|We must subdue
ourselves to Christ
I answer that fasting is only one
branch of a large and momentous duty, the subdual of ourselves to Christ.
We must surrender to him all we have, all we are. We must keep nothing
back. We must present to him as captive prisoners with whom he may do what
he will, our soul and body, our reason, our judgment, our affections, our
imagination, our tastes, our appetite. The great thing is to subdue
ourselves; but as to the particular form in which the great precept of
self-conquest and self-surrender is to be expressed, that depends on the
person himself, and on the time or place. What is good for one age or person,
is not good for another.
There are other instances of the
same variation. For example …the present war with evil spirits would seem
to be very different from what it was in former ages. They attack a civilized
age in a more subtle way than they attack a rude age. We read in lives
of saints and others of the evil spirit showing himself and fighting with
them face to face, but now those subtle and experienced spirits find it
is more to their purpose not to show themselves, or at least not so much.
They find it in their interest to let the idea of them die away from the
minds of men, that being unrecognized, they may do the more mischief. And
they assault men in a more subtle way – not grossly, in some broad temptation,
which everyone can understand, but in some refined way they address themselves
to our pride or self-importance, or love of money, or love of ease, or
love of show, or our depraved reason, and thus have really the dominion
over persons who seem at first sight to be quite superior to temptation.
Now apply these illustrations to
the case in point. From what has been said it follows that you must not
suppose that nothing is incumbent on us in the way of mortification, though
you have not to fast so strictly as formerly. It is reasonable to think
that some other duty, of the same general kind, may take its place; and
therefore the permission granted us in eating may be a suggestion to us
to be more severe with ourselves on the other hand in certain other respects.
And this anticipation is confirmed
by the history of our Lord's temptation in the wilderness. It began,
you will observe, with an attempt on the part of the evil one to make him
break his fast improperly. It began, but it did not end there. It
was but the first of three temptations, and the other two were more addressed
to his mind, not his bodily wants. One was to throw himself down from the
pinnacle, the other the offer of all the kingdoms of the world. They were
more subtle temptations.
temptations and subtle sins
Now, I have used the word "subtle"
already, and it needs some explanation. By a subtle temptation or a subtle
sin, I mean one which it is very difficult to find out. Everyone knows
what it is to break the ten commandments, the first, the second, the third,
and so on. When a thing is directly commanded, and the devil tempts us
directly to break it, this is not a subtle temptation, but a broad and
gross temptation. But there are a great many things wrong which are not
so obviously wrong. They are wrong as leading to what is wrong or the consequence
of what is wrong, or they are wrong because they are the very same thing
as what is forbidden, but dressed up and looking differently.
The human mind is very deceitful;
when a thing is forbidden, a man does not like directly to do it, but he
goes to work if he can to get at the forbidden end in some way. It is like
a man who has to make for some place. First he attempts to go straight
to it, but finds the way blocked up; then he goes round about it. At first
you would not think he is going in the right direction; he sets off perhaps
at a right angle, but he just makes one little bend, then another, till
at length he gets to his point. Or still more it is like a sailing vessel
at sea with the wind contrary, but tacking first this way, and then that,
the mariners contrive at length to get to their destination. This then
is a subtle sin, when it at first seems not to be a sin, but comes round
to the same point as an open direct sin.
To take some examples. If the devil
tempted one to go out into the highway and rob, this would be an open,
bold temptation. But if he tempted one to do something unfair in the course
of business, which was to one's neighbor's hurt and to one's own advantage,
it would be a more subtle temptation. The man would still take what was
his neighbor's, but his conscience would not be so much shocked. So equivocation
is a more subtle sin than direct lying. In like manner a person who does
not intoxicate himself, may eat too much. Gluttony is a more subtle sin
than drunkenness, because it does not show so much. And again, sins of
the soul are more subtle sins than sins of the body. Infidelity is a more
subtle sin than licentiousness.
Even in our Blessed Lord's case the
Tempter began by addressing himself to his bodily wants. He had fasted
forty days, and afterwards was hungered. So the devil tempted him to eat.
But when he did not consent, then he went on to more subtle temptations.
He tempted him to spiritual pride, and he tempted him by ambition for power.
Many a man would shrink from intemperance, of being proud of his spiritual
attainments; that is, he would confess such things were wrong, but he would
not see that he was guilty of them.
Next I observe that a civilized
age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple
reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend
error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful
consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue.
It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one's family,
or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of
mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honor, and so on.
…What all of us want more than anything
else, what this age wants, is that its intellect and its will should be
under a law. At present it is lawless, its will is its own law, its own
reason is the standard of all truth. It does not bow to authority, it does
not submit to the law of faith. It is wise in its own eyes and it relies
on its own resources. And you, as living in the world, are in danger of
being seduced by it, and being a partner in its sin, and so coming in at
the end for its punishment. Now then let me in conclusion, suggest one
or two points in which you may profitably subdue your minds, which require
it even more than your bodies.
Let us mortify
For example, in respect to curiosity.
What a deal of time is lost, to say nothing else, in this day by curiosity,
about things which in no ways concern us. I am not speaking against interest
in the news of the day altogether, for the course of the world must ever
be interesting to a Christian from its bearing upon the fortunes of the
church, but I speak of vain curiosity, love of scandal, love of idle tales,
curious prying into the private history of people, curiosity about trials
and offences, and personal matters, nay often what is much worse than this,
curiosity into sin. What strange diseased curiosity is sometimes felt about
the history of murders, and of the malefactors themselves! Worse still,
it is shocking to say, but there is so much evil curiosity to know about
deeds of darkness, of which the Apostle [Paul] says that it is shameful
to speak. Many a person, who has no intention of doing the like, from an
evil curiosity reads what he ought not to read. This is in one shape or
other very much the sin of boys, and they suffer for it. The knowledge
of what is evil is the first step in their case to the commission of it.
Hence this is the way in which we are called upon, with this Lent we now
begin, to mortify ourselves. Let us mortify our curiosity.
Let us mortify
our excessive desire for knowledge
Again, the desire of knowledge is
in itself praiseworthy, but it may be excessive, it may take us from higher
things, it may take up too much of our time – it is a vanity. The Preacher
makes the distinction between profitable and unprofitable learning when
he says, "The words of the wise are like goads and nails." They excite
and stimulate us and are fixed in our memories. "But further than this,
my son, inquire not. Of making many books there is no end, and much study"
(that is, poring over secular subjects,) "is affliction of the flesh. Let
us one and all have an end of the discourse: fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole of man." Knowledge is very well in its place, but
it is like flowers without fruit. We cannot feed on knowledge, we cannot
thrive on knowledge. Just as the leaves of the grove are very beautiful
but would make a bad meal, so we shall ever be hungry and never be satisfied
if we think to take knowledge for our food. Knowledge is no food. Religion
is our only food. Here then is another mortification. Mortify your desire
of knowledge. Do not go into excess in seeking after truths which are not
Let us mortify
Again, mortify your reason. In order
to try you, God puts before you things which are difficult to believe.
St. Thomas's faith was tried; so is yours. He said "My Lord and my God."
You say so too. Bring your proud intellect into subjection. Believe what
you cannot see, what you cannot understand, what you cannot explain, what
you cannot prove, when God says it.
Let us bring our
will into subjection
Lastly, bring your will into subjection.
We all like our own will – let us consult the will of others. Numbers of
persons are obliged to do this. Servants are obliged to do the will of
their masters, workmen of their employers, children of their parents, husbands
of their wives. Well, in these cases let your will go with that of those
who have a right to command you. Don't rebel against it. Sanctify what
is after all a necessary act. Make it in a certain sense your own, sanctify
it, and get merit from it. And again when you are your own master, be on
your guard against going too much by your own opinion. Take some wise counsellor
or director, and obey him. There are persons who cry out against such obedience,
and call it a number of bad names. They are the very persons who need it.
It would do them much good. They say that men are made mere machines, and
lose the dignity of human nature by going by the word of another. And I
should like to know what they become by going by their own will. ...For
one person who has been hurt by following the direction of another, a hundred
persons have been ruined by going by their own will. This is another subject.
But this is enough. May almighty God enable you.
Excerpt from a Sermon
for the first Sunday of Lent given on March 12, 1848.
John Henry Newman, 1801-1890,
was an influential writer and major figure from the Church of England in
the Oxford Movement. In 1845 he became a Catholic priest and was made a
Cardinal late in life in 1879.