- “Now we are all but actors in this world; we are one and all equal, we shall be judged as equals as soon as life is over; yet, equal and similar in ourselves, each has his special part at present, each has his work, each has his mission,–”
- Newman Studies Journal
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 10, Number 2, Fall 2013
- pp. 3-6
- View Citation
- Additional Information
EDITORIAL PREFACE 3 “Now we are all but actors iN this world; we are oNe aNd all equal, we shall be judged as equals as sooN as life is over; yet, equal aNd similar iN ourselves, each has his special part at preseNt, each has his work, each has his missioN,—”1 This quotation—from the sixth of Newman’s Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations: “God’s Will: the End of Life”— is excerpted from a page-long paragraph: St. Paul on one occasion speaks of the world as a scene in a theatre. Consider what is meant by this.You know, actors on a stage are on an equality with each other really,but for the occasion they assume a difference of character;some are high,some are low, some are merry, and some sad.Well, would it not be a simple absurdity in any actor to pride himself on his mock diadem, or his edgeless sword,instead of attending to his part? what,if he did but gaze at himself and his dress? what, if he secreted, or turned to his own use, what was valuable in it? Is it not his business, and nothing else, to act his part well? common sense tells us so. Now we are all but actors in this world; we are one and all equal, we shall be judged as equals as soon as life is over; yet, equal and similar in ourselves, each has his special part at present, each has his work, each has his mission,—not to indulge his passions, not to make money, not to get a name in the world, not to save himself trouble, not to follow his bent, not to be selfish and self-willed, but to do what God puts on him to do. Although Newman ascribed his theatrical image of human actors and their activities to Saint Paul, one wonders whether his audience might also have been reminded of Shakespeare’s description of human life via a similar image in Macbeth: Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.2 Although both authors relied on stage-imagery,the implications are notably different. 1 John Henry Newman, Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations, 112; available at: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse6.html.These discourses were“the first work that Newman published under his own name as a Roman Catholic priest”(Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 342. 2 Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5, available at: http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/tomorrowtomorrow -tomorrow. NEWMAN STUDIES JOURNAL 4 This Shakespearean passage characterized the transitory roles of human life as “signifying nothing”; in contrast, for Newman, although the actors on this world’s stage have quite different roles,these roles constitute a personal“mission”to discover and to do what God wants of each of us. This theme of “mission” is a leitmotiv in Newman’s writings—especially in his biographical reminiscences and his spiritual reflections. For example, his “first conversion”—so eloquently described in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua—resulted in a life-long conviction that Divine Providence was watching over him and guiding him for a purpose—although his destiny was not immediately evident.3 Similarly, his illness in Sicily convinced him that God had spared him for a providential mission in the Church of England on his return to his native country after his Mediterranean voyage.4 This discourse on “God’s Will”—delivered soon after he became an Oratorian priest—reflects his view that each person has a mission in the world. Such a view of life is spiritually evocative: it invites each person to engage in a personal journey of self-discovery in order “to do what God puts on him to do.” Simultaneously, such a pilgrimage is interwoven with the collateral journeys of his fellow pilgrims, whose “missions” he needs in order to fulfill his own. One is hardly surprised then that Newman treasured his friendships, because he saw his friends as exercising...