Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Newman 101

Author Stephanie Mann offers another guest review about English Catholic history, time about a new introduction to the life of the soon-to-be beatified Cardinal Newman by Roderick Strange. According to Mrs. Mann:
Over the years I have read many books about Newman: biographies, studies, monographs. I have read Newman's major works and many of his sermons. I have taught classes on Cardinal Newman. When I picked up this book to read as a review before attending a seminar at Christ Church at the University of Oxford, I really did not expect to learn anything new.

With that preface out of the way--this book truly impressed me. Father Strange reveals Newman's influence and impact on his life and vocation as a priest in so many wonderful ways, so that the book has a very appropriate "heart speaks to heart" quality (Cor ad cor loquitor/Heart Speaks to Heart was Newman's motto as Cardinal).

He provides an excellent overview of Cardinal Newman's life and his major efforts and works. The chapter on Marian Doctrine and Devotion, not always a theme expected in an introductory study of Newman, was truly revelatory. Newman's apologetic for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, like his explanation of the First Vatican Council's declaration on Papal Infallibility, provides a clear defense of the Church's teachings while placing them in their proper context of the Divine Economy of Salvation.

Father Strange also enlightens when describing Newman's understanding of God's providence in his life (and in the lives of all Christians), the course of Newman's sermons at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin during the Oxford Movement, his efforts to help the laity, and to advance Christian unity.

The last two chapters are perhaps the most extraordinary: a comparison of St. Thomas More and Venerable John Henry Newman as a meditation on sanctity and canonization and an analysis of Newman's epic poem, "The Dream of Gerontius".

The title may indicate that this book is on an introductory level, it's true (in the U.K. the title was "John Henry Newman: A Mind Alive" which does not have such a college course catalog flavor about it). The writing is clear and accessible, but the richness of Father Strange's introduction goes far beyond just an acquaintance or chance meeting--it reveals friendship and understanding. Highly recommended to anyone wanting to know more about Venerable (soon to be Beatified) John Henry Newman.

1 comment:

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Thanks for posting this review. I am attending an Oxford Experience seminar on the Oxford Movement at Christ Church this week. Today we took a walking tour of sites associated with the Oxford Movement, including the Univeristy Church of St. Mary the Virgin where Newman preached so effectively as an Anglican and the Oxford Oratory, which Newman had so wanted to found during his lifetime (it was finally established in the 1990s). We were unable to tour Oriel College, but I might try again another day. It is wonderfully evocative to see Oxford that way.