The Cambridge Companion to John Henry Newman

Article excerpt

The Cambridge Companion to John Henry Newman. Edited by Ian Ker and Terrence Merrigan. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. Pp. xvii, 280. $29.99 paperback. ISBN 978-0-521-69272-4.)

This collection of thirteen essays aims to introduce readers to the theology of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) as well as, in the words of the editors, meet the "great need for an accessible, comprehensive and systematic presentation of the major themes" of Newman's work (p. xii). An additional aim is to show the "contemporary relevance" of Newman's thought in the context of "modern and postmodern concerns and themes" (p. xii). The choice of contributors certainly corresponds to these aims; all are academic theologians from the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Rome, and Belgium who have published works on Newman or on themes that exist in his work. The themes covered include the Church Fathers, revelation, faith, justification, development of doctrine, the Church as communion, infallibility, authority in the Church, conscience, theology in the university, and preaching. A concluding chapter, "Newman in Retrospect," deals specifically with the relevance of his thought in a "postmodern" philosophical context.

Inevitably, in this kind of collective work, the level of contributions is uneven. Several chapters are excellent (Terrence Merrigan on revelation, Thomas Norris on faith, Gerard J. Hughes on conscience); others are very good; and a few barely rise above the level of vulgarization. Differences would seem to exist also in the audience that contributors seek to reach. Some take for granted that the basic facts of Newman's life and work are already known to the reader; others adopt a narrative and descriptive approach, which could have been omitted because of the excellent opening chapter by Sheridan Gilley that provides an overview of Newman's life and work. …