Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blessed John Henry Newman: "To Be Deep In History . . ."

"To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant", wrote Blessed John Henry Newman, and that has proven true for historian Edward Norman, according to the Catholic Herald.

Dr Edward Norman, the historian and former Canon Chancellor [one of the canons of the cathedral who has a particular responsibility for matters of education and scholarship, often acting as the cathedral librarian and archivist] of York Minister, will be received into the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on Sunday.

In an article for this newspaper, Dr Norman explains the reasons for his decision to become a Catholic.

He argues that Anglicanism has “no basis for its authority” as its confession “varies from place to place and person to person”. He says: “At the centre of Anglicanism is a great void.”

He adds: “The Church of England provides a masterclass in equivocation; it also, however, is the residence of very many good and faithful Christian people who deserve respect – for their perseverance in so many incoherent spiritual adventures.

“To leave their company is a wrench; to adhere to the Catholic faith is to join the encompassing presence of a universal body of believers in whose guardianship are the materials of authentic spiritual understanding… I have immense gratitude.”

According to a spokesman for the ordinariate, the former Reith lecturer will be received into the ordinariate on Sunday following a “profound intellectual and spiritual journey nurtured and enabled by the Anglican tradition”.

The spokesman said: “Preserving those gifts and enriching them with the peace and communion offered by union with the successor of Peter is the most natural course of action for Anglicans who have a genuine desire for Christian unity.

“We are delighted to welcome Edward Norman, whose considerable academic standing bears witness to the seriousness with which he has taken this decision.”

Please note his irenic and beautiful tone, matched by the Ordinariate spokesman: it's the founding of the Anglican Church that Dr. Norman finds lacking, not the men and women who seek to follow Christ within its structure. His comments about the variations in Anglican teaching reminded me of Newman's Loss and Gain and Charles Reding's cry, "Who wants my obedience?".

I found his book The English Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century to be a model of historical writing, and said so in this review:

This is a very clearly written narrative of the history of the Catholic Church in England, wearing its scholarship lightly. Norman traces the achievements (Emancipation, rebuilding, conversions, education, integration) and the conflicts (between Ultramontanists and Cisalpines, between personalities, and over important issues like university education for the laity) with balance and wisdom. He does focus on the great men who led the Church or contributed to those achievements and conflicts; I wish Norman could reissue the book with greater representation of the ordinary Catholic, lay or clerical, during the era. He begins by highlighting their anonymous and heroic contributions to the growth of the Church in England during the century, but their names should be mentioned and their stories told. 

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