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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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Conclusion 167


167 Conclusion In his visit to the United Kingdom in September 2010 to beatify Newman, Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI urged Britain to maintain its respect for religious traditions and warned against ‘aggressive forms of secularism’. He said, ‘Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society … in this challenging enter- prise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate’.1 It is well known that Ratzinger has always been concerned with the threat of aggressive secularism as evident in his writings and ad- dresses. His preoccupation with this intractable problem was not so much a reactionary stance as it was the position of a priest deeply concerned with the secularization not only of Western society, but of the church itself. In an address to the plenary members of the Council for Culture, ‘The Church and the challenge of secularization’, Ratzinger says: 1 The Telegraph, /8006272/Pope-Benedict-XVI-warns-against-aggressive-secularism-in-Britain .html. Ratzinger believed that truth, which should have re-energized Europe, was denied. This was in reference to the European constitutional treaty signed in October 2004. According to George Weigel, ‘the drafters of Europe’s new con- stitution were determined … to declare secularism – and the scepticism and relativism that inform secularism – as the official creed … of the newly ex- panded European Union’. To mention the historical cultural contributions of Christianity to a Europe committed to freedom, human rights and democracy in the preamble would be...

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