I wrote the book Newman on Vatican II for two reasons. First, I hoped to settle once and for all the question that always hangs around Newman: was he a conservative or a liberal theologian? Once Newman has been canonised – which is likely to be soon now that he has been beatified – it is certain that he will be declared a Doctor of the Church, and the question therefore becomes all the more pressing.
The reason why this question comes so regularly to the fore is that it is all too easy to quote Newman selectively and out of context, especially since he expresses himself with such vigorous distinctness and trenchancy.
For example, one can quote his forthright statement in the Apologia that dogma was the “fundamental principle” of his religion – “I know no other religion”, or his insistence in the speech he made on being made a cardinal that “for 30, 40, 50 years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion” – and conclude from these two uncompromising statements that Newman was extremely conservative and traditionalist.
On the other hand, one might quote Newman’s famous words, “I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please – still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards”; or his downright assertion: “Theology is the fundamental and regulating principle of the whole Church system” – and conclude that Newman was a forerunner of the liberal, “spirit of Vatican II” kind of theologian who justifies dissent from Church teachings and advocates a parallel magisterium of the theologians.
The truth is that Newman was neither simply conservative nor liberal. He is best described as a conservative radical or reformer.
Read the rest there please.