The words “Empire” and “Imperial” do not evoke positive images today, but have become nearly synonymous with tyranny and disordered abuses of power. Since negative examples of empire abound, one may rightfully wonder why, in every new chapter of history, some new form of imperial pretension asserts itself. No matter how hard mankind studies his own history, his ambitions for universality, his sincere desire to aspire for widespread unity and collaboration between nations, however ill-advised or disordered, reemerges. Indeed, it seems built into the fabric of human society; it asserts itself as a pressing need, that humanity organize itself, that administration of internal affairs be perfected, that efforts at coordination be maximized. And, however well-intentioned, these aspirations are plagued by the problems of pride and the insatiable appetite for power. The Neros, Stalins, and Hitlers of today think that they are finally the ones getting human civilization right. 

However disordered, imperial projects appear to be faint echoes of our original commission from God to Adam and Eve in the Genesis creation account: to fill the earth and multiply, to exercise dominion and authority over the earth. Human history is a record of this original mandate marred by sin: humans are called to wield authority, but to wield it justly. St. John Henry Newman cogently argues in the sermon “Sanctity, the Token of a Christian Empire” (1842) that a truly just empire is not only possible, but has actually arrived in our midst by the grace, the free gift, of God in the form of the Church, and that it is marked by an authentic sanctity that is entirely different than the empires marked by human sin. Upon conversion in 1845, Newman would realize that this empire was made definitively present in the Catholic Church, which exists precisely because it refuses to operate by what every other merely human institution desperately clutches at: worldly power, carnal dominion through might, force, coercion, or manipulation. The Catholic Church is the oldest, most lasting, most global and universal Christian Empire because it operates on the principal of its founder, Jesus Christ: power “made perfect in weakness,” (2 Cor. 12:9-10) spreading its influence through self-giving love, or what Pope Benedict XVI called “the logic of the gift,” self-donation, even to the point of death. The Christian mystery is made manifest visibly in human history insofar as the Church is united with Christ her head: paradoxically, the more it gives itself away in love, the more it multiplies. Its power is persuasion, and its strength is the witness of self-donating love.

Newman’s sermon  suggests that the Church’s power and influence is not only modeled on Christ’s “preaching and teaching,” but is also positively derived from Christ’s institution of her authority, from his having handed over the keys to his apostles and their successors: her heavenly power to “bind and loose,” (Matt. 16:9), to cast “judgment and sentence… denunciation and anathema.” Christ’s Kingdom is “not of this world,” both in the sense that its origin is from heaven, but also in that it refuses to exert worldly methods of domination. The Church wields authoritative words on Christ’s behalf, not weapons or manacling chains, in order to exert her influence. The Christian empire is “of a moral nature,” and language of “law” and “justice” and “righteousness” are used in this sense. Christian truth is not a bludgeon, but an invitation to “an inward change resulting from moral influence, not an outward conquest… it is a conquest by persuasion, a winning over, not a tyrannous compulsion.” 

Newman sees many passages in Isaiah as prophetic of the Church as a truly vast, global kingdom, of divine love’s arrival on the human scene in Christ to an imperial degree. Christ’s desire to see his fire of love cast across the whole world (Luke 12:49) was indeed foreshadowed in the Jewish Scriptures and has indeed played out in 20 centuries of human history in which Christianity, unlike any other tradition or institution, has completely transformed the world in every quarter. Christ did not just start the Church, but his sacrifice on the cross sustains the Church actively by the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit, giving to the Church the ultimate mark of its sanctity: suffering, sharing in cooperation with Christ’s suffering. The Church is built up not in overtures of aggression, but in “simplicity, innocence, concession, passiveness, resignation.” 

Now, it is not the case that the Church as she journeys still on earth is free from stain: her members still sin, they fail to live up to the call of a suffering sanctity and a humble holiness, imperiling her life and harming her purpose. The Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” (1 Timothy 3:15) against whom the gates of hell will not prevail (Matt. 16:18) does not fail in faithfulness, though her individual members often do. Holiness is a visible mark of the Church, but a mark that subsists with paradox in this life that Christ will sort out on judgment day: “vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth” (2 Tim. 2:20) remain in the Church below. While the Church is sustained by an inherent structure of loving sacrifice conformed to Christ’s cruciform love, and while the visible tokens of her leaders and sacraments, her orders and ministries, are sure signs of her integrity, the problem of the fall and its effects on the human heart ripples into the precincts of the Church herself. But in his mercy, God does not make his Church on earth an elite core for the perfect few, but a “field hospital for sinners,” in Pope Francis’ winning words. The Church exists to draw all into holiness, and to provide the means to strive and strive again even as we struggle to make full use of God’s bountiful mercy to us. 

And such mercy, such a virtuous way of forgiveness, sacrifice and love, is magnetic, attractive, compelling. Only the fully depraved and psychotic would not be moved by heroic stories of self-sacrifice. Newman notes that while securing material blessing and temporal power are not the Church’s animating principle, she does indeed acquire them, because her holiness inspires generosity: 

…when men see disinterested goodness, and holiness which has no selfish aims, and conscientiousness which is strictly bound by a sense of duty, and faith which sacrifices this world for the next, they cannot help giving to those who display these excellences that which such persons are content to lose, and for which they ask not,–credit and influence. 

Authentic virtue sought for its own reward is indeed its own reward, but is also honored materially by those of good will who recognize it. Seat yourself in a lower seat and the master will invite you higher; seek the place of honor, and you will be demoted (cf. Luke 14:9-10). It is a human, not only divine, rule that true humility and self-abnegation is worthy of highest praise, but that seeking honor, glory and might for its own sake is reprehensible. “The saints live in sackcloth, and they are buried in jewels. The Church refuses the gifts of this world, but these gifts come to her unbidden.” Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and all else will follow (Matt. 6:33).

A Christian Empire is not only possible, but has been imminent among us for 2,000 years in the hearts and minds of all who lose their life in order to find it, who turn the other cheek, forgive so that they may be forgiven. In a generation that viciously clutches at constructing the mere appearance of virtues, let us commit again to deepen our adherence to true virtue, true humility, and a true loving self-donation in Christ. 

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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
(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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