} is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons. I want to destroy that diversity of centres, which puts everything into confusion by creating a contrariety of influences. I wish the same spots and the same individuals to be at once oracles of philosophy and shrines of devotion. It will not satisfy me, what satisfies so many, to have two independent systems, intellectual and religious, going at once side by side, by a sort of division of labour, and only accidentally brought together. It will not satisfy me, if religion is here, and science there, and young men converse with science all day, and lodge with religion in the evening. It is not touching the evil, to which these remarks have been directed, if young men eat and drink and sleep in one place, and think in another: I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and moral discipline. Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the cap, if I may so express myself, an ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual. {14} 

This is no matter of terms, nor of subtle distinctions. Sanctity has its influence; intellect has its influence; the influence of sanctity is the greater on the long run; the influence of intellect is greater at the moment. Therefore, in the case of the young, whose education lasts a few years, where the intellect is, there is the influence. Their literary, their scientific teachers, really have the forming of them. Let both influences act freely, and then, as a general rule, no system of mere religious guardianship which neglects the Reason, will in matter of fact succeed against the School. Youths need a masculine religion, if it is to carry captive their restless imaginations, and their wild intellects, as well as to touch their susceptible hearts. 

Look down then upon us from Heaven, O blessed Monica, for we are engaged in supplying that very want which called for thy prayers, and gained for thee thy crown. Thou who didst obtain thy son's conversion by the merit of thy intercession, continue that intercession for us, that we may be blest, as human instruments, in the use of those human means by which ordinarily the Holy Cross is raised aloft, and religion commands the world. Gain for us, first, that we may intensely feel that God's grace is all in all, and that we are nothing; next, that, for His greater glory, and for the honour of Holy Church, and for the good of man, we may be "zealous for all the better gifts," and may excel in intellect as we excel in virtue. 

Copyright © 2000 by Bob Elder. All rights reserved.  
Used with permission.  See the Newman website: