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Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Sensum Fidelium, Tradition and Doctrinal Change, Synodality, Part 3
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Newman famously said, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” (Essay on Development, Section 1, n. 7. This quote is often used by those who wish to enlist the respected English thinker to endorse doctrinal changes but without regard to the tests or notes identified by Newman to safeguard the integrity of an idea. What did Newman actually teach about Tradition, doctrinal change, and the sensum fidelium? And what can we learn from him to examine claims about valid changes in doctrine? 

Newman studied changes that happened in doctrine in the fourth century and looked for a criteria to distinguish truth from error or heresy in that time. Initially he thought the dictum of St. Vincent of Lerins was the determining criteria: “what is believed everywhere, by all and at all times”, but he realized that it was not sufficient because councils decided against councils, popes against popes, and saints against saints.

The Oxford thinker looked next to the testimony of antiquity, that is, the testimony of the early Church to decide when a doctrine is authentic. But this also posed difficulties because, for example, Christological and Trinitarian doctrines were formulated and settled some centuries after the very first Christians.

Newman grappled with specifying what is called Apostolical Tradition, which St. Paul had called the “deposit of the Faith.” These were fundamental truths delivered by the Apostles to their successors and, in turn, to Christians.

While studying heresies of the fifth century, that of the Monophysites, he came upon an article by Nicholas Wiseman on the Donatist heresy of the fourth century. At the same time Newman struggled on how to account with various developments in Church doctrine: namely papal authority, devotion to saints, and the doctrine on purgatory. He found in the study of the Monophysite and Donatist heresies that the deciding factor had been the authority of the Roman See. (This is the Catholicity of the Church).

This wise scholar, John Henry Newman, understood the various notes of the Church were all important: Apostolicity, Antiquity, Holiness and Catholicity.  These notes or characteristics of the Church help us to understand Tradition in the Church. This Tradition with a capital T is constituted by the truths contained in the Creeds and by the sacramental truths and practices of the Church. By Tradition we do not refer to traditions such as local processions and cultural events celebrating the faith.

The Tradition of the Church is a living Tradition; it develops over time and grows to maturity like a seed becoming a sapling and later a tree. This is the reason for his sentence: “to live is to change.” But faced by changes in doctrine Newman looked for a theory to account for these changes. This theory will be discussed further in another post.

Newman, like some other theologians, believed that the faithful exercise the sensum fidelium or spiritual instinct to distinguish between truth and error. The faithful could be consulted like a barometer is consulted to gauge the atmospheric pressure.

The faithful (clergy and laity) are witnesses of the Church’s Tradition. The members of the Church through their knowledge of revelation and Church teaching and their practice of the faith are able to recognize what is Catholic and what is not.

The Synod on Synodality plans for a discussion of the Church’s teaching regarding marriage and its moral teaching on sexuality. Such discussion calls into question settled doctrines or Tradition in the Church.

In the preparation for this synod, and in the German Synodal Path, the blessing of homosexual unions has been discussed and promoted by participants. However, from the first century, the Tradition of the Church has considered that adultery and sodomy are gravely sinful. How is it possible to bless unions which are not only contrary to natural law and the nature of marriage, but that are also sinful acts?

The Sensum fidelium is not the majority opinion nor is it the public expression of the needs of Christians who are living in situations of sin. Nor is the sensum fidelium giving voice to interesting theological ideas advanced by some or even many. The sensum fidelium is a judgment about the conformity or nonconformity of developments in doctrine with the deposit of Faith. 

Tradition in the Church is a Living Tradition because as Newman explains “to be perfect is to have changed often.” However without safeguards, changes can be corruptions of an idea. Newman’s theory of development provides seven notes which help the hierarchy to ascertain what is an expression of this Living Tradition and what is a heresy. We will examine these notes in the next podcast.

 

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For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Our Books

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.
Fr. Peter Conley

For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

David Warren

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Robert Kirkendall

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

Prof. Barb H. Wyman

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Scott Goins

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

David Warren

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Fr. Peter Conley

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

Robert Kirkendall

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Fr. Juan Velez

Merry Christmas to all! In the following video from Colombia, I send you a warm greetings for Christmas. May God richly bless you and your families, and may St. John Henry Newman continue to be a source of inspiration for