Cor ad cor loquitur – heart speaks unto heart – was the cardinatial motto of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose corpus of theological writings are as impressive as the remarkable witness he bore to the Faith. Raised and educated under the Anglican tradition, Newman studied at Oxford in his earlier years and eventually became an Anglican clergyman in 1825. After ordination, Newman served in a variety of posts, including acting as fellow and tutor at Oriel College, as well as serving in a number of parochial vicariates. He was also instrumental in leading the Oxford Movement, which sought to bring the Church of England back to the traditional ritualistic expression and sacramental life of the Church universal, of which the Catholic Church maintained throughout her history. On the 9 October 1845, Newman had a radically life-changing experience: he became a Roman Catholic, and was received into the Church by Bl. Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist priest, at the College of Littlemore.
The meaning of Newman’s life can never be expressed entirely from a purely academic standpoint. Surely, Newman was an intellectual – one of the finest Christian writers of the Victorian era and in the history of the Church – but he was not solely an intellectual. His life was motivated by a much deeper call to holiness, founded and personified in the love of Christ. One of Newman’s theological patrons, St. Augustine, said it so well when he wrote in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.” Indeed, it was precisely that restlessness which confronted Newman daily in a world of religious and political confrontation. How could one remain true to the Faith in such a hostile culture? Where was the truth found in its most basic form? Yet it was not a logical dialectic which brought him to his life-changing conversion to Catholicism; rather, it was an interior development, stirred by a “harmony of the heart,” as he called it. Newman was eventually ordained a priest in Rome in 1846, and joined the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri, with residence at their Oratory in Birmingham.
Newman’s conversion remained fairly polemical in the predominately anti-Catholic environment of England, causing Newman significant personal criticism. So controversial was his “new life,” in fact, that Newman was convicted of libel in the famous Achilli trial in 1852 and forced to pay a pretty penny in retribution.
On May 12, 1879, Pope Leo XIII elevated Newman to the rank of Cardinal, naming him Cardinal-Deacon of San Giorgio al Velabro in Rome; and on August 11, 1890, Newman died of pneumonia.
The life of Cardinal Newman has left an imprint on the United Kingdom and on the world, for it was this man’s life, among many others in the history of the Church, that bore great witness to the truths of the Faith in a precarious culture. Newman inspired many in both the Church of England and the Catholic Church following his death, apparently even fostering a good number of future conversions. Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman this past September on a visit to the United Kingdom – the only beatification outside Rome that the Holy Father has himself presided over, echoing the deep esteem he has for this beloved servant of the Church and personal theological patron.
Newman’s image almost appears omnipresent in Oxford, woven into the “fabric,” so to speak, of the Catholic community here. Already, I’ve been to many events either named in his honor or started under his patronage. There are also many places in Oxford which show where Newman lived, preached, and acted as tutor and fellow.
Recently, I attended the annual John Henry Newman lecture at St. John’s College, Oxford. His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, delivered a lecture on the role of faith and reason in public life (exactly what I’ve been trying to study here!). His Eminence was clear that reason and faith are complementary, although distinct. What is known by faith cannot be contradicted by reason, but the limits of reason do not exclude the far-reaching horizons of faith. There needs to be a dialogue, he noted, between the scientific and religious communities, one which recognizes the dignity of each sphere of knowledge but also places them in their proper positions. In reference to political life, the Cardinal referenced Tony Blair, whose work as Prime Minister of Great Britain highlighted the role of religious faith in the public square. Churches and religious communities cannot be estranged or silenced in public debates –they have every right, especially in a so-called “pluralistic” society – to contribute to the well being of a given polity. And it is that religious voice, the Cardinal referenced, which often affects positive change in public life, not simply in the private lives of believers.
[Interestingly, Blair claims it was an Australian priest who “reintroduced him to the Faith” during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford University.]
We met up with the Cardinal after the lecture:
Update on Tutes
My tutorials with Dr. Kieran Flanagan have been going very well. We’ve been having some interesting discussions about secularization and the role of faith in the public sphere, with a particular focus on the so-called “European exception.” What is most interesting is that secularization as a term is largely moot in contemporary sociological circles. No longer do we live ina fully secular modernity according to most sociologists. Post-modernity has brought with it post-secularity, which, ironcally, has brought the revival of religious faith in the East and West, especially with the rise of Islam in the Middle East and evangelical Christianity in North America. The Catholic Church has also expereinced growth in the Second and Third Worlds. What remains, however, is Europe — what will this major player, this cultural and religious reliquary, become? And where does the future of Europe lie, both politically (as a newly forming polity, supragovernmental in scope) and culturally (Christian Europe; secular Europe; Islamic Europe)? These issues remain pertinent to contemporary discussions, and my hope is to keep asking more questions in the hope of finding a few — but certainly not all — answers.
This week, I am reading the following: Dialectics of Secularization (Dialogue between Josef Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas); Values in a Time of Upheaval (Ratzinger); Ratzinger’s Faith (Tracy Rowland); “Faith in an Independent World” (Tony Blair); “Notes on a Post-Secular Society” (Jurgen Habermas); and “Pierre Bourdieu and the Sociology of Religion” (Erwin Diantelli). I hope to also look at T.S. Elliot’s “Essay on Culture” and pieces of St. Augustine’s City of God.
My main question for the week, which will be the foundation for my essays, focuses on culture in a post-secular society, with a particular reference to how Pope Benedict XVI understands culture in his work as a theologian and how secular humanists might support or contradict his thesis. The present “crisis of secularism” is really a European exception, seeing as how both the “far West” (America) and “far East” (Middle East in particular) are experiencing religious revivals, even in the midst of a secular society. Faith is continuing to play a deeper role in public life. This is a fact.
Looking ahead: posts from “the Continent”
In the next couple of posts, I’ll update you on a variety of meetings I’ve had here on the Continent (where I am currently writing from Belgium). This week, I was in Strasbourg to meet with political advisers to the MEPs at the European Parliament, as well as the Secretariat of the European People’s Party (EPP). I met with Gabor Torok, a former ILYN scholar at Oxford, who is currently working for the EPP, as well as the political adviser to Mr. Mario Mauro, MEP from Italy. I had a great discussion with Gryorgy Holvenyi one of the top advisers of the EPP who advises the MEPs on religious matters and Church-State relations. He is also the Director of the Shumann Foundation. I then came to Brussels to meet with Msgr. Piotr, the Secretary General of the European Bishops’ Conference to the European Community (COMECE), as well as Fr. Frank Turner, the Director of the Jesuit European Office (OPICE), to understand the Church’s role in political life here in Europe. I have a couple more meetings here in Brussels, and then I will return to Oxford next Wednesday.
I also plan to update you on all the neat things I’ve been seeing around France and Belgium, with pictures of the cuisine of course. I had the most delicious Belgian waffle today in Leuven, and some great fries and, of course, chocolate. Until next time, au revoir!