Saturday, July 10, 2010


Most folks know that John Henry (Cardinal) Newman will be beatified this September by Pope Benedict XVI. For this reason our local ecumenical theological symposium, Christus, is sponsoring a dual presentation on this great theologian and Church figure. As I am one of the presenters, I am delving into his writings this summer. In particular, I am reading (for the first time, I admit) his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church, Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism. It sounds serious, doesn't it? And it is.

There is joy for me in reading Newman (I have had that joy a great deal, reading much of what he wrote, both in his Anglican and his Catholic lives). His prose is a model of clarity, and his controversial writing is a model of charity. He was known consistently to be able to state his opponents’ views more clearly than they could, and only then would demolish the arguments!

In 1837 Newman was supremely confident in his position within the Anglican Church and his construct of what he called a Via Media between the heresy of Protestantism and the corruption of Romanism. Presented more popularly in ##38 and 41 of the Tracts for the Times series, the Prophetical Office is the more reasoned, the more developed, and the more ‘serious’ a case for being a ‘catholic’ without Rome. This confidence would begin to crumble in 1839; it would take devastating blows for the next 5 years, and would lead to a sea-change in Newman’s life in 1845 when Fr Dominic Barberi, a Passionist priest, received him into the Catholic Church. But all that was not even a cloud on the horizon when writing Prophetical Office.

There was one fundamental drive in Newman all throughout his life: the desire to be rooted in the truth of his relationship to Christ, and therefore the longing to do all he could to lead others there. This desire and longing are (for me) best expressed in his Parochial and Plain Sermons, preached mostly at Sunday Evensong in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin while he was Vicar there. These can be read over and over again with great benefit today, though preached over 175 years ago. One might summarize his approach as follows: “If what I preach and what you believe is true, what are you and I going to do about it? How will it make a practical difference in our lives?”

These are questions that need to be asked by each of us today; Newman’s own life (the life of choices and the life of the mind) are a "kindly light" to lead us to answers.


  1. Do you have a date set for the symposium?

  2. The date of the Christus symposium is 9-30, 7:00 pm in Byrne Hall on the campus of Spring Hill College.

  3. The First Station:
    Jesus Is Condemned To Death

    My Jesus, the world still has You on trial. It keeps asking who You are and why You make the demands You make. It asks over and over the question, If You are God's Son, why do You permit the world to be in the state it is in? Why are You so silent?

    Though the arrogance of the world angers me, I must admit that silently, in the depths of my soul, I too have these questions. Your humility frustrates me and makes me uncomfortable. Your strength before Pilate as You drank deeply from the power of the Father, gives me the answer to my question - The Father's Will. The Father permits many sufferings in my life but it is all for my good. If only I too could be silent in the face of worldly prudence - steadfast in the faith when all seems lost - calm when accused unjustly - free from tyranny of human respect - ready to do the Father's Will no matter how difficult.

    Silent Jesus, give us all the graces we need to stand tall in the face of the ridicule of the world. Give the poor the strength not to succumb to their privation but to be ever aware of their dignity as sons of God. Grant that we might not bend to the crippling disease of worldly glory but be willing to be deprived of all things rather than lose Your friendship. My Jesus, though we are accused daily of being fools, let the vision of Quiet Dignity standing before Monstrous Injustice, give us all the courage to be Your followers.