When Newman and Fr.
Dominic met at Littlemore
by Fr. Herbert Keldany
AS the spring of lti45 made way for the heat of summer, the perplexities in Newman's mind
erimually cleared. His book was taking its final shape, and, despite the toil that lay ahead. the end was in sight. The basis, idea had been geminating in his mind foi years, hut it was not until the early part of 1845—aftei the condemn n atio of ' Ideal '' Ward by the University ot Oxford that the head of the small community at Littlemore began his self-appointed task. lee sew that be would have no vest until he broke with the Church of England as well as the University, hit he would not take the final step until he had tested every intermediate move in his OH El fastidious way, SO he set
about proving to his own satisfaction the thesis that was destined, not only to bring him and many others to the gates of the Church, but also to inaugurate a new era in theological thinking—namely, that the doctrine taught by the Catholic Church was the same as that which was given by our Lord to the Apostles. In other words, that development was a sign not of cornipLion, as Anglicans held, but of life.
The book which was to have such far-reaching results gave its author infinite trouble as he stood for days on end at his high writing-desk pinning down the crucial but often elusive argument His anxious companions thought they could see the sun shine through his pale and care-worn face, and we have his own.desciiption of his difficulties at this time:
" Did I tell you I was preparing a book of sone sort to advertise people how things stood with me ?. . . Never has anything cost me. I thiak, so much hard thought and anxiety. . At present I have been four months and more at my new work, and found that I had vastly more materials than I 'knew how to employ. The difficulty was to bring them 000 shape, as well as to work out in my mind the 'nein principles on which they were to run. I spettt two months in reading and writing that tame to nothing, at least for mil present purpose. I really have no hope it will be finished before the autumn, if then. . . I have done three chapters out of four or five."
Newman's Development of Doctrine
In Newman's day the stock Protestant criticism of Rome was not, as today, that cif rigidity, but, on the contrary, innovation and corruption. Some rigidity there was, largely as a result of the successes of Protestant innovations, but Newman's perspective was not confined to the post-Reformation era, his concern was to vindicate continuity with primitive Christianity. Put briefly, it was because he could draw upon a deep and wide. knowledge of the Church's history, that Newman was able to sec the gradual unfolding of the Faith down the centuries as a proof of Divine guidance. He thereforc evolved a series of tests or conditions: which any doctrine should satisfy in order to establish continuity with the days of the Apostles, since when there has been no addition to Revelation. These seven tests, boldly drawn from natural phenomena and organic life, were such that no theologian had ever thought pf applying them to the Mystical Body of Christ, yet Newman was able to show by their help that the growth of the Church's teaching and organisation was consistent with our Lord's commission to go on teaching until the end of the world.
His work, which was never completed becausi he decieled to make his submission to the Chnrch when only half-way through his tests, is tp-day taken for granted as part of accepted
Catholic teaching In his owe day its worth was not at once appreciated, because it cut across established lines of apologetics, according to which the " lredition " oL the Church, by which the whole deposit at tidal was handed down the centuries, was thought of as a restrictive force, marking off truth from error, and generally opposing development. Newman had opened up a fresh approach to the castle of Faith, which he showed was not snowbound, hut teeming with life and ever adapting itself to ,contemporary needs, while preserving its initial principles: and by doing SO. he paved the way 'for the many vigorous movements that have characterised the life of the Church in the past century, in particular tor Catholic Action, which commissions apostolic. laity to assist in the spread of the Faith.
Fr. Dominic's First Visit The letter quoted above dates from June, 1845. It is fair to assume that the clarification which took place in Newman's mind was not unconnected with the meeting that took place at Littlemore a year pseviously between him and the priest who was to receive him—Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God. We know, front a tette' he wrote on the eve of his reception, Newman's high opinion of the apostolic Italian Passionist: "I have seen the Padre once, on St. Jtilat the Baptists day last year. when I showed him the chapel here. He was a pour boy, I believe. who kept sheep near Rome. and from his earliest youth his thoughts have been most, singularly and distinctly turned to the uf England. He is a shrewd, clever num but is unaffected and simple as a child, and most singularly kind in his thoughts of religious people of our COPIMMI.011. I wish all persons were as charitable in I know hint to be. After waiting near thirty years, suddenly his superiors sent him to England, without any act of his own. He has not laboured in comersions, but confined himself to',naissions and retreats aptong his own people. I believe him to be a very holy man."
This impression was well-founded, and is specially interesting today when the English Hierarchy have lately appealed to Rome for the Beatification of the venerable missionary who succeeded where other men failed. His whole career was cast in a far from ordinary mould.
Another article in this series will attempt to trace his relations with the Littlemore group By way of rounding off the present one, the following description of their chapel as it was at the time of the historic meeting of those two noble spirits may prove interesting.
It was only a small room set aside for prayer in one of the cottages, which are still standing. There was no altar, for they went to the village church of which Newman was the vicar until almost the end, but at one end of the room, which was heavily draped in red hangings, stood a large crucifix of Spanish origin and the candles on the table which supported it were lit for community prayers.
A plain board ran up the centre of the chapel, and in a row on either side stood the younge: men for the recitation of Divine Office. while " the vicar " stood by himself a little zo one side, as befitted their superior.
What " the Padre " thought we are not told, but this we know—that be fell on his knees in the village church and doubtless he prayed for the happy issue of the strange workings of Divine grace. Within a year the favour which he had asked, making a pun permissible to one still learning English, " a little more grace," was granted and Newman's mind had come wnbris et imagthibus, out of shades and imaginings, into range of the " Kindly Light " be first invoked twelve yews previously as he sailed past I Cape Bonafacio at the close of his Mediterranean trip. At one stage of it he was desperately ill, yet he teas buoyed up by the thought " I have a work to do." In June, 1845, h'e knew what this was to he. The " encircling gloom '' was dispelled.
E7'his is the fourth in the series articles rontributed by Fr. Keldany commemorate the centenary year Newman's conversion.) Twentieth Century-Fox has jos( announced the purchaee of the movie eights for These Two Hands, by Father E. J. Edwards, of the Society of the Divine Word, a novel on the life of a young American mis
sioner in the Philippines. These Two Hands was published by Bruce Publishing Company of • Milwaukee in December, 1942, and was the second novel by this talented and character-discerning priest who for ten years had served in the missionary fields of the Philippines and China.