Scholars of St. John Henry Newman and newcomers to his influential writings explored the newly canonized theologian’s life and legacy at a two-day symposium Nov. 1-2 at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie.
Newman was a 19th century Anglican priest and academic who was a leader of the Oxford Movement that sought to restore to the Church of England certain Catholic beliefs and liturgical rituals abandoned during the Reformation. He left the Church of England, was received into the Catholic Church in 1845 and subsequently was ordained a priest. Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1879.
In his lectures and prolific writings, the saint explored the relationship between faith and reason and offered prescient insights into the Church that are echoed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
“I personally believe Newman will be recognized as the Doctor of the Church par excellence for the post-Conciliar period,” said keynote speaker Father Ian Ker, who is a British scholar, lecturer and author of more than 20 books on Newman.
Father Ker said Newman is considered the “Father of the Second Vatican Council” because his works anticipated the most important documents of the Council although they were written 100 years before it took place. His works were intended to explain to people the particular teaching of the Church, Father Ker said.
Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, reflects Newman’s paradoxical idea that “Christianity changes not to be different but in order to remain the same,” Father Ker said.
“Vatican II teachings are becoming clearer and will become clearer with the passage of time,” Father Ker said. Lumen Gentium, the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, includes Newman’s concept that “the Church is fundamentally a temple or special in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Father Ker said the rise of the new ecclesial movements since Vatican II is an example of the teachings of Lumen Gentium. The movements view the Church as an organic community that includes priests, religious and lay people together. “We believe in an ordained priesthood, but we also believe in a priesthood of the people of God,” who consist of all those who received the Holy Spirit at baptism, Father Ker said
“One of the great achievements of the Council was to reintroduce the charismatic dimension of the Church,” Father Ker said. Although Newman did not use the word “charism” he wrote of “grace freely given.” Father Ker said Newman was “an apologist for the imagination” at a time when the Church of England had “no mechanism to authenticate charisms.”
Father Ker said Newman was neither a conservative nor a liberal, but a “conservative radical” who believed in “change in continuity.”
He said Newman’s work reflected a belief that “the Christian Gospel offers an escape from the imprisonment of self to the freedom of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre was the principal celebrant at a Mass to mark All Souls’ Day; there were 23 concelebrants He said his parents were Yale-educated Congregational ministers who converted to Catholicism and were received into the Church in 1955. The writings of St. John Henry Newman “had a momentous influence on their decision to leave what was familiar and enter the Catholic Church,” he said.
“I know firsthand the evangelizing reach of this new saint,” Bishop Barres said.
He said Newman preached that love of the Church must be at the heart of every word and action and that loving the whole Church entails loving both the visible and the invisible.
Bishop Barres quoted Newman, “The test of Christianity and the Church is loving those we actually see.”
The program for the symposium included two sessions with Father Ker, a keynote by Newman author Edward Short and 10 scholarly workshops on the saint’s writings and legacy. More than 125 participants attended.
Seminarian Steven Gonzalez, a parishioner of St. Lucy in the Bronx, studied Newman as an undergraduate at Fordham University. “I am edified by the scholarship of Father Ker today,” he said. He added that he is interested in Newman’s thoughts on the organic development of doctrine and in how the wisdom of Newman and other Church Fathers can be applied to post-Conciliar, post-modern times.
The symposium was an introduction to Newman for John McBride from Immaculate Conception in Irvington. McBride takes theology classes at the seminary and is eager to start reading the saint’s books.
Christine Hammill-Cregan, an associate dean at St. Joseph’s, said Newman is “a saint for our time, right now. I love that as an intellectual he is centered on the heart and the call to holiness. His works penetrate the heart, mind and soul.”