Writing from the first Catholic home of John Henry Cardinal Newman, who lived here at Maryvale Institute from 1846-1848, I am struck once again by the profound links between Newman, for whose beatification we continue to pray this year, and St Paul, whose life we celebrate in a particular way from June 29th, 2008 until June 29th, 2009. Both of them were, of course, ‘Men of Letters’; but much more than this, they are united by two great themes in their writings: the converting power of doctrine and the parallel converting power of personal influence.
Newman had a particular conviction concerning the vital role of doctrine in the Christian life. This conviction emerged from his own life experiences. In the Apologia he writes, ‘When I was fifteen (in the autumn of 1816) a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influences of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through God’s mercy, have never been effaced or obscured.’ During his life, Newman had to fight against the ‘anti-dogmatic principle’ which characterized the evangelical movement of the time. But now he had discovered the converting impact of doctrine. Creeds and dogmas, he said, ‘live in the one idea they are designed to express’. Dogmas are alive; they are living, saving truths and they unite us to the One who alone has the power to save. The heart and the head belong together, and together they lead us to the One who is to be served faithfully with both.
St Paul, also, writes powerfully of the central doctrines of the Faith and of the living Christ dwelling in them. We who were once slaves to sin, he reminds his readers, are now ‘obedient from the heart’ to the rule of teaching, or doctrine, to which our lives have been committed (Rom 6:17). This teaching is folly to those who do not understand it and who are perishing; but to us, says St Paul, who are being saved, ‘it is the power of God’ (1 Cor 1:18). Paul contrasts what he calls ‘plausible words of wisdom’ with the ‘secret and hidden wisdom of God’, a wisdom based on revelation and taught to the Church by the Spirit. This latter wisdom is saving truth, the wisdom of revealed truth. It releases us from being ‘estranged and hostile in mind’ (Col 1:21), bringing us to a transformation and renewal of the mind (Rom 12:2).