Very various are the Saints, their very variety is a token of God’s workmanship; but however various, and whatever was their special line of duty, they have been heroes in it; they have attained such noble self-command, they have so crucified the flesh, they have so renounced the world; they are so meek, so gentle, so tender-hearted, so merciful, so sweet, so cheerful, so full of prayer, so diligent, so forgetful of injuries; they have sustained such great and continued pains, they have persevered in such vast labours, they have made such valiant confessions, they have wrought such abundant miracles, they have been blessed with such strange successes, that they have been the means of setting up a standard before us of truth, of magnanimity, of holiness, of love. They are not always our examples, we are not always bound to follow them; not more than we are bound to obey literally some of our Lord’s precepts, such as turning the cheek or giving away the coat; not more than we can follow the course of the sun, moon, or stars in the heavens; but, though not always our examples, they are always our standard of right and good; they are raised up to be monuments and lessons, they remind us of God, they introduce us into the unseen world, they teach us what Christ loves, they track out for us the way which leads heavenward. They are to us who see them, what wealth, notoriety, rank, and name are to the multitude of men who live in darkness, – objects of our veneration and of our homage.
O who can doubt between the two? The national religion has many attractions; it leads to decency and order, propriety of conduct, justness of thought, beautiful domestic tastes; but it has not power to lead the multitude upward, or to delineate for them the Heavenly City. It comes of mere nature, and its teaching is of nature. It uses religious words, of course, else it could not be called a religion; but it does not impress on the imagination, it does not engrave upon the heart, it does not inflict upon the conscience, the supernatural; it does not introduce into the popular mind any great ideas, such as are to be recognised by one and all, as common property, and first principles or dogmas from which to start, to be taken for granted on all hands, and handed down as forms and specimens of eternal truth from age to age. It in no true sense inculcates the Unseen; and by consequence, sights of this world, material tangible objects, become the idols and the ruin of its children, of souls which were made for God and Heaven. It is powerless to resist the world and the world’s teaching: it cannot supplant error by truth; it follows when it should lead. There is but one real Antagonist of the world, and that is the faith of Catholics; – Christ set that faith up, and it will do its work on earth, as it ever has done, till He comes again.
Extract of: J. H. Newman, Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregation, Discourse V Saintliness the Standard of Christian Principle, Gracewing, Notre-Dame University Press 2002.