Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My first brush with John Henry Newman

I don't think many Filipinos know who John Henry Newman was, except probably students of the Ateneo de Manila University (where the Rizal Library, if my memory serves me right, has all of Newman's works). There was a time when one of Newman's essays was part of the freshman English canon. This was selections from "The Idea of a University" .  This was my first encounter with Newman.

Newman's "Idea" is so relevant today that one of the nominees for the presidency of the University of the Philippines (UP), quotes Newman  in her vision paper. The issues facing the UP are so complex and given the global economic situation, the UP has to make do with its limited budget. How then will that fit into the idea of a university, which according to Newman is " a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse, through a wide extent of country"?

Aside from that first brush with Newman, I was a member of British Council library and with that had borrowing privileges. Here is where I read more about Newman and I learned that he was the most famous of  clerical converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism. I also learned about the Oxford movement in the Church of England, his Tracts for the Times and how Tract 90 caused the Anglican establishment to lower the boom. Newman after painful reflection decided to be received in the Catholic Church in 1845. Newman's last sermon as an Anglican priest is the famous "A Parting of Friends" shows that he did not harbor any ill feelings.

Universities and colleges in the USA often have "Newman societies or clubs" which aim to develop in students a Catholic spirituality on campus. The Newman societies often act as the Catholic chaplaincies in these secular universities. In the Commonwealth, where many universities adopted the Oxbridge system of residential colleges, the Catholic college is often named in honour of Newman. I had to check in into the Newman College and live "cloistered" in order to write my PhD thesis! In many universities, the Newman colleges are run by the Jesuits. At Oxford the Catholic club is now the Newman Society.

Newman's journey in the Catholic Church was not all roses. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in Rome just two years after he converted. He returned to England as an Oratorian priest. Newman was a priest during the time of the debate between the ultramontane and montanist factions in the Church. Also the newly reestablished Catholic hierarchy in England generated a lot of anti-Catholic feeling. When Charles Kingsley criticized the Catholic faith and the sincerity of Catholics in England, Newman responded with his most famous work the "Apologia Pro Vita Sua". The Apologia turned public opinion in Newman's favour.

I had the chance to buy a copy of the Apologia at a book sale for 30 pesos 15 years ago. [Newman's books were with other books of British authors that included Rowan Williams, George Carey and Robert Runcie, all of whom became Archbishops of Canterbury. Their books sold for 10 pesos each!] Now all of Newman's works are downloadable from the internet. His Grammar of Assent is his magnum opus in Philosophy where he defended faith as a product of human rational activity and that assent is not contrary to human nature.

Newman became a Cardinal in 1879, Leo XIII's first. The previous pope, Pius IX distrusted Newman and suspected him of having modernist tendencies. Newman also was not thrilled at  Papal Infallibility not that he opposed it, but that he thought it was inopportune.

 Newman died in 1890. His cause for sainthood took over a century and according the Newsweek's religion editor Kenneth Woodward, the  Catholic Church in England was so reserved and inexperienced in proposing saint candidates and the fact that it did not want to ruffle Anglican feathers. But by the late 20th century, in more ecumenical times, the Anglican Church no longer had any opposition to Newman's canonization. Another reason is that the Roman Church took a long time to realize the saintly virtues of the intellectual that Newman was.

On September 19, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI will beatify John Henry Cardinal Newman during his visit to Britain.

John Henry Newman will probably be the patron of

1) Intellectuals
2) University professors and dons
3) PhD candidates!
4) and the Anglican Ordinariates

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