Perhaps as you’re reading this issue of The Catholic Answer Pope Benedict XVI will be in London conducting the process of beatification for a famous Anglican convert to the Catholic Church. Over the years, Cardinal John Henry Newman, scheduled to be beatified on Sept. 19, has been a true inspiration to thousands of people — particularly as a pilgrim guide to countless converts. God used many voices to open my own heart to the beauty of the Catholic faith, but it was his writings and courageous witness that kept me from missing, as he would say, the great moment of grace.
It would be easy to fill this entire magazine with memorable quotes from his writings, but several simple quotes summarize how Cardinal Newman helped me appreciate and eventually accept the truth of the Catholic Church. They are all from his “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.”
“No doctrine is defined till it is violated” (p. 151). Each Sunday from my Protestant pulpit I proclaimed from Scripture the doctrines of my particular Protestant denomination. Across the street and around the corner other ministers of different Christian denominations also preached from the same Bible and yet proclaimed different doctrines. Each of us believed that what we were teaching was essential and clearly based on Scripture, yet, more often than we realized, in the privacy of our individual churches, what we preached contradicted one another. Moreover, many of us didn’t even know, while others conveniently ignored, the fact that much of what we proclaimed as essential was not clearly based on Scripture and actually had not been defined until several hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, so essential to understanding all aspects of our Christian faith, was not defined until the fourth century. The term “Trinity” is not found in Scripture, and during the early centuries of the Church, there was constant discussion about how to understand faithfully the truths of one God and three persons. It wasn’t, however, until progressive, radical teachers from within the Church began promoting their own innovative private interpretations of Scripture that the bishops of the Church, gathered in council in union with the Bishop of Rome, declared which interpretation was in line with the deposit of faith.
The same could be said of the canon of Scripture. For several hundred years there was no definitive list of which books were to be included in the biblical canon. But when progressive, radical teachers began formulating their own innovative lists that bishops, gathered at the councils of Carthage, Rome and Hippo (between the years A.D. 382-397), “defined” which books were to be accepted as the inspired sacred canon.
The same could be said of the early acceptance of the authority of the pope, but a point made by Cardinal Newman is very significant: “It is less a difficulty that papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the holy Trinity till the fourth” (p. 151). In other words, any argument against the authority of the Bishop of Rome because it did not develop until after the second century fades when we consider that the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ were not defined until later. It was this fact, enunciated by Cardinal Newman, that finally brought me home to the Church.
One final quote, though, sums it all up for me: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” (p. 8). The opposite is also true, however, for if we fail to become “deep in history” — to know our faith — we can cease to appreciate it and lose it. TCA
Marcus C. Grodi is host of the popular EWTN program “The Journey Home” and president of the Coming Home Network International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.