Today is the feast day of the Blessed John Henry Newman. The most famous convert to the Catholic Church in nineteenth century England, it is arguable that the Church never had any idea what to do with him and failed to use his gifts to its advantage at the time. But it did not matter. Newman was faithful to the Church, he accepted the difficulties which accompanied his choice, and he got on with the work given him by God. In the century after his death he became steadily more influential, and is now recognised as not only one of the greatest of English prose stylists, but one of the most influential Catholic writers of the last few centuries. His beatification on 19 September 2010 by the most intellectual Pope in centuries was a fitting culmination of his irresistible rise.
Though a formidable intellectual, Newman chose as his motto as a Cardinal the Latin phrase ‘cor ad cor loquitur’ – heart speaks to heart. In this extracts from a sermon from the 1830s, where he reflects on the nature of Christian love, we can perhaps grasp why he did so.
It is expressing the same thing in other words, to say, as we may, that faith and hope are not in themselves necessarily graces, but only as grafted on and found in love. Balaam had faith and hope, but not love. “May I die the death of the righteous!” is an act of hope. “The word that the Lord putteth into my mouth, that will I speak,” is an act of faith; but his conduct showed that neither his faith nor his hope was loving. The servant in the parable, who fell down at his lord’s feet, and begged to be excused his debt, had both faith and hope. He believed his lord able, and he hoped him willing, to forgive him. He went out, and saw a fellow-servant who owed him a small sum, and he behaved at once unmercifully to him, and unthankfully by his lord. He had neither love of God, because he was high-minded, nor love of his brother, because he was hard-hearted. There are then two kinds of faith in God, a good faith and a worthless faith; and two kinds of hope in God, good and worthless: but there are not two kinds of love of God. Love must always be heavenly; it is always the sign of the regenerate. Faith and hope are not in themselves signs, but only that faith “which worketh by love,” and that hope which “loves the thing which God commandeth, and desires that which God doth promise.” In the text it is said, “Though I had all faith, yet without love I am nothing:” it is nowhere said, “Though I have all love, without faith I am nothing.”
Love, then, is the seed of holiness, and grows into all excellences, not indeed destroying their peculiarities, but making them what they are. A weed has stalk, leaves, and flowers; so has a sweet-smelling plant; because the latter is sweet-smelling, it does not cease to have stalk, leaves, and flowers; but they are all pleasant, because they come of it. In like manner, the soul which is quickened with the spirit of love has faith and hope, and a number of faculties and habits, some of which it might have without love, and some not; but any how, in that soul one and all exist in love, though distinct from it; as stalk, leaves, and flowers are as distinct and entire in one plant as in another, yet vary in their quality, according to the plant’s nature.