Monday, October 14, 2019

St. John Henry Newman, the Traditionalist

This is the kind of atmosphere Newman associated with the Mass.
(The photo is recent — the New Evangelization banner gives it away —
but the feel is timeless, and not simply because the photo is monochrome.)
It is ironic, to say the least, that Cardinal Newman is so often hailed as “the theologian of the Second Vatican Council” or the great proponent of reforming trends within the contemporary Church, when — at least on matters concerning fundamental theology, Christian morality, and sacred liturgy — he argued strenuously and consistently throughout his career against rationalism, emotionalism, liberalism, and tinkeritis. In the realm of liturgy in particular, he was staunchly opposed to ritual modifications and modernizations designed to “meet people where they’re at” or to (as Paul VI put it in his April 3, 1969 Apostolic Constitution promulgating the Novus Ordo) “accommodate the mentality of today.”

Newman was not just anti-liberal (which he says expressly of himself); he was not just a Burkean conservative with a loathing for revolutionary schemes. He was what is now called a traditionalist in matters dogmatic and liturgical, one who would have lambasted the entire conciliar project, and certainly the liturgical reform carried out in its name, as misguided and doomed to failure. “What points in common are there between the easy religion of this day, and the religion of St. Athanasius, or St. Chrysostom? How do the two agree, except that the name of Christianity is given to both of them?” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, sermon 25, Feasting in Captivity).

In his Essay on the Development of Doctrine he claimed that the Fathers of the Church, were they to return to England in his day, would bypass the grand houses of worship owned by the Establishment and seek out a little Catholic chapel, in the liturgy of which they would be able to recognize the spirit and the reality of their own faith:
Did St. Athanasius or St. Ambrose come suddenly to life, it cannot be doubted what communion he would take to be his own. All surely will agree that these Fathers, with whatever opinions of their own, whatever protests, if we will, would find themselves more at home with such men as St. Bernard or St. Ignatius Loyola, or with the lonely priest in his lodging, or the holy sisterhood of mercy, or the unlettered crowd before the altar, than with the teachers or with the members of any other creed. And may we not add, that were those same Saints, who once sojourned, one in exile, one on embassy, at Treves, to come more northward still, and to travel until they reached another fair city, seated among groves, green meadows, and calm streams, the holy brothers would turn from many a high aisle and solemn cloister which they found there, and ask the way to some small chapel where Mass was said in the populous alley or forlorn suburb?
Is there any doubt, did Newman come suddenly to life in our midst, that he would (with consummate politeness and decorum, of course) ask the way to some small chapel where Mass was said as he knew it and said it, and where he would find himself at home?

Newman was, I maintain, a Catholic traditionalist avant la lettre. One can see this in so many writings from every period of his life, and of every genre, that it takes little more than opening pages at random to be able to start a fine personal collection of polished gems of perennial, hence anti-modernist, wisdom. (Next week, I will share an annotated florilegium of such texts.) Because the postconciliar “progressives” in the Church are accustomed to craft and lying, which is how they have obtained the mastery of all important positions right up to the top (for the devil is lavish with his own), Newman has been selectively misquoted and misrepresented as a friend of their cause, which has led to his falling under a cloud of suspicion in the minds of more conservative or traditional Catholics who do not know his work well. He has even been accused of being a modernist himself, although in fact one finds him expressly refuting the modernists, in many cases long before their ideas became fashionable and widespread.

Moreover, it is worthy of note that Newman has always been a favorite author for traditionalist writers. Michael Davies edited a volume of his sermons entitled Newman Against the Liberals; Arlington House publisher and conservative American littérateur Neil McCaffrey, founder of The Latin Mass magazine, quotes Newman frequently; and two of our most appreciated Catholic clergy who were former Anglicans, Fr. John Hunwicke and Fr. Richard Cipolla, are steeped in the thought and words of the great Cardinal.

Another recent photo, but it might as well be from 19th-century England.

Newman played a crucial role in my own intellectual and spiritual “conversion” to traditional Catholicism. In college, I got hold of the one-volume Ignatius Press edition of his Parochial and Plain Sermons and somehow persevered in reading the entire book, over 1,700 pages of glorious (Anglican!) preaching. It did not make me think of Anglicanism per se; it made me think: “So this is what serious, biblical, Patristic, earnest Christianity looks like! It’s not anything I ever saw in the Catholic Church growing up in suburban New Jersey.” That book was one among many influences (reading Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, were two more) that prompted me to search harder to find this Christianity, if possible. As we know, some people are led by that search to the Catholic Eastern rites or to Eastern Orthodoxy; others, myself in their number, are led to the full-blooded, 2,000-year old reality of Western or Latin Catholicism that finds its supreme exemplar in the Tridentine Roman Rite and the culture of faith and beauty that surrounds it, of which the postconciliar establishment has been like a photographic negative or an algebraic cancellation.

In the exploration of the tradition(s) of the Church, Newman has long been for me a compagnon de voyage. This fall, with all the buzz about the canonization, I decided to make a study of his writings on worship, reverence, and ritual. What I discovered amazed me anew with its richness, variety, and eloquence. In addition to a few passages already well-known to traditionalists — such as where he says that the Church never abolishes her traditional liturgical rites, but always carries them forward (tell that one to the Consilium!) — Newman has page after page on the beauty and solemnity of Holy Mass, the importance of its aesthetic and linguistic qualities, the spiritual fruitfulness of objective predetermined ceremonial, the ample room that exists within set forms for differences in individual devotional engagement, and similar themes, all of them current in the traditionalist movement.

I therefore decided to create and publish a collection of all of the best texts of this sort that I could find, and the book is now available (from different sources, depending on one’s location). Below are the cover, the description, and links:

DESCRIPTION: The life and thought of John Henry Newman were permeated with the ceremonies and hallowed texts of Christian liturgies, which he celebrated for over six decades, starting as an Anglican deacon in 1824 and ending as a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. It comes as no surprise that allusions to liturgical worship are ubiquitous in his writings. The “ordinances” of the Church, her rich panoply of rites handed down through the centuries, are, for Newman, doors or windows into the heavenly society for which we were created and to which God is calling us throughout our lives. As Newman says in a number of places, we are given our time on earth to begin to live, through personal prayer and corporate worship, the life of the blessed in heaven. This new book gathers over seventy texts from a large number and wide range of Newman’s writings in all periods of his career, including forty-four of his incomparably great sermons. That Newman deserves his reputation as one of the finest English writers and theologians of all time is abundantly demonstrated in these spirited and subtle reflections on the duty of reverence, the benefits of ritual, and the privilege of divine worship.
Those in Europe may order from Amazon:
Those in the USA may order from Lulu:

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Here is the Table of Contents for those who wish to see what is included (the pages are cropped and combined for convenience):

May St. John Henry Newman, who gave us a marvelous example of seeking the light of truth wherever it leads and who persevered in ecclesial prayer with Mary the Mother of God and the Apostles, intercede for us on earth, as we strive to love that same truth and to restore the lost splendor of our divine worship.

Visit for articles, sacred music, and classics reprinted by Os Justi Press (e.g., Benson, Scheeben, Parsch, Guardini, Chaignon, Leen).

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