Friday, August 2, 2019

Preview: Blessed John Henry Newman and Friendship

Erasmus wrote of Thomas More that he seemed "born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend." Something similar could be said of Blessed John Henry Newman. On Monday, August 5, we'll continue our Santo Subito! Series on the Son Rise Morning Show with a discussion of Newman and Friendship (at the usual time: 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern).

Father Juan Velez, author of Holiness in a Secular Age and other books about Newman, summarizes Newman's devotion to being a faithful friend:

During his long-life Newman exercised the natural and supernatural virtues that give life to friendship. His friendships arose naturally out of common interests. One of his first good friends was John William Bowden, whom he met at Oriel College, Oxford on his first day at the university. Their common interests were journalism and writing plays, which they did together.

Spiritual and religious concerns led him to develop a friendship with Richard Hurrell Froude, another Oxford student, and through Richard with John Keble, a former student and professor of poetry at Oxford. It was with them and a few other men that the influential Oxford Movement was started in 1833.

Friends learn from each other, for this is the nature of friendship; personal growth is never one-sided. Froude, who was one of the founding members of this movement, as well as a High Church Anglican, was one of the men who most challenged Newman’s misunderstandings about Catholicism, and the Middle Ages. From Keble, Newman learned about the depth and beauty of the liturgical seasons and feasts of the year.

Often friendship begins with acts of service rendered by a person to another. In these acts of service we discover and share in the goodness of others. Newman’s students, and readers, turned to him to ask questions about theology or just practical advice. They sought encouragement in difficult times, and consolation in bereavement.

Friendship often develops over time and good friendships withstand the test of time. This was the case with many of Newman’s friends. Frederick Rogers, later Lord Blanchford is an example of this. Newman was his tutor at Oxford. Over time teacher and student became friends. After Newman became Roman Catholic, he and Rogers did not see each other for some time, but they still corresponded. Many years later, Rogers and some other Anglican friends, gifting Newman with a carriage.

Newman had a passion for truth which enabled him to be sincere with his friends about his religious beliefs. He pursued religious truth, even when this meant painful discussions with friends, and even separation from them. Yet the love of friends never dies and is, in time, rekindled if that love is true. Towards the end of his life Newman and some of his former Anglican friends rekindled their friendship before heading off to see Him whom they loved together.

In addition to being a friend, Newman thought about friendship. In one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons ("Love of Relations and Friends"), he noted that we are all "born and framed for friendship" because it is a natural virtue; it even helps us become better Christians:

It has been the plan of Divine Providence to ground what is good and true in religion and morals, on the basis of our good natural feelings. What we are towards our earthly friends in the instincts and wishes of our infancy, such we are to become at length towards God and man in the extended field of our duties as accountable beings. To honour our parents is the first step towards honouring God; to love our brethren according to the flesh, the first step towards considering all men our brethren. Hence our Lord says, we must become as little children, if we would be saved; we must become in His Church, as men, what we were once in the small circle of our youthful homes.—Consider how many other virtues are grafted upon natural feelings. What is Christian high-mindedness, generous self-denial, contempt of wealth, endurance of suffering, and earnest striving after perfection, but an improvement and transformation, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, of that natural character of mind which we call romantic? On the other hand, what is the instinctive hatred and abomination of sin (which confirmed Christians possess), their dissatisfaction with themselves, their general refinement, discrimination, and caution, but an improvement, under the same Spirit, of their natural sensitiveness and delicacy, fear of pain, and sense of shame? They have been chastised into self-government, by a fitting discipline, and now associate an acute sense of discomfort and annoyance with the notion of sinning. And so of the love of our fellow Christians and of the world at large, it is the love of kindred and friends in a fresh shape; which has this use, if it had no other, that it is the natural branch on which a spiritual fruit is grafted.

But again, the love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men. The love of God is not the same thing as the love of our parents, though parallel to it; but the love of mankind in general should be in the main the same habit as the love of our friends, only exercised towards different objects. The great difficulty in our religious duties is their extent. This frightens and perplexes men,—naturally; those especially, who have neglected religion for a while, and on whom its obligations disclose themselves all at once. This, for example, is the great misery of leaving repentance till a man is in weakness or sickness; he does not know how to set about it. Now God's merciful Providence has in the natural course of things narrowed for us at first this large field of duty; He has given us a clue. We are to begin with loving our friends about us, and gradually to enlarge the circle of our affections, till it reaches all Christians, and then all men. Besides, it is obviously impossible to love all men in any strict and true sense. What is meant by loving all men, is, to feel well-disposed to all men, to be ready to assist them, and to act towards those who come in our way, as if we loved them. We cannot love those about whom we know nothing; except indeed we view them in Christ, as the objects of His Atonement, that is, rather in faith than in love. And love, besides, is a habit, and cannot be attained without actual practice, which on so large a scale is impossible. We see then how absurd it is, when writers (as is the manner of some who slight the Gospel) talk magnificently about loving the whole human race with a comprehensive affection, of being the friends of all mankind, and the like. Such vaunting professions, what do they come to? that such men have certain benevolent feelings towards the world,—feelings and nothing more;—nothing more than unstable feelings, the mere offspring of an indulged imagination, which exist only when their minds are wrought upon, and are sure to fail them in the hour of need. This is not to love men, it is but to talk about love.—The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us, otherwise it will have no existence. By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth. The vain talkers about philanthropy, just spoken of, usually show the emptiness of their profession, by being morose and cruel in the private relations of life, which they seem to account as subjects beneath their notice. Far different indeed, far different (unless it be a sort of irreverence to contrast such dreamers with the great Apostle, whose memory we are today celebrating), utterly the reverse of this fictitious benevolence was his elevated and enlightened sympathy for all men. We know he is celebrated for his declarations about Christian love. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." [1 John iv. 7, 12, 16.] Now did he begin with some vast effort at loving on a large scale? Nay, he had the unspeakable privilege of being the friend of Christ. Thus he was taught to love others; first his affection was concentrated, then it was expanded. Next he had the solemn and comfortable charge of tending our Lord's Mother, the Blessed Virgin, after His departure. Do we not here discern the secret sources of his especial love of the brethren? Could he, who first was favoured with his Saviour's affection, then trusted with a son's office towards His Mother, could he be other than a memorial and pattern (as far as man can be), of love, deep, contemplative, fervent, unruffled, unbounded?

More on Newman and Friendship on Monday.

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