The recent news of the canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman on October 13 brought immense joy to my wife and I. No other convert to Catholicism has influenced the Church more, in my opinion, except for Saints Paul and Augustine. Living a mere two centuries ago, Newman’s influence on Catholic theology and education is evident. Many Catholic college students may be familiar with the Newman Center. According to The Newman Connection website:
Newman Centers are residence and Catholic ministry centers at non-Catholic universities throughout the world. These centers provide pastoral services and ministries to their Catholic communities, in particular to the Roman Catholic student population within universities throughout the world.
Newman Centers were named in honor of Cardinal John Henry Newman and were inspired by Newman’s writings. The first Newman Center was established in 1893 at the University of Pennsylvania.
Several cousins and friends off mine had the pleasure of experiencing Catholic fellowship, learning, and unity at these centers. While I never attended a Newman Center during my college years, Cardinal Newman has been a strong influence in my faith life. His commonsense, focus on the unity of all doctrinal truths, and ability to penetrate your conscience makes me excited about the cardinal’s canonization this Fall. I hope you find similar enjoyment and deepen your faith as we briefly look at the highlights of Newman’s theology.
Unity of Truth
According to Cardinal Newman in Discourse 17: The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son, “The great truths of Revelation are all connected together and form a whole. Every one can see this in measure even at a glance, but to understand the full consistency and harmony of Catholic teaching requires study and mediation.” As with any convert to the faith both the intellect and the heart had to be fed. Cardinal Newman dedicated his entire adult life to academically studying Christianity.
Because God honors the freedom of man, he revealed truth in a manner as to be compatible with that freedom. Newman wrote, “Difficulties in revelation…are stumbling blocks to the proud and unhumbled minds” (
Discourse 17: The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son). Newman discusses the major doctrines of Catholicism that clearly demonstrate his holiness and humble mindset. After each sermon I read of his, I crave to learn more, read more about the faith.
Importance of Mary
Tied closely to the point of Newman’s focus on the unity of the whole of truth is his understanding of the importance of Mary. Except for Fulton Sheen’s The World’s First Love, I have never read as plain and razor-sharp witted of a defense of the importance of Mary as Cardinal Newman. Living an England influenced by the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic priest faced many criticisms of the faith. Lacking the fullness of the truth, Protestants hold a shadow of the full reality of Christian truth. This is probably most evident in the role of Mary.
Cardinal Newman argued that the reason Protestants don’t place Mary on a pedestal of honor is because they actually have a partial view of Christ’s divinity. “The world allows that God is man; the admission costs it little, for God is everywhere, and (as it may say) is everything; but it shrinks away from confessing that God is the Son of Mary,” the red-capped theologian reasons. Mary provides a Christ with a tangibility. He actually had/has a mother. Newman writes, “Mary is exalted for the sake of Jesus!” He goes on to mention in Discourse 17: The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son that Mary without being attached and honored by the Church would not have truly been important as she testifies to the glory of the Incarnation–God becoming man.
Meaning in Suffering
Along with Newman’s stellar defense of Mariology, he describes the role of suffering in Christianity plainly. He calls the Cross the real key to interpreting the apparent purposelessness and random suffering of the world. In Sermon 7 The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World, Newman writes, “It (the Cross) has brought together and made consistent all that seemed discordant and aimless.
Suffering is made redemptive through the Crucifixion. “The doctrine of the Cross of Christ does but anticipate for us our experience of the world,” states Newman (Sermon 7). We live in a world where people like to eradicate or ignore suffering. Fleeing suffering only leads to despair. The Catholic approach to suffering is to embrace it with joy and unite your sufferings with Christ. Newman describes it so clearly, “If you begin with pleasure, you will end with pain. It (truth) bids us begin with the Cross of Christ, and in that Cross we shall at first find sorrow, but in a while peace and comfort will rise our of that sorrow. The Cross starts with pain, but ends in joy!
Holiness Has to be Whole
Cardinal Newman’s ability to describe the Catholic faith with clarity and charity helps us grow in understanding and holiness. The English priest most certainly aimed at perfection of virtue. According to Newman in Sermon 5 Self-Denial the Test of Religious Earnestness,
Holiness must be total and comprehensive. “Never think yourself safe because you do your duty in ninety-nine points; it is the hundredth which is to be the ground of your self-denial, which must evidence, or rather instance and realize your faith,” he wrote. Every action of your day should aim at holiness. Newman tells us, “Let your very rising from your bed be a self-denial; let your meals be self-denials.”
The timing of Cardinal Newman’s canonization is definitely providential. God is reminding us, and hopeful more Catholics will learn, of the wonderful, keen, and common sense approach to holiness of the English priest. I am excited for his official sainthood. I hope you are as well. Please check out a sermon or writing of John Henry Newman this summer. I guarantee your fervor for the faith will ignite!