Cardinal Newman & his Cause

The present Pope, John Paul II, has made more saints than any of his predecessors, indeed more than all the other Popes put together. At the last reckoning he has created 456 Saints and 1288 Blesseds. This astonishing fact tells us something very important about how the Pope views things. It tells us of the universal call to holiness – that all of us are called to be saints. It also tells us that this is not some vague hope, but that it has been accomplished in the lives of very many men and women, who are put before us by the Church as models of Christian living, as examples for us to imitate.

    Obviously, some of the new Saints are going to be better known than others, and of greater appeal to the whole Church. This is true of the list of candidates for canonisation, which remains impressively long. One on that list is regarded as being of very great importance for the Church today: John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great English convert of the 19th century.

    Ever since his death in August, 1890, Cardinal Newman has had a reputation for sanctity. Straight after he died, newspapers around the world carried obituaries of the great man, calling him a saint and urging the Church to add him to the Calendar. The making of saints in the Catholic Church is not, however, accomplished overnight. Although the evidence accumulated that many regarded Newman as worthy of canonisation, it was not until the Second World War and its immediate aftermath that his Cause began to gather momentum. Pope Pius XII wrote a letter in 1945 to commemorate the centenary of Newman’s reception into the Church, and in that letter wrote of Newman’s search for truth and of his being captivated by 'the beauty of Catholic teaching', which he made 'the guiding principle of his whole life'.

    In an age of doubt and confusion it was this aspect of Cardinal Newman’s life which seemed to impress the Popes. Pope Paul VI, speaking in 1963, said of Newman that he was 'guided solely by love of the truth and fidelity to Christ' and so 'traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive…so as to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and of peace.' Pope John Paul II, visiting this country in 1982, spoke of Newman as the “pilgrim for truth”, and has recognised in the great Cardinal 'a Saint for our times'. In his letter to mark the 200th anniversary of Newman’s birth, which fell last year, the Pope spoke of Newman’s consciousness of having a mission given him by God, of the remarkable synthesis of faith and reason which his writings show forth, and of his fidelity to Christ in the many trials and perplexities which afflicted him during his long life. The Pope said: 'John Henry Newman belongs to every time and place and people.' He also said of Newman that he is 'a sure and eloquent guide in our perplexity', who is for us 'in all our needs a powerful intercessor before the throne of grace.'

    The Popes have recognised in Cardinal Newman a great and holy man and have given every encouragement to the advancement of his Cause. When all the necessary documents had been prepared showing that the Cardinal had lived all the virtues to an heroic degree – something which must be established before any candidate can be proposed for canonisation – the procedures in Rome were gone through in record time, so obvious was the case they were making. So it was that in the early days of 1991, Pope John Paul II declared Newman 'Venerable', the very first stage to be reached on the way to canonisation.

    A great deal was accomplished very quickly once the Cause really got going. Many people supposed that things would be brought to a happy conclusion just as quickly. But God has asked us to be patient! We still await the verification of a miracle through Cardinal Newman’s intercession in order that his beatification take place, and a second miracle for his canonisation. Patience is not an easy virtue: in our society people have come to expect immediate answers. But patience does not mean inactivity or idleness. Although all the major tasks of establishing the saintly nature of the Cardinal’s life are accomplished, it is vital that people pray hard for the graces we still need – for the grace of a miraculous cure from a serious physical illness. Linked with that, of course, is the need to spread interest in, and devotion to, John Henry Newman. So many people see Newman as an intellectual and literary giant; it is important to see him as well as the Saint he surely is; someone who will present our petitions to God and who will intercede for us in a powerful way.

    All this has to happen at the grass roots. That is why the declaration made by the Bishops of England and Wales at the end of their Low Week meeting this year is so important. They said: 'Meeting at St Mary’s College, Oscott, Birmingham, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the First Provincial Council of Westminster, the Bishops’ Conference commends to Catholics in England and Wales the Cause for the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Admired as a man of the Church, and as a faithful pastor and teacher, he was an ardent seeker for truth, and a great apostle of the laity. His life and teachings reveal him to be a saint for our times. Recognising the need for a miracle of healing to be ascribed to his intercession, the Bishops commend him as a worthy advocate before God, to be turned to in prayer for all needs, physical and spiritual.'

The Very Rev’d Paul Chavasse