Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Newman, Pope Benedict, and Classical Learning

One of my earliest recollections of Pope Benedict was when he appeared on a show on EWTN—I believe The World Over, hosted by Raymond Arroyo. Pope Benedict was then still Cardinal Ratzinger and was Pope John Paul II’s go-to person for many important matters. When asked about his future plans, Cardinal Ratzinger replied that he was old, and that he really wanted to retire and write books. The problem, however, as he stated it, was that the Pope was older than he, so he could hardly make a good case for retirement. Ironically, the man who wanted retirement, was later chosen for perhaps the most challenging position in the world; he became the next Pope.

The irony and poignancy of this situation is reminiscent of the life of John Henry Newman. Although Newman was never made Pope (surely a thought that would have horrified him!), he was a man who, like Pope Benedict, sought the quiet academic life rather than the life of controversy and church politics. Nevertheless, he, like Benedict, was forced for much of his life to deal with difficult issues in the Church and to serve in leadership capacities that he did not want. Anglo-Catholics frequently asked Newman to help them decide whether or not to convert to the Roman Church, he was once sued for libel, he felt it necessary to defend his integrity by writing the Apologia, he was asked to run a new University and later a school at the Oratory, and of course he was made a Cardinal.

Both Newman and Pope Benedict and were at heart learners and teachers, and both men shared some of the same interests. Newman’s first vocation was as a classicist, a teacher of Greek and Latin, serving at Oxford. He was a skilled teacher, and he was devoted to his students. Newman read all of the major Greek and Roman authors in the original. He particularly adored Vergil and would often cite his poetry, not only the Aeneid, but also the Georgics and Eclogues. Newman loved Greek tragedy and the Greek historians, and he himself wrote poems in Latin and occasionally Greek. Newman and a colleague even wrote a short book on Greek accentuation, because they deemed the available text too expensive for students.

The Greek, and to a lesser extent Latin, Fathers proved a sort of bridge between Newman’s life as a teacher of the classics and his role as a theologian and church historian. While still an Anglican, he resolved to research the Church Fathers in his search for the Via Media between Catholicism and Protestantism. He particularly studied Athanasius, whose work enriched the Nicene Creed. From Athanasius and other Eastern Fathers, he came to have a rich understanding of theosis or divinization, whereby the believer partakes by grace of the qualities of God.

Joseph Ratzinger also was and remained an academic at heart. When he became Cardinal Ratzinger, many were surprised, since he had had limited pastoral experience. Although Ratzinger’s teaching role was primarily theology, before he reached the higher echelons in the Vatican, he, too, had a thorough knowledge of Greek and Latin. He was, of course, familiar with scholastic theology, with its Aristotelean bent. But he was also a lover of the Neoplatonic side of Christianity seen in the Eastern Fathers and in the early Western Fathers, such as Augustine. Ratzinger’s dissertation was on Augustine, and his love of that saint’s Neoplatonic approach can be seen in his article “The Contemplation of Beauty,” which he wrote as Pope.  He was thoroughly at home with the Latin language, and there can be little doubt that his love for the richness of Latin contributed to his championing of the traditional Latin Mass.

With both St. John Henry Newman and Pope Benedict XVI, we see how God uses the gifts of intelligence and learning. Both men contributed greatly to the intellectual milieu of their age, as they applied their keen minds and knowledge of theology and history to their own times. God stretched both men, certainly in ways that they would not have chosen for themselves. Their willingness to cooperate with the vocation of grace led them unto a bigger stage than they were naturally accustomed to. Newman and Pope Benedict’s faithful generosity enabled the light of Christ to shine through them, upon others, ever more brightly. May we through their example go and do likewise.

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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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