Holloway on… John Henry Newman and the Church as Communion in God: Part II

Edward Holloway
Fr. Holloway continues his reflection on The Church…a
Communion: In the Preaching and Thought of John
Henry Newman by James Tolhurst.
It is obviously untrue that Newman made his submission to the Church of Rome because
he was a tortured and insecure soul looking for spiritual sanctuary. He was too great in
intellect and in spiritual power for that. He could not, as he prayed in communion with
God, allow the breath of uncertainty and the corrosion of
imperfect human pride to lessen the lustre of Christ, as God
revealed to be followed as Way, Truth and Life. Newman
expressed doubts about the expediency of the definition of
Papal Infallibility by the First Vatican Council. He did accept it
but was always more interested in the seat of the infallibility
of the Church as the word of The Word to the People of God
over the ages. When the definition of the Petrine power did
come, it was Newman’s concept of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction which was
defined. The Vicar of Christ was not endowed with some personal charism of oracular
infallibility, but “with that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed to be inbuilt
(instructam) into His Church in the definition of doctrine of faith or morals to be held by
the universal Church: hence such definitions of the Roman Pontiff of themselves, and not
from the consent of the Church, are irreformable” (DS 3074, 3075). The papal definition
ex cathedra is one power with the solemn Magisterium of the Church as it is exercised
through the bishops universally in the world; inevitably so, for the source and guarantor
is the one Word Incarnate, speaking in the Holy Spirit.
Tension of Intellect and “One Does Feel”
Newman had diagnosed the source principle behind the modern faltering of the Church.
As usual, Newman could see where the road would end before others had divined what
was around the first corner. He saw that, and especially in modern cultural conditions,
the denial of an inerrant guide and voice in the Church on earth, potent to overrule the
coarseness and disobedience native to the mind of fallen man, meant the end of any
Gospel truly Divine. If there is no such thing on earth as infallibility, then the level of
the witness of the Church will never exceed the limits of toleration and acceptance of
the average, decent comfortable folk in the pews. In doctrine and in morals Newman is
vindicated as Prophet to our times. The end of this road is
a long way from the imperatives of a Divine Saviour, a long
way too from the life and writings of the original Christian
Church. Put the mind of man at the helm of Christ’s
revelation, a mind powered by a wayward will, and time can
only crumble doctrine, morals, and Divinity in Christ. This is
the sickness unto death of the Anglican Communion as it
sinks into the Humanism of “decent people”. The disease is infectious: in medical terms
the Church of Rome would be “unstable and rather poorly”. Newman’s message brooks
the divide for both of us.
Truth the Form of Love: Love the Energy of Truth
If, or more likely when John Henry Newman is canonized, one presumes he will be made
further illustrious by the title of Doctor of the Church. In terms of influence, relevance, and
a lasting and increasing readability, this writer would dare to say that he is the greatest
pastoral theologian since St. Augustine. One would like to offer a seminal thought, seminal
because not worked out but merely glimpsed. It is a thought prompted admittedly by the
reading of Newman. There is no such thing as a ‘school’ which can truly emphasize the
primacy of the intellect over the will, or of the will over the intellect. Perhaps in philosophy
and in theology we speak too much of the faculties of the spiritual soul, the intellect,
and the will, as if these acted in their own right upon the basis of an inert nature, which
merely supported them in their activities. Surely it is our whole self, our being as “act” in
the traditional language of the Schools; which has entity, and is realised as living being
through the intellect and through the will? If we may apply the analogy of the Blessed
Trinity here—and we must not underrate the meaning of being “made to the image of
God”—there is an important lesson to be learned by us as individuals, and by the Church
as a Communion.
Imperfect truth begets imperfect love
In the Being of God, which is not “inert Essence” as sometimes unconsciously treated, the
Son, the Living Truth, content of the Father known in the nature of God, proceeds first,
and necessarily first, according to knowledge, to intellection. The Holy Spirit, proceeds
from the Father and the Son, according to will, or love, as the “spiratio” or outbreathing
of love, of fulfilment, between the Father knowing and the Son known. A consequence
follows that is not so hard to grasp. It is a desperate mistake to attempt to bring in
the Kingdom of God, say reunion of Christians at this time, by deliberate or unconscious
minimalism of content, of clear integrity in the truth. The growth in fulfilment of the
Christian in communion with God, will and must imitate the nature of God’s own being,
and the proceeding within that being of God—of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
and the manner in which the Persons of the Godhead relate unto each other. There
can be no joy in perfect and holy love, unless it proceeds within the fulness of the Father
known in the Word who is the only-begotten Son. The Holy Spirit of God’s love cannot
dwell in us individually except in that perfection of knowledge of the truth, by which
the very Person of the Holy Spirit is breathed out as Fulfilment in the being of God. An
imperfect truth begets an imperfect love in us. If we refuse from pride to enlarge our
spirits with the authority of the perfect truth, then we can never, never attain to a perfect
love. On the moral plane it may make our lives seem easier, but we starve ourselves of
the experience of perfect joy, in the fulness of the Spirit, in perfect communion of love
with God.
Koinonia: The Trinitarian Image
We can never sell the truth short in order to
safeguard love or to promote love. This will lead
to anaemia of the soul. If our truth becomes
simply an intellectual creed, a philosophy of
revelation without the communion of love as joy,
love as comradeship, love as an evangelization,
again we have impoverished not simply the word,
but the Living Word who was enfleshed among
us. He said not only “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you” but also “I have
not called you servants, but friends” (John 15:14). As within the Living Being of God it is
not possible for the Holy Spirit to proceed antecedently in order of the procession of the
Eternal Word from the Father, so within our own souls the perfection of the communion
of love proceeds only from the comprehension of the perfect Divine Truth. This is the
law of communion with God for the individual man and woman through all the identities
of Christian communion—the family, the diocese, friendship, love, to the constitution
of that koinonia, or Communion which is the Church herself. It is the general law and
necessity of all Christian communion membered into Christ. The merit and service to the
Church of John Henry Newman lies in his perception of this total Pilgrimage of Grace upon
earth, and the warmth and sincerity with which he brings it home to us. It is the merit
of Fr. Tolhurst’s work that with scholarship and documentation he conducts us through
this personal development within Newman’s own soul—the recognition of the living and
universal or Catholic dimensions of the Communion of God with men. We know where it
led Newman, with sadness and a lasting pain for what he was losing, even with the peace
in what he was finding.
Communion and inter-communion
The law of this order of Communion, which is the identity of the Church, requires that the
life She bestows, and the communion of God to men She nourishes, imparts the order
and relationship which defines the Life that is the Holy Trinity. The Father, Source and
Origin, is contemplated in the Eternal Truth, only-begotten of His Being: The Holy Spirit,
Love and Fulfilment of the Father and the Son, proceeds between Them according to
will and good. In the constitution of the Church perfect Communion in God Incarnate
means infallible and objective certainty in the Word Revealed, perfect and total good in
the truth; the love without derogation which is Communion in the Spirit. In us who are
membered into the Living Christ, it requires and offers communion in a perfect truth and
in a perfect love formed on such truth.
This recognition makes sense of the requirement that there must be full Communion
with the Church, in unity of faith and charity, before the baptized person may be admitted
to the Holy Communion of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is more than symbol, more than
effective sign. It is the Personal presence in Sacrifice and Sacrament of Him who is the
Full Communion of all, individual and ecclesial, given back to the Father as an “everlasting
gift” (Eucharistic Prayer no. 3.) in the reconciling love who is the Holy Spirit. God is perfect
and his works are perfect. The Church is perfect in the manner in which she is membered
to Him.
No man-made Via Media
Along such perspectives humbly offered and humbly sought, the Church of Rome and
the Church of England could seek and find reconciliation. Yet, there would have to be
“metanoia”, conversion of mind and heart. The sole Truth transcendent must be the
form of the Love which is Ecclesial Communion. This is neither the present seeking
nor expectation of our ecumenical initiatives. There does not exist on earth any man-made
Via Media. Newman could not find it, neither can we. Reunion is not a political
merger, not a “consensus”. God does not make deals. This is relevant when the leading
figures in the Catholic Communion in England and Wales express an ever closer
committal to unity in pastoral integration, which ignores the increasing doctrinal and
moral fragmentation of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Synod [in 1987] finally
abandoned the concept of mortal sin and of divine commandment in sexual matters,
agreeing by human “consensus” to proclaim instead an “ideal” to which all should aim,
and failing to do so, feel “repentance”. It is not historic Christianity. The tragic affair of
Dr. Bennett1 was not truly a personal attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury, as its text
plainly shows, but the agony of a man close to the school of theology Newman begot
within the Anglican Communion, who recognized the final loss of the Divinity of Christ
within her proclamation. Does therefore the Swanwick declaration2 make any coherent
sense? Is the Roman Catholic being asked as is the Anglican, to seek Unity or Truth, rather
than unity through truth?
Reunion: Recall to the Divine, Not “Consensus”
The type of initiatives being more and more urged upon us
are such as can only lessen the Catholic identity and spiritual
firmness of our own people. One would recommend to our
leaders with respect a passage from the Vulgate version
of the book of Ecclesiasticus: “Son, when thou comest to the
service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul
for temptation. Humble thy heart and endure: incline thy ear
and receive the words of understanding, and make not haste in
a time of clouds” (Ecclus: 2:1-2.) As a youth one was caught
halfway across the striding edge of Helvellyn when swirling
cloud and a wind squall moved in. One is therefore rather
fond of this reading, and thinks to know what the sacred
writer had in mind. If they press on regardless of realities, some shepherds may lose the
life of faith, but certainly far more of the sheep behind them will.
God incarnate the infallible Light of the world
Cardinal Newman’s personal pilgrimage of grace marks
the road across the striding edge for all of us. Chesterton’s
Chariot of the Church makes the same point in Orthodoxy:
the path is narrow, the route direct, not a matter of
consensus. Ecumenical meditations should return to the
consequences of the Divinity of Christ, as the Lord of
human history. There can be no path to reunion by consensus of human minds who
do not recognise any eternal, objective truths of faith and moral life on earth. As the
Christian Church approaches the third millennium, it should be obvious that the Church,
and mankind, needs a further vision and coherent understanding of the meaning of Christ,
of God Incarnate under the unity-law within which He framed the whole of Creation: God
made Incarnate to be the everlasting and infallible Light of the world for the intellect of
Man, the norm of Holy Love, and the perfect happiness for the human will. Newman
began the work; he did not finish it. The potential and vision by which to finish it is within
our power, if we have the humility to accept it. But it must be God’s intervention and
revelation, not man’s cobbled job. We must begin anew at the point where John Henry
Newman leaves off: the further development within the Church of what the processions
of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must mean for the individual, and for all
Christians as the Communion of God’s People.


This is the concluding part of the abridged version of the Editorial in the March/April 1988 Faith

Faith Magazine

September - October 2018