Michael and the Angels (Newman, 1872)

1.662-64. John Henry Newman, Fifteen Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford, third edition (London: Rivingtons, 1872), pp. 200-201. BL 4461.cc.25

An extract from Newman’s sermon on ‘Faith and Reason, Contrasted as Habits of Mind’ (1839).

Though the principal allusion in ‘Telemachus’ is obviously to the theological conception of St. Michael and his host as defenders of the Church, Joyce may well have expected his contemporary readers to recognise another allusion alongside it, to the most famous nineteenth-century use of this same trope, in a passage famous also for the influence it had on Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’. This passage is the conclusion to Newman’s tenth University Sermon, written before its author’s conversion to Catholicism, where the convention of the battle between good and evil is opened to question, in a way which also reflects on the nature of the ‘opposition’ between Stephen and Haines, with the former veering between anger (1.643) and empathy (1.634-35) and, with the difference between the two certainly one of “first principles” as far as Ireland is concerned, Haines’s failure to understand (1.647) a central factor:

To conclude: It will be observed, I have not yet said what Reason really is, or what its relation to Faith, but have merely contrasted the two together, taking Reason in the sense popularly ascribed to the word. Nor do I aim at more than ascertaining the sense in which the words Faith and Reason are used by Christian and Catholic writers. If I shall succeed in this, I shall be content, without attempting to defend it. Half the controversies in the world are verbal ones; and could they be brought to a plain issue, they would be brought to a prompt termination. Parties engaged in them would then perceive, either that in substance they agreed together, or that their difference was one of first principles. This is the great object to be aimed at in the present age, though confessedly a very arduous one. We need not dispute, we need not prove, — we need but define. At all events, let us, if we can, do this first of all; and then see who are left for us to dispute with, what is left for us to prove. Controversy, at least in this age, does not lie between the hosts of heaven, Michael and his Angels on the one side, and the powers of evil on the other; but it is a sort of night battle, where each fights for himself, and friend and foe stand together. When men understand each other’s meaning, they see, for the most part, that controversy is either superfluous or hopeless.

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