On July 1, John Henry Newman’s cause for canonization was approved by Pope Francis. Cardinal Newman, an Englishman who lived from 1801-1890, was declared venerable by Pope St. John Paul II in 1991 and Blessed by Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2009. Pope Francis will canonize Cardinal Newman on Oct. 13 at a Mass in Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican, along with four other Blesseds. There are two approved miracles attributed to the intercession of Cardinal Newman, both originating in the United States.
With the possible exception of the Fathers of the Church from antiquity and the great scholastics from the medieval period, Cardinal Newman is arguably the most influential Catholic theologian in the history of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Newman was a convert from Protestantism. He was professor at Oxford, who went from Evangelical Christianity to Anglicanism, forming the Oxford Movement, a liturgical and spiritual reform that sought to return to a more formal liturgy and to the study of the early Fathers of the Church.
After reflecting on the history of the church, Cardinal Newman became convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith and was received into the church by Blessed Dominic Barberi, a Passionist priest who is himself up for canonization. Cardinal Newman became a member of the Congregation of the Oratory in 1846. We are blessed, by the way, to have Oratorian Fathers and Brothers serving in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Blessed John Henry Newman lived in an England that had legislated anti-Catholicism and was present when Pope Pius IX restored the church’s hierarchy to England. He was asked by the bishops of Ireland to establish the first pontifical university in Ireland, a task he never completed, but his book, “The Idea of the University,” remains one of the most influential texts on Catholic education.
Cardinal Newman, as a theologian, is best known for his concept of the “illative sense,” a concept that comes from his work, “An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent.” A simple definition of the illative sense comes from Andrew M. Greenwell in his essay on Catholic Online.
The illative sense is what allows us to take our concrete human experiences and come to the conclusion that there must be a transcendent reality behind it all, ultimately, He whom we call or know as God.
Cardinal Newman’s other main theological contribution is the development of doctrine. What does that mean? Dave Armstrong says: “Development of doctrine is the principle of a living, breathing tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit, and also the consciousness of the Church as a whole. Today’s Church shouldn’t be expected to look like the primitive Church if it is a living, vibrant, spiritual organism. But the early Church looked like a small ‘Catholic tree.’”
Cardinal Newman was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1878 and chose not to be consecrated a bishop, deciding instead to remain a simple priest.
On his tombstone, Cardinal Newman had engraved: “Ex Umbris et Imaginibus in Veritatem,” “From Shadows and Images into the Truth.” May the soon-to-be St. John Henry Newman remain a sure guide for the church.