Newman on “Guilelessness”

St Bartholomew Chapel, Königssee lake, Bavaria

Newman is quite good in capturing the intimate character of the various apostles; he has some good insights about St. Bartholomew (Nathaniel), the apostle described by our Lord as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” John i. 47. (see PSS II.27) Newman thinks that guilelessness, or innocence, is a foundational virtue, but a very rare one because men of society think it “unmanly and weak.” Here is the stuff of Christian guilelessness: “to mean what we say, to love without dissimulation, to think no evil, to bear no grudge, to be free from selfishness, to be innocent and straightforward.” (Newman recommends that we meditate on Psalm 15 in order to better appreciate this virtue,  as a wise Dominican has recently urged on us as well.)

Men of the world, he says, “are mean, jealous, suspicious, censorious, cunning, insincere, selfish; and think others as low-minded as themselves.” They cannot believe a person may be guileless, or pure of heart for that matter. But these men live in bondage and fear for their low-mindedness. The guileless man, on the other hand, has “a simple boldness and a princely heart; he overcomes dangers which others shrink from, merely because they are no dangers to him, and thus he often gains even worldly advantages, by his straightforwardness, which the most crafty persons cannot gain.”

Newman speaks of Becket as a guileless man who “believed innocence of heart, and integrity of manners, was a guard strong enough to secure any man in his voyage through this world.” Nevertheless, he was martyred. St Bartholomew was also martyred. Newman draws this lesson: first, innocence prepares the Christian best of all for the tasks which the Lord may ask of them. Grand plans are not as important as this quiet guilelessness which will mean we are not surprised or caught off guard when we must do the right thing. By the way, in the very pulpit at Oxford Newman warns his listeners that “secular learning and dignity have doubtless in their respective ways a powerful tendency to rob the heart of its brightness and purity.”

Newman draws a second lesson that innocence is only the beginning, for we are sent as “sheep in the midst of wolves.” So innocence must be “joined to prudence, discretion, self-command, gravity, patience, perseverance in well-doing, as Bartholomew doubtless learned in due season under his Lord’s teaching.”.

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