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In the poem, “The Elements,” Blessed Newman encapsulates his thoughts and teaching  on the compatibility of faith, reason, and science. In so doing, Newman reminds us of the utter dependence of mankind on his Maker, no matter how advanced man becomes  in “taming” the elements. Throughout all his writings, Newman was consistent in his teaching about the relationship between faith and reason, and then science. The importance of this integration was especially pressing in Newman’s Victorian context. Fr. Juan Vélez gives an invaluable overview and explanation of Newman’s thought regarding “Faith, Reason, and Science” in Chapter 14 of his latest book, Holiness in a Secular Age. As Fr. Juan explains, Newman’s criticism is not of reason in itself, but in placing reason above other “habits of mind.”

In the first seven lines of this fascinating poem, Newman acknowledges mankind’s ability to harness and control certain aspects of the created world:

The Elements

(A Tragic Chorus.)

MAN is permitted much

              To scan and learn

              In Nature’s frame;

              Till he well-nigh can tame

              Brute mischiefs and can touch

              Invisible things, and turn

All warring ills to purposes of good.

In these lines, Newman immediately emphasizes what the poem will teach: that man is permitted to make use of “brute” mischiefs, or in other words, the unreasoning or purely material forces of nature –  permitted meaning: allowed by God. The phrase “warring ills” could mean all types of otherwise antagonistic aspects of nature which can be harnessed by mankind, like the wind for sailing ships, etc … and in today’s world, this mastering of the brute elements could extend to air flight, plumbing the depths of the ocean, placing a man on the moon, or manipulating the invisible world of genes. In the next five lines, Newman says that in some ways, this makes man like a “god”:

         Thus, as a god below,

          He can control,

And harmonize, what seems amiss to flow

          As sever’d from the whole

          And dimly understood.

However, Newman warns, as a “god” below, man is given the illusion of control, but in reality man is in danger of not understanding his place within the created universe, since his perception is from his human capacity. This seeming power over nature can be deceiving, for men see “through a glass, darkly.” In the next 12 lines, Newman reminds us where the elements of nature have their origin and then expounds the power of God, sounding very much like the voice speaking from the whirlwind in Job:

    But o’er the elements

     One Hand alone,

    One Hand has sway.

                  What influence day by day

                  In straiter belt prevents

                 The impious Ocean, thrown

Alternate o’er the ever-sounding shore?

                Or who has eye to trace

                How the Plague came?

Forerun the doublings of the Tempest’s race?

               Or the Air’s weight and flame

               On a set scale explore?

Indeed, who does control all these elements? Mankind? No, of course not.  Newman answers in the final lines:

                Thus God has will’d

That man, when fully skill’d,

Still gropes in twilight dim;

Encompass’d all his hours

            By fearfullest powers

            Inflexible to him.

That so he may discern

            His feebleness.

And e’en for earth’s success

           To him in wisdom turn,

Who holds for us the keys of either home,

Earth and the world to come.

(At Sea.

June 25, 1833).

The power of reason should bring mankind to the understanding that he is, in fact, “feeble” and should not place his faith in his own abilities and intellect. True wisdom is found in the acknowledgment of this weakness, and the proper attitude is humility.

God’s wisdom surpasses all human attempts at knowledge, and our advances, whether scientific or in other areas of learning, should be an aid to understanding our own shortcomings to help us recognize  that all we have is from God, given to us through grace, and this does not come through our own abilities alone to reason. For Newman, Christianity does not hamper research or restrict progress. On the contrary, rightly understood, the more we understand the complexity of the universe all around, the more we should bow down and worship Him, “qui fecit caelum et terram.”


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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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