Rome, July 1, 2019
Dear Newman Friends,
With deep joy, we communicate to you
that on October 13, 2019 Pope Francis
will canonize Blessed John Henry Newman,
together with four other Blessed,
on Saint Peters’s Square in Rome.
When Newman heard that somebody had called him a saint, he wrote in his dry sense of humour: “I have no tendency to be a saint – it is a sad thing to say. Saints are not literary men, they do not love the classics, they do not write Tales… It is enough for me to black the saints’ shoes – if St Philip uses blacking, in heaven” (LD XIII 419). Throughout his life, Newman thought himself to be far away from the ideal of holiness. Since his ‘first conversion’ at the age of fifteen (1816), however, his striving was orientated towards God, whom he had recognized as Creator and centre of his life.
A vivid awareness of God’s presence, sincere faith in Revelation and a readiness to carry responsibility for the salvation of people characterized his whole life. In the course of his ‘first conversion’, he chose the following words as a motto: “Holiness rather than peace”. His aim was to overcome any form of false peace, to follow the Truth unconditionally, and to lead a life in conformity with the Gospel. A day after Newman’s death, the well-known English newspaper published an obituary, concluding with these words: “Of one thing we may be sure, that the memory of this pure and noble life, untouched by worldliness…, will endure and that, whether Rome canonizes him or not, he will be canonized in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England. The saint… in him will survive” (The Times, August 12, 1890).
In the 1950s, towards the end of the pontificate of Pius XII, the process of canonization officially opened. It is astonishing how clearly the recent Popes expressed their esteem for the English Cardinal, underlining also his prophetic relevance for our times. When Dominic Barberi, a Passionist who had received Newman into the Catholic Church in 1845, was beatified on October 27, 1963, Paul VI stated that Newman “guided solely by love of the truth and fidelity to Christ, traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive, that human thought ever travelled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and of peace”. Paul VI nurtured a great veneration for Newman.
In a letter addressed on April 7, 1979 to the Archbishop of Birmingham, on the occasion of the centenary of the Cardinalate of Newman, John Paul II wrote: “Newman, with almost prophetic vision, was convinced that he was working and suffering for the defence and affirmation of the cause of religion and of the church not only in his own time but also in the future. His inspiring influence as a great teacher of the faith and as a spiritual guide is being ever more clearly perceived in our own day”.
Benedict XVI, who beatified Newman during a Eucharistic celebration in Birmingham on September 19, 2010, stated in his Address on the occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia on December 20, 2010: “Why was he beatified? What does he have to say to us? Many responses could be given to these questions… The first is that we must learn from Newman’s three conversions, because they were steps along a spiritual path that concerns us all. Here I would like to emphasize just the first conversion: to faith in the living God. Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the “reality” according to which one finds one’s bearings. The “real” is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one’s hand. In his conversion, Newman recognized that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man’s spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution. What had previously seemed unreal and secondary was now revealed to be the genuinely decisive element. Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person’s theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path”.
Pope Francis speaks highly of Newman as well. In his programmatic Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, from November 24, 2013, he quotes a letter of Newman in the section on the temptations for pastoral workers: “In some places a spiritual ‘desertification’ has evidently come about, as the result of attempts by some societies to build without God or to eliminate their Christian roots. In those places ‘the Christian world is becoming sterile, and it is depleting itself like an overexploited ground, which transforms into a desert’ (LD III 204)“ (n. 86). In this passage the Holy Father speaks, with words of Newman, on the sterility of a life and activity without God, sometimes verifiable even within the Church. The more we live in communion with God and serve his plan, the more we are able to bring lasting fruit.
As a modest gift for Newman’s canonization, we send you two conferences offered by Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., during a day of study and retreat in Rome. The first illuminates a philosophical question, which occupied the new Saint for a long time: “Newman on the Degrees of Certitude”. The second reflection explains the meaning of holiness in the writings of the great English theologian: “What Will We Do in Heaven? Newman on Holiness”.
Some of you may already know that on June 1, 2019 the Lord has called to himself Professor Günter Biemer, Honorary President of the Internationale Deutsche John Henry Newman Gesellschaft. Professor Biemer was among the most distinguished Newman scholars in Germany and brought many people, especially through his Newman editions and his two biographies, to a profound knowledge of Newman’s life and work. Let us remain united with him in prayer and in the mystery of the communion of Saints.
Rejoicing in the imminent canonization of Newman, we send you best greetings “cor ad cor”
Fr. Hermann Geissler, F.S.O. Sr. Birgit Dechant, F.S.O.
© International Centre of Newman Friends, Rome 2019