Cardinal Newman Anticipated Vatican II & Lay Participation

Cardinal Newman Anticipated Vatican II & Lay Participation October 11, 2019

Here Cardinal Newman refers to the fact that his thought on the role of the laity (which he had been writing about in this year) could not be received during his own lifetime, but might be a hundred years later. Sure enough, Vatican II (1962-1965) highly encouraged a greater role for the laity in the functioning of the Church: particularly in outreach.

Did I tell you that I have given up [being editor of] the Rambler? . . . The July number is nearly entirely written by me. . . . Our Bishop interfered immediately after the May Number and asked me to resign it, which I at once promised him I would do. . . . I did all I could to ascertain God’s will, and that being the case, I am sure good will come of my taking it – I am of opinion that the Bishops see only one side of things, and I have a mission, as far as my own internal feelings go, against evils which I see. On the other hand, I have always preached that things which are really useful, still are done, according to God’s will, at one time, not at another – and that, if you attempt at a wrong time, what in itself is right, you perhaps become a heretic or schismatic. What I may aim at may be real and good, but it may be God’s will it should be done a hundred years later. . . . When I am gone, it will be seen perhaps that persons stopped me from doing a work which I might have done. God overrules all things. Of course it is discouraging to be out of joint with the time, and to be snubbed and stopped as soon as I begin to act. (Letters & Diaries, v. 19; To Henry Wilberforce, 17 July 1859)

Five years later, long before his time, and in line with the real “spirit of Vatican II”, he wrote about the Catholic laity:

The same dreadful jealousy of the laity, which has ruined things in Dublin, is now at the bottom of this unwillingness to let our youths go to Oxford. I am far from denying that there are strong reasons against that step, but these are not at the root of the dread of it. Propaganda and our leading Bishops fear the natural influence of the laity: which would be their greatest, or (humanly speaking) is rather their only, defence against the world. (Letters & Diaries, v. 21; To T. W. Allies, 30 Nov. 1864)

On both sides the Channel, the deep difficulty is the jealousy and fear which is entertained in high quarters of the laity. . . . Nothing great or living can be done except when men are self governed and independent: this is quite consistent with a full maintenance of ecclesiastical supremacy. St Francis Xavier wrote to St Ignatius on his knees; but who will say that St Francis was not a real centre of action? (Ibid., v. 21; To Robert Ornsby, 2 Dec. 1864)

And again in 1870, he observed, regarding Catholic laypeople’s responsibility to interpret and apply Church proclamations:

[A]ny declaration of the Pope’s, if he were ruled infallible, would require explanation in the concrete in another way also – not only as to its application, but its interpretation. As lawyers explain acts of Parliament, so theologians have ever explained the dicta of Popes and Councils – and that explanation, when received generally, is the true Catholic doctrine. Hence, I have never been able to see myself that the ultimate decision rests with any but the general Catholic intelligence. And so I understand it to be implied in the ’Securus iudicat orbis terrarum.’ (Letters & Diaries, v. 25; To Robert Edmund Froude, 30 March 1870)


See My Three Newman Quotations Books (e-books only $2.99)

The Quotable Newman, Vol. II (Aug. 2013, 290p)
Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.

My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2500 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will start receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers. Thanks! See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago). May God abundantly bless you.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment