Monday, May 10, 2010

Cornwell's Bash


I have always wondered why ex-nuns like Karen Armstrong or ex-priests like Michael Walshseem to make a profession of their "exness", even former seminarians like Bobby Mickens get on the bandwagon. What seems to mark them out is their bitterness, almost visceral hatred of the Church and its institutions, yet there whole life is about "churchiness". They seem to have a pathological inability "to get a life" of their own, at least one that doesn't revolve around Vatican gossip and vestments. What marks them out is the lack of faith that marks their writings. In classic 1970's style they are continually scratching the itch of their indisposition, it is perhaps a neurotic attempt of coming to terms with an inner conflict.

John Cornwell, another professionally bitter ex-seminarian does a bit of Pope bashing in the Sunday Times by attacking Newman's beatification.
He questions Deacon Jack Sullivan's miraculous healing and points out that it doesn't quite conform to the usual norms the Congregation for the Causes of Saints sets for a miracle. Jack's back pain was relieved for ten months and then returned, eventually he was operated on. I don't have a problem with that. I suppose I am a victim modern scientificism, I find my faith makes me more skeptical not less about the miraculous. Whilst I certainly don't dismiss the miraculous, it is a essential element of religion, there is always a "factor X". Faith gives us the ability to put God in the box marked "X", others might supply another reason. The skeptic both religious and non-religious wonders whether "X" might be simply something un-explainable. Science pushes back the very concept of "miracle". Those of us who are believers are ultimately willing to leave the final decision to the Church and to he to whom Christ has given the authority to bind and loose on earth and in heaven. This is not Ultramontanism but simply believing the words of Christ to the Apostles. Miracles are a testimony to divine intervention, it is worth remembering they are not needed for the beatification or canonisation of martyrs. Though we look for substantial evidence, their testimony is always ultimately subjective. I believe in the Resurrection because I trust the testimony of those who trust the testimony of the Apostles.
Cornwell, tongue in cheek, seems to suggest that the absence of Newman's relics is miraculous, without my tongue in my cheek, I actually agree with him. There are lots of good explanations for the absence of a body but actually the real reason is Newman's amazing humility, which adds to the complexity of his character. I have a devotion to him because his whole was an attempt to subject his frail nature to the Grace of God. That is nature of sanctification, in Newman its effects are seen in his faith-filled writings, in others it seen in their asceticism or it their work amongst the disadvantaged.
Newman was not perfect, he was capable of bitterness and resentment towards his opponents, especially his former friends but he was also capable of great affection. The more I get to know Newman the more impressed I am by his flawed humanity and the rich life of Grace that covered it, like the cardinal's robes, or priestly vestments which covered his frail body. It places him alongside St Peter, or St Jerome who when Pope Honorious past an icon of him, beating his breast with a stone said, "Ah, Jerome, but for that stone you would be in hell not heaven". Saints are not perfect, that belongs to God alone; saints are those who desire Perfection and show the signs of it in their lives.
Cornwell quotes Peter Tatchell who wants to smear Newman with homosexuality. I see I see Newman's love for Ambrose St John as something positive, here is virginal chaste love between two men, which until recently we would have seen and described as fraternal charity, in the same way as St Augustine loved; both men write with the same grief and beauty on the death of their friends. There is nothing foreign to Christ here, in fact it mirrors Christ love for Lazarus. In "gay" but also very sad Brighton I would love to see Newman made patron of friendship.
Cornwell again comes up with the old canard about Newman being the archetype of liberalism and quotes his "I'll drink to the Pope but to conscience first". Dr Kerr has dealt with that quite conclusively. Cornwell also suggests that Newman was a dissenter from 19th century Ultramonatanism, what Cornwell refuses to understand is so is Pope Benedict XVI. That is the refreshing thing many of us find in this Papacy, Pope Benedict sees the role of the Pope as the servant not the master of the Church. He is returning us to a traditional understanding of Papacy as the defender of Tradition.

12 comments:

Just another mad Catholic said...

Could it simply be that these poor men and women are tormented over having betrayed thier vocation (assuming that they had one in the first place) and instead of seeking the forgiveness of gentle Jesus (they'd need humility) see attacking the Church as their only way out?

nickbris said...

They do it for the simple reason that they can,they are certainly not heroic.Attacking somebody who will not or cannot fight back is the way of cowards.

Apostasy is a capital crime in some societies,an insult to God,they are well aware of this so it is probably some form of an act of Penance.

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Great post Fr Ray...I need JHN here more than ever & on a daily basis pray before his relics. Strong affections are good..Our Lord loved St John passionately...not sexually..Newman loved his friend/s in the same way. I love passionately my husband family friends & priests...I think the Four Loves by CS Lewis is good..Cornwell might do well to read it. St Peter as you rightly say was so human as was JHN..they were "real men" I see the present day Oratorians struggle by the minute..they are men..& we all need to help each other become holy. Sad to say things are tough for priests at this time & quite probably we expect far too much from them.

fidelisjoff said...

The most offensive comments to me as a Catholic have been from a Catholic priest wishing the death of JPII as "it would be good for women" and the same kind of comment from an old catholic female parishioner. There is an old Slavonic saying that those that try to eat the Pope choke to death!

Michael Clifton said...

Sorry to disagree with your opinion on the Cornwall article. I am afraid that personally I am NOT in favour of Newmans beatification. You point out your self that his personality was flawed. He took set backs badly, he ditched former friends like Coffin and Dalgairns and would not speak to them again . I find his friendship with St John at very least mysterious etc. I noted that Cornwall pointed out that Newman DID NoT want to be beatified and deliberately had his body interred in compost to make it decompose. No miracle there and I dont think Cornwall suggested it was. I will probably losee all my friends for sending you this comment!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Father Clifton,
I once might have agreed with you but the Church has announced his impending beatification, therefore I have re-thought my position.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Jackie,
All of us, priests and people, struggle for holiness, we only achieve it in heaven.

Patricius said...

It might be useful to have a list of these ex-priests/failed seminarians who make a living from attacking the Church.

Independent said...

What an excellent last paragraph Fr Blake. Newman was more than a dissenter from 19th century ultramontanism, he was an active opponent. Unlike Pius IX who is alleged on good authority to have said that he was the sole witness to tradition, a view which Bishop Butler writing on Vatican I hastens to explain was held as a private theologian,Pope Benedict has a much humbler conception of his office. As you say he too like Newman takes a patristic view.

Hestor said...

Independent - agreed. While there is no doubt that Pius IX was a very holy pope personally, who withstood some of the attacks on the church very well; his conception of the papacy was really the beginning of the deluge that would result in Vatican II. The next Pope that would take the status of the papal cult to a new level was Pius XII.

If it hadn't have been for the way Pius IX, Pius X or Pius XII behaved, then Paul VI would not have been able to have unwittingly cast the Barque of Peter adrift into the tempest with his reforms.

Edward P. Walton said...

When Fr. Spencer came to Oxford to meet Newman on the occasion of his campaign for prayers for the conversion of England, Newman refused to meet with him.Newman would not even talk to him.

John Lamont said...

On Newman as a liberal:

‘Dupanloup wrote to Monsell asking him to obtain from Newman theological authorities against persecution. In Newman’s answer to Monsell dated 6th of February 1864, he asks the question whether the civil power may (i.e. “has the right to”) inflict punishment for religion as religion, and replies “My notion is that you must hold the affirmative here, in spite of St. Athanasius’s attacks by persecuting Arian Emperors.” He adds that “The great question is expedience or inexpedience.”’ Wilfrid Ward, William George Ward and the Catholic Revival, p. 268.