Monday, 27 September 2010

The Political Thought of John Henry Newman

This is the title of a book written by Terence Kenny in 1957, and now out of print. A search on has just revealed two copies, second hand, available at the rather exorbitant prices of £50 and £52! The search did not reveal any other similar, more recent study of Cardinal Newman's political thought.

I have been reading this for the last month or so. The pages I have just read this evening suggested particularly strongly something that I had begun to reflect on just before Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the UK. If Terence Kenny's presentation of Cardinal Newman's thought is correct, then there is a striking parallel between Newman and Pope Benedict's view of the part to be played by religious belief in the life of a nation and in the political life of the state. Pope Benedict's address at Westminster Hall, for example, could be referenced at some of its key points to the thought of John Henry Newman: the need for an ethical foundation to political discourse, religion seen as a vital contributor to the national conversation, a "purifying role" for religion with regard to the secular exercise of reason and of political activity, a rightful secularity according to which religious faith does not seek to impose solutions of a political nature beyond its competence. John Henry Newman would express all of this in a radically different language and, in some ways, a language appropriate to a different historical context. But it is interesting to read a book about this aspect of Cardinal Newman's thought and to be able to recognise in it some of Benedict XVI's key themes.

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