Paul VI to Newman Congress
The Wealth of Cardinal Newman's Thought

{2} On the occasion of a study-group meeting in Luxembourg on the thought of Cardinal Newman, Pope Paul VI has sent to Bishop Léon Lommel of Luxembourg the following message:

Once again, thanks to the untiring zeal of Father Nicolas Theis, and to the kind hospitality of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a group of eminent philosophers and theologians will meet in Luxembourg, to scrutinize the thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a century after the publication of the Grammar of Assent. We cannot but rejoice in this initiative. We expect much fruit from it, so true is it that Newman, this inspired precursor, had explored beforehand several of the paths to which our contemporaries are deeply committed (See A.A.S., t. LV, 1963, p. 1025). There is no doubt that "the clarity of his insights and teaching shed precious light on the problems of the Church today" (Telegram to the Newman Congress of 1964).

The profound change that disturbs the world and the Church and whose effects we experience more and more every day make our contact with Newman's thought ever more precious. This thinking was deeply grounded in the faith and, at the same time, was in close harmony with the best of the demands of intelligence and modern feelings. Like St. Augustine, Newman knew what it cost in suffering to discover the full truth. He recalls to our mind that the search for the truth is an irresistible need of the human spirit and that "to discover the truth, it is indispensable to seek it with a great seriousness of purpose" (Sermons Universitaires, I, 8; trad. P. Renaudin, in Textes Newmaniens, t. I, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1955, p. 62). Confident in the intelligence of man and in the action of grace which penetrates it from within, Newman invites us to deepen our understanding of the faith with serenity, and to foster the development of conscience strengthened by the Holy Spirit, in fidelity to the Gospel, after the example of the Virgin Mary (See ibid., XV, 3, p. 328).

Newman also teaches us to discern the invisible through the visible, for "what we see is but the outward shell of an eternal kingdom; and on that kingdom we fix the eyes of our faith" (Parochial and Plain Sermons IV, 13; trad. A. Roucou-Barthélémy, in Pensées sur l'Eglise, Paris, Cerf, Unam Sanctam 30, 1956, p. 20). Rooted in the heart of the mystery of existence variable as the sky, changeable as the wind, turbulent as the ocean, the penetrating meditation of Newman leads him little by little-one step is enough for me-to the Kindly Light whose brightness clears up misunderstandings and doubts, and whose certitude is the source of serenity for the mind and peace for the heart. It is good for us to hear this great voice denounce the harm of a morbid and conceited criticism, and remind us that everyone "can be fooled by appearances or false reasonings, influenced by prejudices, led astray by too vivid an imagination" and that we must "remain humble because we are ignorant, prudent because we realize our weakness, docile because we truly desire to learn" (University Sermons, I, 13, trad. Renaudin, op. cit., p. 66-67), in a free and reasoned attachment to the magisterium of the Church: "The Church is the mother of the great and the small, of those who govern and those who obey. Securus judicat orbis terrarum" (Letter to Father Loyson, Nov. 24, 1870 in Pensées sur l'Eglise, op. cit., p. 117).

Newman's profound attachment to the Church is on a par with a demanding respect for the incomparable dignity of the human person, for the unique and irreplaceable character of the person's vocation and his immediate responsibilities before God. He glorifies conscience: "which he does not hesitate to define as the aboriginal vicar of Christ; a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas" (Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, II, 2; trad. in Pensées sur l'Eglise, op. cit., p. 130). But Newman immediately explains what he means by "conscience as I have just described it . and not this miserable pretense which . today assumes the name of conscience. The Christian must conquer this base, narrow and proud spirit of his nature which prompts him, as soon as he hears of a forthcoming order, to oppose the superior who gave this order, to question whether or not he exceeds his rights, to rejoice in introducing skepticism in moral and practical questions" (ibid., p. 131). This remark is of amazing timeliness, like so many insights which have by no means exhausted their fruitfulness for the Church.

Today when everything is being systematically questioned, we can undoubtedly derive much profit by becoming imbued with the profound views of the "Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine" (See, for example, Jean Guitton, La Philosophie de Newman, Paris, Boivin, 1933) on the organic development of the Church's doctrine, linked to the growth of her living body through the vicissitudes of twenty centuries of history, where truths not yet formulated and latent convictions gradually take on a definite expression under the influence of the Spirit. Nor can we fail to notice the value of the analyses in the "Grammar of Assent" for the modern man who, influenced by new philosophical trends, can hardly find the way to a verifiable certitude, that is, one not linked to a fleeting and changing sincerity, but rooted in a reasoned conviction which may well lean on interior experience, but rests first of all on an objective revelation.

Such is the fruitful timeliness of Newman, after a Council that specified the permanent identity of the Church through the passage of time, while giving renewed expression to the mystery of its profound life and its answer to modern man's inquiries. In this way, it gives testimony to its prodigious power of renewal and its eternal youth. Like Newman, may we discover that "God may be teaching us and offering us knowledge of His ways, if we will but open our eyes, in all the ordinary matters of the day" (Parochial and Plain Sermons IV, p. 249). With Newman, may we advance in the Church with the same love for the truth, the same keen sense of God, the same prudent spiritual discernment, the same familiar piety of the invisible world, the same profound taste for the spiritual, ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. Finally, with Newman, "Let us pray to God to give us the beauty of holiness, which consists in tender and eager affection towards our Lord and Saviour: which is, in the case of Christians, what beauty of person is to the outward man, so that through God's mercy our souls may have, not strength of health only but a sort of bloom and comeliness; and that as we grow older in body, we may, year by year, grow more youthful in spirit" (Parochial Sermons VII, X, 134; trad. in Méditations et priéres, M.A. Pératé, Paris, Gabalda, 1916, p. XXX).

Such are the wishes We are pleased to express for the intention of the members of the Congress. We heartily invoke upon them and their work an abundance of divine graces, as a pledge for which We impart Our ample Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, May 17, 1970.

[from L'Osservatore Romano (English edition),  4 June 1970 (114)]

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