iffy C. E. ROBIN CARDINAL NEWMAN may, it is true, never be a popular figure; the life of a scholar and man of letters is not filled with picturesque incident. Moreover, the 20th century has no patience for the length and leisurely character of 19th century writing; we want something more vivid and shorter.
Yet of all 19th century Catholics it is Newman whose influence is perhaps the most felt; and his influence has perhaps not yet reached its height.
Newman's biography begins with the work of W. G. Ward. This was from the start (1912) a standard work, but it has always been felt by the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory (who should know) that it did not do Newman justice. It represented him as somewhat querulous, tearful even, anything but a man who gets things done, bowed down by disappointments—of which he had his full share,
Subsequent Newman research, based on his letters (which Fr. Henry Tristram has done so much to arrange and make available for scholars) has more and more moved away from this view. Newman's was a sensitive nature, nor did he fail to he affected by his disappointments; but he was tenacious of his principles and achieved things in spite of his disappointments.
His lack of cheerfulness, which so impressed certain visitors (notably the late Baron Friedrich von littgell, failed to impress the Oratorians, who knew him so i o much inure intimately than the visitors (it s in fact possible that this apparent defect was observed by the visitors because they were responsible for causing it).
Newman's works continued to sell, but no one, in England at least, was enthusiastic about any but the "Apologia"—the story of his conversion. But his influence was not dead—the steady stream of visitors to the Oratory was indication enough of that. He needed to be discovered, and the researches of scholars were building up a picture of him different from the traditional "Sublime Failure" version.
"WHEN I learnt my theology," V V said a Luxembourg priest to me not long since, "it was a learning by rote, which meant very little. It was only when I studied Newman that the pieces fitted together and became alive."
For Newman in the first place has brought to the Catholic consciousness the idea of doctrinal development—and that by an essay completed (so far as it was completed) before he became a Catholic.
That theory is now a commonplace; new doctrinal definitions are justified if they are justifiable developments of what is already believed, justified as rendering explicit what was already implicit in the existing doctrines, justified because the infallible Church accepts them as already lying hid in the Church's life and faith, and now brought out and made manifest.
Newman's ideas were published in 1846, the year following his conversion, They were at once examined by Fr. Perrone, S.J., who was pre
The gift of a lifetime
paring material on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception prior to the definition of the dogma. It is possible that the dogma could not have been promulgated without the acceptance of Newman's theory, certain that subsequent doctrinal definitions would have been barely conceivable without it.
Newman's views were in advance of his age: he led the way and pointed to the future.
A S a teacher of religious pinto
sophyy Newman was equally in advance of his time. He expressly declared that he was no philosopher: he had not bad the discipline of scholastic philosophy; be was formed by a different tradition.
His religion was built on his own personal experience; he was able to present that personal experience as having within it something of universal validity—man's need of God, man's own corrupt and sinful nature as testimony not only to its own poverty but also to the existence of a Creator, the fact that that Creator was offended by man's sin, and vet was man's Redeemer.
Newman poses the problems which are posed by the modern existentialist, and offers their solution. His religious philosophy is capable of being a guide to 20th century man: Newman is something which the 20th century wants and needs.
Faith and science NEWMAN'S third field of influence is in the field of Catholic education and the Catholic reaction to scientific thought. Here Newman had to deal with two different problems. What was to be the attitude of Catholics to modern science? Where and how were Catholic youth to be educated?
Newman's answer to the first problem was one which fully recognised the right of the various sciences to exist and to he supreme in their own fields, subject to their accepting the corrections which theology might suggest. But in Newman's view there would be no conflict between true science, in any field, and theology.
It was in the 19th century not so easy to be so open-minded as it is now in the 20th century, when theologians have had time to adjust their outlook to modern science and when "scientific" attacks on the Church's teaching have been successfully repelled.
Newman, however, was quite prepared to accept evolution as not necessarily at variance with Catholic doctrine, a view which few 19th century religious thinkers would have been prepared to accept.
Newman's faith, however, was not based on the acceptance of any scientific theory: it was based on something much more personal and much more fundamental, He could afford to welcome scientific discovery: it would not shake the foundations of his Faith.
FOR the 19th century Catholic the education problem centred on the question whether Catholic education should aim at educating a closed-off Catholic community or whether it should produce Catholics who would share the intellectual culture of their age and country. Newman's answer
was clearly in favour of the second —at a Catholic university if that were possible; otherwise Catholics must be free to go to other universities, subject to appropriate safeguards.
He was thus iirst led to attempt to establish a ( .itholic University in Ireland. an attempt which, though not a failure (Newman's foundation lasted long enough in one way or another to became the nucleus of the present University College, Dublin). yet did not achieve all that he had hoped from it—it was no answer to the problem of higher education for English Catholics.
Newman therefore continued to press for permission to be given for Catholics to enter English universities—unsuccessfully, for Cardinal Manning would not hear of such a thing. Yet one of the first actions of Manning's successor was to effect what Newman had advocated so long.
That Catholic student societies arc generally named after Newman is a well-merited tribute to his work in laying down the Catholic approval of modern knowledge and the right and necessity for Catholics to have access to such knowledge.
NEWMAN was in advance of his age. whether in defending the Church against attacks which were only then gathering strength. or in distinguishing what was permanent from what was temporary in Catholic life and Catholic relations with the world and its institutions (for ex ample. Newman realised that the Church would not he affected by the loss of the Papal States to the new Kingdom of Italy—the loss would affect nothing permanent or essential).
His personal appeal has, however, been to the few—even though the Anglicans sing his hymns and "The Dream of Gerontius" finds a welcome in Anglican cathedrals and Nonconformist chapels.
It is on the Continent, particularly in Germany, that he finds his keenest followers. A number of Germans have tried their hand at translating one or other of his works; that the translations are repeated is evidence that they are read.
The Benedictines of Weingarten are translating all the sermons which cover both his Anglican and Catholic days and provide a cycle of Christian teaching which few, if any, writers have ever surpassed.
Theologians throughout Germany arc uniting to publish detailed studies of every aspect of his thought. Elsewhere one hears the same story— Newman is realised as having a message for our age.
Newman is not perhaps a popular writer, but those who make a start on any of his works come back for more. Their language is beautiful, but, more important, they have a message—not the arguments of logic, but a person speaking from his inmost heart to the inmost heart of others—cor a dcor toquitur.