Blog Template Theology of the Body: Ecumenical Acumen: St. John Henry Newman

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ecumenical Acumen: St. John Henry Newman

"Truth," he says, "has the gift of overcoming the human heart, whether by persuasion or compulsion; and, if what we preach be will make itself popular." Newman, Preface to the Third Edition

The Vatican confirmed this week that the canonization of Bl. John Henry Newman will take place in September. Newman was a leader of the Anglican Tractarians, a gloriously profound author, a convert to the Catholic Church, priest, and cardinal. You can learn more here

I have always owed a profound debt of gratitude to this saint, since his The Idea of a University was one of the first texts to strike me in its gentle, wise allusions to the unchanging Church while I was an undergraduate.

Various pundits have been quick to point out this week that there is something significant about this immanent canonization of a convert from Anglicanism juxtaposed against the Church's recent generosity towards Anglicans and Episcopalians who seek reunion with the Church that Christ founded. I think that these hints about a meaningful connection must be true, because in a time of tired failures in ecumenical efforts, and in a time wherein the ecumenical conversation has become muddled beyond comprehension, the Church's recognition and promotion of her martyrs and models of holiness leaves no ambiguity as to Christ's calling for each and every one of the baptized.  The lives of St. Margaret Clitherow and the hundreds of Catholic martyrs of the English Schism outline the relevant distinctions with sobering clarity: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

In other words, with the canonization of Cardinal Newman- the one who attempted to live as a "catholic" while within an Anglican community separated from the Catholic Church, until he repented- the Church gains a reference point against a few of the utterly confusing statements of our day. You have probably heard them. In 2001, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Prefect of Vatican Council for Promoting Christian Unity, stated that“… today we no longer understand ecumenism in the sense of a return, by which the others would ‘be converted’ and return to being Catholics." (Adista, Feb. 26, 2001) In 2005, Pope Benedict made a statement which has been drastically misconstrued when he stated that “and we now ask: What does it mean to restore the unity of all Christians?... This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (Unitatis Redintegrationn. 2, 4, etc.); the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world.  On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history.  Absolutely not!”(Benedict XVI, Address to Protestants at World Youth Day, August 19, 2005: L’Osservatore Romano, August 24, 2005, p. 8.) 

The Pope's words- which affirm the fact that those who do enter the Catholic Church find that they have to renounce nothing of the truths of Christian doctrine which they previously held-  have been used by many Anglicans to insist (falsely) that the Church's ecumenical efforts have "moved on" from the clearly stated, definitively taught, and repeatedly affirmed mandates of Apostolicae Curae, which unequivocally call Protestants home: speaking to those who have at heart the Church’s desire for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, Pope Leo XIII states as follows:

Let them be the first in joyfully submitting to the divine call (to the Catholic Church) and (obey) it, and furnish a glorious example to others. And assuredly, with exceeding joy, their Mother, the Church, will welcome them, and will cherish with all her love and care those whom the strength of their generous souls has, amidst many trials and difficulties, led back to her bosom. Nor could words ever express the recognition which this devoted courage will win for them from the assemblies of the brethren throughout the Catholic world, or what hope or confidence it will merit for them before Christ as their Judge, or what reward it will obtain from Him in the Heavenly Kingdom.


...When asked whether the Catholic Church "really wants" faithful Anglicans and Episcopalians to convert, the Church's people will not have to scramble to find just the right clever statement to present to those interlocutors who don't buy the Church's authority to authorize statements anyway. We will only have to point to the vividly real lives, deaths, and corroborating miracles of Anglican converts like St. Elizabeth Anne Seton and St. John Henry Newman, and say simply- as they did- "yes."