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The National Catholic Reporter ‘quotes’ Newman in support of an anti-papal campaign. Why is it that liberals think that Newman was one of them?

Catholics, said Newman, are bound by the Pope’s formal teaching. If you don’t accept that, why do you stay?

By on Thursday, 6 December 2012

Benedict XVI presides at the beatification of John Henry Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham (Photo: CNS)

Benedict XVI presides at the beatification of John Henry Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham (Photo: CNS)

What is it about today’s theological liberals that they are so keen on quoting John Henry Newman in support of their own disobedience? I had forgotten how utterly contemptible the National Catholic Reporter (aka, says Father Z, the “fishwrap”, ie wet and stinking) really was; I suppose, since the only time one normally reads it is in the often admirable articles of John L Allen, that one sometimes takes away the impression that if they publish him they can’t be all that grossly subversive of Catholic values and teaching. But they really are, as we see exemplified by an editorial on women’s ordination this week which is really an excuse for yet another incitement to rejection of papal authority.

But why are they so keen on recruiting Newman of all people in their crypto-protestant revolt? Either they quote him out of context or just make it up. In this case, I think it’s almost certainly the latter, since Newman just didn’t think what they say he did: “Blessed John Henry Newman,” according to the NCR’s “editorial staff”, “said [just where exactly?] that there are three magisteria in the church: the bishops, the theologians and the people.” This little pseudo-Newmanian gem is called in aid for an incitement to an anti-papal political campaign: “On the issue of women’s ordination, two of the three voices have been silenced, which is why the third voice must now make itself heard. We must speak up in every forum available to us: in parish council meetings, faith-sharing groups, diocesan convocations and academic seminars. We should write letters to our bishops, to the editors of our local papers and television news channels.” And so on.

It’s not particularly interesting to be told that the Fishwrap is viscerally opposed to papal authority and wants to stir up lay disobedience to it, we all knew that. But to have Newman constantly invoked in this anti-Catholic cause is becoming increasingly irritating. “The pope,” said Newman “has for centuries upon centuries had and used that authority, which the Definition [of infallibility] now declares ever to have belonged to him … It may be objected that a representation such as this, is negatived by the universal [anti-papal] sentiment, which testifies to the formidable effectiveness of the Vatican decrees, and to the Pope’s intention that they should be effective; that it is the boast of some Catholics and the reproach levelled against us by all Protestants, that the Catholic Church has now become beyond mistake a despotic aggressive Papacy, in which freedom of thought and action is utterly extinguished. But I do not allow that this alleged unanimous testimony exists… I say there is only one Oracle of God, the Holy Catholic Church and the Pope as her head. To her teaching I have ever desired all my thoughts, all my words to be conformed; to her judgment I submit what I have now written, what I have ever written, not only as regards its truth, but as to its prudence, its suitableness, and its expedience. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 10)”

How about them apples, “NCR editorial staff”? How on earth did you ever come to believe that Newman could with any integrity be used in support of your anti-papal campaign? You, too, like the protestant and liberal Catholic opinion of Newman’s own day, really do believe that, like the great and Blessed Pio Nono, the present Pope has established “a despotic aggressive Papacy”: and now as then, Newman would have been utterly dismissive of your disobedience: “On the law of conscience and its sacredness,” he wrote (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 5) are founded both his authority in theory and his power in fact … I am considering here the papacy in its office and its duties … [Catholics] are not bound by the Pope’s personal character or private acts, but by his formal teaching.”

And the Pope’s formal teaching on the question of women’s ordination is absolutely clear, and you are bound by it. If, that is, you wish to continue in full communion with the Catholic Church. In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared the question closed in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “in order that all doubt may be removed,” he pronounced, “regarding a matter of great importance… I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” In 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, though “itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church… This doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. The definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”. Rather, it was “founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium”, and for these reasons it “requires definitive assent”.

Clear? Got it? That is what the magisterium of the Church says. Oh, and let’s hear no more about these fictional “three magisteria” of bishops, theologians and people: apart from anything else, the very idea that Newman would ever have said that the Church’s theologians constitute one of three “magisteria” beggars belief, less that he would ever have said it than that anyone could ever have remotely imagined such a thing: are you sure, NCR “editorial staff” that you weren’t thinking of Hans Küng? That would explain it; they’ve obviously got it into their heads, these theological liberals (the Tablet are always claiming Newman for themselves in just the same way) that Newman was a kind of Victorian version of Hans Küng. Well, sorry; it just ain’t so. Hands off.

  • JabbaPapa

    Cardinal Newman was, in fact, a Catholic.

  • Lazarus

    Good grief, Meena! I find myself agreeing with you!!!

    1) Christ is the culmination of human yearnings and natural religion. Of course he was foreshadowed in earlier cultures and mythologies.

    2) If God is to be understood by human beings, he has to speak in ways that they understand. It is no more remarkable that symbols and narratives reappear in Christian stories which are found in earlier writings than it is that Ancient Greek is used both in the New Testament and Homer.

    3) Turning to Jon’s specific points, allow me to be pedantic for a second, and point out that the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, not  1895. On Harpur, life is too short to pursue every popular book devoted to rubbishing Christianity. However, this website and this academic paper suggest strongly to me that this is very much Dan Brown territory rather than a serious contribution to scholarship. Given that the validity (even if his factual claims are true, it doesn’t follow that traditional Christianity is undermined (see 1 and 2 above)) and the soundness (his factual claims look flimsy in the extreme) of his argument are highly doubtful, it’s ‘odd’ (to put it mildly) to see his views being adopted with such alacrity by someone who wants to be a faithful Catholic.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Both NewMeena and Jon Brownridge have mentioned the Harpur book “The Pagan Christ” and the claim that the New Testament infancy accounts are just a rehash of earlier myths held by the Egyptians and others.  Thus in their view there is no basis in reality for the Virgin Birth and other matters but they are merely myths which have some significance which is worth hanging on to.  Lazarus has drawn our attention to a couple of websites which clearly show that Harpur’s scholarship is off the wall.  The idea that there is a similarity between the Egyptian Horus and Jesus is discussed at length in:

    It is clear that the technique is to declare something to be a fact but never to specify where exactly that fact has been written down e.g. St Augustine did not believe in the Virgin Birth but I am not going to tell you where he said that or St John did not believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but I am not going to tell you where he says that.

    All of this seems to stem from some kind of Scientism which says that miracles do not happen and any sensible, grown-up educated person cannot be expected to believe in such things.  Therefore any account of a miracle must be dismissed but such accounts are still useful as being symbolic of something significant.  How this squares with the opening words of the Creed “I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth” escapes me.  If he is Creator and Almighty he can perform miracles which seem to go against the natural order of things.  Period.  But it seems that some can reject those opening words and still call themselves “Catholic”.

    Then they have a particular view of the natural order of things which seems to me to show a very limited view of science which is very widely shared.  This view is that the natural order is all hard materialist facts with cause and effect which science is slowly revealing to us and there is no room for any airy-fairy metaphysical stuff such as miracles.  And yet it seems to me the opposite is true.  Try getting one’s mind round Godel’s  incompleteness theorem, or complex calculus based on using a number which clearly does not exist or quantum theory about which Roger Penrose quotes a fellow scientist as saying “If you believe in quantum theory you cannot possibly take it seriously”  (a remark rather similar to the position of Harpur on religion!).  The mysteries of the Faith look like child’s play to me compared with what scientists propose.  When you get to the multiverse theory I cannot help feeling one is really into the land of the fairies or perhaps hobbits.

  • Jon Brownridge

     But you have already admitted you are afraid to read The Pagan Christ in case it upsets the status quo of your ‘comfortable pew’. Of course Harpur has his critics. Which innovative thinker doesn’t? Dyed-in-the-wool literalists will go to great lengths to avoid anything that threatens their comfortable position. Some contributors, notably Jabba and Benedict Carter, respond from an intellectual position and a wide knowledge base at least, but your persistence in demanding Chapter and Verse for every detail indicates confused understanding. It is rather like asking where exactly does Aesop say the Ant and the Grasshopper were not real insects.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Sorry about this but I am just a pedantic lawyer.  Where did I admit I was afraid to read The Pagan Christ in case it upsets the status quo of my’comfortable pew’.?  I think I just said I had no time to read it and now having read the reviews I cannot be bothered. 

    Sorry to be concerned with the literal truth too but it seems rather important to me!

    As for Aesop:

    Apollonius of Tyana, a 1st century AD philosopher, is recorded as having said about Aesop:… like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths, and after serving up a story he adds to it the advice to do a thing or not to do it. Then, too, he was really more attached to truth than the poets are; for the latter do violence to their own stories in order to make them probable; but he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events.—Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book V:14So it seems that one is entitled to believe that Aesop was writing fiction.The evangelists on the other hand claim to be writing the literal truth.

  • Mr Grumpy

    Everyone reading this should scroll down to the comment from Jeffrey Pinyan which reveals that “three magisteria” is the NCR quoting not Newman but… itself. Not that that should be any great surprise.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Just as a matter of interest, virtually all the reviews of The Pagan Christ are from the Fundamental Christians of America’s deep South. As they still insist that the earth is 6000 years old and the Old Testament is to be taken literally word for word, it is not surprising they were upset by Harpur’s research.

  • Jon Brownridge

     The Rosetta Stone – Yes, thank you, I obviously meant 1795 but 1799 is more accurate.

    The Pagan Christ is not meant to “rubbish” Christianity. Just the opposite. The sub-title is “Recovering the Lost Light”, and Harpur invites a return to the fundamentals of Christianity where the Christ within each of us is a light to the world. He himself is a devout Christian and a respected theologian.

  • NewMeena

    “Both NewMeena and Jon Brownridge……Thus in their view there is no basis in reality for the Virgin Birth and other matters but they are merely myths”

    I did not claim this, and did in fact explicitly mention the possibility that a different interpretation could be placed on the relationship between the pagan myths and Christian belief.

  • NewMeena

    Yes I do agree that John reports it, and, as I mentioned earlier to JabbaP,   we cannot (of course) know what John thought himself. 
    The writers of the Gospel, as far as I know, do not give personal opinions, but rather report that which they heard and saw. ( “John said or thought this”…..etc  is really only shorthand).  But John obviously considered this worthy of recording for posterity. 
    Luke’s story:
    There WAS a LOCAL census under Governor Quirinius (not Caesar Augustus) – but this happened too late, in AD 6, long after Herod’s death.
    There was no wider census decreed by Caesar Augustus.

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh good grief now THAT really is scraping the bottom of your barrel …

    So what, this bunch of strange weirdoes reject this strange weirdo suggestion, so that therefore it’s vindicated, or some rubbish like that ?

    Cripes these freaking Modernists get my goat sometimes !!!

  • Jon Brownridge

     I am trying to figure out your point, Jabba. My only point is that “this bunch of strange weirdos”, were the most vitriolic in condemning something that assumed the world was more than 6000 years old, and their reviews are virtually the only ones cited in opposition to Harpur.

  • Jon Brownridge

     But relying on the numinous has a tendency to isolate you from those you wish to discuss with. In short, it tends to put you out there on a cloud somewhere by yourself.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    There is a lady with an Italian name who reviewed it on Amazon who strikes me as writing sense as did the reference I gave.  It is not who wrote the reviews that matters but whether their views are convincing or not – and based on evidence.

    I must apologise to NewMeena if I misunderstood her.  I presume she means that the infancy stories MIGHT be true.  

  • Lazarus

    1) He is clearly out to rubbish anything like Catholicism. (Or indeed mainstream Protestantism.)

    2) It seems from what you’ve said part of a well known genre of books which argue that Jesus was a mythical character based on pre-existing religious narratives. Now, I’m certainly neither (eg) an Egyptologist nor an expert biblical scholar. But I can find absolutely no evidence that either group of university academics take this sort of view seriously. (Eg, when Tom Wright who is a mainstream biblical scholar was asked to review a similar book (The Jesus Mysteries) he declined saying: ‘this was like asking a professional astronomer to debate with the authors of a book claiming the moon was made of green cheese.’ If I were to be even considering being convinced by a book like this, I’d want to see its general conclusions supported by a greater academic acceptance than this. 

    3) It all seems rather byzantine in its complexity. If I were a sceptic (well, to be exact, when I was a sceptic!) I’d take it that Jesus probably existed but that his followers simply started spinning stories about him: there really isn’t very much to explain. So why the desperation to invent all sorts of complex backgrounds and also to keep hold of Jesus as something special? There’s undoubtedly something rather odd going on here in psychological terms (perhaps a desire for novelty or knowledge hidden from the many?) but it’s an oddity in the writers and welcomers of the book. (Dawkins and Catholics are relatively straightforward in comparison: he denies everything he can’t see and touch; we accept the understanding of Jesus which has been taught and passed down (even on your estimation) for at least 1500 years.)

    It’s very hard to see the compelling rational evidence for believing in such mythic accounts. So that leaves me again with the question: what psychologically is making you find such unlikely possibilities so intriguing that you’re abandoning the teachings of the Church you serve and any sort of recognizable academic account in favour of, at best, possible but unlikely alternatives? 

  • JabbaPapa

    You are mistaken — divine Revelation is provided through the teachings of our Holy Catholic Church.

    Revelation is not the private property of a few special people or gnostics or whatever …

  • Tridentinus

     Far be it from me to accuse you of heresy of which I had no intention whatsoever. It is your terminology ‘annulled’ and ‘conditional’ which is confusing me.
    Canonical annullment of a valid infant Baptism or any valid Baptism for that matter is impossible. An annullment surely would be, as it is regarding marriage, a declaration that the Baptism was never validly conferred in the first place and none of its effects were enjoyed by its recipient.
    Apart from a publicised case in the U.S. when a Jewish father petitioned the local Ordinary concerning the Baptism of his son by a Catholic priest at the request of his Catholic wife , the annullment of Baptism is almost unheard of. The priest was unaware of the circumstances; the son had received no instruction in the Catholic Faith and had hitherto regarded himself as Jewish yet was told by his mother that he would go to hell if he refused Baptism. As he was over 7 years old (regarded as the age of the use of reason) he should have been allowed to make a choice of his own volition. The bishop declared the Baptism invalid alhough the secular press reported it in such a way that it gave the impression that he had cancelled it.
    The Scriptural basis for Baptism is based upon John 3: v 5:(among other New Testament writings)  “Jesus answered [to Nicodemus]: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” According to the Roman Catechism Baptism is, the sacrament by which we are
    born again of water
    and the Holy Ghost,
    that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God’s Kingdom.

    The practice of the Apostolic Church seems to have been to have the Sacrament of Confirmation conferred immediately after Baptism as is still the practice within most Eastern and Oriental Catholic and Orthodox Churches and even in the Latin Rite in various localities. This means that the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism is not dependent upon the subsequent reception of the Sacrament Confirmation years later.
    In the U.S in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, there were
    complaints by American clergy to Rome that large numbers of Catholics
    lived and died without being confirmed due to the lack of bishops and travelling difficulties on
    that massive continent when ‘simple priests’ were not delegated to administer the Sacrament which the Church declares, is not considered necessary for salvation.
    I’m sure our disagreement hinges upon terminology and not doctrine. For me ‘annullment’ means a declaration that what was hitherto thought to have occurred, did not, in fact, occur on account of x, y or z. When talking about the sacraments I have always associated the word ‘conditional’ as a precaution against conferring an un-repeatable sacrament a second time.

  • LongIslandMichael

    As a Catholic I am obligated not only spread the Truth of Christ but to also to defend the Truth from error. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that I received at confirmation enable me to speak and defend the Truth of Christ through Wisdom, Understanding, Cousel (Right Judgement), Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. All of these gifts enable me to recognize trash when I see or read it especially when it comes to those who seek to undermine the Truth and lead others in error. I am not opposed to having those who oppose Christ or His Church’s teaching from having a discussion or presenting their ideas before people. Much like we see in this forum. What I do oppose is having trash like the NCR left out for review and distribution  without the ability of someone who has been properly catechized be able to refute the errors that and so many liberal, secular sources of information like the NCR put forth. That kind of tactic is effective on those who have been poorly catechized (which sadly is a great number of Catholics) or have no properly formed conscience. It allows them to spread false beliefs and is an attempt to undermine the Truth because no one is there to refute the lie. Those who seek to spread error or undermine the Truth are perfect examples of those who are poorly catechized or who reject some or all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There can only be one Truth not different personal views of it. What you propose is relativism.

  • Stephen Smythe-Jones

    They love him because he was originally what most of them would llke to be today, i.e., Anglicans; or I should say, Catholics Lite. All the trappings; none of the substance. Why do they stay? Hey…nobody wants to climb aboard a sinking ship. Don’t remember too many leaving the life rafts to climb back on board the Titanic as it was going down.

  • Phil Steinacker

    If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it is a duck.

    No one is saying the indelible mark of baptism can be removed by anything – even excommunnication. However, I think the statement stands that when one cannot be Catholic who lives out actions and beliefs diametrically opposed to the authority of the Magisterium.

    The statement stands because it is true in its essence, and it is so by the hand of the person(s) at odds with the Church. It is more of an observation that one is living in a way that is not Catholic – roughly, perhaps, in the way a Catholic is excommunicated by his or her actions automatically, and the pronouncement to that effect (when necessary) is made to clarify what has already happened. Agin, not a perfect analogy but the dynamic is broadly similar.

    Here in the states at least one (and more, I think) bishop has said publicly that one cannot be pro-abort and Catholic at the same time. He means it as true. I hold it to be true, and it is completely correctable by the fallen-away Catholic.

    For 31 years I lived like I was out of the Church and no longer Catholic, and so I was, the indelible mark not withstanding. By my own hand I ceased to be Catholic by exiling myself. There is no “once a Catholic always a Catholic” element to our faith, except as stated by folks like yourself in a combox thread.