Portsmouth Abbey School, America’s premier Catholic boarding school, devoted its second annual Portsmouth Institute in June 2010 to NEWMAN AND THE INTELLECTUAL TRADITION
It was the occasion of the presentation of a number of papers by a distinguished list of speakers. They are in full on the website. Here is a selection.
Ian Ker, Newman and the Hermeneutic of Continuity/ Newman, Councils, and Vatican II
In a very full and dense paper Father Ian Ker, the leading expert on Blessed Cardinal Newman discussed amongst other things the influence of Newman on the Second Vatican Council.
The link is in a .pdf file : Ian Ker, Newman and the Hermeneutic of Continuity/ Newman, Councils, and Vatican II
"Newman has often been called „the Father of the Second Vatican Council?. And it is undoubtedly true that he anticipated a number of the Council`s teachings. It is also true that he offers salutary corrections of misinterpretations of these conciliar texts, that is, specifically of the exaggerations of those who wish to see the Council as a revolutionary event in disruption rather than continuity with the past, whether it is those who prefer to speak of „the spirit of Vatican II? rather than of the actual Council documents or those who reject the Council as heretical or quasi-heretical.
There are six, six of the seven most important, conciliar documents which Newman anticipated...
Before, during, and after the First Vatican Council, Newman adumbrated what I think we can call a mini-theology of Councils of the Church, which has much relevance for our own post-conciliar time. The first point to be made is that Newman was in no doubt that Councils had „ever been times of great trial": history showed that they had „generally two characteristics – a great deal of violence and intrigue on the part of the actors in them, and a great resistance to their definitions on the part of portions of Christendom".
Then there was the effect of a definition like that of papal infallibility: although in theory it might say very little, less than what the Ultramontanes had pressed for, the reality was that, „considered in its effects both upon the Pope`s mind and that of his people, and in the power of which it puts him in practical possession, it is nothing else than shooting Niagara."
The more general point here is that Councils have unintended consequences, larger consequences than the actual conciliar texts might seem to warrant; the more specific point is that a conciliar teaching cannot be taken in isolation out of context, or rather in this case lack of context, since the „definition was taken out of its order – it would have come to us very differently, if those preliminaries about the Church`s power had first been passed, which … were intended".
And Newman hoped that, if the suspended Council were able to reassemble, it would "occupy itself in other points" which would „have the effect of qualifying … the dogma". What Newman is thinking of here, of course, is a more general teaching about the Church that would have provided a context for papal infallibility.
But that the Church had to wait for another Council for this to happen would not have surprised Newman: his study of the early Church showed how the Church „moved on to the perfect truth by various successive declarations, alternately in contrary directions, and thus perfecting, completing, supplying each other".
The definition of papal infallibility needed „to be completed" – „Let us be patient, let us have faith, and a new Pope, and a re-assembled Council may trim the boat."
That prophecy obviously came true with Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. But the general point about Councils needing „to be completed" applies no less to that later Council.
And Newman means here completion not by augmenting what has already been taught – which in the case of Vatican I would have meant a strengthening of the definition – but by „declarations … in contrary directions". In the case of Vatican II, it would suggest not a Vatican III, as many hoped at least until quite recently, that would „go further" than Vatican II, but rather „declarations … in contrary directions" to those of Vatican II, contrary not in the sense of contradictory but of different.
The dogmas of the early Church, Newman observed, „were not struck off all at once but piecemeal – one Council did one thing, another a second – and so the whole dogma was built up." What „looked extreme" needed to be „explained and completed" "
It is extremely worthwhile to read in full Father Ker`s essay and at the same time read the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his Address to the Curia on 22 December 2005 and in particular the following passage:
"The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago.
This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done?
No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea: he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things:
"The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..." (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).
We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it.
The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?
Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.
On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.
The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless.
However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts. (emphasis added)
These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.
In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.
The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve.
The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.
Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord's gift. They are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (I Cor 4: 1); as such, they must be found to be "faithful" and "wise" (cf. Lk 12: 41-48). This requires them to administer the Lord's gift in the right way, so that it is not left concealed in some hiding place but bears fruit, and the Lord may end by saying to the administrator: "Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs" (cf. Mt 25: 14-30; Lk 19: 11-27).
These Gospel parables express the dynamic of fidelity required in the Lord's service; and through them it becomes clear that, as in a Council, the dynamic and fidelity must converge.
The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965.
Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion".
And he continues:
"Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...".
It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).
It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the programme that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding.
However, wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.
In his Discourse closing the Council, Paul VI pointed out a further specific reason why a hermeneutic of discontinuity can seem convincing.
In the great dispute about man which marks the modern epoch, the Council had to focus in particular on the theme of anthropology. It had to question the relationship between the Church and her faith on the one hand, and man and the contemporary world on the other (cf. ibid.).
The question becomes even clearer if, instead of the generic term "contemporary world", we opt for another that is more precise: the Council had to determine in a new way the relationship between the Church and the modern era.
This relationship had a somewhat stormy beginning with the Galileo case. It was then totally interrupted when Kant described "religion within pure reason" and when, in the radical phase of the French Revolution, an image of the State and the human being that practically no longer wanted to allow the Church any room was disseminated.
In the 19th century under Pius IX, the clash between the Church's faith and a radical liberalism and the natural sciences, which also claimed to embrace with their knowledge the whole of reality to its limit, stubbornly proposing to make the "hypothesis of God" superfluous, had elicited from the Church a bitter and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age.
Thus, it seemed that there was no longer any milieu open to a positive and fruitful understanding, and the rejection by those who felt they were the representatives of the modern era was also drastic.
In the meantime, however, the modern age had also experienced developments. People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.
The natural sciences were beginning to reflect more and more clearly their own limitations imposed by their own method, which, despite achieving great things, was nevertheless unable to grasp the global nature of reality.
So it was that both parties were gradually beginning to open up to each other. In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity.
Catholic social doctrine, as it gradually developed, became an important model between radical liberalism and the Marxist theory of the State. The natural sciences, which without reservation professed a method of their own to which God was barred access, realized ever more clearly that this method did not include the whole of reality. Hence, they once again opened their doors to God, knowing that reality is greater than the naturalistic method and all that it can encompass.
It might be said that three circles of questions had formed which then, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, were expecting an answer.
First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined. Furthermore, this did not only concern the natural sciences but also historical science for, in a certain school, the historical-critical method claimed to have the last word on the interpretation of the Bible and, demanding total exclusivity for its interpretation of Sacred Scripture, was opposed to important points in the interpretation elaborated by the faith of the Church.
Secondly, it was necessary to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practise their own religion.
Thirdly, linked more generally to this was the problem of religious tolerance - a question that required a new definition of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions. In particular, before the recent crimes of the Nazi regime and, in general, with a retrospective look at a long and difficult history, it was necessary to evaluate and define in a new way the relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel.
These are all subjects of great importance - they were the great themes of the second part of the Council - on which it is impossible to reflect more broadly in this context. It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance.
It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists.
In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters - for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible - should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.
On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.
Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. Thus, for example, if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.
It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.
The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State.
The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith - a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience. A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all.
At the same time, she assures peoples and their Governments that she does not wish to destroy their identity and culture by doing so, but to give them, on the contrary, a response which, in their innermost depths, they are waiting for - a response with which the multiplicity of cultures is not lost but instead unity between men and women increases and thus also peace between peoples.
The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.
The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues "her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8).
Those who expected that with this fundamental "yes" to the modern era all tensions would be dispelled and that the "openness towards the world" accordingly achieved would transform everything into pure harmony, had underestimated the inner tensions as well as the contradictions inherent in the modern epoch.
They had underestimated the perilous frailty of human nature which has been a threat to human progress in all the periods of history and in every historical constellation. These dangers, with the new possibilities and new power of man over matter and over himself, did not disappear but instead acquired new dimensions: a look at the history of the present day shows this clearly.
In our time too, the Church remains a "sign that will be opposed" (Lk 2: 34) - not without reason did Pope John Paul II, then still a Cardinal, give this title to the theme for the Spiritual Exercises he preached in 1976 to Pope Paul VI and the Roman Curia. The Council could not have intended to abolish the Gospel's opposition to human dangers and errors.
On the contrary, it was certainly the Council's intention to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness and purity.
The steps the Council took towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as "openness to the world", belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms. The situation that the Council had to face can certainly be compared to events of previous epochs.
In his First Letter, St Peter urged Christians always to be ready to give an answer (apo-logia) to anyone who asked them for the logos, the reason for their faith (cf. 3: 15).
This meant that biblical faith had to be discussed and come into contact with Greek culture and learn to recognize through interpretation the separating line but also the convergence and the affinity between them in the one reason, given by God.
When, in the 13th century through the Jewish and Arab philosophers, Aristotelian thought came into contact with Medieval Christianity formed in the Platonic tradition and faith and reason risked entering an irreconcilable contradiction, it was above all St Thomas Aquinas who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time.
There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.
Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.
This dialogue must now be developed with great openmindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church. "
Patrick J. Reilly, Newman and the Renewal of Catholic Identity in Higher Education
Another weighty paper at the Conference was Patrick J. Reilly, President, The Cardinal Newman Society, Newman and the Renewal of Catholic Identity in Higher Education
Reilly discussed what is meant by a Catholic University in the light of Newman`s The Idea of a University (1852)
He argued that Newman`s work is mis-understood and that Newman’s Idea of a University cannot be adequately accommodated to the secular institution, which in fact Newman regarded to be something other than a true university
He also argued that the fact of a secular or even a Catholic university’s allowance for the study of religion and Divine Revelation comes closer but still does not, by itself, fulfill Newman’s definition of a University
He stated that Newman’s embrace of the liberal arts is quite different from what is today valued as a liberal arts core or programme, at least in its most common form and that the contemporary university’s negligence with regard to students’ social, moral and spiritual development is entirely opposite to what Newman intended
Finally and most controversially he said that Newman greatly favored intellectually qualified laymen for faculty positions—but not professors who would undermine the University’s commitment to Catholic teaching
The talk is worth comparing to the talk by Pope Benedict XVIto the Catholic University of America on 17th April 2008
especially where he said:
"Some today question the Church's involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere.
Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities for education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable profession. It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church's primary mission of evangelization?
All the Church's activities stem from her awareness that she is the bearer of a message which has its origin in God himself: in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known the hidden purpose of his will (cf. Eph 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God's desire to make himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life. This unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith (cf. Fides et Ratio, 31).
It can be described as a move from "I" to "we", leading the individual to be numbered among God's people.
This same dynamic of communal identity - to whom do I belong? - vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions.
A university or school's Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction - do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self - intellect and will, mind and heart - to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God's creation?
Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.
From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary "crisis of truth" is rooted in a "crisis of faith". Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God's testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals.
Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually.
While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in - a participation in Being itself.
Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God.
Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.
Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.
Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society.
They become places in which God's active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ's "being for others" (cf. ibid., 28).
The Church's primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation's fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person's dignity.
At times, however, the value of the Church's contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43).
The Church's mission, in fact, involves her in humanity's struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis.
Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable.
Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.
With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision.
Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her the entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God's creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself.
Far from being just a communication of factual data - "informative" - the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing - "performative" (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others."
Kevin O`Brien The Influence and Effect of Blessed Dominic Barberi
Kevin O`Brien of the Theater of the Word Incorporated delivered an important account of the decisive influence of Dominic Barberi (1792-1849) in the conversion of Newman
Newman commemorated Barbieri in literature in his novel “Loss and Gain”
"But Newman, great as he was, was not the Modern Apostle to England. He needed an apostle first to reach him. He was converted not only by his reading and study of the Church Fathers, but by a little-known man behind the scenes, who, like St. Austin, was an Italian priest sent on an improbable mission.
Dominic Barberi was born in 1792 in Viterbo, in the Papal States. Orphaned at an early age, not formally educated as a child, and less than precise in his early devotions, he nevertheless received numerous consolations and ecstasies from God. In 1814 it was revealed to him by means of an inner locution in prayer that he was to serve God as apostle to the English people.
Twenty-seven years later, after much delay and long-suffering, he alighted on the shores of England, unable even to speak the language, a Passionist priest in borrowed and ragged attire (for it was deemed too dangerous to travel in clericals and habit), his heart aflame to convert the English people and to “lead lost sheep back into the one true fold”.
“The Second Spring in England,” wrote Fr. J. Brodrick, S.J., “did not begin when Newman was converted nor when the Hierarchy was restored. It began on a bleak October day of 1841, when a little Italian priest in comical attire shuffled down a ship’s gangway at Folkestone.”
This little Italian priest in comic attire, Dominc Barberi (now Blessed Dominic Barberi), then spent the remaining years of his life giving his all to England. Suffering stonings, curses, privations, starvations, mockery and more, he and his Passionist brothers traveled barefoot to the industrial centers, preaching the passion of Jesus and bringing thousands into the Church.
John Henry Newman, meanwhile, though intellectually finding himself more and more reconciled with the Catholic Faith, was still in the process of digging in his heels.
He resisted conversion to Rome, and even wrote to a friend,
“If they [the Catholics] want to convert England, let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns – let them preach to the people like St. Francis Xavier – let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own that they do what we cannot. I will confess they are our betters far.”
Little did he know that even as he wrote this, Father Dominic and his friends were doing exactly that.
For Newman had been seeking in the Roman Catholic Church the four marks of the True Church: it had to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. She was obviously One through time and through space; she was clearly catholic or universal; and there was no doubt that her bishops were lineal descendants of the apostles. But was she holy?
Sadly, Newman saw no signs of holiness in the Catholics about him in his day. (And honestly, if we modern-day Catholics were known to him then, would he have seen any signs of holiness in us?)
The witness of individual sanctity is a remarkable thing. Newman knew that witness only in the heroes of the early Church about whom he read, and in the fictional friar Fr. Ker mentioned at the conference, a character in a novel Newman read, a man who existed only on paper, but whose sanctity pierced like a “dart” into Newman’s heart, into his very soul.
But soon Newman was to see a sign of sanctity in the flesh. Our Faith is incarnational, and saints are not just make-believe characters in story books.
Dominic Barberi was invited to visit Littlemore, Newman’s retreat in 1844. And although the two men met and spoke very briefly, Newman later remarked,
“When his form came in sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. His very look had about it something holy.”
Barberi’s life, his silent witness, along with the correspondence he had been carrying on with Newman’s fellow Tractarian John Dobree Dalgairns, was the final witness that Newman needed. It was the last of the four marks he sought that convinced him that the Catholic Church was the true Church, and that the Church of England – alas - was not.
The second time Barberi and Newman met was October 9, 1845, a rainy night at Littlemore. Dominic, soaking wet, had been led to the fire to dry himself. The door opened, and there was John Henry Newman, throwing himself down before this little emotional barefoot Italian – who, in many ways was Newman’s opposite – begging him to hear his confession and receive him into the Catholic Church.
"What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet!” Barberi wrote. “All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great."
The next day, Dominic said Mass for Newman on the only thing that was available. There being no altar, Dominic dressed the desk for Mass – the writing desk upon which Newman had written An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the work that brought him intellectually into the Church, the work that still resounds theologically throughout the world.
From that time, Newman would not write another thing on this desk – on what was no longer a desk, on what had become a holy altar of sacrifice.
You can see that very desk, that very altar, if you visit Littlemore in England."
This particular paper makes one recall the address of Pope Benedict XVI in December 2009 to the members of the International Theological Commission. See Look to the "Little Ones"
From Belgium Dominic wrote to his general about the joyful events in Littlemore and in so doing described Newman as “one of the most humble and lovable men” he had ever met
But Newman never forgot Barberi despite his premature death.
On 2 October 1889, in connection with Dominic’s beatification process that had just begun, Newman wrote to Cardinal Parocchi in Rome that Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God was certainly,
“a marvellous missioner and preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. No wonder that I became his convert and his penitent. He was a great lover of England.”
Jamie MacGuire and a Newman anecdote: Newman and Ullathorne
In his Introduction to the Portsmouth Conference Jamie MacGuire recounted a number of anecdotes about Newman including one which I thought was fascinating:
"In his preface to a recent edition of The Idea of a University, General Josiah Bunting III, a past Commencement speaker here who had hoped to be with us this weekend, recounts an encounter that Bishop William Ullathorne had with Newman in 1886, when the Cardinal was preparing a third edition of his Select Treatises of St. Athanasius.
Before becoming Bishop of Birmingham, Ullathorne, a bluff, burly, no-nonsense Yorkshireman was a sailor who made several voyages to the Baltic and Mediterranean. He was educated for the clergy at the Benedictine college of St. Gregory, Downside. And no sooner did he become a priest than he sailed out to New South Wales so he could convert the convicts. (Robert Hughes, in his extraordinary history of Australia, The Fatal Shore, makes many lively references to Ullathorne.)
Right before he retired, he visited Newman, and when he was rising to go, he recalled Newman detaining him and saying “in low and humble accents, „My dear Lord, will you do me a great favor?" „What is it?" Ullathorne asked.”
Newman “glided down on his knees, bent down his venerable head, and said, „Give me your blessing." Ullathorne was taken aback but “laid his hand on his head and said, “My dear Lord Cardinal… I pray God to bless you…."”
As they walked to the door, Newman turned to Ullathorne and said: “„I have been indoors all my life, whilst you have battled for the Church in the world.” Ullathorne was profoundly moved and recalled: “„I felt annihilated in his presence: there is a Saint in that man!"