Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.



  12 Days on Pilgrimage in August
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).

Interiority is a golden thread that is present from St. John Henry Newman’s Anglican years through his Catholic years. If it is true that he was an absent father at Vatican II, one undeniable reason is that the development of doctrine which characterized all of the serious discussions during the Council was anticipated by his yet unequaled historical study of seven notes, markers, or tests to discern true development of doctrine.[2] A second reason, his developing Mariology, needs retrieval, not for its apparent severity, but for its truth. (I have written about Newman, the development of doctrine and his Mariology.)[3] A third, Newman’s interiority, is the scope of this reflection, for in interiority he found the influences of his friends, the events of his past, and growth in intimacy with God.

By 1845, privileged with an Oxford education, erudite and a deeply committed Anglican, Newman diagnosed and lamented a new world of assumption that had already dispatched the old belief system and its impact on him and his reform-minded Tractarians. Newman and his Tractarians were critically diagnosing the problem of a particular form of using reason without faith[4] that was leading more and more to the incoherent position he met at Oxford.[5] Real concrete interiority as the indelible mark of a human being is a theme that spans Newman’s work. Interiority became the antinomy to enthusiastic and self-congratulatory modernity that was being driven by belief that it should be reproducing itself. The evacuation of the interiority of the person, a defining mark of rationalism, is the great difference between the rationalists and Newman.

Imagine if the mind were to re-present the world and function normatively as an impersonal calculator of probabilities. Newman’s argument for interiority is based on the convergence of probabilities. The difficulties that continue are the prerogatives of free inquiry and the rights of private judgment as interpreted by modernity as rising above the thinking person. If that person has a religious training about virtue, charity in justice, even holiness, Newman was concerned about the corrosive effect of John Locke’s arguments portraying the mind as static and passive and the person as intrinsically atomistic, a theory that is the opposite of holistic. At stake is the integral development of the whole person, which has implications regarding the responsibility of every person. Newman and his Tractarian friends were making the turn towards the concrete and integral form of interiority, while rationalism in general and rationalist forms of Christianity were advancing an abstract and atomistic version in modernity.

Retrieval of the seventeenth century Anglican divines (Hooker, Bull, Lancelot Andrewes) by Newman and the Tractarians may have held the highest degree of conviction for Newman at that time, because they retain key elements of the pre-Reformation Christian period in England. Newman used all the resources of rhetoric to persuade his contemporaries and us later moderns to know how to critically engage and to call out counterfeits of Christianity. I am limiting this reflection to the claim that the indelible mark of a human being is real concrete interiority and taking for granted that the backdrop of modern ideological forces at work are known, even if not all. The counterfeit of Christianity asserts that human beings are fully explicable in rationalist or naturalist terms. To a Christian who believes in mystery, especially the gift of the Son of God (Jn 1:14) as Savior and Redeemer, the rationalist is eliminating mystery and replacing it with problem. The restrictions put on Christianity by the rationalistic mindset threaten its survival.

Newman’s interiority and Vatican II “call out” Christian counterfeits. Lumen Gentium, an engine driving Vatican II [n. 37], presents the responsibilities of laity with rights to receive in abundance from spiritual shepherds the goods of the Church, via the word of God and the sacraments. The laity help the shepherds without usurping their responsibilities. Another driving engine of Vatican II, The Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes,[6] may be a metaphor for the interiority that animated Newman as Anglican and Catholic. “All of the faithful, whether clerics or laity, possess a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and of expressing their mind with humility and fortitude in those matters on which they enjoy competence” [n. 62]. No free passes are given to criminal shepherds or to usurpers.

When Pope Saint John XXIII opened the Council in 1962, he began with his preference for the medicine of mercy rather than severity. “Holy Mother Church rejoices by the singular gift of Divine Providence and the help of the virgin Mother of God. The problem from the beginning of the Church remains: people are either with Him and His Church or not.” He knew that it will no longer do to trot out stale old arguments as if they could meet the challenges presented by the emergent secular world that finds them incomprehensible.[7] In 1849, Newman [8] lamented that the Reformers made a concerted effort to have Catholic doctrine on Mary forgotten. They plotted the overthrow of Christian faith in the sixteenth century and found that reviling and blaspheming the prerogatives of Mary would get the world to dishonor the Mother. Newman’s  “call out” was to those who would enervate Christianity by dishonoring the Mother. They were missing the consequence that by dishonoring her, dishonoring of her Son would follow.[9] How prophetic! Surprise of surprises, Newman became the greatest Catholic Mariologist of the nineteenth century. “The truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord” (John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth).

Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv. Univ. of Notre Dame,


[1] C. O’Regan, “Newman and the Affliction of Modernity” in Church Life Journal, McGrath Institute for Church Life University of Notre Dame, (7 October 2022). See the contradictions claiming followers.
[2] The seven notes are: 1.) preservation of type; 2.) continuity of principles; 3.) the power of assimilation; 4.) logical sequence; 5.) anticipation of the future; 6.) conserving action upon its past; 7.) lasting vigor.
[3] E. Ondrako, Newman and Gladstone, 1994, Rebuild My Church, 2021, Remembering Forward, 2022.
[4] See Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, Encyclical Letter, 1998, for his update of Newman’s worry.
[5] R. Whately was Newman’s mentor. By 1828, he was drifting dangerously in the direction of rationalism.
[6] See The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, ch. 4, n. 37.
[7] C. O’Regan, “Newman and the Affliction of Modernity,” 2022.
[8] Fr. Fehlner is as direct about the hatred of the Reformers for the thought of Bl. John Duns Scotus.
[9] J. H. Newman, Discourses to Mixed Congregations (London: uniform edition, 1849), discourse 17, 18.
[10] S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 7, Preface.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
Feast Day of Saint Crispin & Saint Crispinian ~ October 25, 2022

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