Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Apologia Pro Vita Sua

How Things Work in the World…

Following the Holy Father’s visit to the UK and the beatification of Cardinal Newman, I found both the courage and determination to pick up a book I had attempted to read years/decades ago: Apologia Pro Vita Sua: The Conversion of Cardinal Newman, by Cardinal John Henry Newman, (Halcyon Classics, Kindle edition). I remember back then hearing how important this book had been for Newman’s contemporaries, how many had read it and faced their own particular issues vis à vis Anglicanism and the Church of Rome. No doubt my recent and very positive experiences with Newman’s two historical novels made it easier for me to dive back in.

Unless you are made of different stuff than I am, you’ll probably have a hard time facing parts I. II. and VII. in which our new Blessed faces off directly with Mr. Kingsley, the pamphleteer who questions his honesty and truthfulness. I think these parts must be read, but what captivated me were the four middle parts (III.-VI.) which recount the history of Cardinal Newman’s religious opinions and explain to the extent possible what really brought him to Roman Catholicism. For some reason, although I found the analysis admirable (part VII.), I could not easily relate to the somewhat tedious explanation of how one can hold to the sainthood of Alphonsus de Liguori as declared by the Catholic Church and still disagree with the saint’s moral arguments defending mental reservation. I do not regret the time spent on these parts of the book, but the true worth of the book for me lies at the heart.

Having said that, I think it is important to recognize why Newman spent so much of his personal apology trying to establish the truthfulness of Catholic discourse as value. Even yet today, mistrust certainly is a great part of what keeps Orthodoxy at arm’s length from Catholicism:
“Suspicion and distrust are the main causes at present of the separation between us, and the nearest approaches in doctrine will but increase the hostility, which, alas, our people feel towards yours, while these causes continue. Depend upon it, you must not rely upon our Catholic tendencies till they are removed.” (Highlight Loc. 2942-44)
These words describe well also the sad climate existing between ourselves and those not few Lefebvrian Catholics who are more than wary of us. The Cardinal’s journey to Roman Catholicism implied a judgment on his part against the Anglicanism which had nurtured him and which he loved. Today, I wonder how many are capable of being scandalized by the morally and theologically discordant tones set by their religious confessions such that they would move to where the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church subsists…

As demanding as reading something like the Apologia is, I want to recommend it as a font of ideas. We’re not far from the annual Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January). Would that Cardinal Newman could by his writings draw an audience today, provoke some good thoughts and move us to the fullness of truth. Ut unum sint.

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