Newest saint key on authentic conscience

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The original tomb of St John Henry Newman is seen in Rednal, England, in 2010. Photo: CNS, Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

The recent canonisation of Saint John Henry Newman was “especially timely” in an age in which “rights of conscience are regularly flouted and the very idea of conscience much contested”, said Archbishop Fisher OP at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney last week.

The Archbishop’s thoughts on St Newman came as he presented his keynote paper, Conscience, Relativism and Truth: The Witness of Newman, at a conference at the university from 13-15 February titled ‘Theological Anthropology at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.’

Blessed John Henry Newman is pictured in an 1865 photo. PHOTO: CNS, courtesy Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory

“Behind disputes over whether persons engaged in healthcare or education or even sacramental confession should have the space to pursue their conscientious beliefs, and even have conscience protections, are the deeper questions of the ‘what’ of conscience (its meaning, basis and scope), and the ‘who’ of conscience (the kind of being that has a conscience). There is no-one better to explore this with than our most recent saint.”

Developing his philosophy of conscience in the context of the 19th Century, Newman was heir to a tradition which stretched back to saints Paul, Augustine, Aquinas and Thomas More, he said.

Yet at the same time, radically different concepts of conscience were emerging from quarters as diverse as the nonconformists and followers of Immanuel Kant, Darwin, Marx and Nietzche.

For Newman, however, conscience was not simply adherence to the convention, propriety or good taste prevalent in his society.

“Rather it is the echo of God’s voice within the heart of man, the pulse of the divine law beating within each person as a standard of right and wrong, with an unquestionable authority.”

Archbishop Fisher presented a related paper at a conference on St Newman held at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas last October.

The conference at the Broadway campus was the third in a series, the first two being ‘Mariology at the Beginning of the Third Millennium,’ which was followed by ‘Ecclesiology at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.’

This year’s conference on Theological Anthropology was preceded by a book launch of the papers from the second conference.

Other speakers included the director of the Emmanuel Community’s school of mission in New York, Rev Dr Charles Rochas, Canadian priest Harrison Ayre, Professor Tracey Rowland and Professor Isabell Naumann ISSM.

The 19th century English cardinal was canonised in Rome on 13 October last year.

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