Holiness Rather Than Peace
The Devil likes to make us stupid, particularly those of us who think we’re smart. He’s had a very good run for quite a while in the secular world. But he’s also done pretty well lately even in the Church. At present, his strongest game is to mesmerize us with simple oppositions: progressives/backwardists, tradition/development, synodality/rigidity, truth/mercy. Once that sort of thing gets up a head of steam, many people don’t think about anything. They just join one party – or another.
The usual Catholic response is to say we’re a “both/and” faith. And that’s good – for a start. But it doesn’t resolve an ever more urgent question: What do we mean by progress? Or tradition? Or mercy? Above all, by Truth? We need people to dig – and dig deeply – into such questions, people with learning and discipline, wisdom and consistency. Of which there are few, in any generation. Which is why we often need to resort to earlier, brilliant predecessors.
It’s telling that in our present moment of confusion, the name of St. John Henry Newman is often cropping up, not only – naturally – among those who believe in his criticisms of liberalism in religion. But he’s being invoked even among those who believe – much less plausibly – that “paradigm shifts” are somehow in a direct line of descent from Newman’s brilliant exposition of “development of doctrine.”
All that remains to be sorted. And fast. The present writer is willing to bet that we’ll hear Newman’s name repeated, and also taken in vain, often between now and next October’s concluding session of the Synod on Synodality. The bishops of England and Wales, and our own American bishops, have in recent weeks petitioned Rome to name Newman a Doctor of the Church. So, like much else these days, even the great Newman is about to become a bone of contention.