Cardinal Newman’s perspective on how to deal with crises in the Catholic Church

There’s lots of talk Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman could be canonized this year, perhaps in October, as a second miracle has been verified.  For those of us Catholics of Anglican tradition, this is wonderful news.  He is a hero and example to us.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Newman has been used by the Catholic progressivist left to justify all manner of development of doctrine; and by traditionalists to argue Cardinal Newman would be aghast by what some are passing off as genuine development.

But Fr. John Hunwicke, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, has unearthed a quote from Cardinal Newman that seems quite helpful for those of us looking for a way to respond to the current state of play in the Church.

Fr. Hunwicke started off by mentioning Cardinal Mueller’s Manifesto that I refer to in a previous blog post.  He notes that the former Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith does not mention the Papacy in his document. (Fr Hunwicke’s emphases.)

This is unusual in modern Catholic discourse. The sickly mawkish modern cult of the Bishop of Rome has for so long pushed the Witness of the Incarnate Word, the words of Scripture, the teaching of the Fathers, into the background. How often have you heard a semi-literate sermon in which “Pope Francis Says” is prominent, but never any hint is given of “Jesus Says”? So, if the Manifesto had no other value, that particular silence would be as refreshing as a glass of cold water on a sticky day.

But why?

Possibly the Cardinal agrees with the great Anglican theologian Eric Mascall that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility does not so much tell us something about the Christian Faith, as about the circumstances in which we might be told something about that Faith.

But I am convinced that, consciously or unconsciously, Gerhard Mueller has in mind the teaching of Blessed John Henry Newman about the situation during the Arian crisis:

“… the body of the episcopate was unfaithful to its commission  … at one time the pope*, at other times a patriarchal, metropolitan, or other great see, at other times general councils*, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth … I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the Ecclesia docens. The body of bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicaea, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years …”

It seems to me that the moment when PF decided not to answer the Dubia of the four Cardinals was the formal, official moment … the starting gun … when the Petrine Ministry entered into its current “temporary suspense”. When, likewise, he ignored the Filial Correction which some of us had sent him, he confirmed that Suspense. Thus we are officially in a period in which the functions of the Papal Magisterium are in a vacatio which will be ended at the moment when the same Petrine Magisterial organ as formally returns from dogmatic silence to the audible exercise of the functions rightly attributed to it in Catholic Tradition and Magisterial Conciliar definition; that is, “devoutly to guard and faithfully to set forth the Tradition received through the Apostles; i.e. the Deposit of Faith”.

I found this post of Fr. Hunwicke’s and the quote from Cardinal Newman most interesting in light of the present state of confusion in the Church that is tempting people in all sorts of weird and potentially dangerous directions, both right and left.

On one hand, there are those who find the only solution is to say the See of Peter is vacant, or that Pope Benedict XVI didn’t resign properly so he must be the true pope.  On the other, you have those who say anything Pope Francis says is from the Holy Spirit and our obedience as Catholics demands we assent to papal positivism no matter whether what he says contradicts the teachings of Scripture and the magisterium of previous popes.

This view of “temporary suspense” seems to me the most viable position right now.


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