Newman: Doctor of Post-Conciliar Church?

Scholar Affirms Cardinal's Understanding of Catholic History

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A scholar who specializes in the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman is explaining the importance of the Servant of God in the Church after the Second Vatican Council.



Ian Ker is a professor at the University of Oxford, and the author of "John Henry Newman: A Biography," which was first published in 1988 and reissued last week.

In an article published today by Britain's The Catholic Herald, Ker asserted that Cardinal Newman will be seen as "the doctor of the post-conciliar Church."

On July 3, Benedict XVI announced his approval of a miracle through Newman's intercession, advancing the cause for his canonization.

The Servant of God was approved for beatification after the miraculous healing of an American permanent deacon who had a debilitating spinal disorder.

People always asked me, said Ker, "why, for instance, the founder of Opus Dei could be canonized so comparatively quickly after his death, while the cardinal had not even been beatified."

He explained that "it was because the members of Opus Dei were busy asking for their founder's intercession, while the kind of people who studied and wrote about Newman were not."

However, he added, "in recent years all this has changed."

Historical importance

Ker affirmed that the Pope underlined "the beatification of Newman as being of great importance for the Church."

The cardinal has often been called "the Father of Vatican II" because he "anticipated key themes of the council," the scholar explained.

He continued, "But if Newman was an innovative or radical theologian, he was so only because he was a deeply historical theologian."

Ker affirmed: "Where Newman anticipated the council in his theology, he was always careful not to exaggerate, not to lose his balance.

"It is well known, for example, that Newman championed the cause of the laity, but he never conceived of some kind of lay as opposed to clerical Church.

"From his study of the Greek Fathers he understood the Church to be primarily a sacramental communion, the organic community that Vatican II embraced in the two opening chapters of the Constitution on the Church."

The scholar noted that the cardinal, being immersed in history, "understood very clearly that councils move 'in contrary declarations [...] perfecting, completing, supplying each other.'"

He continued: "Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility needed to be complemented, modified by a much larger teaching on the Church, so, Newman correctly predicted, there would be another council which would do just that.

"But equally Vatican II needs complementing and modifying.

"Newman keenly appreciated that councils have unintended consequences by virtue both of what they say and what they don't say."

Thus, Ker said, an issue that the Second Vatican Council was silent on became a main theme of Pope John Paul II's pontificate: evangelization.

The scholar predicted that due to Newman's understanding and proliferation of these points of Church history, he will be seen not only as a "Father of Vatican II," but also as a "doctor of the post-conciliar Church."