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Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
For Papa Benedict, Tribute to the Pope Emeritus


Papal Visit, Pope Benedict XVI in the UK (with Deacon Jack Sullivan)

For Papa Benedict

Today, I join my voice with the rest of the Catholic Church, fellow Christians, communities of faith, and persons of goodwill who honour Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for his long, faithful life of integrity, proclamation of, and witness to, the saving truth of the Gospel in service our Lord Jesus Christ. In my brief time, I wish to unravel a few fibres of a single thread in the fabric of Benedict’s life:  that is, the influence of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman upon his understanding of conscience. Without prejudice to the dignity of their offices or titles, I refer to them by their Christian names to emphasize what John Newman called, “the bond of connection between persons.”

Josef first encountered the thought of John Henry during his philosophical study at the Seminary in Freising (1945-1947) under the tutelage of his prefect, Alfred Läpple, a future Newman specialist and, subsequently, during his theological studies at the University of Munich (commencing in 1947) under the theologian, Gottlieb Söhngen.  While he listed other great minds to whom he was indebted at this formative period, no one is mentioned like John Henry who Josef said is “always present to us.” So, Josef imbibed John Henry’s doctrine of conscience at an early stage of his formation.

John Henry speaks of conscience as the practical judgment of the human being to do good and avoid evil in response to the natural law which is, in St. Thomas’ words, “an impression of the Divine Light in us”.  He teaches that conscience is co-extensive with our very self and its operation engages our experience, education, virtue-formation, imagination, and affectivity in the coming to moral judgment. Famously, John Henry calls conscience “the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.” While conflicts may arise between conscience and the magisterium, he sees them as complementary organs of divine truth. So, John Henry characterizes the Catholic Church as “set up by Divine Mercy, as a present, visible antagonist, and the only possible antagonist, to sight and sense” because we “easily can we be talked out of our clearest views of duty!” so that “this or that moral precept crumble[s] into nothing when we rudely handle it!” especially when “the fear of sin pass[es] off from us” and “the glow of modesty dies away from the countenance!”

Josef’s appropriation of John Henry’ doctrine of conscience occurred at a grave moment when he, like many of his generation, struggled to make sense of the horror of Shoah, the depravity of the Third Reich, and the failure of too many Germans to act uprightly.

For us at that time, Newman’s teaching on conscience became an important foundation

. . . Our image of the human being as well as our image of the Church was permeated by this point of departure.  We had experienced the claim of a totalitarian party, which understood itself as the fulfilment of history and which negated the conscience of the individual. [Herman Göring] had said: ‘I have no conscience.  My conscience is Adolf Hitler’.  The appalling devastation of humanity that followed was before our eyes.  So, it was liberating and essential for us to know that the ‘we’ of the Church does not rest on a cancellation of conscience, but that, exactly the opposite, it can only develop from conscience.  Precisely because Newman interpreted the existence of the human being from conscience, that is, from the relationship between God and the soul, it was clear that this personalism is not individualism, and that being bound by conscience does not mean being free to make random choices – the exact opposite is the case.

In this passage, Josef’s emphasis upon the personal bond which conscience forms between God and the soul echoes the words of Callista in his John Henry’s novel of the same name:

“Well,” she said, “I feel that God within my heart. I feel myself in His presence. He says to me, ‘Do this: don’t do that.’ You may tell me that this dictate is a mere law of my nature, as is to joy or to grieve. I cannot understand this. No, it is the echo of a person speaking to me.

. . . You will say, Who is He? Has He ever told you anything about Himself? Alas! no! – the more’s the pity! But I will not give up what I have, because I have not more. An echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear.”

Throughout his life, Josef spoke out against the secular Enlightenment view that the Christian religion is not the carrier and communicator of a saving, revealed truth, but a mere mythological sourcebook to be interpreted within the limits of reason alone, and the corollary that conscience can no longer be understood as an organ detecting the voice of God. This was a keynote in Josef’s now famous, preconclave homily of 2005.

We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires . . . . We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

Considered against their similar views of secularization, Josef’s reception of John Henry on conscience comes to the fore.  Like John Henry, he emphasizes the objective nature of that truth to which conscience testifies in a world that often reduces truth to the exercise of naked power.  He contends that conscience as a truth-detecting, personal organ summons man before God’s tribunal, even while he stipulates that the Church as the servant of revelation has the authority, obligation, and competency to expound upon this self-same truth detected by conscience. As Josef says,

[f]or Newman, conscience does not mean that it is the subject that has the final word vis-à-vis the claims made by authority in a world devoid of truth, a world that lives on the basis of a compromise between the claims made by the subject and the claims of societal order.  Rather conscience signifies the perceptible and commanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject itself.  Conscience means the abolition of mere subjectivity when man’s intimate sphere is touched by the truth that comes from God.

            When Josef travelled to Birmingham to beatify John Henry on 19 September 2010, he made an exception to his own dictate that popes canonize, and local bishops beatify.  This liturgical action marked not only the Church’s acknowledgment of John Henry’s sanctity, but also celebrated the reception of John Henry by Josef Ratzinger, the person, priest, theologian, and pope. From a formative age, John Henry had mentored and accompanied Josef especially by enlightening him about conscience and how that teaching touches the dignity of the person, the mission of the Church, the reconciliation of freedom and authority, and friendship with Christ. It was a happy day for the Church when Alfred (Läpple) introduced John Henry to his friend, Josef. The seed fell upon good ground.

The author, Dr. Donald Graham, is a systematic and pastoral theologian at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, Canada.  His doctoral dissertation on Newman, the Holy Spirit and the Church was directed by the late, great, Newman scholar, Fr. Ian Ker.  He has adapted this reflection from his article, “Ratzinger’s Reception of Newman on Conscience: Memory, History, Creation and Christ,” Communio 47 (Winter 2020): 791-831.

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Newman lays down a firm rule in the light of life's abundant blessings: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy.

Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

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We need to remember our mortality, so that we may be ready to meet Our Lord each and every day. Lent and lenten mortifications have a role in this preparation. We must die to self daily, so that we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection. 

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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
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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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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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
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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