The Newman Effect

Today the Church commemorates the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman. Bill Portier, in a recent post, invoked Newman to elucidate some of what he finds in Pope Francis. Portier writes:

In The Grammar of Assent, Blessed John Henry Newman distinguished notional and real assent. If it is indeed possible to have a purely notional content of the faith, then Pope Francis has not changed it. In his Ignatian appeal to the imagination and the affections, however, as when he speaks of Jesus in terms of accompaniment and mercy, he puts many more people in a position to give real assent to the content of the faith. Proselytism may be nonsense, to quote Francis, but this looks a lot like evangelization, the kind of thing the chief pastor and teacher of all the faithful should be about.

I agree fully with the above and have long insisted that to promote the movement from a merely notional assent to a real assent to the faith is the heart of so much of ecclesial ministry, whether preaching, catechizing, or engaging in spiritual counselling.

Or in Francis more pungent terms: to assist people (all of us) to move beyond the pastry shop into the soup kitchen.

Both for Newman and Francis the Cross of Christ is the Measure of the World.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

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