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Movement in three parts

· The creed as a bond of love, according to John Henry Newman ·

We publish some excerpts of an article which will appear in the next edition of the Italian bi-monthly, "Life and Thought"

Beginning with the certainty of the union between the I and the Father/Creator, the Creed, according to Newman, ceases to be an imprint and becomes a inter-subjective and loving bond. It is just this loving revelation which will lead him from the Byzantine Fathers to Protestantism to the Catholic Church. Let us follow the movement of loving subjectivity in three tempos.

The concept of faith as an imprint of the Creator in the believer, of his icon and his economy, was developed in the 9th century. Insisting on the deposit/reception/inscription of the pact with the Creator, that economy risked inverting the believer into what Newman calls “unworldnesness”: retiring from the world. Instead, thanks to an analogy established by Newman, between the Creator and the fact of living human paternity, belief is clarified in an entirely different way. The imprint becomes a grace which is not only attributed by analogy but is implanted from and for the love of the Father. Much more than just receiving or an application of the Biblical law, faith becomes the “certainty” of a co-presence with the singular Bonum. That is: a dual personalization of the relationship. I through Him because He for Me. It is an initiative of the believer, in the sense that he is not content only to imitate but to participate. The loving gift is understood as gratification and at the same time as a challenge. Newman does not make explicit the affective nature of this movement; he limits himself to tracing the heterogeneous dynamic and logical unity of the process. Still, his way of understanding the co-presence I/Creator makes the believer a Temple of the Spirit. It abolishes the separation between the just and the elect and takes into consideration a new regime of the subjectivity in faith: that of renewal, implying that the truth of Faith is not a spell, but freedom as a conquest and drama.

The unification of the I with his Creator is “realized” in the widest universality, that of Christian humanism which associates mankind to that per modum unius lived as a bond of love. This is the ultimate meaning of the holiness which is achieved, according to Newman, where there is “indefectible certainty” of the co-presence between I and my Creator. “Holiness is the great goal. Here struggle and purification are needed.”

Although Newman did not make recourse to the term mystical, the assembly between assent and imagination on the one hand, and the grammar of inference-justification on the other, integrates the mystical experience in the consolidation of a Catholic dogma which seems to him to need elucidation and protection. This journey, which leads Newman from Protestantism to Catholicism, brings him another certainty which he did not explicitly formulate but which I would summarize like this: the essence of the Christian ethos is mystical.

Some have made mysticism a key to opening the doors of faith to new worlds. Newman, for his part, protects Catholicism from both Protestant moralism and rationalist criticism and strengthens the fundamentals of Catholicism through a patient description of the Father/Son relationship behind the Word, demonstrating that this experience is the ultimate foundation of an ethical sense. In mysticism, he recognizes the leaven necessary to re-establish the dogma, in a more complex and dynamic way.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 19, 2020