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What does Newman's canonisation mean to Anglicans and why does it matter?

What does Newman's canonisation mean to Anglicans and why does it matter?

Benjamin King

10 October 2019 1:23PM

The Revd Dr Benjamin King from the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee in Tennessee reflects on the importance of the canonisation of Newman for Anglicans.

Newman's canonisation is important to Anglicans because he was a bridge between communions, transferring a Catholic vision to worldwide Anglicanism and then bringing some of his Anglicanism with him when he became a Catholic.

The fruits for Anglicanism of the Oxford Movement, which Newman helped to lead, include the Anglican Communion’s sense of continuity with the early Church, altars where the Eucharist is celebrated every Sunday, and the orders of Anglican nuns and monks. These were mostly missing in the Church of England before Newman and the Oxford Movement began their work.

The fruits for Catholicism of his conversion include magnifying the role laypeople played in the Catholic Church and shifting away from a view of the Church that “emphasizes only the harmony not the tension” (as Cardinal Avery Dulles put it). I would say Newman’s canonisation is a recognition that both of these Anglican characteristics are now valued by Catholics.

The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Henry Manning wrote in 1866 that Newman was the chief source of “an English Catholicism. It is the old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford tone transplanted into the Church.” Manning did not mean this as a compliment!

That the current Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, views matters very differently can be seen, in one tiny example, by his inviting me to speak at the Vatican on the day before the canonisation on "Cardinal Newman: a bridge between Anglicanism and Catholicism". Today Newman can bring about a deepening of understanding between Catholics and Anglicans. Not that all Anglicans are devoted to him, for sure: like many of his contemporaries, some today still see Newman as a slippery arguer. But recent Archbishops of Canterbury (Michael Ramsey, Robert Runcie, Rowan Williams) have responded positively to his writings.

After his conversion Newman had some harsh things to say about Anglicanism. But he had written still harsher things about the Catholic Church in 1833 when, despite waxing eloquent about the beauties of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, he made comments about Catholicism too negative to be mentioned diplomatically here.

On 13 October in the same St Peter’s Basilica Newman is raised to the altar, not spotless but nevertheless a saint for those who say their prayers in English, Anglicans and Catholics alike.

Benjamin King will be speaking at a free symposium on Newman on Friday 18 October at Westminster Abbey. For full details, please go here.