Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 25, 2018

MsgrLiptak_TNQ. So many questions come to mind in the wake of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s beatification in mid-September by Pope Benedict XVI. What were some of his greatest books?

A. Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote so many incomparable, enduring works that it is almost impossible to name any one without citing others. However, one universally acknowledged masterpiece from his pen is the Apologia pro Vita sua. (1864) This is the volume in which Newman summons his deepest faith, his crystal-clear, profound ideas, and his extraordinary rhetorical skills to defend and explain why he embraced Roman Catholicism. Even a few lines from this work manifest its position among English classics:

"I have been in perfect peace and contentment. I never have had one doubt… it [his conversion] was like coming into a port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption."

Next to the Apologia, Newman’s A Grammar of Assent (1870) stands out. Here Newman displays his mastery in philosophy, psychology and literature; powerful and penetrating, the prose occasionally rises to poetic expression. Again, Newman was defending and explaining his decision to enter the Church of Rome.

In 1853, Newman published a collection of nine brilliant lectures on higher education known as The Idea of a University. A credentialed academic, he had first-hand experience of Oxford University, where he served as the Vicar of St. Mary’s, the Anglican Church at Oxford. In our seminary days at St. Bernard’s, Rochester, we spent most of a semester reading and studying Newman’s concept of a great Catholic University, which he de facto implemented in Dublin. My copy of The Idea is annotated heavily; I still refer to it when researching the role of a solid Catholic University, which, Newman argued, ought to constitute a key to Christian humanism. If only many so-called Catholic universities today were to focus on Newman’s Idea, they, as well as their alumni (ae), and the world as well, would profit immeasurably.

Still another important book by Newman was his Essay on The Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). This is a magnificent analysis of a highly complex and intellectually arresting issue.

Over and beyond the above volumes, Newman authored scores of essays, tracts and sermons, many of which are deemed classics. As he departed the Anglican Church, he preached his unforgettable "The Parting of Friends." (This sermon was so important to England and the Western world that it was printed the next day in the Times of London.) When the Catholic hierarchy was reinstituted in England, he preached another immortal sermon, "The Second Spring." When he arrived in Rome for the consistory at which he would become a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, he delivered his famed "Biglietto Speech."

Newman also wrote incomparable poetry. His The Pillar of the Cloud became one of the English-speaking world’s favorite hymns, "Lead Kindly Light." And his The Dream of Gerontius is universally acknowledged as a masterpiece, known to millions through the musical setting written by Sir Edward Elgar. (Elgar was the composer of Pomp and Circumstance, still used at academic commencement ceremonies.)

A final note here: Newman wrote with agony, often at a stand-up desk, and for hours upon hours at a time. He labored so intensely over some of his major works that his health was occasionally affected.

In a sense, Newman was a Churchman, a writer, an artist, a teacher, a scholar, a theologian, and an Athanasius redux. With his beatification on 19 September, 2010, his holiness is formally recognized by the Church. History rarely gifts us with his like.