In Praise of Blessed John Henry Newman
described by the epithets of "Romanism" or "Popery," was everywhere ridiculed and demeaned. The Church was the "whore of Babylon" in the poisoned minds of Englishmen. In some cases, Catholics still suffered under legal restrictions. Catholics held no positions of power.
Most of us do not have the integrity to unravel the conventional prejudices with which we grow up, even less so when they will result in the loss of social stature or influence. Newman, to his eternal credit, let nothing stand in the way of his dedication to truth. His was a life of intellectual and moral integrity.
What allowed Newman out of the envelope of anti-Catholic prejudice was his study of history and of the Fathers of the Church. "To be deep in history," he wrote in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, "is to cease to be a Protestant."
After his conversion to Catholicism, Newman spent some years in Rome to prepare to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood. There, he became acquainted with the reforming spirit of St. Philip Neri (1515-1595), the so-called "Apostle of Rome," and his Oratorians, a society of apostolic life. When he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood on May 30, 1847, Newman decided that he would promote the Oratorian spirituality in England.
Newman was involved in the founding of two Oratories: one in industrial Birmingham (over which he presided), and one in London. For a short period of time, he was appointed the first rector of a new Catholic University in Dublin, Ireland; however, the project never obtained the hierarchy's support. Though it might be seen as a failure, God's providence assured that it was not to be so. It was during his efforts there that Newman penned his Idea of a University, a book which Pope Benedict XVI described as one which "holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn."
After his ordination into the Catholic priesthood, Newman settled into his duties, and soon he seemed to disappear from public view. But then the Anglican minister Charles Kingsley, wrote a book in which he accused the Catholic clergy of dishonesty, specifically naming Newman as being dishonest and promoting dishonesty..
It was this gratuitous attack that caused Newman to defend the honor of the Church regarding honesty as well has his honor, and he wrote a defense of his life and his beliefs in the famous Apologia pro Vita Sua. This book is considered to be one of the greatest spiritual autobiographies since St. Augustine's Confessions. It catapulted Newman back into the limelight. This book ought to be read by any serious Catholic.
Newman's service to the Church was tremendous in quality, and it can hardly be summarized in a short article. One might point to his unique treatment on faith in his Grammar of Assent (where he advocated something called the "illative sense") was an original contribution to the Church's repository of thought on the reasonable justifications supporting the act of faith.
His devotion to conscience was such that he is often referred to as the Doctor of Conscience. He famously said "if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which, indeed, does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink - to the Pope, if you please - still, to conscience first and to the Pope afterward." Newman knew that a Pope without a conscience is more worthless than a conscience without a Pope. But as a Catholic, Newman also knew that both Pope and conscience were needed, and the two ought never be at odds, but were intended to be partners.
He strongly emphasized the role of the laity, a position which earned him the distrust of the English hierarchy who were not similarly prescient, but which eventually received recognition in Vatican II. For this reason, he is often referred to as the silent Father of Vatican II.
At the age of seventy-nine, Newman, the Oratorian priest, was created a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. This was seen as papal approval of Newman's thought, and it increased his influence. In Newman, Catholicism was once again seen by the English to be no intellectual or moral inferior to Anglicanism. It was, indeed, not seen as anything contrary to being English. When he died, thousands upon thousands of Englishmen lined the streets to pay respects to his body as it was taken to its place of burial.
In Newman, we confront a man who lived his life dedicated to the true and to the good, to truth and holiness. Without knowing it, he also exuded the other transcendentals. While pursuing the true and the good, Newman's soul not only achieved truth and good, Newman's soul also became one in integrity and resplendent in beauty.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman is a true man, a holy man, a good man, a man of integrity, a man of beauty. On January 22, 1991, Pope John Paul II recognized his heroic virtues and declared him venerable. On September 19, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI declared him blessed. But these are simply steps to what is obvious to anyone who knows his life: John Henry Newman is materially if not yet formally, a saint. He shows you what Christ and Catholicism will do to a man if you let it.
Newman's motto was "cor ad cor loquitur," or "heart speaks unto heart." Even after his death he speaks to human hearts and introduces them to the heart of God. Indeed, I know from personal experience. For Newman's heart spoke to my heart, and it was the colloquium between my heart and his which was an important part of my "reverting" or converting back to the Catholic Church. Newman is one of the first I hope to thank if and when I get to heaven.
Here on earth, I have prayed to God with Newman's words during Lent, words borrowed from his poem, "The Dream of Gerontius":
Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus,
De profundis oro te,
Miserere, Judex meus,
Parce mihi, Domine.
Holy and mighty. Holy God
From the depths I pray to you,
Have mercy on me, my Judge,
Spare me, O Lord."
For these words and the sentiments behind them, should they serve me to get me to heaven by God's great mercy, I hope to thank Newman. And there, I hope to praise the thrice-holy God with Newman and in the words of Newman also found in this same poem:
Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: John Henry Cardinal Newman, Blessed John henry newman, Saints, idea of a University, holiness, lay spirituality, Andrew M Greenwell, Esq.
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