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.