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Newman’s feast day rubs Anglican noses in it

newmanorielThe 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)

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24 thoughts on “Newman’s feast day rubs Anglican noses in it”

  1. He was lost to Anglicans who have made no one a saint since the Reformation, believing with that all believers are saints. Of what relevance to us is it that Rome chooses to celebrate Newman’s being lost to us rather than another day? Are the Romans so insecure that they need to mark the day in which they gained an adherent, rather than the day when an influential, famous, and noteworthy Christian (Newman was not less than that) completed his ministry on earth (or, as you suggest, began it)?

    1. Yes, Peter. I’m not quite sure that I would phrase it as “lost to Anglicans”, and possibly that’s not what you are meaning. Anglican calendars don’t appear to celebrate solely Anglicans, but Anglicans rather see themselves as embodying the universal (catholic) church in the place and so celebrate and learn from any significant Christian whatever their denomination. Hence the presence of Newman on Anglican calendars. And the presence of many non-Anglicans on the calendar throughout the year. They continue to enrich us, rather than being lost to us, or never having been gained by us 🙂 Maybe it’s the “us” and “them” dynamics that just isn’t at the heart of the Anglican calendar. Certainly, had there been anything left of Newman (I hope you get the reference), I think he would be spinning in his grave at the thought of his feast day being used polemically 😉

  2. Agreed. “Lost” only in the sense of he left the ‘Anglican’ building, and was enthusiastically “found” by the RCC. Wouldn’t Augustus John also be an impediment to his being able to spin freely in his grave?!

  3. Not quite right, Peter, Charles I was canonised by the Church of England in 1660 .

    But when you get right down to it I agree with both of you. I agree with Bosco, that His Holiness is probably trying to score a cheap point against the Anglican church, in just the way his track record might have led us to expect. And I agree with Peter, that we really shouldn’t respond to this as if his (putative) pettiness mattered to us.

    The exchange took me back to the calendar in the NZPB, where I found the following statement (p.11):-
    “We include in the Calendar the names of people whose lives and work give special encouragement to others of all ages, and to those engaged in various aspects of the Church’s life and witness. They are not all from remote history. Modern times have also produced men and women whose lives have excited other people to sanctity and deeper discipleship.”

    As far as I can see, John Henry Newman isn’t so commemorated by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. But if his life has excited any of us to santity and deeper discipleship, then there is nothing to stop us remembering him for it and saying so – on any day that suits us.

  4. Using 9 April would also answer the apparent reason 11 Oct was chosen–Western schools with Newman Centers would be able to celebrate his feast day during the academic year. I would bet though, that the 9 April date was rejected for too many conflicts with Holy Week more than any other reason.

  5. With reference to Conversion, I value these words of A M Allchin, The Dynamic of Tradition (DLT 1981) refering to T S Eliot’s national and religious change.
    “… changes of church allegiance…can have a greater positive value than we are sometimes ready to admit, especially when they are made without violent repudiation of the past. They can be ways of bringing together positions formerly thought to be incompatible, or at least unrelated, ways in which insight can be gained into both sides of the barrier which has been crossed.” p21

    1. Thanks, David – don’t have any idea where I got the other date from! Corrected now.

      Good quote, Martin. There is, as the quote implies, also the occasion where someone does have a “violent repudiation of the past.”

      Roscoe, I agree – you can add Newman into your own or a community’s calendar. He is in the calendar of my book Celebrating Eucharist which wasn’t allowed to be published until I had altered it according to the then Liturgy Commission’s alterations were incorporated – so I guess that’s some sort of indication of approval of the feast 🙂

      Mike – I’ll take your bet, and bet that my suggested date of 9 April wasn’t even considered.

  6. David |Dah•veed|

    Peter, do you mean Augustus St. John? His lifelong friend and in whose grave he was buried with a double grave stone.

  7. How sad that as we preach Ecumenism, we continue to practice one-up men’s ship ……hum, note the use of “up MEN’S ship”…..perhaps a slip with some deep truth for the RCC to consider! Would we RCC women have made the SAme DATE decision?? I would like to think NOT!

  8. How about the Roman Catholics use the dates he wrote his best theology? That would put him back in the Anglican date range. Were they able to move his bones as well? What about his request to be buried?

  9. For those interested in Newman’s friendship with Ambrose St John there is an interesting article in the London Tablet, 4 August 2001 by ecclesiastical historian Alan Bray, Wedded Friendships. Bray discusses his belief that spiritual same-sex friendships have been celebrated with rites that gave them a standing akin to marriage.

  10. What absolute foolishness. WHAT does it matter which day? Someone WINS – wins WHAT. You’ll notice that most of the territorially defensive post are written by men. Playground games have no place – next it will be soccer and/or football in St. Peter’s Square.

  11. Thanks for your contribution, B Cronin. You are the first to bring up the concept of “winning” something – if anything is to be “won”, using your metaphor, I hope it would be understanding.

    Times and calendars, as so much else that may seem trivial (you mention kicking a ball around – look at how significant that can be on our planet), are powerfully symbolic and we ignore this power at our peril. Just one example: you will know that Gandhi made his teaspoon of salt, that was so significant in bringing down the British Empire, the largest empire our world has known, on the anniversary of the massacre at Amritsar. A teaspoon, salt, and a date – may not seem much to you.

    Finally, soccer and football are the same thing. Yes, it does appear from the final speech of the pope in the UK that, at least from the view of St. Peter’s Square, there is only one game to play.

    1. BA Cronin, I hadn’t thought of the blog logo as a promise that every post would connect spirituality for every person – but in our discussion, I guess I’m suggesting that for many, possibly most people, spirituality and our concept of time connect, or can be connected.

      David, I am just speechless! [Sadly Fr John Zuhlsdorf’s blog, to which you link, is having computer problems he is trying to fix, and your link does not go through currently – was this commentary you mention on the TV?]

  12. David |Dah•veed|

    It seems that the Pope gave us the Ratsfinger in more than one instance.

    This is Benedict 16 at Westminster Abbey as the guest of the ABC. During the commentary it was mentioned that he was wearing a stole that belonged to Pope Leo XIII.

    It was Pope Leo XIII who declared Anglican Orders null & void.

    The supposed successor to Peter comes to an Anglican church dedicated to Peter, wearing the stole of his predecessor, another supposed successor to Peter, who had previously declared that Anglicans did not have Apostolic Succession.

    That is rich

  13. David |Dah•veed|

    Oh, and by the way, Fr. Z is not our friend. Nor are his commenters. They all think B16 is great and really riding herd on the Anglicans.

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