Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman

John Henry Newman, when he preached his first ...
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John Henry Newman has now been declared Blessed, a step up from Venerable. I imagine the next move is towards canonization or sainthood and then after that, there’ll probably be a push to name him Doctor of the Church. John Allen at National Catholic Reporter has a bunch of interesting links.


Newman’s Oxford Sermon #1-Gospel’s Philosophical “temper”

The sermon, “The Philosophical Temper First Enjoined by the Gospel,” was preached July 2, 1826.

{1} FEW charges have been more frequently urged by unbelievers against Revealed Religion, than that it is hostile to the advance of philosophy and science. That it has discouraged the cultivation of literature can never with any plausibility be maintained, since it is evident that the studies connected with the history and interpretation of the Scriptures have, more than any others, led to inquiries into the languages, writings, and events of ancient times. Christianity has always been a learned religion; it came into the world as the offspring of an elder system, to which it was indebted for much which it contained, and which its professors were obliged continually to consult. The Pagan philosopher, on enrolling himself a member of the Christian Church, was invited, nay, required, to betake himself to a line of study almost unknown to the schools of Greece. The Jewish {2} books were even written in a language which he did not understand, and opened to his view an account of manners and customs very different from those with which he was familiar. The writings of the ancients were to be collected, and their opinions examined; and thus those studies which are peculiarly called learned would form the principal employment of one who wished to be the champion of the Christian faith. The philosopher might speculate, but the theologian must submit to learn.

 I think this is an interesting statement for an Oxford man. 19th century Oxford was a school for the Arts. Science was not it strong suit. It would be interesting to know what Newman understood by science (I wonder if he is thinking Bishop Joseph Butler and Bishop Paley of watchmaker analogy fame). There was a lot going on in Great Britain scientifically, including with folks like Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin.  This early we see Newman’s concern to bridge the gap the between faith and science, which I think he succeeds with his 1870 work As Essay in the Aid of a Grammar of Assent.

In general this sermon raises interesting questions and issues:

Continue reading “Newman’s Oxford Sermon #1-Gospel’s Philosophical “temper””

Mill and Aristotle

So my new bedtime reading was John Duns Scotus’ Questions on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. I did take a course on this particular work, but it was a major blur. I remember little if nothing. So in hopes of rekindling my relationship with Scotus I have decided to read his Questions. However, as with many philosophers, it is like walking into the middle or a pretty advanced conversation. So what to do.

In the meantime, my while-watching-TV reading is J.S. Mill’s A System of Logic. Which is actually quite enjoyable until you feel like, again, there’s a pretty major conversation that’s gone on before this. I’m just not sure with whom: Aristotle? Locke? Hume? Whewhell? Archbishop Whatley? I’ve decided that his conversation is foundationally with Aristotle. So . . .

My new bedtime reading is Aristotle’s Metaphysics. I also took a course on this book and I did understand it but I was an Aristotle novice at the time. I am rereading it and enjoying it and boy is shedding light on Scotus and Mill. Even words like “art” and “science” seem to have relevance for how Mill structures his argument on the nature of logic.

I do have a daily commute of about 3 hours. In the morning, I read the Washington Post, which is exquisitely delightful. On the return trip, I listen to NPR’s Planet Money podcast and now I am reading the Cambridge Companion to Locke. So Locke is my new commuter read. I do have to say that I hit a real snoozer of a paragraph the other day and it did not help that I was insanely sleepy. So why am I reading a companion to Locke and not Locke himself? I do want to and will read his Essay on human understanding. My experience with reading primary works is that it is generally better, but only if you plan to devote much time to it. I’m reading Locke to understand John Henry Newman, so I don’t want to waste time plumbing the depths of Locke when I could spend that time on something else. Mill and Scotus are people I do want to read and write on, but not Locke. After reading the companion, I’ll read the Essay itself.

Another person whose Cambridge companion anthology thingie I need to read is Kant. As distasteful as it sounds (i.e. reading Kant) I can’t (ha) get away from his issues and I certainly do not have time to waster reading him.

So there it is . . . Aristotle, Aristotle and more Aristotle. And by the way, I am really disturbed at the number of terms papers for sale out there. I googled Mill and Aristotle and ran into all these websites selling term papers doing comparisons on both men. Disturbing.

Reading John Locke

I’ve been trying to get through Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding for years. I’ve some parts of it but never gotten through it. But I just finished reading a short biography of Locke and I think that makes a difference. I’m an advocate of locating philosophical or theological works in the context of biography otherwise the work makes no sense and is dry and uninteresting. Newman, for instance, can not make any sense if you don’t know why he’s writing what he writes.

Etienne Gilson, a historian of philosophy, once noted that after completing his dissertation on Descartes, he felt like he had walked into the middle of a conversation and that started his historical thrust as he sought to place Descartes in the context of the historical philosophical discussion Descartes was engaged in.

I never quite saw Locke’s work in that light of historical or bibliographical. I tended to treat his works as discrete works. I do find his writing fascinating, but now with the biographical context, I think it’ll all make much more sense. Especially knowing now that each successive edition of his Essay contained substantial revisions in response to critics and ideas.

Newman’s Cause

James Martin has an article, Whose saint is John Henry Newman? He rightly notes that Newman is all things to all people:

Because of his protean mind and voluminous writings, then, he is beloved by groups that are often at loggerheads. More traditional Catholics admire Newman’s elegant apologias for Catholicism. Progressives embrace his work on conscience and the “development of doctrine,” the idea that church belief on some matters can change over time – for the better. And ironically, many Catholics suspicious of clericalism often quote this prince of the church, who once quipped about the laity, “[T]he church would look foolish without them.” Indeed, one of his most famous articles was called “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.”

This is true but it should be noted that Newman as a Catholic was despised by the conservative wing of the Church. He was continually beaten up by the Right and only seemed to rise above all the controversy in his later years when he was recognized as a Cardinal. He was viewed with extreme suspicion because of his progressive leanings. From what I can tell, Newman was a political conservative in his Anglican years, the first part of his life. I do think his conversion to Catholicism and his original thinking forced him to the progressive spectrum of things.

Then there’s this:

The greatest controversy over the soon-to-be-saint, however, may be his intense relationship with his long-time friend Ambrose St. John. “As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last . . . he was my earthly light,” wrote Newman. Before his death in 1890, Newman made an unusual and strongly worded request. “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St. John’s grave – and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote. As a result, he is beloved among some in the gay community, who often claim him as one of their own.

Oh boy! Could Newman have been gay? He absolutely could have or not. One thing we know is that he was a man of deep friendships and I would not read much into that statement, though I admit to not having read the full statement or context. I’m not sure what to think about this. Many people describe Newman as sensitive and even “feminine” which may or may not have been a 19th century approach to describing a gay disposition.  

It really doesn’t matter if he was gay or not, because being gay and being chaste are not mutually exclusive. He was a priest, a religious and man who had taken vows and if the implication is that he was not in compliance with his vows, I would have a major problem with that. On the other hand, if we can respect the fact that he lived as he professed, even if he was gay and in love with Ambrose St. John, so be it and I’m happy for him. But anyone who reads Newman realizes how deeply his friendships with men and women ran and how affected he was when they ended.

I decided to take a quick look at Ian Kerr’s authoritative biography of Newman. Ambrose St. John was one of the few people who stood with Newman and came with him to the Catholic Church in 1845 and he remained Newman’s closest friend until St John’s death in May 1875. St John devoted his life to Newman doing whatever Newman asked of him, which was a lot and no one but Newman could appreciate the depth of St John’s devotion.  In this context the request to be buried in the same grave is not out of character.

Here’s an interesting quote from Ian Kerr’s John Henry Newman. Kerr has just discussed the death of Edward Caswall and Mrs. Wootten, three Newman friends who had devoted their lives to him.

‘I always say “No one has ever had such friends as I have had!”‘ It was ‘the penalty of living, to lose the great props of life’. The pain, however, of losing friends for one to whom friendships meant so much was unbearable: ‘There is some thing awful in the silent restless sweep of time–and, as years go on, and friends are taken away, one draws the thought of those who remain about one, as in cold weather one buttons up great coats and capes for protection.’ (He had once used a similar protective image in rebuke to an old Anglican friend who had failed to keep in touch after 1845–‘friendships are not put on, put off, put on again, like a glove.’) . . . [H]e wrote to a domestic servant: ‘I too know what it is to lose a sister. I lost her 49 years ago, and, though so many years have past, I still feel pain.’ 

Newman Works in English

I was looking at the The International Centre of Newman Friends and they have  this awesome updated bibliography on Newman studies in every language. Newman was English and naturally in the course of Newman scholarship there are far more English language writings on or about Newman in the past century. But I have to say that I was very surprised at the paucity of English language Newman works in the past few years.

Newman studies are interesting because my unconfirmed view is that theologians in non-English speaking countries tend to do more with Newman theologically. You get the feeling that English speaking theologians and researchers feel that they’ve exhausted the Newman topic. But not so fast my friends, there is a lot more to come. Fortunately, there is the Newman Studies Journal which will churn out at least 10 English language Newman articles a year and then you can expect the regular 5-10 articles with other theological journals. You would think that with all the activity surrounding his cause for sainthood, that Newman works would be coming out of the woodwork.

The other thing to note is that there is an annual Newman conference here in the U.S.  with about 10 presentations which I imagine will produce about the same number of articles, on the other hand, many of them may find their way into the Newman Studies Journal which would still not result in a net increase in English language articles.