Newman’s odd feast day

This doesn’t sound like good news for ecumenism. Cardinal Newman’s feast day on the calendar will not be his day of death, but his day of ‘conversion’ (an unfortunate term, he was already a Christian and presumably already converted to the Lord) as he moved from the Anglican Church and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. As David Gibson asks at Commonweal, “What is more significant — a soul’s entry into the Catholic Church or into heaven?” Here’s an excerpt from CNS:

The feast day is a small aspect of Cardinal Newman’s beatification, but one with ecumenical overtones. How it came to be chosen is a lesson in the sometimes-labyrinthine ways of Vatican decision-making.

Pope Benedict will celebrate the beatification Mass in Birmingham, England, Sept. 19, the final day of his four-day visit to Great Britain.

Cardinal Newman, a 19th-century theologian and one of modern England’s most respected spiritual figures, is revered by Anglicans and Catholics alike. In the run-up to the papal visit, leaders of both churches have emphasized that although Newman’s faith journey led him to Catholicism, the beatification was not being viewed as an act of triumphalism by the Vatican.

In fact, Cardinal Newman is already honored as a saint on the Anglican calendar — on Aug. 11, the day of his death.

Speaking to reporters Sept. 9, the Vatican’s ecumenism experts underlined that fact and said it was possible that the Catholic Church would also adopt the Aug. 11 feast day as an ecumenical gesture.

“Obviously there are sensitive issues over someone converting, but his beatification is being received in a very positive way,” Msgr. Mark Langham said of the Anglican reaction.

What the ecumenists had apparently not been told, however, was that the Vatican’s liturgy experts had already designated Cardinal Newman’s feast day as Oct. 9, the day of his conversion. Informed of this fact by reporters Sept. 12, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he had no comment on the reasons for the choice of date.


  1. Surely it would be wonderful for Newman’s memorial be common between both Churches. However, I believe August 11 is an obligatory memorial for St Clare of Assisi. I’m guessing that it’s common practice to try to avoid two obligatory memorials on the same day, as much as possible. And St Clare is a prominent saint with a long-established feast day.

    1. Exactly! The date of St. Clare’s memorial seems is relevant information. Should have been included in the main article.

    1. The US bishops have guidelines saying that those coming from another Christian tradition in which they were baptized are not to be called ‘converts’ – see their statutes on the Catechumenate. I don’t think there’s another conventional term (yet) – do any of you have ideas for one?

      1. “Switchers” is the term used in some catechumenal literature but not one, I have found, that seems very respectful of the journey of many whom I have the blessing to see through the journey into reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church (itself a long also in need of an appropriate neologism). What is the classical Greek for “to stitch” (as opposed to schism)?

    2. One would speak of “reception into the Roman Church” — and Anglicans, at least, have all sorts of euphemisms for that, “swimming the Tiber” and “submitting to the Roman obedience” being the least offensive. It does seem that “conversion,” at least as regards Christian initiation, should be reserved for the authentic turning to Christ from a state of disbelief or hostility to the Christian religion.

      1. I offer this with the hope that all may get a chuckle from it. I once saw notations in an old Episcopal parish register in the “Removed” column reading “defected to Rome.”

  2. I noted this when the Postulator’s website posted the propers for his feastday. In the American Episcopal Church, we assign his feast to February 21, the day of his natural birth: Saint Clare is on August 11, and we (obviously) would be hard pressed to celebrate the day of his reception into the Roman Church. So it’s not simply a matter of English Anglicans and Roman Catholics being off-beat with their respective sanctoral calendars, but also of Anglicans in different provinces using different dates.

    I think it’s a great triumph that we all have John Henry Newman in common, whatever date we choose respectively to celebrate his memory. And I must admit, I get a bit of a kick out of the fact that Anglicans saw fit to put him on the calendar before Rome.

  3. Conflict with preexisting feasts would be a major determining factor. To an extent, what a wonderful problem to have – so many blesseds/saints, just so many days in the year.

    The memorial of Blessed Andre Bessette, soon to be canonized, falls on January 6th – the date of his earthly death and his “dies natalis”. But this event gets just a tad bit covered up by a certain Epiphany. There is some talk among CSCs in academic circles to hopefully transfer the feast day to a time that falls during the traditional academic year, so that the conflict with Epiphany doesn’t annually occur and that the students/faculty/staff on our campuses might better celebrate.

    Wasn’t the day of memorial chosen also by the “dies depositionis”, which I imagine was normally not too long after the actual death?

    I believe Fr. Paul Turner comments on the employment of the term “convert” in his book “When Other Christians Become Catholic”.

  4. Article by R. McClory about Newman:

    “Newman strove for most of his life as a Roman Catholic to open the minds of English Catholics, lay and clerical. In this he had scant success, living for most of his remaining years under a cloud of suspicion. At one point, he was labeled “the most dangerous man in England.” Then in Newman’s final days Pope Pius IX died and his successor, Leo XIII, removed the cloud by naming Newman a cardinal. It was at the Second Vatican Council that Newman found a larger measure of vindication. Theologians by then had embraced and expanded on his ideas of doctrinal development and the importance of consulting the faithful. The fingerprints of Newman can be found on many council documents, most notably the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. Pope Paul VI went so far as to say Vatican II was “Newman’s council.”

    The beatification of John Henry Newman now seems more a scandal than cause for celebration as those who are determined to rewrite Vatican II seek to enlist Newman in their misrepresentation. He will not join the movement.”

    “Professor Pramuk: First of all, I find it encouraging to remember that Newman lived in a time of polarization not unlike our own, and that he despised any form of what he called “bigotry,” “dogmatism,” or “partisanship” that would divide the Christian community into camps, each convinced of its own truth.

  5. Well, I believe the Church of England has over the centuries been expressly denominated as Protestant by English law (which, since the Church of England is more a creature of statute than some other churches, seems to be relevant). For example: the Coronation Oath Act of 1688 (after the Glorious Revolution) specifically included a duty of the Sovereign to protect “the true Profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed Religion Established by Law”…

    As a historical footnote, the more “Catholic” dimension of Anglicanism that Cdl Newman and others sought to bring out more clearly in the 19th century had direct antecedents in the Non-Juring Anglicans who were not able to accept the fullness of the settlement in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. And I am not talking Jacobites as such.

    UPDATE: This comment was in response to comments that seem to have disappeared….

  6. [Addendum: One of the posts that dropped off along the way asked whether or not Anglicans were Protestants. This post was in reply.]

    Absolutely not! 🙂

    In reality, yes, there are those who consider themselves protestants, and are either Calivinist or Lutheran in their doctrine. There are those of us who consider ourselves Catholics, having preserved the deposit of faith and worship, yet also having reformed it according to scripture.

    And increasingly, we speak of Anglicanism as a separate embodiment of the Church, alongside Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. What, after all, do you do with a church that is neither Catholic nor Protestant in the strict sense? It’s a complicated question, but those of us who are of a Catholic mind shy away from identification with the ecclesial communities that are collectively called “Protestant.”

  7. I’m not sure that’s true in Ireland (although I think the original comment has disappeared: it was about most anglicans considering themselves Protestant) where the Anglicans are overall quite broad to low church (Anglo-catholicism really wouldn’t make much sense in the Irish context). My Anglican friends there insist they are Catholic and Reformed but not Protestant. That would be the Presbyterians.

    1. Well, “Reformed” classically is in contrast to “Evangelical”, with the former being the heirs of Calvin (and having no protected status under the Peace of Augsburg) and the latter being the heirs of Luther (being protected under the Peace of Augsburg), and for many centuries the theological influence of Calvin within the Anglican Church was much greater than that of Luther, and I am not sure it is accurate to say that sacramental influence of Luther was particularly strong in the Anglican Church.

      1. I am serving a church now that has roots in a tradition called “Evangelical Reformed.” It is now affiliated with the United Church of Christ, but still uses the E&R hymnal and of course the corner stone has the “Evangelical Reformed” inscription. The two adjectives can fit together.

  8. It’ no picnic trying to moderate comments and be even-handed, let me tell you. I’m deleting some comments because of this in our policy:

    3. Be charitable and respectful. Personal attacks, libelous statements, and anything disrespectful or lacking in ecumenical sensitivity will be removed.
    4. Make an intelligent, constructive contribution. Comments which are uninformed or unconstructive to the discussion will be removed.


    1. Thank you, Father. We have no need for that sort of nonsense here (uncharitable, disrespectful, uninformed comments) or for that matter, anywhere. I for one applaud your efforts, and suspect that you will be quite just in your efforts. Peace, and all good!

  9. October 9 is the date, whether we like it or not, and will be proclaimed by the Pope on Sunday, we are told. As well as conflicting with St Clare, August would have meant that none of the Newman Centers would ever have celebrated the feast. Apparently these were two of the main reasons for the choice. The Oratorians themselves do not like October 9 but are coping with it.

  10. In the spirit of ecumenism (and fidelity to Liturgiam Authenticam, maybe) I always like to remember that Protestant = pro (in favor of) testare (giving witness). This is one Roman Catholic who likes to be simultaneously pro-testare!

  11. Why can’t saints share the same day? Coming up, it looks like Oct 28 is shared by St. Wenceslaus and Sts Lawrence Ruiz & Companions. On such a day is it the celebrant’s prerogative which saint is remembered? Or is there some rubric I am unaware of? Is the concern that if St. Newman is given Aug 11 he will overshadow St. Claire?

    1. Optional vs. obligatory memoria — one can have multiple optional memoria on a given day, but only one obligatory memorial in the General Roman Calendar.

      That being said, yes, lots of saints can have their feasts on the same date, and if one or another is patron of the local church, it takes precedence over the others (even where it might have precedence over an obligatory memorial in the general calendar).

      1. And, in this case, the care taken to avoid conflict with St Clare’s memorial means that there may be a serious chance that John Newman might become an obligatory memorial in the universal calendar *if* he is canonized.

  12. Better to conflict with the occasional homecoming or parents’ weekend than summer vacation and Clare. I’m grateful it wasn’t 11 August, for the sake of observing his feast in university communities. Speaking of which, it would be helpful for a sensible approach to the hierarchy of feasts and memorials. In our university parish, Cardinal Newman should probably be a feast–our plans will probably to observe it as such. But a parish in the next town? Optional memorial. A certain degree of discernment and mindfulness should be part of how we celebrate saints in the liturgy.

  13. No one seems to have noted that, since john Henry Cardinal Newman will be beatified on September 19 the placing of his memorial on October 9, his date of reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church, permits the celebration of such this year, a mere month after his beatification rather than having to wait until next August to celebrate such even if his date of birth into eternal life were, hypothetically, selected for his memorial.

  14. Jim McK, over at dotCommonweal, made the good observation that having different days discourages joint celebrations/memorials between Church of England and the Catholic Church in the future. I think that’s true and is an ecumenical loss. God gives us saints to build up the whole Church. It is striking that both communities claim the same saint. How sad that we cannot honor him on the same day.

    1. Very true, Rita, very true. Alas, we hold many saints in common, including and perhaps especially Our Lady (August 15); yet rarely do we celebrate their feasts together.

      We have so much to learn… and so much to learn from one another. Let us pray!

  15. It is unfortunate, but I love Cody’s attitude about our ecumenical saint and hope it’s widely shared. Perhaps Newman centers could invite Anglican communities near them to share the October 9 festivities in Newman’s honor, clergy and faithful. That’d certainly limit any triumphalist interpretation. If the historical origin of the date isn’t stressed, it could be no more ecumenically catastrophic than Eastern and Western dates for Easter.

    1. Thanks Kimberly. Frankly, I think the difference in dates for Newman’s memorial is small potatoes in comparison to the division between East and West over the date of Easter. That, in my humble opinion, is a real scandal.

  16. Is St Clare still commemorated on August 12 by people using the Extraordinary form? I know this is tangential, but people have been raising the problem of Newman having died on the same date as St Clare. (My wife Clara still uses the Aug 12 date she celebrated as her nameday as a child.)

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