Detail of St. John Henry, St. Basilica

People have many questions about the Bible, and frequently have misconceptions of this sacred text. Even the well-intentioned often think of the Bible primarily as a type of literature, as  a collection of very different, loosely connected books by human authors. Considering the Bible in this way can lead to questions about this foundational text.

Some common questions are: How does one make sense of passages that present a seemingly cruel God, or how does one make sense of passages that contradict one another? These are questions asked by people who either do not have faith or who have little instruction in the faith. St. John Henry Newman, aware of these misconceptions, taught how to read and understand the Bible. One of his Anglican sermons, Faith and Obedience, provides us with some principles, principles that he maintained all his life.

Newman stressed the need for a plain understanding of most biblical texts, interpreting them with the light of the Holy Spirit, along with the teaching of the Church. Although there are difficult passages in the Bible, there is an overall meaning which is plain or straightforward and cannot be neglected. He was aware of various methods of interpreting the Scriptures that would explain a text away, stripping it of a straightforward meaning. He criticized a reading of the Bible that focused on some truths to the exclusion of others; as well as the growth of historical criticism that put into question its supernatural origin.

“If man cannot see the obvious meaning of God’s words in the Scriptures, he would in despair say, ’Then truly Scripture is not a book for the multitude, but for those only who have educated and refined understandings, so as to see things in a sense different from their obvious meaning.’”

Newman understood the Bible as the Word of God that is revealed to men through the writings of other men inspired by the Holy Spirit, and accepted by the Church as part of an inspired canon. As the Word of God, it demands the faith of the reader and his obedience.

St. Paul speaks of the need for faith and of the obedience of faith. Christ speaks of keeping the commandments in order that one might enter into life; and St. James writes that “a man is justified by works and not by faith only.” Newman explains how faith and obedience or works are not opposed to one another:

“To believe is to look beyond this world to God, and to obey is to look beyond this world to God; to believe is of the heart, and to obey is of the heart; to believe is not a solitary act, but a consistent habit of trust; and to obey is not a solitary act, but a consistent habit of doing our duty in all things. I do not say that faith and obedience do not stand for separate ideas in our minds, but they stand for nothing more; they are not divided one from the other in fact. They are but one thing viewed differently.”

 God is the author of the Scriptures and the inspired writers are secondary authors. There is a unity between what they write and thus they do not contradict themselves. Frequently biblical scholars wishing to identify the background of the authors and the communities for which they wrote, emphasize the differences or even point to supposed conflicts among authors. Newman notes that it would be absurd to set in opposition the teaching of St. Paul with that of Jesus Christ himself in the Gospel.

 “Doubtless those Epistles are inspired by the Holy Spirit: but He was sent from Christ to glorify and illuminate the words of Christ. The two heavenly witnesses cannot speak diversely; faith will listen to them both. Surely our duty is, neither to resist the One nor the Other; but humbly to consider whether there is not some one substantial doctrine which they teach in common (…)”

 Another significant point in Newman’s teaching is that of considering the Bible as a whole. All of the books of the Old Testament and of the New Testament form a unified text. There is a continuity between the Old and the New Testaments, where the Old prepared the New and is fulfilled in the New with the revelation of Jesus Christ. During the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries it was common for biblical scholars to separate the Old and New Testaments. For Newman this did not make sense. His explanation of religious truths often draws from Old Testament passages or shows the connection between the Gospels and Epistles with Old Testament texts. This is the case in his explanation on faith and obedience where he cites the well-known passage of the prophet Habakkuk on two occasions in this sermon: “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4).

 In the sermon Faith and Obedience, St. John Henry Newman thus identifies one of the central themes in the Bible – faith and obedience: man’s response to God’s revelation and God’s call to the obedience of faith. Through successive covenants, concluding with that of his very Son, God reveals his love for man and asks man for his obedience. Newman also helps us resolve difficulties in our understanding of the Bible by accepting it as the Word of God, rather than of one or another author, but as a unified whole. With these admonitions in mind, read the Bible and let the plain meaning speak to you through faith; do not be overly concerned with things that might seem as contradictions. Listen to St. John Henry Newman and accept what you read as God’s very words.


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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
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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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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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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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