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Newman's Unquiet Grave

The Reluctant Saint

Author(s): John Cornwell

ISBN13: 9781441150844

ISBN10: 1441150846

Publisher: Continuum Publishing

Extent: 288 pages

Binding: Hardcover

Size: 24 x 16.6 x 2.8 cm

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  • John Henry Newman was the most eminent English-speaking Christian thinker and writer of the past two hundred years. James Joyce hailed him the greatest prose stylist of the Victorian age.

    A problematic campaign to canonise Newman started fifty years ago. After many delays John Paul II declared him a Venerable. Then Pope Benedict XVI, a keen student of Newmans works, pressed for his beatification. But was Newman a Saint? In Newmans Unquiet Grave John Cornwell (author of A Thief in the Night and Hitlers Pope) tells the story of the chequered attempts to establish Newmans sanctity against the background of major developments within Catholicism. His life was marked by personal feuds, self-absorption, accusations of professional and artistic narcissism, hypochondria, and same-sex friendships that at times bordered on the apparent homo-erotic.

    John Cornwell investigates the process of Newmans elevation to sainthood to present a highly original and controversial new portrait of the great mans life and genius for a new generation of religious and non-religious readers alike.

  • John Cornwell

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    A work of rare insight and careful balance of judgement...give[s] the reader a richer interpretation of Newmans extraordinary genius.
    - Standpoint, May 2010.

    "There are three qualities which mark this book out for special commendation. First, Cornwell sees Newman was first and foremost a writer ... Secondly, Cornwell is a practised journalist, and loves gossip and a good story ... Thirdly Cornwell, a thoughtful intellectual of our own day, explains the significance of Newman for todays church."
    - The Spectator, 5th June 2010

    "Newmans true qualities will shine through, this compelling biography concludes, and the world will be , on balance, better for it."
    - Continuum author Peter Stanford, The Sunday Times, 30th May 2010

    "After a number of substantial Newman biographies in the last century, Cornwell, an award-winning journalist and author, and an objective historian of the modern Catholic Church, offers a concise and more accessible account of the saintly but controversial scholar who was once dubbed the most dangerous man in England by the Vatican." - Mysterious Planet website

    "Cornwell writes about Newman and his time with verve and lucidity ... Cornwell usefully highlights that Newman ... was part of the Roman tradition that saw the imagination as the means to understanding the sublime."
    - The New Statesman, 14th May 2010

    "[An] Excellent biography ... [A] graceful and scholarly account of Newmans life."
    - The Literary Review, 1st June 2010

    "A consise and accessible account of the saintly but controversial scholar who was once dubbed the most dangerous man in England by the Vatican."

    It now seems unlikely that the papal visit to Britain in the autumn will pass without controversy. This new book by former journalist, now academic, John Cornwell, which focuses on Newmans emotional life and on the process of canonisation itself, is merely the first salvo, so to speak, across the bows of the Papal barque.

    John Cornwell, a cradle Catholic, made his name with an investigation of the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, in which he successfully debunked the earlier sensational claims by David Yallop that the Pope had been murdered by sinister, perhaps Masonic, elements within the Vatican.

    Since then, he has however gone on to publish Hitlers Pope, a book with which some Catholics were less happy, dealing as it does with the even more contentious issue of Pius XII and the Holocaust. He also wrote Pontiff in Winter about the declining years of John Paul II.

    So, a man with a record. This book, in dealing with John Henry Newman, in no way dislodges the magisterial biography of Ian Kerr (the third edition of which was recently reviewed in these pages). It does not even try to. Instead, it focuses on issues arising from a narrow range of topics.

    John Cornwell rightly describes with awe the extraordinary intellectual energy of Newman, a man constantly with his pen in his hand, whose published works alone fill several shelves, and his letters and diaries several more.

    Newman represents one of the most exceptional intellectual talents in the history of the Church, a man whose works have provided a stimulus and sources for countless writers and intellectuals.

    For Newman, mankind was justified in part by the life of the mind. However, we now live in an age where people seem only to be justified by their sexual life. And, so, from the mind of Newman, we are moved quickly on to his sexual nature.

    Was Newman gay? is the question posed. But even to raise it in those terms is to misunderstand both Newman and the era he lived in. gay is a word which like lover has changed the burden of its meaning since the 1850s.

    Gay for the Victorians was a slang term which referred to those men, women and children engaged in prostitution. Same sex relations were then called by some Greek love, by others unnatural vice; terms like invert and homosexual only came later.

    Newman passed his early manhood in Oxford University in the days when Fellows were not only unmarried, but as often as not were Anglican clergymen.

    His intellectual friends with whom he naturally established lasting emotional links were his only society. Women, aside from mothers, sisters and the wives of friends, were not a part of his real world. This atmosphere gave the friendships between men an intensity which was emotional, but not largely sexual. It was not a matter of Leviticus 18:22, but rather I Samuel 18:1.

    Newmans friendship with Ambrose St John was that of a soulmate, rather than anything else. But Cornwell goes on to suggest (though there is, in fact, no evidence other than surmise to support him) that Newman arranged his own grave in the knowledge that the acid soil would destroy his remains and those of his friend buried in the same grave. And that he did this to prevent any relics surviving for any kind of beatification or canonisation.

    If the title of this book seems a little uncertain and confused, it reflects confusion in the book. Cornwell then advances to discuss the whole question of the process of canonisation and its essential need for miracles granted through the intercession of the candidate. Here, he claims that the miracle that has led to the forthcoming ceremonies is not in fact a miracle. That the Americans back problem, which we have heard so much about, was not miraculously, but naturally cured.

    Cornwell had obtained medical opinion on this point, but not from anyone who actually examined the patient. It would be a foolhardy doctor who diagnosed an unseen patient.

    Cornwell points out that some Catholic theologians now feel that the whole matter of miracles clouds the issue of sainthood.

    The Church, as we all know, does not create saints; it merely in time recognises them. Saints, so to speak, make themselves. No saint has an ambition to be a saint. They cannot help but be what they are.

    But the call for a miracle has meant, as we have seen in the cases of Matt Talbot or John Sullivan and others, that examples of heroic sanctity and goodness pass for a long time unrecognised. (Though, oddly, the holiness of the Italians and the Spanish seems to be recognised more readily, for reasons some might think not unconnected with the large number of prelates from those nations in the Vatican bureaucracy.)

    The rules and customs surrounding canonisation today date from the time of Urban VIII, when then medieval custom of local recognition came under the centralising system of Church governance then coming into existence through the Roman Congregations.

    It may be that they need to be re-examined in the light of todays experiences. Cornwell would argue that the moral worth of an individual should be what is examined and that the miraculous should play no part in the recognition of a saint.

    Many will find this book provocative, which it intends to be. But readers should not allow themselves to be provoked. They should consider thoughtfully the questions which John Cornwell raises over the canonisation of John Henry Newman. But whether they will totally agree with them is another matter

    Nothing will change the magnitude of Newmans achievement as a man, a theologian, and historian. It would be a great pity if the important occasion, which so many are looking forward to, were to be spoiled by the squabbles between and among the friends and enemies of the Church.

    - The Irish Catholic, 3 Jun 2010


Newman's Unquiet Grave

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