Not so much looking down as across..

Sunday, September 19, 2010

John Henry Newman - hardly a Cardinal rule.

John Henry Newman

I celebrate the fact that the Catholic Church is choosing to beatify John Henry Newman despite some obvious difficulties:
1. He spent exactly half his life as an Anglican criticizing the Catholic Church and the Pope.
2. He was almost certainly gay, although he almost certainly remained celibate.
3. He denied he was a saint and wanted to avoid veneration. He went to the extreme measure of having his body buried in special soil that dissolved the body leaving no fragment of the body and theoretically rendering his canonization technically impossible.
4. The miracle attributed to him seems even by the Churches admission to be based on the flimsiest of evidence.
5. He regarded his time in Ireland as a waste forced to resign in the end, even though he laid the foundation to University College Dublin, a resounding success over the past century. He got little support from the Irish Catholic Bishops who were suspicious of his means and motives and he did not see eye to eye with Cardinal Cullen.
6. He felt lonely and isolated in the Catholic Church complaining that all his real friends were still Anglican
7. He had many rows with the Vatican Authorities who regarded his theology with great suspicion and he was blacklisted up to his rehabilitation by the incoming Pope Leo XIII only two years before he died. He did not enjoy a great relationship with the English Catholic Primate, Cardinal Manning..
8. His view that the Church was represented as much by the people as by the hierarchy was rebuffed by Church Authorities until the advent of Vatican II which is regarded by many as ‘Newman’s Council’.
9. He felt that conscience was to be obeyed above all and felt that the Church had become over reaching in its teaching and the infallibility of the Popes was being overstated

I believe that Newman is indeed a saint in laymen’s terms. He could be equally described as a Catholic or an Anglican saint. In any event I feel the differences between these two Churches are tiny compared to what unites them, even though they may choose not to see it that way.
I believe he was first and foremost a worker for civil rights. He fought long and hard and successfully for Catholics to be regarded as full citizens of Britain. Catholics today owe much to him.
I believe he was a great defender of the supreme court of conscience against those within and without the church who would choose to abuse us and pretend that conscience does not prevail.
I believe that there are many on all sides who would like to kidnap him for their own purpose, but if this has the effect of having people rediscover his original thoughts and writings, then all of this is good.
Very good indeed.


  1. I agree! It makes no odds who claims him, as long as his ideas of social justice take the forefront.

  2. Exactly, we need to revisit the ideals of good men especially in this climate, he should be celebrated for his civil rights actions alone.

  3. Thanks Ann, thanks Brigid, we are all three on the same page. Our generation has been freed to enjoy all the good stuff without worrying about the small and silly stuff. Ciao. P.

  4. What's the point of saints? (its cynical Monday on Planet Barbara)

  5. Very good question Barbara. In my newly acquired 'serene' state all I can offer on the matter is to say that a saint or the notion of saint may help some people along the road. I am very wary of the propoganda and airbrushing that often but not always follows their death. Most saints seemed to have struggled and muddled like the rest of us...

  6. Propaganda... that's my concern. I hope his name be remembered and respected only for what he advocated.


  7. I agree Doris. To be fair, he wrote enough to keep us on the straight and narrow. His 'Apologia pro vitae suae' remains one of the best written books of the nineteenth century, I believe.