On Monday, May 13, Matt Swaim and I will talk about Newman and the Laity on the Son Rise Morning Show
(7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central). Blessed John Henry Newman was a champion of the Catholic laity in 19th century England at a crucial time.
Remember the important dates and events:
1829: Catholic Emancipation or Relief Passed: Catholics able to vote, serve in office, take up any profession, etc.,
1845: Newman, with some Oxford Movement followers preceding him and following him, became a Catholic
1846: Newman goes to Rome to study for the priesthood
1847: He decides to become an Oratorian, takes St. Philip Neri as a patron
1848: Newman returns to England and establishes the first Oratory there in Maryvale
1849: The Oratory moves to Birmingham
Newman's choice of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri indicates his vocation to serve the laity. As the website for the Brooklyn Oratory explains
he was following his patron's way:
Perhaps because of his long and dedicated life as a layman going about the business of charity and prayer and his reluctance to receive Holy Orders, Philip built within the structure of the Oratory a collaborative and representative constitution. Unlike some other religious orders in the Catholic Church where the laity are the “third order” (after the priests – first order – and the religious brothers and sisters – the second order) in the Oratory the laity are the first and the priests and brothers exist only to serve the laity who are therefore rightly the first order.
Some have said that Philip’s emphasis on the laity put him 400 years ahead of his time. But Newman also emphasized this aspect of Church tradition in 19th Century England. The role of the laity in his ministry and work was also an authentic expression of Catholicity. It is little surprise then that one of Newman’s most famous works is “On Consulting the Laity on Matters of Doctrine.” It remains to this day an important work in the area. There is also more than an echo of Philip in another of Newman’s seminal works “On the Development of Doctrine” for he too sought means to preserve fidelity to the deposit of faith while being responsive to the needs of his day. Perhaps we can see in Newman’s extraordinarily productive correspondence a continuation of Philip’s own highly personal approach to ministry. “Each one,” Philip said, “has a particular gift which he must follow and this is a matter to which he must pay great attention.”
Remember also that the Catholic laity of England--and of Ireland--had led the fight for Catholic Emancipation; the laity had saved the Catholic Church in England in special ways: sending their sons to the Continent to study for the priesthood; sheltering the priests who returned (St. Oliver Plunkett of Ireland was the last Catholic priest to be executed, but it was still an act of treason for a priest to be present in England), funding the chapels and chaplains who served their communities, etc.
The process of Catholic Emancipation in the late eighteenth century had been championed by Catholic nobles like Robert Edward Petre, 9th Baron Petre. The Catholic laity wanted to be full citizens of their country and be able to practice their religion at the same time. The UK Parliament website
explains what the first Catholic Relief Acts achieved:
In 1778 Parliament passed the Catholic Relief Act. Although it did not grant freedom of worship, it allowed Catholics to join the army and purchase land if they took an oath of allegiance.
The Act raised a storm of protest, however, and after a huge petition had been presented to the House of Commons, organised by Lord George Gordon, several days and nights of rioting erupted on London’s streets.
The Catholic Relief Act of 1791 was a much broader measure which gave Catholics freedom to worship. It also removed a wide range of other restrictions and allowed Catholics their own schools, to hold junior public offices, and to live in London.
In the 1820's, Catholic Emancipation was driven by the election of Daniel O'Connell in Ireland, who wouldn't be allowed to take his seat unless the laws were changed (from the same source
The question of political rights for Catholics was driven largely by Irish politics after the Act of Union of 1800.
Although Catholics made up most of the Irish population, they were not allowed to become Members of Parliament.
In 1823 an Irish barrister, Daniel O’Connell, formed the Catholic Association which began a mass movement in Ireland demanding full public and political rights.
Great concern was felt at Westminster about the possible effects of Catholic emancipation but government fears that British rule in Ireland might otherwise break down persuaded MPs in 1829 to pass the Catholic Emancipation Act.
This landmark measure allowed Catholics to sit as MPs, vote in elections and hold most senior government offices.
Obviously, the rights of Catholics to worship and practice their faith were also addressed in the 1829 Act
, although Parliament was still not comfortable with the presence of Jesuits in England:
And whereas Jesuits and members of other religious orders, communities or societies, of the church of Rome, bound by monastic or religious vows, are resident within the United Kingdom; and it is expedient to make provision for the gradual suppression and final prohibition of the same therein; Be it therefore Enacted, That every Jesuit, and every member of any other religious order, community or society of the church of Rome, bound by monastic or religious vows, who at the time of the commencement of this Act shall be within the United Kingdom, shall within Six calendar months after the commencement of this Act, deliver to the clerk of the peace of the county or place where such person shall reside, or his deputy, a notice or statement, in the form and containing the particulars set forth in the Schedule to this Act annexed; which notice or statement, such clerk of the peace, or his deputy, is hereby required to preserve and register amongst the other records of such county or place, for which no fee shall be payable, and a copy of which said notice or statement shall be by such clerk of the peace, or his deputy, forthwith transmitted to the chief secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, or other Chief Governor or Governors of Ireland, if such person shall reside in Ireland, or if in Great Britain, to one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State; and in case any person shall offend in the premises, he shall forfeit and pay to His Majesty, for every calendar month during which he shall remain in the United Kingdom without having delivered such notice or statement as is hereinbefore required, the sum of Fifty pounds.
Another important date:
In 1850: Pope Pius IX restored the Catholic hierarchy, replacing the Vicars Apostolic with Diocesan Bishops.
Queen Victoria and Parliament were not pleased with what they saw as Papal Aggression, and some in the laity thought the Pope and the returning hierarchy were too triumphant in their tone and would harm the progress Catholics had made with integration into their communities.
So Newman was stepping into the conflict between the hierarchy and the educated laity who heretofore had been the leaders of the Catholic community in England when as an Oratorian he championed the rights of the laity to contribute to the Church and to spread the Gospel to their fellow Englishmen. As he saw it, the laity were the ones who needed to reach out to Englishmen and women to defend the Catholic Faith.
In The Present Position of Catholics in England Newman told the laity of the Oratory:
What I desiderate [desire] in Catholics is the gift of bringing out what their religion is. I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity. I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism and where lies the main inconsistencies and absurdities of the Protestant theory. I have no apprehension you will be the worse Catholics for familiarity with these subjects, provided you cherish a vivid sense of God above and keep in mind that you have souls to be judged and saved. In all times the laity have been the measure of the Catholic spirit; they saved the Irish Church three centuries ago and they betrayed the Church in England. You ought to be able to bring out what you feel and what you mean, as well as to feel and mean it; to expose to the comprehension of others the fictions and fallacies of your opponents; to explain the charges brought against the Church, to the satisfaction, not, indeed, of bigots, but of men of sense, of whatever cast of opinion.
More on Monday about Newman's efforts to defend the Catholic laity's right to a voice in the Church, especially in practical matters, like education.
Image Source Top: Poster from my Theology on Tap Presentation Last Month: the quotation is "The Voice of the Whole Church in Time will Make Itself Heard" a partial version of one of Newman's reactions to the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility*
Middle: George Romney (English, 1734–1802),
Robert, 9th Baron Petre, Demonstrating the Use of an Écorché Figure to His Son, Robert Edward c. 1775 – 1776**
*The writer of this icon seems to apply this quotation to Newman's defense of the laity, but the quotation is not complete. Father Ian Ker does not present the quotation from one of Newman's letters completely either, but Newman seems to referring to theologians ("the voice of the Schola Theologorum, of the whole Church diffusive" would "in time make itself heard" LD xxv 284) p. 681 in Ker's John Henry Newman: A Biography (OUP: 1988, 2009)
**UPDATE: an Écorché Figure is a 3D model of the musculature of the body without skin.