Sunday, September 19, 2010

Newman on Converting the Heart More than the Mind

"I say plainly I do not want to be converted by a smart syllogism; if I am asked to convert others by it, I say plainly I do not care to overcome their reason without touching their hearts."  -Blessed John Henry Newman.

As I mentioned before, Newman 101 author Roderick Strange shared a few great quotes from Newman tht are so interesting and cause for discussion that I took them out of my interview with him to highlight individually.

Recently, I've had conversations with friends about the nature and goal of apologetics and its role in conversion.  The quote that keeps coming up is the one from St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary."  But I think this quote from Newman is also appropriate.

Some weeks back (a lifetime ago in the blogosphere)  there has been a lot of chatter/discussion about the author Anne Rice, a recent re-vert to the Catholic faith, who announced she was leaving the Catholic Church.  I found out about it when a friend posted on his Facebook, "Now that's  a shock."  But I had to say that I was shocked to see her leave.   Several years ago, I had read her spiritual autobiography, Called Out of Darkness and found her spiritual journey fascinating as well as beautifully written.

At one point in her story--I think she was in college--Rice went to a priest for counsel about her doubts, and when he discovered that she had been raised in a very Catholic family (daily Mass-going, etc.) he told her, "Anne, you won't ever be truly happy outside the Catholic Church." And she left the encounter "no longer Catholic" if I remember correctly. And yet, I wonder if she would say that in a sense, the priest was right, but the words were given too harshly or at the wrong time for her to hear it.  It took many decades for her to re-commit herself to her Catholic faith.  And it was clear from the book that she was, as the priest predicted, only happiest and most fulfilled in the Catholic Church.  She writes in Called Out of Darkness of reading theologians from Benedict XVI to Thomas Aquinas to many others, and growing in her knowledge and in the spiritual life.

So that's why I found her announcement that she was leaving the Catholic faith so sad.  What I found even more shocking all the blog posts and people trying to, essentially "talk her" back into the faith, to convert her with a "smart syllogism."   It seems so obvious to me that those kinds of approaches would not help.  Newman now blessed, himself a great arguer and intellectual, perhaps could be called upon to help touch the heart of Anne Rice.


  1. A small observation on the limits of apologetics in reaching a heart, especially a questioning, suffering one:
    Simone Weil contends that real love of our neighbor (which ought to be always and everywhere our motivation for any kind of apologetics and/or proclamation of our Faith) is a matter of being ATTENTIVE. "The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth." I wonder if apologetics without attentiveness just leads to clever, yet sterile, discussions.

  2. This is a beautiful quote and reflection. Thank you for sharing, CDW!