Celebrating Newman

The Revd Dr William Lamb
John Henry Newman, who was the Vicar of St Mary’s from 1828-1843, will be canonised by Pope Francis in Rome on Sunday. Given that the 9 October marks Newman’s reception into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845, one might well wonder why this might be a cause for celebration among Anglicans. And yet, it is important to note the profound ways in which his thought was shaped by his experience as an Anglican - for example, Newman’s writing on conscience owes much to the moral philosophy of the Anglican divine, Joseph Butler (1692-1752). His reflections on the Idea of a University are inextricably linked with his experience as a Tutor and Fellow at Oriel. The emphasis he gives to the place of the laity in the life of the church, and the idea of the sensus fidelium bears a rather Anglican stamp. Newman’s thought developed as a Roman Catholic, but he took many of these Anglican accents with him, and one should not underestimate Newman’s influence on the thinking of the Second Vatican Council.

At the same time, as one of the great champions of the Oxford movement, Newman helped the Church of England to recover confidence in its own self-understanding as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. His own ideas may have developed further in a direction which took him eventually to Rome, but his insights continue to inspire ecumenical dialogue. While Newman may not be regarded as a great ‘ecumenist', he is certainly a deeply significant ecumenical figure. His legacy continues to animate ecumenical conversations and to help build up relationships in a spirit of unity.

A number of events are planned this week. They are the fruit of our desire for Christian unity. During the Trinity Term, we worked with the Catholic Chaplaincy in the University, hosting one of their lectures on Newman as their community prepared for the canonisation. This Wednesday evening, St Mary's will host a lecture by Bishop Robert Barron, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, on 'Newman and the New Evangelisation’. This event, which has been organised by the Oxford Oratory and the Thomistic Institute at Blackfriars, has now sold out. 

On Thursday evening at 5.30pm, there will be a celebration of Choral Evensong. The Most Revd Bernard Longley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham will preach. We have also worked with the National Institute for Newman Studies at Duquesne University to gather together an international group of scholars who have contributed to our exhibition ’Newman: the Journey to Sainthood’ in the De Brome Chapel. We believe that all of these things will be a fitting tribute to Newman and will ensure that the next few days are marked by a genuine sense of celebration.

O God, most wonderful in all thy words, most sure in all thy ways,
whose servant John Henry Newman enriched thy Church by his teaching and holiness of life;
graciously grant that, with all thy saints in heaven and on earth,
we may never cease to praise thy name;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
ever one God, world without end. 
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