ST JOHN HENRY NEWMAN’s critical attitude, first, to the Roman Catholic Church, and then to the Church of England, could help both Communions grow closer together, the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, has said.
The newly canonised Victorian scholar and priest had not been not shy about his objections to some RC traditions in the first half of his life, the Archbishop recalled.
“As an Anglican, he had some uncomplimentary things to say about Roman Catholic practices. And, as a Roman Catholic, he did not spare his criticism of Anglican ways. Newman’s insight can help both our Communions to change and to grow closer in the future.”
Archbishop Longley was preaching at a special evensong in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, where Newman was Vicar from 1828 until 1843.
St Mary’s was an especially appropriate setting for the ecumenical service, the Archbishop said, as it commemorated, side by side, 16th-century martyrs of both Churches who had died in Oxford.
“This gathering is itself a powerful sign of our commitment to continue to pray and strive for the unity of the Church,” he said. “It offers us a welcome opportunity to demonstrate the unity of faith we already share together.”
Anglicans from Oxford, including the Bishop, Dr Steven Croft, were among those present in St Peter’s Square, Rome, for the canonisation mass on Sunday (News, 18 October).
Each hymn at the evensong in the University Church was by Newman, and the Vicar of St Mary’s, the Revd Dr William Lamb, also quoted one of Newman’s best-known prayers. The canticles were Byrd’s Second Service, and the anthem was an Ave Maria by Parsons.
After praying for each of the parishes and oratories that Newman was associated with, Dr Lamb concluded: “Pray, as we celebrate his legacy together, we may renew our commitment to the unity of our Churches.”
Quoting Pope Francis’s encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, Archbishop Longley reminded the congregation that unity came from a “common purpose” and sharing in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we could learn so much from one another. Tonight, we are here in thanksgiving for the gifts of John Henry Newman to the Church.
“And we ask that his prayers and example will indeed help us find the unity for which Christ prayed: ‘May they all be one.’ St John Henry Newman: pray for us.”
As part of its Newman programme, St Mary’s hosted a lecture by Bishop Robert Barron, RC Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, organised by the Oxford Oratory and the Thomistic Institute at Blackfriars, on Wednesday evening; and an exhibition in the Adam De Brome chapel continues until 28 October. Dr Lamb has contributed a podcast to the Journeying with Newman series.