BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE BEATIFICATION of Cardinal John Henry Newman will fulfil a personal wish of Pope Benedict XVI, one of his greatest admirers.
Newman’s “theology of conscience” has exerted an enormous influence on Joseph Ratzinger since 1946 when he entered the seminary in Freising, Germany.
Newman held the belief that the law of God, summarised in the Ten Commandments, is written into human nature. His theology hinges on the conviction that conscience is the inner voice that testifies to the moral truth of this “natural law” in concrete situations.
Newman was studied between the wars by intellectuals in Germany with the first arrival in the 1920s of translations of his works.
But his writings found huge currency in a generation of post-war German Christians who were coming to terms with the horrendous crimes committed by the Nazi regime.
Professor Alfred Läpple, the seminarian who introduced Ratzinger to Newman, recalled last year that “Newman was not a topic like any other – he was our passion”. And in a speech he delivered in Rome in 1990 to mark the first centenary of Newman’s death, the then Cardinal Ratzinger explained that Newman was significant to the post-war generation of Germans because “we had experienced the claim of a totalitarian party, which understood itself as the fulfilment of history and which negated the conscience of the individual”.
“One of its leaders had said: ‘I have no conscience. My conscience is Adolf Hitler.’ The appalling devastation of humanity that followed was before our eyes,” he said.
In a later speech he said that Newman’s life and work “could be designated a single great commen tary on the question of conscience” and that along with St Thomas More, Newman was Britain’s other “great witness of conscience”.
Pope Benedict is considered among Newman’s most authentic interpreters. He has suggested that the extent and depth of Newman’s ideas have “not yet been fully evaluated”.
The Pope has suggested the Newman is a “great doctor of the Church”, an accolade given to only 33 other people and only one Briton: St Bede.
He considers Newman’s writings to have a profound relevance to the modern age, when the demands of the faith often find themselves in conflict with those of the state.
In recent months he has enquired persistently about the progress of Newman’s Cause.