Once the news came out today that John Henry Newman (1801-90) would soon be made a saint, after the Vatican announced that the pope had formally approved a second miracle attributed to the great convert’s intercession, many around the world will have rejoiced that the Servant of Truth in Newman will finally be given his proper due. Yet to begin to understand this defining aspect of the man, we have to understand the heroic fight he undertook to combat those who sought to deny or mutilate the Truth.
When Newman was given his red hat by Leo XIII in 1879, the new cardinal made a point in his ‘bigiletto speech’ to say two things about his long career, both as a Catholic and as an Anglican. First, he meant his audience to know that he had never ceased opposing liberalism. “For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism,” he declared. Since some in the liberal academy have an interest in misrepresenting what Newman meant by liberalism, we should let him say for himself what he meant. “Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. …Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man’s religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.”
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