Blessed John Henry Newman
Cor ad Cor Loquitur
Many colleges have a Newman Center or a Newman Club. Do you know why?
(“Heart Speaks to Heart”)
~Cardinal Newman’s personal motto
Blessed John Henry Newman (1890-1901) is often the patron of Catholic Campus Ministries throughout the United States. He has had a profound influence upon the way people think about education and the University (especially Catholic higher education), on the role of the laity in the Church and—eventually—upon the Second Vatican Council. In fact, he has often been called “the absent father of the Council”. In addition, as a writer he was one of the foremost stylists of the English language, and as a thinker he had great influence on education, literature, and on critical thinking. As a theologian, his influence is still being widely felt throughout the Catholic Church.
John Henry Newman was a man of deep and active faith who was also devoted to scholarship and to truth. He looked to tradition for understanding and truth, while at the same time being aware of how the expression of tradition and doctrine has changed with the changing needs of the Church. He encouraged lay people to take active roles at a time when this was not done, and provided inspiration for the Church’s understanding of the importance of lay people’s work in the world and in the Church. He demonstrated in his own life that academic integrity and religious faith go hand in hand.
|Newman’s life and work|
Beginnings at Oxford
Newman was not born Catholic. In fact, he was an Anglican priest, educated at Oxford University in england, where He became one of the most influential leaders of the Oxford Movement, a reform movement which sought to reform the Anglican Church and which saw Anglicanism as the via media, a bridge between Catholicism and Protestantism. Newman and other leaders appealed to the Church Fathers and the ancient roots of the Church in order to restore Anglicanism to its essential catholicity. As a dynamic preacher and tutor, Newman was highly regarded as a spokesman for this effort, and people flocked to St. Mary’s Church at Oxford to hear his eloquent and powerful sermons.
Drawing closer to Rome
However, Newman’s research slowly drew him towards the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1843 he resigned from his position as rector of St. Mary’s. After almost two years off prayer and reflection, Newman took the final step and was received into the Catholic Church in 1845. The next year he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.
There was a price for this: at that time in England Roman Catholics were legally barred from teaching or preaching at Oxford or any other of the colleges and universities of England. (They also could not vote or hold office.) So Newman went to Birmingham, where for the next nine years he established and worked to develop the Oratory there. (An Oratory is a place for prayer and study.) He was also bitterly denounced by many of his former friends and students as a traitor to the Anglican Church and the Oxford Movement. During this time Newman wrote his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, describing how he came to embrace the Catholic church. This book is still considered one of the great works of Catholic Christian “apologetic” literature.
|The Idea of a (Catholic) University|
Newman then worked to help crate the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin, where he served as Rector from 1854-1858. In the process he gave several lectures and wrote a series of articles on the nature and scope of University education. His own experience at Oxford, both as a student and a teacher, had given him many ideas about what a university education should be. Contrary to many who wanted to exclude whatever was “dangerous” in modern thought, Newman felt that a Catholic University should prepare good Catholics to deal with the world, rather than shelter them from it. “Not to know…is the state of slaves or children…” He firmly believed that any genuine discovery that seemed contrary to Revelation would ultimately prove to be compatible with authentic religious truth. He emphasized that free discussion was necessary in order for this to happen. His views were summed up in The idea of a University, which is still being taught and read today.
Newman was a great champion of the laity. While articles like “On consulting the Laity in Matters of Doctrine” earned him the suspicion of many authorities in his own time, much of his thought was reflected in the decrees of the second Vatican Council.
At a time when many in the Church (and elsewhere) felt attacked by the whole concept of evolution, Newman’s study of the Church fathers and its history had shown him that within the Church itself, understanding the Church’s dogma had evolved by a gradual process, assimilating elements from various sources, changing and developing over the centuries under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to give fresh expression to the ancient truths.
|Papal Support—Cardinal Newman|
While his ideas were opposed at the time, they took root, flowered and were developed in the work of the Second Vatican Council some hundred years later. Late in his life, Newman’s contribution to the Roman Catholic Church was recognized by Pope Leo XIII, who made the now frail and elderly priest a Cardinal in 1879. (This was the first time a simple priest without Curial connections was so honored.) On August 11, 1890, Newman died and was buried in Warwickshire, England. His motto, “cor ad cor loquitur” (heart speaks to heart) was embroidered on his pall, and his epitaph reads “ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatum”—“out of images and shadows into truth”.
|On the two hundredth anniversary of Newman’s being made a cardinal, Pope John Paul II proclaimed:|
His inspiring influence as a great teacher of the faith and spiritual guide is being ever more clearly perceived in our own day… by insisting that “the Church must be prepared for converts, as well as converts being prepared for the Church” he already in a certain measure anticipated in his broad theological vision one of the main aims and orientations of the Second Vatican Council and the Church in the post-conciliar period. I also wish to express my personal interest in the process for beatification of this … “good and faithful servant” of Christ and the Church.
Newman’s writings both championed and embodied the ideal of college education for Catholics. During the late nineteenth century, as Catholic students began t0o enter the “mainstream” of public higher education, Newman “clubs” began to spring up at secular universities and colleges throughout the country.
The holiness of Newman’s life and the importance of his influence led to his beatification by Pope Benedict XVI on Sept 19, 2010.