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Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Newman and Ratzinger on the Scriptures
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St. John Henry Newman by Mary Fotheringham

St. John Henry Newman and Pope Benedict XVI had many similarities in their approach to the Sacred Scriptures. Both theologians looked to the Sacred Scriptures as the inspired Word of God. The Bible for them, is more than a collection of books. It is the inspired Word of God that reveals God to man and how man can reach his supernatural end.

Newman acknowledged in a lengthy article the many difficulties in the canon of the Scriptures, the authorship of its books and in certain passages but he argued that if we question the authenticity of the canon and the inspiration of the books of the Bible we will also question the veracity of the Church Creeds. In other words, the Bible and the Creed go together. They stand or fall together. The Creeds put forth by the early Church councils attest the beliefs held by the early Christians who were the ones that ratified the canon of the Scriptures.

For Newman, difficult passages did not cause doubts of faith. He said: ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt. We approach the Bible with complete faith that God has revealed Himself through the inspired texts. In an analogous manner, Newman explained to his students and readers that when placed before apparent contradictions between faith and reason, there are various possibilities such as mistakes in the explanation of a dogma and errors in scientific conclusions. There are times when one needs to wait for future light to understand such difficulties.

Over a century later, Ratzinger would say that doing away with words in difficult passages is no exegesis at all. He stated this, for example in Jesus of Nazareth (vol 2) when commenting on the passage of chapter five of the Letter to the Hebrews which reads that during the days of his life “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”  Ratzinger argued against some exegetes who thought the word “not” must have been omitted since Jesus was crucified. Instead, Ratzinger explained that Jesus’ glorification is the answer to his prayers. Ratzinger also noted that there are other biblical passages awaiting a future explanation.

Newman grew up memorizing large portions of the King James version of the Bible as a young protestant. He knew the Bible from the first to the last page. In his writings he quotes the Bible extensively so much so that an author has said that if the text of the Bible were lost it could be reconstructed in large measure from Newman’s writings.

This leads to another characteristic element in the reading of Scripture on the part of Newman and Ratzinger which was in keeping with Augustine’s teaching on the unity of the Scriptures where the Old Testament contains an anticipation of the New and the New fulfills the Old. Both Newman and Ratzinger read and studied the passages of Scripture with this in mind. Influenced by the Eastern Church Fathers, Newman looked for the types of Christ in the Old Testament. For his part, Ratzinger wrote that after tracing the historical origins of a text and interpreting it in its historical context, the text should be understood “in light of the total movement of history and in light of history’s central event, Jesus Christ.” (Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, Jan. 27, 1988, St. Peter’s Church, NY)

The Oxford don lived during a period when the historical critical method began to be applied intensely in biblical studies. He warned of the possible errors in this method without discouraging the benefits to be gained by it in biblical studies. Ratzinger on the other hand was very familiar with the use of the historical critical method and yet as he noted in the preface to Jesus of Nazareth he maintained that exegesis cannot be limited to ascertaining the precise sense of words at their time and place of origin. “[This method] is good and important. But – aside from the fact that such reconstructions can claim only a relative certainty – it is necessary to keep in mind that any human utterance of a certain weight contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time. When a word transcends the moment in the which it is spoken, it carries within itself a ‘deeper value’.”

Both thinkers, taught that the Scriptures must be read in the great body of the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium. Newman refers to this in his Essays on Inspiration, anticipating the teaching on the subject in Vatican II’s constitution Dei Verbum.

For both theologians, the written Word of God must be approached in a prayerful manner, with humility and faith. God’s revelation is meant to lead man to a deep supernatural knowledge and love of God. Rather than a pure exercise in intellectual knowledge, it is an exercise in holiness and a lifelong pursuit.

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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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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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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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