September 14, 2010

Honoring John Henry Newman

In early life he was a major figure in the Oxford Movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots. Eventually his studies in history persuaded him to become a Roman Catholic (October 1845). As it was not enough, at the end of the process of canonization, Venerable John Henry Newman—the status of “venerable” is the step before beatification on the road to sainthood in the Catholic church—will be the first Englishman since the 17th century to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. And as everybody knows the Pope will officially beatify him at the end of his visit to England and Scotland from September 16 to 19.

But perhaps first and foremost, as Conrad Black maintains in the National Review Online, Newman must rank among the very greatest Englishmen of any time or faith, and his distinction as a man, intellect, writer, and philosopher would be no less if there were no thought of his possession of saintly and miraculous powers:

For almost an entire century he was the unflagging champion of intellectual and intuitive Christian faith, who revealed the inconsistencies of the Established Church, yet was a force for Christian reconciliation, and always dissented from what was trendy and opportunistic. He was a bridge to the universal and premier church, but always an Englishman. He was as representative of the highest form of the English character as Samuel Johnson or the Duke of Wellington. The same man who opposed the Crimean War, as besmirching British integrity by propping up the Ottomans, who rendered unto the pope what was his, “could not imagine being or wanting to be anything but English.” When he died in his 90th year, the whole Christian world mourned him. There is a Cardinal Newman School in almost every community in the once-Christian world.

Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest intellects to hold that office in several centuries, a man of great philosophical scholarship, rigor, and originality, as well as an accomplished writer, linguist, practical administrator, and musician. His visit to Britain this month is to render homage to a man he regards as an intellectual giant, endowed with a character of comparably exceptional quality, which he believes, on the evidence of ecclesiastical scrutiny, has been recognized and amplified by divine blessings. Those who share that faith are uplifted by Newman’s intelligence and character. Those who do not should at least be aware that, in his lifetime and in the 120 years since his death, Newman has carried the British colors in his spheres of endeavor with a brilliance, panache, and durability that has put him in, or close to, the company of history’s most distinguished Englishmen, the exalted realm of Shakespeare and Churchill. John Henry Newman is being elevated for a rare fusion of genius and virtue that does great honor to his country, but transcends nationality, denomination, and religion itself.



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