Canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman

| Bishop Andrew Cozzens | September 26, 2019 | 0 Comments

In just a few weeks, Pope Francis will canonize Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most important Church figures in the last two centuries.

Even though he lived in the 19th century (1801-1890), he is often called the absent Father of Vatican II, because his ideas about evangelization, the role of the laity, the place of the university and the gift of conscience became so influential in the council. Many people think he will one day be named a doctor of the Church. Although his homilies are long by our standards, they are inspirational and speak to the modern world. They deal with real struggles of our own walk with Christ, especially how to deal with ideas that undermine our Catholic faith today. If you begin to read them, you catch the fire of holiness and love that burned in the heart of Cardinal Newman. They are all online (newmanreader.org).

Bishop Andrew CozzensCardinal Newman rose quickly in the Anglican Church and was very successful as a scholar and preacher. He served in what many considered the Anglican Church’s most prestigious academic post, the pastor of the Church of St. Mary at Oxford. In the middle of what should have been the high point of his ecclesiastical career he did a very unexpected thing. He resigned his post, and took a small parish where he did some real soul searching. After a period of discernment he did an even more unexpected thing, he left the Anglican Church and became a Catholic priest. He did this, because after an honest study of the Scriptures and the early Christian writers, he became convinced that Catholicism was true and that it was the Church that Jesus had established. He did it at great personal cost, because in England at that time Catholics were often persecuted, despised and thought to be anti-intellectual.

Cardinal Newman realized that the ideas of the modern world would put a great strain on Christian teaching. Already in his day he saw people questioning the authority of Scripture based on the modern methods of interpretation. He also realized that Christianity contained the truth that was necessary for salvation. The truth contained in the creeds and the traditions of the Church. He pointed out in one of his most famous works, “On the Development of Christian Doctrine,” that it would not make sense for God to give us in Jesus Christ the truth necessary for salvation and not also give us a way to keep that truth safe from corruption. The ideas present in the seed of divine revelation would surely have to grow and develop as even natural organisms do. But those same ideas could be corrupted and changed if not protected. He knew that Scripture alone could not be this infallible guide. Even though Scripture is the infallible word of God, there is often disagreement about how to interpret Scripture. Rather, there must be a living, infallible, authority that could interpret Scripture and tradition for our needs today. Then he looked around, and realized that only one Church claimed to have such an infallible authority — the Catholic Church. He knew at that moment he had to become a Catholic.

Cardinal Newman did not understand the infallibility of the Church in a simplistic way. He knew it was not only contained in the official infallible statements of the pope (which, by the way, there have only been two in the history of the Church). He understood infallibility was maintained in different ways in the Church through her official councils, through what the Church has always and everywhere taught, and even through the sense of the faithful, which could not be shaken from the truth when false teachings were introduced. He wrote a work that was considered controversial at the time, “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.” To Cardinal Newman, the faithful obviously meant those Christians who were fully living as disciples of Jesus, not just anyone who happened to call themselves Catholic. The sensus fidelium was one of the ways that God used in the history of the Church to protect her teachings when heresies entered in that could corrupt them. He pointed out that when the priest Arius proposed a new understanding of Jesus in the fourth century, most of the bishops bought into this “Arian Heresy,” that Jesus was the first of all creation and not fully divine. It was the laity, who were formed by the Sacred Liturgy and prayed to Jesus Christ as God, who saved the true teaching. Hence Cardinal Newman believed in the gift of a well-formed laity. To implement this, after he became Catholic, he began a course of study for the laity at the university he started in Dublin. Also at this time, he wrote one of his most important books, “The Idea of a University,” which is still the greatest description of what a modern Catholic university should be.

Although he was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879, Cardinal Newman was not always received well by the Church. And he could see the weaknesses of the Catholic Church, especially in some of its leaders. But this did not shake his faith in the Church, and he never regretted his decision to become a Catholic. He knew that Christ was in the Church and always leading it. As he wrote in “The Idea of a University”: “Trust the Church of God implicitly, even when your natural judgment would take a different course from hers, and would induce you to question her prudence or her correctness. Recollect what a hard task she has; how she is sure to be criticized and spoken against, whatever she does; — recollect how much she needs your loyal and tender devotion. Recollect, too, how long is the experience gained in eighteen hundred years, and what a right she has to claim your assent to principles which have had so extended and so triumphant a trial. Thank her that she has kept the faith safe for so many generations, and do your part in helping her to transmit it to generations after you.”

Canonización del cardenal John Henry Newman

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Category: Only Jesus