Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost in translation

Pope Benedict broke with his usual rule only to preside at canonizations when he presided at the beatification of John Henry Newman in England last week. Father Keith Beaumont, official Church biographer of Newman, has suggested that Benedict XVI relaxed his rule because he feels a special kinship with the intellectual, artistic and spiritual Newman, and the quality of his engagement with his times.

To the people of today, Blessed John Henry Newman proposes "the model of a penetrating, vast learning, willingness to engage with all the currents of thought of his time, of profound respect of the 'real' -- his thought is worlds apart from any form of ideology, and of great openness of spirit, all allied to a profound and intimate sense of God, to a constant search for God, to a profound love of God," the biographer said.

It's likely Newman will ultimately be canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church, something Beaumont reports all the Popes since Pius XII have wished for. (Source for the famous Millais portrait.)

Beatifying Newman was a cheeky thing to do, given Rome's recent efforts to lure traditionalist Anglicans back to Mother Church. Newman, probably the most famous Anglican convert to Catholicism, was nevertheless opposed to such doctrines as papal infallibility, but is being presented as a glorious example of human intellect submitting to the authority of the Church. Newman's "grammar of assent" is a bit more complex, methinks.

His life, too, is a little more complex than that of your standard issue saint. He was extremely close to another priest, Ambrose St. John, and they lived together for thirty years. (Painting above by Mary Giberne) It is probably anachronistic to suppose them sexually involved, but soulmates they clearly were. The connection was strong enough that Newman insisted on being buried in the same grave as St. John.

They were together in death 118 years, but in 2008 Newman's remains were removed from the grave - they are needed as relics. The double grave with its awkward questions will have no place in the cult of Blessed Newman. But Perhaps someday all of Newman's life will be remembered and revered.

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