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“Cor ad cor loquitur” John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Coat of Arms
Different topics - 2 July 2008

When John Henry Newman was created Cardinal in 1879, he did not have his own crest designed, but adapted one from the 17th century, which he had inherited from his father. He did not formulate his motto, but altered a phrase from the 17th century - cor cordi loquitur – that seemed so familiar to him that he assumed he had it from the Bible or the Imitation of Christ.[1] He actually remembered it from a letter by Francis de Sales from which he had quoted it in 1855 in a public letter on university preaching.[2] It seems that Newman never explained his motto, cor ad cor loquitur, but it is obvious that in his coat of arms, motto and crest complement one another to form one illustration of a fundamental principle of the Christian faith that profoundly shaped Newman’s way of life, his theological thinking and his pastoral endeavours.

God Speaks to Man

There are three red hearts on a golden background on Cardinal Newman’s heart shaped crest, the upper two separated from the lower one by a broad, red horizontal zigzag line, pointing up three times to the two hearts above and twice down to the one below.[3] In the light of our belief in the Triune God, Newman’s coat of arms speaks to us: The three hearts may be understood as a reference to the three Persons of the Triune God, the golden background of the shield as referring to the glory and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God, who “lives in unapproachable light” (1Tim 6:16), was revealed to his creatures, Newman preaches, through God the Son “from without” and through “God the Holy Ghost, by inward communications”.[4]

The Son of God is called the Word, Newman reminds his congregation, as He is “mediating between the Father and all creatures, bringing them into being, fashioning them”,[5] and again: as He is “declaring His (the Father’s) glory throughout created nature”.[6] The Word gives us the glory of the Father to read Ain His works of goodness, holiness and wisdom”.[7] When man turned against God and fell from His grace, the Word of God, His Son, “distinct from Him, while mysteriously one with Him…humbled Himself to take upon Him that fallen nature which He had originally created after His own image”.[8] The same love, Newman stresses, “which showed itself in our original creation, rested not content with a frustrated work, but brought Him down again from His Father’s bosom to do His will, and repair the evil which sin had caused”.[9] With this in mind, the heart underneath the three times folded horizontal line may be understood as representing God made man. When the Son of God became the Son of Man, mortal, but not a sinner, He B in His person B was the beginning of the new creation of God. “Christ came to make a new world”,[10] Newman says, referring to St John’s Gospel, and again: “He came into the world to regenerate it in Himself, to make a new beginning, to be the beginning of the creation of God, to gather together in one, and recapitulate all things in Himself.”[11]

The Holy Spirit, Newman explains, “has ever been the secret Presence of God within the Creation”.[12] In the new creation as in the first, His presence is a spiritual one, a revelation from within. In this light, we may interpret the two hearts above the three times folded line in Newman’s coat of arms as symbolizing the Father and the Spirit. The Father remains hidden, but is revealed by the Son in his life and teaching, passion and death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit remains invisible, but He is revealing the Father, being “(as it were) the Soul of universal nature, the Strength of man and beast”, and He is “the voice of Truth in the hearts of all rational beings”. Since the time of God’s Covenant with the chosen people, He is “the Guide of Faith, the Witness against sin, the inward light of patriarchs and prophets”. When Christ returned to His Father and with Him sent us the Holy Spirit, it was the Spirit who transformed Christ’s disciples into members of the Church, in which He remains present as its “Lord and Ruler”. To the end of times he makes Christ present in the Church and He is “the Grace abiding in the Christian soul”.[13]

The Holy Trinity is indeed a personal God, not a demiurge who created the world and then retreated from it, and not an impersonal force or energy. In Jesus Christ He never ceases to communicate personally, cor ad cor, with mankind, until the end of time. And God enters our personal lives. “All through our life”, Newman is convinced, “Christ is calling us…He called us first in Baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey his voice or not, He graciously calls us still. If we fall from baptismal grace, He calls us to repent; if we are striving to fulfil our calling, He calls us from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness, while life is given us.”[14]

Cor ad Cor loquitur: Man Speaks to Man

Whoever co-operates with divine grace in the Holy Spirit is renewed and participates in the divine life as a result of a fervent dedication to Christ. In this light the three hearts on Newman’s crest take on a new meaning: The heart below the dividing line may be understood as representing the new man, the two hearts in the field above then refer to Christ and the Spirit. They lead the Christian to communion with the heavenly Father. The heart-shaped golden shield, His glory, speaks of Him as the origin and foundation of all. This interpretation contains at least two dangers: While the Son and the Holy Spirit might be regarded as inferior to the Father (two small hearts compared with a large one), the Christian (the third red heart) might be taken for greater than he is. These dangers are avoided, when we see in the heart below not the Christian as the new creation, but Holy Church. The dividing line between the lower and the upper field then becomes the bond between both: The Church is the new creation in Christ, inseparable from Him, the Head, as His Body; the Holy Spirit being Her soul. The Church is the communion of Christians who are “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32), speaking the new language inspired by the Word of God: cor ad cor.

The Church is called to continue Christ’s work on earth, leading those whose hearts are open to her mission into communion with the Triune God. There will never be a shortage of opposition on the part of the world as on the part of the heart of fallen man. “The general temper of mankind, taking man individually, is what it ever was, restless and discontented, or sensual and unbelieving”.[15] But in spite of the rejection of the message of Christ by the spirit of the world, the Church continues to grow; especially by means of the personal influence of those who live committed Christian lives. The young Oxford don dedicated his Fifth Oxford University Sermon to this very topic: Personal Influence, the Means of Propagating the Truth.

He claims in this sermon that no one can be won for Jesus Christ and His Church merely by means of arguments. Credible witnesses are more important than words. The truth of the Gospel “has been upheld in the world not as a system, not by books, not by argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such men…, who are at once the teachers and the patterns of it”.[16] Newman urges his fellow men to ponder revealed truth, but at the same time he stresses that the person who lives out this truth in his daily life exercises an even greater influence. “While he is unknown to the world, yet, within the range of those who see him, he will become the object of feelings different in kind from those which mere intellectual excellence incites. The men commonly held in popular estimation…become small as they are approached; but the attraction, exerted by unconscious holiness, is of an urgent and irresistible nature; it persuades the weak, the timid, the wavering, and the inquiring….”[17] The faithful, who seriously strive for holiness, are generally only few in number, yet they “are enough to carry on God’s noiseless work”.[18] Through their life, fidelity and love for Jesus Christ, they are the best and most credible witnesses by whom the divine truth is passed on cor ad cor to future generations. Newman speaks of the holiness of the Apostles who, illuminated by Christ, passed on His light to others who again passed it on throughout the world.[19] Ardent Christians, the Saints, become bearers of light, bright torches in a world of darkness and gloom. Illuminated by the light of Christ, they have an overwhelming influence on others, enkindling the fire of Christ in their hearts. “A few highly-endowed men will rescue the world for centuries to come.”[20]

Internet and other means of modern communication have opened up numerous new channels by which people can make contact with each other and also share their faith. But at the same time mankind is becoming less capable of true love and charity. Anonymity is on the increase, and along with it the desire for truly personal contact and true friendship is growing. People want to be addressed personally and as persons. By the signs of our times, the relevance of the message of Newman’s motto is made manifest.

Cor ad cor loquitur : Man Speaks to God

In his second Oxford University Sermon, Newman describes the different aims of the natural philosopher and the Christian. “The philosopher aspires towards a divine principle; the Christian towards a Divine Agent.”[21] In the strength of grace, we Christians ultimately strive for an always more intimate communion with the personal God. To be a Christian means to be adopted as a person by God the Father in Christ His Son through the Person of the Holy Spirit. Without thereby questioning the relevance of the mediating character of the Church or the significance of models and intercessors for faith, Newman often stressed the fundamental importance of the relationship between God and man as being between persons, cor ad cor.

In his Apologia pro vita sua Newman writes that at the time of his “first conversion”, when he was fifteen years old, he found peace Ain the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator”.[22] It was of paramount importance to Newman on his way into the Catholic Church to recognize that it “allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial, no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator. It is face to face, solus cum solo, in all matters between man and his God. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude.”[23]

Once we shall see God as He is, but as long as we live here on earth, our personal relationship with Him is primarily our faith in His revelation. To Newman “the especial dignity and influence of Faith, under the Gospel Dispensation, as regards both our spiritual and moral condition,” is evident in Scripture, where faith is seen “as the chosen instrument connecting heaven and earth”.[24]

The personal communion of man with God needs to be anchored in his true and sincere love for Him. Pondering on Christ’s question to St Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15), Newman writes: “Why should I not love Thee much, how can I help loving Thee much, whom Thou hast brought so near to Thyself, whom Thou hast so wonderfully chosen out of the world to be Thy own special servant and son? Have I not cause to love Thee abundantly more than others, though all ought to love Thee? I do not know what Thou hast done for others personally, though Thou hast died for all, but I know what Thou hast done specially for me. Thou hast done for me, O my love, which ought to make me love Thee with all my powers.”[25]

Cor ad cor loquitur: In the Most Holy Eucharist

The personal structure of Christianity finds its most intimate expression in Holy Mass, the source and summit of Christian life. In the mystery of the Eucharist, God never ceases to speak to us cor ad cor. When we receive the Lord in Holy Communion we can communicate in a most special way with God cor ad cor. Receiving the Body of Christ, we become what we are, the Body of Christ. Thus we are enabled to pass on the Good News cor ad cor.

In the Eucharist the Sacred Heart of Jesus remains present in the Church and draws the hearts of men to Him. Thus Newman prays: “O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still. Now as then Thou sayest, Desidero desideravi ‑ With desire I have desired’. ­ I worship Thee then with all my best love and awe, with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will. O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, O make my heart beat with Thy Heart. Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness. So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace.”[26]


[1] Cf. C.S. Dessain et al (eds), The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. XXIX, Oxford 1976, p. 108.
[2] This public letter to Bishop Moriarty (Catholic University Gazette 8-5-1855) was revised and reproduced in J.H. Newman, The Idea of a University, uniform edition, p. 410. Whenever possible, quotations are given in the uniform edition, as most volumes have often been reprinted.
[3]In heraldic parlance: Blazon: or, a fasce dancette gules (composed of three chevrons) between three heart gules. There are three differences between Newman’s coat of arms and his father’s: Newman uses one only of the two halves of the original crest; his shield has the form of a heart and not of a spade as the one of his father; and he shortens the zigzag line to three chevrons.
[4] J.H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, uniform edition, vol. II, 19, p. 217.
[5] Ibid., 3, p. 30.
[6] Ibid., 19, p. 217.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 3, p. 30.
[10] Ibid., 32. Newman refers to John 3:6.
[11] J.H. Newman, Sermons on Subjects of the Day, uniform edition, p. 61.
[12] Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. II, 19, p. 218.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. VIII, 2, p. 23.
[15] J.H. Newman, Fifteen Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford Between A.D.1826 and 1843 in the Definitive Third Edition of 1872, Sermon III, uniform edition, p. 40.
[16] Ibid., Sermon V, pp. 91-92.
[17] Ibid., pp. 94-95.
[18] Ibid., p. 96.
[19] Cf. ibid.
[20] Ibid., p. 97.
[21] Ibid., Sermon II, p. 28.
[22] J.H. Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (edited by I. Ker), Penguin Books, London 1994, p. 25.
[23] Ibid., p. 179.
[24] Fifteen Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford, Sermon X, p. 177.
[25] J.H. Newman, Meditations and Devotions (edited by W.M.P. Neville), uniform edition, pp. 373-374.
[26] Ibid., p. 413.




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