Thursday, July 15, 2010

Father Ian Ker on John Henry Newman

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Gerontius--and I updated my post with my notes after hearing the play.

UK's The Catholic Herald published an article lauding Fr. Ian Ker's booklet ("Newman: His Life, His Legacy") from the Catholic Truth Society that addresses, inter alia, the Victorian idea of friendship--and notes that the booklet answers the negative connotations the BBC play presented:

However, what I wanted to single out in Fr Ker’s little essay was the common sense and clarity he brings to bear on the question of Newman and his male friends. He writes that since it became current knowledge that Newman’s wish was to be buried with his fellow Oratorian, Ambrose St John, “there was widespread speculation in the international media that there might have been some kind of homosexual relationship between the two friends. In an age that has almost lost the concept of affectionate friendship untouched by sexual attraction, such speculation was no doubt inevitable.” Fr Ker briefly discusses the Victorians, friendship, joint burials and Newman’s recognition of the sacrifice celibacy would entail. It is well worth reading.

It is also a necessary rebuttal. Last week I chanced to listen to a play about Newman on BBC Radio 4 called Gerontius in which the role of Newman was played by Derek Jacobi. . . . Halfway through this breathless, melodramatic dialogue between Newman and his guardian angel, a young male voice declares: “The Roman Catholic Church is homophobic!” It is further inferred that Newman’s motto, “From shadows into the truth”, could be a disguised code for his wanting to come out of the closet. Jacobi himself, brilliant actor though he is, tends to convey a slightly fey quality in the timbre of his voice. Inevitably Newman came across as highly emotional, self-absorbed, querulous and remorseful. He expostulates: “I am an Englishman. I buried my feelings!” All the more reason to read Ker.

All the more reason to read Ker indeed. His biography and shorter studies of Newman are essential to understanding Newman the man and his influence.

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