The English language's finest writer is set to become a saint
National Post, 11 October 2019
This Sunday in Rome, Pope Francis will declare John Henry Newman to be a saint, raising to the altars the most noble exemplar of the distinctive genius of English Catholicism.
Almost exactly one hundred and seventy fours years ago — 9th October 1845 — in a secluded little chapel outside of Oxford, a former Anglican clergyman and scholar was received into the Catholic Church. John Henry Newman was living in seclusion then, a sort of voluntary exile after leaving Oxford, where Catholics were not permitted to study, let alone be fellows.
The quiet ceremony would create an immense thunderclap in England, as the greatest theologian and preacher of his age left the refined, respectable, established Church of England for what was disdained as a backward, superstitious and foreign Catholicism, suitable for the uneducated and vulgar Irish working class.
Newman himself had shared some of that disdain; he found his first encounter with Italianate piety in Sicily to be off-putting. He did not become Catholic because he found it humanly attractive or socially advantageous. He became Catholic because he found it to be true, and for truth Newman was willing to pay a heavy price which, in the 19th century, meant exile from his beloved Oxford and the comfortable establishment in which he was celebrated.
This Sunday in Rome, Pope Francis will declare Newman to be a saint, raising to the altars the most noble exemplar of the distinctive genius of English Catholicism. If in the 19th century Newman’s conversion demonstrated that Catholicism was compatible with the heights of English culture, scholarship and letters, Newman’s canonization in the 21st century demonstrates that excellence and intelligence are fully compatible with biblical faith. For a deracinated age that foolishly considers faith and reason to be enemies rather than partners in the search for truth, Newman is more important today than he was in his own time.
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