The Ambiguous Legacy of John Henry Newman: Reflections on the Papal Visit 2010 – Fulcrum Newsletter October 2010

The Ambiguous Legacy of John Henry Newman:

Reflections on the Papal Visit 2010

Fulcrum Newsletter October 2010

by Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne


Beguiling and virulent, holy and vituperative, quicksilver and splenetic, charming and cantankerous: there are many sides to the character of John Henry Newman, brought out variously and vicariously in their biographies by Ian Ker (Oxford, 1988 – Catholic, scholarly and positive) and Frank M Turner (New Haven, 2002 – Protestant, scholarly and iconoclastic).

The severely critical review by Ker of Turner’s book in the Times Literary Supplement (6 Dec 2002), and consequent response from Turner, who noted that Ker was active in the campaign for Newman’s sainthood (20 Dec 2002), and then the answer of Ker, who complained of Turner ‘impugning [his] integrity’ (3 Jan 2003), intriguingly echo aspects of Newman’s own polemical interaction with Charles Kingsley, which produced his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (London, 1864). Ian Ker did not include Frank M Turner as an author in the book he edited recently, Cambridge Companion to John Henry Newman (Cambridge, 2009) but John Cornwell does draw carefully on both Turner and Ker in his Newman’s Unquiet Grave: the Reluctant Saint (London, 2010).

Newman’s beatification was the centrepiece, culmination and raison d’être of the papal visit to Britain in September 2010. His attraction and trajectory to Rome were the key part of the planning of the visit. But how would the visit be followed up? In parish or university missions, the follow up of people who come to a commitment of faith is vital and keenly arranged. What of the papal visit? Let us consider first John Henry Newman, second some aspects of the papal visit and finally the follow up to the visit.

1. John Henry Newman: Not Afraid of Inferences

If Thomas Aquinas was granted sainthood on account of his writings, why could not this method have been followed with Cardinal Newman? It seems to me that it would have been much more dignified than trying to dredge up a miracle or two. It is the writings which are miraculous in depth, wisdom and literary sparkle, even if some are mercurial and misguided.

A few years ago, in a second hand bookshop, I managed to buy a first edition of Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua (London, 1864). In rereading it since the Papal visit, I have been astonished by the white heat of its argument, even though parts of it sound conversationally calm. It feels like Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, written quickly (in about 10-12 weeks - on one day, 20 May, he worked on the manuscript for 22 hours running), in a feverish fury at the attack of Charles Kingsley on his integrity. Kingsley (author of The Water Babies and pioneering Christian socialist) had implied that Newman was a secret Catholic all along, even in his days in the Church of England, and that his parochial sermons and other writings at Oxford were a deliberate front. Kingsley was arguing that there was no development in the thinking of Newman:

...that I was a “Romanist” in Protestant livery and service; that I was doing the work of a hostile Church in the bosom of the English Establishment, and knew it, or ought to have known it. (p 41)

He counters Kingsley’s attack on him neatly using Kingsley’s own word about him, ‘unmanly’ – which was a coy way of saying ‘effeminate’:

...this unmanly attempt of his, in his concluding pages, to cut the ground from under my feet; - to poison by anticipation the public mind against me, John Henry Newman, and to infuse into the imagination of my readers, suspicion and mistrust of everything that I may say in reply to him. This is what I call poisoning the wells. (p 22)

Kingsley’s negative criticism – even calling Newman a liar (p 46) – was the grit which produced this pearl of autobiographical analysis. It is reflection out of dejection out of rejection: ‘I will draw out, as far as may be, the history of my mind’ (p 48). John Maynard, in his Victorian Discourses on Sexuality and Religion (Cambridge, 1993), states: ‘Kingsley the too-bold, too-busy Protestant parsonical fly gone down to history embedded in the clear amber of Newman’s Apologia.’ (p 88) He also suggests that a key part of Kingsley’s angst against Newman was his severe disagreement with Newman’s elevation of celibacy above marriage (pp 100-106).

Newman begins with the central influence on his youth of the essays and Bible Commentary of the Evangelical Anglican Thomas Scott of Aston Sandford, who was secretary of the Church Missionary Society, ‘ whom (humanly speaking) I almost owe my soul’ (p 60). According to Ker (p 548) Apologia’s model may have been Scott’s autobiographical Force of Truth. Newman adds:

And for years I used almost as proverbs what I considered to be the scope and issue of his doctrine, “Holiness before peace”, and “Growth is the only evidence of life.” (p 61)

Now that last proverb has become famous and is usually cited as Newman’s own thought, but the context is ambiguous. Does ‘what I considered’ mean this is Newman’s summary and proverb or are they Scott’s proverbs he is quoting, which Newman thinks form a summary of Scott’s thought? Either way, the Evangelical Scott was crucial in the ‘history of Newman’s mind’.

Later there is a comment which needs to be heeded today by Evangelical Anglicans:

And the Evangelical party itself seemed, with their late successes, to have lost that simplicity and unworldliness which I admired in [Joseph] Milner and Scott. (p 94)

Turner summarises his biography with the following comment:

The restlessness of Newman’s mind, the inability of his spirit to find a steady spiritual refuge, his family conflicts, his resentment of authority, his frustrated personal ambitions, and his determination to dwell with other celibate males had led him to challenge evangelicalism and all its works. (p 641)

Newman describes his debt to John Keble concerning the significance of the ‘Sacramental system’ which is elucidated as:

the doctrine that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen – a doctrine which embraces, not only what Anglicans, as well as Catholics believe about Sacraments properly so called; but also about the article of “the Communion of Saints” in its fullness; and likewise the Mysteries of the faith. (p 78)

This is a key insight concerning the Communion of Saints: saints here on earth are physical examples of saints in heaven - that is their importance.

Hurrell Froude and Hugh Rose were respectively ‘radical revolutionary’ and ‘establishment moderate’ members of what became known as the Oxford Movement. Newman relates:

Froude was a bold rider, as on horseback, so also in his speculations. After a long conversation with him on the logical bearing of his principles Mr. Rose said of him with quiet humour, that ‘he did not seem to be afraid of inferences’ (p 106).

It seems to me that Newman was similar in that respect, which eventually led to his move to Roman Catholicism. Newman says of this change:

My change of opinion arose not from foreign influences, but from the workings of my own mind, and the accidents around me. (p 153)

In the Long Vacation of 1839 Newman read in detail the history of the Monophysites which set him on the road to Rome: ‘I saw my face in that mirror and I was a Monophysite’. He, as an Anglican, was the Monophysite of the fifth century and Rome was Rome. (p 208). He quoted from his account in 1850 of his reasonings and feelings in 1839:

It was difficult to make out how the Eutychians or Monophysites were heretics, unless the Protestants and Anglicans were heretics also...The principles and proceedings of the Church now, were those of the Church then; the principles and proceedings of heretics then, were those of Protestants now. I found it so, - almost fearfully; there was an awful similitude, more awful, because so silent and unimpassioned, between the dead records of the past and the feverish chronicle of the present. (p 210)

In his controversial Tract 90, which attempted to initiate a new interpretation of the 39 Articles of Religion, the first principle enunciated by Newman was:

It is the duty which we owe both to the Catholic Church, and to our own, to take our reformed confessions in the most Catholic sense they will admit: we have no duty towards their framers. (cited on p 233)

With that last phrase, Newman sows the seeds of our current postmodern approval of reader response: the intention of the authors is not paramount...

It surprised me to read that Newman states categorically ‘Protestants hold justification by faith only, though there is no text in St. Paul which enunciates it’ (p 170). What of the key passages of Romans chapters 1 to 8, Galatians chapters 2 and 3 and Philippians chapter 3? No wonder that Alister McGrath, in his Iustitia Dei (Cambridge, 1996) sums up Newman’s discussion of the Reformers thus:

It is therefore of the utmost importance to appreciate that in every case, and supremely in the case of Luther himself, Newman’s historic-theological analysis appears to be seriously and irredeemably inaccurate. (p 309)

Another Oxford historian and theologian, Rowan Williams, in his Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London, 1987 and 2001) commented on Newman’s book, The Arians of the Fourth Century:

One must charitably say that Newman is not at his best here: a brilliant argument, linking in all sorts of diverse phenomena, is built up on a foundation of complacent bigotry and historical fantasy. However, setting aside for the moment the distasteful rhetoric of his exposition, it should be possible to see something of what his polemical agenda really is. The Arians of the Fourth Century is, in large part, a tract in defence of what the early Oxford Movement thought of as spiritual religion and spiritual authority. (pp 4-5).

In his method of rhetorical argument, Newman described in his Apologia how he had been almost playful:

I was not unwilling to draw an opponent on step by step to the brink of some intellectual absurdity, and to leave him to get back as he could. (p 115)

What of his polemical methods of intrigue? G R Balleine, in his A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England (London, 1908), has an intriguing footnote (p 170) concerning Newman and the Church Missionary Society:

Later he formed an ingenious plan for capturing this Society. In 1830 he wrote and privately circulated a pamphlet, Suggestions on Behalf of the Church Missionary Society, by a Master of Arts, urging High Churchmen to take advantage of the rule by which all clergy who subscribe are members of the Committee, and in this way to obtain control of the Society, and “annex it to the Christian Knowledge and Propagation Societies [SPCK and SPG]”. Five hundred copies of the pamphlet were distributed, but the scheme did not commend itself to his friends. “Very few,” wrote Mozley, “approve of the plan or think it practicable.” See Newman’s Letters, Vol. I, and The Via Media, Vol. II.

What held Newman back from converting to Rome earlier? Interestingly, he mentions devotions to Mary, which he admits still held difficulties for him as he wrote:

Such devotional manifestations in honour of our Lady had been my great crux as regards Catholicism: I say frankly, and I do not fully enter into them now; I trust I do not love her the less, because I cannot enter into them. They may be fully explained and defended; but sentiment and taste do not run with logic: they are suitable for Italy, but they are not suitable for England. (p 318)

He also states that he did not believe in ‘transubstantiation’ till he became a Catholic (p 374).

By 1841, Newman had come to the extreme position that the Church of England had never been a Church all along. A key factor was the setting up of a Jerusalem Bishopric by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which would include ministry to non-Anglican Protestant congregations and missionary work amongst orthodox Greeks and ‘schismatical Oriental bodies’:

...such acts as were in progress led me to the gravest suspicion, not that [the Church of England] would soon cease to be a Church, but that it had never been a Church all along. (p 248)

Newman thought through the issues of his conversion through writing a book. The very act of writing clarified his mind and he was not indeed ‘afraid of inferences’:

So, I determined to write an Essay on Doctrinal Development; and then, if, at the end of it, my convictions in favour of the Roman Church were not weaker, to make up my mind to seek admission into her fold. I acted upon this resolution in the beginning of 1845, and worked at my Essay steadily into the autumn. (p 360)

In the end, for Newman it was a question of personal salvation that led him to Rome:

The simple question is, Can I (it is personal, not whether another, but can I) be saved in the English Church? Am I in safety, were I to die tonight? Is it a mortal sin in me, not joining another communion? (p 363)

On October 8, 1845 he wrote to a number of his friends from Littlemore, just outside of Oxford:

I am this night expecting Father Dominic...He does not know of my intention; but I mean to ask of him admission into the one Fold of Christ. (p 367)

His conversion was to do, in essence, with his personal salvation and there was only one Fold of Christ. In the context of the discussion of infallibility, he professes his own absolute submission (a word used three times on one page, p 389) to the Church, her dogmas and traditions. Later he adds an interesting elucidation:

It is to the Pope in Ecumenical Council that we look, as to the normal seat of Infallibility. (p 396)

Owen Chadwick, in his book The Victorian Church: Part Two (London, 1970) describes Newman’s opinions a few years after writing Apologia in 1864 during the First Vatican Council discussion, at which he was not present, on the infallibility of the Pope (1870):

Bishop Ullathorne of Birmingham was prominent among the minority who believed the doctrine but thought its definition inopportune. Newman was marked for the same opinion, since a fierce private letter to Ullathorne during the council was published to his embarrassment. Newman also believed in infallibility, but did not see what good purpose was served by narrowing the liberty of opinion.’ (p 418).

Newman ends his Apologia with a tender coda of thanks to his six loyal friends surrounding him in Birmingham, first and foremost Ambrose St John, with whom he was later buried.

At the First Vatican Council Newman lost out, concerning the wisdom of defining infallibility, to the influence of his archrival Cardinal Henry Manning, who had also followed a similar trajectory of moving from Evangelical Anglicanism to Tractarianism and then to Roman Catholicism. Newman’s time, however, came nearly a century later, where the influence of his writings on the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was immense. Perhaps it is worth asking a question in the light of this, and of the papal visit. In the economy of God, which was more important: Newman converting to Rome or Rome converting to Newman?

2. Papal Visit: Perspectives on Locations

Location is important not only in buying houses but also in planning and assessing visits. Her Majesty the Queen saw Pope Benedict XVI in Scotland because she was staying at her private residence, Balmoral Castle, during that period and welcomed him to mid-morning tea on Thursday 16 September 2010 at her official residence in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

In his speech the Pope warned against ‘aggressive forms of secularism’ and generally during the visit the aggressive atheists, led by Richard Dawkins, seem to have come off worse. Ironically they came out as ‘protestant’ atheists...and lost the support of their moderate colleagues.

Afterwards, he had a private lunch in Edinburgh with the Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien. That evening the Pope celebrated an open-air mass at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow and preached a homily.

It is an interesting question to consider whether it may be appropriate to designate Her Majesty the Queen as biecclesial. Location is significant. When in Scotland, she attends the Established Church, the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian and of which she is not the ‘Supreme Governor’. The Oath of Accession includes a promise ‘to maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government’ in Scotland (which goes back to the Act of Settlement 1700, section 3). In England, she attends the Established Church, the Church of England, of which she is the ‘Supreme Governor’. So when Pope Benedict XVI met Her Majesty the Queen in Edinburgh, did he meet a Presbyterian or the Supreme Governor of the Church of England or both?

On Friday 17 September, the Pope addressed leaders of other faiths at St Mary’s College, Twickenham, London, as well as meeting members of religious communities and schoolchildren.

In the afternoon he was welcomed to Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He addressed a joint meeting of the diocesan bishops from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. He then had a private meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. What may have been discussed? Well, both are theologians, so are more likely to have considered theology than ecclesiastical policies or politics. The Pope has a high regard for Henri de Lubac, a key French theologian who, like him, was a theological resource person (peritus) at Vatican II. Perhaps they discussed de Lubac?

Paul McPartlan, a young British Catholic theologian currently a Professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, has written intriguingly on two key Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiologists, The Eucharist Makes the Church: Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas in Dialogue (Edinburgh, 1993). Miroslav Wolf, a Croatian theologian at Yale, with origins in Pentecostalism, paired Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in a conversation with Zizioulas After Our Likeness: The Church in the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, 1998). Who will add a third partner of Rowan Williams? Or perhaps a key consequence of the whole visit would be a joint book by the Pope and the Archbishop on the Church drawing on de Lubac, Richard Hooker and Zizioulas?

Westminster Hall, built in 1099, has the largest medieval timber roof in northern Europe, dating from 1393. The location of the trial and condemnation of both Sir Thomas More (1535) and King Charles I (1649), it provided a unique setting for the Pope to address British society in front of about 2000 politicians, diplomats, academics and business leaders.

I was present at, and very moved by, the next event which was the ecumenical service of Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey. The Archbishop welcomed the Pope, who responded warmly. They both reverenced the Canterbury Gospels with a kiss. These were sent by Pope Gregory with Augustine who came to Britain in 597 AD and are kept at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. They also had a prominent place, on St Augustine’s Chair, during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Canterbury Cathedral in 1982.

What was not planned, but happened spontaneously and significantly, was that the Pope kissed the altar and the Archbishop of Canterbury followed his lead. The Archbishop was wearing the pectoral cross given him by Pope John Paul II and the Episcopal ring given to Michael Ramsey by Pope Paul VI.

A key subtle, mostly missed, feature of the location at Westminster Abbey was that neither the Archbishop nor the Pope, nor the other ecumenical leaders present, had technical jurisdiction. The Abbey’s foundation was Catholic, reformation was Anglican and legal status is as a Royal Peculiar, directly under the jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than under a bishop. Thus the location was a leveller.

On Saturday 18 September, the Pope celebrated mass at Westminster Cathedral and was present at an open air vigil in Hyde Park. The beatification of John Henry Newman took place on Sunday 19 September at Cofton Park, Birmingham and the Pope’s homily was the climax of his visit. Later he addressed

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