Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cor ad Cor Loquitur, May 12, 1879

Pope Leo XIII made Father John Henry Newman a Cardinal Deacon with the titular church of St. George in Velabro on May 12, 1879 (131 years ago). There was some misunderstanding about the offer of the Cardinal’s hat to Newman as he did not want to/could not move to Rome as was the custom at that time (because of his age and failing health, and his work at the Oratory). The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Henry Manning, who did not always appreciate Father Newman’s efforts and talents, may or may not have intentionally contributed to the impression that Newman wanted to decline the honor (leaving out his concerns about staying in England). Newman’s bishop had to straighten things out quite a bit between Newman and Manning to get the right message back to Rome.

Pope Leo XIII honored Newman in spite of the fact, as he said, that so many told him that Newman was a liberal—also, Newman was not a bishop. He referred to Newman as “My Cardinal”. Many in England rejoiced at the news of Newman’s honor and he felt that the cloud of distrust and trouble had been lifted.

When receiving the letter or biglietto conferring the Cardinal’s hat, Newman gave his famous Biglietto Speech against the anti-dogmatic principle of Liberalism in religion, saying he had fought against it for thirty, forty, fifty years:

“Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man’s religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.”

In the last decade of the last century, then Father Avery Dulles visited Newman University (then Kansas Newman College) to give a lecture on the anniversary of Newman joining the Catholic Church. Cardinal Dulles analyzed the pattern of Newman’s conversion and noted that at each stage (evangelical, Anglican, and Catholic) there was a common theme: Newman seeking the true teaching and true Church of Jesus Christ. He could not imagine the Christian religion without Truth—and that meant religion had content, doctrine, and authority. Robert Pattison’s The Great Dissent: John Henry Newman and the Liberal Heresy provides a tremendously comprehensive and provocative analysis of Newman’s constant attack on Liberalism in religion. Pattison says that Newman failed; Pope Benedict XVI, in beatifying him, says otherwise!

The Biglietto Speech of May 12, 1879 does indeed offer a summary of this aspect of Newman’s life and thought—and I believe that Newman’s call for champions to defend the Truth is one we should especially heed and act upon as we anticipate his beatification on Sunday, September 19th this year.

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