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Newman Supports the Liberal Agenda Against Pius IX

One of the greatest events of the European Catholic world in the mid-19th century was the Munich Conference convened by German professor Johann Döllinger in August 1863. It took place in the Benedictine Monastery of Munich; the Archbishop of Bamberg and the Bishop of Augsburg were present, and it received the blessing of the Pope.

In his opening address Döllinger defended many elements of Catholic Liberalism, of which he was a leading representative. A summary of his speech follows:
  • Catholic theology should not be tied to Scholasticism, a school that should be put in the past;
  • The Aristotelian method has too many limitations;
  • The analytical process of Scholasticism does not capture the harmony and richness of revealed truth;
  • It also leaves out Biblical criticism and the historical perspective;
  • Other systems of thought that rose up in the Church after Protestantism are more suitable to modern needs;
  • The hope of the future lies in religious union;
  • Catholic doctrine must be presented as an "organic" ensemble linked to the religious life;
  • Catholics must recognize the truths of the "separated communities" [heretics];
  • They must look to those outside of the Church to see what they have of truth and goodness;
  • The theologian must no longer aim to destroy the doctrine of the other religions;
  • Theological opinions should change as knowledge advances;
  • Dogmas should be constantly re-analyzed in their explanations and meanings.
The general tenor of the Conference was based on the notion that Catholic thinkers should be free from the control of Rome and the Hierarchy. The general talk among Döllinger's co-religionists and disciples was that the Church should renounce her medieval past and return to the Apostolic age.

This speech and the theses of the Conference had great influence. In England, the Home & Foreign Review, directed by John Acton and under the influence of Newman, issued an enthusiastic editorial on Döllinger's speech, praising it as "a landmark in the history of the Church in Germany" that would "bear fruit for the whole Catholic world."

To counter those liberal theses, on December 21, 1863, Pius IX sent a Brief to the Archbishop of Munich emphasizing that the claims of Scholasticism and the Roman Congregations have authority over the speculations of any Catholic thinkers or scientists.

Setting aside the effects of this Brief in Germany, let us note that in England this Brief was interpreted as a direct censure of Döllinger's speech, which put the Home & Foreign Review in the worst possible situation. Sir John Acton felt the need to present his submission to the Pope's teachings and to suspend the publication of the Review. Its last issue was April 1864.

When he learned of this decision, Newman wrote to Acton expressing his regret:
My dear Sir John,

I am grieved at your news. The Review seemed to me improving, number after number, both in religious character and literary excellence. It had gained a high place among the periodicals of the day, and in a singulary short time. Protestants prophesied that it was too able to be allowed to last. I wished it to take its place, not only in the Protestant world, but in our Bishop's confidence (W.P. Ward, Life of Cardinal Newman, vol. 1, p. 565).
Further, Newman issued a critique of Pius IX's Brief that concluded by describing the papal document as an "intimidation to every religious man," and he declared that forced by it, he would temporarily cease writing on these issues. This is the first photocopy (1) reproduced below from The Life of Cardinal Newman (vol. 1, pp. 566-567).

Some months before these events, Newman wrote to a friend (his name is not provided in the source) bitterly criticizing the control the Holy See exerted over the English-speaking world through the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith - Propaganda Fidei, referred to as Propaganda. It is another point he shared with the Liberal Catholic agenda. The main part of this document (2) is reproduced below from the same book (vol. 1, pp. 560-561).

The source for these documents is the book The Life of John Henry Newman Based on His Private Journals and Correspondence (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1912, 2 volumes). The author is Wilfrid Philip Ward, the son of a William George Ward, a close friend of Cardinal Newman.

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Posted on February 13, 2010

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