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The Liberal Spirit and Anti-Liberal Discourse of John Henry Newman

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Ambrose Mong Ih-Ren

Not many cardinals get to be declared saints, and even rarer is one who is known for his controversial ideas and interpretation of doctrinal faith both within and outside the church. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), however, beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010, was no ordinary churchman. Raised an Anglican and a leading member of the Oxford Movement in his younger days, he converted to Catholicism and, through prolific writing and polemics, established an intellectual and spiritual influence far beyond the placid, pastoral domain of the papacy. This book seeks to settle the historical question of Newman as anti-liberal or liberal, and to shed theological light on his liberal spirit and anti-liberal discourse, in order to provide fresh insights into the issue of religious pluralism. In particular, the author examines Newman’s perception of the danger of the liberal spirit of his time and his possession of another kind of liberal spirit that made him so original, bold and prophetic.

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Preface IX

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IX Preface Not many cardinals get to be declared saints, and even rarer is one who is known for his controversial ideas and interpretation of doctrin- al faith both within and outside the church. But John Henry Newman (1801-1890), beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010, was no ordinary churchman. Raised an Anglican and a leading member of the Oxford Movement in his younger days, he converted to Catholic- ism and, through prolific writing and polemics, established an intellec- tual and spiritual influence far beyond the placid, pastoral domain of the Papacy. Time has not leveled the controversy stirred by his ideas, and scholars cannot agree whether he was anti-liberal or liberal. His beati- fication, the last stage before he is haloed in sainthood, only raises the incendiary level of the debate between progressives hailing him as the modern-day, bold ‘Lion of Judah’ and conservatives who regard him as no less than the true title-holder of ‘Defender of the Faith’, a role which a misguided pope once conferred on Henry VIII. This book seeks to settle the historical question of Newman as anti-liberal or liberal, and to shed theological light on his liberal spirit and anti-liberal discourse, in order to provide fresh insights into the issue of religious pluralism. This work also relates Newman’s anti- liberal polemics to Pope Benedict XVI’s warning against aggressive secularism. I am indebted to Professor Lai Pan Chiu of the Chinese Uni- versity of Hong Kong who first introduced me to the writings of...

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