Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: Newman and Italy

I'm sorry that I have not posted since August 31, but we've had some laptop issues and things are working better now. I just finished the book I'd assigned myself last week: How Italy and Her People Shaped Cardinal Newman: Italian Influences on an English Mind by Jo Anne Cammarata Sylva, and here's my review:

As the book's introduction promises, the narrative of Newman's trips to Rome and Italy recounts the influences travel to Italy and interaction with various Italians (living and dead) had upon Blessed John Henry Newman's understanding of teaching authority and Tradition in the Catholic Church. His first trip to Italy took place before he launched on the great journey of the Oxford Movement. When he travelled with Richard Hurrell Froude he was anti-Catholic and much that he saw shocked him: his impressions of Catholics there coincided with his views of their religion as superstitious and unreasonable. But when he became so ill in Sicily and his Italian guide and assistant, Gennaro, nursed and aided him so much in his sickness and his recovery, Newman began to see another side of Catholicism in Italy, as he experienced charity in action.

Professor Sylva also demonstrates Italian influences of a kind on Newman as he was in the throes of the Oxford Movement, investigating the history of Tradition in the teaching of the Catholic Church during the early centuries of Church history--the Arian heresy. Studying the Church Fathers, trying to establish the Via Media of the Church of England in an unbroken line from the early centuries to the Anglican Church of the nineteenth century, Newman was even influenced by reading St. Aphonsus Liquori.

In the chapter recounting Blessed Dominic Barberi's influence on Newman's conversion to Catholicism, Sylva begins the analysis of Newman's relationships with living Italians. The Passionist missionary gave Newman the first glimpse of Catholic priestly holiness. Although he was in correspondence with a priest in Ireland, Father Charles Russell, most of his investigation of the Catholic Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church was in books and in history: with Father Dominic, he began to see the holiness of life he sought in the True Church--and thus, Barberi received Newman into the Catholic Church at Littlemore on October 9, 1845.

Newman and his great friend Ambrose St. John then went to Rome to study for the priesthood in 1846, and Sylva describes the influences of three Italians active in religious and literary life at the time: Alessandro Manzoni, the historical novelist (Il Promessi Sposi/The Betrothed); Father Antonio Rosmini, founder of the Institute of Charity, and Father Giovanni Perrone, SJ, who guided Newman into a better understanding of his own theory of the development of doctrine. The curious thing about Newman's connections to the first two men is that he never met them--in spite of trying to catch up with them in Milan or Rome, the meetings never took place--and indeed it seems that Rosmini did not want to meet Newman.

Finally, of course, there is the great influence of St. Philip Neri on Newman's vocation as an Oratorian, and the spiritual guidance of the Oratory's founder in Newman's life. Newman's vision of the Oratory Movement in England of course, hit some rough patches, and he and Ambrose St. John returned to Italy and to Rome in 1856 to clear the course. They met with other Oratorians in northern Italy (Turin and Verona) and then had an audience with Pope Pius IX--all in the cause of establishing the independence of one Oratory from another, when Father Faber's London Oratory suggested that Newman's Birmingham Oratory should conform to the former's new mission of providing spiritual directions to religious communities. That third trip to Rome satisfied Newman's goals and he returned to England more secure in his relationship to Pope Pius IX.

The next pope, Leo XIII, would make Newman a Cardinal Deacon and allow him to remain in England as an Oratorian--not to take up residence in Rome at his titular church, St. Gregorio in Velabro--as an exception to the usual rule. Newman did travel to Rome to receive the red hat, but he was ill and could not receive friends and admirers as he hoped.

Professor Sylva drives this narrative of Italian influences on Blessed John Henry Newman forward with many quotations from Newman's letters and secondary sources, sometimes quoting long passages from biographies or other studies. The bibliography contains a long list of primary and secondary sources, representing the standard studies of Newman's life and works; all of the primary sources are published works (no archival sources), and there is no index, which is regrettable.

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