St. John Henry Newman?

The Times of London is reporting that in preparation for the not-too-far-off canonization of Venerable John Henry Newman, his remains are to be “disinterred” and placed on view in order that the faithful may venerate them, or, more precisely, him. 


“The Vatican has ordered that the body of Cardinal Newman, the Church of England’s most renowned convert to Roman Catholicism, be exhumed and reinterred in a marble sarcophagus, where it can be more easily venerated by the faithful. The [Congregation of the] Causes of Saints wants the remains of John Henry Newman, who died in 1890, to be moved from a secluded cemetery and placed in the Birmingham Oratory, part of the English Oratory movement that he founded.”  The Vatican is expected to beatify him this year. 

Newman has long held appeal for both wings of the church--and the middle as well.  Conservative Catholics appreciate Newman for many things: for one, the story of the brilliant scholar’s embrace of Catholicism, which came after he became convinced, through his long studies, that the Roman church was the true successor of the early church.  (That’s compressing things a bit, I know.)   Liberals appreciate his championing of the idea of the “development of doctrine,” which, among other things, led the former Anglican to be termed the “absent council father” at Vatican II.  (That’s compressed, too.)     

But like most of the saints, John Henry Newman is too capacious a personality to be tied to any one school of thought.  (Think of St. Therese of Lisieux, beloved by Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Pope John Paul II.)   To quote Walt Whitman, Newman “contains multitudes.”  For me, a favorite Newman quote is his response to the question, “Who are the laity?”  Replied Newman, “The church would look foolish without them.”

James Martin, SJ

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10 years 8 months ago
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