Seems like there’s a whole lot of Newman talk going on around here lately. It’s like he’s been beatified or something! I can’t exactly get behind that, but I can add my admiration of Newman’s Christian intellect to the chorus.
There’s something I read in Newman some time ago, early in seminary I think, that has stuck with me ever since. I know it’s important to me because I’ve mentally cataloged it with some mnemonic shorthand. As it turns out, I’ve mis-remembered it slightly, but here it is.
I recall Newman talking about the Trinity, and saying that the doctrine had to be presented in such a way that it wasn’t just a set of notions gathered together in the mind, but a real, living idea embraceable by the imagination.
It’s not just for students, he said: It’s for the young, the unlearned, the busy, and the afflicted. The main truths of Christianity, not least the Trinity, are for these people: Not just students, but also for the Young, the Unlearned, the Busy, and the Afflicted. That struck me. I took the first letters of the nouns and put them in my mind: YUBA. Young, unlearned, busy, afflicted.
Since then, YUBA has been a constant check-point for me. Am I as a theologian spending my time on things that could only matter to students, scholars, and savants (SSS)? Or are the theological truths I dedicate my work to the kind of things that can matter to kids, to people without formal education, to people who have to put in full days at hard jobs, and to people in pain?
Here’s how Newman himself puts it, in his Grammar of Assent:
I ask, then, as concerns the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, such as I have drawn it out to be, is it capable of being apprehended otherwise than notionally? Is it a theory, undeniable indeed, but addressed to the student, and to no one else? Is it the elaborate, subtle, triumphant exhibition of a truth, completely developed, and happily adjusted, and accurately balanced on its centre, and impregnable on every side, as a scientific view, “totus, teres, atque rotundus,” challenging all assailants, or, on the other hand, does it come to the unlearned, the young, the busy, and the afflicted, as a fact which is to arrest them, penetrate them, and to support and animate them in their passage through life? That is, does it admit of being held in the imagination, and being embraced with a real assent? I maintain it does, and that it is the normal faith which every Christian has, on which he is stayed, which is his spiritual life, there being nothing in the exposition of the dogma, as I have given it above, which does not address the imagination, as well as the intellect.
You might have noticed the order was UYBA. But I don’t know how to pronounce that, so it was a lucky accident that I inverted the letters. Newman’s YUBA has been a warning note in my ears ever since my first reading of Grammar of Assent. (The rest of his Trinity discussion surrounding this passage is also greatly instructive)
As a college professor, I spend a lot of time encouraging students to think more deeply, to really clear their schedules and do some pondering. They are not allowed to cry YUBA! to get out of thinking. After all, they are no longer the kind of Young that Newman is talking about; they are in the process of becoming Learned rather than Unlearned; they should manage their college time in such a way that they are not too Busy to think hard. Some of them are in fact Afflicted. Though affliction is a sliding scale and it’s not edifying to play the “More Afflicted Than Thou” card, there’s plenty of trouble to go around to everybody. But mostly I’m not thinking of them when I call the YUBA to mind. I’m trying to think of how to serve the great big church with all kinds of people in it, many of them –most of them– YUBA.