On this day in 1845 a significant event took place. It was an event that would figure prominently in my own life as well as the life of many others throughout the years. The event in question was the reception of Blessed John Henry Newman from the Church of England into the fullness of the Catholic Faith. He, having been an Anglican priest, was subsequently ordained a Catholic priest and later made a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010 (which happens to be the same date, in 2004, that I was ordained as an Anglican priest). The reason he is so important for me and many others (former Anglican priests as well as laity) is that he was our forerunner. His courage of leaving all behind in order to follow his conscience in regards to his faith is something that has inspired countless people to also leave everything behind for the cause of the Kingdom of God. His writings have taught many Anglicans the Truths of the Catholic Faith. His life, in fact, is an enduring witness of the relentless pursuit of the Truth. I cannot help thinking that if he had not followed the path that was laid before him then I may not be where I am right now: a priest in Christ’s one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. And, even more than that, without Newman’s witness I might not have become Catholic at all.
So, how does Bl. Cardinal Newman fit into my current series on Islam, you ask? It is because of something he wrote in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. There he writes,
True religion is the summit and perfection of false religions; it combines in one whatever there is of good and true separately remaining in each. And in like manner the Catholic Creed is for the most part the combination of separate truths, which heretics have divided among themselves, and err in dividing. So that, in matter of fact, if a religious mind were educated in and sincerely attached to some form of heathenism or heresy, and then were brought under the light of truth, it would be drawn off from error into the truth, not by losing what it had, but by gaining what it had not, not by being unclothed, but by being ‘clothed upon,’ ‘that mortality may be swallowed by of life.’ That same principle of faith which attaches it at first to the wrong doctrine would attach it to the truth; and that portion of its original doctrine, which was to be cast off as absolutely false, would not be directly rejected, but indirectly, in the reception of the truth which is its opposite. True conversion is ever of a positive, not a negative character.
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 6th ed., 2005, p.200-1
The point that concerns us here, in regards to individual Muslims and their possibility of conversion, is here, “…if a religious mind were educated in and sincerely attached to some form of heathenism or heresy, and then were brought under the light of truth, it would be drawn off from error into the truth, not by losing what it had, but by gaining what it had not.” What this means is that those sincere Muslims who are earnestly seeking God through their religion would, if confronted with the Truth of the Catholic Faith and received it in an unbiased manner, be converted to the Truth of the Catholic Faith. This is because if they are truly searching for God, for the Truth, then when confronted with the fullness of that Truth which they seek they would not be able turn away from it. But, of course, this would depend upon them being able to hear the Gospel in a unbiased manner, meaning with no preconceived notions about the Catholic Faith. But that seems unlikely. But still, we must hold to the hope that those who have ears to hear will hear the Truth, accept it, and live it out in their lives.