Holiness In A Secular Age: The Witness of Cardinal Newman9781594172816
by Fr. Juan R. Velez
Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–1890), a pre-eminent English intellectual and convert to Catholicism, was brought up in a low Church Anglican home where his grandmother and an aunt first nurtured his love for the Bible. At the age of 15, after a short period of entertaining religious doubts, he had a first conversion to Evangelical Christianity. For a few years he was influenced in his piety and biblical reading by evangelical authors, and later in the sacramental and ecclesial life by Anglican theologians. Then in 1845, through the study of the Church Fathers, he came to a profound understanding of authentic development of doctrine, in particular the exercise of the Pope’s office; it was then that he became Roman Catholic.
He lived during a period similar to ours: one of economic and technological progress that was accompanied by an embrace of materialism and a subsequent loss of faith and moral breakdown. Newman’s writings challenge us, contemporary men and women, living in a world beset by these similar ills.
His writings on the subject of holiness, the practice of the Christian virtues, the objective nature of truth and its relationship to the moral conscience, university education, and the role of the laity in society and the Church are very much needed today. Individuals, parish groups, and students at Newman Centers will benefit and learn from Blessed Newman’s life example, insights, and teachings found in this book.”
Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, his canonization is imminent.
FR. JUAN R. VÉLEZ grew up in Medellin, London and Philadelphia. As a physician specialized in internal medicine, he obtained a licentiate in theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a doctorate in theology at the University of Navarre. In 1998 he was ordained a priest for the Prelature of Opus Dei. A resident of Chicago, he has published academic articles on medical ethics and on Cardinal John Henry Newman. He is author of Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman as well as A University Education for the 21st Century: The Opening of the American Mind.
The figure of John Henry Newman remains today a point of reference for Christian thought in general and Catholic thought in particular. The relevance of his teachings and insights for the current religious world has not ceased to be stressed since his death in 1890. His beatification by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 has only helped to raise awareness of this, with the consequent display of his human, spiritual, intellectual and ecclesial features throughout the world.
The present work must be placed in this context. Juan Velez is a Newman scholar living in the United States where, among other writings on the English convert, he has published “Passion for Truth”: The Life of John Henry Newman (Tan Books, Charlotte NC, 2012, 618 pp., See review by J. Morales in: Scripta Theologica 45 (2013) 266-267), as well as A University Education for the 21st Century: The Opening of the American Mind (CreateSpace, 2015, 178 pp.)
Although it contains biographical elements, Holiness in a Secular Age was not conceived with biographical pretensions but rather as a monograph that brings together some of Newman's most important contributions to spirituality and theology. The author analyzes with skill and seriousness various topics that perhaps go unnoticed, or are given little attention in standard biographies of Blessed Newman. His goal is to show the figure of Newman as a person, as a Christian, as a priest and as a thinker; in short, "as a new saint of our time" (p.16).
The book consists of 16 chapters on numerous subject matters. After an initial biographical sketch (chapter 1), it contains topics such as Newman’s teaching on friendship, holiness and Christian life, meditation and the study of Sacred Scripture, hierarchical authority in the Church, celibacy and marriage, the Christian sense of human realities, the moral life, Newman's devotion to the Virgin Mary, etc.
Many pages are given to several chapters on his teachings in the educational field, one of the areas where his insights are today especially valid and of urgent need. The book also addresses specifically philosophical or theological subjects such as doctrinal development, or the relationships between faith, reason and science. In the unfolding of his presentation the author aims to clarify some of the false attributions or misinterpretations that have been given about Newman's thought as, for example, his idea of a “gentleman”, and his notion of "conscience" or the aforementioned question of “doctrinal development”. The agile style, careful selection of texts and balance in the judgments give this work a cohesion and maturity that is always desired in a book.
Fr. Juan Vélez has provided a valuable guide for the life, thought and work of a man who was a point of reference in his time, and continues to be so today, two centuries later. His book shows that Newman is a credible witness of holiness in a secular age, because Newman knew how to respond to the ills of his time - rationalism, materialism, growing estrangement from God - that we also find in a large part of our cultural and social environment today.
The work will be useful both for personal reading, as well as for study and dialogue in work groups or seminars for university students.
~ Fr. Juan Alonso, November 16, 2017