An Ordinary Viewpoint

Blessed John Henry Newman - VIII

 Church Views

One of the best ways to begin to encounter the profound thought as well as to begin to touch the wonderful spirituality of Blessed John Henry Newman is simply to sample some of the vast quantity of written material that he left behind, and which is ours to treasure and enjoy. For instance, he wrote, "There is only one Oracle of God, the Holy Catholic Church and the Pope as her head. To her teaching I have ever desired all my thoughts, all my words to be conformed." Again he wrote, "Herein is the strength of the Church. She professes to be built upon facts, not opinions, on objective truths, not on variable sentiments, on immemorial testimony, not on private judgment, on convictions or perceptions, not on conclusions. None else but she can make this profession. She makes high claims against the temporal power, but she has that within her which justifies her. She merely acts out what she says she is. She does not more than she reasonably should do. If God has given her a specific work, no wonder she is not under the superintendence of the civil magistrates in doing it. She is the organ and oracle, and nothing else, of a supernatural doctrine, which is independent of individuals, given to her once for all, coming down from the first ages."

He wrote, "Right reason, that is, reason rightly exercised, leads the mind to the Catholic Faith, and plants it there, and teaches it in all its religious speculations to act under its guidance. But reason, considered as a real agent in the world and as an operative principle in man’s (fallen) nature, with a historical course and with definite results, is far from taking so straight and satisfactory a direction. It considers itself from first to last independent and supreme. It requires no external authority. It makes a religion for itself." Again he remarks, "This is glory of the Church, to speak, to do, and to suffer with that grace which Christ brought and diffused abroad. Not the few and the conspicuous alone, but all her children, high and low, who walk worthy of her and her divine Lord, will be shadows of Him. All of us are bound, according to our opportunities, first to learn the truth, and moreover we must not only know but we must impart our knowledge. Not only so, but next we must bear witness to the truth."

More on Church

In one of his meditations, Cardinal Newman wrote this prayer to Jesus: "Let me never for an instant forget that Thou has established on earth a kingdom of Thy own, that the Church is Thy work, Thy establishment, Thy instrument, and that we are under Thy will, Thy laws, and Thy eye, and that when the Church speaks, Thou dost speak. Let not familiarity with this wondrous truth lead me to be insensitive to it. Let not the weakness of Thy human representations lead me to forget that it is Thou Who dost speak and act through them." Addressing the Catholic Church in a poetic apostrophe, he wrote: "O long sought after, tardily found, desire of the eyes, joy of the heart, the truth after many shadows, the fullness after many foretastes, the home after many storms! Come to her, all poor wanderers, for she it is, and she alone, who can unfold the meaning of your being and the secret of your destiny. She alone can open to you the gate of heaven and put you on your way."

In another place he wrote, "The general sense of right and wrong, which is the first element in religion, is so delicate, so fitful, so easily obscured or perverted, so subtle in its argumentative methods, so impressed by education, so biased by pride and passion, so unsteady in its flight, that in the struggle for existence amid the various exercises and triumphs of the human intellect, this sense is at once the highest of all teachers, yet the least luminous, and, therefore, the Church, the Pope, and the hierarchy are in the divine purpose the supply of an urgent demand." He once exclaimed , The Catholic Church "coming to you from the very time of the Apostles, spreading out into all lands, triumphing over a thousand revolutions, exhibiting so awesome a unity, glorifying in so mysterious a vitality, so majestic, so imperturbable, so bold, so saintly, so sublime, so beautiful! O you sons of men, can you doubt that she is the divine messenger for whom you seek?"


In his "biglietto speech" on the occasion when he was officially notified that he was to be named a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, in 1879, Blessed John Henry Newman said, "For 30, 40, and 50 years, I have resisted, to the best of my powers, the spirit of liberalism in religion, an error overspreading the whole earth. Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is a teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion." He said, "Liberalism, then, is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the authority of the divine Word. It is the view that revealed religion is not a truth but a sentiment and a taste, not an objective fact, not miraculous, and it is the right of each individual to make it say what strikes his fancy. It is the view that the Governor of the world does not intend that we should gain the truth, that we are not more acceptable to God by believing this than by believing that, that no one is answerable for his opinions, that it is enough that we sincerely hold what we profess, that it is a duty to follow what seems to be true without any fear lest it should not be true, and that we may safely trust to ourselves in matters of faith and need no other guide."

Newman noted that Catholic truth, which is the fullness of correct Christianity, opposed to these errors, "teaches that there is a truth then, that there is one truth, and religious error is in itself of an immoral nature, that its maintainers, unless involuntarily such, are guilty in maintaining it, that the mind is below the truth and not above it, and is bound not to descant upon it, but to venerate it, that truth and falsehood are set before us for the trial of our hearts, that our choice is an awful giving forth of lots on which salvation or its rejection is inscribed, and before all things, it is necessary (as the Athanasian Creed proclaims) to hold the Catholic Faith, and that he who would be saved must think thus and not otherwise." Newman remembered that even when he was still a Protestant he thought that, "Liberalism was the badge of a theological school, of a dry and repulsive character, not very dangerous in itself, although dangerous as opening the door to evils which it did not in itself either anticipate or comprehend."

Pope’s Words

At the Newman beatification Mass last September 19th, Pope Benedict XVI talked about Newman’s "long life and priestly ministry of preaching, teaching, and writing." In Newman "the tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom, and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness."

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