Cardinal John Henry Newman's Thoughts on Progress
In spite of his overpowering sense of the power of sin, Newman is not as pessimistic about the possibility of spiritual progress as may seem. He once preached, "Who can say the heights to which in time men can proceed in all things, who beginning by little by little, yet in the distance shadow forth great things?" But we must "begin with the beginning" and not "with the end," for we have to mount up the heavenly ladder step by step." And so we shall make progress, imperceptible though it may be:
It is not by going on quietly and steadily, with the thought of Him in our mind's eye, that by little and little we shall gain something of warmth, light, life and love. We shall not perceive ourselves changing. It will be like the unfolding of leaves in spring.
And we shall succeed not in spite of but through our failures:
We advance to the truth by experience of error; we succeed through failures. We know not how to do right except by having done wrong . . . Such is the process by which we succeed; we walk to heaven backward.
To fail from a worldly point of view is to succeed spiritually, for there is "a mysterious connection between real advancement and self-abasement," whereby we find ourselves "as by a divine charm, getting power over the world and rising among the creatures.: Indeed, "the good cannot conquer, except by suffering."