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


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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Introduction 1


1 Introduction John Henry Newman (1801-1890) has been the subject of numerous books, articles and academic theses. A leading member of the Oxford Movement, a Roman Catholic convert from Anglicanism, a cardinal and prolific writer, Newman was already a controversial figure in his time. His beatification on 19 September 2010 and eventual canoniza- tion has ignited new interests especially among Anglicans who are disenchanted with their church and contemplating conversion to Ro- man Catholicism. Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, has introduced a new church structure that will allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while maintaining aspects of their liturgical distinc- tiveness and Anglican ethos. Among Catholics, there are those who look up to him as a defender of orthodoxy and also those who lionize him as a proponent of church reforms. In this context, understanding Newman’s liberal ideas and his anti-liberal polemics can scarcely be more opportune. Historically, this book attempts to settle the question of ‘liberal’ and ‘anti-liberal’; theologically, it seeks to demonstrate how Newman’s both ‘liberal spirit’ and ‘anti-liberal polemics’ can offer new insights into the issue of religious pluralism. The issue of liberalism continues to be debated today in the public forum and universities. On the one hand, liberalism remains influen- tial and deeply embedded in our society that takes religious pluralism, freedom, democracy, modernity and secularization for granted. On the other hand, many contemporary intellectuals launch their severe cri- tiques on liberalism. Newman was the foremost...

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