Sunday, August 08, 2010

Spinning John Henry Newman and Pope Benedict's visit to the UK

In an August 2 interview with Asia News, John Milbank, Anglican theologian and professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics, at the University of Nottingham, perceives the papal visit as a chance to revitalize the Pope's image in the eyes of the British media and fostering goodwill between Catholics and Anglicans.

However, I expect Milbank's spin on things may raise a few eyebrows in disbelief. For instance, he heralds Anglicanorum Coetibus -- which provides a canonical framework to integrate groups of disaffected Anglicans seeking to swim the Tiber into the Roman fold -- as "a new recognition by the Papacy of the validity of the Anglican tradition, beginning to equate it more with Eastern Orthodoxy", creating "a fluidity between the two communions that will help to lead to full intercommunion in the future."

Likewise, Milbank welcomes Benedict's beatification of the Anglican convert to Catholicism, as a "positive development":
Anglicans by no means feel that Newman ‘betrayed’ them by becoming a Catholic. On the contrary, they are very proud of Newman’s double contribution to both modern Anglicanism and to modern Catholicism. Newman is a sign of unity: he belongs to both Churches and I am sure that our prayers to God through him will aid us in the cause of Church unity, as in the revival of a Christian Britain.
William Oddie takes issue with Milbank in the Catholic Herald ("Sorry, Professor Milbank, Newman was no ecumenist" August 6, 2010):
The “cause of Church unity”, however, was hardly one ever espoused by Newman, and I fear that Professor Milbank’s mellifluous sentiments are part of a general movement towards setting him up as a somewhat anaemic “plaster saint”.

The fact is that Newman was the very opposite of an ecumenist: he was, in his very bones, a controversialist in such matters. To say that “Newman belonged to both Churches” is absurd: the Catholic Newman didn’t believe that the Established Church was a Church at all, but a mere national institution.

This is how he addressed those of Catholic mind within the Church of England (Difficulties of Anglicans, lecture 4): “You can have no trust in the Establishment or its Sacraments and ordinances. You must leave it, you must secede; you must turn your back upon, you must renounce, what has—not suddenly become, but has now been proved to you to have ever been—an imposture. You must take up your cross and you must go hence.”


Regular roundups of articles and commentary on Pope Benedict's September papal visit to the UK can be found at