Gary Wills argues in “New Pope? I’ve given up hope” (NYT, Feb. 12, 2013) that Catholic laymen and women should decide on what constitutes Catholic doctrine. He forgets that Jesus chose Apostles who in turn appointed bishops to leads the local churches. For a long time Wills has been rejecting Papal authority and infallibility. His refutation of the doctrine of Papal infallibility begs the question. He argues that ‘since the Popes confirm what other Popes have taught about faith and morals is true then Papal infallibility must be wrong.’

He fails to make his case. And in his article he disregards any analysis of the truth of doctrinal claims. If the Pope said contraception is not wrong, and abortion is fine then Wills would likely think that Papal Infallibility is correct. Regarding this doctrine Wills should read Newman’s famous Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.

Wills refers to Cardinal John Henry Newman to bolster his case for popular vote on doctrinal matters. But he does not understand Card. Newman, who bases his whole thinking about the sense of the faithful on adherence to the content of Faith handed down through the centuries, that is, Tradition. In his Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine explained that “consulting” means that the faithful witness to what has been Catholic belief. He explains that if a theologian “were expressing himself formally, and in Latin, he would not commonly speak of the laity being “consulted” among the preliminaries of a dogmatic definition, because the technical, or even scientific, meaning of the word “consult” is to “consult with,” or to “take counsel.” But the English word “consult,” in its popular and ordinary use, is not so precise and narrow in its meaning; it is doubtless a word expressive of trust and deference, but not of submission. It includes the idea of inquiring into a matter of fact, as well as asking a judgment. Thus we talk of “consulting our barometer” about the weather:—the barometer only attests the fact of the state of the atmosphere.”

After this clarification, Newman goes to the heart of the matter: “In the preparation of a dogmatic definition, the faithful are consulted.” Doubtless their advice, their opinion, their judgment on the question of definition is not asked; but the matter of fact, viz. their belief, is sought for, as a testimony to that apostolical tradition, on which alone any doctrine whatsoever can be defined.”

The Church believes in the sensus fidelium (the Christian sense of the Faithful). The faithful have a “Christian sense” that contraception is wrong; that marriage is between a man and a woman, that priests are spiritual fathers – that’s why they are men, etc. But the faithful are taught by the teaching office of the Church, which resides in the bishops together with the Pope.

In case there is any doubt how Newman understands the teaching office of the Church we read in his article Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine: “I think I am right in saying that the tradition of the Apostles, committed to the whole Church in its various constituents and functions per modum unius, manifests itself variously at various times: sometimes by the mouth of the episcopacy, sometimes by the doctors, sometimes by the people, sometimes by liturgies, rites, ceremonies, and customs, by events, disputes, movements, and all those other phenomena which are comprised under the name of history. It follows that none of these channels of tradition may be treated with disrespect; granting at the same time fully, that the gift of discerning, discriminating, defining, promulgating, and enforcing any portion of that tradition resides solely in the Ecclesia docens.”

Yes, bishops “vote” at Church councils to decide on whether some proposition or truth is to be considered a dogma or doctrine of faith. The bishops are leaders among the faithful entrusted by God with the charism of teaching the faith authoritatively. Laity can teach but they do not have the same charism. But lest someone think this unfair, one should note that there are safeguards for the bishops’ teaching: they must act in accord with the Tradition that comes from Jesus Christ; at a synod or council they must act as a body, and with the approval of the Holy Father. As Newman explains there are also limits to what the Pope can declare infallible teaching. All this gives assurance that the Pope and bishops will teach what is right. It is not the despotic monarchy that Wills tries to paint.

The Pope and bishops cannot agree on something as doctrine, which contradicts a previously held doctrine. They accept development in doctrine that is in keeping with doctrine taught by Jesus and his Apostles. Wills does not get it. I doubt he has read Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine or if he has he empties Newman’s teaching.

Wills, like many others, cannot believe in papal authority and infallibility because he wishes matters of faith and doctrine to be a question for popular debate and vote.

There is hope in the Church because it is God’s family, and because God leads his children to constant conversion, but each one needs to look to himself to see how he or she is responding to God’s call. God will provide his Church with another Successor of Peter to guide it, as Pope Benedict XVI has done so wisely, through the moral relativism and doctrinal “poll taking” approach of contemporary society.



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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
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Review by Serenheed James
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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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