Saturday, 18 September 2010

Beatification Report - J H Newman by his Biographers, Official Beatification Conference

Come and hear the most renowned scholars on Cardinal Newman assess the man, his career, his message and his enduring significance" was the billing for this event at Birmingham's International Convention Centre. Over a hundred people attended, those from further afield including a group from the Cardinal Newman Society of America and Oratorians from around the world.

The biographers in question speaking on the day were Father Ian Ker, Oxford University, Father Michael Lang of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Professor Sheridan Gilley of Durham University, who also gave the lecture on Newman and Birmingham earlier this week. They were joined by Father Keith Beaumont of the Oratory of France and the author of the official beatification biography which was launched at the conference.

The conference was opened by Father Richard Duffield, the Provost of the Birmingham Oratory who reminded us of the Holy Father’s comments on the plane about Newman’s awareness of the problems and culture of his own age. He went on to observe that the Holy Father may have chosen to beatify Newman personally as in him he may see a kindred spirit; a man who had messages in the nineteenth century that echo those that he himself wants to be heard today.

Professor Gilley was the first speaker, reflecting much of the content of his lecture earlier in the week. The Professor reminded us that Newman’s contemporary Cardinal Manning was often depicted as practical ‘Martha’ to Newman’s contemplative Mary. He concluded his session by saying "Newman’s strength as a master of the intellectual and spiritual life remains to inspire us."

Father Ian Ker reflected on the fact that Newman had anticipated much of the Second Vatican Council. He talked about Newman’s belief that Church Councils were times of great trial and that a living idea cannot be isolated from intercourse with the world around it. He reminded us of Newman’s words with a quote that later speakers also echoed "It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full."

Father Ker also talked about Newman being drawn to St Philip Neri’s Oratory with its more individualistic approach than other orders. Newman described St Philip Neri as having "the breadth of view of St. Dominic, the poetry of St. Benedict, the wisdom of St. Ignatius, and all recommended by an unassuming grace and a winning tenderness which were his own."

Father Michael Lang talked about Newman’s relationship with the early Fathers of the Church and the intimate connection between his study of them and his spiritual journey. He described Newman’s reflections on doctrinal development as one of his principle contributions to Catholic theology.

Our final speaker was Father Keith Beaumont who was launching his book on Newman, the official beatification biography. We discovered at this point that we had been joined by another distinguished visitor for the launch, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.

Father Beaumont who lives in France treated us to a whistle stop tour through the French perspective on Newman over the years. This included some amusing examples from the first (and unauthorised!) French translation of Newman’s work which was done by a lady with a limited grasp of both English and theology. My apologies but I was laughing too much to capture them! (Father Beaumont if by some chance you read this perhaps you will post them?) Some of his challenges in writing an official biography were shared with us as well as that of trying to write a short account without oversimplifying much about Newman.

Father Beaumont shared with us his belief that whilst Newman is the object of a great deal of devotion, fervour and piety but also his concern that few read and study his work thoroughly rather than focusing on extracts. Newman was said to be a thinker, theologian and spiritual guide but foremost a pastor of souls who would urge people not only to think about God but to seek him. He went on to tell us that Newman placed theology in the service of spirituality and renewed the concept of what it meant to be a Christian by returning to the Bible and early Church Fathers.

He told us that Newman’s approach was to speak to people and advise them with a view to deepening their relationship with God and that whatever honour Newman felt personally in being made a Cardinal he was more interested in the status it would give to his work.

Father Duffield thanked all the speakers and HRH Princess Michael. He complimented Father Beaumont on his deep understanding of Newman which came across in the book and his appreciation for that fact so many of Newman’s words were allowed to speak for themselves in the carefully chosen extracts. He closed the conference with an instruction to the delegates to both enjoy and pray hard at the beatification.

The conference was followed by a civic reception attended by Birmingham's Lord Mayor and a private viewing of the Newman Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum. You can see photos of the exhibits in my earlier post.

The conference was filmed by EWTN so do check their schedules if you would like listen to the speeches. All I have been able to do is capture a few scant snippets from the extensive sessions and these have been limited somewhat by poor understanding of some of aspects of the sessions on my part and also an inability to take accurate legible notes at speed!


Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Great! I have 16 pages of notes! Will borrow yours if I may?

Anonymous said...

What a great range of speakers. They each of them had an individual style but were all faithful to their subject. It was a first-rate conference on this ground alone. Each speaker captured an aspect of Newman's complex character. The whole was a symphonic blending of all into a sense of the man, who, like his God is at once lovable but profound.

Just a Girl said...

Of course Jackie, sorry we didn't get to say hello.

Anonymous, I think your comment sums the day up wonderfully!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this really splendid account of the conference. I am really amazed at how you managed to get those pictures. Well done all involved.

Quis ut Deus said...

I LOVE the shot of the Priest with the champagne glass! This is real Catholicism! Four cheers for the Oratory!

Just a Girl said...

I feel I have to put the record straight, it was a regular glass of what looked like water! I guess the picture has distorted a little and lost clarity because it was taken on a high zoom.

Brum chum said...

I do think that this conference was the most worthwhile element of the whole festival (beatification aside obviously) in that it gave us a real feeling for the man himself and proposed to us some elements of his spirit and spirituality that we can live out.

Virginia said...

These boys need an injection of colour like JH Newman obviously had from the pictures.

Lead Kindly Light said...

I'm thrilled to have found this blog. You have my congratulations and my thanks for making this important contribution to the promotion of Newman, particularly in his historical context of Birmingham.