Newman's Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint - John Cornwell Cornwell’s book is an examination of Cardinal Newman and the current Pope's obsession with raising him to sainthood. Clearly, the political climate has much to do with the decision since the Pope is determined to increase the number of priests by raiding the ranks of the Anglicans and Newman was the poster-child for jumping ship. When Newman decided to abandon the Anglican Church for the Roman Catholic variety it sent shock waves through Victorian England. “It was to the scandalised, an act of moral and social turpitude.” While a great orator and writer he certainly had his peculiarities and several of those related to his ostensible fondness for men, a male priest friend, Ambrose St. John, in particular and this has led to all sorts speculation has to which way he batted. Certainly he must have felt guilty about something as he “beat himself weekly with a discipline until age forbade.” How beatification will affect his reputation remains unclear. He was himself opposed to it, hence his insistence on burial in a compost that would speed up bodily disintegration. Perhaps, “his modesty... stemmed from “his fear the ossifying travesty it would make of his life and contribution.” (p. 17-19)

Newman’s jump to Catholicism was also undoubtedly prompted by his antipathy toward liberalism (read pluralism) in the church, i.e., tolerance of other beliefs and the idea that perhaps one religious view might be as good as another. He blamed the rise of secularism on the rise of “ ‘religious sects, which sprang up in England three centuries ago.’ “ (p. 211) Thus the problem was dissent, a belief that must warm the cockles of Benedict’s heart. We, he suggests, are faced with a conundrum that he foresaw, if not explicitly stated, where the secular government is forced to protect the freedom of expression of sects, which in turn leads to more secularism. His solution was a return to Catholicism.

The evidence that Newman did not want to be considered for sainthood is substantial (even aside from making sure he was buried in compost- to prevent leaving anything that could be used as a relic,) John Paul II went crazy with beautification, making more individuals saints than “all the previous popes put together from the time that the formal process began in the reign of Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644,) interestingly most of them in the southern hemisphere. In order to become a saint there must be evidence of miracles, something the Church of England “was not inclined to endorse” in Newman’s day. Newman himself, finding himself, as a Catholic, in the position of having to defend miracles, took the interesting position that they really didn’t matter much. “ ‘In matter of fact, then, whatever be the reason, nothing is gained by miracles, nothing comes of miracles, as regards our religious views, principles, and habits.’ “ )I think he was way off on this one as many devout Catholics hold miracles in high regard.

I was mostly interested in this book as a cultural --if not anthropological--view of the current church’s beatification process which seems to me totally ridiculous, and really skimmed quickly through the mundane aspects of Newman’s life. In the Epilogue, Cornwell examines in detail the claims by Jack Sullivan who claims he was healed of a serious back condition by praying to Newman, which caused the pain to disappear. (Placebo effect, anyone?) The “medical scrutineers,” as they are called, remarked that Sullivan’s relief was immediate and inexplicable. Cornwell demolishes that quite well, noting that his ability to continue walking after he was “relieved” of his pain and that may have contributed to more damage to his spine which necessitated surgery which was done in 2001. The rules of beatification explicitly note that the “miracle” must be long-lasting (his was temporary) and no intervention should be utilized. The major basis for the “miracle” would seem then to be the more rapid recovery after surgery than the doctors would normally have expected, hardly an obvious obliteration of natural laws.

Caveat emptor.