Fascinating details of the second healing miracle at the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman emerged publicly for the first time last week. They revealed how the recipient, a pregnant law graduate from Illinois, was diagnosed in 2013 with a subchorionic haematoma, a blood clot on the foetal membrane. If the clot burst, she would miscarry. She began to haemorrhage and, knowing she was losing her baby, she locked herself in a bathroom and called out: “Cardinal Newman, please stop the bleeding!”
The flow halted at that moment. The woman recovered, went on to deliver a healthy baby and the medically inexplicable healing was in February accepted by Pope Francis as a divine sign that Newman is a saint.
When he is canonised later this year, Newman will become the first English confessor (non-martyr) to be to recognised as a saint in more than 600 years – since St John of Bridlington – patron of mothers in difficult labour – was raised to the altars by Pope Boniface IX in 1401. He will be the first of the saints of the “Second Spring” that he heralded, the generation of post-Reformation English Catholics whose causes for canonisation are quietly progressing. Such figures include Fr Ignatius Spencer, Frances Taylor and Mary Potter.
But Newman’s intellectual legacy, and the vast literature it has produced, makes it inevitable that the significance of his canonisation to the English Church will be interpreted in a variety of ways.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, for example, welcomed the news of the canonisation by suggesting that his sainthood could enhance Christian unity.
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, meanwhile, said that Newman would “surely be a guide in our time for the true understanding of conscience and what constitutes the authentic development of doctrine”.
This view is shared by Benedict XVI, who ranked Newman alongside St Thomas More as Britain’s “great witness of conscience”.
The teaching on conscience is often distorted. But recent discoveries of how Newman’s sermons influenced some members of the White Rose, the German resistance movement, to oppose Nazi terror are instructive of how the role of conscience is to be properly understood.
Yet Benedict also saw Newman as a “gentle scholar” who identified the Christian life “as a call to holiness”. While beatifying him, he added that Newman’s “insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten”.
This is an important point because at present objective truth has a diminishing place within the deteriorating cultures of many universities, resulting in a collapse of academic integrity and, indeed, freedom. A false and harmful dichotomy between Christian faith and science has become entrenched even in the minds of people not consciously hostile to religion.
Newman’s teachings provide an antidote and could prove to be vital for the future existence and flourishing of the English Church.
It could be that Newman’s canonisation, to paraphrase another celebrated Englishman, is not even the beginning of the end, but is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
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