Next Thursday Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United Kingdom for a three day visit that will culminate, on the 19th September, in the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. In this and two companion articles MercatorNet surveys the controversies surrounding these events and pays its own tribute to the great Englishman.
John Henry Newman will
soon be officially recognised by the Catholic Church as a blessed in heaven. One
of his many outstanding qualities was his capacity for friendship. Our society
needs to evoke once more the worth and beauty of this type of friendship.
Cicero wrote, “a friend is, as it were, a second self.” This is possible when a
person gives himself to another, first out of common mutual interests, but
eventually in a selfless manner, for the good of the other. Jesus Christ
radicalized that idea by teaching that a friend is one who would lay down his
life for another.
numerous male and female friends whom we know from his copious correspondence. He
visited them when they were ill, encouraged them in difficulties and advised
them on all types of matters. He understood that a friend offers his life for
his friends and, in so doing, becomes a better self. The love of benevolence
(friendship) can develop into the highest form of love, the self-giving love
called agape, rooted in the virtue of charity.
friendship was not forced. He got to know people by spending time with them. As
a university student, he had long conversations over meals with his friends. He
went on long walks and horse rides with them. He corresponded with them when
they were apart. In these natural activities, he built lasting friendships. One
fast friend was William Bowden, whose family also grew to love Newman. At first
their relationship was based on mutual interests, such as writing on the same
school publication, but it deepened through common religious concerns.
friend was Richard Hurrell Froude, the son of a landed clergyman and a future
reformer. Richard was an outgoing, intelligent young man, as well as a good
rider and hunter. Richard inspired Newman to learn about the catholic truths of
the Anglican Church which led Newman to an appreciation for the richness of
tradition in the Church.
Just because a
friendship is close doesn’t mean there is always full agreement. Newman and
Froude debated on various issues but still learned from one another. It was
from Froude, who died prematurely, that Newman began to have devotion to Christ
in the Blessed Sacrament. He also inherited a Roman Catholic breviary used by
Froude to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
Newman became acquainted with John Keble, who was a few years their senior.
Keble, like Froude, came from a wealthy family with strong religious and
charitable practices. Newman sought Keble’s advice on many matters. Over the
years, in an interesting turn of events, Keble, a married Anglican clergyman,
would seek Newman’s advice on doctrinal and pastoral questions. Such is the
nature of true friendship. Both Keble’s friendship and his writings, such as
the famous Christian Year, were an inspiration for Newman and Newman’s family.
through a sincere interest in others and a desire to serve them. When Newman
was at Oriel College, at Oxford University, he was a fellow, or mentor, to many
undergraduates. One of these, Henry Wilberforce, the son of the famous
abolitionist William Wilberforce, became life-long friend of Newman. Like
Froude, Wilberforce was an early member of the Oxford Movement. Even with the
age difference, an unconditional friendship developed between them based on
mutual respect and affection. A few years after Newman’s conversion to Roman
Catholicism, Wilberforce and his family followed suit. As in the case of
Bowden, Froude, Keble and others, Newman became a good friend of Wilberforce’s
family as well.
One of the
hallmarks of friendship is warmth born from affection. Newman, a shy, retiring
man in person (especially in large groups) was able to convey affection in his
letters. He addressed his closest friends as carissime, a Latin term meaning
“dearest.” These private expressions of friendship used by Newman, although no
longer common, were common in Victorian times.
from Newman’s Oxford days was Edward Bouverie Pusey, a distinguished professor
of Hebrew at Christ College. Pusey was older than Newman and a married man.
Through discussion of doctrinal and spiritual matters, they became friends and
collaborated in the Oxford Movement. Newman’s eventual conversion, however,
caused a rift. Pusey remained an Anglican all his life and their infrequent
communication over the years was a nagging wound for both men. They had a deep
affection for one other, but their divergent beliefs over what mattered
most to both of them — the Church — had pushed them apart. Years later, after
age had done its work, the two men, along with Keble, found themselves
face to face once again. After this memorable reunion their communication was
on friendship were beautifully shown in a sermon from his Anglican period
preached to Oxford undergraduates, “Personal
Influence, the Means of Propagating Truth.” People are not won for Jesus
Christ and his Church by means of argumentation alone, he said, but by credible
witness. Newman believed that the truth of the Gospel, passed down through the
centuries, “has been upheld not as a system, not by books, not by
argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such men…
who are at once teachers and the patterns of it”.
that a friend is also a teacher, one who guides in truth. Like his patron saint
St Philip Neri, Newman had a big heart. St Philip, the 16th century founder of
the original Oratory, knew well how to lead others, guiding them gently to God,
the greatest Love. Newman, following his patron, guided many friends along
their paths to God. He firmly believed and taught that those who have the
biggest impact on our lives are our friends. Friends, who help us to know
and love God more, help us to become better persons. Both St Philip and John
Henry lived long lives, leading many on the right path.
characteristic of Newman’s friendships was loyalty. From his years at Oxford,
Newman developed other close and lasting friendships with men such as Fredrick
Rogers, James Robert Hope and Ambrose St John. Newman was an unconditional
friend to all of them. Rogers, later an English Lord and Hope, a prominent
barrister, were influential men who remained loyal to Newman in the times of
hardship he endured after his conversion to Catholicism. Ambrose St John, a
close collaborator in the Oxford Movement, converted at the same time as
Newman. In the midst of trials at the Birmingham Oratory, he maintained an
intimate friendship with Newman until the moment of his premature death.
friendships were not limited to men. He also shared close friendships with
Maria Giberne, Mrs William Bowden, and Mrs Bowden’s daughter Marianne, his
godchild. All three looked to Newman for religious guidance and in time became
Roman Catholics. Marianne eventually became a nun. As was the case with his
male friends, Newman wrote many letters to Marianne. These were affectionate
letters, as an uncle would write to a niece. Newman was sensitive to the
expressions of affection of both male and female friends. The fact that he
treasured these manifestations of friendship illustrates how indispensable
friends are in life.
In 1879, Newman
was raised to the dignity of Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo
XIII. He chose as a motto for his coat of arms, an expression coined by St
Francis de Sales: cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaks to heart. In his writing
about preaching, found in the Idea of the University, Newman quotes this
expression from a letter by St Francis. Newman was of course familiar with St
Francis, but it may have been Marianne who introduced him to this expression.
In any case, the motto perfectly captures the idea of friendship, where people
speak heart to heart, in a sincere, simple, and affectionate manner.
John Henry Newman
is recognized for his theological works on many topics. He was and is an inspiration for
converts to Roman Catholicism.
Someday, however, he may well earn a new title, that of Doctor
amicitiae: Doctor of the Church on Friendship. His biography is a treatise on
the human and supernatural virtues that make up friendship.
Fr Juan R. Vélez
is a Catholic priest who resides in Los Angeles. He is co-author with Michael
Aquilina of Take Five, Meditations with John Henry Newman (2010).