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ILLA Blogs - Gentlemen vis-a-vis Saints
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Gentlemen vis-a-vis Saints

An excerpt from The Genteel Imposter: Newman's Social Criticism

Newman remarks in his Idea of a University that it is far easier to find examples of gentlemen than saints. The reason should be obvious: “The world is content with setting right the surface of things; the Church aims at regenerating the very depths of the heart” [Idea, p. 203]. So Newman sees the gentleman as superficial. In this he has many literary precedents from Horace to Moliere; but Newman’s objection does not vent itself in high satire and then depart with good-fellow handshakes all around.

There is genuine danger; in Newman’s view, something is being disguised: “The splendours of a’ court, and the charms of good society, wit, imagination, taste, and high breeding, the prestige of rank, and the resources of wealth, are a screen, an instrument, and an apology for vice and irreligion” [Idea, p. 202]. What is being hidden by the fine ways of genteel society is original sin: “What, indeed, is the very function of society, as it is at present, but a rude attempt to cover the degradation of the fall, and to make men feel respect for themselves, and enjoy it in the eyes of others, without returning to God” [P.S. VIII, p.266].

What is missing is virtue which comes with holiness; and any attempt to supplant the role of virtue with that of liberal education is futile: “Quarry the granite rocks with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man” [Idea, p. 121]

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Monday, 01 June 2020

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