Newman, Anglicans, the Aeneid and the Filioque.
Writing in the Guardian on the eve of Newman's beatification, historian Eamon Duffy had some interesting things to say about Newman and Anglicanism:
. . . Between 1833 and 1845 [Newman] transformed the Church of England, persuading its clergy that it was no mere department of state for moral uplift, but the English branch of the ancient Catholic church, through its sacraments and apostolic teaching a means of encounter with God. Everything about modern Anglicanism, from the look of its buildings to its theology and forms of worship, bears the marks of his teaching.The Holy See's apparent ratification of "Newman's distinctively English (and Anglican) formation" seems noteworthy given the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus as well as the larger context of debates about the future of the Anglican Communion. Referring to the special ecclesial structures that the Pope intends to establish for Anglicans seeking corporate reunion with Rome, some have already spoken of Newman as the 'patron of the Ordinariates.' As much as one might like to speculate about what Newman might have thought of something like Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is safe to say that Newman's beatification comes at a particularly significant moment in Anglican-Catholic relations.
But he did not persuade himself. In 1845 he converted to Catholicism, and a second career as a priest in Birmingham. It was an uncomfortable translation. European Catholicism was in reaction, the pope besieged in an aggressively secular Italy, the church's monopoly over education and morals challenged everywhere by the rise of liberal democracies. Pius IX responded by cranking up the claims of the papacy and denouncing the secular world – egged on by what Newman called "an aggressive and insolent faction", who made unquestioning obedience to hyper-orthodoxy the sole test of Catholicism. Newman shared the pope's detestation of secularism, but deplored Rome's suppression of intellectual freedom: "Truth," he wrote, "is wrought out by many minds, working together freely." He came to be viewed in the Vatican as "the most dangerous man in England".
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Newman's thought came into its own in the 20th century, influencing, among others, the young Joseph Ratzinger, ironically enough, since Pope Benedict's understanding of papacy is not a million miles from that which Newman deplored. Yet the beatification ratifies Newman's distinctively English (and Anglican) formation. To that extent, it is an ecumenical act. It also affirms Newman's lifelong struggle to combine intellectual integrity with the surrender of heart and mind to a God he experienced both as love and truth. For a church whose claims to integrity, love and truth are currently taking a battering, that's a candle in the dark.
The most original perspective of Newman that I've read in the past few days comes from Pater Edmund Waldstein, a monk of Heiligenkreuz Abbey who blogs at Sancrucensis. In a post earlier this week, Pater Edmund took note of some parallels between Virgil's Aeneid and Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua:
Ronald Knox called the account of his conversion A Spiritual Aeneid. In an Aeneid you are coming home, but coming home to a place you have never been in before. You must throw yourself upon the guidance of the gods. Nor are there the memories of home to spur you on when you are tempted to turn aside, Knox writes, “it is a mere sense of mission, imperiously insistent, that inflames your discontent: cunctus ob Italiam terrarum clauditur orbis.” And of course, the home to which you are returning is Rome. In a recent paper I have argued that everything about the relation of his book to the Aeneid could be applied to Bl. John Henry Newman’s Apologia. But the Apologia can be called a spiritual Aeneid for a deeper reason than those listed by Knox.To read the rest of Pater Edmund's post, click here. The original post also includes a link to the author's Diplomarbeit (a graduate thesis, basically) on "Newman's Apologia and the Drama of Faith and Reason," which I hope to set aside time to read in the coming days.
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For Virgil mortal things touch the heart because of a nobility which comes from their being ordered to something greater than themselves. The Christian Middle Ages saw Virgil as a prophet because he is practically unique among the pagans in having a linear, teleological view of history. For Virgil the god’s have destined Rome to great things, and the role of the hero is to contribute to that destiny. It is this grand hope that makes Virgil so different from Homer. Homer has an essentially cyclical view of history; the endless quarrels of the gods go round and round. The role of the hero for Homer is simply to win great honor in a harsh world, to achieve lasting fame. There is no possibility of contributing toward some final goal.
It is Virgil’s view, transformed of course by a far greater hope, that Newman is trying to express. Newman is trying to “touch the heart” by the portrayal of the nobility and sadness of mortal existence played out in the attempt to reach for the divine and strive for the eternal goal. That is where the greatest fascination of the Apologia comes from – the pathos and nobility of the relation to divine Providence.