Page 6, 9th May 1975

9th May 1975
Page 6
Page 6, 9th May 1975 — A watershed in Newman's life

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Locations: Dublin, Rome, Oxford


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A watershed in Newman's life

The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman edited by C. S. Dessain and Thomas Gornall, SJ. Volume XXVII: The Controversy with Gladstone. Volume XXVIII: Fellow of Trinity (Clarendon Press £15 each)

The recent Academic Symposium in Rome and the forthcoming International Conference to be held in Dublin are evidence of the continuing and even growing interest in the life and work of Cardinal Newman.

During 1 87 6, Newman himself wrote: "I don't want a panegyric written of me, which would be sickening, but a real fair downright account of me according to the best ability and judgment of the writer."

Newman has indeed been fortunate in his two major biographers, Wilfrid Ward and Meriol Trevor, and to suggest that the publication of his Letters and Diaries is proving to be .the best possible means of following his life and work should not be interpreted as an implied criticism of their biographies. But there is no doubt that any biography would inevitably be less detailed and fascinating than the study of Newman's development through his own correspondence. Furthermore, few reputations would not suffer from the publication of letters and autobiographical writings in their entirety; yet several commentators have already made the point that Newman's reputation has been enhanced rather than injured by the publication of all his correspondence.

The latest volumes to be published mark a watershed in Newman's life. The first volume is mainly concerned with the controversy occasioned by W. E. Gladstone's criticisms of the decrees of the First Vatican Council.

Newman himself had been suspected by many of his fellow Catholics because of his opposi tion to the development of Ultramontanism in the Church and the definition of papal infallibility.

The extreme attitudes of the Ultramontanes had also alienated the former Prime Minister, one of the most Christian statesmen of the Victorian or any other age. In the event, however, Newman's attitude rather than the Ultramontane approach was ultimately adopted by the Church.

In the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman emphasised• the fact and primacy of con science, the practical and psychological limits of papal authority, and Professor H. J. Laski later described this discussion of sovereignty as perhaps the most profound in the English language.

Although several Ultramontanes continued to suspect and criticise Newman, other members of the Church showed a more sympathetic apprecia tion of his work and he began to receive those marks of recognition which encouraged him in his later years.

In December, 1877, the President of Trinity College, Oxford, invited Newman to become an Honorary Fellow—the first occasion on which the College chose to exercise its right.

Early in 1878, Pius IX died and Leo XIII had hardly been erected when rumours appeared in the press that Newman was to receive the Cardinal's hat, though the way in which some Ultramontanes tried to prevent this forms part of the next volume.

It would, of course, be impossible to review any of these volumes without expressing a sense of gratitude and paying tribute to Fr Stephen Dessain and Fr Thomas Gornall, whose scholarship and devotion have put so many theologians and historians, as well as more general readers, in their debt.


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