Friday, May 10, 2013

Newman at Grandpont House in Oxford

I met with a rep from Scepter Publishers a couple of weeks ago and he gave me a copy of a book of essays published by Grandpont House in Oxford (England). John Powers asked me to read and review it. The essays were published after a series of presentations on John Henry Newman leading up to his beatification by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010: Grandpont Papers 2: The Legacy of John Henry Newman: Essays for the Beatification.

Before I write more about the volume, let me introduce you to Grandpont House and give some more background on the presentations:

According to its website--source of the photo above--"Grandpont House is a late-Georgian building constructed over a branch of the Thames, overlooking Christ Church Meadows in central Oxford. Since 1959 it has acted as a venue for academic, cultural, outreach and religious activities for students and others. Like many other such university centres throughout the world, its establishment was inspired by St Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei."

The centre just completed a series of lectures on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien during Hilary term and Trinity term, which included presentations by Walter Hooper and Stratford Caldecott--"To mark the anniversaries of Lewis and Tolkien – fifty and forty years ago respectively – six seminars will take place at Grandpont House with a view to exploring different aspects of the two scholar-writers. These seminars are not primarily intended for English literature specialists, but aim to engage a general public who are interested in a whole range of topics from ecology to political systems, story-telling to film, philosophy to theology. Each speaker will talk for around 45 minutes, followed by discussion and dialogue—and if something of the convivial atmosphere of the Inklings is rekindled, so much the better." I hope I can get a review copy of those lectures too!

The seminars adapted for the Grandpont Papers took place in May, June, and July of 2010, and this bulletin from Opus Dei gives us details about the speakers and their topics:

In the months leading up to the beatification of John Henry Newman (held in Birmingham, on September 19), Grandpont House university residence organized a cycle of seminars on the writings of the English cardinal. The sessions were directed to the university population of Oxford who wanted to learn more about Newman’s thought.

The first seminar, entitled “Newman and the Laity,” was held on May 22. Msgr. Richard Stork spoke about Newman’s vision of the role of the laity in the Church and in society. Professor Paul Shrimpton then discussed Newman’s ideas on the formation of the laity. He put special emphasis on approach taken at the “Catholic University” that Newman founded in 1854, and at the “Oratory School,” also founded by Newman in 1859.

The sessions on Saturday, June 19, centered on “Newman and Humanism.” Rev. James Pereiro spoke about reason and faith in the Cardinal’s thought and the influence of Aristotle’s ethics. Professor Shrimpton looked at Newman’s vision for the university. Following the thought of the new Blessed, he said that the university should be aimed not a imparting a specific body of knowledge, but rather at the development of a balanced and mature human personality.

The last of the seminars, on “Newman and Conscience,” took place on Saturday, July 17. The first speaker, Fr. Peter Bristow, said that one of Newman’s principal contributions to religious thought was the emphasis placed on the role of conscience in Christian life. This is a recurrent theme in his works and letters, especially in his well-known “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.” The concluding session was given by the spokesman for Newman’s beatification, Jack Valero, who talked about “Newman and Communication.” Valero highlighted the influence of Newman’s writings on the young Joseph Ratzinger, and on the German student Sophie Scholl and other members of the “White Rose” student movement, some of whom lost their life in opposing Nazism.

Those are three great Newmanian topics: the Laity, Humanism (reason and education), and Conscience! The volume concludes with a reprint of Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at the Beatification of John Henry Newman in September 2010. The other contents are:

Introduction by James Mirabel, Director of Grandpont House

Newman's Idea of the Laity by Monsignor Richard Stork

Newman and the Formation of the Laity by Dr. Paul Shrimpton

"Lead Kindly Light": Reason and Faith by Father James Pereiro

Newman's Pastoral Idea of A University by Dr. Paul Shrimpton

Newman's Teaching on Conscience by Father Peter Bristow

Communicating Newman in the Media by Jack Valero

I'm familiar with the content of most of these essays, of course; Monsignor Stork creatively uses three of Newman's marks of true development to survey Newman's passion and concern for the formation of a laity "who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. . . . an intelligent, well-instructed laity".  I particularly appreciated Professor Paul Shrimpton's analysis of Newman's Idea of of A University because of the focus in his first essay on how Newman wanted the Irish University and the Oratory School to help form the laity for their proper roles in society. Shrimpton addresses Newman's efforts to establish a community of learning and formation; his balance of the instruction and formation students would receive--lectures and tutoring; instruction and counselling; order and recreation--Newman had a definite vision. Unfortunately, the bishops in Ireland began to see the need for a seminary, not a college, and Newman's idea of a university was never completely implemented.

Thinking of Newman as an Aristotelian was a bit of a stunner, but Father James Periero also references Bishop Butler's Analogies, which was more familiar to me. Newman's teaching on conscience is very familiar to me, and Father Bristow really brings out that both the Popes and Newman knew what conscience really meant. Newman had to defend true conscience against even Gladstone's misunderstanding of Pope Pius IX's anathema against "so-called freedom of conscience." That form of freedom of conscience, not the classic Catholic sense, was mere self-will. The final essay just demonstrates how hard it is to portray a Victorian saint in the modern media--Mr. Valero covers several "controversies" in the mix of stories about Newman from his sexuality to his teaching on conscience.

This is a very successful volume of essays, delivered in the place on earth Newman loved the best, where he hoped to be like snapdragon, forever growing on the walls--and in a way he is, now more than ever.

To get your own copy, please check with the Grandpont website on the Library tab--again, I hope Grandpont Papers 3 or 4 is the collection of essays on Lewis and Tolkien. (Images from the website used by permission.)

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