Thursday, 28 August 2008

‘a cult of bones’?

The Independent reports on the plan to exhume the remains of Cardinal Newman from a grave in which he was buried at his own request beside a priest, Fr Ambrose St John. The intention in moving his remains is to allow them to be venerated in a more suitable place, Birmingham Oratory.

The issue touches first on what we consider Christianity to be. Is it based on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, his appearances, an empty tomb with no bones remaining, and communion with the living Lord through the sacrament of the Eucharist in which we share his body and blood, or is it based on a cult of the bones of good people?

If we believe in ‘the resurrection of the body’ what is communicated by the tearing apart of the remains of saints limb from limb and sometimes slice by slice so that parts can be taken to different places for veneration?

I can venerate Newman by continuing to draw inspiration from his writing and his life without the need to be close to his mortal remains, just as I can be a Christian without the need to visit the Holy Sepulchre.

I have led pilgrimages to the places where saints lived and worked, in particular to places associated with St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, and find the same is true. I may be inspired by the context in which saints lived and worked, particularly at a place like the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila. But Teresa’s body isn’t there. The place remains an inspiration just as the Birmingham Oratory is one without needing the bones of Newman. It was part of his life, and the life can still inspire.

The removal of Newman’s remains raises another issue. Cardinal Newman wrote shortly before his death: ‘I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John’s grave — and I give this as my last, my imperative will.’ If the Church values the inspiration of Newman, his wishes should not be set aside. Moving his body against his stated wish is not an honourable way to venerate him. When he stated his wishes for his burial he knew all about the ways in which the deceased are venerated within his Church, and deliberately chose not to be buried at the Oratory, which others may have seen as an obvious choice.

The Independent article highlights the reason for Newman’s choice of burial place; his close affection for Ambrose St John. If Newman is to be reburied, then the remains of the other member of the Oratory should also be moved back to the place where he also served. These men were united in life and in mission, and they should be united for eternity. More importantly, if we wish to remain close to Newman’s heart, and treasure his memory, then our faith, like his, should be in the presence of the risen Lord.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Thursday, 28 August 2008 at 9:12pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

You don't understand Cardinal Newman, if you place anything between him and his love and total obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in his Holy Catholic Church.. " and I hold in veneration, for the love of Him alone, Holy Church as His creation and her teaching as his own. "

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 9:38am BST

The point which through lack of historical imagination (and shallowness) has not been sufficiently made is that this beautiful kind of male friendship can easily be of a kind where any homosexual contact would be not the fulfilment but (the very opposite) the ruining of it. Were it ever contemplated in the first place, which in many circumstances and times it would not be. Cf. WW1 comrades. Close? incredibly so. Homosexual? Not only not so, but actually the very reverse.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 12:13pm BST

To Christopher Shell et alii I appreciate your post and the placing of mores and sensibilities in historical context. However, for my own satisfaction, is anything known - definitively, autobiographically - regarding the relationship between these 2 individuals? Or, is your statement more of a general feeling and belief? Thanks.

Posted by: ettu on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 12:44pm BST

I have no knowledge at all about Cardinal Newman, and I am an often noisy supporter of gay equality, but I do agree with Christopher Shell's sentiment that we live in such a sexualised world that we are finding it difficult to contemplate the idea of deep and intimate same sex friendship that does not include an erotic component.

We still allow the concept of close female soulfriends but find the male version sadly suspicious.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 2:45pm BST

"Cf. WW1 comrades. Close? incredibly so. Homosexual? Not only not so, but actually the very reverse."

I think the evidence based on diaries, letters etc. on Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and other prominent WW1 figures might lead you to a different conclusion. Some WW1 comrades were so close it included physical and sexual affection. Sometimes they accepted their nature, sometimes they didn't (a bit like folk in 2008, TA readers included).

I'm sure it wasn't your intention to do so, but so often same-sex or bisexual affection or people are airbrushed from history in order to make a point.


Posted by: Stephen De Silva on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 6:51pm BST

All believers everywhere are implicitly walking a very fine, very nuanced boundary between acknowledging and respecting and participating in those many, many, many things which believers weigh as pointing to God and Jesus, and slipping into putting those creatures in the sole place that God and Jesus alone can occupy.

It comes with the territory, so to speak.

If we do not wish this call to wise viginity, always alert, always discerning penultimates ... then we will have a weary and exhausting time of it in most believer communities, not least Anglican ones so vexed, so fraught with ambiguities.

Posted by: drdanfee on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 7:01pm BST

The closeness of the relationship between John Henry Newman and Ambrose St. John may well have been utterly non-sexual, chaste, non-erotic and "manly."

Or not.

That said, the firm request to be buried together with the man one loves, while it does not prove a sexual relationship, certainly makes the prospect of a sexual relationship (or at least a relationship that would have been sexual but for whatever restraints) entirely credible.

On the available evidence, I find it likely that the relationship between John Henry and Ambrose would be properly described as a same-sex partnership, though possibly chaste.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 10:57pm BST

"Homosexual? Not only not so, but actually the very reverse."

This is an absurd statement. Their relationship was evidently not only not heterosexual, but bore all the hallmarks of a faithful, stable gay partnership whether physically expressed or not. No one really knows. And no one seemed to care much in those days. But if Newman were alive today one thing is certain (given his domestic arrangements): he would not have been made a Cardinal - or consecrated a bishop in the Church of England for that matter.

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 11:19pm BST

Just heard the Dean of Southwark on PM talk about a double gay grave in Southwark cathedral. Has the Dean lost his senses...granted he is no longer Bishop material!

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Friday, 29 August 2008 at 11:26pm BST

Is it not possible that the veneration of the bones of saints is at best a superstition and at worst, idolatry?

Posted by: Brian McKinlay on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 12:12am BST

I did an extended research paper on Newman and it's been said at least since the 1930s that Newman was homosexual by orientation and that Ambrose St John was his intimate partner (though chaste, one imagines). That is why he fervently wanted to be buried in the same grave. To my knowledge this was first discussed by Geoffrey Faber in The Oxford Apostles: A Character Study of the Oxford Movement.

Posted by: Chris Tyack on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 5:34am BST

Hi Hugh-

So long as you admit the main point:
(1) most heterosexual men have at least some male friends - strange as this may be;
(2) the closer the friendship, the more the men appreciate it;
(3) such bonds may be very close indeed, especially if you have been through a lot together;
(4) the idea that such lovely friendships are in any way sexual would be to most heterosexual men grotesque beyond imagining.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 9:11am BST

Christopher
I'd like to add a point 5:
If it happened to have been a homosexual relationship it would in no way be diminished by that fact.
In a loving, stable and faithful love sex doesn't sully the relationship but celebrates it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 11:03am BST

Is it not possible that the veneration of the bones of saints is at best a superstition and at worst, idolatry?

Watch who you're calling (at best) superstitious and (at worst) an idolator, bub.

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 3:57pm BST

"Watch who you're calling (at best) superstitious and (at worst) an idolator, bub."

Does that count as a sophisticated explanation of the question asked?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 7:46pm BST

Does that count as a sophisticated explanation of the question asked?

No, Erika, it's a reminder that we aren't talking in a vacuum here. There are people for whom the veneration of relics is a meaningful part of Christian praxis, and that assertions of superstition and idolatry are not helpful.

You want a sophisticated answer to the question? Not sure I can sophisticated, but the best answer I have is "Abusus non tollit usum." Do I get extra sophistication points for Latin?

And if you go to Brian's own blog, you'll see that he isn't so much asking a question for information's sake as trying to soften an assertion.

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 10:16pm BST

As it happens, the question of the status of relics and their veneration has popped up once or twice in Church history. The Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II) had this to say about it:

"We accept the image of the honorable and life-giving Cross, and the holy relics of the saints; and we receive the holy and venerable images; we accept them and we embrace them, according to the ancient traditions of the Holy Catholic Church of God, that is to say our holy Fathers, who also received these things and established them in all the most holy Churches of God and in every place of His dominion." (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol 14, p. 541).

So the short answer is: no - for Catholic Christians, the veneration of saints' relics, properly understood, is neither superstitious nor idolatrous.

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 30 August 2008 at 10:36pm BST

While fully accepting your four points, Christopher, it cannot be denied that Newman had: no close friendships with women; a 'feminine nature'; a very close long-term friendship with one man, and an expressed wish to be buried with that same man. None of these taken together indicate he was your typical heterosexual.

The Mail has a rather good article:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1050418/Buried-secrets-Cardinal-Newman-set-Britains-newest-saint-First-exhumed-grave-shares-man--greatest-love-life.html

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Sunday, 31 August 2008 at 12:08am BST

Protestants think the veneration of the relics of the saints superstitious and idolatrous. Catholics don't. It's really that simple. We're different.

As to the much-sniggered-over relationship between Newman and St.John, it's also very simple. From a Catholic point of view there is no problem with close, intimate male friendships. If there is no sexual relationship, there is no sin. We can speculate forever on their "orientation" and feelings. If they are chaste, they make no difference.

Posted by: rick allen on Sunday, 31 August 2008 at 12:31am BST

Thank you, BillyD, and yes, if you like you get extra points for the Latin:-)

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 31 August 2008 at 9:59am BST

rick allen: Newman was, however, widely regarded as something of an old woman by his RC colleagues. He was not at all popular among his peers as RC clergy in England at the time - his being awarded the red hat was deliberately put off many years due to their machinations at Rome. Part of his unpopularity came from his undoubted intellectual eminence, which gave rise to jealousy; part from his Anglican background, regarded as suspect; and part from what was seen as his rather feminine nature.

I spent my undergraduate years dining daily under a portrait of him in our college hall, in which he is sitting in his Oratorian habit, wringing his hands, and I've never seen such an eloquent study of an ageing queen.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 31 August 2008 at 3:06pm BST

"From a Catholic point of view there is no problem with close, intimate male friendships. If there is no sexual relationship, there is no sin. We can speculate forever on their "orientation" and feelings. If they are chaste, they make no difference."

Is it not the case that the RC church has deemed that even celibate homosexuals are not able to be considered for ordination?

Kennedy

Posted by: Kennedy on Sunday, 31 August 2008 at 3:28pm BST

Christopher, I would also say:
1) most homosexual men have at least some female friends - strange as this may be;
(2) the closer the friendship, the more the men appreciate it;
(3) such bonds may be very close indeed, especially if you have been through a lot together;
(4) the idea that such lovely friendships are in any way sexual would be to most homosexual men grotesque beyond imagining.

The last point may be a bit extreme, all the same.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Sunday, 31 August 2008 at 6:17pm BST

Ah Well. It is thought that there will be no giving, or being given, in marriage in heaven, but it does seem a pity to separate the earthly remains of two people who 'loved one another unto death' - after their bodies have been interred together.

Whether or not God might consider these two blessed souls to be 'unequally yoked' during their life-time; and I think, considering the message of Saint John the Beloved Disciple: - (Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God!) - that this is highly unlikely; we ought to give God the credit of a motivation purer than our own and let them remain where Cardinal Newman wanted them to be, together where they are now.

This would seem to be one of the points at which even the 'Sacred Tradition' of the Church might realistically be put aside, in order to comply with the New Commandment of Christ: "That you love one another, as I have loved you" In this way, the Church might be seen to meet the parameters of Our Lord's request of the Church - for "By this shall all (people) knowe that you are my disciples - that you have love one for another"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 12:09am BST

"As to the much-sniggered-over relationship between Newman and St.John, it's also very simple. From a Catholic point of view there is no problem with close, intimate male friendships. If there is no sexual relationship, there is no sin. We can speculate forever on their "orientation" and feelings. If they are chaste, they make no difference."


Except that it does make a difference, apparently.

Jeffrey John couldn't be a bishop despite the chaste nature of his closest relationship, and no gay Roman Catholic homosexual can be ordained at all, even if they inted to be chaste.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 2:15am BST

Hi Ford-
Quite. Which is what makes the classification of close friendships as in any way sexual something awful - almost as though friendship (of all things) were now something so rare that its existence has been forgotten. It is partly a lack of cultural/historical imagination. Most people naturally do what is normal in their own culture and time - which may be quite different from ours. Nothing remotely strange until recently about the Newman-St John type of friendship, or about two female friends setting up home together. It is only the recent pansexual age that has changed things.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 12:52pm BST

Christopher
Do your thoughts on friendship only apply to heterosexual friendships, or are close gay celibate ones acceptable?

I'm reminded of the Jeffrey John affair and of how many didn't care that he and his partner were celibate but still refused to accept him as a bishop.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 2:30pm BST

"Which is what makes the classification of close friendships as in any way sexual something awful"

No it doesn't, Christopher. That's just because you think sex is something evil and dirty, or at least dangerous, unless it is strictly controlled. That attitude is pretty clear in the things you have been saying. All the same, Cardinal Newman's sexuality is none of my nor anyone else's business. If he broke a vow of celibacy, that's between him and God. Commandeering someone else's life after they're dead to somehow support one's own political agenda, and perhaps there's a bit of a desire to shock and offend some people as well, is self serving and disrespectful. As to Tatchell, well his comments are just ignorant. To those who argue it goes against his dying wish, let's just say that, if what he believed in life is true, then he knows why his bones are to be moved, and his connection with Fr. St. John is stronger than it could ever be between two sets of bones lying in the same plot of ground.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 3:13pm BST

And of course in the Catholic reckoning the Catholic with a tendency towards homosexuality, must not just be celibate but have also not have adopted a gay like persona....ie,. like John Inman.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 5:07pm BST

"...a gay like persona....ie,. like John Inman."

How uncannily accurate you are, Mr. Williams - as a matter of fact, I and every gay person I know has adopted a "gay like persona" *exactly* like that of the late John Inman.

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 6:25pm BST

Robt Ian W: could you unpack that a bit?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 6:34pm BST

I personally had never heard anything mentioned about Cardinal Newmann homosexually, although naturally it is viable, as many Saints and Popes have been homosexual by orientation. Of course no one knows whether a celibacy or chaste sexual relationship occurs. Veneration of Mary, Angels, Saints, and Blesseds, and Their Holy Relics, is in no way idolatrous, and has been a part of the prime fabric of Christianity since Its' origin. There is a difference between worshipping Mary as a Goddess, and worshipping Mary for her specific place in the Order of Creation serving better for the adoration of God by honouring Him in His Creations, like Mary. As far as homosexuality, the assertion of life-long chaste celibacy and the rejection of a gay identity, if that's what you meant, is by no means the sort of prohibition as you say in Roman Catholicism. Homosexuality is a legitimate scientific sexual orientation, one of the exclusive three. For a homosexual life-long chaste celibacy is naturally the ideal as it would be for anyone, which is why Priests must do so, but for others a chaste sexual relationship in monogamy is acceptible in various situations.

Posted by: Ashton Lee on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 7:18pm BST
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