The Portal May 2018 - Page 10

THE P RTAL May 2018 Page 10 Thoughts on Newman The problem of evil Dr Stephen Morgan, like Blessed John Henry Newman, wrestles with the problem of evil L ife has a horrible habit of delivering thoroughly unwelcome, even unforeseen, disappointments, often when we have, ourselves, given of our very best, with unstinting effort, even in matters where we are thoroughly competent and properly resourced. Unless we have been uniquely fortunate, none of us will have led lives entirely free of the bewilderment of the Psalmist,“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? (Ps.10:1).  It is said that the most frequent question asked by those struggling to believe is “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Theologians call this problem the problem of evil or of the operations of the Divine Permissive Will and the answers they have come up with are called theories of Theodicy (a term derived from Greek and meaning the justification or trial of God). Some of the early Christian Fathers – for example, Irenaeus, Origen and Augustine – tried, more or less successfully, to provide coherent intellectual answers to the problem based on reflection upon human experience and the witness of Sacred Scripture. In the end, however, they can all seem inadequate when faced with what has been called, “the sheer amount and intensity of both moral and natural evil.” (John Roth, Encountering Evil, p.61) Newman’s life might credibly be presented as a series of ostensible failures.   The devastation he felt on failing to achieve honours in the Schools when he was at Oxford, the episcopal charges levelled at his Tracts, the collapse of his various attempts at a coherent synthesis of Anglican Theology that could be reconciled with historic Catholicism and the collapse of the enterprise at Littlemore comprise some of the low points of the first half of his life. After his conversion – at pretty much the halfway point of his nearly ninety years – he fared no better. Suspicion in Rome, where he might not unreasonably have expected to be recognised as a celebrated convert, led to deeply poignant reflections that suggest deep psychological distress. This was followed, in short order, with a conviction for Criminal Libel in the Achilli Trial and the disaster that was to be the result of his efforts to establish a Catholic University in Dublin. It was almost as if he ha d, in Peter Stravinskus’s lapidary expression, ‘the “Midas Touch” in reverse’. (‘Newman the Failure’, in Newman Studies Journal, 1.2(2004), p.16).   Indeed, it was not really until, in old age, Pope Leo XIII raised him to Cardinalatial dignity, that Newman could be permitted to feel that it hadn’t all been ashes.   How then did he cope; how then did he find an answer to the Psalmist’s question? The answer is at once theological and personal. Theologically it was grounded in his profound appreciation of the mystery of Christ, as God become Man to suffer and die not only for us but with us for our salvation: a reality that he remained faithful to since first he encountered it in the writings of his beloved Athanasius. It was a theology of God’s solidarity with man, for man. But, as we have seen time and again, through the virtuous habit of religion, Newman so interiorised these intellectual convictions that they became a part of his person. Resilience in the face of failure was to be found in the daily recognition that in our suffering, we are so united to the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s redemptive suffering. For Newman, what became his daily immersion in the Mystery of the Mass led to an unshakable conviction, at the very ground of his being and in the face of his trials, that through the Paschal Mystery, made present on the Altar, we too can echo the Good Friday cry, “My God, My God: why hast Thou forsaken me?”, sure in the knowledge that the response of the Father will be the new life of Easter morning. It was this, and this alone, that permitted him in the face of yet another of his seeming failures, to assert ‘Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt”. (Apologia, p.239). For us, I suspect the answer is to be found in exactly the same place.  Social Justice in the New Testament ... continued from page 9 princes, the privileged. We go along with false visions which portray the rich and powerful as people to be admired and emulated; it is so much easier, and more comfortable, than proclaiming God’s judgment on them. As we seek to be fed by the Scriptures, above all by the teaching and the ministry of our Blessed Lord in the New Testament, let us be open to what God is saying to us.