Our Pattern of Faith

From “A Sermon Preached Before the University of Oxford” (1843)

Mary’s faith did not end in a mere acquiescence in divine providence and revelations; as the text informs us, she ‘pondered’ them. When the shepherds came and told of the vision of angels which they had seen at the time of the nativity, and how one of them announced that the infant in her arms was the “Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” while others did but wonder, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Again, when her son and Savior had come to the age of twelve years and had left her for awhile in his Father’s service, and had been found, to her surprise, in the temple amid the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions, and had, on her addressing him, vouchsafed to justify his conduct, we are told, “His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” And accordingly, at the marriage feast at Cana, her faith anticipated his first miracle, and she said to the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Thus St. Mary is our pattern of faith, both in the reception and in the study of divine truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she develops it; not enough to submit the reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zechariah, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing.

And thus she symbolizes to us, not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church also, who have to investigate, and weigh, and define, as well as to profess the gospel; to draw the line between truth and heresy; to anticipate or remedy the various aberrations of wrong reason; to combat pride and recklessness with their own arms; and thus to triumph over the sophist and the innovator.

St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was among the most widely influential English theologians of the nineteenth century. One of the principal leaders of Anglicanism’s Catholic revival at Oxford in the 1830’s, he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, and was an Oratorian for the remainder of his life. He was made a cardinal shortly before his death and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2019. His Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, first published in 1843, were written in his years as an Anglican priest, and explore his understanding of Christian belief. His feast day on the Roman Calendar is October 9 and he is commemorated on other days on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican Churches.

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