The thoughts and writings of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman have great relevance to the Church today, especially regarding the scourge of “liberalism” as he labeled the rationalist/secularist mindset in academia more than a century ago. Read his sermon “The Infidelity of the Future” and consider the relevance to today’s crises of secularism, religious freedom and clergy sex abuse.
So it’s not surprising that “progressives” in the Church today—many of whom seem to have as much a problem with Catholic doctrine and practice as they do with perceived clericalism—prefer a rather distorted view of Newman. Newman is easy to distort and misquote, which ironically is what one NCR columnist (a former journalism professor at a secular university) now accuses The Cardinal Newman Society of doing.
Sadly there’s not much worthy of debate here, because NCR throws out charges without substantiation and forgoes even the assemblage of out-of-context Newman quotes that usually accompany such claims. The posthumous attempt to make Newman a “progressive,” at least the label is used today, is silly and has already been debunked by the best scholars.
But the occasion does seem a good opportunity to encourage attention to Newman and his “idea” of a university. Here are some links to get started:
- Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly lecture at the Portsmouth Institute on “Newman and the Renewal of Catholic Higher Education,” June 2010
- Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas on “Ex corde Ecclesiae: Echoes of Newman’s The Idea of a University,” CNS Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, October 2009
- His Eminence Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., on “Newman’s Idea of a University: Still Relevant to Catholic Higher Education,” at The Cardinal Newman Society national conference, November 2001
And a few quotes from our two great professor-popes:
Pope Benedict XVI on Newman
“Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, [Newman] sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.”
- Homily on the Beatification of Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman (Sept. 19, 2010)
“In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free. Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that ‘kindly light’ wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost. Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.”
- Address to the Bishops of England and Wales on “Ad Limina” Visit (Feb. 1, 2010)
Pope John Paul II on Newman
“Newman was born in troubled times which knew not only political and military upheaval but also turbulence of soul. Old certitudes were shaken, and believers were faced with the threat of rationalism on the one hand and fideism on the other. Rationalism brought with it a rejection of both authority and transcendence, while fideism turned from the challenges of history and the tasks of this world to a distorted dependence upon authority and the supernatural. In such a world, Newman came eventually to a remarkable synthesis of faith and reason which were for him ‘like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth’ (Fides et Ratio, Introduction; cf. ibid., 74).”
- Letter on 2nd Centenary of John Henry Newman’s Birth (Jan. 22, 2001)
“Newman’s quest for the truth led him to search for a voice that would speak to him the authority of the living Christ. His example holds a lasting appeal for all sincere scholars and disciples of truth. He urges them to keep asking the deeper, more basic questions about the meaning of life and of all human history; not to be content with a partial response to the great mystery that is man himself; to have the intellectual honesty and moral courage to accept the light of truth, no matter what personal sacrifice it may involve.”
- Letter on First Centenary of John Henry Newman’s Death (June 18, 1990)
“In the present changing circumstances of European culture, does Newman not indicate the essential Christian contribution to building a new era based on a deeper truth and higher values? He wrote: ‘I want to destroy that diversity of centres, which puts everything into confusion by creating a contrariety of influences. I wish the same spots and the same individuals to be at once oracles of philosophy and shrines of devotion…’ In this endeavour the path the Church must follow in succinctly expressed by the English Cardinal in this way: ‘The Church fears no knowledge, but she purifies all; she represses no element of our nature, but cultivates the whole’ (The Idea of a University, Westminster, Md., p. 234).”
- Address to Academic Symposium to Commemorate Centenary of John Henry Newman’s Death (April 27, 1990)
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