Here is an English translation, courtesy of Zenit, of the message of the Holy Father to the recent Newman Conference in Rome:
To the Reverend Father Hermann Geissler, F.S.O.
Director of the International Center of Newman Friends
While the joy is still very alive in me of having been able to proclaim as blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman during my recent trip to the United Kingdom, I address a cordial greeting to you, the illustrious relators, and to all the participants in the symposium organized in Rome by the International Center of Newman Friends. I express my appreciation for the topic chosen: “The Primacy of God in the Life and Writings of Blessed John Henry Newman.” With it, in fact, is made rightly evident theocentrism as the essential perspective that characterized the personality and work of the great English theologian.
It is well know that young Newman, despite having been able to know, thanks to his mother, the “religion of the Bible,” went through a period of difficulties and doubts. For 14 years, in fact, he was under the influence of philosophers such as Hume and Voltaire and, recognizing himself in their objections against religion, he pointed himself, in keeping with the humanist and liberal fashion of the time, to a sort of deism.
The following year, however, Newman received the grace of conversion, finding peace “in the thought of only two absolutely and luminously evident beings, myself and my Creator” (J.H. Newman, “Apologia pro Vita Sua,” Milan, 2001, pp. 137-138). Hence, he discovered the objective truth of a personal and living God, who speaks to the conscience and reveals to man his condition of creature. He understood his own dependence on the being of him who is the principle of all things, thus finding in him the origin and meaning of his personal identity and singularity. It was this particular experience that constitutes the basis of the primacy of God in Newman’s life.
After his conversion, he let himself be guided by two fundamental criteria — taken from the book The Force of Truth, of Calvinist Thomas Scott — which manifested fully the primacy of God in his life. The first — “sanctity rather than peace” (ibid., p. 139) — documents his firm will to adhere to the interior teacher with his own conscience, of abandoning himself confidently to the Father and of living in fidelity to the recognized truth. These ideals entailed immediately “a great price to be paid.” In fact, Newman both as an Anglican as well as a Catholic, had to undergo many trials, disappointments and misunderstandings. Yet, he never lowered himself to false compromises or was content with easy consensus. He was always honest in the search for truth, faithful to the appeals of his conscience and reached out toward the ideal of sanctity.
The second motto chosen by Newman — “growth is the only expression of life” (ibid.) — expresses wholly his disposition to a continuous interior conversion, transformation and growth, always confidently leaning on God. Thus he discovered his vocation at the service of the Word of God and, turning to the Fathers of the Church to find greater light, proposed a true reform of Anglicanism, adhering finally to the Catholic Church. He recapitulated his own experience of growth, in fidelity to himself and to the will of the Lord, with the famous words: “Here on earth to live is to change, and perfection is the result of many transformations” (J.H. Newman, “The Development of Christian Doctrine,” Milan, 2002, p. 75). And Newman was throughout his life one who was converted, who was transformed, and in this always remained himself, and always became increasingly himself.
The horizon of the primacy of God also marked profoundly Newman’s numerous publications. In the mentioned essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, he writes: “There is a truth; there is only one truth; … the search for truth must not be the extinguishing of curiosity; … the acquisition of truth does not resemble at all the excitement of a discovery; our spirit is subjected to truth, it is not, therefore, superior to it and is held not so much to dissertate on it, but to venerate it” (pp. 344-345). The primacy of God is translated, hence, for Newman, in the primacy of truth, a truth that is sought above all by disposing one’s inner self to acceptance, in an open and sincere confrontation with everyone, and which finds its culmination in the encounter with Christ, “Way, Truth and Life” (John 12:6). Because of this, Newman renders witness to truth also with his very rich literary production ranging from theology to poetry, from philosophy to pedagogy, from exegesis to the history of Christianity, from novels to meditations and prayers.
In presenting and defending the truth, Newman was always careful to find the appropriate language, the right form and appropriate tone. He sought not ever to offend and to render testimony to the gentle inner light (“kindly light”), making an effort to convince with humility, joy and patience. In a prayer addressed to St. Philip Neri he wrote: “May my countenance always be open and joyful, and my words gentle and pleasing, as is suitable for those who, no matter what the state of their life, enjoy the greatest of all goods, the favor of God and the expectation of eternal happiness” (J.H. “Newman, Meditations and Prayers,” Milan, 2002, pp. 193-194).
To Blessed John Henry Newman, master in teaching us that the primacy of God is the primacy of truth and of love, I entrust the reflections and work of the present symposium, while, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, I am happy to impart to you and to all the participants the implored apostolic blessing, pledge of abundant heavenly favors.
From the Vatican, Nov. 18, 2010
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI