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  • The Relevance of the Ecclesial Message of Newman and Kierkegaard
  • Cornelio Fabro
    Translated by Joshua Furnal*

Originally published as "Il 'Problema' della Chiesa in Newman e Kierkegaard." Newman Studien 10 (1978): 120–139.

A characteristic feature of modern thought is not the contestation of this or that dogma, of one religion or another, but rather the "overcoming" of faith and religion itself. One can see then how the reality of the church, which is the vital organism of religion and dogmas, leaps to the foreground and becomes the primary target of philosophy, which takes consciousness as its primary quality and self-consciousness as its effectual measure. It is not surprising then that—especially in the nineteenth century with the imposition of the modern principle—the church, its nature and function, becomes "problematic" for the point of reference and convergence of faith—its relation to reason and various dogmas—with the autonomous realization of the human being in the world (science) and in history (politics). It is no coincidence that in the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church defended its identity and mission with the concept of faith as "authority," rather than "feeling." If its "authority" falls away, then its unity and historical continuity will collapse along with the will of its founder. Here one can see how Newman and Kierkegaard both converge in an unexpected and almost complementary way.

Just as there has been, for at least a half a century, a Kierkegaard-Renaissance, so also one can speak about a Newman-Renaissance. Although the former has been stimulated especially by Protestant theology—Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Emmanuel Hirsch, for better or for worse, have been the most prominent figures—the latter is predominantly Catholic.1 However, Newman's conversion to the [End Page 126] Catholic Church, radical both intellectually and existentially, opened up the possibility for controversial yet still controvertible "hermeneutical endeavors" with Kierkegaard.

Now, it must be said that the decisive motivation for Newman's passage from Anglicanism to the Catholic Church was his search for the true church and his firm conviction about the identity between the ancient church and the Church of Rome.2 And yet, Newman was committed to resisting Modernism and its theology of immanence with innumerable followers ubique terrarium, regarding the relativity of dogmatic formulations. Today, with the anthropological turn in theology, the phenomenon of the church in the fourth century threatens to repeat itself—as Newman remembered—when the majority of bishops governing the church were Arian and St. Athanasius was left almost alone to combat and defend orthodoxy. It is from the preservation and "authentic" development of dogma, guaranteed uniquely in the Catholic Church, that Newman's ecclesiology matured.3 Newman's motto in this regard coincides with that of Kierkegaard: either/or [aut-aut].

If Athanasius could agree with Arius, St. Cyril with Nestorius, St. Dominic with the Albigenses, or St. Ignatius with Luther, then the two parties coalesce, in a certain assignable time, or by certain felicitously gradual approximations, or with dexterous limitations and concessions, who mutually think light darkness and darkness light. "Delenda est Carthago;" one or other must perish.4

Is there not a certain kind of pluralism that gets disseminated in post-conciliar theology, which often resembles this picture? Does not the promotion of civil well-being, standing in solidarity with society on earth, the promotion of earthly peace, and [End Page 127] acquiring indistinct goods, in effect subordinate theology, and its message of salvation, to that of sociology and economics? Does it not place the established church in service of the "established order?"5 This supposed servitude fundamentally subordinates the church to the state: the state declares this confession as the religion of the state and commits to protect it and to pay the stipends of its ministers—as long as it maintains the right of appointment and governance. The Oxford Movement of 1833 arose to resist the debasement of the church, which was also prevalent in England.6 "The Church should have absolute power over her faith, worship, and teaching," and this is to be found only in the Catholic Church (Diff i, 195).

This is also the case for Kierkegaard, who...


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