On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom this week, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote an article for L’Osservatore Romano praising the “intellectual courage” of both the Holy Father and Cardinal John Henry Newman as well as their fearless defense of the truth in the face of unpopularity.
The Pope will beatify the cardinal during the papal trip.
In his front page column titled, “The Pope and Newman,” Blair underscored that Benedict XVI is “in deeply in tune with the spirit and ideas of Newman,” whose “historical studies led him to leave Anglicanism for Rome.” Blair added that the cardinal’s writings and ideas always put “spiritual truth above all other values.”
Blair recalled that when Cardinal Newman was about to formally enter the Catholic Church, he wrote, “Nobody can have a more unfavorable view of the current state of Catholics today than I.” This statement, Blair said, “isn’t very diplomatic, but he didn’t care because he did what he thought was right even if in the end it was uncomfortable or unpopular.”
“This intellectual courage is admirable,” Blair continued. “It is something many Catholics admire about Pope Benedict XVI. The ideas of Newman cannot be easily expressed in a short article. ‘A man of conscience is one who never purchases well-being, success, public prestige or approval by prevalent opinion if the price is the renunciation of truth,’ he wrote. It is a harsh view in a world in which in large measure it is the media which forms opinion.”
While “the differences between our world and Newman’s are great, the questions of which he wrote do not cease to challenge every Catholic and politician,” Blair said, underscoring the great importance Cardinal Newman gave to the papacy.
The former prime minister then referred to the importance of Cardinal Newman in the introduction of the concept of development. “It is likely that we would not be using the terms such as ‘millennium development goals’ or ‘international development’ if Newman had not used these words first in theology,” Blair explained.
“I think Newman would have been a strong ally in the promotion of dialogue between religions because of his theory of development, although the opposite might seem to be case,” Blair said. Like Pope Benedict, Blair continued, Newman also “fiercely opposed relativism.”
Blair concluded noting that “nobody can seriously doubt the fact that (Cardinal Newman) was and is a doctor of the Church. The time will come when it is thus proclaimed.”