Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Newman's Second Spring

The seasons turn and so, once again this October 9, we celebrate Blessed John Henry Newman. 

As Fall advances, the days shorten in the Northern Hemisphere as the year nears its end. Newman deeply sensed an ending as he closed the door to his Anglican past and brought with him his English and Anglican sensibilities into the full communion of the Catholic Church in October 1845. 

In God's economy, as in the natural order, Fall is followed by Winter and then comes Spring.

This past Spring as it slowly dawned in the northern climes, I re-read, Ian Kerr's magisterial biography of Blessed John Henry Newman and was made more aware than ever of the long, cold, waiting winter that Newman faced in many aspects of his life and ministry; in particular the cultural and social winter he experienced from 1845 well into the 1870s.  

Kerr's work concludes with Newman's recognition by Pope Leo XIII. He was finally created a Cardinal when in his 80s.
Pope Leo was someone Newman had met years before. With the creation of John Henry Newman as a Cardinal Priest, Catholics finally began to understand that Newman was not a theological liberal come into the Catholic Church to disrupt it. In fact, he wrote and fought against liberalism and secularism in Britain while at the same time insisting that the laity find their role and voice in the reception of doctrine. His efforts to further the cause Catholic education of the laity were starkly opposed to the ideas of Gladstone and others who were paving the way for further secularization.
St. Mary's, Oscott

Newman gave his famous "Second Spring" sermon of July 13, 1852, in St. Mary's, Oscott, at the first Provincial Synod of Westminster. What he called "The Second Spring" referred to the re-establishment of Catholic bishops and dioceses in England after 300 years of expulsion which had followed over 1000 years of Catholic faith and practice throughout the British Isles from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries.
             Newman and his Personal Oratory near Birmingham

He selected a passage from the Song of Songs which was later so beautifully set to music as one of the 'Lady Motets' by the great Canadian Anglo-Catholic composer Healey Willan: "Rise Up My Love, My Fair One'.

"Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For the winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land." Cant., ii. 10-12.

In his stunning prose, Newman begins by affirming the the message of the resurrection implicit in nature  . . .

"The sun sinks to rise again; the day is swallowed up in the gloom of the night, to be born out of it, as fresh as if it had never been quenched. Spring passes into summer, and through summer and autumn into winter, only the more surely, by its own ultimate return, to triumph over that grave, towards which it resolutely hastened from its first hour. We mourn over the blossoms of May, because they are to wither; but we know, withal, that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops—which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair . . ."

On the human and moral level, he continues . . .

"So is it, too, with our moral being, a far higher and diviner portion of our natural constitution; it begins with life, it ends with what is worse than the mere loss of life, with a living death. 

How beautiful is the human heart, when it puts forth its first leaves, and opens and rejoices in its spring-tide. Fair as may be the bodily form, fairer far, in its green foliage and bright blossoms, is natural virtue. It blooms in the young, like some rich flower, so delicate, so fragrant, and so dazzling. 

Generosity and lightness of heart and amiableness, the confiding spirit, the gentle temper, the elastic cheerfulness, the open hand, the pure affection, the noble aspiration, the heroic resolve, the romantic pursuit, the love in which self has no part,—are not these beautiful? and are they not dressed up and set forth for admiration in their best shapes, in tales and in poems? and ah! what a prospect of good is there! who could believe that it is to fade! and yet, as night follows upon day, as decrepitude follows upon health, so surely are failure, and overthrow, and annihilation, the issue of this natural virtue, if time only be allowed to it to run its course . . .

. . . Such is man in his own nature, and such, too, is he in his works. The noblest efforts of his genius, the conquests he has made, the doctrines he has originated, the nations he has civilized, the states he has created, they outlive himself, they outlive him by many centuries, but they tend to an end, and that end is dissolution. Powers of the world, sovereignties, dynasties, sooner or later come to nought; they have their fatal hour. The Roman conqueror shed tears over Carthage, for in the destruction of the rival city he discerned too truly an augury of the fall of Rome; and at length, with the weight and the responsibilities, the crimes and the glories, of centuries upon centuries, the Imperial City fell.

Thus man and all his works are mortal; they die, and they have no power of renovation . . ."

Then, with unquenchable joy Newman proclaims that something new is springing forth in the land:

"We should judge rightly in our curiosity about a phenomenon like this; it must be a portentous event, and it is. It is an innovation, a miracle, I may say, in the course of human events. The physical world revolves year by year, and begins again; but the political order of things does not renew itself, does not return; it continues, but it proceeds; there is no retrogression. This is so well understood by men of the day, that with them progress is idolized as another name for good. The past never returns—it is never good;—if we are to escape existing ills, it must be by going forward. 

The past is out of date; the past is dead. As well may the dead live to us, well may the dead profit us, as the past return. This, then, is the cause of this national transport, this national cry, which encompasses us. The past has returned, the dead lives. Thrones are overturned, and are never restored; States live and die, and then are matter only for history. Babylon was great, and Tyre, and Egypt, and Nineve, and shall never be great again. The English Church was, and the English Church was not, and the English Church is once again. This is the portent, worthy of a cry. It is the coming in of a Second Spring; it is a restoration in the moral world, such as that which yearly takes place in the physical."

Finally, he paints a word picture of the resurrected Catholic Church in England as a cathedral with its cloister, schools and residences built on a hill:

"And there on that high spot, far from the haunts of men, yet in the very centre of the island, a large edifice, or rather pile of edifices, appears with many fronts, and courts, and long cloisters and corridors, and story upon story. And there it rises, under the invocation of the same sweet and powerful name which has been our strength and consolation in the Valley. I look more attentively at that building, and I see it is fashioned upon that ancient style of art which brings back the past, which had seemed to be perishing from off the face of the earth, or to be preserved only as a curiosity, or to be imitated only as a fancy. I listen, and I hear the sound of voices, grave and musical, renewing the old chant, with which Augustine greeted Ethelbert in the free air upon the Kentish strand.

It comes from a long procession, and it winds along the cloisters. Priests and Religious, theologians from the schools, and canons from the Cathedral, walk in due precedence. And then there comes a vision of well-nigh twelve mitred heads; and last I see a Prince of the Church, in the royal dye of empire and of martyrdom, a pledge to us from Rome of Rome's unwearied love, a token that that goodly company is firm in Apostolic faith and hope. 

And the shadow of the Saints is there;—St. Benedict is there, speaking to us by the voice of bishop and of priest, and counting over the long ages through which he has prayed, and studied, and laboured; there, too, is St. Dominic's white wool, which no blemish can impair, no stain can dim:—and if St. Bernard be not there, it is only that his absence may make him be remembered more. And the princely patriarch, St. Ignatius, too, the St. George of the modern world, with his chivalrous lance run through his writhing foe, he, too, sheds his blessing upon that train. And others, also, his equals or his juniors in history, whose pictures are above our altars, or soon shall be, the surest proof that the Lord's arm has not waxen short, nor His mercy failed,—they, too, are looking down from their thrones on high upon the throng. And so that high company moves on into the holy place; and there, with august rite and awful sacrifice, inaugurates the great act which brings it thither. What is that act? it is the first synod of a new Hierarchy; it is the resurrection of the Church."

So we latter-day Catholics in North America with roots in the ancient English Church are coming through our own winter, and we see signs of Spring across our own vast continent as the seeds of the Personal Ordinariates begin to grow.  And so we take heart from our great father in the Faith, and, as we  hope, some day soon to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church: Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.

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