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John Henry Newman, Oxford Movement scholar and Roman Catholic convert, to be canonized Sunday

John Henry Newman, Oxford Movement scholar and Roman Catholic convert, to be canonized Sunday

John Henry Newman is remembered in Anglicanism largely for his role as a founding member and leading tractarian of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. He is known in Roman Catholicism as a convert and a cardinal, and in both traditions as a scholar and a priest. Newman will be canonized by the Roman Catholic church this Sunday, October 13th.

On the eve of his canonization, The Tablet has been touring Oxford for signs of how the news is being celebrated there. At the University’s Catholic Chaplaincy, it reports, the canonization Mass will be live-streamed, and preceded by a prayer vigil. Oriel College, where Newman was a Fellow for nearly twenty years, is also hosting celebrations.

At the University Church of St Mary the Virgin (Church of England), where Newman was once the Vicar, a photo exhibition, lecture, ecumenical Evensong, and a series of podcasts are lined up to celebrate Newman’s canonization. However, Jonathan Luxmoore, writing for The Tablet , is disappointed that, “the church’s gift shop had no books or other material on Newman in the run-up to the Rome ceremony.”

In fact, Luxmoore suggests at the close of The Tablet’s story,

Lingering anti-Catholic feeling in Oxford, with which at least 70 beatified Catholic Reformation martyrs also had links, was widely reported to be behind Pope Benedict XVI’s decision not to visit the city in September 2010. However, Newman’s foremost English biographer, Fr Ian Ker, told The Tablet he expected Littlemore and other sites associated with Newman, who is also expected to be declared a Doctor of the Church, to see a substantial increase in visitors and pilgrims over coming years.

Read the full story here.

The Rt Revd Fintan Monahan, Bishop of Killaloe, strikes a different tone in his op-ed for the Irish Times, writing that,

Newman, the convert, created a huge stir at the time as did those of his contemporaries who became Catholics in the Oxford Movement. There is no doubt but that the church then, and oftentimes since, saw Newman’s conversion as a boost to Catholicism that evoked a measure of triumphalism in the church.

But there should be no hint of triumphalism in his being declared a saint by the church. It is not the final “one in the eye” for Anglicanism that shows Newman’s conversion as the natural high point of his life. On the contrary, I see him as a saint of Christian traditions Catholic and Anglican.

I do so from a very simple realisation that if Newman was an Anglican today he may not have seen the need to convert, but would have worked quite happily in dialogue between the two churches.

One can only speculate that the ecumenical movement would have benefitted greatly as a result of his participation. In declaring Newman a saint, the church recognises in him a scholar who is as much of the Anglican tradition as the Catholic tradition. St John Henry might well be classed as the new patron of ecumenism. This would be a fitting accolade.

Read more from Bishop Monahan here.

A press release from the Church of England that greeted the news in July of Newman’s impending canonization is reproduced on the website of St Mary’s, Oxford:

The Church of England warmly welcomes the announcement by Pope Francis that John Henry Newman is to be canonised later this year.

Newman, a former Anglican priest who became a Roman Catholic in 1845 – midway through his life – and eventually a Cardinal, is regarded as one of the most influential figures from his era for both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.

An important theologian, preacher and pastor in his years as an Anglican priest, he was one of the key leaders of the Oxford Movement that heralded a revival in the life of the Victorian Church of England that spread around the Anglican Communion.

He remains a central figure in both Catholic and Anglican theology: a profound scholar, powerful preacher and the founder of religious communities.

Newman, who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, is also commemorated in the calendar of the Church of England on the date of his death – 11 August.

The Rt Revd Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth, Co-Chair of the English and Welsh Anglican–Roman Catholic Committee, said: “The canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman is very good news for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and we give thanks with them for this recognition of a holy life formed in both our communions that continues to be an inspiration for us all. …

The Revd Dr William Lamb, the current Vicar of the University Church, welcomed this news and said: “Newman’s spiritual journey has enabled both churches to see just how much we hold in common, and his thinking continues to animate ecumenical dialogue between our churches, not least in the work of ARCIC. This means that we can look forward to celebrating his legacy of scholarship and ministry together with Roman Catholic friends and colleagues. No doubt we will continue to welcome the many pilgrims who will come to visit St Mary’s in the years ahead to see the place where Newman preached and ministered.”

Read the complete statement here.

Details of the canonization ceremony and ways to participate can be found at newmancanonisation.com.


Featured image: John Henry Newman Reading a Book, by Henry J. Whitlock, Sermon Notes of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Public Domain, via wikimedia commons

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