A new anthology of writings on Cardinal John Henry Newman
JOHN HENRY NEWMAN: In His Time
Edited by Philippe Lefebvre and Colin Mason
(Family Publications, 2007, 271pp, softcover, $35.00.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
It is difficult to imagine that readers of this journal will be unfamiliar with the life and times of John Henry Cardinal Newman, a man who has been called 'the greatest English churchman of the modern era.'
The intimate details of Newman's life are well known by the legion of admirers and disciples who have graciously benefited from his legacy. (Among this number is counted our present Pope Benedict XVI, who confesses a significant debt to some of Newman's doctrinal insights, and is privately known to be a champion of his cause.)
Much has been written about Cardinal Newman, to say nothing of the colossal body of literature bequeathed to the world by the man himself.
Many of Newman's published works are celebrated as classics of Christian theology and spirituality, and his conversion from the Church of England to the Church of Rome stands out in modern times as an archetype of the conversion of the intelligent man, beginning with the conversion of the heart, which in turn begets a conversion of the intellect, leading ultimately to a conversion of the will.
The exemplary character of Newman's conversion is evident in the great number of individuals who have converted from Protestantism to the Catholic Church under the influence of his person and his writings, beginning with his contemporaries and continuing to this day.
In John Henry Newman: In His Time, editors Philippe Lefebvre and Colin Mason have drawn together an anthology of essays which seek to provide a more nuanced account of the context in which Newman found and lived out his unique vocation. The essays have been written by a variety of pre-eminent scholars from around the world - fifteen in total - having in common an interest and expertise in Newman's life and work.
The reader may therefore expect to encounter such peculiarities as are typical of this type of volume: differences in authorial style; an absence of continuity; etc. In spite of these inevitable hurdles, it is a great credit to both contributors and editors that the end result is as even and seamless as one might hope.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part consisting of five chapters, each of which gives an account of Newman's life within the context of his location at the time. Throughout, it is demonstrated that Oxford, Littlemore, Rome, Birmingham and Dublin all exercised a profound influence on the course of his intellectual and spiritual journey.
It is unsurprising that we also discover here the great impact on each of these great cities of Newman's tireless pastoral efforts. Wherever he went, it seems, his ardent desire to discover the fullness of the Christian truth, and his unfaltering acceptance of his vocational responsibility to others as tutor and priest, drew great multitudes seeking guidance and spiritual nourishment.
The second part of the book gives a more personal account of Newman, beginning with six chapters exploring in turn his role as preacher, educator, letter-writer, Oratorian, novelist and poet. It was in these roles that Newman achieved the personal influence which he himself saw as being vital to the successful service of souls, and it is through the prism of these roles that our authors reveal the complex personality of a man whose private struggle for holiness was invariably coupled with the demands of a very public life.
A closer look at Newman's personal spiritual struggle is borne out in the two penultimate chapters. One addresses Newman's understanding of the Sacrament of Penance, first as an Anglican pastor, and later as a Catholic clergyman. Here the author highlights the importance of this pivotal element of Newman's spirituality since his emphasis on the importance of sacramental confession was instrumental in propelling him towards reconciliation with the Catholic Church.
The second-to-last chapter takes an overview of Newman's spirituality, carefully mapping the various stages of his conversion, and examining the major influences in his spiritual life, including the death of his sister, the impact of his various spiritual directors (both Anglican and Catholic), and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
Doctor of the Church
The final chapter puts forward a concise and convincing case for the acknowledgement of Newman as a Doctor of the Church. After giving a brief overview of the history of the role of Doctors of the Church, the author examines the degree to which Newman fulfilled the six 'procedural norms and doctrinal criteria for the judgment concerning the eminence of Doctrine of Saints proposed as Doctors of the Church', as set out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Certainly it would appear, on the evidence provided, that Newman amply fulfils each of these criteria, and it seems that at least several of the authors in this volume are excitedly anticipating the day when the Church officially declares Newman 'Doctor of Conscience'.
Of course, before such a declaration, Newman must first of all be beatified and then canonised. The cause for his beatification is currently under way, with evidence of a miracle attributed to his intercession awaiting Vatican examination. His being declared 'venerable' (affirming a life of exemplary virtue) by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in 1991 was seen as a promising step towards beatification.
Readers should be warned that John Henry Newman: In His Time is not a linear account of Newman's life, and a familiarity with such is certainly recommended for a full appreciation of the perspectives offered herein. Readers must expect to find throughout the book references to various aspects of Newman's life - for example his involvement in the Oxford Movement - which are not themselves thoroughly depicted or explained. But this book is not intended to introduce readers to Newman. It is addressed rather to readers already familiar with his life.
All chapters are thoroughly researched and annotated with footnotes, and the final chapter on the cause for Newman's declaration as Doctor of the Church is complemented by two appendices: one comprising a detailed list of currently declared Doctors; the other providing a full translation of the Norms and Criteria upon which Doctoral proclamation depends.