Monsignor Roderick Strange, Rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome and author of the recently published John Henry Newman: A Mind Alive said that Newman "while never regretting his move remained positive about what was good in Anglicanism, and appreciative of what he had learnt from it."
Monsignor Strange told The Times he believed that Anglican figures "would be delighted by Newman's beatification, because they have a sense of the way Newman took his Anglican heritage with him into Catholicism".
Addressing an audience at the residence of the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Monsignor Strange said that Anglicans "leaning in a more Protestant direction" were likely to be critical of the beatification if and when it occurred, which was why Rome should "not be triumphalistic about the proceedings." Monsignor Strange added: "I would see the beatification as a challenge for ecumenism, but also as an opportunity".
Vatican sources say Pope Benedict XVI, who studied Newman's writings as a theological student, is expected to announce the beatification next year, provided the procedures are completed. Earlier this month a casket containing Newman's remains, which include a lock of his hair and a piece of linen thought to be stained with his blood, was placed in the chapel of St Charles Borromeo at the Birmingham Oratory. It will remain there while beatification procedures are finalised in Rome.
Father Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and the postulator of Newman's cause, recalled that when Newman's grave at Rednal was opened there was "shock at what little was found", but also said referred to "peace of mind that after all Cardinal Newman's fondest wishes had actually been fulfilled."
Proof of a medically inexplicable miracle is required for beatification, the step before sainthood. The Vatican is investigating the apparently miraculous recovery of Jack Sullivan, a deacon from Boston, Massachussetts, from a spinal disease after he prayed for Newman's intercession.
At the Rome meeting - which was attended by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops - Monsignor Strange described Newman's The Infidelity of the Future (1873) as an "almost prophetic" warning of the challenges to faith in our own time, which had foreshadowed Pope Benedict's own strictures on "the dictatorship of relativism".
He said that Newman had predicted "the waning influence of other Christian communities, the resistance to Catholicism, especially when its influence is felt to grow, the setbacks created by scandals, and the problems arising from shallow thinking and a media soundbite culture".
Newman had added that "Christianity has never yet had experience of a world simply irreligious". He had clearly seen that "subjectivism and relativism place us at the mercy of the dictator", whereas "a life lived according to conscience is a life lived in obedience to objective truth. Newman's own life bears witness to that", Monsignor Strange explained.
Monsignor Strange said that beatification or canonisation did not mean the person in question had "never sinned or erred". Pope Benedict had himself observed last year that "the saints have not fallen from heaven, they are people like us, who also have complicated problems".
One key to Newman was his Englishness, which included his attempt to persuade by force of argument, Monsignor Strange said. He had once said that he had "resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of Liberalism in religion", but this did not mean that he was a "dogmatic fundamentalist".
He had championed dogma, both as an Anglican and as a Roman Catholic, but his target was "scepticism and unbelief. He never wanted to overcome reason without touching the heart." Newman had believed that "we do not persuade by intransigence, but by openness to what is good and true."
This approach had not always been popular in Rome, however, of which Newman had once said: "The Rock of Peter on its summit enjoys a pure and serene atmosphere, but there is a great deal of Roman malaria at the foot of it".
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