Saturday, 15 May 2010

mid-May opinion

John Cornwell in the Times explains Why Cardinal Newman is no saint. The Catholic Church plans to make Cardinal Newman a saint when the Pope comes to Britain. A private Vatican document supposedly proves he was responsible for a miracle of healing. It shows no such thing.

Roderick Strange, also in the Times, writes that John Henry Newman’s fidelity to his calling should inspire us all.

Earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a sermon at an ecumenical service held at Charterhouse, London, to commemorate the 475th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St John Houghton and his companions.
Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon to commemorate Carthusian Martyrs
This week he delivered a lecture entitled “Enriching the arguments: the refugee contribution to British life”.

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times: Blowing on the embers of society.

Stephen Tomkins writes in The Guardian that Christian parties take a hammering. Christians in this country want real politicians, not the amateurs who lead the pitiful ‘Christian parties’.

Michael Nazir-Ali, also in The Guardian, writes that It’s not just the economy, stupid. Amid pressure to slash budgets, the new government must not leave the spiritual and moral agenda out of its plans.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 15 May 2010 at 11:50am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

"The final irony is that Newman himself was utterly opposed to the idea of his own beatification. To thwart attempts to make a cult of his remains, he ordered them to be buried in a rich compost so that his corpse would decompose rapidly - an action that cheated the saint-makers. When the clerical grave-diggers attempted an exhumation to retrieve his relics in October 2008, they found nothing except the coffin's brass plate and handles."

- John Cornwell, 'The Sunday Times' -

This really begs the question as to why, when the eminent Anglican/RC cleric himself expressly did not want his remains to become cultic objects, the Roman Catholic Church is insisting on displaying what can only be described as non-skeletal remains to be venerated in a manner the deceased person would have found an embarrassment?

Perhaps this wise and venerable saint of the English Church already knew that the canonisation processes of the Roman Catholic Church has become something of an anachronism. And then there is the problem of verification of a miracle attributed to the intercession of a putative 'Santo'. Miracles, surely, are God's business and not the prerogative of the intervention of the Church. To so itemise the prescription for sainthood as requiring the saint to 'work a miracle' posthumously - even though the more pious among us may be more than ready to acclaim a miracle when we experience one (for all things are possible to God, are they not?); is to open up the canonization process to the possibility of fraud.

The sovereign actions of God are worth more that this dubious method of attesting miracle-working on the part of God's servants. Jesus told his disciples that the way in which they would become known was by their exercise of love and charity. We all know that Cardinal Newman was capable of such a love - he spoke of this in his relationship to his life-long friend, near to whom he was buried. No doubt God is already rewarding him for the acts of charity he performed in his life-time.

May his soul rest in peace, and rise with Christ in glory! Amen.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 16 May 2010 at 4:23am BST

I think the veneration of relics is fine, even against the express wishes of the person involved, but the RC canonization process seems seriously off track. Especially in recent decades it seems to be run on ideological, rather than spiritual, grounds. Of course, my own Church's process is pretty flawed, too (witness Holy Women, Holy Men). I'm beginning to think that the bureaucratic approach to sainthood needs to change, and wish I knew more about the Eastern Orthodox practice.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Sunday, 16 May 2010 at 2:14pm BST

"The question will naturally suggest itself to the reader, whether the miracles recorded in these narratives, especially those contained in the Life of St. Walburga, are to be received as matters of fact; and in this day, and under our present circumstances, we can only reply, that there is no reason why they should not be. They are the kind of facts proper to ecclesiastical history, just as instances of sagacity and daring, personal prowess or crime, are the facts proper to secular history. And if the tendency of credulity or superstition to exaggerate and invent creates a difficulty in the reception of facts ecclesiastical, so does the existence of party spirit, private interests, personal attachments, malevolence, and the like, call for caution and criticism in the reception of facts secular and civil. There is little or nothing, then, primâ facie, in the miraculous accounts in question to repel a properly taught and religiously disposed mind."

Posted by: rick allen on Sunday, 16 May 2010 at 3:01pm BST

Local congregations should decide who should be named a saint. The "proof of a miracle" should be dropped entirely as it calls the entire process into question. What is a saint? A disciple of Jesus who tries perhaps, a bit harder to live by Jesus' example. Rome should really have nothing to with making saints.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Sunday, 16 May 2010 at 4:53pm BST

Rick Allen; What exactly are you trying to say?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 17 May 2010 at 1:46am BST

My theology of sainthood is derived mostly from "I sing a song of the saints of God..."

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 17 May 2010 at 4:17am BST

FRS - I think what Rick Allen is saying is that there may be the possibility that a flawed religious mindset operates as a conduit for saintly facts within the Church, just as there may be partisan spin in the political world, but that this should not diminish or occlude our apperception and consideration of objective relevance when making the case for saints.

For example, in judging whether Tony Blair was an effective politician, do we use the evidence only that the Labour Party indulged in a novel and creative way of framing news, or that ultimately the ideology of Socialism was instrumental in the starving of millions of Russian peasants in the 1930s? Or do we use our own careful and honed judgement to discern that the personal qualities he demonstrated while a leader were in fact pertinent to that state? He might fail on both counts, but not necessarily.

My only problem with this way of looking at things is that the analogy does not help since to my mind, the state of holiness that needs to be perceived and weighed up has no direct or authentic correspondence with anything in the mundane world.

Posted by: Achilles on Monday, 17 May 2010 at 8:02am BST

Cynthia, I love that hymn, and do impromptu concerts featuring it and Ein Feste Burg in the shower and the car. It's a pity "Saints" got saddled with the label as being for children.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Monday, 17 May 2010 at 1:17pm BST

I think, first, if we are to discuss Newman, we should do so with respect to what he himself said and believed, with reference to his own work.

There is, incidentally, an excellent resource for this at

Cornwell quotes a few lines, unattributed, from Newman, that "nothing comes of miracles." The quotation comes from the sixth sermon in the eighth volume of the Parochial and Plain Sermons, from a sermon entitled "Miracles no Remedy for Unbelief." The sermon is certainly worth reading in its entirety. The point, of course, is not that Newman thought nothing of miracles, or disbelieved, but that miracles alone will not move the unbeliever. As the parable concludes--if they won't believe Moses and the prophets, why should they believe someone who comes back from the dead? Hardness of heart will not be overcome by a thousand miracles.

Such observation doesn't, of course, make Jesus' return from the dead unimportant to the believer, nor does it negate the utilty of biblical and ecclesiastical miracles. Anyone familiar with the Apologia knows that one of Kingley's charges against Newman was one of excessive credulity.

My more general point is that, as we approach Newman's beatification, I imagine there will be more and more discussion of his life and work. I would be delighted if this presented an opportunty to review his work, and I certainly intend to spend some more time with him this summer and fall. I would only humbly suggest that those discussing him do so with respect to his actual work, and not the various images of him which seem to have arise apart from his actual opinions.

Posted by: rick allen on Monday, 17 May 2010 at 3:58pm BST

Rick: my favourite Newman line is from the Essay on Development: "Here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." That seems to me a great motto both for individuals and institutions.

I think that the moves towards acceptance of women and openly gay people at all levels in the Church are good examples of Newman's idea of organic development of doctrine.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 at 11:48am BST

I think there is a general perception that Newman's "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine" is simply an unabashed hymn to change. But in fact the problem set by the Essay is how to judge change, how to distinguish genuine developments from corruptions, which will destroy a faith.

One of Newman's criteria was this:

"As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt."

Newman's notion of "development" is no Hegelian dialectic. "Yes" does not develop into "no," nor "no" into "yes." A development expands, illuminates, illustrates, meditates upon a doctrine. If it repudiates or contradicts a doctrine, it is by that fact alone a corruption which must be avoided.

Posted by: rick allen on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 at 7:16pm BST

'The point, of course, is not that Newman thought nothing of miracles, or disbelieved, but that miracles alone will not move the unbeliever. As the parable concludes--if they won't believe Moses and the prophets, why should they believe someone who comes back from the dead? Hardness of heart will not be overcome by a thousand miracles.'

I regard this approach to (Other) people as unfortunate. To label people as 'unbelievers' because of their opinions, convictions and journey (to date)seems to me a kind of not so subtle put-down. But why ? Are you so afraid of their convictions, their discoveries on their journey that they must be ruled out of court. Not one of us. There is a lot of splitting and projection invlolved, too. *

The use of the term 'hardness of heart' confirms my worste fears about this approach. People who do not share your / 'our' views are not so much thoughtful, consciencious agents, doing their best, but hard-hearted.

Is it possible that somebody is - but not necesarily the identified unbeliever ?

* This is an ethical problem too.

Newman himself was probably not free of such habits of thought -- I thought we might have come a bit further by now....

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 at 10:23pm BST

Rick Allen: "A development expands, illuminates, illustrates, meditates upon a doctrine."

Exactly: that is precisely what we see happening at the moment. For example, "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeman, male nor female" was a verse whose doctrine was especially illustrated at the time of the abolition of slavery, and is being so again now.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 19 May 2010 at 1:37pm BST
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