John Henry Cardinal Newman

I first heard of Cardinal Newman as the namesake of the “Newman Center” that I attended at the University of Illinois (the Catholic student center). It was with great joy that I heard he had been approved for canonization as a saint! In this post I thought I’d give a few reasons as to how he has been a positive influence in my life.

Cardinal Newman was a significant theologian of the 19th century (lived 1801-1890). He was a member of the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism and developed a deep interest in the writings of early Christians. Much of his research can be found in his work, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” (although the word ‘essay’ may be deceiving… my paperback copy is 480 pages!). This study is particularly interesting because he began the research before entering the Catholic Church, and finished it as Catholic. It documents his discovery of the historical roots and unity of the early Church with the Catholic Church today. His writing is full of profound insight into the reasons for belief—which was not an abstract study for him, but a burning personal question. Newman’s writing can be dense at times, but very rewarding!

Second, I find his spirituality compelling and timely. He took as his motto “Cor ad cor loquitur” (heart speaks to heart). As important as study was to him, Newman recognized that what is most powerful is when the Gospel is embodied in a personal witness. In it we can consider the Heart of God speaking to our heart, as well as seeking to let our heart speak to others. My favorite explanation of this phrase comes from a book by Louis Bouyer about St Philip Neri (side note— When Newman entered the Catholic Church he decided to start a community of the Congregation of the Oratory, the religious order founded by Neri. At some point I will write a post on Neri! He is my favorite non-biblical saint). Bouyer writes, “Cardinal Newman’s motto, ‘Cor ad cor loquitur,’ sums up the Philippian ideal; neither speeches nor arguments can awaken a living faith in those whom Christianity has lost its meaning. Only contact with people whose daily lives are dominated by an intense and personal experience of the truths of the Faith can achieve such a result, and it is precisely this result which Philip achieved through his dual life of intimate communion with God and men.” There is a personal touch to his approach to preaching and teaching, and a good reminder that the Faith isn’t just to be studied, but to be lived.

Finally, his legacy keeps popping up in my life. Newman was the rector of a Catholic university and wrote a book called “The Idea of a University,” and his interest in this topic helped him to become the patron of the line of Catholic student centers that I encountered on campus in Champaign-Urbana. This center helped me to make the transition from my high school faith into a more adult faith, and to discern my vocation as a priest (another side note—when I entered seminary, the directors of our diocesan retreat center would begin the retreats with his prayer “Some Definite Service,” it’s worth looking up!). Also, his community and school at the Birmingham Oratory was closely connected with two of my favorite British writers: Hilaire Belloc and JRR Tolkien. Belloc graduated from there as a student himself. Tolkien’s mother appointed a priest of the community as the guardian for him when she was near death, which helped guide him to develop his faith and studies to become the author and professor that he was. Tolkien then sent his children to the school. So, Newman’s influence is all over!

I never can capture everything about a person in a summary like this, but hopefully that gives a little crash course on Newman. God bless!

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