The Christian Heritage Centre

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Newman 101 conference

Newman 101: Why Newman Matters Today

Recordings of the online colloquium celebrating St Newman’s 10th anniversary of beatification and 1st anniversary of canonisation.


***The recordings are made available freely with the request for a donation to support our costs.***

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Newman as Friend & Pastor
in the Work of Meriol Trevor

Newman on Imagination:
Callista Revisited

Questions & Conclusion

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A change of Christian climate, and its deniers

Friday 7th February 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

A change of Christian climate, and its deniers

Stefan Kaminski

That there is a change in the Earth’s climate is an undisputable fact. The significance of that change is debated by some. Others label these people as ‘climate change deniers’. However, there has also been a different sort of ‘climate change’ going on for a while, which also has its own set of rather vocal deniers.

In last month’s article on Christian heritage, Sr Emanuela Edwards wrote eloquently of the significance of the Magi’s journey. She noted their wisdom and courage in recognising and following the star, which guided them to the full revelation of the Incarnate God. 

Her article was a call to Christians today to offer such a “guiding star” to the people of our own times by their witness to the faith. The particular need for visible ‘stars’ in contemporary society was already present in St Pope Paul VI’s time: she noted that he had already identified a “rupture between the Gospel and culture as the drama of our time”. 

Christianity has provided the general ‘climate’ for European culture for the best part of the last two millennia. It has shaped the greatest thinkers, writers, artists and scientists who stand unchallenged at the pinnacle of what Europe has to offer. From Augustine to John Paul II, from Agnelli to Pugin, from Albertus Magnus to George Lemaître: they were all formed by a certain worldview, which has gradually been divorced and discarded by modern thinking. 

That worldview, which the scholastic thinking of the Medieval period had elaborated and expressed so clearly, understood the entire cosmos as being in an inherent relationship to God. Creation is not seen merely as a onetime, distant event somehow linked to God, who is then subsequently written out of everything that happens since; creation is a continual act of holding everything in being, intentionally guiding every development in the cosmos, however random these may appear to us.

The Gothic masterpiece of Amiens Cathedral

 Frank Sheed (of Sheed & Ward publishers), described it as “nothingness worked upon by omnipotence”. Deliciously succinct, this phrase captures the two essential facts about our world, from a Christian point of view: it would not exist if God did not will it; it only continues to exist because God continues to will it.

This is the perspective that underwrote our Western culture, providing direction and impetus for both the sciences and the arts. The meeting of faith and culture was not simply a convenient intertwining of two parallel strands: culture was shaped by faith. Nonetheless, many academics today insist on minimising, if not altogether setting aside, the religious dynamic when delving into the minds of those cultural icons whom we all admire. A bit like today’s climate change deniers (but in reverse), they attempt to write the significance of a previous, Christian climate out of the textbooks. 

One such icon whose Christian adherence and life is frequently downplayed is the Victorian polymath, John Ruskin. He was the subject of our first evening talk of the year at The Christian Heritage Centre. Professor Keith Hanley, of Lancaster University, offered a fascinating insight into John Ruskin’s Travels on the Continent, providing us with a view of European art through this particular set of English eyes. Brought up as a devout evangelical, Ruskin had clear ideas of what defined good landscape painting. As the epigraph to his five-volume series on modern landscape painting stated, ‘Nature presented the laws behind God’s creation for mankind. Landscapes, therefore, were worthy insofar as they revealed the truth, the beauty and the intelligence of God’s creation.’

John Ruskin

In Ruskin’s opinion, the realism of William Turner was the epitome of this artistic form, which formed the comfortable confines of Ruskin’s artistic world for his early years. 

But Ruskin’s first solo trip to Italy changed all that. There, he was confronted – and indeed, “utterly crushed”, as he put it – by the revelation of the full ‘Art of Man’. His initial encounter with Jacopo Tintoretto’s work in the School of St Roch, and in particular with Tintoretto’s Crucifixion, opened his eyes to the world of “theological symbolism of the entire Christian scheme of redemption”, as Prof Hanley expressed it. Thereafter, while his views continued to evolve, they were marked by a new and lively sensibility to the transcendent world, which informed and brought a whole new significance to the material order. 

Indeed, his very last work, on the Gothic cathedral of Amiens, recognised the full drama of the medieval worldview that is so wonderfully expressed in the cathedral’s West Front: the interconnectedness of everything, from the lowliest elements of creation to the highest personages in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in a single, allembracing path to Christ.

Our next evening talk at The Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst will pick up another figure who has been recently “rediscovered” and again often remoulded to the post-Christian thinking of today: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. His realism, often considered in purely psychologically terms, has even led some to consider him a 20th century painter in spirit. Yet his genius is firmly grounded in the dynamism between the spiritual and earthly worlds, and his ability to communicate this. 

Providing a “guiding star” to the one true Creator and Redeemer of the world in today’s society also requires being able to point to and reclaim the fruits that have been borne by our faith over the course of its history. 

There are plenty of voices ready to point out the apparent defects of Christianity and the problems they claim it has caused; we need more voices that can speak eloquently of the truth and beauty that Christianity has engendered over the centuries in our Western culture.

 Stefan Kaminski is the Director of the Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst.

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Culture is the dimension in which our faith is brought to life​

Friday 5th July 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Culture is the dimension in which our precious faith is brought to life

Stefan Kaminski

The term ‘heritage centre’ carries with it a certain risk: that of associating it with old, even if valuable, artefacts, which do not necessarily have particular relevance to today beyond informing us of a bygone era.


Heritage, however, goes well beyond the material realm: in fact, the dictionary definition speaks of “cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations”. Of course, such cultural traditions find a certain embodiment and expression in works and artefacts; but to fixate purely on these as the sum total of our ‘heritage’ is to do a disservice to our cultural patrimony. When we do so, the concept of culture itself also becomes impoverished as a result.


When Pope St John Paul II addressed UNESCO in 1980 barely two years after his election, he emphatically reminded the organisation that the diverse traditions and eras of spiritual heritage and culture all have a common ground in our common human nature. Different cultures find their meeting place in the human being because culture “is a characteristic of human life as such”, he told the assembly. He went on to say that, “Human life is culture” because the cultural dimension is what distinguishes human life over and above any other animal life. Culture is therefore the societal expression of the spiritual and rational dimension of the human being: indeed, “culture is the specific way of man’s existing and being”.


This fact John Paul II traces back to the first accounts of humanity in the first two chapters of Genesis. There, the Lord’s entrustment of the earth to the dominion of mankind and His command to “cultivate the earth” is intrinsically linked to man’s (in the non-gender specific sense) creation in the image of God. From the relatively simple beginning of cultivating the soil, man’s God-given intellect enables the creation and nurture of a tradition of artistic creativity and scientific enquiry, forming the cultural dimension of the life of human society.

Pope John Paul II addressing UNESCO IN 1980

If John Paul II insisted on the unity of faith and reason, he similarly often repeated the mantra that ‘faith must become culture’. It could be said in fact, that culture is the primary dimension in which the unity of faith and reason should become visible. The fruits of our intellect – our work, our understanding of the world, our creative output – should be shaped by our faith, if indeed our faith is genuinely integrated as part of our lives. Such a culture will naturally be authentically human because it seeks what is good, beautiful and true: ultimately the Creator.

This is especially important in the home, the school and the parish, where faith is first handed on. If a good catechesis is not to find itself accused of hypocrisy, it needs be complemented by the promotion and nourishment of a culture that embodies the same principles. This requires Catholics who not only understand, believe and practice the tenets of their faith, but who have both the courage to challenge what does not lead to God, as well as the ability to speak their faith through what is true, good and beautiful in our culture. 

On the other hand, it is worth remembering the educative power of culture, regardless of its merits. The “primacy and essential task of culture… is education”, John Paul II reminded UNESCO. To disregard and dismiss as a fad those things in our culture that lead away from the truth and are objectively harmful is to lead astray our children. To leave at a distance that which is good and true in our culture is to deprive the next generation.

For this reason, part of the task that the Christian Heritage Centre has set itself is to promote an appreciation and understanding of the Christian influences in our cultural tradition. This heritage is not one that belongs to the history books or to a dim-and-distant past: it belongs to every modern-day Christian, since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever” (Heb 13:8). Every Christian-informed cultural work is a potential catechetical tool, just as the highest creative achievements of the human spirit, be they Bach, Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Rembrandt, remain valid as exemplars of artistic and technical genius and as inspiration for the rest of time.

The Christian Heritage Centre’s first event is thus a study weekend on faith and literature, exploring two key themes in English writings: our place within the world and our own vision for ourselves. The Christian tradition has much to offer on both fronts: from the fundamental goodness of creation to virtue-based character formation, Chesterton, Austen, Green and Tolkien (amongst others) have all incorporated Christian wisdom into their writings.

The weekend will offer both lectures and guided group discussions, within a framework of prayer, to enable participants to have a deeper understanding of the Christian thinking behind some of the best-loved pieces in English literature. Alongside a broad selection of English texts, there will also be a certain focus on J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. Whilst it is offered with a wide audience in mind, the weekend will be of particular interest to parents and teachers concerned with the moral and cultural formation of their children and pupils, as well as to students of the humanities. Not to mention, of course, anyone simply wanting a weekend perusing literary classics in a beautiful setting!

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of The Christian Heritage Centre

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China’s attacks on Christianity will fail while the spirit of Mateo Ricci lives on

Friday 7th September 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

China’s attacks on Christianity will fail while the spirit of Mateo Ricci lives on

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Last week, two Catholic priests, Fr Wang Yiqin and Fr Li Shidong were forcibly removed from their Chinese parishes for holding a youth summer camp that had not been authorised by China’s Communist authorities.

Increasing attacks on religious faith – against Chinese Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs – looks like part of a new Maoist Cultural Revolution. The shocking sight of bulldozed churches and mosques – including the obliteration of the  famous Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province – is reminiscent of Stalin’s destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries.

A Chinese church is destroyed by the Communist authorities.

Yet, where was the outrage to these events – including dramatic video of that 50,000 capacity church being dynamited?

This determined crackdown began in February when President Xi’s new religious regulations come into force. These require the registration of all religious bodies, which must be ‘Sinoised’ and freed from ‘foreign’ influences and rebuilt on ‘socialist’ principles. Intriguingly, the well cared for tomb, in Beijing, of a 16th century Italian Jesuit missionary, Mateo Ricci SJ – left untouched, on Mao’s own orders, during the Cultural Revolution’s desecration of the graves of foreigners – suggests that it must be possible for States to reach a proper accommodation with religion.

One of the rooms in the newly built Theodore House – part of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst (CHC) – celebrates the memory of Matteo Ricci. The Trustees of the CHC believe Ricci’s own story is instructive and should give encouragement in the face of contemporary persecution.

The Cambridge scholar, Mary Laven, in Mission to China, charts Ricci’s encounter with China and her people. She reminds us that Christianity is not a new religion in China. In 635, in the seventh century, Olopen, a Nestorian monk, travelled to the Eastern city of Changan (today’s Xi’an); and there were other sporadic, later attempts (including that of St Francis Xavier), to take Christianity to China.

But it was Matteo Ricci’s arrival which would lead to more than 2,000 conversions and to the widespread dissemination of the Christian narrative. And it is Ricci’s intelligent approach – based on friendship and respect – which should inspire us today.

On reaching China the Europeans initially shaved their heads and dressed as monks but soon realised that by identifying with Buddhist and Taoist idolatry they were failing to reach the literati – the educated Confucian elite. So, Ricci chose instead to dress and behave as a Confucian scholar – engaging China’s culture and leadership through science, books and reason – fides et ratio.

Matteo Ricci's statue still stands proudly in Beijing (below) – out-lasting Mao’s cynical Cultural Revolution, a symbol of China’s Christian heritage

‘The Chinese have a wonderful intelligence, natural and acute,’ he wrote, ’from which, if we could teach our sciences, not only would they have great success among these eminent men, but it would also be a means of introducing them easily to our holy law and they would never forget such a benefit.’

Unlike his more aggressive Portuguese and Spanish counterparts, whose presence in Macao became a source of conflict with the Chinese authorities, Ricci’s admiring embrace of Chinese culture, language and customs, gradually gave him a following in many circles.

Ricci’s publication of his world map, the Mappamondo, along with translations of Western classical scholarship; his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics; his decision to import hitherto unknown musical instruments, such as the harpsichord, along with Venetian prisms and mechanical clocks, all gained him acceptance and, despite occasional attempts to close the missions, the ultimate forbearance of the Emperor.

His reasoned approach also bore spiritual fruit – with the Jesuit’s work blessed by healings and miracles. In his diary, Ricci wrote: ‘From morning to night, I am kept busy discussing the doctrines of our faith. Many desire to forsake their idols and become Christians’.

Ricci brought the hugely admired Plantin Bible to China – eight gilded folio volumes with printed parallel texts in Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. His True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven was printed and distributed widely, drawing heavily on Aquinas but also appropriating Confucian ideas to bolster the Christian cause.

He brilliantly repositioned the important Chinese custom of ancestor worship by tracing everything back to ‘the first ancestor’ – the Creator, the Lord of Heaven. It was a later repudiation by the Holy See of this interpretation which would end the Emperor’s patronage of the mission and the expulsion of Jesuits.

Ricci’s legacy includes some of the oldest astronomical instruments

In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV terminated any further discussion of the issue; a decree which was repealed only in 1938. Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Princeps Pastorum, rehabilitated Ricci’s methodology and reputation saying Ricci should be “the model of missionaries.” Ricci’s other 16th century writings were his Catechism and a treatise On Friendship, building on Confucius’ belief, expressed in the Analects, that ‘To have friends coming from distant places – is that not delightful?’ Simultaneously Ricci introduced his readers to Cicero’s assertion that “the reasons for friendship are reciprocal need and mutual help.” Amicitia perfecta – perfect friendship – was, for Ricci, the highest of ideals. Certainly the Chinese came to value him as a true friend.

On his death, on 11th May 1610, he was uniquely accorded a burial site in Beijing by the Emperor – which, according to Laven was “an extraordinary coup, which testified to the success of nearly 30 years of careful networking and diplomacy.”

His legacy included astronomical instruments and installations brought by Jesuits to Beijing, which – like his tomb – remained untouched even during China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution.

An even more enduring memory has been Ricci’s admirable willingness to find ways through difficult situations and his innate respect for Chinese culture and civilisation – something to inspire both the Church and the Chinese authorities. Chinese leaders should study the story of Matteo Ricci but they should also study compelling research that shows that those societies that respect religious freedom are the most prosperous and the most stable.

China is a great country with much to offer the world – but it needs to think more deeply about the self- inflicted damage it is doing by trying to eliminate religious freedom and by suppressing Christianity. A country built only on materialism will become a country without a soul – and that, in turn, would be an unhappy society lacking in harmony or respect – values every society needs.

Alienating millions of religious believers, rather than harnessing them in Ricci’s spirit of friendship, is both wrong-headed and short-sighted.

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst will be playing its part in telling the story of China’s persecuted Christians and in ensuring that they are not forgotten.