Personal Catholicism

Martin X. Moleski, SJ
Loyola Hall
Canisius College
Buffalo, NY 14208

January, 1999

This is the text that I used for my presentation at the Jesuit Lecture at Canisius College. It gives an idea of the material covered in my book, Personal Catholicism (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 200). Copyright 1999; all rights reserved.

The purpose of this essay is to show how two very different thinkers came to surprisingly similar conclusions about the nature of knowing. The claim made here is that Newman recognized the reality that Polanyi calls "tacit knowledge," while Polanyi recognized the reality that Newman calls "illative sense." Where Newman treated the tacit dimension as a matter of fact, Polanyi attempted to develop a theory to account for this fact.(1) What one man noted in passing, the other stopped to explore at length. Newman focused on the capacity of the mind to regulate itself by means of the illative sense; Polanyi concentrated on the product of this potency in the accumulation of tacit knowledge.

Illative Sense

Newman introduced the term, "illative sense," in the last three chapters of An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent,(2) as a "grand word for a common thing."(3) This "grand word" refers to the theme of informal reasoning, to which Newman returned repeatedly over three decades of reflection.(4) In his 1840 sermon, "Implicit and Explicit Reason," Newman anticipated many of the points developed at greater length in the Grammar:

The mind ranges to and fro, and spreads out, and advances forward with a quickness which has become a proverb, and a subtlety and versatility which baffle investigation. It passes on from point to point, gaining one by some indication; another on a probability; then availing itself of an association; then falling back on some received law; next seizing on testimony; then committing itself to some popular impression, or some inward instinct, or some obscure memory; and thus it makes progress not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff, who, by quick eye, prompt hand, and firm foot, ascends how he knows not himself, by personal endowments and by practice, rather than by rule, leaving no track behind him, and unable to teach another. It is not too much to say that the stepping by which great geniuses scale the mountains of truth is as unsafe and precarious to men in general, as the ascent of a skillful mountaineer up a literal crag. It is a way which they alone can take; and its justification lies in their success. And such mainly is the way in which all men, gifted or not gifted, commonly reason,--not by rule, but by an inward faculty.(5)

The "inward faculty" which operates without rules and which is incapable of being fully formalized or articulated is, in the Grammar, called the "illative sense." It is the guardian of the mind's operations, determining "by personal endowments and by practice" when and how to bring the mind to make the act of assent that is the foundation of all human certitude:

It is the mind that reasons, and that controls its own reasonings, not any technical apparatus of words and propositions. This power of judging and concluding, when in its perfection, I call the Illative Sense . . . (6)

The ninth chapter of the Grammar is entirely devoted to the illative sense. It is the keystone that completes Newman's epistemic investigations. In the tenth and concluding chapter, Newman uses the epistemology he has developed as a vehicle for theological reflection on natural and revealed religion.

Although the title of the Grammar may seem to promise that Newman will provide rules for the formation of correct assent, just as an English grammar provides rules for correct speech, the work itself is really written in opposition to efforts to formalize the conditions of belief. Where British empiricists were inclined to hold that 1) one must not believe what one does not understand and 2) one must not believe what cannot be proven, Newman took the opposite tack:

. . . Edward Caswall, a priest of the Birmingham Orator, wrote in his copy of the Grammar, after discussing it with Newman in 1877: "Object of the book twofold. In the first part shows that you can believe what you cannot understand. In the second part that you can believe what you cannot absolutely prove."(7)

It is the illative sense, operating informally, which licenses assent to what we cannot understand and to what we cannot prove. In the last analysis, Newman's Grammar of Assent declares that there are no rules adequate to determine the conditions of legitimate assent; it is only our own personal judgment that determines whom and what to trust.

It would be a rhetorical error--perhaps even a logical impossibility--to attempt a formal proof that the illative sense is the center of informal reasoning. Newman explores three certitudes that resist analysis: that Britain is an island, that the monks of the early middle ages did not compose the classics, and that we shall die.(8) Other examples and illustrations will be given in the discussion below. In place of formal proof, Newman offers an invitation to the reader to become personally aware of the peculiar inner guide that watches over all of our intellectual activity.

Tacit Knowledge

Newman died on August 11, 1890, in Edgbaston, England. Polanyi was born on March 11, 1891, in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family that was "talented and intellectual."(9) After completing a degree in medicine, he found himself attracted to Christianity: "For a time particularly from 1915 to 1920 I was a completely converted Christian on the lines of Tolstoy's confession of faith."(10) Although he was apparently baptized as a Roman Catholic, he later claimed that "he had never been a communicant of a church."(11) Polanyi's interest in science led him away from medicine to the study of the adsorption of gases (how gases adhere to the surface of solids), X-ray crystallography, and reaction kinetics.(12) In 1948, Polanyi "retired from the professional pursuit of science to take up philosophy."(13) Ten years later, he published his epistemic masterpiece, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy.(14)

The phrase "tacit knowledge" is used only rarely in Personal Knowledge,(15) but becomes more predominant in Polanyi's later writings as he developed the insight that "All knowledge is . . . either tacit or rooted in tacit knowing."(16) This is why knowledge is always personal knowledge; were it not for the tacit dimension of knowing, there would be no bar to the systematic depersonalization of knowledge. Because the root of knowledge always descends into silence, "we know more than we can tell."(17) Whatever articulate knowledge we possess is the focal point of tacit, subsidiary awareness: [from Tacit Dimension]

Viewing the content of these pages from the position reached in Personal Knowledge and The Study of Man eight years ago, I see that my reliance on the necessity of commitment has been reduced by working out the structure of tacit knowing. This structure shows that all thought contains components of which we are subsidiarily aware in the focal content of our thinking, and that all thought dwells in its subsidiaries, as if they were parts of our body. Hence thinking is not only necessarily intentional, as Brentano has taught: it is also necessarily fraught with the roots it embodies. It has a from-to structure.(18)

The art of knowing lies in the skill of bringing subsidiary awareness to bear on a meaningful focus of attention.

Like Newman, Polanyi offers no formal proof that tacit knowledge is the foundation of all knowing. He invited his readers to consider their own experiences of learning skills in order to recognize "the well-known fact that the aim of a skillful performance is achieved by the observance of a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them."(19) Knowledge of a skill is demonstrated by performance rather than by listing the correct rules; his initial examples are things like riding a bicycle, operating a glass-blowing machine, building a violin, and assessing works of art.(20) From these examples, he proceeds to the claim in the next chapter that articulation itself is a skillful performance that builds on a foundation of "mute abilities."(21) No set of words on the page can transmit this insight; readers must recognize for themselves that knowledge depends on tacit foundations.


The Tacit, Personal Dimension of the Illative Sense

Newman adverted to two quite different kinds of tacit knowledge: that which is only accidentally tacit, because it may be converted into an assertion based on formal reasoning, and that which is irreducibly tacit. Simple assent, being practically unconscious, may upon inspection reveal itself as capable of formalization:

A great many of our assents are merely expressions of our personal likings, tastes, principles, motives, and opinions, as dictated by nature, or resulting from habit; in other words, they are acts and manifestations of self: now what is more rare than self-knowledge? In proportion then to our ignorance of self, is our unconsciousness of those innumerable acts of assent, which we are incessantly making. And so again in what may be almost called the mechanical operation of our minds, in our continual acts of apprehension and inference, speculation, and resolve, propositions pass before us and receive our assent without our consciousness. Hence it is that we are so apt to confuse together acts of assent and acts of inference. Indeed, I may fairly say, that those assents which we give with a direct knowledge of what we are doing, are few compared with the multitude of like acts which pass through our minds in long succession without our observing them.(22)

In the unreflective state of simple assent, we may remain unconscious of the view from which our assents stem: "Each of us looks at the world in his own way, and does not know that perhaps it is characteristically his own."(23)

When confronted with this fact of human experience, it is natural to embark on a conversion project to transform simple assent into complex assent.(24) There are some notable successes in this effort, as when we move from a hunch to certitude through a long process of finding or creating connections to verify the insight: "it not infrequently happens, that while the keenness of the ratiocinative faculty enables a man to see the ultimate result of a complicated problem in a moment, it takes years for him to embrace it as a truth, and to recognize it as an item in the circle of his knowledge."(25) Other fundamental presuppositions resist such illumination. There are some kinds of knowledge that refuse to be cast into formal operations. Just as there are no rules that can replace genius,(26) so there are no rules that can take the place of real apprehension:

This is the mode in which we ordinarily reason, dealing with things directly, and as they stand, one by one, in the concrete, with an intrinsic and personal power, not a conscious adoption of an artificial instrument or expedient; and it is especially exemplified both in uneducated men, and in men of genius,--in those who know nothing of intellectual aids and rules, and in those who care nothing for them,--in those who are either without or above mental discipline.(27)

It is clear that Newman recognizes insight as a skillful performance that integrates many subsidiarily known clues:

[A peasant who can accurately predict the weather] does not proceed step by step, but he feels all at once and together the force of various combined phenomena, though he is not conscious of them. Again, there are physicians who excel in the diagnosis of complaints; though it does not follow from this, that they could defend their decision in a particular case against a brother physician who disputed it. They are guided by natural acuteness and varied experience; they have their own idiosyncratic modes of observing, generalizing, and concluding; when questioned, they can but rest on their own authority, or appeal to the future event.(28)

Polanyi's thesis that we always know more than we can tell seems to map perfectly over Newman's observations on the skill of sound judgment:

What I have been saying of Ratiocination, may be said of Taste, and is confirmed by the obvious analogy between the two. Taste, skill, invention in the fine arts--and so, again, discretion or judgment in conduct--are exerted spontaneously, when once acquired, and could not give a clear account of themselves, or of their mode of proceeding. They do not go by rule, though to a certain point their exercise may be analyzed, and may take the shape of an art or method.(29)

Both men agree that the mental experiment of translating all assents (commitments) into articulation breaks down in a philosophically significant fashion. If we cannot give a complete account of how we know what we know, we must revise our notions of knowledge and certitude.

Confronted with the fact of tacit knowledge, we face a choice between devaluing our certitudes against an objectivist standard, or else adopting the view that tacit, personal knowledge is real knowledge. In the latter model, the illative sense is what holds us to our self-set standards of judgment:

Thus in concrete reasonings we are in great measure thrown back into that condition, from which logic proposed to rescue us. We judge for ourselves, by our own lights, and on our own principles; and our criterion of truth is not so much the manipulation of propositions, as the intellectual and moral character of the person maintaining them, and the ultimate silent effect of his argument or conclusions upon our minds.(30)

Even though words are used to communicate the argument or conclusions, the act of weighing the value of the propositions employed is a tacit act.

Like Polanyi, Newman saw that the tacit dimension of thought necessarily implies that knowledge remains personal:

. . . unless I am mistaken, . . . [certitudes known without formal reasoning] are to be found throughout the range of concrete matter, and that supra-logical judgment, which is the warrant for our certitude about them, is not mere common-sense, but the true healthy action of our ratiocinative powers, an action more subtle and more comprehensive than the mere appreciation of a syllogistic argument. It is often called the "judicium prudentis viri," a standard of certitude which holds good in all concrete matter, not only in those cases of practice and duty, in which we are more familiar with it, but in questions of truth and falsehood generally, or in what are called "speculative" questions, and that, not indeed to the exclusion, but as the supplement of logic. Thus a proof, except in abstract demonstration, has always in it, more or less, an element of the personal, because "prudence" is not a constituent part of our nature, but a personal endowment.(31)

Personal knowledge is ultimately rooted in feelings--hence the appropriateness of the metaphor that this self-reflexive, subsidiary awareness is a "sense."(32) Newman noted that the "personal element" in proof is dependent on such intellectual passions:

And the language in common use, when concrete conclusions are in question, implies the presence of this personal element in the proof of them. We are considered to feel, rather than to see, its cogency; and we decide, not that the conclusion must be, but that it cannot be otherwise. We say, that we do not see our way to doubt it, that it is impossible to doubt, that we are bound to believe it, that we should be idiots, if we did not believe.(33)

The passionate roots of our convictions cannot be brought wholly into the light of analysis. Even when we are able to dig them out for examination, they cease to function as roots so long as they are exhumed from the ground of personal knowledge that gave them life. When the mind is operating normally, without straining to catch itself in the act of understanding, it is the illative sense that draws upon the roots of knowledge implicitly, without seeing directly how it is that these lines of passion transmit what is necessary for thought and provide stable frameworks for growth.

Newman spoke of the illative sense as an instinctual operation of the mind. Though the term "instinct" may be fraught with difficulties, depending on the model used to interpret this term, Newman's primary concern was to call attention to the fact that the vital functions of our minds have a life of their own that we rely on tacitly.(34) Because it operates tacitly, the "existing phenomenon" of "unconscious and implicit" reason may easily be overlooked in theories of consciousness and knowledge. The subsidiaries of thought work precisely as subsidiaries only when they remain buried beneath the level of focal awareness. Newman noted that in proposing to call such resources "instincts," he did not mean to imply that the correct employment of intelligence is strictly determined by our nature, as might be supposed from the model of instincts employed by naturalists to explain animal behavior:

It is difficult to avoid calling such clear presentiments by the name of instinct; and I think they may be so called, if by instinct be understood, not a natural sense, one and the same in all, and incapable of cultivation, but a perception of facts without assignable media of perceiving. There are those who can tell at once what is conducive or injurious to their welfare, who are their friends, who their enemies, what is to happen to them, and how they are to meet it. Presence of mind, fathoming of motives, talent for repartee, are instances of this gift.(35)

Where Polanyi used his distinctions between subsidiary and focal awareness and between tacit and explicit knowledge to call attention to this phenomenon, Newman distinguished between instinct and argument:

It is assent, pure and simple, which is the motive cause of great achievements; it is a confidence, growing out of instincts rather than arguments, stayed upon a vivid apprehension, and animated by a transcendent logic, more concentrated in will and in deed for the very reason that it has not been subjected to any intellectual development.(36)

Even though we can integrate new subsidiaries in order to change the pattern of our focal awareness, the new perceptual framework nevertheless exhibits the quality of being given spontaneously to us by an action of the intellect that is as natural as the operation of any of the bodily senses:

We proceed by a sort of instinctive perception, from premiss to conclusion. I call it instinctive, not as if the faculty were one and the same to all men in strength and quality (as we generally conceive of instinct), but because ordinarily, or at least often, it acts by a spontaneous impulse, as prompt and inevitable as the exercise of sense and memory. We perceive external objects, and we remember past events, without knowing how we do so; and in like manner we reason without effort and intention, or any necessary consciousness of the part which the mind takes in passing from antecedent to conclusion.(37)

It seems clear that in his discussion of the illative sense as an instinctive operation, Newman affirmed as a matter of fact that we know more than we can tell about how the mind moves itself to conclusions.

Even though Newman was primarily interested in establishing the tacit dimension of the illative sense as a matter of fact, he provided two substantive sets of observations that help us understand in some measure why we cannot formalize the whole of what we know: first, he held that the things grasped by thought remain fundamentally incommunicable; second, that thought itself is fundamentally non-verbal.

We cannot see through any one of the myriad beings which make up the universe, or give the full catalogue of its belongings. We are accustomed, indeed, and rightly, to speak of the Creator Himself as incomprehensible; and, indeed, He is so by an incommunicable attribute; but in a certain sense each of His creatures is incomprehensible to us also, in the sense that no one has a perfect understanding of them but He. We recognize and appropriate aspects of them, and logic is useful to us in registering these aspects and what they imply; but it does not give us to know even one individual being.(38)

We know more than we can tell, then, because the things that we know are not purely rational constructs, but incommunicable realities.

Newman's second observation that helps to explain the tacit dimension shows that thought, like things, eludes articulation. This is a truth that may be confirmed by introspection, but cannot be proven to those who refuse to assent on "reasonings not demonstrative."(39) Newman was convinced that it is wrong to assume that "whatever can be thought can be adequately expressed in words."(40) Since we cannot inspect others' interior processes, we can only see for ourselves in our own patterns of consciousness that there are indeed "acts of the mind without the intervention of language."(41) Newman was conscious of the paradox of attempting to speak about that which language cannot adequately express, and he concedes that examples which confirm his position "are difficult to find, from the very circumstance that the process from first to last is carried on as much without words as with them."(42) Ironically, some of Newman's most beautiful and arresting rhetoric is devoted to the topic of the inadequacy of language to represent the free flow of thought:

Science in all its departments has too much simplicity and exactness, from the nature of the case, to be the measure of fact. In its very perfection lies its incompetency to settle particulars and details. As to Logic, its chain of conclusions hangs loose at both ends; both the point from which proof should start, and the points at which it should arrive, are beyond its reach; it comes short both of first principles and concrete issues. Even its most elaborate exhibitions fail to represent adequately the sum-total of considerations by which an individual mind is determined in its judgment of things; even its most careful combinations made to bear on a conclusion want that steadiness of aim which is necessary for hitting it. As I said when I began, thought is too keen and manifold, its sources are too remote and hidden, its path too personal, delicate, and circuitous, its subject-matter too various and intricate, to admit of the trammels of any language, of whatever subtlety and of whatever compass.(43)

+ + + + + +


I do not believe that my understanding of the Church flows from my understanding of the epistemologies of Newman and Polanyi in the same way that conclusions flow from the axioms of geometry. Rather, I see the epistemologies as a source of tools for constructing understanding. A house is not deduced from a hammer, nor is an automobile a conclusion from its parts. My vision of the Church is not formally derived from post-critical epistemology, but is, I hope, developed, supported and strengthened by thinking about the personal and tacit dimension of knowledge.

The same tools used to construct the house of faith can be used to deconstruct it. By taking everything apart, it can be shown that a house is nothing but a collection of raw materials. Such analyses render the house uninhabitable. To enter into the intellectual dwelling provided by the faith, we must let the pieces fall into place and remain in place through the tacit integration of subsidiaries. In the years since I began this study, I have had the opportunity to learn more about Eastern religions. The first line of the Tao Te Ching has become more and more important to me as I have wrestled with the mystery of the limits of language: "The Tao that can be put into words is not the real Tao." I have rung dozens of changes on this theme for myself over the last few years. Within the realm of philosophy, it is a reminder that we know more than we can tell, not only because the thing that can be put into words is not the real thing but also because the thought that can be put into words is not the real thought. Our contact with reality, both external and internal, is always deeper than we can tell.

It is hard enough to speak well of ordinary realities that lie before our senses. I am constantly frustrated by my inability to express the beauty of of the hills in the southern tier of upstate New York. I have spent many delightful days at my family's camp, a tumbledown house nestled between two low hills. Before leaving, I've written a paragraph or two to remind myself of the day. My efforts to speak of the trees, wildflowers, clouds, sunsets, and the night sky fall far short of the everyday marvels that disclose themselves to my eyes--the day that can be put into words is not the real day. The task of saying what we see is much more difficult as we explore the physical world at greater depth. The physics that can be put into words is not the real physics. Real knowledge of the physical world is a matter of an integrating vision into integrated realities. Words, by their nature, force a disintegration of a vision into a linear sequence of abstractions that leaves out far more of reality than it captures.

So, too, in the spiritual life. The faith that can be put into words is not the real faith. At the core of the act of faith is a personal encounter between God and the believer. Newman held that there were two luminous beings in our experience, the self and God. But the very fullness of direct apprehension of the self and God mocks all of our efforts to capture self or God in words. Even in the act of speaking as best we can, we know that the self that can be put into words is not the real self and the God that can be put into words is not the real God. No set of propositions can fully disclose who I am. Even as I try to tell a few truths about myself, my mind surveys other aspects of my interior life that run deep into the tacit dimension. When the words run out, I remain--a mystery even to myself, luminous, real, incommunicable, a small image of the inexhaustible mystery of God. In both cases, the material that resists abstraction and that cannot be communicated in words is not a negligible residue, devoid of intellectual meaning, but is instead the heart of the whole matter and the point of every proposition.

In my view, the purpose of the Church is to make it possible for us to be personally united with Jesus and through him, to be united to all other persons. The institutional structures of the Church are secondary to the central personal relationship between the believer and the Savior. Because the Church is a reservoir of wisdom that has accumulated over the ages, and because of the power the Church holds to make decisions affecting the lives of the faithful, it is easy to lose sight of the heart of the Church in the ocean of words that have accumulated within the Church.

In the beginning of the Church was the Word. The Word that can be put into words is not the real Word. This Word was spoken from before all time, is spoken now, and always will be spoken by the One whom he called Father. The Word is a Person brought forth by a Person and intended to received by other persons (perhaps in the life of the Trinity, the first recipient of the Word is the Spirit).

When the Word came among us, we did not recognize his glory, for he had emptied himself of his divine power in order to become like us. His disciples were drawn to him for reasons that have not been fully disclosed. Heart spoke to heart, love was kindled, and they followed. They told us quite clearly that they did not understand Jesus at first, that their expectations, hopes and dreams were foolish and self-centered, and that they were heartbroken by the event which, with the eyes of faith, was later recognized as the moment of Jesus' greatest glory. After his resurrection and ascension, after the coming of the Spirit, and after allowing themselves to be transformed by the light of faith, the disciples saw the whole of their personal relationship with Jesus in a new light. In their first enthusiasm for following him, he must have seemed to be invulnerable. His death shattered that expectation. His resurrection was equally shocking to minds numb with grief. Only after a time of dwelling within the new interpretative framework could they grasp how he had made himself weak as an act of love, then received power and glory anew in his resurrection and ascension.

When the new interpretative framework was in place, the disciples were called to tell the good news to others. But the Jesus who can be put into words is not the real Jesus. The real Jesus is a divine Person who has always existed as God, the Son, who reigns now in glory, and who will always be the Way to union with the Father. The real Jesus is also a fully human being, just like us in everything except the darkness of sin, and he knows our state from the inside out. He is both near and far, known and unknown, like and unlike, ordinary and extraordinary, all powerful and wholly vulnerable. In any moment of speaking of him, we will grasp only one meager aspect and lose the rich totality of the God-Man. The full expression of who he is stumbles over the history of what he has been: pre-existent, incarnate, executed, raised from the dead, taken from this earth, and glorified.

Each proposition about Jesus reveals only one aspect of the Word while obscuring others. There is no stable resting place for the mind which seeks to express the whole of the Christian vision. If we speak of God, we obscure the tri-personal circumincession of Father, Son, and Spirit; if we do not speak of God, we neglect the doctrine of divine unity. If we speak of one Person, we cast the other two into a shadow; if we do not speak of each Person individually, we diminish our awareness of their unique character. If we speak of Jesus, calling on the name that is now above every other name, it brings his historical human nature to the forefront of consciousness at the expense of the eternal pre-existence of the Son and the glorified humanity now reigning in glory as the eternal Christ.

In the presence of such a tangle of truths, it might seem better to be still and be thought a fool than to speak and be proven to be foolish. But the Word himself commanded his followers to speak of what they had seen with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, and embraced with their own hearts. Not to tell the story would be a far greater disservice to the Word than to stammer about this astonishing Person. Because of his self-emptying love, Jesus not only made himself vulnerable to suffering and death, but also to misinterpretation. Because he embraced our human condition totally, it is easy to seize on the evidence of his humanity and to neglect the clues that point to his divinity. This seems to be the characteristic temptation of our age. In earlier times, perhaps, the temptation was to stress the divinity of Jesus to the detriment of grasping his full humanity. Holding the dual natures of Jesus in proper balance is a skill that is exercised and transmitted primarily in the tacit dimension.

Jesus did not communicate himself to his disciples by giving them a list of propositions to memorize. He wrote no catechism. Instead, he poured himself into their hearts both verbally and non-verbally. They knew him, and through him, they came to know the Father and the Spirit as Jesus knew them. The deposit of faith is therefore quintessentially personal. Physics is personal knowledge because the knower is a person; Christianity is far more personal than physics because both the knower and the known are persons.

Protestant spirituality has much to teach Catholics about the personal dimension of Christianity. While Catholics tend to talk about being "born Catholic," Protestants generally insist that the believer must make an independent decision to surrender themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the existentialists taught that no one can take a bath for someone else, so the Protestants recognize that no one else can make a personal commitment to Christ for another. David DuPlessis often preached on the theme that "God has no grandchildren." Each believer is called to be born again as a son or daughter of God in an act of real apprehension and real assent. After hearing of the love of God through human testimony, those who are called to faith must make the discovery for themselves, with the help of God's grace, that the same Jesus who died and rose from the dead thousands of years ago is alive now and is eager to love them directly and personally.

The challenge for Catholics is to bear in mind that all of the articulate treasures accumulated from centuries of development of doctrine must be recognized as subsidiary to the personal relationship between Jesus and his beloved disciples. Seeing Jesus makes sense of all of the structures of the Church. The infallibility of the Church is a function of Jesus' authority and power as true God and true man. The sacramental life of the Church is the risen and glorified Jesus at work in the hearts of his people. The power of the Church to choose disciplines of prayer and fasting reflects the power of the Good Shepherd to lead the flock as a whole.

The dogmatic propositions in the treasury of the Church are precious because they preserve the definitive revelation given once for all time by the incarnate Word. But the dogma that can be put into words is not the real dogma. Many Catholic theologians, especially in the manualist tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, give the impression that knowing all of the facts about Jesus is all that is required. Knowing facts about someone is not the same as knowing the person. I know many facts about the President of the United States, more perhaps than I do about many of my friends, but I do not know him personally. For many Catholics, the transition from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus personally seems to be inhibited rather than served by the richness of the articulate tradition.

The articulate dimension of revelation is not the enemy of the tacit dimension; speech springs forth from silence. The institutional dimension of the Church is not the enemy of the personal dimension; the structure springs forth from the Person of Jesus. It is all too easy for both Catholics and non-Catholics to focus on subsidiary elements of the Church (dogma, sacraments, discipline) at the expense of the whole, but that does not mean that we can discard the subsidiaries at will. Memorizing a physics textbook is not enough to produce a good scientist; memorizing the catechism of the Church is not enough to produce a personal relationship with Jesus. In each case, the data is insufficient without a personal reorganization, a flash of insight, the opening of the eyes of the mind and heart to a new vision of reality, a discovery that transforms the person from within.

The fact that physics requires far more than can be captured in a physics text does not mean that physics can burn its textbooks. The fact that Jesus cannot be reduced to a set of propositions does not mean that Christianity can cast aside its catechisms. As Polanyi showed, the way to make fresh, new discoveries that transform the scientific tradition is first to dwell within the tradition, absorbing the tacit vision by assimilating the articulate elements into one's own interpretative framework. The only way to contribute to Christianity's future is to embrace its past and present. Jesus made himself, his Father and his Spirit known to his disciples. They, in turn, under the direction of the risen Lord, made him known to all generations. This body of knowledge is partly preserved in speech, partly in ritual, and partly in the tacit dimension of personal and corporate consciousness. The Lord who now reigns in glory, uniting all believers in one body by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, is the same Jesus who made friends with people in Galilee and led them on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. To know him as he is now is to learn how he was then. To make him known to others is to speak what can be said and to trust both the power of God and the powers of the human mind to complete the transmission of Jesus in the tacit dimension.

1. This claim is patterned on John T. Ford's insight into the nature of Newman's Essay on the Development of Doctrine, which was developed in a course entitled, "Newman the Theologian."

2. Edited and with introduction by Nicholas Lash (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979). "Illative sense" is etymologically related to "inference"--the fourth principal part of the Latin verb "infero" is "illatus."

3. Zeno, John Henry Newman: Our Way to Certitude: An Introduction to Newman's Psychological Discovery: The Illative Sense and His "Grammar of Assent" (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1957), 2, 263: in a letter to Charles Meynell, November 17, 1869.

4. In the ninth chapter of the Grammar, Newman quotes from his 1837 work, The Prophetical Office of the Church, and then uses the term "illative sense" to sum up his reflections on informal reasoning and to demonstrate the continuity of this thought (Grammar, 296-7). Zeno notes that the "doctrine of the illative sense may be found in the University Sermons when [Newman] speaks about implicit and explicit reason" (Certitude, 13; cf. 168). In the Grammar, Newman makes a parallel distinction between informal and formal inference, and speaks of informal inference as one of the distinctive operations of the illative sense (Grammar, 283).

5. Newman's University Sermons: Fifteen Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford, 1826-43, with introduction by D.M. MacKinnon and J.D. Holmes (London: S.P.C.K., 1970; third edition, 1871), 257.

6. Grammar, 276-7; cf. 283, 321.

7. Lash, introduction to the Grammar, 12. The source of the Caswall quotation is C.S. Dessain, John Henry Newman (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1966), 148; Lash continues, "On these two propositions, cf. Grammar, 128, 209."

8. Grammar, 234-239.

9. Richard Gelwick, The Way of Discovery: An Introduction to the Thought of Michael Polanyi (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 4, 31-2.

10. Scott, "The Question of Religious Reality: Commentary on the Polanyi Papers," Zygon 17 (1982) 85-6.

11. Ibid., 86.

12. Polanyi, Knowing and Being, edited by Marjorie Grene (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 93, 97, 104.

13. Knowing and Being, 87.

14. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

15. The phrase Polanyi used most often in Personal Knowledge is the "tacit coefficient" of knowing and speaking (86, 169, 250, 257, 259, 336). He also spoke of "tacit assent" (95, 260, 266, 312), "tacit affirmations" (131), "tacit judgments" (205, 206), "tacit endorsements" (207, 268) and "tacit commitments" (251). "Tacit knowledge" (169) or "tacit knowing" (264) serve in Polanyi's later writings and in this essay as a useful reminder of all that Polanyi had to say about the "ineffable domain" of knowledge (87). Marjorie Grene noted that tacit knowing is subsidiary to the notion of commitment in Personal Knowledge (introduction to Knowing and Being, xiv).

16. Meaning, 61; emphasis added. The same claim appears in nearly identical form in Knowing and Being (195). In 1964, Polanyi wrote a new introduction to Science, Faith and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), which had originally been published in 1946 and which has no reference to "tacit knowledge" or the "tacit coefficient" or to any of the parallel expressions that appear in the 1958 Personal Knowledge. In this introduction, Polanyi observed that the word "intuition" plays the same role in the earlier work that "tacit coefficient" does in the later, and maintained that "This conception of reality and of the tacit knowing of reality underlies all my writings" (10). If so, the insight remains fundamentally the same although the language used to express it varies somewhat through Polanyi's philosophical career.

17. Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1966), 4.

18. Tacit Dimension, x.

19. Personal Knowledge, 49.

20. Personal Knowledge, 50, 52, 53, 55.

21. Personal Knowledge, 70.

22. Grammar, 157.

23. Grammar, 291.

24. This "conversion project" comes to us naturally as well as through the recommendations of critical philosophies: "Our inquiries spontaneously fall into scientific sequence, and we think in logic, as we talk in prose, without aiming at doing so. However sure we are of the accuracy of our instinctive conclusions, we as instinctively put them into words, as far as we can . . ." (Grammar, 228).

25. Grammar, 143.

26. "In saying this, I am not disposed to deny the presence in some men of an idiosyncratic sagacity, which really and rightly sees reasons in impressions which common men cannot see, and is secured from the peril of confusing truth with make-belief; but this is genius, and beyond rule" (Grammar, 81).

27. Grammar, 261.

28. Grammar, 261-2. Newman went on to discuss similar skills in lawyers, detectives, and similar experts, as well as in "reading" the character of those with whom we come in contact in our personal affairs.

29. Grammar, 266.

30. Grammar, 240.

31. Grammar, 251.

32. Newman did not directly use the (admittedly provocative and contemporary) term, "feelings." Instead, he used various forms of the verb, "to feel," in order to distinguish the quality of illation from that of formal argument, as in this passage: ". . . 'rational' is used in contradistinction to argumentative, and means 'resting on implicit reasons,' such as we feel, indeed, but which for some cause or other, because they are too subtle or too circuitous, we cannot put into words so as to satisfy logic" (Grammar, 256).

33. Grammar, 251.

34. Grammar, 260.

35. Grammar, 263.

36. Grammar, 177. Along similar lines, Newman distinguishes between tacit, "mental reasoning" and formal, "verbal reasoning" (Grammar, 212).

37. Grammar, 209.

38. Grammar, 226.

39. Grammar, 150.

40. Grammar, 212.

41. Grammar, 220.

42. Grammar, 254-5.

43. Grammar, 227.