Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Sensum Fidelium and Synodality, Part 2


Listening to the Holy Spirit

The concept of listening to the Holy Spirit suggested by the Synod of Synodality entails study of the nature of God’s revelation to mankind. In an earlier blogpost, we discussed the sensum fidelium or spiritual instinct of the believer. In this blogpost, we will discuss man’s openness to God’s revelation and revelation itself. On another occasion, we will examine Tradition and Infallibility in the Church.

Regarding such things, St. John Henry Newman would say that if there is a God, there is antecedent probability that He would wish to communicate with his creation, and if this be so, there would be a need for an oracle, an authentic interpreter of his communication with men.

There is an echo of the Creator’s voice in creation; its order, beauty and magnitude reveal attributes of its Creator. Man’s higher faculties also reveal the Creator. Through reason we perceive a likeness with our Maker. We can understand the words of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).

 Furthermore, Newman explained that man knows God through his conscience, the inner voice of God that speaks to man with authority, ordering certain ways of acting and prohibiting other ways. All men and women, whether Christian or not, can perceive God’s natural law through this voice of conscience. Out of His great goodness God has revealed himself to fallen man by making His will known to man through the prophets and a written law, namely the ten commandments given to Moses.

God’s revelation of Himself and His commandments and precepts are normative for man. The very purpose of revelation is the glory of God expressed in the goodness of his creatures. St. Irenaeus conveyed this through the celebrated formula: “Gloria Dei homo vivens.” Newman paid close attention to God’s revelation to man in history, through the history of cultures and natural religions, perfected with the Jewish dispensation, and in turn with Christianity as the fulfillment of that dispensation (see Grammar of Assent). The Sacred Scriptures unveil the mystery of God’s plan for man throughout successive covenants, beginning with Adam and Eve, to the perfect and eternal covenant established through Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit inspired the sacred writers to put into writing truths and precepts that He wished God’s children to know and practice. The fullness of the revelation came in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. Thus, believers have before them what they need to live as God’s children and disciples of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are normative; God asks his children to obey his laws and precepts, and He promises reward or punishment respectively for those who keep or disobey his commandments.

Aside from explicit commandments, doctrinal truths about God, revelation itself, man, the Church, etc. involve discernment between truth and error. As a young Anglican clergyman Newman studied the Christological heresies of the fourth century which gradually led to his theory on the development of Christian doctrine explained in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). At first he posited in Catholicity (St. Vincent of Lerins’ dictum “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all”) as the criteria for distinguishing between authentic development and error. Later he realized the limits of this and turned to antiquity as the determining criteria. However, he also realized the limits of this and looked to the papal authority as the necessary element to adjudicate between authentic development and error. Once a Roman Catholic, he presented a nuanced account of infallibility in doctrine. In an 1859 article On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine he explained that infallibility resides in the Church as a whole. 

In the 1878 Letter to the Duke of Norfolk Newman insisted that the scope of papal infallibility is limited and that pronouncements ex cathedra must be in accordance with the Scriptures and Tradition. In other words, as Newman had written in his 1859 article, the tradition of the Apostles committed to the Church functions “per unius modo,” (“in one way),” that is, with the body of the Church functioning as a whole. Listening to God is done keeping in mind the normative value of the whole of Tradition and of the Church’s Teaching.

 Man will always need to listen to the Holy Spirit, but the believer does not do this in a vacuum or without the teaching of Tradition and ecclesial authority. Openness to the Holy Spirit means, in the first place, acceptance of what God has revealed as normative to countless generations of Christians with the assent of the Magisterium. Listening entails foremost a conversion of heart which leads to an obedience of faith (Rom 16:26).


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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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