Cardinal Newman Canonization

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was a British churchman who entered the Roman Catholic Church at age 44, served as Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin, Ireland, from 1854-1858, and was made Cardinal Priest in the Title of San Giorgio in Velabro in 1879. Pope Francis will canonize him in Rome on Sunday, October 13.

Saint Mary’s College has the rare privilege to house a significant collection of books by and about Newman. According to the library description made by the former archivist, Martin Cohen, the collection “comprises over 5,000 items including about 1,200 tracts and 500 volumes of bound periodicals. About half of the Collection consists of Newman’s own writings, and of books about him. The rest deals with the environment of thought in which he lived and with the history of religion in England and Europe in the nineteenth century.” A particular treasure of the collection is Newman’s own copy of the patristic author Saint Vincent of Lérins, in which one finds a marginal gloss written by the young scholar. Saint Vincent wrote that the Catholic Church “comprehends all universally,” to which Newman notes in the margin “true!” [1]

S. Vincentii Lerinensis, Galli, Aduersus prophanas haereseōn nouationes libellus verè aureus, Coloniae : In Officina Birckmannica sumptibus Arnoldi Mylij., 1613, Saint Mary’s College Library, smcnc 2951

Cardinal Newman’s writings influenced the thinking about Christianity and the Church in the twentieth century, so much so that Saint Pope Paul VI had a standing order that any book published by or about Newman was to be delivered to his desk. Newman’s understanding of the development of doctrine and the nature of the People of God helped shape the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This week’s canonization brings to fulfillment Newman’s place as a prophetic voice for the future of the Catholic Church. His seminal study of the university and its liberal arts tradition has been a traditional part of our Collegiate Seminar’s syllabus. The special trait of an education in the liberal arts is that it frees students from the chains of what they think they are supposed to know so that they might follow the light of reason, which is nothing other than their participation in the Divine knowledge of the world. Two passages from Cardinal Newman’s work follow, and a well-known prayer by Saint Newman (edited for direct address to God) completes this blog.

On the harmony of science and religion

“Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons…. I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and moral discipline. Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the cap, if I may so express myself, an ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual.” [2]

San Giorgio in Velabro
Rome, San Giorgio in Velabro

Summary statement of the goals of a liberal education

“A University training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power and refining the intercourse of private life.” [3]

A Prayer by Cardinal Newman [4]

You have created me to do You some definite service / You have committed some work to me / which you have not committed to another. / I have my mission – / I may never know it in this life, /  but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for Your purposes; / I have a great part in Your work. / I am a link in a chain, / a bond of connection between persons.

You have not created me for nothing. / I shall do good, I shall do Your work; / I shall be an angel of peace, /  a preacher of truth in my own place, / while not intending it, /  if I but keep Your commandments / and serve You in my calling.

Therefore I will trust You. / Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. / If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve You; /  in perplexity, my perplexity may serve You; / If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve You.

My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, / which is quite beyond us. / You do nothing in vain; / You may prolong my life, You may shorten it; / You know what You are about.

You may take away my friends, / You may throw me among strangers, / You may make me feel desolate, / make my spirits sink, / hide the future from me— / Still You know what You are about.

Therefore I will trust You. / Whatever, wherever I am. / I can never be thrown away. / If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve You; / in perplexity, my perplexity may serve You; / in sorrow, my sorrow may serve You. / …You do nothing in vain. /
…You know what You are about.

Amen.


[1] A translation of Saint Vincent of Lérins’ Commonitorium may be found at https://www.earlychurchtexts.com/ . The entire context of the glossed passage: “Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense ‘Catholic,’ which as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.”

[2] Sermon 1. “Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training,” Feast of St. Monica—Sunday after Ascension, 1856. Preached in the University Church, Dublin, available at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/occasions/sermon1.html

[3] Newman, The Uses of Knowledge: Selections from the Idea of a University (Wheeling, IL: 1948), p. 76, lines 797-804.

[4] See http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations9.html


photo credits: Wikimedia commons, SMC archivist Kate Wilson, and Brother Charles

 

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