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Hallo again to all.

“DodoRecent weeks have brought the news of a date certain—13 October 2019—for the canonization of John Henry Newman. He has been listed on Anglican calendars already for some time: Episcopalians have prayed in thanksgiving on 21 February for one 'who did make of his own life a pilgrimage towards thy truth', and members of the Church of England have commemorated him on 11 August each year. A delegation from the Church of England, the church of his birth and formation, will be present in Rome later this year when Newman is raised to the altars of the church in which he taught and died. Newman will be the most recent English person to be recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, his nearest predecessors having been the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who died between 1535 and 1679.

There is a tendency in the perception of a canonization like Newman's to misunderstand the movement from one part of the Christian family to the other as the primary note of the individual's holiness, the reason for the canonization. Orthodox, Catholic, Russian Old Believer, and Anglican communities have all recognized saints whose major presence in church history has been to assert the rightness of one ecclesiology over another. (E.g. Alexis Toth in Orthodoxy, Josaphat Kuntsevych in the Roman Church, Avvakum in Russian Old Belief, Thomas Cranmer in Anglicanism.) The case of a saint like Thomas More is perhaps most stark: a man who sacrificed his life over points of conscientious opposition to the Henrician reformation. Can they all be saints, if they died or lived in the certain knowledge of the exclusive correctness of their respective churches? Is this an ecumenical dilemma, and does it have to be?

A wrinkle here is in confusion about what it means to be included in the Christian calendar. It is not a churchly outgrowth of Lewis Carroll's Dodo Verdict, in which 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes'. The sanctoral calendar is not and can not become a list of persons whose opinions we like best, but it is rather a schedule of when we will be reminded each year of the deeds and words of men and women who in their time showed us something of what it means to be exemplary in faithfulness. Christians differ about what that means with respect to intercession and the present state of the departed. But the most memorialist among us can agree that it is good for the religious intellectual to be in active conversation with Newman's writings about education, authority, revelation. An acceptance that in Newman's life God has done something truly extraordinary does not mean that every one of his decisions in the common room at Oriel or the parish church at Littlemore was perfect.

The late Pope John Paul II touched on an awareness of this ecumenical complexity when he beatified 85 English Roman Catholics in 1987:

Seventeen years ago forty of the glorious company of martyrs were canonized. It was the prayer of the Church on that day that the blood of those martyrs would be a source of healing for the divisions between Christians. Today we may fittingly give thanks for the progress made in the intervening years towards fuller communion between Anglicans and Catholics. We rejoice in the deeper understanding, broader collaboration and common witness that have taken place through the power of God. In the days of the martyrs whom we honour today, there were other Christians who died for their beliefs. We can all now appreciate and respect their sacrifice. Let us respond together to the great challenge which confronts those who would preach the Gospel in our age. Let us be bold and united in our profession of our common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Central to the renewal to which the Holy Spirit calls the Church, is work for that unity among Christians for which Christ himself prayed. We must all rejoice that the hostilities between Christians, which so shaped the age of these martyrs, are over, replaced by fraternal love and mutual esteem.

The important notes are not a winner-takes-all triumphalism, but the emergence of an understanding of commonality, shared if not yet entirely visible unity, the growth of mutual respect in the pursuit of truth, and the discord of previous eras as its own source of potential healing in the present.

This October all Christians will have an opportunity to reminded of the good work of God in a man named John—the son of an Evangelical London banker and the descendant of Huguenots, who changed his university and his country through his church, inviting his listeners and readers to an awakened and renewed life in response to the needs of the changing world. It is a chance for us to join our hearts anew with the simplicity of his young faith in the hymn he wrote while still an Anglican:

Lead, kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana


All of us at Anglicans Online

7 July 2019


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