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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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Foreword XI

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XI Foreword “Liberalism” is a multivalent word being used in various ways. Some educators might strongly advocate for liberal education or liberal stud- ies. Some politicians might treasure liberalism as the corner-stone of their political agendas, institutions or ideals. Some ethicists might criticize liberalism as an ideology threatening the values they endeav- our to safeguard. Some government officials, especially some of those in Mainland China, might consider liberalism as some sort of spiritual pollution challenging the Communist regime. Some Christians might despise liberalism as a theological heresy. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) is famous for his polemic against liberalism on the one hand and his advocacy for liberal educa- tion on the other. The obvious questions one might ask are: Is there any contradiction involved? What did he meant by “liberal” and “lib- eralism”? What is his basic position - liberal, anti-liberal or post- liberal, and in what sense – political, educational or theological? Ambrose Mong’s book attempts to address these questions through meticulous analysis of the historical context of nineteenth century Britain and Newman’s involvement of controversies related to liberal- ism. On top of these, this book also aims at exploring the significance of Newman’s work for the contemporary world. Since Christianity continues to struggle with the issues related to liberalism, one has to ask the question if Newman’s position formed in the nineteenth century remains relevant to the contemporary post- liberal or post-modern context. Through making references to the relevant positions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and...

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