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Converts must first absorb their religion, and afterwards might speak with some authority

4 min • Digitized on April 30, 2023

From A Defense of the Teachings of Mary, page 19
By St. John Henry Newman

At the cost, then, of speaking about myself, of which I feel there has been too much of late, I observe upon them as follows:—

Of course, as you say, a convert comes to learn, and not to pick and choose. He comes in simplicity and confidence, and it does not occur to him to weigh and measure every proceeding, every practice which he meets with among those whom he has joined.

He comes to Catholicism as to a living system, with a living teaching, and not to a mere collection of decrees and canons, which by themselves are of course but the framework, not the body and substance of the Church. And this is a truth which concerns, which binds, those also who never knew any other religion, not only the convert. By the Catholic system, I mean that rule of life, and those practices of devotion, for which we shall look in vain in the Creed of Pope Pius.

The convert comes, not only to believe the Church, but also to trust and obey her priests, and to conform himself in charity to her people. It would never do for him to resolve that he never would say a Hail Mary, never avail himself of an indulgence, never kiss a crucifix, never accept the Lent dispensations, never mention a venial sin in confession. All this would not only be unreal, but dangerous too, as arguing a wrong state of mind, which could not look to receive the divine blessing.

Moreover, he comes to the ceremonial, and the moral theology, and the ecclesiastical regulations, which he finds on the spot where his lot is cast. And again, as regards matters of politics, of education, of general expedience, of taste, he does not criticize or controvert.

And thus surrendering himself to the influences of his new religion, and not risking the loss of revealed truth altogether by attempting by a private rule to discriminate every moment its substance from its accidents, he is gradually so indoctrinated in Catholicism, as at length to have a right to speak as well as to hear.

Also in course of time a new generation rises round him; and there is no reason why he should not know as much, and decide questions with as true an instinct, as those who perhaps number fewer years than he does Easter communions.

He has mastered the fact and the nature of the differences of theologian from theologian, school from school, nation from nation, era from era. He knows that there 1s much of what may be called fashion in opinions and practices, according to the circumstances of time and place, according to current politics, the character of the Pope of the day, or the chief Prelates of a particular country;—and that fashions change.

His experience tells him, that sometimes what is denounced in one place as a great offence, or preached up as a first principle, has in another nation been immemorially regarded in just a contrary sense, or has made no sensation at all, one way or the other, when brought before public opinion; and that loud talkers, in the Church as elsewhere, are apt to carry all before them, while quiet and conscientious persons commonly have to give way.

He perceives that, in matters which happen to be in debate, ecclesiastical authority watches the state of opinion and the direction and course of controversy, and decides accordingly; so that in certain cases to keep back his own judgment on a point, is to be disloyal to his superiors.

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