Monday, August 15, 2005

great read

Foregoing the current tendency to document each detail in a subject's life, Gilley provides a fairly fast-paced tromp through the major periods and writing of John Henry Cardinal Newman as he moved from Calvinist to Anglo-Catholic to Roman Catholic (and he's on the Catholic Church's sainthood track). We learn very little of his living in the Birmingham Oratory for the last 40 years of his life, but quite a lot of his arguments with his London Bromphton Oratory counter-parts. Gilley relies heavily on Newman's published writings and private correspondence. This record of articulation must have been overwhelming, and at one point Gilley points out that today we would not have a record of people's personal slights and irritations, but with Newman, we run the gamut of reactions and opinions, great and small.

As partisan as Gilley is toward Newman, he deals up front with his touchiness. Newman held grudges, and since he fought in many battles (quite publicly as an Anglican and behind-the-scenes as a Catholic), he had a few enemies. At one point, Cardinal Manning, an English Archbishop (and at times an opponent to Newman) refers late in Newman's life at the difficulty of Newman by saying that his greatest detriment was his "temper, temper, temper."

Newman was incredibly smart, a dedicated and life-long scholar, not as political as his fellows, and often enough an outsider seeking the middle road both in his early distinctions of Anglicanism, and later his understanding of papal authority. He out-lived many of the folk with whom he was closest. Even as he stirred animosities, he had passionate friendships. He was not a person afraid to make a leap toward what he believed and loved. And there is nothing in this record that would suggest that as skeptical and thoughtful as he was, that he was ever out of love with God or that his faith was less than a life-long relationship.

He was also in love with Oxford, and his leaving the Church of England meant exile from that place for many years -- in his Apologia he states that he had only seen the spires of Oxford from a passing train window since his conversion. His efforts as a Catholic to create either a college house, a church or a mission at Oxford was both encouraged and fought by various Catholic authorities and were ultimately unfruitful. His vision for a vibrant English speaking Catholic university in Dublin was also limited by the mistrusts of Irish bishops towards an English convert. Toward's the end of his life, he was made an honorary fellow at his Oxford College, Trinity, and he did return to visit Oxford. He also re-contacted many of his Anglican friends. He certainly helped re-invigorate Catholicism in England. He always hated liberalism (even as he embraced it's spirit for university education), and Gilley seems to think that while he also rejected Calvinism, certain evangelical characteristics never left him.

No comments: