Ratzinger is no Johnny-come-lately to his fondness for Newman. He studied the Grammar of Assent in the seminary, and a fellow student at the time, Alfred Laepple, has said that for him and the young Ratzinger, “Newman was our hero.”
During a workshop for American bishops in Dallas in 1991, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reflected at length on Newman’s legacy, arguing that Newman’s emphasis on conscience rests on a prior commitment to truth.
“Conscience is central for [Newman] because truth stands in the middle,” Ratzinger said then. “Conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself.”
In that sense, Ratzinger argued, it’s a mistake to style Newman as a patron saint of dissent.
For Newman, Ratzinger argued, “A man of conscience is one who never acquires tolerance, well- being, success, public standing, and approval on the part of prevailing opinion, at the expense of truth.”
That led Ratzinger to identify two standards for a genuine sense of the role of conscience.
“First, conscience is not identical to personal wishes and taste,” he said. “Secondly, conscience cannot be reduced to social advantage, to group consensus or to the demands of political and social power.”
That, in effect, is the version of John Henry Newman whom Benedict beatified this morning. In some ways this was a classically “Ratzingerian” moment, a theologian-pope embracing and extolling another towering Catholic intellectual, rather than a devotional figure who embodies popular religiosity.
That last bit being said, Allen also acknowledges that which may have been key in making the visit to the United Kingdom a successful one: the Britishness of it all. A proud people wanted to celebrate their John Henry Newman! He also acknowledges that the Holy Father ultimately honored Newman for being a father.
Benedict ended his beatification homily with:
The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:
Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).
He may be a towering intellect, but the most important part of the life of this Blessed man is that he was a man of holiness. One who loved Mary.