Newman on Hope, by Bishop Boyce

Philip Boyce, Carmelite, Bishop if Raphoe (Ireland) has written a marvelous article on Newman on hope — the most astonishing insight consists in reminding us that Newman failed in many of his great projects (such as a great Catholic university in Ireland). I refer the reader to a website with the entire article, here. I reprint here the ending of the article in which compares Newman to Pope John Paul II:

Newman did foresee an assault of infidelity, consisting of relativism, atheism, the spreading of Pantheistic beliefs and an indifference springing from the “absorbing interest” generated by scientific and technological conquests. He saw the seeds of future harm and confessed he had spent much of his life struggling against what he called “liberalism in religion” which relegates the practice of faith to the personal and private sphere, refusing to accept any one religion as true. And while he knew that without the gift of prophecy one could not be sure whether or not the foreboding threat would come to pass, he nevertheless made his “anticipations according to the signs of the times” [J.H. Newman, The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated, Longmans, Green and Co., London 1909, p. 386.] in the society of his day. It would be more than a century later when that phrase ‘the signs of the times’ would come into use in Church documents. Newman used it, not very frequently, but few people read those signs as discerningly as he did. He foresaw the rejection of religious truth and dogma with such difficult times ahead for the Church, that it might well seem that our Lord was once again asleep in Peter’s boat.
Yet, Newman did not despair. He did not end his days a sad or disappointed old man. He had struggled for the cause of truth all his life. He even saw advantages in the open confrontation of his own age, which is the same in ours. In the earlier centuries of the Middle Ages, when the Catholic faith had not been splintered by the Protestant Reformers, the assault of unbelief was more cautious and concealed. But in his day as at present, revealed truth itself is questioned, masks are thrown aside, while secret threats come out clearly into the open. Newman had no doubt which situation he preferred. When Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin, he said: “I have no hesitation in saying (apart of course from moral and ecclesiastical considerations, and under correction of the command and policy of the Church), that I prefer to live in an age when the fight is in the day, not in the twilight; and think it a gain to be speared by a foe, rather than to be stabbed by a friend… It is one great advantage of an age in which unbelief speaks out, that Faith can speak out too; that, if falsehood assails Truth, Truth can assail falsehood.” [Ibid 381-382]
When Newman was over eighty years old, a correspondent asked him if the Roman Catholic Church would survive a new Bill passed in Parliament which augured ill for the cause of religion. He replied giving his own opinion which was the message he had advocated for over half a century. It portrays a man well aware of the dangers yet quietly confident in God’s providence and fully convinced that a higher Power guides the destiny of the Church and the unfolding of history. “I have ever anticipated a great battle between good and evil, and have ever been led to think the duty of the champions of truth, when the conflict came, was anticipated for them in the words of Moses, ‘Fear ye not, stand still and see magnalia Domini. He shall fight for you and ye shall hold your peace.’ And so in the Psalm. ‘Be still, and know that I am God’.” [Letters and Diaries, vol. XXX, p. 220; cf. Ex 14:13-14; Ps 45(46):10] And pointing to various crises in past centuries at the time of the Roman Empire, later with the Arian heresy and then with the rise of Protestantism, he states that it was not man that saved the Church and the faithful but that it was God who came to the rescue.
Newman’s vision of hope is equally relevant today. I have the distinct impression that if the Cardinal were writing today about our present needs he would echo the words of Pope John Paul II in his recent Apostolic Letter at the close of the Great Jubilee Year 2000: “Duc in altum!” Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ. The Son of God, who became incarnate two thousand years ago out of love for humanity, is at work even today: we need discerning eyes to see this and, above all, a generous heart to become the instruments of his work…we can count on the power of the same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost and who impels us still today to start anew, sustained by the hope which does not disappoint.” (John Paul II., Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 58)
Like Newman, “we do not know what is coming, but”, as he said, “we do know that we shall conquer.” [Sermon Notes of John Henry Cardinal Newman 1849-1878 (edited by the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory), and University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN 2000, p. 222.]


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