By James Allen
THE cause of sainthood for Cardinal John Henry Newman moved another step towards fulfilment yesterday when documents in support of his canonisation were handed over to representatives of Rome.
The scene was a Solemn Mass at SI Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham, the city in which the great nineteenth century scholar-priest, dubbed "the unseen presence of Vatican II," exercised most of his ministry.
Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville presented the documentation to two delegates of the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, marking the culmination of efforts begun in 1958, when the cause of canonisation was initiated in the archdiocese.
Priests of the Birmingham Oratory, founded by Newman, and a host of international scholars spent 21 years compiling all of the cardinal's voluminous writings. In 1979 the archdiocese formed an historical commission to examine in more detail the writings, Newman's spirituality and his spiritual effect on others.
Newman was a controversial figure both as an Anglican and a Catholic. As a priest of the Church of England he was a founder of the Oxford Movement, and his decision to become a Catholic in 1845 caused a considerable stir.
He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847 and joined the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, establishing an offshoot of the movement in a disused distillery in a poor district of Birmingham.
His theological works, which stressed the need for radical renewal in the life of the Church, made him suspect in the eyes of many members of the hierarchy. But the value of his thought came gradually to be recognised and Pope Leo XIII, in an unprecedented gesture, made Newman, an ordinary priest, a cardinal.
His writings were praised not only for their religious content but for their literary value as well. Apologia Pro Vita Sua, his spiritual autobiography, is an acknowledged classic, while his poem The Dream of Gerondus, lives on in its musical setting by Elgar.
Experts at the Vatican now take over the study of Newman's cause. If they agree with the conclusions of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Newman will first be beatified, then made a saint.