Tomorrow the Church celebrates, for the first time, the feast day of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. The date is not casual, being the date of his conversion in 1845.
The choice of this particular date (instead of, say, the 11th August, day of his death) has caused the usual frowning from certain Anglican quarters, more or less angrily expressing the opinion that the October date has been chosen in order to anger the Anglicans or, at the very least, without any regard for the “ecumenical” dialogue and so on, and so forth.
Therein we see all the problems of the fake ecumenism as it has been practised – by Catholics too, must be said – in the last decades. Such a process of “dialogue” has engendered in the Anglicans (to be fairer: in many Anglicans) the idea that ecumenism be a process by which Truth and Heresy meet somewhere in the middle, or by which Truth uses all possible regards towards Heresy so that Heresy is in no way embarrassed. The idea that it be less than perfectly appropriate to choose Newman’s conversion day as his feast day is a wonderful witness of what happens when the Truth is either not told, or told in such a subdued way that it is not understood.
It is true that in many cases the day of death (or a day around it) is the chosen one as feast day. But in most cases the beatified person is a cradle Catholic. In Newman’s case it cannot be put into doubt that the main event of his life, the decision which defined Newman’s entire existence and so decisively coloured all his achievements (even the vast ones of his Anglican time) was neither his birth nor his death, but his conversion. This would be the case by every convert, but it is even more relevant in Newman’s case, the case of a man of vast prestige and theological reputation whose conversion helped to define an entire era. The choice of the 9th October as his feast day is therefore not only entirely fitting, but the only reasonable one.
In addition, it must be said that even if the 9th October had – for some hypothetical reason – not been the most symbolic date in Newman’s life, its choice would still have been the most appropriate one.
This because it is at this point particularly important that the message sent by Newman with his conversion be fully and properly understood. By his conversion, Newman expressed the exact contrary of what the sensitive Anglicans complain about. The message that he sent (and still powerfully sends, the more so now that he has been beatified) is that there can be no meeting in the middle, no mixing of Truth and Heresy, no compromise whatsoever between the right and the wrong shop. One either belongs to the right shop or he belongs to the wrong one, tertium non datur. Newman was so great because – inter alia – he had the courage to see this clearly, and to act upon it. To demand that Newman’s conversion be relegated into second place – as if it has been an accident of sort; a detail of his life not precluding his mutual admiration from Anglicans and Catholic alike – is tantamount to willingly ignore the essence itself of Newman’s teaching and work of a lifetime. To demand this is to want to take refuge in the usual, fuzzy and in the end perfectly insignificant “let us celebrate our similarities”-mentality. Such a mentality might be conducive to pleasant afternoon teas, but it doesn’t help in the least to discern truth from error.
The complaint of the sensitive Anglicans about the choice of the 9th October is a logical contradiction. Newman converted. He converted because he saw that the Church was the truth and Anglicanism was the error. He showed this in the most spectacular of ways, clearly renouncing in toto to every “meeting in the middle”. There’s no way even an Anglican – irrespective of how well-trained in mental gymnastics he can be – can ignore this. If you admire the man, you must draw the consequences from his conversion or at least understand its huge significance. If you don’t, there’ s no reason to complain about the choice of his feast day.
One of the main points of Anglicanorum Coetibus – irrespective of the many diplomatic declarations to the contrary – is to have made factually very clear that a choice must be made, that the time of ambiguity has now come to an end.
Anglicans cannot have their cake and eat it. It just doesn’t work that way. If the choice of the 9th October as Blessed Newman’s feast day helps them to come to terms with this, this will have been another little service made not to a wrongly understood ecumenism, but to the Truth.