Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Various Newmans

In John Henry Newman, Ian Ker quotes Newman steadily throughout, as who would not:
I have quoted generously from the letters, only for the literary reasons I have already implied [that he was "one of the most remarkable and prolific letter-writers in the English language"] but because my object has been to write the life of Newman rather than a book about him.
Occasionally Ker gives the impression of unnecessarily prompting the reader to admire an irony or pointed sentence. Still, he holds the attention through 750 pages, excluding front matter and index. The book is long, but Newman lived to be 89 and actively taught, preached, and wrote through more than sixty years: Ker cites thirty-six works of Newman's, some running to several volumes. One can read through the book in a couple of weeks, though no doubt prior acquaintance with some of the major works helps in this.

Ker edited and introduced the Penguin edition of Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which takes Newman through early middle age. The autobiographical element of the Apologia bears almost entirely on the development of Newman's theological opinions, which of course constituted most of Newman's interest to the world, and really much of Newman's occupation.

Avery Dulles, like Newman a convert, theologian, and cardinal, wrote a handy short account of Newman's work, John Henry Newman, with a foreword by Ker. Dulles gave about a tenth of his book, fifteen pages, to the biographical element, and otherwise concentrated on Newman's thought. He wrote that he aimed "to survey Newman's teaching about the classical theological questions in a comprehensive and systematic way."

The order in which I encountered the books was accidental, but seems good to me: Apologia Pro Vita Sua, then Dulles, then Ker. The writing in the Apologia is such to make one wish to read more by and about Newman. Dulles gives a concise account of Newman's thought, extracted from the matrix of biography. Ker fills out the picture of Newman's Anglican years, and provides an account of the Catholic half of Newman's life, something hardly glanced at in the Apologia.

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