The Disadvantages of Comfort

When an inspiring Scottish friend recently teased me with a trenchant quote from John Henry Newman’s sermon, entitled “Religious Cowardice,” I deployed my resourcefulness promptly to find, if I could, the entire homily and to read it. Gratefully, I did. It is to be found in the second volume of his eight-volume collection of Anglican Sermons over the years 1834-1843, and it was originally delivered on the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist.1 Newman (1801-1890) was then only in his early or mid-thirties, or perhaps slightly older, and thus about the age of his former student, Hilaire Belloc, when Belloc made his own vigorous Path to Rome, or his other long journeys afoot on the Continent of Europe or in his beloved Sussex.2

The more specific placing of Newman’s sermon on Religious Cowardice seemed important to me, inasmuch as the counter-Erastian, and more sacramental Oxford Movement itself began only in 1833 (one year before Newman’s own sequence of sermons, and around the time when he joined that Movement); and Newman himself was received into the Roman Catholic Church, on 9 October 1845, only two years after the eight-volume sequence of Parochial and Plain Sermons concludes — namely, in 1843, when he also had made an almost formal retractation of all he had previously written or said against the Roman Catholic Church.

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