Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Quotable Newman

Edited by Dave Armstrong; Forward by Joseph Pearce. 
Manchester NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2012
$24.95, 448 pages.

It has taken roughly 100 years for the work of John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) to begin to  find more widespread reception among the lay faithful. Much of this is due to the excellent work of Fr. Ian Ker, unarguably the world’s foremost Newman scholar, who has written numerous substantial and accessible works on Cardinal Newman, including the definitive biography, collected sermons and essays, topical books, and new editions of Newman’s own books. Newman has recently been raised from Venerable to Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, and many are calling for him to be enrolled as a Doctor of the Church. As his stature grows, works such as The Quotable Newman will be useful to an increasing number of readers.

Newman is an intriguing figure and very much a man of his Victorian age; he is also in many ways a man for our own age. Newman started as a hardline Calvinist, moved toward Evangelicalism, became dissatisfied with the subjectivism of evangelical Christianity and as he studied the early Church he moved into Anglicanism wherein he was ordained deacon and priest. He finally converted to Catholicism as lay man in 1845, having been convinced of the Apostolic origins of the Catholic Church, and increasingly convinced that the Church of England was in schism. On the eve of his conversion, he famously wrote, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” 

Newman was ordained a priest in 1846, and later a Cardinal in 1879. It is interesting that Newman petitioned to remain a priest, rather than be consecrated as bishop, in order to be elevated to the Cardinalate, which was granted by Pope Leo XIII who installed Newman as Cardinal-deacon (the lowest of ranks in the Sacred College). His was the first major and public conversion to Catholicism among the British intellectuals, a path soon followed by Fr. Frederick Faber and Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, and later by such leading intellectuals as Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, GK Chesterton, Fr. Frederick Copleston SJ, and Evelyn Waugh. Newman’s departure caused an immense furore among the nascent Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, and throughout the rest of his life he was having on occasion to deny allegations by others that he was seeking to leave the Catholic Church.

The life of Newman is a life pertinent to our own age: the present day contentions between Protestants and Catholics, and the general hostility of the secular world to Christianity, are in many ways paralleled to that of mid-19th century England. It was only in his life that Catholicism was even made legal in Great Britain, and Newman himself was deeply embroiled in the crass anti-Catholicism of the British establishment, both in religious and political circles – notably in his legal defeat against libel charges in the Achille case. In an of age of claims of pernicious popery even against the Anglo-Catholics, the anti-Catholic polemics of Joseph Blanco White, popular stories of the Black Legend and the myths of Bloody Mary, and the scandalous and pornographic fictions of Maria Monk, Victorian broadsheets and religious pamphlets could be every bit as fear mongering, distorting, crass, and widely disseminated as anything found on the internet today. Today, regardless of what is now lost in erudition, articulation, careful thought, and eloquence in current polemics, it is neither greater nor lesser than the vitriol and antagonistic energy against the Church as in Newman’s era. To see the way Newman navigated these treacherous waters can be instructive for us today.

Dave Armstrong’s new edition of his selections of quotes from the vast body of Newman’s writing is an excellent introduction for the lay reader. It is perhaps not "quotable" in the sense of a collection of  pithy aphorisms as one finds in books like The Quotable Chesterton, for Newman has too much gravity to be taken lightly. It must have been a daunting task to sift through the dense prose of Newman’s writing, and to systematically organize it for practical use. It is particularly helpful that Armstrong treats each topic by the major category (e.g., Development (of Doctrine), The Eucharist, Papal Infallibility) ordered alphabetically, and then chronologically so that we can understand Newman’s own growth and development as a thinker. This all the more so since Newman’s own formulation of “development of doctrine” is now widely accepted, and we can see it in microcosmically his own life as he grappled to find truth and clarity for expressions of the faith as he grew to embrace and understand it. 

Consider, for instance, the change in his understanding of the Eucharistic presence of the Lord in the Body and Blood. As a Protestant writing in 1834, he held that: 

“It seems so very irreverent and profane a thing to say that our Saviour’s own body is carnally present on the Altar. That He is in some mysterious incomprehensible way present I fully believe; but I do not know what way –and since that way is not told us in Scripture or the ancient fathers I dare pronounce nothing.” (p. 144)  

 It was not out of ignorance either, but a faith position grounded in Protestant methodology: 
“The Roman Church, we know, considers that the elements of Bread and Wine depart or are taken away on Consecration, and the Body and Blood of Christ take their place. This is the doctrine of Transubstantiation … what neither our Church, nor any of the late maintainers of her doctrine on the subject, even dreams of holding.” (1838, p. 144)
A few years before his reception into the Catholic Church, Newman could write: 
“Without going so far as to speak of miracles, which I do not mean to do yet really things have happened to me in connexion with the Most Holy Sacrament which quite prove to me it is a reality and not an empty show.” (1841, p. 146).
And after his conversion and toward the end of his life, he would write: 
“Catholics believe that ‘totus Christus,’ our Lord in body and blood, in soul, in divinity, in all that is included in His Personality, is present at once whether in the consecrated Host or in the Chalice. Indeed, how else can his presence be spiritual? He who partakes of either species receives Him in His whole human nature as well as in His Divine…” (1883, p. 149). 
Armstrong’s method allows us insight into the shifts in Newman’s thinking over time, both in his long range conversion from a Protestant to a Catholic, and even in a more condensed fashion as in the case of papal infallibility, which was being discussed and discerned in his lifetime, and was a topic with which he personally grappled. Given the momentous occasion of the Benedict XVI’s resignation in our present day, and the vastly widespread and obvious confusion in the media (even among “religious” journalists), it is instructive to read Newman’s own thoughts on this question of infallibility before it was actually promulgated. While still a Protestant, Newman understood the need for some sort of final authoritative voice in the Church, and the need for some infallible office of which the only evident possibility was the Pope of Rome (4 May 1843, p. 281). Even after his conversion, we can read of his hesitancy and concern for any formulation of such a doctrine throughout the 1850s and 60s, but also of a certain resignation and sense of submission to the authority of the Church: 
“If it be God’s will that some definition in favor of the Pope’s infallibility is passed, then I should at once submit –but up to that very moment I shall pray most heartily and earnestly against it.” (20 March 1870, p. 286). 
“My rule is to act according to my best lights as if I were infallible before the Church decides; but to accept and submit to God’s Infallibility, when the Church has spoken. The Church has not yet spoken.” (15 April 1870, p. 287). 
To gain a sense of Newman’s serious concern, 
“When it is actually done, I will accept it as His act; but, until then, I will believe it impossible.” (April/ May (?) 1870, p. 287).
After the promulgation of the Dogma by the First Vatican Council that same year, we can read of Newman’s filial assent, and how he works systematically through the dogma to his own resolution (27 July 1870, pp.288-289; March 1871, pp. 290-91), of how he thought one could morally withhold assent until the Council concluded (8 August 1870, p. 289), and of how he criticized the manner with which the dogma was promulgated: 
“It is impossible to deny that it was done with an imperiousness and overbearing willfulness, which has been a great scandal”  (c. Oct. 1871, p. 292). 
He also makes a whole series of qualifications as to the limits of infallibility, particularly how it is pertinent  to matters of “the Deposit of Faith originally given” (which is to say, that it can only be a clarification and articulation of a doctrine entrusted to the Apostles from the Lord as part of the Traditio of written and oral revelation and the inspiration of the NT writers), and that it is limitation more than a power – binding against error, not power to create new doctrines.  The development of Newman’s own thinking, and his resolution of previously held positions against the positive teachings of the Church, are instructive for us both as to his method and as solid catechesis for our own understanding. 

My only minor criticisms of the book are twofold: indices would have made the texts more accessible, even though Armstrong does as best as possible to treat the subjects topically and in alphabetical order. An subject index would have helped the reader who was looking for specific topics that might be buried in other categories that Armstrong assigned based on the major theme; and an index of contents that cross referenced the various sources would have been helpful as well.   

Secondly, the modern reader might well have appreciated quick translations from the occasional Latin passages with which Newman peppers his writings.  Newman wrote in an age where any educated person could read, and even speak, Latin. For instance, writing in respect to the way the Universal Church speaks definitively against error through history, in the words of St. Augustine,  Securus judicat orbis terrarum (“the verdict of the world is conclusive”) such words flowed effortlessly from the pen of Newman to the minds of his contemporaries. For us today, phrases such as Meo periculo (“at my own risk”), Fieri non debuit, factum valet (“It should not have been done, but it is valid”), pro re nata, pro hac vice (“for the occasion as it may rise, for this time only”), and such really ought to have been translated.  

As Newman’s stature grows his thoughts and ideas will find a growing audience. And they should.  Dave Armstrong’s book will be a helpful aid for both the serious and casual reader of Newman, and it deserves its place on the shelf next to the more comprehensive works of Fr. Ker, other compilations and anthologies by Fr. Francis X. Connolly,  Fr. Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, Fr. James Tolhurst, and Newman’s own writings.

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