Crosiers share connection with St. John Henry Newman
By Fr. Glen Lewandowski, osc
The canonization of John Henry Newman on Oct. 13, 2019, in Rome, by Pope Francis carries enough usual press coverage without adding anything particularly Crosier to it. There is, however, an untold story that will appeal to Crosiers and the Crosier spiritual tradition.
British-born John Henry Newman (1801-1890) had already been ordained a priest in the Anglican Catholic communion before he became a Roman Catholic. As a theologian he was an avid reader, especially of the patristic classics. Because his life spanned the 19th century—before the invention of electricity—his eyesight was affected by his endless reading, in the original languages, of course. He read to live his faith. In addition to the straightforward studied reading of patristic texts, he wrote. His study of Arius and the history surrounding the Arian Heresy remains an important analysis, still utilized by serious historical theologians today. Crosier Fr. Jerry Rausch, osc, often reminded his students of Newman’s insight: During the Arian crisis the laity kept the faith that bishops blurred.
A number of young American Crosiers took an avid interest in the thought and writings of Newman during their theological studies, among them Frs. Richard T. John, osc; Robert Zylla, osc; Joseph Fichtner, osc; Eugene Lindusky, osc; and Ervin Rausch, osc. It is not clear who would have first sparked their interest and serious study in the 1940s and 1950s, but by the time the Second Vatican Council came along, they had read—perhaps together—Newman’s “An Essay on The Development of Christian Doctrine and On Consulting the Laity in Matters of Faith.” The Development of Doctrine was Newman’s main study on Catholic Tradition, tradition not seen as a fixed treasury of pre-boxed doctrines, but rather as a living reality, a historically conditioned and continuously developing interpretation of what was believed as vital and what was believable. The discussions at the Vatican II Council on the relation of tradition to scripture were informed by Newman, and the Crosiers in the United States, in turn, were conversant with and fond of Newman’s points of view. The Development of Doctrine, published in 1845, marked also Newman’s decision to stop dragging his feet to become Catholic in communion with the long Roman tradition. Without further expanding and detailing here the importance of the Oxford Movement, it serves well to note that Newman was one of the main participating members in the Anglican Oxford Movement—a studious cadre of theologians at Oxford University researching and discussing the claims of the separatist Anglican Church that the Roman Church had slipped away from pure Biblical truth by insisting on tradition as vitally important to faith.
The other book “On Consulting the Laity in Matters of Faith” (1859) also charmed many of the American Crosiers because of the attendant clericalism even monosufficient-papalism that developed after the first Vatican Council. The charm Newman—Cardinal Newman—held for many of these young Crosiers was that faith is not merely for clerics, nor for theologians, nor for intellectuals, councils, bishops’ synods or chanceries. Certainly the great American “Heresy” (sic) of Americanism, with its accent on the importance of lay involvement in the church, ownership of ecclesiastical property (viz. boards of trustees) and the taking seriously of the serious-minded Catholic Lay intellectuals in the United States made an impression on Crosiers that they could have a forward looking theologian-cardinal-university founder to bring into their discussions with the Church in the modern world. Perhaps the cultivated connection of Fort Wayne Crosiers with the University of Notre Dame in the Indiana sister city of South Bend was one of the stimuluses to foster real consultation, dialogue and conversation with lay experts just next door.
The importance of Newman the intellectual and writer, however, was as important in Belgium, particularly the Catholic University of Leuven. There are still avid Louvain students of Newman researching his thought, influence and method of doing theology. While it is hard to guestimate who Belgian Crosiers connected with Leuven’s Newman devotees might have been, it is certainly the case that Indonesian Crosier Fr. Jan Sunyata, osc, of Bandung was working on his Dissertation concerned with one of the main Louvain Newman researchers, J.-H. Walgrave, O.P. Walgrave’s highly acclaimed book “Newman the Theologian: The Nature of Belief and Doctrine as Exemplified in his Life and Works” (1957) is still widely consulted today as fundamental. Sunyata’s untimely early death brought to an end his study. His dissertation on Walgrave was neither finished nor published, even in part. But, perhaps some of his sketches are still available in draft form in the Sang Kristus province archives.
The main reason Newman stirs interest in the 20th and 21st Century is that he was not a scholastic theologian, that is, not a Thomist, an Aristotelian, nor a rationalist. Newman’s method of doing theology was much more empirical and inductive rather than propositional and deductive. The deductive style would be concerned with drawing doctrinal “faith” conclusions from faith statements extracted from revelation. The unicity of theology—in the neo-scholastic mode—was mostly referred to Thomas’s Summa Theologica. Newman would have been one of the main method-logians who turned aside from the scholastics of the 12th and 13th Centuries to draw both insights and broad-based experiential sources from earlier patristic and medieval faith writers. Early 20th Century Catholic writers, including the Crosiers, of Europe involved in Ressourcement—that is, reclaiming the broad and vast more catholic traditions of Latin, Greek, Syrian, Slavonic and Germanic religious experience—would have had Newman as one of their backers, legitimating their historical research and claiming the living tradition. For Newman, the British schools of philosophy and intellectual research included not only quests for truth and apriori scholastic science, but also living history and lived religious experience of the faith. Newman’s method and approach would have great impact on northern European thinkers’ appreciation of the non-western world and non-Roman centers of dominant concerns. Certainly Jan Sunyata’s concerns for inculturation and Indonesian wisdom—Sunyata was notorious for championing Sanskrit and Javanese religious terms to denote Crosier religious places and values—and empirical, on the ground resources shaped contemporary and future religious life both in Indonesia and in the contemporary Crosier Order more broadly.
San Giorgio in Velabro
Perhaps the most obvious and well-known Crosier connection with Newman, however, was through San Giorgio al Velabro, in Rome. When John Henry Newman was named a member of the pope’s closest advisors and councilors as cardinal, Pope Leo XIII clearly intended to select a candidate whom he knew would upset the rightest-leaning guard both in England and in Rome. John Cardinal Newman was never ordained a bishop. Indeed he was categorized in the rank as a cardinal deacon when he was decorated in red in 1879. At the same time Cardinal Deacon Newman explicitly asked to be given the Basilica of San Giorgio al Velabro as his “in city” urban titular cardinal’s church. The reason for his choice, relatively familiar to British aficionados, is that Saint George is the patron of England—a rather clear connection once you start ticking off the Kings named George. Additionally, the Banner of Saint George – a plain White flag with the bold, red cross as the only decoration—can be seen and sold by souvenir vendors all over London. The Banner of Saint George is clearly and prominently featured in the apse fresco in San Giorgio Basilica. The same Banner of Saint George is centrally embedded in the Union Jack—a fact not so evident until it is pointed out.
Obviously, the Crosiers were not located in Rome in 1879 when Newman took the Basilica of San Giorgio as his own. Not until 1939, when Mussolini expropriated the Crosier property on the Capitoline Hill for his own program of restorations on the Campidoglio for both modernizing Rome and for preserving as public the ancient hill within the sacred precincts of Romulus’s ancient Roma, did the Crosiers move from the Campidoglio to Velabro. Newman never lived at the Basilica of San Giorgio—since the current housing was only configured as residential housing, by Crosiers themselves, in 1939. It is also not so clear whether (probably!) or how often (only once?) Newman celebrated the Eucharist at the ancient altar facing the congregation in the Basilica. Cardinal Newman, rather, resided at the Oratorian’s own Chiesa Nuova when he had business in Rome (including the Vatican I Council).
A most interesting item of history about Chiesa Nuova and Newman. Newman’s study and Oxford research into history and tradition provided him firm foundations to reject—or at least resist, more than “merely question”—the Roman Catholic tendency to dismiss the sacrament of Ordination among the Anglicans. The declaration that Anglican Orders are “absolutely null and utterly void” was a deep embarrassment and felt slight to Newman. When he was welcomed into the Roman Catholic communion, from the Anglican Catholic communion, he wished to continue to serve as a priest and thus an ordained preacher. While the pressure was on him to be ordained, he balked. Just as with baptism you cannot be re-baptized, so with ordination, he insisted that he only be conditionally ordained, since he firmly held that he is already ordained a priest. At most he would reluctantly acquiesce to a clearly conditional rite of ordination, not ordination clear and distinct. Further, he refused to “do the ordination rite” in a public church, in any church. Instead he insisted it had to be done very, very privately and with no ceremoniously showy pomp or circumstances. It rankled him to fool around with God’s direct grace, election and ordinance. He already was ordained! So the location chosen for this conditional rite of ordination was an out-of-the-way cubbyhole that became a janitor’s closet in the residence of Chiesa Nuova in the following years, with minimal conditional legal witnesses and conditional ordination ministers. It was never touted as the memorable day of his ordination. Not his belief!
During the bombing of San Giorgio in July of 1993, Master General Lambert Graus, osc, tells how everyone in the house suffered injury and had to be hospitalized—except John Henry Newman. The damages to the house were devastating. The car bomb was parked up close to the northeastern wall, under the window of the basilica’s rector, Fr. Jan Henckens, osc, on the second floor, and then too just below the Master General Graus’ window on the third floor. The midnight bomb blast shattered all the glass windows in the house, blew out the partitions between bedrooms, destroyed the entry portal to the church, severely rocked the bell tour, cracked the tile roof everywhere and sent sheets of glass flying wildly through the house. Fr. Graus opened his eyes to the open sky above his bed. The roof was blown off. Assistant Master General Jim Remmerswaal, osc, had glass embedded in his bare feet. The Indonesian diocesan priest-student living at the Crosier generalate for his doctoral studies broke both legs. Everyone was hospitalized both for trauma and physical wounds. No one was killed. Had Fr. Jan been in his room (rather than on vacation) he would have died. If Fr. Rudiyanto had been home in his front north-side room facing the car bomb (rather than at language school in Perugia) he too would have died. The early medieval church, 12th century tower and 17th century house structural repairs took five years to complete. Major, devastating damages. While everyone was hospitalized and most everything was destroyed or severely damaged, the portrait oil painting of John Henry Newman merely slid down the blasted wall and stood upright on the level floor, unblemished and unchipped, no spot of paint flecked off the surface, waiting to be rescued from the rubble for a later homecoming in 1998. Incroyable, John Henry!
The Chiesa San Giorgio is situated immediately at the foot of the Palatine Hill, between the bend in the Tiber River—where legend believes the twins Romulus and Remus floated up the morass and parked just outside the Crosiers’ front door of San Giorgio residence before they were rescued and nursed by the she wolf—and where Saint Sebastian was tossed down the sewer hole into the Cloaca Maxima without a trace of a drowned body (and thus no relic) long before Saint George’s relic was transported to Rome in the 6th or 7th century. Almost no one visits this shrine church out of devotion to San Sebastiano. But numerous pilgrims, mostly orthodox but some Catholics as well, visiting Rome from the East come to San Giorgio for religious veneration. The Patriarchs and Diplomats of Georgia (sic!) are regular visitors-pilgrims and sometimes benefactors. On occasion British Christian pilgrims in Rome also visit San Giorgio. The Rector of the Venerable College of Saint Bede, a Newman scholar, has organized Newman Society events at San Giorgio, just because Cardinal Newman is connected with the Church. There is no clear indication that San Giorgio will grow in greater importance Oct. 13, 2019. It would, however, be a dignified mark of eminent Crosier respect to read something Newman wrote—from anywhere in the world. No flight to Rome needed. Other modern Crosiers have done such studied reading to honor the soul and spirit of John Henry the Great! Newman wrote his “An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent” to try to help modern readers think about their struggles with faith as assent, in the modern world. As both an essay—as ‘trial run’, if you will—and as discussible ‘intelligent aid’, Newman was trying to supply reasons for thinking about faith. In the thinking effort, Newman also supplied his own personal reasons for why he felt persuaded to belief and assent. For my part the critical reception of Newman’s grammar in Jost’s “Rhetorical Thought in John Henry Newman” stands out as appreciation of Newman’s lead. Jost endorses his grammar for naming the modern contemporary challenge of holding historical realities and social facts, such as social justice and cross-cultural change, together with theological persuasiveness and the dialectical role of public arguments in today’s common life in an increasingly smallish global world. Newman was an early leader, Jost demonstrates, for crafting wisely our common future based in shared intelligent discourse, intending influence and persuasion, rather than just settling for shout-downs and bullying, or even worse, banal acquiescing to whatever realpolitik so ever creates losers one more time.
The Crosiers at the generalate in Rome hosted some public events at San Giorgio associated with Newman during the month of October this year. One of them is being organized
by the British Embassy to the Holy See. If the official canonization of John Henry Newman holds import for today’s Crosiers, however, it is probably the influence and impact of John Henry Newman on renewal and church reform since Vatican II that are most stunning. Perhaps Pope Francis’ official recognition of this man’s historic and modern relevant religious holiness might best be summed up with Newman’s own, “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.”