Theologian saint’s feast day opportunity to reflect on truth
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP addressed an international webinar held in Sydney to honour the life and work of St John Henry Newman on his feast day 9 October.
The University of Notre Dame Australia hosted the event which featured local and international presenters reflecting on the saint’s idea of a university.
The discussion also acknowledged the 30th anniversary of the promulgation of St John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesdaie, which drew inspiration from St Newman’s writings.
Facilitated by UNDA Vice Chancellor Professor Francis Campbell, the webinar was also addressed by chaplain of the London Oratory School Fr George Bowen, president of the Catholic Institute of Sydney Sr Professor Isabell Naumann, director of the Institute of Theology at St Mary’s University in Twickenham Dr Jacob Phillips, and undersecretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education Monsignor Friedrich Bechina FSO.
Archbishop Fisher spoke about St Newman’s significant influence on Ex Corde Ecclesiae. While the saint had very little direct influence, the document is underpinned by three Newmanesque ideas, the archbishop said, “about consecration to the truth, intercommunion in the truth, and the liveability of the truth”.
“In adopting these three ideas as his own, St John Paul could propose that the true Catholic university emanates from the Church’s heart – what was for the ancients the seat of thought, feeling, willing and acting,” the archbishop said.
“Universities are not optional add-ons for the Catholic Church, as they might be for other faith traditions or for some governments and societies: they go to the heart of our identity and mission as it has evolved through the centuries.”
Professor Campbell told the gathering that “what our university founders saw in Newman’s Idea of a University was a commitment to intellectual inquiry which remains at the heart of our educational philosophy today as we encourage our university community to foster learning, discovery, meaning and the pursuit of truth and universal knowledge”.
The event was preceded by the feast day Mass of St John Henry Newman celebrated by the archbishop along with Bishop Richard Umbers and Fr Dominic Murphy OP.
John Henry Newman spent the first half of his life as an Anglican and the second half as a Roman Catholic, being ordained a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847. He was named a cardinal in 1879 taking as his motto ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’ (Heart speaks to heart).
Although considered a controversial figure, Newman was regarded by many as the 19th-century’s most important English-speaking Roman Catholic theologian.
An historian and poet, he has been called the ‘absent Father of Vatican II’ because his writings on conscience, religious liberty, Scripture, the vocation of lay people, the relation of Church and State, and other topics were extremely influential in the shaping of the Council’s documents.
Newman was beatified in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI and canonised by Pope Francis in October 2019.