Friday, November 02, 2012

Quoting the Eminently Quotable - Newman on Veneration of Sacred Images

I am currently reading a new book on Newman which has recently come to my notice. It is The Quotable Newman - Definitive Guide to His Central Thoughts and Ideas. Published by Sophia Press it is compiled by Dave Armstrong with a forward written by Joseph Pearce.

It is arranged by topic in alphabetical order, over 100 of them taken from 40 different documents, and under each topic, for example, Original Sin, the Fall of Man there are a series of quotations, usually up to a couple of paragraphs long on each topic. To someone like me who does not know the full body of Newman's well (to put it mildly) this arrangement is helpful.  It seems to me that I can access directly and quickly what Newman actually said and then if I wish to investigate further, seek elsewhere the document in full via the reference. This is otherwise difficult because the titles of the documents do not always tell you what he is speaking about eg Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.

So, from the section Images, Use and Veneration Of, I have a couple of things that caught my eye: 'In England Catholics pray before images, not to them. I wonder whether as many as a dozen pray to them, but they will be the best Catholics, not ordinary ones. The truth is that sort of affectionate fervour which leads one to confuse an object with its representation, is skin-deep in the South and argues nothing for a worshipper's faith, hope and charity, whereas in a Northern race like ours, with whom ardent devotional feeling is not common, it may be the mark of great spirituality. As to the nature of the feeling itself, and its absolute incongruity with any intellectual intention of addressing the image as an image, I think that it is not difficult for anyone with an ordinary human heart to understand it. Do we not love the pictures we have of friends departed?... Will not a husband wear in his bosom and kiss the miniature of his wife? Cannot you fancy a man addressing himself to it, as it were reality?' [p191, taken from Letter to William Robert Brownlow, 25 October, 1863]

I cannot comment on the differences between northern and southern Catholics, but I think his observation about many of the Catholics I see is still very true today. The contrast between how Eastern Catholics, such as the Melkites I have seen, engage with the images of the saints as they pray to them, struck me long ago. The Easterners tend to turn and facing them as though the person was there and addressing the saint by looking at his face - this becomes part of the activity of liturgical worship. Whereas, in the Roman Rite churches, even if beautifully adorned, there is much less obvious direct engagement with the image. Even if Mary's image is there, I don't see people looking at her as they pray and when she is addressed by name in the same way. It isn't the only way to pray of course and there are Western devotions in which the image is an integral part, such as the Stations of the Cross; but the general lack is telling, I think. This is something that I think has a profound effect on the culture. The the more our senses, including the visual, are engaged directly during prayer with beauty that supports and intensifies our prayer, not only will it encourage the right interior disposition, but it profoundly forms our taste and sense of the beautiful, so changing what we choose and delight in outside the church. This, I believe, is how the culture of faith and wider culture can be powerfully connected again. In the Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI talks of this separation of the two cultures and how serious this is. He says that this happened by the 19th century, when Newman lived.

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