Friday, March 22, 2019

Preview: Newman and the Blessed Virgin Mary

Since Monday, March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation, I thought it appropriate that we discuss Newman and the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Son Rise Morning Show in our continuing series. Matt Swaim or Anna Mitchell and I will talk, as usual, about 7:50 am. Eastern DST / 6:50 a.m. Central DST. The segment will be repeated sometime during the nationwide EWTN hour on another day.

Before he became a Catholic, being raised in a traditionally anti-Catholic Anglican milieu, Newman was at first influenced by the usual Protestant belief that Catholics "worshipped" Mary which distracted us from worshipping God. As this article from the University of Dayton by Brother John Samaha, S.M. explains, however, Newman explored Marian doctrines in his Development of Christian Doctrine:

Before embracing Catholicism, John Henry Newman, probably the most famous convert in the last two centuries, formulated an explanation of the development of doctrines in the Catholic Church, especially the Marian doctrines. He explained that the saving truths of revelation were not given by God in timeless and static expression, but dynamic and life-giving truths which continue to unfold and develop. In An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine Newman wrote, "Growth is the only evidence of Life." Ideas live in our minds and continually enlarge into fuller development. "In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." . . .

Following his conversion in 1845, John Henry Newman (1801-1890) journeyed to Rome. Upon his return as a Catholic priest he wrote that he "went round by Loreto." As a pilgrim to the Holy House he wanted "to get the Blessed Virgin's blessing." Then he commented about Mary's presence in his life. "I have ever been in her shadow, if I may say it. My college was St. Mary's, and my church, and when I went to Littlemore, there, by my own previous disposition, our Blessed Lady was waiting for me. Nor did she do nothing for me in that low habitation, of which I always think with pleasure."

As an Anglican, Newman thought that the Catholic Church's Marian doctrine and devotion was exaggerated. But in his study of the development of doctrine, he discovered that it was consistent with the early Church. "I was convinced by the Fathers," he explained. The early Fathers and ancient Christian writers viewed Mary as the New Eve. Newman came to understand Mary in patristic terms. He understood the Immaculate Conception was based on Mary's holiness, a concept present in the Fathers, and the Assumption was rooted in her dignity as Mother of God, another concept from the early Christian writers.

Although Newman had reservations about some teachings of the Catholic Church while an Anglican, he nevertheless was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his
Apologia pro Vita Sua he proclaimed, "In spite of my ingrained fears of Rome, and the decision of my reason and conscience against her usages, in spite of my affection for Oxford and Oriel, yet I had a secret longing love of Rome, the Mother of Christianity, and I had a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin, in whose college I lived, whose altar I served, and whose immaculate purity I had in one of my earliest printed sermons made much of."

Before his crisis with Anglicanism, which occasioned his writing of the Development of Doctrine, however, Newman had been influenced by Richard Hurrell Froude, who persuaded Newman of Mary's place in salvation history and the honor due her. In 1832, for  example, on the Feast of the Annunciation, Newman gave this Parochial and Plain Sermon, referring to the promises of the Magnificat from St. Luke's Gospel:

TODAY we celebrate the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary; when the Angel Gabriel was sent to tell her that she was to be the Mother of our Lord, and when the Holy Ghost came upon her, and overshadowed her with the power of the Highest. In that great event was fulfilled her anticipation as expressed in the text. All generations have called her blessed [Note 2]. The Angel began the salutation; he said, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured; the Lord is with thee; blessed [Note 3] art thou among women." Again he said, "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God; and, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest." Her cousin Elizabeth was the next to greet her with her appropriate title. Though she was filled with the Holy Ghost at the time she spake, yet, far from thinking herself by such a gift equalled to Mary, she was thereby moved to use the lowlier and more reverent language. "She spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" ... Then she repeated, "Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." Then it was that Mary gave utterance to her feelings in the Hymn which we read in the Evening Service. How many and complicated must they have been! In her was now to be fulfilled that promise which the world had been looking out for during thousands of years. The Seed of the woman, announced to guilty Eve, after long delay, was at length appearing upon earth, and was to be born of her. In her the destinies of the world were to be reversed, and the serpent's head bruised. On her was bestowed the greatest honour ever put upon any individual of our fallen race. God was taking upon Him her flesh, and humbling Himself to be called her offspring;—such is the deep mystery! She of course would feel her own inexpressible unworthiness; and again, her humble lot, her ignorance, her weakness in the eyes of the world. And she had moreover, we may well suppose, that purity and innocence of heart, that bright vision of faith, that confiding trust in her God, which raised all these feelings to an intensity which we, ordinary mortals, cannot understand. We cannot understand them; we repeat her hymn day after day,—yet consider for an instant in how different a mode we say it from that in which she at first uttered it. We even hurry it over, and do not think of the meaning of those words which came from the most highly favoured, awfully gifted of the children of men. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the low estate of His hand-maiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name. And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation."

Ten years later on the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas), Newman would go further toward a Catholic understanding of Marian Doctrine in a Parochial and Plain Sermon on the topic of the development of religious doctrine:

LITTLE is told us in Scripture concerning the Blessed Virgin, but there is one grace of which the Evangelists make her the pattern, in a few simple sentences—of Faith. Zacharias questioned the Angel's message, but "Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Accordingly Elisabeth, speaking with an apparent allusion to the contrast thus exhibited between her own highly-favoured husband, righteous Zacharias, and the still more highly-favoured Mary, said, on receiving her salutation, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb; Blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord."

2. But Mary's faith did not end in a mere acquiescence in Divine providences and revelations: as the text informs us, she "pondered" them. When the shepherds came, and told of the vision of Angels which they had seen at the time of the Nativity, and how one of them announced that the Infant in her arms was "the Saviour, which is Christ the Lord," while others did but wonder, "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." Again, when her Son and Saviour had come to the age of twelve years, and had left her for awhile for His Father's service, and had been found, to her surprise, in the Temple, amid the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions, and had, on her addressing Him, vouchsafed to justify His conduct, we are told, "His mother kept all these sayings in her heart." And accordingly, at the marriage-feast in Cana, her faith anticipated His first miracle, and she said to the servants, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."

3. Thus St. Mary is our pattern of Faith, both in the reception and in the study of Divine Truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she developes it; not enough to submit the Reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing. And thus she symbolizes to us, not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church also, who have to investigate, and weigh, and define, as well as to profess the Gospel; to draw the line between truth and heresy; to anticipate or remedy the various aberrations of wrong reason; to combat pride and recklessness with their own arms; and thus to triumph over the sophist and the innovator.

On Monday, I'll provide some notes from Newman's Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

No comments:

Post a Comment