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Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
“Transfiguration Matins” St. John Henry Newman
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St. John Henry Newman knew both Latin and Greek. With his love for and skill in writing poetry, it’s not surprising that he turned his attention to translating Latin hymns from the Breviary while he was still an Anglican. Many of these translations would eventually find their way into Newman’s Oratory Hymnbook after his conversion to Catholicism. St. John Henry’s dear friend and fellow Oratorian and convert, Edward Caswall, inspired by Newman, also translated many of the Latin hymns from the Breviary. 

This particular Hymn, “Transfiguration Matins,” was originally a poem written in the 4th century by Prudentius, a Roman lawyer turned mystic. Prudentius’ Latin poetry is much loved and often translated into hymns. As a point of interest, Prudentius’ place of birth is thought to be Zaragoza in what is now Spain, which during Prudentius’ time was the city “Caesaraugusta,” part of the Roman Empire.

Newman’s translations are masterful. Often there is a misconception regarding translation that it’s just a simple operation of turning one language to another. In reality, it’s a very intricate process since many words from the source language have no direct cognates in the target language. Remember the four loves in Greek where there is only one word in English. The Bible in all its various English translations also give an indication of the translator’s art. In addition to selecting appropriate words for the translation, the translator must also make the poetic line an English line of poetry. Thus, translations of poetry are often considered original works. There have been many many translations of this Prudentius poem, “Quicumque Christum Quaeritis,” but Newman’s is among the best, with regular meter making it easily sung.

In the first stanza, “O YE who seek the Lord/Lift up your eyes on high” refers to the disciples  Peter, James, and John, who are given a glimpse of God’s glory on Mt. Tabor as described in the Gospels. They were overwhelmed by this, which was only a partial manifestation of the majesty of Christ’s glorified Body. By seeing Christ transfigured, they were given a glimpse of God.

The next stanza is an attempt to give words to something that in reality cannot be described in words, which is the uncreated light of God: older than the stars and without limit, existing before the universe itself. 

The third and fourth stanza refer to the birth of the Christ which was foretold in the Old Testament, to be the King of Gentiles and of the Jews, as promised to Abraham.

The final stanza is beautiful because it shows us the reality of the Incarnation. Jesus, who is God, walked on earth among men; therefore His “beaming face” has been seen. Here is the poem:

Transfiguration Matins

Quicunque Christum quæritis.

 

O YE who seek the Lord,

    Lift up your eyes on high,

For there He doth the Sign accord

    Of His bright majesty.

 

We see a dazzling sight

    That shall outlive all time,

Older than depth or starry height,

    Limitless and sublime.

 

‘Tis He for Israel’s fold

    And heathen tribes decreed,

The King to Abraham pledged of old

    And his unfailing seed. 

 

Prophets foretold His birth,

    And witness’d when He came,

The Father speaks to all the earth

    To hear, and own His name.

 

To Jesus, who displays

    To babes His beaming face,

Be, with the Father, endless praise,

    And with the Spirit of grace. Amen

 

The hymn is one that turns on the image of light, as reality and as metaphor. The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration. Even as a child His light shone forth in His Sacred Humanity. He is the light of men that came into the world. We are invited to bathe in that light, and little by little be transformed into his likeness.

The hymn’s ending shows that God has revealed Himself to the “little ones,” to us, in Jesus Christ, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which is the very same uncreated light of God the disciples glimpsed. We who cannot even look at the created light of the sun without harming our eyes, were given the true light to gaze upon and adore in Jesus.

Included is a link for a recording of Prudentius’ Latin Hymn:

 

 

 

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There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still.

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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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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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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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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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