sexta-feira, 17 de dezembro de 2010

John Newman

Resenha do Eamon Duffy de um trabalho interessante sobre um dos meus herois, o Cardeal Newman, anglicano convertido ao catolicismo, grande intelectual e autor de vários textos memoráveis. Um autor, infelizmente, ainda pouco conhecido no grande bananão.

Newman’s Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint
by John Cornwell
Continuum, 273 pp., $24.95

On October 2, 2008, a group of clergy, workmen, police officers, and health officials assembled behind steel screens in a small private cemetery in a suburb of Birmingham, England. They had come to exhume the body of the Victorian theologian, preacher, and writer Cardinal John Henry Newman, in preparation for his beatification (the final stage before canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church) by Pope Benedict XVI. Newman’s remains were to be removed for more convenient veneration as relics to the church that he had founded in Birmingham, where a casket of green Italian marble had been prepared to receive them.

The announcement of the proposed exhumation set off weeks of prurient media controversy. At his own insistence, Newman had been buried in the grave of his disciple and lifelong companion, Father Ambrose St John. A member of the gay rights organization OutRage!, Peter Tatchell, provoked a public furor by denouncing the transfer of relics as a sinister homophobic ploy by the Vatican, designed to conceal the true relationship between these two Victorian priests who had chosen to be buried together. Tatchell insisted that their friendship was homosexual, and suggested that Newman’s epitaph, “ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem,” “out of shadows and phantasms into the truth,” was a coded self-outing from beyond the grave. He conceded, however, that given their religious beliefs and the social mores of the time, the friendship had probably never been sexually consummated.

It soon emerged that Newman had settled the matter of relics in his own way. Though an unwavering convert to Catholicism from the Anglican Church, he never warmed to the more extravagantly material manifestations of Catholic piety, and he was dismissive of suggestions of his own sanctity. “I have no tendency to be a saint,” he told one admirer. “Saints are not literary men…. I may be well enough in my own way, but it is not the ‘high line.’”

It now appeared that he had taken practical steps to ensure that there would be no veneration. Though the grave was excavated to a depth of eight feet, no human remains whatever were discovered. The cardinal had been buried in a simple wooden coffin, and on his instructions the grave had been filled with a soft mulch designed to speed decomposition; the wet clay of the Lickey hills had done the rest. The crestfallen relic-hunters had to content themselves with a few pieces of corroded metalwork and the tassels from Newman’s ceremonial cardinal’s hat.

John Cornwell’s lively new life of Newman takes this bizarre episode as its point of departure. The “unquiet grave” of his title alludes of course to the exhumation and the row over Newman’s sexuality that it provoked. Cornwell devotes a good deal of space to scrutiny of Newman’s relationship to the circle of disciples and admirers whom the popular historian Geoffrey Faber scathingly dismissed in 1933 as his “escort of hermaphrodites.” The possessive intensity of some of these relationships with younger men can still disconcert a modern reader. “You ask me to give my heart,” Newman wrote reproachfully to one of them, Henry Wilberforce, who had got engaged to be married without telling Newman, “when you give yours to another.”

But this was an age, Cornwell argues, in which intense but platonic friendships between men were accepted and valued, most famously that between the poet Tennyson and Arthur Hallam, whose early death inspired Tennyson’s elegiac masterpiece In Memoriam. Cornwell is alert to the submerged erotic charge such relationships might carry, but he argues convincingly for the crassness of recent attempts to force on them an overtly sexualized and anachronistic “gay” template.

But if Cornwell absolves the Vatican of trying to conceal the potentially embarrassing sexuality of a candidate for sainthood, he is inclined to think that the beatification of Newman may nevertheless represent an attempt by an authoritarian church to tame a troublesome and unconventional intellect, and to neutralize Newman’s usefulness to critics of current Vatican policy. Newman was, by nineteenth-century Catholic standards, a deeply unconventional theologian. Soaked in the writings of the Early Church Fathers, he disliked the rigidly scholastic cast of mind that cramped the Catholic theology of his day. He was one of the first theologians to grasp the historical contingency of all theological formulations. Accordingly, he resisted doctrinaire demands for unquestioning obedience to contemporary Church formulae as if they were timeless truths. He was an ardent defender of the legitimate autonomy of the theologian and of the dignity of the laity as custodians of the faith of the Church. He was scathingly critical of the authoritarian papacy of Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono), who held the office between 1846 and 1878, and he opposed the definition of papal infallibility in 1870 as an unnecessary and inappropriate burden on consciences. “We have come to a climax of tyranny,” he wrote. “It is not good for a Pope to live 20 years…. He becomes a god, [and] has no one to contradict him.”

The appetite of the pro-papal “Ultramontane” party for new dogmatic definitions seemed to Newman the sign of a lack of intellectual integrity, “the act of a man who will believe anything because he believes nothing, and is ready to profess whatever his ecclesiastical, that is his political, party requires of him.” Such credulity flowed from intellectual shallowness, not true faith: “A German who hesitates may have more of the real spirit of faith than an Italian who swallows.”

The First Vatican Council, in 1878, was the apotheosis of much that Newman deplored in the Catholicism of his day. By contrast, it has become a theological truism that the Second Vatican Council, summoned in 1962 by John XXIII, with its reforming impulses, its outreach to other churches and faith traditions, its emphasis on the role of the laity, and its move away from papal and clerical authoritarianism, was “Newman’s Council,” the moment when many of the ideas he first championed became the basis for a radical reimagining of what it was to be Catholic. The Vatican, however, is currently backing a campaign to downplay claims that the council marked a decisive break with the Church’s recent past, and Pope Benedict XVI has condemned such claims as proceeding from a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.” Cornwell asks, therefore, whether the raising of Newman to the altars of the Church represents not the validation of his true intellectual legacy but an attempt to douse the incendiary potential of his ideas with buckets of holy water, “the taming and enfeebling of his legacy by the resisters of Vatican II.”

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