John Henry Newman: A Portrait in Letters

John Henry Newman: A Portrait in Letters

John Henry Newman: A Portrait in Letters

John Henry Newman: A Portrait in Letters

Synopsis

John Henry Newman was one of the most eminent of Victorians and an intellectual pioneer for an age of doubt and unsettlement. His teaching transformed the Victorian Church of England, yet many still want to know more of Newman's personal life. Newman's printed correspondence runs to 32 volumes, and John Henry Newman: A Portrait in Letters offers a way through the maze.
Roderick Strange has chosen letters that illustrate not only the well-known aspects of Newman's personality, but also those in which elements that may be less familiar are on display. There are letters to family and friends, and also terse letters laced with anger and sarcasm. The portrait has not been airbrushed. This selection of letters presents a rounded picture, one in which readers will meet Newman as he really was and enjoy the pleasure of his company. As Newman himself noted, 'the true life of a man is in his letters'.

Excerpt

John Henry Newman (1801–90) was one of the most eminent of Victorians, an intellectual pioneer for an age of doubt and unsettlement and a Romantic visionary whose teaching transformed the Victorian Church of England. Though nurtured in the deeply conservative ethos of Regency Oxford, Newman was blessed with a startlingly original and questing intellect. He became at the start the energizing force behind the Oxford Movement that sought to revive catholic and apostolic ideas and practices within the protestant Church of England, but found himself gradually compelled by the logic of his own convictions and by the resistance to them of the Anglican establishment to seek admission into the Roman Catholic Church. As a Catholic priest he adapted for England and established a new branch of an Italian religious community, the Oratory of St Philip Neri, founding Oratories in Birmingham and London. He was then invited to undertake a series of demanding projects, the founding of a university in Dublin, the oversight of a new translation of the Bible, and the editorship of a controversial periodical, the Rambler; he was also encouraged twice to set up an Oratory in Oxford, to challenge the sceptical, secular age that he predicted was dawning. None of these ventures was a success. They did not receive the official support they needed. Newman was regarded with increasing suspicion by certain Catholics who feared he was importing alien or liberal ideas into the Catholic Church.

Beside these abortive projects, Newman’s Catholic years were also marked by a series of controversies, each of which gave rise to major literary or theological masterpieces. In 1863 Charles Kingsley, celebrated novelist, Cambridge professor, Christian Socialist, and ‘muscular Christian’, accused Newman and the Catholic priesthood in general of systematic disregard for the truth. The ensuing literary dispute evoked some of Newman’s most savage satire, but also produced perhaps the greatest religious autobiography in the language, his 1864 Apologia pro Vita Sua. Two years later a debate with his friend and former Oxford colleague, Edward Pusey, over Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, enabled Newman to offer a radical reorientation of contemporary Catholic piety and teaching by recalling it to its roots in the early Church Fathers. And in 1875 his response to William Gladstone’s outburst about the political implications of the Vatican Council’s decree on papal infallibility, prompted by Gladstone’s defeat in the general election, allowed him to interpret that doctrine in a more precise way that has remained influential ever since. Then in his old age in 1878 to his delight Newman was elected as the first Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, where he had been an undergraduate. He felt able to visit Oxford once more. And the following year to his . . .

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