Tuesday, September 21, 2010

John Henry Newman Made Over

Garry Wills has an excellent short essay on the attempts by the current Pope to remake John Henry Newman into something he definitely was not, an obedient son of the Roman Catholic Church who did what he was told without complaining, who gladly submitted to papal authority. The image of Newman remade into obedient submissive Catholic serves a reactionary authoritarian agenda better than the real Newman who searched, questioned, and always had second thoughts for the best of reasons. The real Newman was one of a handful of dissenters at the First Vatican Council opposing the very idea of papal infallibility.

Wills points out that when Italian patriots openly challenged the Pope's secular power, our obedient Catholic boy Newman rooted for Garibaldi:

He was a fierce critic of Pope Pius IX (beatified in 2000 by Benedict’s predecessor). Pius was pope for over thirty years, and Newman said that any man holding that office even for twenty years was bound to become a tyrant. He was allied with Lord Acton in opposing the “tyrant majority” at the Vatican Council that in the year 1870 declared the pope infallible. He wrote of the Council: “We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. It is anomaly, and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.”

Before the Council made the fatal declaration, Newman wrote to his closest friend Ambrose St. John hoping that the Italian forces threatening to take away his secular power would succeed, or that Pius would die: “We must hope, for one is obliged to hope it, that the pope will be driven from Rome and will not continue the council or that there will be another pope. It is sad he should force us to such wishes.”

In honor of the Blessed John Henry Newman, here is the Italian national anthem:

We don't need an anxious old reactionary Pope breaking his own rules, or any bogus miracles, to tell us that John Henry Newman is a saint.

Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans.


rick allen said...

According to Professor Wills, "Pope Benedict XVI is the best-dressed liar in the world," his "lie," that Newman was a "model of submission to church authority." He does not say that the pope is mistaken about Newman, or that his opinions about Newman are unfounded or hasty. Rather, we are to believe that the pope knows very well that Newman was a dissenter and disobedient, and that he is deliberately fostering a falsehood.

Now that strikes me as plain odd. Surely if the pope were simply stupid or senile we could understand his promotion of someone allegedly so at odds with his thinking. But why, in heaven's name, if you know someone to stand for everything you supposedly oppose in the Church, do you beatify him, and put him in line for canonization, and probable designation as a Doctor of the Church?

Newman in fact spoke simply and candidly about conscience, the papacy, and the Vatican Council in his "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk," which you and your readers may see here:


I am of course no expert in Newman, but I have read his Apologia, The Idea of a University, the essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, bits of his verse, and a large number of the Parochial and Plain Sermons. I hope no one thinks me a liar if I venture to opine that I find Benedict's actual characterization of Newman's attitude more accurate than Professor Wills'.

But, happily, given the broad availability of Newman's work, in print and on the web, no one need rely on professor or pope or me in assessing Newman's stance on authority and obedience. My hope is that all this sound and fury will lead, not to further polemics, but to a wider reading of Newman, and that we emulate him, if we truly find him praiseworthy.

Counterlight said...

I think the Pope is neither senile nor stupid. I don't think Wills said anything like that. I do think the Pope is self-serving and disingenuous.

I think Newman's ideas about religious obedience are about something other than submission to absolute papal authority, which he opposed.

JCF said...

I think Newman was human (as the saints---and "blesseds"---always are).

He was a mixture of some sound ideas, and many emotional contradictions.

I believe it was emotion, more than dispassionate theological reflection, that drove him to (what he called at the time) "the One Fold of Christ" (the RCC).

I think that, by and large, he learned to live w/ his decision, fairly contentedly.

But there was definitely some "Who did I wake up with?!" regret to the later Newman (esp. after Vat1!)

[FWIW, I think that you, rick have (unsurprisingly) read more JHN than I have. Though I've read a good bit of him. I've probably read more than you, however, of RCs-turned-Anglican/TEC: some of them VERY holy, and as learned as JHN, IMHO. But there are so MANY of them, past and present: who could read them all? ;-)]

David G. said...

OMG It's the Mad One, ....What shall we do?!?