The Catholic world rejoices as Cardinal John Henry Newman is canonized this Sunday, October 13. Time to start celebrating. But what should we drink in honor of England’s most famous convert ? We offer the following suggestions.
In his college days Newman played snapdragon, a risky game in which raisins are snatched out of a dish of burning brandy and eaten alight. Coincidentally, snapdragon is also the name of the flower that grew on the wall opposite Newman’s freshman lodgings at Trinity College in Oxford and came to symbolize in his mind his “own perpetual residence even unto death” at his beloved university, a residency that, thanks to his conversion, was to be far from perpetual.
Tonight, savor the lifestyle of a Victorian English gentleman with your finest port or brandy. You can also play snapdragon with your friends: it is traditionally a Christmastide game, but on October 13, 1848, Newman wrote that he had played it recently—perhaps on this very day. Better yet, drop three raisins in a glass of brandy and drink to Blessed John Henry (three to symbolize Newman’s alma mater of Trinity College and his theological work in service to the Triune God). You can call the drink a Snapdragon, though we don’t advise setting it on fire.
Or, have a Cardinal cocktail. The (London) dry gin can symbolize Newman’s English identity and the Campari his sometimes bittersweet turn to Rome/Italy.
1 oz. gin
¾ oz. Campari
¾ oz. dry vermouth
1 lemon twist
Stir ingredients except lemon twist in a mixing glass or shaker filled with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon.
Beer and Wine
As we know from his letters, young Newman enjoyed “fine strong beer.” Honor Newman’s good taste with a St. Peter’s Organic English Ale, an English brew that our friend Dr. Robert Kirby selected in order to celebrate the occasion when, following Newman’s footsteps, he left Canterbury for Rome. The “organic” is evocative of organic development in Church doctrine, a notion which Newman famously explored and explained, and the “St. Peter’s” can serve as an obvious reference to the Barque which Newman boarded to the astonishment of all.
As for wine, an older Newman praised a dinner he had in Langres, France, that included claret, burgundy, sherry, and rum. Use your discretion to fill in the details.
Newman stands out among the great figures mentioned in Drinking With the Saints because he is the only one on record for proposing a toast. Here is the full passage, from his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:
Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.
Newman’s remark is often misconstrued as a green light to dissent from the Church’s teachings, but it was actually meant to affirm the doctrine of papal infallibility properly understood. For Newman, the key to conscience is that it is is well-formed, which requires a great deal of study, docility, and humility—qualities not often found today among religious naysayers.
As for Newman’s opinion about the incompatibility of religion and after-dinner toasts, our own well-formed (or at least well-marinated) conscience compels us to dissent.
And so a toast: To Conscience first, Saint John Henry Newman next, and the Pope afterwards.