The “unEnglish and Unmanly” Part of (now) St. John Henry Newman

With the canonisation of Anglicanism’s most famous convert to Roman Catholicism, there’s been a dust-up about Newman’s sexual orientation, especially by the dreadful James Martin, SJ (whose own mendacity about his own celibacy helped get him into the Society of Jesus.)

A long time ago this site posted an academic paper by David Hilliard about homosexuality and Anglo-Catholicism.  It is, IMHO, one of the most interesting monographs written on Anglicanism in general and this topic in particular.  Some of his own take on the subject, long before the stink surrounding the canonisation, is here:

This homoerotic motivation was strongly hinted at in the 1890s by James Rigg, a Wesleyan historian of the Oxford Movement, who made much of the “characteristically feminine” mind and temperament of Newman and the lack of virility of most of his disciples. The idea was developed and popularised by Geoffrey Faber in his classic Oxford Apostles (1933). His portrait of Newman as a sublimated homosexual (though the word itself was not used) has since been a source of embarrassment to those biographers and theologians who seek to present him as a “Saint for Our Time.”

Faber’s argument was brilliant but open to attack. Meriol Trevor, in her two-volume biography of Newman, undermined some of his illustrations, as when she pointed out, for example, that Wilfred Ward had given no source for the often-quoted statement that Newman lay all night on Ambrose St. John’s bed after the death of his inseparable friend, and that in view of other known events of that night the incident could hardly have occurred. Of the intensity of their relationship, however, there can be no doubt. On his death in 1890 Newman was buried at his own wish in the same grave as St. John.

I would suggest that my readers download and digest the entire paper; it’s worth the time.  Hilliard points out something else that people like Martin (and probably Francis himself) conveniently ignore:

Until the late nineteenth century homosexuality was socially defined in terms of certain forbidden sexual acts, such as “buggery” or “sodomy.  Homosexual behaviour was regarded as a product of male lust, potential in anyone unless it was severely condemned and punished. In England homosexuality had been covered by the criminal law since 1533 when the state took over the responsibility for dealing with the offence from the ecclesiastical courts. The last executions for buggery took place in the 1830s, but it was not until 1861 that the death penalty was abolished. In the 1880s and 1890s—at the same time that the word homosexuality entered the English language, largely through the work of Havelock Ellis—social attitudes towards homosexuality underwent a major change. From being defined in terms of sinful behaviour, homosexuality came to be regarded as a characteristic of a particular type of person. Because homosexuality was seen as a condition, homosexuals were therefore a species, which it became the object of the social sciences to explore and explain. The principal vehicles of this redefinition were legal and medical. Homosexual behaviour became subject to increased legal penalties, notably by the Labouchère Amendment of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. which extended the law to cover all male homosexual acts, whether committed in public or private. This in turn led to a series of sensational scandals, culminating in the three trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895. The harsher legal sanctions were accompanied over a longer period by an important change in the
conceptualisation of homosexuality: the emergence of the idea that homosexuality was a disease or sickness which required treatment. The various reasons for this change in definition are beyond the scope of this essay. The result, however, was that the late nineteenth century saw homosexuality acquire new labelling, in the context of a social climate that was more hostile than before.  The tightening of the law and the widespread acceptance by opinion-makers of the “medical model” of homosexuality produced conditions within which men with homosexual feelings began to develop a conscious collective identity.

This transformation is why we have an LGBT “community” today, and that it’s a part of a person’s identity.

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