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Newman's Unquiet Grave:
The Reluctant Saint

John Cornwell

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Continuum Publishing Corporation

Published : 2010

Copyright : John Cornwell 2010

ISBN-10 : HB 1-4411-5084-6
ISBN-13 : HB 978-1-4411-5084-4

Publisher's Write-Up

John Henry Newman was the most eminent English-speaking Christian thinker and writer of the past two hundred years. James Joyce hailed him the 'greatest' prose stylist of the Victorian age. A problematic campaign to canonise Newman started fifty years ago. After many delays John Paul II declared him a 'Venerable'. Then Pope Benedict XVI, a keen student of Newman's works, pressed for his beatification. But was Newman a 'Saint'?

In Newman's Unquiet Grave John Cornwell (author of A Thief in the Night and Hitler's Pope) tells the story of the chequered attempts to establish Newman's sanctity against the background of major developments within Catholicism. His life was marked by personal feuds, self-absorption, accusations of professional and artistic narcissism, hypochondria, and same-sex friendships that at times bordered on the apparent homo-erotic. John Cornwell investigates the process of Newman's elevation to sainthood to present a highly original and controversial new portrait of the great man's life and genius for a new generation of religious and non-religious readers alike.

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Review by Geoff Ward (310710) Rating (8/10)

Review by Geoff Ward
Rating 8/10
When the grave of Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) was excavated in 2008, with a view to his remains being transferred to a more auspicious location for public veneration, pending his possible canonisation, no human remains were found - merely the brass plate from his wooden coffin.
Newman, following the dictum 'dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return' had seen no reason to delay the process, and so had given instructions that his grave - in an oratorian burial ground in the Lickey Hills in north Worcestershire - should be filled with a rich mulch to speed the process of decomposition.

Neither were any remains found of Father Ambrose St John, the lifelong friend and companion with whom Newman had been buried in accordance with his dying wish. St John had died 15 years before.

Now that one of the two celibate priests was destined for sainthood media speculation was revived about their relationship. Naturally, there were suggestions that Newman was gay, pitching him into the media spotlight after several generations of neglect, and ignoring the spiritual implications of Newman's burial orders.

With the impending beatification and probable canonisation of Newman, and the Pope's visit to the UK in September (2010), John Cornwell's timely and instructive work tackles the question of Newman's sexuality in some depth - the relationship with St John is described as 'passive' - and draws a warts-and-all portrait of a 'literary workaholic', celebrating a great author who is arguably the greatest writer on modern religion in the English language.

Cornwell also tenders Newman as a key religious influence for the 21st century, arguing that his greatest gift to the Catholic clergy could well be the example he set in his own priestly life. At a time when the Catholic ministry is in crisis, Newman can show how a priest can live a celibate life while enjoying a mature same-sex relationship.

Newman's literary output was prodigious: theology, philosophy, poetry, history, sermons in their hundreds, fiction, hymns - his letters fill 32 volumes - and James Joyce regarded him as England's greatest prose writer.

After a number of substantial Newman biographies in the last century, Cornwell, an award-winning journalist and author, and impartial historian of the modern Catholic Church, offers a concise and more accessible account of the saintly but controversial scholar who was once dubbed 'the most dangerous man in England' by the Vatican.

Newman's credo was to seek and follow religious truth wherever it led, causing his conversion to Catholicism at age 44 - and his subsequent vilification by Protestants. It wasn't until Newman explained himself in his autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, one of the great spiritual classics of modern times, that he freed himself of accusations of dishonesty.

He had renewed the spirituality of the Church of England, and influenced the reforming spirit of the Catholic Church. One of the earliest Christian supporters of Darwin's theory of evolution, he stressed the role of conscience over authority. A complex character who, doubtless paradoxically to some, was able to represent doctrine and dogma as well as innovation, Newman brought many new ideas to the Catholic Church.

With continuing disagreement in the Catholic Church over reform, Cornwell's book may be seen as controversial in some quarters because of its view of Newman as a dissenter, despite his being championed by the Pope in recent times. Newman was always clear that until change in the Church was fully embraced by the people, then it could not become doctrine.

Cornwell's books on Catholicism have included studies of Pius XII (Hitler's Pope), John Paul I (A Thief in the Night), and John Paul II (Pontiff in Winter). He won the ITA-Tablet award for religious journalism (1994), and the Science and Medical Network Book of the Year Award 2005. In 2006, he was shortlisted for Specialist Journalist of the Year in the National Press Awards, and in 2007 the PEN/Ackerley Award for his memoir Seminary Boy. Since 1990, he has been director of the Science and Human Dimension Project, a public understanding of science programme at Jesus College, Cambridge.
Geoff Ward (31st July 2010)

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