In two days time, Blessed John Henry Newman will join the ranks of those recognised by the Church as having attained sanctity. If it has not already started, the deluge of freshly printed copies of his works, and those of Newman Scholars, is imminent. There will also be documentaries and mini-series with presentations of Newman, the man, the academic, the scholar, the theologian.
But does the inevitable dissemination of information obscure the man? Is there a risk that we lose sight of one fundamental fact: Newman was a man searching for truth. There is no denying the fact that his pursuit of truth- whilst securing him recognition today- was, on the lead up to and following his conversion, the cause of his greatest trials, tribulations and torments.
Behind the academic writings, the sermons, the tracts, and other works, he was a man who sacrificed all that Victorian Society held to be of importance: friendship, recognition, status, and acceptance. In short: he suffered the the judgment of those whom he had previously held in high esteem.
In the Church's affirmation of sanctity in the form of canonisation, there is the inevitable risk that the difficulties and sacrifices (not to mention ecclesial mistreatment) and humanity of the candidate are papered over. In consequence, many will receive Newman as a rather inaccessible, erudite academic; content to confine himself to the compilation of profound works to be read by the few. Such a depiction would, however, do Newman a grave injustice. Having identified that which he - in faith - believed to be true, he was not of a mind to stand by and witness its distortion, or, disfigurement. It was in obedience to the truth that he had the conviction to prevent the transmission of doctrinal error. In one article to The Times he observed:
"No Pope can make evil good. No Pope has any power over those eternal moral principles which God has imprinted on our hearts and consciences...Craft and cruelty ...eventually strike the heads of those who are guilty of them..."
The great Newman Scholar, Ian Kerr, has classified this statement as both "eloquent and unequivocal". Many will recognise Newman's observation as one which withstands the test of time. Remarkably free of victorian ornamentation, it is expressed in a manner which is as direct as it is unflinching. Some may take the view that in our own times, it is worthy of renewed contemplation. Perhaps, as we ponder what lies ahead for the Church, we might also call to mind his counsel:
"error cannot last, and light will come after the darkness..."
Lead Kindly Light, indeed.