Newman got it back-to-front.
“O that thy creed were sound: for thou dost soothe the heart, thou Church of Rome” said John Henry Newman in his Anglican days. Then he persuaded himself that Rome’s creed was sound and went over.
I think he got it back to front. As an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, I believe that the doctrines, the creed, of the Church of Rome are pretty sound. I’m not so sure as Newman was, that the doctrine of development can encompass Papal infallibility or the Missa Normativa (to take two extreme “developments”!), but on the whole, I have little problem in believing the doctrine of the Roman Church.
But “soothe the heart” is the last thing I feel about RC moral teachings. Many of these teachings, I find abhorrent and Pharisaical. For example:
I believe people who have divorced should be able to continue to receive the Holy Sacrament and be remarried in church. I hate abortion, but am sure that it is often justified as the lesser of two evils (after rape, for example). I rejoice to see gay couples who live faithfully together coming to ask for the Church’s blessing on their union. I am quite sure that doctors who help their terminally ill patients to die peacefully are doing a good thing. And I think contraception should be regarded as a great blessing, both for married couples planning their family responsibly, and for the control of the explosion in the world’s population.
What does Rome say on these questions?
To take them in order: Rome says marriage creates a union which can never be dissolved. So if you get remarried after divorce, you may not receive Holy Communion because you are living in sin. But you can get round this – if you want to marry again, you have to apply to Rome for a decree of nullity, which says your marriage never existed, because it was faulty from the beginning. Poor little bastards of the first union!
Abortion is an evil, but so is killing anyone at all. Yet even the RC Church (and sometimes especially the RC Church) has supported going to war and capital punishment for some crimes, and justified this clear breach of the Commandments by calling these the lesser of two evils. But abortion seems to be all that some modern RC’s think about or care about. Yet, I would support abortion when someone has been raped, or if the birth process will kill the mother (My gentle readers will hardly believe that there are RC text books that say the mother must be allowed to die and the baby saved, because the mother is baptized and saved but if the baby is aborted unbaptized, it will go to Limbo – well, they used to say that till the Pope abolished Limbo Infantorum! What kind of a monstrous God do they believe in?)
Then there is the gay issue, and one hardly knows where to begin. The Pope has said that even to be gay is to be “intrinsically disordered” and therefore no gay man should be ordained. If a “rapture” of all the gay priests (and bishops and cardinals) were to take place, monasteries and seminaries would be able to relocate to small condos, Morning Prayer would have to take the place of Mass in many churches.
That’s how silly the whole RC stance is. But it is more than silly : it is hurtful and harmful to the vast number of gay people who long for a committed, loving relationship just as much as heterosexuals do. And I am proud to belong to a Church that is moving towards recognizing this and even making it possible for such unions to be blessed sacramentally with “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”.
On euthanasia, Rome says one may not hasten death, though one need not “strive officiously to keep alive”. I have seen officious striving to keep alive, but that was usually for fear of lawsuits! But when a person is in agony I am entirely in agreement with British and European hospice practice of increasing the doses of pain killers, even though this will kill the patient. RC doctrine says we have no right to end a life prematurely, as this is interfering in God’s plan and is unnatural. So no more antibiotics? no more heart by-passes? no more Caesarian births? It’s only at the end we have to let Nature (not the Christian God, by the way) take its course.
And finally poor old contraception – sorry “artificial contraception”, because RC’s can use “natural” contraception (which I won’t go into, lest I make you queasy). Pope Paul VI nearly summoned up his courage to follow the advice of the majority of his commission on contraception, and allow the use of condoms, but in the end the stick-in-the-muds convinced him this would open the door to all sorts of other things (see above for what they were afraid of!). The fact that the vast majority of lay RC’s (ordained ones would never have to give this any thought of course – but see above) totally disregard this doctrine is good news for common sense, but bad news for the RC Church, because if one bit of the Law is seen to be an ass, then maybe much more of it is (see above!).
Now Newman is in heaven (and I am sure he is – we don’t need the modern canonization process to tell us this) I am certain he will be interceding for the Church he joined, that they may really begin to “soothe the hearts” of their faithful people and, without abandoning their nearly sound creed, may see that his doctrine of development applies to moral issues, just as much as to doctrinal ones.