Sunday, September 27, 2009

Benedict XVI on John Henry Newman

I had failed to notice this recent papal mention of the soon to be beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Pope Benedict XVI at Viterbo, Italy: Newman, ‘celebrated intellectual and man of luminous spirituality’

Pope Benedict XVI described the Venerable John Henry Newman as a “celebrated intellectual” and a “man of luminous spirituality”, in a homily during his recent pastoral visit to Viterbo.

During his visit to the city, which is about 65 miles north of Rome, the Pope celebrated an outdoor Mass, visited the conclave room of the Papal Palace and went to nearby Bagnoregio, where St Bonaventure was born in 1217.

The Papal visit to Viterbo, where five Popes were elected in the thirteenth century, took place on Sunday 6 September. The visit also brought the Pope to the region of Blessed Dominic Barberi, the passionist priest, who became famous through his contact with John Henry Newman.


Pope Benedict went on: “I would also like to mention another citizen of Viterbo, Blessed Dominic Barberi [1792-1849], the Passionist priest who, in 1845, welcomed John Henry Newman – who later became a cardinal – into the Catholic Church.”

The Pope continued: “Newman was a celebrated intellectual and a man of luminous spirituality.”

Elsewhere in his homily, speaking of Christ’s healing of the deaf mute in the Gospel of Mark, Pope Benedict declared the need to “confront, lucidly and coherently, the current and inescapably pressing ‘crisis in education’, a great challenge for every Christian community and for society as a whole, requiring precisely a process of ‘Ephphatha,’ of opening the ears, loosening the tongue and opening the eyes [to God].”


Pope Benedict, who has studied Newman since his time in seminary in the post-war years, approved in July the Decree recognising the miracle which will lead to Newman’s Beatification next year.

Source: The Cause for the Canonisation of John Henry Cardinal Newman

The NLM is also watching with interest to see if the recently announced papal visit to the United Kingdom will result in the Pope's own personal involvement in the beatification of Newman. We will bring you details as soon as we can.


A new piece has been posted on the site of Newman's Cause today which looks at Littlemore where Newman converted.

What was the original connection between John Henry Newman and Littlemore?

Newman was appointed Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, the University Church of Oxford, in 1828. Littlemore, on the outskirts of Oxford, had been part of the parish of St Mary’s for many centuries. So Newman became Vicar of Littlemore, too. Although a celebrated intellectual with a weighty load of teaching, he loved to take care of his parishioners, and visited the small and hitherto rather neglected hamlet of Littlemore several times a week. He built a church for the village, St Mary and St Nicholas, in 1835-6 and a school in 1838. He remained Vicar of St Mary’s and of Littlemore until September 1843 when he resigned his ministry as his doubts about the validity of the church of England had become too strong.

When did he move there permanently? Why?

Newman moved to Littlemore in April 1842 to create a place of prayer and study. In 1841 he had published Tract 90 in which, in a series of scholarly arguments, he tried to reconcile the 39 articles of the church of England with Catholic Christianity. The result was intense conflict both in the University and among the Anglican bishops. Newman realised that he had to find an answer to the pressing question: was his position wrong or was the church of England in schism? So at Littlemore he rented the ‘Cottages’ in College Lane which had been a stage post for coaches. He converted the buildings for his needs. The former stable was transformed into his library and the granary into several cottages where he and some friends could share a life of study, prayer and penance. He called the building ‘the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Littlemore’.

It’s well known that it was at Littlemore that Newman converted to the Catholic Church. Tell us more about that.

Newman and his friends at Littlemore shared one desire: to find the truth so as to serve God better. They had all been brought up in the church of England but had become less and less convinced that it was the true Church of Christ. For Newman this process was particularly difficult considering the great intellectual and spiritual influence he had exercised in the church of England. He knew that a decision to leave Anglicanism would have consequences for many other people. After years of prayer, fasting and study he saw clearly that the Roman Catholic Church was the same Church as the Church of the apostles and the early Christians. He knew in conscience that he had to join it if he wanted to be saved. God’s Providence helped by sending him the Passionist Blessed Dominic Barberi. The two had met him briefly in 1844 and Newman had been impressed by his holiness. When Newman had made up his mind to be received into the Church in October 1845 he heard that Blessed Dominic would be travelling through Oxford. Via their mutual friend John Dobrée Dalgairns Newman asked the Passionist priest to call in at Littlemore. When Dominic Barberi arrived late in the evening of 8th October, soaking wet from his journey, Newman did not hesitate one moment, knelt down in front of him, and asked him for reception into the Church. He then began his general confession which he had prepared in the previous days and which lasted for several hours. The rite of reception, including conditional baptism, took place in the chapel next to Newman’s private room on the evening of 9th October. Two of his friends, Richard Stanton and E. S. Bowles, were received at the same time. Newman never regretted his decision. Not only in the Apologia, but also in many letters, he witnesses to the interior peace that always accompanied him as a Catholic, despite the well known fact that he was not spared difficulties not only from outside the Church but also within it.


To read the rest of this interview, see: Interview with the custodian of Newman’s Littlemore: ‘a place so important in the history of English Christianity’

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