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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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5. Newman’s Liberalism in the Context of Contemporary Pluralism 131

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131 Chapter 5 Newman’s Liberalism in the Context of Contemporary Pluralism In the last two chapters, I have sought to cast light on Newman’s un- derstanding of liberalism, engaging in various primary and secondary sources to find out which aspects of his ideas are liberal and which are not. As we have seen, the word ‘liberalism’ carries heavy historical baggage and depends on how it is understood and in what context. Trailing his liberal spirit, seeing him as a theologically progres- sive genius, this chapter is a culmination of Newman’s liberal ideas – his understanding of non-Christian religions in relation to Christianity. One of his first principles is his insistence on the historical nature of God’s revelation and continuing self-communication. The application of this first principle of his liberal thought can help us to access the claims of the pluralist, inclusivist, and exclusivist theology of relig- ions. The Vatican document, Dominus Iesus (2000), deals with the challenges posed to Christianity, the rise of religious pluralism, and seeks to defend the unity of the economy of salvation and the incarna- tional principle in the Christian faith. It insists on the trinitarian char- acter of God and the necessity of the invisible church which continues Christ’s saving work. These claims have been challenged by the plu- ralist theology of religions that views Christian faith like every other religious tradition, which can be interpreted in one perspective, one world view, and which has developed alongside with other religions in history. Gordon D. Kaufman argues...

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