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Word on Fire


John Henry Newman

LESSON 1 The Importance of Saint John Henry Newman

Written by Robert Mixa, M.T.S. It is hard to overestimate the influence and ongoing significance of English theologian and saint John Henry Newman (1801-1890). His influence on the Vatican II Council Fathers is well documented, and his books continue to be read by both believers and nonbelievers. But he is not without controversy. Like the legacies of many great theologians, Newman’s thought is heavily debated, especially in regards to the development of doctrine and its supposed modernist tinge. It is important to delve into his thought so as to better understand the man and his contribution to Catholicism. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his address at the prayer vigil on the eve of the beatification of St. John Henry Newman, “Newman is relevant to our lives as believers and to the life of the Church today because of his witness to the truth.” Newman is interpreted in many ways. Some use him to justify what Dr. Reinhard Huetter calls “presentism” (i.e., changing doctrine with the zeitgeist); others react to him in an antiquarian way, saying that no development of doctrine is possible. Some see him as a liberal modernist; others see him as its great opponent, as Newman himself described himself in his famous Biglietto Speech. Some think his thought on truth and conscience is subjectivist; others find an objectivist way of reading his position. Newman is a subtle thinker, and getting Newman right is crucial in today’s theological debates given that he is often cited to justify many dubious moves. But he dealt with secular reason better than anyone, providing us a guide in how to navigate difficulties now facing the Church. JOHN HENRY NEWMAN: THE GREATEST CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN SINCE AQUINAS PAGE 2 In the twentieth century many important theologians saw Newman as the best Catholic theologian since Aquinas, translating his texts in their respective languages. Erich Pzrywara, perhaps the most preeminent theologian of the twentieth century, translated Newman into German, introducing him to the many German theologians who would influence the shape of theology up to the present day. Some have critiqued his reading of Newman, claiming he overemphasized the existential character in his thinking. Henri de Lubac, a major French theologian of the history of doctrine who, with Jean Danielou, retrieved the writings of the Church Fathers in their famous Sources Chretiennes, made use of Newman’s development of doctrine to justify his understanding of Aquinas and the tradition in Surnatural. Balthasar, a student of Pzrywara and de Lubac, was greatly influenced by Newman in his program of retrieving the many voices within the Catholic tradition, each illuminating an aspect of the whole Christ, beyond the confines of a manualist Thomism. Many theologians teaching today continue to find inspiration in Newman. Thus, it is fair to say Newman’s influence in theology was and continues to be strong. Newman anticipates many of the controversies and developments in twentieth century philosophy. One of the great philosophical movements on the European continent was phenomenology, led by the great Edmund Husserl. Husserl was a student of Newman’s acquaintance, Franz Brentano, a famous German philosopher who left the priesthood and the Church because of his disagreement with papal infallibility. Despite that, Brentano taught Husserl, who taught Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta) and Dietrich von Hildenbrand. Edith Stein, like Pzyrwara (her mentor and friend), translated Newman and Catholicism’s other great theologian, Aquinas, into German. It would be a mistake to paint Newman as simply a phenomenologist, though. He was much more than that. Another Catholic philosopher influenced by both phenomenology and Aquinas, while not falling into any particular school of thought, was Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II). He and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, in trying to propagate a proper hermeneutic of Vatican II within the Church, upheld Newman as avoiding the two poles that Vatican II wanted to avoid (i.e., an ossified tradition and an openness to the world that doesn’t preserve the faith). Newman is a great representative of the living faith. They also upheld Newman’s contributions to epistemology as fitting for theology. Later in this course Bishop Barron will explore Newman’s Grammar of Assent to help us better understand why Newman’s epistemology (which is a theory of knowledge;episteme means science, knowledge, understanding) is so significant for theology today. Modern epistemology tends to discredit theology in an a priori fashion, whereas Newman provides a good critique of the modern quest for certitude and provides reasons for giving one’s assent to theological propositions without a strict , bringing together faith and reason. PAGE 3 Newman’s life is a witness to the search for truth. Newman had a religious experience when he was fifteen that convinced him of the existence of God and his soul. While he grew up in a low Anglicanism (evangelical), his Oxford experience put him in touch with the high Church of England, which preserved some Catholic sensibilities, eschewing the general Protestant push away from the Church and the sacraments. He was utterly convinced of the sacramental principle that “material phenomena are both the types and instruments of real things unseen”. Also, he was never convinced by the modern emphasis on certainty and the starting point of Cartesian epistemology. He believed that the best we could have are probabilities, and certainty is hard to find, at least in this life. He read the Church Fathers and imitated their rhetorical style, which is closer to the lived faith than the syllogistic rationalism one finds in some nineteenthcentury scholastics—the theology Newman found, to his chagrin, dominating the schools in Rome after becoming Catholic. Newman was a great historian of the Church, and his historical research of the fourth and fifth centuries led him to convert to Catholicism. Newman famously said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” May we learn from Newman’s life and thought so as to better evangelize a culture which, I think, would readily take to him as its guide.

  • Themes of John Henry Newman's Writings
    • The Catholic Nature of Christianity
    • The intellectual character of Christianity
    • Ecumenism
    • The nature of university education
    • Authority and freedom in the Church
  • Newman's intellectual and spiritual autobiography - Apologia Pro Vita Sua - He tells his story with a great stress on the development of his own mind
    • Apologia means apologize (bringing a word to something) explain, early 1860s
    • Born in the heart of London in 1801
    • Conversion to Roman Catholicism happens at midpoint of his life in 1845
    • At age 15, 1816 - conversion experience of which he said "This experience gave me a keen consciousness of two luminously self-evident realities, namely God and my own soul."

LESSON 2: The Apologia Pro Vita Sua: Newman as an Anglican

  • He went to Oxford University at age 16
  • Newman was expelled from Oxford when he became a Catholic
  • embraces the principal of "probability" over "certitude"
  • Lead Kindly Light - poem later made into a hymn. "I don't ask to see the distant scene, - one step enough for me." that is Lord, just give mme enough light to take the net step in my life.
    • 1833, Newman in 32 years old, The Oxford Movement He bands together with his Oxford friends. Compose Tracts for the times. Also called the Tractarian Movement.
  • The principals of the Tractarian Movement
    • The principal of dogma. This pits the tractarians against all forms of liberalism. The belief that dogmas and doctrines are secondary and deritive expressions of sentiment and feeling.
    • Belief in a visible Church with sacraments and rites which are channels of invisible grace.
    • The Anti-Roman principal. He eventually repudiates this prin. Primarily objected to Mary and the authority of the Pope
    • They saw themselves as the Via Media, the middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism
    • 1841 Writes infamous Tract 90. He states a Catholic reading of the 39 Articles which where a basic statement of what Anglicans believed. Because Anglicism was the official religion of England, they had enormous political and cultural importance.
    • He went through a crisis and asked to be removed from the Oxford movement.

LESSON 3: The Apologia Pro Vita Sua: Newman as a Catholic

  • 1939 - Does research on the church of antiquity.
  • 1845 Newman becomes a Roman Catholic. The middle of his life.
  • We don't ascent to something on one clinching argument but rather a whole seres of hunches, experiences, intuitions, arguments
  • May 30 1847 Ordained to Catholic priesthood.
  • Took position as rector and president of university in Dublin. Wrote The Idea of A University on the nature of Catholic education
  • For a number of reasons, he was a practical failure and resigns in 1857
  • He suffered from depression and thought himself a failure.
  • What turned him around was the Kinglsy controversy the response of which was to write the Apalogia. From then on, he was a deeply revered and respected figure.

LESSON 4: An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

  • The statement on papal infallibility came out in 1879, from Vatican I
  • 1870 when 69 years old, publishes what many consider his masterpiece, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent
  • 1878 Pope Leo XIII, put in place, creates as his 1st Cardinal, John HN.
  • Aug 11 1890 Dies
  • Beatified in 2010 by Joseph Ratizinger
  • Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - Synthesis, antithesis, thesis - the play The theme of the time was the evolution of thihngs.
  • Newman sees doctrine not a given once and for all, unchanging over the centureis, but alive and dynamic.
  • He said that the protestant approach, that is going back to the bible as the only source forces you to see all tradition as a series of mistakes. The Anglican approach is not right.
  • In contrast to those two, he proposes "the development of Christian Doctrine.". He says that the self, same doctrine, becomes more authentically itself, as it unfolds, over space and time.
  • Starts with a general consideration of the development of ideas, not specifically religious ideas.
  • With new ideas, "we compare, contrast, abstract, generalize, connect, adjust, classify".
  • "The idea which represents an object... is commensurate with the sum total of its possible aspects".
  • He says the idea is developing.

Seven Deadly Sins

From the bottom

Pride Humility More
Envy Admiration