I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity… You ought to be able to bring out what you feel and what you mean, as well as to feel and mean it

John Henry Newman didn’t find his way straight to Catholicism.  At school he became an evangelical Calvinist and later an Anglican priest. It wasn’t until he was 45 that he became Catholic.

It was a brave move, as anti-Catholicism had been central to British culture since the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, and particularly so at this time as the Pope had just re-established the Catholic hierarchy in Britain.

The British press saw this as being an attempt by the Papacy to claim jurisdiction over England, and it resulted in violence, with Catholic priests being pelted in the streets and Catholic churches being attacked.  It’s suprising then that in this climate Newman could not only chose to be Catholic, but also challenged Catholicism to rise to new heights.  Newman was certain that an integral part of the maintenance of the faith was the responsibility of the laity

He wrote:

“I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity… You ought to be able to bring out what you feel and what you mean, as well as to feel and mean it”

and

‘Your strength lies in your God and your conscience; therefore it lies not in your number. It lies not in your number any more than in intrigue, or combination or worldly wisdom. What I desiderate in Catholics is the gift of bringing out what their religion is. I want an intelligent, well‑instructed laity; I am not denying you are such already: but I mean to be severe, and, as some would say, exorbitant in my demands, I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth,….to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism. In all times the laity have been the measure of the Catholic spirit; they saved the Irish Church three centuries ago, and they betrayed the Church in England’[iii].

Life seems tough for us today, with anti-Catholic feeling still present, and growing secularity an ever-present temptation, but we’re not coming out of a golden age where being Catholic was oh so easy.  Life has been tough for Catholics in this country for a long time.  If anything it’s easier for us than it was for Catholics in Cardinal Newman’s time and his call for an educated laity still resonates today.   Only by truly knowing our beliefs and our history can we defend it and tell other people about it in a way that makes sense to them.

If you’d like to find out more about your faith, here are some resources:

tntbristol.co.uk/index.php/2015/01/hot-topics-january-to-march-2015/

www.newman.org.uk




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