On the eve of the anniversary of Newman receiving word of his Cardinal's Hat, I've read indications that Venerable Newman is still a figure of controversy. The London Times recently printed an article by John Cornwell arguing that Pope Benedict XVI is trying to hijack the liberal Newman for his own conservative causes.
The problem with Cornwell or someone taking an opposite position is that Venerable Newman is NEITHER a Liberal NOR a Conservative. Those are political terms that have no place in any discussion about a man who searched for the TRUTH all his life long (sorry for the shouting, but I need to emphasize!). As I have read and studied Venerable Newman, I think he always found the third way, the way between extremes--not moderation, obviously, but not a position either on the left or on the right. When he was active in the Oxford Movement, he was seeking the via media; when he became a Catholic he was still seeking the via media.
As an example: when Ward was on one side and Acton on the other side of the First Vatican Council's debate on the issue of Papal Infallibility, Newman developed another position. Newman was neither as enthusiastic as Ward, who wanted a Papal Bull delivered with the The Times daily, nor as negative as Action, who was influenced by Dollinger. Although he had concerns about the timing and the impact of the doctrinal declaration, once it was accomplished he obeyed and even defended it!
The Catholic Herald has a much better analysis of Venerable Newman with a review of two excellent sources on his life and work. I have read the Roderick Strange volume and posted a review on amazon.com; the Cambridge companion is on my stack. I agree with Jonathan Wright's quotation of Cardinal Avery Dulles' wisdom on studying Newman:
In his contribution to the Cambridge volume Avery Dulles offers some sage advice to those who want to understand the man: "To profit from Newman's wisdom we should not be content to quote statements from one or another of his works." That, Dulles argues, is a perilous pursuit because Newman was not a flawlessly systematic thinker and his ideas evolved over time.
We ought to read as much Newman as possible and, as Dulles concludes, "for those who have the patience to familiarise themselves with the full corpus of his writing, he is a teacher almost without peer".
Venerable John Henry Newman, pray for us!