02/17, 2019 Saint John Newman, Defender of the Faith
Sophia Feingold http://m.ncregister.com/blog/feingold/st.-john-newman-defender-of-the-faith
Newman's writings in defense of the Catholic Faith remain important today.
The news that Pope Francis will canonize Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890), following the confirmation of a second miracle due to his intercession, will delight many Catholics and should surprise none.
Newman’s heroic virtue—displayed among other things in his decision to convert at a time when English Catholics still bore grave social and civic penalties in practicing their faith—is a matter of record.
Even setting that aside however, had Newman been a cradle Catholic and native to a country friendlier to his religion, the Church would owe him a tremendous debt for his apologetic works.
Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, a biography and defense of his conversion written in response to the anti-Catholic attacks of novelist Charles Kingsley (Westward Ho!; The Water-Babies), is perhaps his best known work.
His long poem The Dream of Gerontius, critically acclaimed on its publication for its treatment of the deathbed, is still taught in literature programs today.
But his greatest contribution to the body of Catholic works may well be the seminal Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
I first encountered the Essay in a college senior seminar.
Although I had always been Catholic and had never seriously doubted the Faith, I did have a number of unanswered questions, one of the most pressing of which was the question of how we could embrace any number of ideas which were not explicit in the Bible or the early Fathers.
It was easy enough to point out proof texts in Scripture that were connected to these doctrines;
It was not difficult to refute attacks on the reasonability of the doctrines or their coherence with Scripture;
But it was difficult to explain why we now profess papal infallibility (to give one example) or the Assumption of Our Lady (to give another) when such ideas were not clearly professed before.Enter Blessed John Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845).
Newman was specifically interested in defending doctrines like those concerning Our Lady, the papacy, and purgatory which were (and still are) often suspected by Protestants.
He brought his formidable knowledge of the Church Fathers to bear on the question, showing in each debated case how the ideas Catholics professed in the nineteenth century were implicit in the earliest teachings of the Church;
And he bolstered his arguments by pointing to similar developments in Trinitarian and Christological doctrine, developments which Protestants accepted without question.
The central ideas behind Newman’s defense of doctrinal development were two:
a. The unity of truth, and the discursive nature of human reason (both, not incidentally, ideas explored by Aquinas—e.g., the former in De Veritate 1.6 and Summa 1.16.8, the latter in Summa 1.14.7).
b. Thomas Aquinas: Quaestiones disputatae de veritate: Englishhttps://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer.htm
c. Summa Theologica: The existence of God in things (Prima Pars, Q. 8)www.newadvent.org
› Summa Theologiae › First Part
d. Being as the ground of truth in aquinas - Wiley Online Libraryhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-2265.2008.00453.x
Regarding truth’s unity, Newman held that the truths of the faith were coherent each in itself and each one with all the rest, such that true developments of doctrine could not be contrary to earlier ideas, or to each other.
Against modernist notions, which supposed that what the Church once held to be true might be denied now or in future, Newman seems to have conceived of the Faith as something like a flowering tree:
The bud, the blossom, and the fruit were natural outgrowths of one another. Or, as he puts it,
“The adult animal has the same make, as it had on its birth; young birds do not grow into fishes, nor does the child degenerate into the brute, wild or domestic, of which he is by inheritance lord.”
(Essay, ch. 5, § 1, ¶ 2).
A tree’s underlying sameness extends through all stages of its development, but of course human beings do not witness flowering and fruition at the same time:
Spring shows one thing and autumn another. Likewise, human beings reason and learn discursively. In mastering any subject we come to know first its most obvious outlines, and then its more complex details.
And this is true over centuries as well:
Human understanding of astronomy and physics, for example, has grown more precise and accurate over hundreds of years.
Of course, Theology has an advantage over the other sciences, inasmuch as (by God’s grace) it never fell into error in the way that old astronomers certainly did.
Thus it would not be true to say that Theology has gained in accuracy, after the manner of the sciences;
But it has certainly gained in precision.
As Newman puts it, at the beginning of the Essay’s second chapter, the idea of Christianity
… Will in course of time expand into a multitude of ideas, and aspects of ideas, connected and harmonious with one another, and in themselves determinate and immutable, as is the objective fact itself [Christianity] which is thus represented.
It is a characteristic of our minds, that they cannot take an object in, which is submitted to them simply and integrally. We conceive by means of definition or description;
Whole objects do not create in the intellect whole ideas, but are, to use a mathematical phrase, thrown into series, into a number of statements, strengthening, interpreting, correcting each other, and with more or less exactness approximating, as they accumulate, to a perfect image.
There is no other way of learning or of teaching.
We cannot teach except by aspects or views, which are not identical with the thing itself which we are teaching.
Two persons may each convey the same truth to a third, yet by methods and through representations altogether different.
The same person will treat the same argument differently in an essay or speech, according to the accident of the day of writing, or of the audience, yet it will be substantially the same.
And the more claim an idea has to be considered living, the more various will be its aspects; and the more social and political is its nature, the more complicated and subtle will be its issues, and the longer and more eventful will be its course.
Or, as the bishops of Vatican II suggested in Dei Verbum:
(Dogmatic Constitution "On Divine Revelation") https://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/v2revel.htm
… There is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down.
This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts.
(see Luke, 2:19, 51)
Luke 2:19-51 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
19 But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
21 And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord:
23 As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord:
24 And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons:
25 And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him.
26 And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law,
28 He also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said:
29 Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace;
30 Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
32 A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
33 And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him.
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted;
35 And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.
36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity.
37 And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day.
38 Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.
39 And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth.
40 And the child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.
41 And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch,
42 And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast,
43 And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not.
44 And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance.
45 And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him.
46 And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions.
47 And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers.
48 And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
49 And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?
50 And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.
51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart.
Through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth.
For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
St. John Newman, ora pro nobis.
(Latin invocation meaning pray for us.)