ST JOHN HENRY NEWMAN “stands as a model of the purposeful disciple”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said last Saturday. He was preaching at a solemn vespers in celebration of Newman’s canonisation celebration of canonisation.
Thousands travelled from the UK to the Vatican for the canonisation last week of Newman, one of the founders of the Church of England’s Oxford Movement (News, 18 October).
In his sermon, Archbishop Welby described Newman as “the saint of this age as well of his own, and thus we rejoice both at his canonisation: more appropriately we learn from his life and seek his intercessions”. The Archbishop acknowledged that it was “easy to find faults with St John Henry. He was polemical, sacrcastic, acerbic in his writings, think-skinned in his sensitivities.”
But he continued: “St John Henry stands as a model of the purposeful disciple. We may disagree with his actions, but we know their origins — he pretends to little — and we see their structures. As the old maths exam papers say, ‘Show your workings,’ and he did.
“The care for salvation, the passion for truth, the desire for holiness, are apparent and more apparent than the weaknesses.”
Towards the end of the sermon, Archbishop Welby reflected on what difference the canonisation should make to ecumenical relations: “St John Henry reminds us that there is only one flock of Christ. . . St John Henry crossed a family divided, and was pilloried. How may we cross and in doing so bless and be blessed? It is certainly in the work of English and Welsh ARC and of ARCIC.
“Yet St John Henry calls us to passion that is perhaps deeper than we may imagine, that is driven by the Spirit and that is intolerant of fears and reluctance.”
The RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, preached at a special evensong on Thursday of last week in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, where Newman was Vicar from 1828 until 1843.
He said that 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 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, Archbishop Longley 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.”
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 events, 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 the previous evening; and an exhibition in the Adam De Brome chapel continues until Monday. Dr Lamb has contributed a podcast to the Journeying with Newman series.
Read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org