The masterpiece is "Anglican Difficulties" by the Venerable Servant of God John Henry Cardinal Newman, and which has received a new edition graced with a superb Introduction and additional Notes by Gifford Lecturer (1974-76) and 1987 Templeton Prize Winner Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. (The publisher is REAL-VIEW Books, 1436 Devonshire Lane, Port Huron, MI 48060 www.realviewbooks.com).
Renowned as an historian and philosopher of science, Fr. Jaki has also distinguished himself as a specialist in Ecclesiology (i.e., the study of the nature of the Church of Christ), as witnessed by his seminal "New Tendencies in Ecclesiology" published in French (Rome 1957). No more perceptive scholar could have been found to comment on Newman's remarkable book amidst the present disintegration of the Anglican Communion. In his XII superb Lectures, as Fr. Jaki observes, Newman overcame his reluctance:
"to give a glimpse to the public of his own spiritual odyssey which could be a pattern for Anglo-Catholics. Thus, a decade and a half before the 'Apologia Pro Vita Sua' the printed page carried in Newman's own words the outline of the reasonings that made him discover in the Church of Rome the very Church founded by Jesus Christ. Moreover, unlike in the 'Apologia', that odyssey had for its background a systematic exposure of the non-Catholicity of the Anglican Church as well as Newman's most sustained discussion of the four Notes (or Marks) of the true Church."
With incomparable language and implacable logic, Newman thoroughly destroyed the illusion of so-called Anglo-Catholics that the Church of England constituted one of Three Branches of Christ's Catholic Church. "Blinded by the glitter of their long-cherished image of the Church Catholic", such Anglo-Catholics failed to realize that the Church of England was in fact a thoroughly Protestant and Erastian body fastened to the infamous 39 Articles, and was in no way a "Via Media" between Protestantism and "Romanism." Their theory of "Via Media" was a mere mirage and their Oxford Movement a "foreign body in the National Church."
Fr. Jaki quotes Fr. Louis Bouyer's well-known book on Newman where can be read the French theologian's judgment that never before had the doctrinal inconsistencies of Anglicanism "been more pitilessly exposed." It must be added that such exposure was done in that poignant and exquisite manner which was to distinguish Newman as a preacher of the Word of God. In these XII Lectures devoted to the truth concerning the ecclesial status of the Anglican Establishment, Newman enthralls the reader as "Cor ad cor loquitur: Heart speaks unto heart." In the words of Newman's Protestant friend and future biographer, Richard Hutton:
"I shall never forget the impression which his voice and manner, which opened upon me for the first time in these lectures, made on me. Never did a voice seem better adapted to persuade without irritating. Singularly sweet, perfectly free from any dictatorial note, and yet rich in all the cadences proper to the expression of pathos, of wonder, and of ridicule, there was still nothing in it that anyone could property describe as insinuating, for its simplicity, and frankness, and freedom from the half-smothered notes which express indirect purpose, was as remarkable as its sweetness, its freshness, and its gentle distinctiveness."
(quoted on page xxiii)
The Servant of God would not sin against the Light. It was his indefatigable devotion to truth which drove him to recognize that Christ's Church must be infallible and that the charism of infallibility graces the See of Peter as that perduring Rock which upholds the entire visible structure of the Church of the Living God amidst the storms and vicissitudes of history.
Fr. Jaki has no patience for those soft-peddling "ecumenical Newmanists" who:
"prefer to keep under cover statements of his such as 'The essential idea of Catholicism is the Church's infallibility' and 'All depends on the supremacy of Rome' and 'Those who take part with Peter, are on the winning side'. This utter loyalty to Rome was ringing out from the Lectures from the very start where he spoke of the inability of the National Church to cope with the turmoils of history. 'One vessel alone can ride out those waves; it is the boat of Peter, the ark of God'."
Who can doubt that Newman's words are more timely than ever before for English, American, and Canadian Catholics? As Fr. Jaki notes:
"this is a time when in so many parts of the world, but especially with highly developed parts, Catholics push for a Catholicism subservient to a nature which is American, Dutch, French, German or what not, and look for a pattern of Anglicanism."
With regards to the present "debacle" of women's ordination in the Anglican Communion, Jaki declares "Rome the only antidote."
Newman's brilliant Lectures provide one of the most striking commentaries ever written on the Marks of Unity, Catholicity, Holiness, and Apostolicity which the true Church possesses. The force of his demonstration concerning these marks can be appreciated only by reading the Lectures themselves. The latter constitute an intellectual feast which is, moreover, unsparing in the condemnation of counterfeit religion. This Newman classic should be in the personal library of every Catholic who has a special interest in Apologetics.
Last April I was able to attend a Solemn Mass at the Chiesa Nova in Rome that was celebrated by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity on behalf of the International Centre of Newman Friends for the 150th Anniversary of Newman's conversion to the Catholic Church. It was a splendid occasion.
Readers interested in Information concerning the International Centre of Newman Friends which constitutes a part of the activities of the "Society of the Work" are welcome to write for a Newsletter from the Centre at: Via Aurelia 257, I-00165, Rome, Italy.