Blessed John Henry Newman  

Posted by Joe Rawls

During my 30 years as a Roman Catholic--coinciding with the first 30 years of my life--John Henry Newman (almost invariably referred to as Cardinal Newman) was presented to us lay folk simply as a scholarly man who had sacrificed a brilliant career in the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic. Depending upon whom you listened to, he either abandoned heresy for the one true church or he simply followed the dictates of his conscience at great personal expense. Beyond that, we didn't learn much about his life and thought, even if, like me, we attended Newman Centers (chaplaincies for Roman Catholic students) at three different universities. It was only after I became an Anglican in the early '80's that I learned more about both the Anglican and Catholic Newmans.

Pope Benedict's recent beatification of Newman--the first step towards eventual canonization--refocuses attention on both sides of the Tiber/Thames divide upon this complex, controversial, and sometimes contradictory churchman. Weighing in with a few trenchant observations is Eamon Duffy, himself a Roman Catholic and a Cambridge University church historian. Click here for the complete essay.


...Newman was a sublime prose stylist and a scholar soaked in the Greek and Latin Fathers. Between 1833 and 1845 he transformed the Church of England, persuading its clergy that it was no mere department of state for moral uplift, but the English branch of the ancient Catholic church, through its sacraments and apostolic teaching a means of encounter with God. Everything about modern Anglicanism, from the look of its buildings to its theology and forms of worship, bears the marks of his teaching...

Newman's thought came into its own in the 20th century, influencing, among others, the young Joseph Ratzinger, ironically enough, since Pope Benedict's understanding of papacy is not a million miles from that which Newman deplored. Yet the beatification ratifies Newman's distinctively English (and Anglican) formation. To that extent, it is an ecumenical act. It also affirms Newman's lifelong struggle to combine intellectual integrity with the surrender of a heart and mind to a God he experienced both as love and truth. For a church whose claims to integrity, love and truth are currently taking a beating, that's a candle in the dark.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 20, 2010 at Monday, September 20, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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