Abstract:In the current fascination of younger evangelicals with the ethos of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, John Henry Newman (1801–1890) has become something of a ‘poster child’. The autobiographical and polemical writings of this celebrated convert to Rome (largely reflecting the first half of his career) enjoy ongoing popularity; these are taken to ‘define’ the man. Yet what this current fascination tends to overlook is that across the twentieth century Newman has been taken up as the theme of critical and ecumenical inquiry. Critical scholarship stops well short of the overly deferential attitude to Newman, all too characteristic at the present time. This article surveys this ongoing discussion of Newman up to our time.
A thought, popularly attributed to John Henry Newman, is often bandied about these days.1 Enter the words ‘To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant’ in any worldwide web search engine, and prepare to be deluged.2 The well-known Christian philosopher Francis Beckwith utilizes this provocative sentiment when explaining why he recently left evangelical Protestantism for the Roman Catholicism of his upbringing.3 Such ‘soundings’ go some distance to explain why no modern historical figure’s name is as often invoked as that of John Henry Newman (1801–1890) in evangelical Protestantism’s current fascination with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.4 This man of the nineteenth century has become an iconic figure for the kind of ‘reluctant’ Protestants who find themselves steadily more restless with the perceived shortcomings of evangelical Protestantism. And as it is for Newman, the Oxford fellow and clergyman who forsook Canterbury for Rome in 1845, so also for his books. Among the restive sort of Protestant, no piece of literature is alluded to as often as Newman’s autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua (i.e., ‘a defense of his life’), published in 1864.5
Soon after Newman’s demise in 1890, the curious could read edited selections of his early Letters.6 They could digest an incisive treatment of the dawn of the movement with which Newman had been so closely associated in his Anglican years.7 They could also take in hand a two-volume biography composed by Wilfrid Ward,8 who utilized many materials pre-selected for this purpose by Newman himself. This then was John Henry Newman in his own and others’ words in the first century of his influence. Critics there were, to be sure. But the loudest voices were Newman himself and the circle of admirers whom he left.
This essay concentrates on Newman literature produced since 1933. For when that year dawned, it had been a century since Newman and a circle which included John Keble, E. B. Pusey, and R. H. Froude had, by launching a series of pamphlets, commenced what came to be called the ‘Oxford’ or ‘Tractarian’ movement. This series had eventually extended to Tract 90 in 1841, after which the Anglican bishop of Oxford intervened to forbid its continuation. By 1845, Newman, the most visible member of this circle, had resigned his posts as fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and rector of that city’s St. Mary’s Church, and been received into the communion of the Church of Rome. Newman’s doing so then—rather than at some later point—had been precipitated by the sudden re-affiliation to Rome of a young man who had been part of a semi-monastic community over which he had presided at Littlemore, a village near Oxford. In truth, Newman paved the way for this student’s precipitous action by his own increasing orientation to Rome, which was reflected in the religious life of his Littlemore community.
Newman’s high profile as an Oxford don, an Anglican clergyman, and rising author gave notoriety to his re-affiliation to Rome. For the balance of his life—in which he wrote prolifically in support of the Catholic cause and for which efforts he was named a Roman cardinal in 1879—Newman was the Englishman about whom observers differed and frequently differed strongly.
Here we recount and interpret the changing appraisals of John Henry Newman in the second century since the movement that he helped to launch came to public attention. The essay makes no claim to be exhaustive but seeks to treat a fair array of literature in a representative way. We proceed by grouping works produced since 1933 into epochs and then offer some concluding remarks.
1. At the 1933 Tractarian Centennial9
By 1933, Newman had been dead for over forty years. Even the number of those of a younger generation who could claim any personal acquaintance with him was in steady decline. And yet, five publications appeared in connection with that centenary year, which were motivated by some ‘personal factor’.
Edmund A. Knox (1847–1937) author of The Tractarian Movement: 1833–1845,10 was the retired bishop of Manchester and an outspoken evangelical. He had studied in Oxford two decades following Newman’s defection to Rome, become a fellow of Merton College, and entered a long and distinguished ministry in the Church of England. As a bishop holding evangelical principles, he was a stalwart in opposing the Anglo-Catholic revision of the Book of Common Prayer in the 1920s. Of still greater relevance was the sobering fact that the youngest of his six children, a distinguished scholar, Ronald A. Knox (1888–1957), had spurned the evangelical upbringing provided in his home to embrace first the Anglo-Catholic expression of Anglicanism and eventually the Roman communion. A second son, Wilfrid L. Knox (1886–1950) also academically gifted, also brought parental disappointment by embracing Anglo-Catholicism.
But far from Edmund Knox’s book of 1933 being a kind of an exposé of Tractarianism, the careful reader finds that it is instead a thoughtful intellectual history of Newman and his circle which explored the strong affinities of the English Tractarians with their French Catholic contemporaries, the ultramontanist party.11 Each party in its own way was seeking to exalt the primacy of religious authority over the authority of the modern state; each saw dangers in the expansion of popular democracy. Knox portrays Newman and the Tractarians as Romantics.12
By contrast, the Anglo-Catholic party (as the Tractarian movement had come to be known) used the 1933 centenary to celebrate the attainments of their movement which had persisted and steadily grown in strength, despite Newman’s 1845 secession to Rome.13 The celebratory volume, produced for that year under the editorship of Oxford professor Norman P. Williams, bore the somewhat ostentatious title Northern Catholicism: Studies in the Oxford Centenary and Parallel Movements.14 Though the title was taken by at least one reviewer as an indicator of a kind of pretension (i.e., it was advancing a claim that Anglicanism exercised a wide sphere of influence analogous to that of Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy), there was more substance to this implied claim than the American reviewer would grant.15 At that near-zenith stage of the British Empire, Anglo-Catholicism had been able to extensively replicate its emphases wherever Anglicanism had extended itself across the Empire.
Frank L. Cross,16 who would be associated with the Anglo-Catholic movement throughout his long academic career, produced in that same centenary year an insightful overview of Newman.17 Most striking from a writer who stood in the stream of Anglicanism which traced its origin to the movement of the 1830s was the readiness of the author to question the historical accuracy of Newman’s Apologia of 1864. Cross believed that it was Newman’s sense of having been severely rebuffed in the furor generated by his Tract 90 in 1840—rather than a sustained line of reading and reflection (as his Apologia suggested)—which by 1841 set Newman on the trajectory which eventually saw him received into the Church of Rome in 1845. The furor generated by the release of Tract 90, on Cross’s reading, put Newman in the position of being an exile within the very Anglican communion in which he had been raised and to which he had given the better part of twenty years.18 When a rising Anglo-Catholic scholar such as Cross, writing empathetically about his subject, was ready to take such a revisionist line, something of real significance was underway.
In 1933 the striking volume Oxford Apostles appeared, which, despite its title, was chiefly centered upon Newman.19 The author, Geoffrey Faber (1889–1961), wrote as a distinguished Oxford graduate and as the grandnephew of J. H. Newman’s fellow traveler to Rome, the hymn writer Frederick W. Faber (1814–1863). It was a matter of historical record that Faber, a devoted follower of Newman both while at Oxford and in his re-affiliation to Rome, received brusque treatment from Newman in the years following. Skillfully written by one who became the co-founder of a publishing house bearing the Faber name and with a dash of irreverence towards the hallowed memory of his subject, the volume attempted an account of Newman’s career which took seriously a number of unresolved conundrums. Faber, influenced by Freudian psychology, took particular interest in Newman’s prolonged and unrelenting relationship with his mother, his claimed determination from age fifteen to follow a life of celibacy, his overwhelming preference for male company (long before his re-affiliation to Rome), his recurring tendency to have severe health crises when confronted by great tasks, and supremely his self-absorption. Faber strongly implied the existence of dark psychological forces at work in the Tractarian hero. In modern parlance, we might call The Oxford Apostles a piece of psycho-history. Faber was, at the same time, a good scholar and a lucid writer.
This work understandably aggravated Newman loyalists, so within a year there appeared from the pen of the rising young Catholic historian Christopher Dawson (1889–1970) a kind of rejoinder entitled The Spirit of the Oxford Movement.20 Dawson, no less than Faber had a ‘pony in the race’. If Faber wrote influenced by the conviction that Newman inspired his grand-uncle into secession from the Church of England only to treat him shabbily afterwards, Dawson—himself an adult convert to Rome from Anglo-Catholicism—was determined to ‘buff’ Newman’s reputation back to a restored luster.21 It is not too much to call Dawson’s work ‘defensive’. Yet its literary merits were such that Dawson’s book was reprinted in 2001.
2. Mid-Century Contextual Studies
The decades following the 1933 centennial were not characterized by quite the same high interest in Newman and the movement he had helped to found. Yet the flame was kept alive by two notable volumes.
Henry Tristram, a twentieth-century member of the Birmingham Oratory, the monastic residence which had been presided over by Newman until his passing in 1890, assembled for publication a collection of materials from Newman’s own hand. These all had bearing on aspects of Newman’s life and were published in 1956 as John Henry Newman: Autobiographical Writings.22 Here, at very least was hard evidence of a kind sometimes remarked on by Newman biographers: Newman was a man who was very solicitous as to how he would be portrayed by biographers and had marked the way for them by an extensive pre-selection of materials. Of special interest in the volume is Newman’s little-known ‘Autobiographical Memoir’ of 1874, which relates the story of his life in markedly different fashion from that of his rather stylized Apologia Pro Vita Sua of 1864. While the latter told Newman’s life up to his re-affiliation to Rome in 1845 with a view to rehabilitating his tattered reputation in the eyes of English Protestant readers, the ‘Autobiographical Memoir’ told the story as Newman wished it to be passed on to readers of a later time. Notably, Newman’s debt to the evangelicalism of his youth (a prominent part of the Apologia) was largely omitted in the later account.23
A striking development in the next year (1957) was the release of Owen Chadwick’s insightful volume, From Bossuet to Newman: the Idea of Doctrinal Development.24 Chadwick elaborated the story of how, in the post-Reformation period, Catholic apologists such as Jacques Bossuet (1624–1704) had labored to maintain the traditional claim that the Roman Catholic Church had sustained an unbroken doctrinal conformity with the church of the earliest centuries. Catholic apologists such as Bossuet therefore maintained that innovation and declension in doctrine was the unique legacy of Protestantism. Newman, on the other hand, while a young Protestant scholar had maintained the opposite, namely, it was Rome that had clearly declined from an original, less encumbered stance towards Christian doctrine. Protestantism had been warranted in making a fresh appeal to Scripture and the Fathers at the Reformation. Yet in the 1840s, he reversed himself by coming to hold that while Catholic doctrine had indeed undergone a kind of ‘evolution’, this was consistently of a defensible and organic type. Chadwick’s book of 1957 succeeded in putting the question of doctrinal development back on the ‘menu’ of Protestantism as it had not been for half a century.
3. At the Approach of the Centenary of the Release of Newman’s ‘Apologia’ (1864)
As with the year 1933, the year 1964 was seen as especially significant as it marked the centenary of the original release of Newman’s autobiographical sketch of his life up to 1845, the Apologia Pro Vita Sua. There came from the press a series of volumes which consciously related to the approach of this centenary mark. The trend was signaled as early as 1961 when Oxford University Press began to issue the Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, a series eventually reaching thirty-one volumes.25 The editorial lead for this project was taken by C. S. Dessain, the archivist of the very Birmingham Oratory established by Newman in 1848.26
In rapid succession appeared a two-volume biography by the English writer Meriol Trevor. Herself a successful author of children’s literature and various historical novels, Trevor had converted to Catholicism in 1950 and turned to the subject of Newman as had other such converts, such as Dawson (above) with Newman: The Pillar of the Cloud (1962) and Newman: Light in Winter (1963).27 On the strength of the acclaim which this biography generated, Trevor was shortly to be involved in editing a short collection of essays published in 1965: Newman: A Portrait Restored; An Ecumenical Evaluation.28 Here Roman Catholic and Church of England contributors collaborated and assessed Newman in a fresh way. This took into account, both, of the century which had passed since the first release of the Apologia and the fact that the Second Vatican Council (where Newman’s ideas were receiving fresh attention) was in process in the years 1963–65.29
In these same years, an individual already named, Owen Chadwick, was joined by another, in producing volumes in which Newman and the Tractarian movement were set in context by samplings of its literature. This was achieved by providing anthologies of the writings of Newman and those associated with him up to his re-affiliation in 1845. Chadwick, for his part, assembled representative excerpts from the writings of the Tractarians (very largely culled from the ninety Tracts for the Times). This volume, The Mind of the Oxford Movement,30 enables one to observe—without any necessary access to the original Tracts (eventually bound in four volumes)—just what were the opinions of the Tractarians regarding the Church of England in her relation to the state, the relation of her episcopate to the original apostles, and the meaning of her sacraments.
Eugene R. Fairweather’s The Oxford Movement resembles Chadwick’s work but with fewer, extensive excerpts.31 This anthology concentrated not so extensively as the prior volume on samplings from the periodic ‘Tracts for the Times’ (commenced in 1833) but from independent theological writings produced by those in sympathy with the movement which sponsored the Tracts. Writers included Isaac Williams, Robert Wilberforce (son to William, the advocate for the abolition of slavery), and W. G. Ward, whose re-affiliation to Rome had preceded that of Newman himself.
Finally, mention can be made of a helpful volume which, though actually published in what we will treat as our next chronological period, reflects the author’s research late in this mid-century period. William Robbins’s The Newman Brothers: An Essay in Comparative Intellectual Biography attempted the evaluation of John Henry Newman through extended comparison with his younger brother, the equally-gifted Francis Newman (1805–1897).32 The younger Newman, after sharing in adolescence the evangelical commitment acknowledged also by John Henry Newman, performing brilliantly at Oxford, and serving for a time as a missionary to Syria in connection with the early Plymouth Brethren movement, nevertheless turned in the latter half of his life to religious liberalism and eventual Unitarianism. Through the eyes of Francis, John Henry Newman was something of a ‘prig’ who was extremely self-absorbed. Yet in John’s eyes, his younger brother Francis, who was drifting steadily from orthodox Christian belief, personified the secularizing tendency of their era which the established Church of England seemed powerless to arrest.
4. Newman in the Era of Vatican II
It is an intriguing fact that Newman only ‘came into his own’ (so to speak) within the Roman communion through the vehicle of the Second Vatican Council, sessions of which were held each autumn at Rome in 1962–1965. Until that era, Newman’s view that the Roman communion had been party to an extended legitimate evolution of Christian doctrine from the age of the Apostles forward received no official approbation by Roman theologians. There had, in fact, been steady Roman Catholic apprehension regarding Newman’s theological position from the time of his reception by Rome. His treatise of 1845 Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was—at the time of his reception—understood to be incongruent with Catholic doctrine. There had been no actual change in this assessment by the early twentieth century.
However, this was precisely the trajectory followed in the collaborative work of 1967, The Rediscovery of Newman: An Oxford Symposium.33 Newman was being ‘rediscovered’ in multiple senses: (1) there was fresh attention given to the influences contributing to the development of his thought; (2) there was assessment offered of Newman’s influence (as a Catholic) in three regions of northern Europe as well as upon English Nonconformity;34 and (3) there was a concluding essay which explored the belated influence of Newman upon the Second Vatican Council—now concluded three quarters of a century after his death. The author of the latter essay, Cuthbert Butler, credited Newman’s theological posture with being a contributing factor in the Council’s enlarged attention to biblical theology as a counterweight to dogmatic theology, and to the role of the whole people of God in assessing the boundaries of the faith as a counterweight to the nineteenth-century ultramontane insistence on papal infallibility and the dominant role of the hierarchy.35
The Rediscovery volume was by no means the only indicator that fresh interest in Newman was emerging in that post-Vatican era. By 1969, the American Roman Catholic historian Marvin R. O’Connell (then already known for his study of sixteenth-century Counter-Reformers) had produced The Oxford Conspirators: A History of the Oxford Movement 1833–1845. This book constituted the first full attempt to describe the birth of the movement (and Newman’s place in it) since the 1933 work of the Anglican evangelical E. A. Knox (described above). It was certainly the largest work of its kind written to that point by any American writer. Yet a perceptive reviewer questioned whether the industrious O’Connell, who wrote in confessional solidarity with Newman, the Roman Catholic convert, had actually added to the record.36
In this same period Nicholas Lash of Cambridge University revisited the theme earlier highlighted in Chadwick’s 1957 study From Bossuet to Newman. Lash’s volume was Newman on Development: The Search for An Explanation in History.37 This valuable study, which deserved to circulate far more widely than it did, had as its especial strength an analysis of the reception (or resistance to reception) of Newman’s thought within Roman Catholic theology across the first half of the twentieth century. This mixed reception had come about in large part through the appropriation of his thought by French representatives of Catholic Modernism which gave rise in the minds of conservative Catholics to a kind of guilt-by-association for Newman.38 Only after mid-twentieth century did the Roman communion consider his thought more dispassionately.
Two other works which emerged in the post-Vatican II era showed that evangelical Protestantism was also re-examining the Tractarian movement and its period. Peter Toon’s insightful Evangelical Theology: 1833–1856; A Response to Tractarianism (1979) shed fresh light on how Anglican evangelicals responded to Newman and his movement in the years preceding and following his reception by Rome.39 Names with which we ought to have been much more familiar, such as William Goode (1801–1868), emerge in this volume as the doughty champions of the evangelical Protestant position, which by this period in the nineteenth century had grown exponentially within the Church of England. As if to make more accessible some of the controversial literature of the era highlighted by Toon, Elizabeth Jay provided a 1983 anthology of writers from this period, The Evangelical and Oxford Movements.40 The book featured excerpts from Tractarian (Oxford) writers Isaac Williams, John Keble, J. H. Newman, and E. B. Pusey, as well as their critics Francis Close and William Goode. The Jay anthology provided a real service in making accessible what had long been very hard to access.
Some credit has already been paid to the significant contribution to Newman scholarship made by the Cambridge historian Owen Chadwick. How fitting then that when Oxford University Press wished to commission a small volume for its ‘Short Introduction’ series, it turned to Chadwick. The 1983 volume of 83 pages is not a biography but an introduction to Newman’s thought.41 A synopsis and evaluation is provided for each of Newman’s major writings, and the volume closes with an annotated guide to further reading. This little volume perfectly illustrates what is meant by the Latin phrase multum im parvo (much in small space); it provides an ideal point of departure for those just beginning Newman studies.
Also worthy of mention is a volume produced by the then-chaplain of Keble College, Oxford, Geoffrey Rowell: The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities in the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism (1983).42 As one of the foremost modern Anglo-Catholic authorities on Newman and the Tractarians, Rowell here provided deft interpretations of the significance of the three primary Tractarian leaders of the 1830s: Keble, Newman, and Pusey. Rowell helpfully analyzes Newman’s growth in understanding the development of doctrine, encapsulated in his work of the same name in 1845. By 1986, Rowell edited a fine compendium of essays reflecting an academic conference held at Oxford in 1983 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Oxford movement: Tradition Renewed: The Oxford Movement Conference Papers.43 The range and quality of presentations from an international range of Protestant as well as Roman Catholic contributors show this volume to represent a kind of high-water mark of ecumenical consideration of Newman and this movement up to that time. A healthily critical perspective is in evidence in many essays, with Newman and his circle subjected to searching analysis from all points of the theological compass.44
5. Associated with the Centenary of Newman’s Death (1990)
As at the centenary of the launch of the Tractarian Movement (1933) and of the initial release of the Apologia (1864), so also the approach of the centenary of Newman’s passing served as a stimulus to writers. Yet the release of Ian Ker’s John Henry Newman: A Biography (1988) was heralded as a development of much greater moment.45 Ker, then in the U.S.A. at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and later of Oxford University’s Blackfriars Hall, had established himself as one of the world’s leading authorities on Newman and his thought.46 His massive biography of 745 pages had taken full advantage of the serially published Letters and Diaries of Newman which had been issuing from the press since 1961. To its credit, this biography spent two-thirds of its pages on Newman’s Anglican phase to 1845 (an approach which makes it possible to recognize continuities between Newman the Anglican and Newman the Catholic). And yet it may be asked whether Ker’s very ‘immersion’ in the literary remains of his subject—such that one reviewer could speak of the volume as providing ‘Newman on Newman’47—did not deflect the biographer from securing the necessary critical distance from his subject. The same author in the centenary year published a volume of essays: The Achievement of John Henry Newman.48 Freed from the need in writing biography to concentrate on chronology, these essays focus on five select aspects of Newman as educator, philosopher, preacher, theologian, and writer and synthesize the contributions of his career by theme.
In the same centenary year, the recognized Newman authority Owen Chadwick released a volume of essays: The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays.49 Though some of the chapters had been written as recently as 1987, the book taken as a whole was a kind of a ‘gathered harvest’ of Chadwick’s writings on Newman—some from as long before as 1954. The essay, which provided the book with its title, ‘The Spirit of the Oxford Movement’, had originally prefaced Chadwick’s 1960 anthology of Tractarian writings, The Soul of the Oxford Movement (above). Chadwick’s aim in that centenary year was to make available essays which—because scattered across a range of periodicals inaccessible to most—would be otherwise unobtainable. In this writer’s opinion there is no writer on Newman and Tractarianism who represented such a balance of empathetic interpretation and critical distance as does Chadwick. This era was ‘crowned’ by a highly impressive compendium of essays, edited by Ian Ker and Alan G. Hill, Newman after a Hundred Years.50 Here a collaboration of Protestant and Roman Catholic contributors51 drew attention to Newman’s stature as a man of literature, as a former university head, as a patristic theologian, and as a source of influence on the Second Vatican Council.52
6. In a New Century
After the space of a decade, there appeared an important new treatment of Newman which was notable in several respects: Avery Dulles’s John Henry Newman (2002).53 Dulles, like his subject, had been raised as a Protestant and embraced Catholicism in his adulthood. The author (1918–2008), a distinguished Jesuit theologian associated with Fordham University, New York, was also (like Newman) raised to the cardinalate at an advanced age.54 But as an outworking of these affinities, Dulles, laid stress not on the biographical aspects of his subject’s career (which had been related many times over) but on the development of his theological thought. Dulles was one of the Catholic participants in the ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ initiative of 1994, and his elevation as cardinal had taken into account that and other involvements. His treatment of Newman accordingly stressed the way in which he had taken with him, into Catholicism, emphases such as the need for scriptural exegesis, the ultimate superiority of Scripture to tradition, and the legitimate role of biblical criticism. Newman’s distinctive emphases, when eventually disseminated, assisted his new communion to come to terms with non-Roman Christianity and the changed situation of the twentieth century. Newman was, on such an accounting, a facilitator of a later post-WWII ecumenism.55
Within a year, Yale University Press released a massive work which has managed to alter the landscape of Newman studies for the foreseeable future. I refer to Frank M. Turner’s John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion.56 Here, in massive detail, Turner—a renowned intellectual historian—had the temerity to challenge Newman’s own heavily stylized account of his pilgrimage from his evangelical youth, into a sacramentalist Anglicanism and into the embrace of Rome. According to Turner, Newman’s autobiographical writings—while they portrayed the trajectory of his life as a battle against political and theological liberalism—intentionally obscured his underlying opposition to evangelicalism (whether within or beyond the Church of England). On such an understanding, the stylized Apologia Pro Vita Sua of 1864 was a determined effort by Newman to rehabilitate his reputation as an alleged Protestant traitor in the minds of an evangelical Protestant public which he all the while genuinely disdained. A careful reading of the Turner volume raises many of the questions earlier posed by the Victorian writer Charles Kingsley, who because he alleged that Newman had long concealed Roman Catholic sentiments while still a minister of the Church of England, provoked Newman to write his Apologia of 1864. The Turner volume creates in the mind of the reader the lingering impression that Newman’s ‘persona’ was one which he carefully cultivated during his long life and that this ‘preferred’ reading of his life and career has lived on into the century beyond his departure.57
Two anthologies close our survey of Newman literature since 1933. The first, The Cambridge Companion to John Henry Newman (2009),58 provides a most helpful survey of Newman’s career by Sheridan Gilley and some very fine overviews of Newman’s thinking about various theological themes.59 Yet one is struck in reflecting on the range of contributors to this anthology that The Cambridge Companion has taken a step backwards from the pioneering efforts made between 1964 and 1990 to make the scholarly discussion of John Henry Newman trans-confessional. The Cambridge Companion is an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic collaboration produced by theological writers who give scant attention to historical factors.60
Finally, there is the interesting volume The Oxford Movement: Europe and the Wider World (2012).61 This volume seeks to do again, 85 years later, what was attempted in the 1933 volume, Northern Catholicism: to demonstrate the trans-national and trans-oceanic influence of that movement with which Newman’s Oxford but pre-Roman Catholic years were so actively intertwined. While the 1933 volume, compiled while Britain still maintained an Empire, had more of a global scope, the 2012 volume is more concerned with the Oxford Movement’s influence within the United Kingdom (there are chapters on Wales and Scotland) and Britain’s former Australian colony as well as on the Continent, where various affinity movements are found to have existed across the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
7. Contemporary Significance
We have now considered the last 80 years of publication on John Henry Newman and the movement he helped to launch. We have, in effect, been considering the movement’s second century. If we would ask what fuelled ongoing Newman investigation through this second century, an adequate answer would need to include at least four factors.
First, since the massive publication project that has put in print all Newman’s letters and diaries, researchers have had more material than ever to work with. Newly unearthed documents have enabled old questions to be seen in new light.
Second, there has been the gradual recognition that the percolation of Newman’s ideas throughout the world of Catholic thought has made him a significant contributor to the outcomes of the Second Vatican Council. The growing acceptance of Newman within the Roman Catholic communion had by 2010 led to his ‘beatification’ and may yet eventuate in his ‘canonization’.62
Third, it is important to note the extensive (though not dominant) part played in this ‘second century’ of Newman studies by writers who, like him, were converts to Roman Catholicism. Christopher Dawson, Meriol Trevor, and Avery Dulles may not have utterly dominated this second century of Newman inquiry, yet each can be seen to have had a pivotal influence in their distinct eras. Each, in his or her own way, worked to ‘rehabilitate’ Newman, lest he vanish from consideration.
Aggregately, and finally, there is the plausible assertion that this man and this movement’s influence are greater in its second century than in its first. Professor David Bebbington claimed as much in Holiness in Nineteenth Century England.63
Our essay began by noting that restive Protestants have taken up the study of Newman with considerable ‘gusto’ in recent decades; in so doing they have joined a considerable company of other Newman admirers. Yet it needs to be said that too much of the current evangelical fascination with Newman is tinged with serious romanticism. It is the Newman of the Apologia Pro Vita Sua—the one who claimed to ‘outgrow’ his evangelicalism—which has been the focal point of so much adulation. But this fascination, inasmuch as it has ignored the more probing consideration of Newman which has characterized so much of the last 80 years, is surely in danger of lapsing into a kind of ‘hagiographic’ acclaim. Now when we see the same hagiographic focus on a Charles Spurgeon or a Jonathan Edwards or a seventeenth-century Puritan luminary (and are led to believe that each was ‘incomparable’), we understandably demur and demand to know why we have not been shown a fuller, less idealized picture.
Just so, a fuller attention to the available literature pertaining to Newman’s ‘second century’ will help us to view him more honestly, more critically, and more sanely. Newman was, beyond question, a self-absorbed person, determined to be remembered by posterity on terms he would dictate. His now-famous treatise on The Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) was viewed with as great suspicion in his adoptive Roman communion as in the Church of England from which he was departing. As we now know, this is the individual whose Apologia (1864) is recognized to have been a clever re-telling of his early history designed to permanently rehabilitate his tattered reputation within England. For decades to come, Newman was viewed in his adoptive communion as a kind of Anglican ‘fifth-columnist’. Today, we are more aware than ever before of how Newman, the Roman Catholic, preserved definite Protestant attitudes and predilections which over time leavened his adoptive communion. He steadily distanced himself from fawning Catholic ultramontanists who sought always to ‘bid up’ papal power to the detriment of regional and individual liberties. It is this ‘complex’ Newman, rather than a ‘one-dimensional’ Newman that ought to be receiving serious attention today.comments powered by Disqus