The great Christian tradition is that for the church’s calendar you celebrate a person on the day of their death. John Henry Newman died August 11, 1890. The Church of England, hence, appropriately, has Newman on the calendar August 11.
Today the pope, Benedict XVI, beatifies Newman and announces that for Roman Catholics, Newman’s feast day will be – *drumroll* – watch lay-person Rowan Williams’ gritted teeth beneath the beard trying to hold an Englishman’s polite smile – October 9th! The date Newman “converted” to Roman Catholicism.
I write “converted” with scare quotes because conversion, IMO, is a deep transformation process – not merely the changing from one denomination to another. You don’t convert a $NZ 20 note to two $10 notes – you just change them. $20 and $10 notes are different denominations of the same currency. You convert NZ money to Indonesian Rupiah.
Yes, for some, changing denominations may, wonderfully, be a conversion – for most, conversion is not such a simple process.
But wait. We forget. Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism are not different denominations! Remember in 2,000 the now-pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, announced that the Church of England is not a church. So Newman didn’t change denominations, as I’m suggesting, he converted.
OK, so Rowan Williams and even (RC) Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, were caught out when the pope recently announced Anglican Ordinariates – so you’d think there might be a little caution to keep them in the loop today (one priest called this another one finger salute from the Vatican to the CofE).
People have been a bit jumpy about the Newman beatification, but “in the run-up to the papal visit, leaders of both churches have emphasized that although Newman’s faith journey led him to Catholicism, the beatification was not being viewed as an act of triumphalism by the Vatican.”
But do you get that feeling of déjà vue, that the Vatican officials aren’t talking to each other again:
Speaking to reporters Sept. 9, the Vatican’s ecumenism experts underlined that fact and said it was possible that the Catholic Church would also adopt the Aug. 11 feast day as an ecumenical gesture.
“Obviously there are sensitive issues over someone converting, but his beatification is being received in a very positive way,” Msgr. Mark Langham said of the Anglican reaction.
What the ecumenists had apparently not been told, however, was that the Vatican’s liturgy experts had already designated Cardinal Newman’s feast day as Oct. 9, the day of his conversion (sic.).
Can anyone think of a precedent for such a dating of a feast day? When we celebrate a saint, we naturally begin, “today N died in year, … or was martyred…” For Newman it will untriumphalistically be, “today Newman converted from what he originally thought was a church but actually isn’t, to the true Christian faith, Catholicism,…”
To be fair, commentators have highlighted that August 11 is already taken by St Clare. Those people appear to assume that there is only room for 365 Roman Catholic saints. In fact, the following are also celebrated on August 11: Agathangelus Nourry, Alexander the Charcoal Burner, Anastasius of Kasamba, Attracta of Killaraght, Basilios of Huleklosteret, Blane of Kingarth, Chromatius, Digna, Dimitrios of Kasamba, Equitius, Francis of Saint Mary, Gaugericus, John Becchetti, Lawrence Nerucci, Lelia, Luigi Biraghi, Mauritius Tornay, Peter Becchetti, Philomena, Rufinus of Marsi, Susanna of Rome, Taurinus of Evreux, Theodore of Heleklosteret, Theodore of Ostrog, Tiburtius of Rome.
If you were really, genuinely wanting not to rub Anglican noses in the Newman beatification, a little consultation would have gone a long way.
If August 11 really wasn’t going to work – what about the date of Newman’s baptism? If Anglicans and Roman Catholics were to look for one day Newman died with Christ, his baptism should spring to mind. And it reinforces, that while we may differ about some things – Anglicans and Roman Catholics are totally agreed about our common baptism.
April 9: Feast of John Henry Newman – date of his baptism (April 9, 1801)