Was Newman a Modernist?

Pope St. Pius X on Cardinal John Henry Newman

Tomorrow, Oct. 13, Antipope Francis will pretend to declare Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) a saint. He cannot actually declare him a saint since such a privilege is reserved to the Pope, and if there’s one thing that lousy Modernist Jorge Bergoglio is not, it’s Pope of the Catholic Church.

In any case, the Novus Ordo Modernists have long hijacked Cardinal Newman for their own nefarious ends, spinning him into a forerunner of the Second Vatican Council, and consequently they have no objection to his canonization. Even long before the council, however, the original Modernists were already claiming to have a friend in Cardinal Newman, as we will see momentarily.

The impending worthless canonization of Newman by the Vatican II Sect is thus a golden opportunity to demonstrate that the celebrated convert from Anglicanism was certainly a Catholic. We need not undertake any lengthy in-depth study of his thought in order to be assured of this, for we can turn to the one man who, more than any others in the history of the Church, had the greatest authority, competence, and credibility to speak on the matter: We have in mind none other than Pope Pius X (reigned 1903-1914), the powerful progenitor of the Church’s anti-Modernist campaign, himself declared a saint on May 29, 1954, by Pope Pius XII.

On Sep. 8, 1907, St. Pius X released his landmark encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis against the doctrines of the Modernists. The following year, the local ordinary of Limerick, Ireland, Bp. Edward Thomas O’Dwyer (1842-1917), published a little 44-page book entitled Cardinal Newman and the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (a paperback copy may be purchased here). What occasioned the publication of the latter was the fact that some of the partisans of the Modernism the Pope had just condemned were appealing to the celebrated name of Cardinal Newman in their defense.

Bp. O’Dwyer wrote:

…I observe that some of the persons who feel the severity of the Pope’s condemnation try to shield themselves under the venerable name of Newman. They would make believe that, in his writings, they can find, if not in express terms, at least in germ and embryo, the very doctrines for which they are now condemned, and they seem to hope that, in England, the name of Newman will be more authoritative on Catholic doctrine than the teaching of the Holy See. It is an uncatholic position, in principle, but it is as untrue to fact as it is unsound in faith. There is nothing in Newman to sustain, or extenuate, or suggest a particle of their wild and absurd theories. Newman was a Catholic to the tips of his fingers.

(Most Rev. Edward T. O’Dwyer, Cardinal Newman and the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis: An Essay [London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908], p. 5; paragraph breaks removed.)

The remainder of the work is the author’s defense of the illustrious convert, showing that Modernists can lay no claim to the name of Newman.

On Mar. 10, 1908, Pope St. Pius X wrote a letter to Bp. O’Dwyer, commending him for his fine work defending the good cardinal and endorsing it wholeheartedly. The papal document was published in the Acta Sanctae Sedis, and we reproduce an English translation of it below for the benefit of our readers (taken from Michael Davies’ book Lead Kindly Light):

In which Pope Pius X approves the work of the Bishop of Limerick
on the writings of Cardinal Newman.
To his Venerable Brother
Edward Thomas Bishop of Limerick

Venerable Brother, greetings and Our Apostolic blessing. We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, has been emphatically approved by Us: for you could not have better served both the truth and the dignity of man.

It is clear that those people whose errors We have condemned in that Document had decided among themselves to produce something of their own invention with which to seek the commendation of a distinguished person. And so they everywhere assert with confidence that they have taken these things from the very source and summit of authority, and that therefore We cannot censure their teachings, but rather that We had even previously gone so far as to condemn what such a great author had taught.

Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. Not only do you fully demonstrate their obstinacy but you also show clearly their deceitfulness.

For, if in the things he had written before his profession of the Catholic faith one can justly detect something which may have a kind of similarity with certain Modernist formulas, you are correct in saying that this is not relevant to his later works. Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate.

Regarding the large number of books of great importance and influence which he wrote as a Catholic, it is hardly necessary to exonerate them from any connection with this present heresy. And indeed, in the domain of England, it is common knowledge that Henry Newman pleaded the cause of the Catholic faith in his prolific literary output so effectively that his work was both highly beneficial to its citizens and greatly appreciated by Our Predecessors: and so he is held worthy of office whom Leo XIII, undoubtedly a shrewd judge of men and affairs, appointed Cardinal; indeed he was very highly regarded by him at every stage of his career, and deservedly so.

Truly, there is something about such a large quantity of work and his long hours of labour lasting far into the night that seems foreign to the usual way of theologians: nothing can be found to bring any suspicion about his faith. You correctly state that it is entirely to be expected that where no new signs of heresy were apparent he has perhaps used an off-guard manner of speaking to some people in certain places, but that what the Modernists do is to falsely and deceitfully take those words out of the whole context of what he meant to say and twist them to suit their own meaning. We therefore congratulate you for having, through your knowledge of all his writings, brilliantly vindicated the memory of this eminently upright and wise man from injustice: and also for having, to the best of your ability, brought your influence to bear among your fellow-countrymen, but particularly among the English people, so that those who were accustomed to abusing his name and deceiving the ignorant should henceforth cease doing so.

Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

To you, therefore, Venerable Brother, and to your clergy and people, We give Our heartfelt thanks for having taken the trouble to help Us in Our reduced circumstances by sending your communal gift of financial aid: and in order to gain for you all, but first and foremost for yourself, the gifts of God’s goodness, and as a testimony of Our benevolence, We affectionately bestow Our Apostolic blessing.

Given in Rome at St. Peter’s, on 10 March 1908, in the fifth year of Our Pontificate.
Pius PP. X

(Pope St. Pius X, Apostolic Letter Tuum Illud; original in Acta Sanctae Sedis XLI [1908], pp. 200-202; underlining and paragraph breaks added.)

This should definitively put to rest the suspicion that Newman was putting forward Modernist ideas. Obviously he had held many errors before his conversion, as an Anglican, but that cannot be laid to the charge of the Catholic Newman. Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808-92), likewise a convert from Anglicanism but so different from Newman, declared at the latter’s passing: “We have lost our greatest witness for the Faith” (source).

Newman converted in 1845. He was ordained a Catholic priest on May 30, 1847. He never became a bishop, but Pope Leo XIII raised him to the rank of cardinal on May 12, 1879. (The rule that all cardinals had to be bishops was introduced by Antipope John XXIII in the early 1960s.) One of the reasons why Newman at times gives rise to confusion is that he employed his own peculiar vocabulary, he was not a systematic theologian, and he was not a Thomist or a scholastic. None of this should be too surprising, however, considering that the great Neo-Thomist revival of the 19th century did not begin until long after his conversion, with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris, in 1879. [Correction: We have been informed since that the Thomist revival was already underway before, but mostly confined to Dominican schools, and that Leo XIII merely gave this movement papal impetus.]

People who are interested in investigating Newman’s theology in-depth and seeing its orthodoxy vindicated, are encouraged to consult, in addition to Bp. O’Dwyer’s book linked above, Fr. Edmond D. Benard’s work A Preface to Newman’s Theology (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1945). We had intended to make this work available as a free PDF download; however, we were not able to obtain the copyright as the publisher is going to re-release it into print in the near future. [UPDATE: The book is now available for electronic borrowing at Archive.org.]

A succint preview of what the reader can expect is found on the inside flap of the dust jacket of the original 1945 edition: “A PREFACE TO NEWMAN’S THEOLOGY is a close study of the great man’s Catholic orthodoxy. Was Newman a Modernist or did he have Modernist leanings? If so, he would be an unsafe guide. This question is here discussed with scholarly acumen. Some writers have criticized Newman’s teaching on the development of Christian doctrine. The arguments on this question also are carefully sifted and scrutinized….”

The author, Fr. Benard, was an incredibly gifted young priest who was just rising to prominence as a Newman scholar. He died a premature death in his study at the Catholic University of America, during a fire on Feb. 4, 1961, presumably of smoke inhalation. However, knowing all the evils that would afflict the Church and society afterwards, we can see what a great mercy of Almighty God it was to call him to judgment when He did. Fr. Benard died at the young age of 46, but he lived long enough to leave to posterity this magnificent vindication of Newman’s orthodoxy.

Traditional Catholics, then, should not allow the Modernists to claim Newman as one of their own, for he most certainly wasn’t. Not only learned authorities such as Bp. O’Dwyer and Fr. Benard but even Pope St. Pius X himself assure us of this.

Image source: Composite with elements from Wikimedia Commons (Sirilusmaxii [cropped] and Babouba) / amazon.com (cropped)
Licenses: CC BY-SA 4.0 and public domain / fair use

Share this content now:

No Comments

Be the first to start a conversation

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.