Friday, August 5, 2022

Preview: St. J.H. Newman's Anglican Reverence Toward the Blessed Virgin Mary

We're going to continue on a Marian Newman theme throughout the month of August in our Monday morning Son Rise Morning Show exchanges, so on Monday, August 8, Anna Mitchell or Matt Swaim and I will take a look at the Parochial and Plain Sermon Newman delivered on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1832, as the Vicar of St. Mary's the Virgin in Oxford.

I'll be on at my usual time, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern.

Please listen live here on EWTN or on your local EWTN affiliate.

Last week I mentioned this passage from chapter four of the Apologia pro Vita Sua. Writing in 1864, Newman looks back and remembers the tug at his heart he was feeling as the Vicar of St. Mary's the Virgin and Fellow at Oriel College, founded in 1326 as "the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary":

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 English 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. (p. 165)

The sermon he refers to is "The Reverence Due to the Virgin Mary", sermon 12 in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 2, published in 1835.

Just a little biographical context: Newman had begun reading the Fathers of the Church systematically in 1826; he'd been Vicar of St. Mary's since 1828, and he published his first book, The Arians of the Fourth Century the same year he wrote and delivered this sermon. And, as he notes in the first chapter of the Apologia pro Vita Sua, he was influenced by his friend Richard Hurrell Froude:

It is difficult to enumerate the precise additions to my theological creed which I derived from a friend to whom I owe so much. He made me [Note 47] look with admiration towards the Church of Rome, and in the same degree to dislike the {127} Reformation. He fixed deep in me the idea of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and he led me gradually to believe in the Real Presence.

If you've had time to the read the two sermons I highlighted last week here and in my discussion with Matt Swaim on Monday, August 1, you'll see great connections between those Catholic sermons and this Anglican sermon.

Newman begins, inspired by Luke 1:43 ("From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."):

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. . . .

Her cousin Elizabeth was the next to greet her with her appropriate title. Though she was filled with the Holy Ghost at the time {128} 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. (The Magnificat)

Newman introduces the image of Mary as the Second Eve and enters into the psychology of her Magnificat:

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. 

With that kind of insight into human weakness Newman often demonstrates, he notes that we take the words of the Magnificat too much for granted even as we pray or chant every evening:

We cannot understand them; we repeat her hymn day after day,—yet consider for an instant in how different a mode we say it {129} 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."

Newman continues the theme of God's purpose in the Incarnation and His choice of a Second Eve to heal the wounds of the Fall of Adam and Eve, citing the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15):

I observe, that in her the curse pronounced on Eve was changed to a blessing. Eve was doomed to bear children in sorrow; but now this very dispensation, in which the token of Divine anger was conveyed, was made the means by which salvation came into the world. Christ might have descended from heaven, as He went back, and as He will come again. He might have taken on Himself a body from the ground, as Adam was given; or been formed, like Eve, in some other divinely-devised way. 

But, far from this, God sent forth His Son (as St. Paul says), "made of a woman." For it has been His gracious purpose to turn all that is ours from evil to good. Had He so pleased, He might have found, when we sinned, other beings to do Him service, casting us into hell; but He purposed to save and to change us. And in like manner all that belongs to us, our reason, our affections, our pursuits, our relations in life, He {130} needs nothing put aside in His disciples, but all sanctified. Therefore, instead of sending His Son from heaven, He sent Him forth as the Son of Mary, to show that all our sorrow and all our corruption can be blessed and changed by Him. The very punishment of the fall, the very taint of birth-sin, admits of a cure by the coming of Christ.

Newman even notes that the blessedness of Mary undoes the subjugation of women after the Fall:

But there is another portion of the original punishment of woman, which may be considered as repealed when Christ came. It was said to the woman, "Thy husband shall rule over thee;" a sentence which has been strikingly fulfilled. Man has strength to conquer the thorns and thistles which the earth is cursed with, but the same strength has ever proved the fulfilment of the punishment awarded to the woman. Look abroad through the Heathen world, and see how the weaker half of mankind has everywhere been tyrannized over and debased by the strong arm of force. . . .

But when Christ came as the seed of the woman, He {131} vindicated the rights and honour of His mother. . . . "notwithstanding, she shall be saved through the Child-bearing;" [1 Tim. ii. 15.] that is, through the birth of Christ from Mary, which was a blessing, as upon all mankind, so peculiarly upon the woman. Accordingly, from that time, Marriage has not only been restored to its original dignity, but even gifted with a spiritual privilege, as the outward symbol of the heavenly union subsisting betwixt Christ and His Church.

Thus has the Blessed Virgin, in bearing our Lord, taken off or lightened the peculiar disgrace which the woman inherited for seducing Adam, sanctifying the one part of it, repealing the other.

He considers how the Scripture speak less of Mary once Jesus begins His public ministry, but he notes that the Holy Bible was inspired and written, "not to exalt this or that particular Saint, but to give glory to Almighty God. There have been thousands of holy souls in the times of which the Bible history treats, {133} whom we know nothing of, because their lives did not fall upon the line of God's public dealings with man. In Scripture we read not of all the good men who ever were, only of a few, viz. those in whom God's name was especially honoured."

Thus, as an Anglican Vicar, Newman highlights how carefully the Church of England offers reverence to the Mother of God:

Hence, following the example of Scripture, we had better only think of her with and for her Son, never separating her from Him, but using her name as a memorial of His great condescension in stooping from heaven, and not "abhorring the Virgin's womb." [Quoting the Te Deum as he does in the 1849 sermons cited last week]

And this is the rule of our own Church, which has set apart only such Festivals in honour of the Blessed Mary, as may also be Festivals in honour of our Lord; the Purification commemorating His presentation in the {136} Temple, and the Annunciation commemorating His Incarnation. And, with this caution, the thought of her may be made most profitable to our faith; for nothing is so calculated to impress on our minds that Christ is really partaker of our nature, and in all respects man, save sin only, as to associate Him with the thought of her, by whose ministration He became our brother.

In concluding his sermon, Newman applies what he's said about the Blessed Virgin Mary to himself and his congregation:

Observe the lesson which we gain for ourselves from the history of the Blessed Virgin; that the highest graces of the soul may be matured in private, and without those fierce trials to which the many are exposed in order to their sanctification. So hard are our hearts, that affliction, pain, and anxiety are sent to humble us, and dispose us towards a true faith in the heavenly word, when preached to us. Yet it is only our extreme obstinacy of unbelief which renders this chastisement necessary. The aids which God gives under the Gospel Covenant, have power to renew and purify our hearts, without uncommon providences to discipline us into receiving them. God gives His Holy Spirit to us silently; and the silent duties of every day (it may be humbly hoped) are blest to the sufficient sanctification of thousands, whom the world knows not of. The Blessed Virgin is a memorial of this; and it is consoling as well as instructive to know it.

With a delicate reference to the Transfiguration (which we will celebrate tomorrow, August 6 on the First Saturday of the Month!), at end of this sermon Newman alludes to Christ's Second Coming, the End of the World, and Mary's presence on that day:

The day will come at length, when our Lord and Saviour will unveil that Sacred Countenance to the whole world, which no sinner ever yet could see and live. . . . And then will be fulfilled the promise pledged to the Church on the Mount of Transfiguration. It will be "good" to be with those whose tabernacles might have been a snare to us on earth, had we been allowed to build them. We shall see our Lord, and His Blessed Mother, the Apostles and Prophets, and all those righteous men whom we now read of in history, and long to know. Then we shall be taught in those Mysteries which are now above us. In the words of the Apostle, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is: and every man that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure." [1 John iii. 2, 3.]

We certainly won't have time Monday morning to delve into the distinctions to be made between what Newman wrote in 1832 as an Anglican and what he wrote in 1849 as a Catholic. This one passage, which I did not quote in the sequence above (p. 136), might serve as a starting point for such a comparison:

But, further, the more we consider who St. Mary was, the more dangerous will such knowledge of her appear to be. Other saints are but influenced or inspired by Christ, and made partakers of Him mystically. But, as to St. Mary, Christ derived His manhood from her, and so had an especial unity of nature with her; and this wondrous relationship between God and man it is perhaps impossible for us to dwell much upon without some perversion of feeling. For, truly, she is raised above the condition of sinful beings, though by nature a sinner; she is brought near to God, yet is but a creature, and seems to lack her fitting place in our limited understandings, neither too high nor too low. We cannot combine, in our thought of her, all we should ascribe with all we should withhold.

Otherwise, he says very little here that any Catholic would not say about the Blessed Virgin Mary as a saint and model--but I'd say that in 1832, Newman was still leery of  promoting to his Anglican congregation, not reverence toward the Mother of God, but devotion to her.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Image source: (Public Domain, provided by the Cornell University Library: This image is from the Cornell University Library's The Commons Flickr stream.The Library has determined that there are no known copyright restrictions.) Oxford. University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. Architect: Nicholas Stone. Sculpture Date: 1637. Building Date: 1280-ca. 1637. Photograph date: ca. 1865-ca. 1885.

Image source (Public Domain): The Transfiguration by Pietro Perugino, c. 1500.

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