VATICAN CITY (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to travel to Great Britain to personally beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman has given him an opportunity to highlight Cardinal Newman’s teaching about the relation between faith and reason, the role of conscience and the place of religion in society.
During his September 16-19 trip, the Pope was to visit the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow before travelling to London and Birmingham for the beatification.
Cardinal Newman was a 19th-century theologian and intellectual who was a leader in the Anglican reform effort known as the Oxford Movement before becoming a Catholic.
The Vatican has billed the trip as a pastoral visit “on the occasion of the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman”.
Since his election more than five years ago, Pope Benedict has presided over several canonisation ceremonies, but he always has delegated the task of presiding over beatifications to highlight the different importance of the two ceremonies.
The Pope’s decision to make an exception for Cardinal Newman demonstrates his personal admiration for the British churchman, an admiration he once said went back to his first semester of seminary theology studies in 1946.
“For us at that time, Newman’s teaching on conscience became an important foundation” for theological reflection, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said at a conference in 1990 marking the centenary of Cardinal Newman’s death.
World War II had just ended, he said, and the German seminarians who had grown up under Adolf Hitler witnessed the “appalling devastation of humanity” that resulted from a totalitarian ruler who “negated the conscience of the individual”.
While most of the world’s totalitarian regimes have fallen, Pope Benedict often has warned that the individual conscience – which must seek and try to act on truth – is being threatened today by a culture of moral relativism, which asserts that nothing is always right or always wrong and almost anything is permissible.
Pope Benedict also often speaks of the essential interplay of faith and reason, a point Cardinal Newman emphasised.
While embracing faith and knowing there were no scientific proofs for God’s existence, the cardinal was convinced that believing in God was reasonable, an idea challenged by modern British philosophical atheism.
His commitment to the search for truth, his concern for fidelity to doctrine and his conviction that faith must be lived publicly all are key concepts in the teachings of Pope Benedict as well.
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