Doctor Newman, Presumed?

I caught this news note about Cardinal Ouellet’s proposal that Cardinal Newman be considered a Doctor of the Church.

From his acquaintance with the Fathers of the Church, especially Athanasius, he discovered that, in order to keep its integrality, the faith of the Church must adapt its language to the cultural challenges and the dangers of heresy.

Thus, although the deposit does not change, the Church’s knowledge of it progresses, deepens and is expressed in a new way, always faithful to the original idea.

I would like to read the whole speech. Another item quoted in the Tablet. 

Catholic theology has not yet taken full measure of the conciliar Pentecost, and has not sufficiently renewed its method in the light of the emergence of new charisms, especially with regards to the female half of humanity.

Cardinal Ouellet has more the measure of the Church than the limited view of traditionalists. Tomorrow’s saint, as well as many others, realize that the Church progresses and deepens its relationship with the Head and we strive for greater faithfulness. This effort does not begin or end with councils. It happens on many different levels and in many places at once.

My suggestion is that the Tridentine Era (1570-1962) was a grave aberration to the Church’s loyalty to Christ and his mission. Cardinal Newman was one of the early seeds that put us back on the missionary path. He was able to do so with theological language that paved the way for some degree of acceptance within the Magisterium. His sainthood, perhaps his honor as a Doctor of the Church, verifies this vector and perhaps, God willing, will help us continue this pilgrimage as we need to.

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Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Doctor Newman, Presumed?

  1. Liam says:

    “My suggestion is that the Tridentine Era (1570-1962) was a grave aberration to the Church’s loyalty to Christ and his mission.”


    That sounds as mightily dismissive as those who now suggest: “My suggestion is that the Conciliar Era (1962-present) is a grave aberration to the Church’s loyalty to Christ and his mission.”

    I cannot take it seriously, even as a provocative suggestion. So much of the foundation for what we take for granted as being built on in our own era was laid in that era.

    -Accountable regulation of clergy and prelates (hardly a panacea, but way better than what preceded it), allowing a
    -Moving away from monastic clergy being the model of faith, leading to
    -The tremendous expansion from immediately pre-Tridentine seeds of religious of a different kind of religious-in-the-world (think not only Jesuits and Theatines but probably more importantly, the Ursulines) along models that were capable of being translated into active laity, leading to
    -Direct attention paid to cultivating lay spirituality, along with
    -Setting down a principle of frequent sacramental participation by the laity

    Et cet.

    And, within the lifetime of Trent, we also see the Papacy shrinking as an effective secular power (the marker for that being the failed interdict of the Republic of Venice under Paul V), then a sea change repositioning by the Peace of Westphalia
    And a century after that, by the papacy of Benedict XIV we see the clear papacy of the future as much more a spiritual than temporal leader. By the time of the Age of Revolution, two popes in a row are seen as victims when they are basically held captive by Napoleon, the first dying that way the second surviving and showing magnanimity to Napoleon’s family in exile.

    Et cet.

    Oh, and then there was the expansion of the missions across the globe. Of course not in accord with our own current mores and at many times profoundly at odds with Gospel values, but hardly mostly so: it is in this period where modern human rights are teased out in that very context.

    Et cet.

    I am not looking backward for values, but a facile calumny of the entire post-Tridentine era is not seriously valid as a historical matter even from a progressive Catholic perspective.

    You’re much better than this. (Unlike James Carroll, who’s still working out his daddy issues in his awkward attempts to summon history to account and as a result is stuck in circa 1970 the way a lot of virtual mimeographers on the traddie side are stuck in, say, 1870.)

  2. Todd says:

    To be clear, a period of institutional aberration–stasis, if you will–doesn’t mean that there wasn’t virtue to be found, even in the upper clergy. Bishops like Francis de Sales certainly existed. And the occasional pope. But I might say these were the exception to the rule.

    No, I think I’m pushing back on this. From Pentecost to the year 500, we saw the rise of a Christian genius that brought us the original Doctors from East to West, across the breadth of what was once the Roman Empire. Great teachers, brave martyrs, loyal servants, all planting seeds that still grow today in schools, monasteries, and intentional communities, even in Europe which most agree has lost a certain verve.

    Consider that Christianity was brought to the New World and Asia five centuries ago. Where are the like Doctors among Latin Americans, Filipinos, Indians, Japanese, and Chinese? Compared to the saints of the first five centuries, the Tridentine Era looks mightily impoverished to me. Saints unrecognized, and so many pastors and teachers never surfaced, never discerned, and never allowed to serve their people

    Sure, Trent as a Council did a lot of good. And here and there, saintly figures rose to embrace the mission of Christ. Many of those figures were bitterly persecuted by an institution that did not understand the role of women, the importance of evangelization, the reaching out to people in serious need beyond the lands of Europe (and even within them).

    The Church as a whole might deserve a grade of D, barely passing only because of women religious, and the occasional teacher and guide like Cardinal Newman. We needed so much more, but apostolic courage and vision were not only lacking, but actively suppressed in many ways. So you think I’m better? Hah! I’m too angry about the loss for the sake of the Gospel, and if some Tridentine snowflake is bothered by it, they can go suck on some history.

    • Liam says:

      Your historical spectacles need adjusting in terms of cognitive biases. Like primacy bias in idealization of the first quarter of the Christian message, and latency bias in focus on critical details in the most recent quarter, and attribution bias in both. Hardly unique in that regard: it has its echoes even in much shorter spans of time, such as newly planted churches in their first generation vs 3 generations later (indeed, the story of Loss of Founder Fervor is was embedded as a major thread in the American historical imagination via New England and the myth of declension: we’re culturally primed to see this narrative pattern in history – and it would help if we remember such narratives are not the whole truth or even the majority of the truth, but likely a smaller portion of the historical truth, which is messier and less likely to have a simple narrative).

      Of course, Christianity got to East Asia centuries before the Jesuits (it came along the Silk Roads in the 7th century; the Church of the East was the largest part of Christianity for many centuries) and even to the New World centuries before Columbus (the first diocese in the New World was established by Pope Pascal II in the early 1100s and lasted into the early 1400s). Climate change and ensuing plagues (especially in the 6th and 14th centuries) had profoundly sapping effects on Christianity.

      • Todd says:

        “Your historical spectacles need adjusting in terms of cognitive biases.”

        No. I bring an alternate point of view, that of great loss from which we’ve never recovered as we might if weleaned more heavily and faithfully on grace. One premise of mine is that the flaws in the Tridentine experiment left missionaries under-equipped compared to other moments. Otherwise, why wouldn’t we have seen blossoming in places like the Philippines akin to Hippo or Milan or Antioch? Why are so few Doctors American or East Asian? (Do we have any at all in this hemisphere?) Is grace just lacking in the mission territories of the Tridentine Era? Perhaps Rome hasn’t recognized it, or hasn’t cooperated with it, or has in some ways, suppressed it.

        The Church was more deeply sapped by internal failures, 1054 and failed reconciliations, 1517 and hardly-engaged reconciliations followed by war after war, all the way through to the last century.

        The post-Vatican II era has its share of problems. But those who suggest we are in a period of aberration have yet to find history at their side. They might. But I doubt it.

        Cardinal Newman was a man ahead of his time, and a man we very much needed–and still need. He can help point us in correcting the errors, flaws, and failures, with God’s help, if we are willing. God is my hope, and saints point the way. The Tridentine institution and its remnants, not so much.

      • Liam says:

        Part of the reason I mentioned the earlier centuries-long missions to Asia and the New World that have been forgotten is that those missions were not addled by anything Tridentine. Indeed, the Asian one flowed directly out of the Patristic era, unburdened even by Roman imperial political decline or the heritage of the middle ages.

        So that raises a question about what is it about Christianity that find indigenous grounds far afield from its sphere of original evangelisation to produce fruit that is not quite long-lived in terms of ability to survive the inevitable pressures of extrinsic forces?

  3. Todd says:

    “So that raises a question about what is it about Christianity …” Or what is it about Christians, perhaps European Christians? The Philippines are probably the most Catholic nation in the world by most metrics. Saints? 2 and only recently canonized. I don’t think we can blame Christianity. It might be colonialism, ultramontanism, racism, cultural blindness, or some combination. Why did Ireland, Armenia, and the Philippines do so well, except in the eyes of Rome?

    • Liam says:

      So this is really about the canonization process as a metric. Which is a medieval one, centuries pre-Tridentine. While the Eastern tradition is somewhat different, it’s really an issue emanating from the original Eur-afro-asiatic homeland of the pre-medieval Christian faith. (The north African part is pretty important in this soup: arguably a more restrictive, rigorous part of that continental trinity.)

      Still a mystery what you mean about the 4 centuries of the Tridentine era being the aberrant bugbear in this.

      • Todd says:

        Canonized saints are one metric. The original doctors weren’t canonized by Rome; they were part of an agreed assessment of sanctity. Another metric would be our failure to produce male vocations comparable to those in so-called civilized nations. Another would be the persistence of Latin America as “mission territory,” despite a period of time that saw the Church move from Pentecost to Augustine, John Chrysostom, etc.. An obvious one would be the stasis in the Roman Rite. Another would be the unwillingness to move strongly toward Christian unity in the West or with the East. Another would be the lack of courageous witness in the face of multiple immoral wars. The so-called Dark Ages look bright in comparison to my view.

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