John Henry Newman – Part III – The Saint

In this final part of my musings on Cardinal John Henry Newman, we look at the Cause for his beatification, and, perhaps wonder what Cardinal Newman might have made of it! It must be remembered that when Newman was born, into an English Protestant home, the very concept of sainthood at the very least would  have induced great wariness. The saints of old (and new) would have been given scant regard lest accusations of the dreaded ‘Popery’ might be levelled. In one of his sermons (1831) Newman himself reminded his congregation that ‘our Church teaches us to put away from ourselves the title of ‘Saint’. (Newman did not become A Catholic until 1845).By 1860 Newman had passed from the ‘first flush’ over the joy of the newly converted, and had made friends with what were considered the ‘Liberal Catholics’ of the day. Referring to the writings of Montalembert and Lacordaire he wrote (1864) ‘In their general line of thought and conduct I enthusiastically concur, and consider them to be ahead of their age’. He also spoke of the ‘unselfish aims, the thwarted projects, the unrequited tolls and the grand and tender resignation of Lacordaire’. Such sentiments would surely have found great empathy with Newman at that time.

Newman was a confessed lover of peace, yet recognised that he was destined to be a ‘man of strife’, and controversy followed him throughout his Catholic years, as it had in his time as an Anglican. In spite of this recognition of his sanctity continued. At his death the staunchly Protestant Evangelical Magazine proclaimed that ‘of the multitude of saints in the Roman calendar, there are very few that can be considered better entitled to that designation than Cardinal Newman.’

The possibility of formal canonisation was mooted several times after his death, and in 1907, the future Archbishop of Birmingham, John McIntyre, wrote of his own hope ‘…that our Cardinal will be the first saint of the Second Spring.’ The Modernist crisis, when some of those who stood condemned sought to claim that Newman’s work supported some of their heterodox views, soon put paid to that!

Above all, there was St. Philip Neri and the Oratorian ideal of ‘ama nesciri’, loving to be unknown, and the community knew how insistant Newman would have been on this point – even posthumously.

Whilst sanctity, because of its very nature, lives and does not die with the person in question, it was an American Dominican, Fr. Charles Callan OP, who brought the question of Newman’s sanctity into the wider domain, in an article in America magazine in 1941. The response was so overwhelming that in 1942 the Archbishop of Toronto gave his imprimatur to the first prayer for Newman’s beatification. The importance given in 1945 by Pope Pius XII to the centenary of Newman’s Conversion gave this added impetus, and a 1952 article on ‘Newman’s Cause’ by the future Vice-Postulator, H.F.Davis swept away some of the English reticence that had existed. In 1958, Archbishop Grimshaw of Birmingham constituted the Court needed for an Ordinary Process for Canonisation assembling a Commission of Experts to gather the necessary proof. The process  was delayed because of the paucity of living witnesses, to be reconvened later in 1980 as an Historical Cause. In 1980 the newly reconstituted Historical Commission began the task of gethering all the necessary proofs to complete the Diocesan Process.

In 1986 the findings were forwarded to the Holy See for the completeness and worthiness of the Cause to be examined. In 1991 Pope John Paul II declared that John Henry Newman had exercised all the Christian virtues in an heroic degree, and was henceforth to be known as ‘Venerable’.

For Newman to be declared ‘Blessed’ a miracle ascribed to his intercession had to be recognised by the Church. This was recognised by the healing of Deacon Jack Sullivan in 2001, and it was in February of this year that our Holy Father announced that he would beatify Newman himself during his visit to the United Kingdom on the 19th September.

This healing has also attracted some  controversy, with those detractors arguing that Newman himself made the following statement in one of his sermons when cautioning his Anglican congregation that the faithful should be prepared to accept that miracles occur within the natural, not outside it. He also preached that “nothing is gained by miracles, nothing comes of miracles, as regards our religious views, principles and habits. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better.” And of course, Newman is absolutely right.  Holy Church makes lengthy and detailed examination of any Cause before it, and the most expert medical authorities are consulted. Miracles do not make men better men, they are a grace from God, and some of the criticism accentuates inadvertantly, the sanctity of the Venerable John Henry Newman.

In the course of writing these posts, I have tried to look at Newman objectively. I have heard comments that folk do not necessarily ‘warm’ to Newman, and in some respects I understand this. He was an academic in many ways, a contemplative in other ways. Above all, he was a very ‘human’ being, and for me it is  in his humanity that I see his sanctity.

In the first part of these three posts on Newman, I mentioned young John Henry Newman at Ealing School, when he described the ‘profound religious conversion’ that he experienced as setting him on the the path to find ‘spiritual perfection’. In that post, I asked ‘what an aspiration for a 16 year old’. On the 19th September at Cofton Park the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will confirm the achievement of that aspiration of a 16yr old boy who will become Blessed John Henry Newman.

About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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9 Responses to John Henry Newman – Part III – The Saint

  1. teresa says:

    Thanks Gertrude for this interesting and informative article. I find the part with Newman’s view on miracle especially interesting. But what would have been meant by him when he said “nothing is gained through miracles”, and what is the official view of the Church on miracles especially in regard of their function?


  2. joyfulpapist says:

    The ‘nothing is gained through miracles’ quote is from a sermon called ‘Miracles are no remedy for unbelief’ on the stubborness of the Jews. Newman points out that we can’t claim to be superior to those who heard the prophets and saw the miracles described in Scripture. ‘Hard as it is to believe, miracles do not make people better; the history of Israel proves it,’ he says. And he goes on to say that we already know all that we need to know to obey God. We know what God wants from us; we know He has the right to our obedience; we know we ought to obey. But we don’t do it. A miracle might startle us, but it would not change what we know or give us more reasons to be obedient.

    ‘Let us understand that nothing but the love of God can make us believe in Him or obey Him.’


  3. Gertrude says:

    The Church teaches that whilst grace is the first and foremost gift ofthe Spirit. justifying and sanctifying us, it differentiates between sacramental graces – proper to the sacraments, and special graces (or charisms) which are sometimes extraordinary i.e. miracles orientated toward sanctifying grace, and intended for the common good of the Church.
    I am not sure what the Anglican thought is, obviously cautionary at the time Newman was a vicar – but no doubt some-one will enlighten me ;-).


  4. toadspittle says:

    “Hard as it is to believe, miracles do not make people better; the history of Israel proves it,”

    What a superb quote, Joyful. If I didn’t know that it was by Newman, I’d have bet big money on Hume.

    And lost, as usual.


  5. kathleen says:

    We tend to think that all miracles are eye-opening spectacular events, causing widespread awe and admiration. Sometimes they are, but more often they are not. Miracles are occurring around us all the time, but we just don’t see them. Very very few, a miniscule amount, are ever investigated and recognized as miracles.

    Daily miracles include accidents missed by a hair’s breath…… (intervention of guardian angels perhaps?), amazing coincidences, things turning out well after prayers of supplication, inspirations to do or say the right thing in negative conditions (that could never come just from our own strength), hardened hearts are turned back to God…… the list goes on and on.

    Not only are the lives of canonised saints littered with examples of miracles, but so are contemporaries of ours, e.g. the life of the founder of EWTN, Mother Angelica, and the well known author and preacher, Father Benedict Groeschel.
    And even, if I might be so bold, in insignificant lives of little people (full of faults and weaknesses) such as mine! I am sure we could all say the same if we truly open our eyes.


  6. kathleen says:

    “Newman himself made the following statement in one of his sermons when cautioning his Anglican congregation that the faithful should be prepared to accept that miracles occur within the natural, not outside it.”

    That’s the point I was trying to make above.


  7. joyfulpapist says:

    Yes – I think the following joke illustrates the point:

    The business man was in a hurry. This was the most important appointment of the year, perhaps of his entire career – he had to make a good impression; he had to arrive on time. But a number of unexpected delays meant he was running about thirty minutes behind schedule. Only one thing would save him now – finding a car park right outside his destination in the centre city at one of the busiest times of the day.
    Suddenly, he remembered that his mother had always told him to pray for the things he needed.

    So as he turned off the motorway and began threading his way through the city streets, he started praying. “Please, God, find me a car park just outside the building. God, please let me arrive at the meeting on time. God, if you’ll just find me the car park I need, I swear I’ll change my life. I’ll start praying again. I’ll go to Mass every week. God, please find me a car par.”

    As he drew level with his destination, a car pulled out from beside the building, leaving him a space just feet from the main entrance.

    “You don’t need to bother, God,” said the man as he turned into the park, “I found one.”


  8. joyfulpapist says:

    And Hopkins:

    THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
    Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
    Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
    Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


  9. toadspittle says:

    Excellent poem.

    And prophetic: “It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil”

    Should go in BP’s report to shareholders.


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