Thursday, September 9, 2021

Book Review: "John Henry Newman and His Age" by Owen F. Cummings

From the publisher, Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers:

Many books exist devoted to the life, thought, and writings of Blessed John Henry Newman, the premier Catholic theologian in nineteenth-century England. His influence has been enormous, perhaps especially on Vatican II (1962-65). This book is a Newman primer, and not only a primer about Newman himself, but also about his time and place in church history. It attends to the papacy during his lifetime, his companions and friends, some of his peers at Oxford University, the First Vatican Council (1869-70), as well as some of his writing and theology. It should be especially helpful to an interested reader who has no particular background in nineteenth-century church history or in Newman himself. (Published in February 2019).

It's certainly not to be confused with Sheridan Gilley's complete biography, Newman and His Age, published by Darton Longman & Todd in 1990 and revised in 2003.

Table of Contents:

Foreword by John C. Wester, the Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico

1. Newman's Pope: Pope Pius IX (1846-78)
2. The Oxford Movement
3. John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
4. In Newman's Circle from Oxford: John Keble, Hurrell Froude, Edward Bouverie Pusey
5. In Newman's Circle from the Oratory: Ambrose St. John, Frederick William Faber, Edward Caswall
6. Newman's Women! 
7. Vatican I, 1869-70
8. Newman the Poet
9. Newman the Preacher
10. Looking Back

Appendix: Going Further

NO INDEX?!?!??!?

I think this book attempts to be more than a primer because its title offers a wider view. It could have used at least one more chapter: "In Newman's Circle of Converts: James Hope-Scott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Hungerford Pollen", for example. And the chapter on "Newman's Women!" deserves a better title, like "The Women in Newman's Life: Family and Friends". 

I appreciate Cumming's method in writing this introduction to Newman's life in the context of his age (the nineteenth century), but then wonder why he only wrote the chapter on Newman's Pope to offer religious context for Newman's life as a Catholic: surely a chapter on the religious context of England in his time, the tentative position of Catholics, the divisions of the Church of England, would have been helpful since he spent the first half of his life as a member and then a minister in the Church of England--and something about the Victorian age in England, its political, social, and economic milieu, would also have provided more background. Cummings might have also placed too much weight upon the First Vatican Council, dedicating a chapter to it, especially since he'd already discussed the pontificate of Pope Pius IX--especially since he doesn't take the opportunity to explore Newman's reaction (the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) to the proclamation of papal infallibility in any depth.

As another reviewer opined, Cummings does not explore Newman's philosophical studies and I think--via Reinhold Hutter's John Henry Newman on Truth and Its Counterfeits--he minimizes Newman's familiarity with the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. On page 21, Cummings states that "Newman had never much more than a gentleman's acquaintance with the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas, so [Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XIII's 1879 encyclical] promoting Thomism had no real effect on this thinking." And he makes a similar statement on p. 43. From my reading of Hutter's book published a year after John Henry Newman and His Age, I think that Cummings should want to revise those passages if he has the chance. From my review of Hutter's book last year:
The real surprise to me was that Hutter establishes St. Thomas Aquinas as the main interlocutor to Newman in three of the four chapters. Since I have usually read that Newman was not a systematic theologian--more of a controversialist--this Newman-Aquinas connection was enlightening. As Hutter explains, Newman consulted Aquinas on conscience; Hutter thinks Aquinas help us understand what Newman says about faith more clearly; and Newman and Aquinas shared a vision of a university education.

Hutter cites other indications of Newman's regard for Aquinas, including evidence that he had read Aquinas while at Oriel College (thus as an Anglican); that he had Aquinas' complete works in his library and several other volumes by Aquinas; that there are annotations on different volumes, and that in 1878, after Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Aeterni Patris, re-establishing Aquinas as the Common Doctor of Catholic philosophy and theology, Newman was confident that he would not be found to be in conflict with Aquinas in his Grammar of Assent. Hutter also notes that Newman had been disappointed to learn that Aristotle and Aquinas were not in style in Rome while he studied for the Catholic priesthood after his conversion. [Cummings cites that last fact on page 43 of his book]
So Newman had more than a "gentleman's acquaintance" or a "layman's acquaintance" (p. 43) with the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aeterni Patris did influence his thought (see pages 16-17 and 54 in Hutter's book for more on that influence).

Cummings relies mostly on secondary sources and most of them are good, although I was surprised when he cited John Cornwell's book on Newman's "Unquiet Grave", although it is a sympathetic quotation. But my concern grew when Cummings continued to cite Cornwell in the chapter on Newman's circle at the Oratory, culminating in the unfortunate question, "Was Newman Gay?" and rather sideways acknowledgement of Father Ian Ker's statement that Newman was heterosexual AND celibate. Cummings does not quote Father Ker's evidence in a 2008 article from L’Osservatore Romano but footnotes Cornwell again. (Use of the word "Gay" is sloppy; if you have to ask the question at all, it should be phrased "Was Newman Sexually Attracted to Men? No." I think it's interesting that the question never comes up in Cummings' narrative until Newman is a Catholic--he had many male friends while at Oxford too!)

Also perhaps because he does rely so much on secondary sources and didn't find certain information within them, he errs when he says on page 21** that we don't "know what Newman would have made" of Pope Leo XIII's 1896 encyclical Apostolicae Curae on Anglican Orders if he had lived to see its publication. But we do know: When Newman published his two volumes of Essays Critical and Historical, he added a note to essay X, "The Catholicity of the Anglican Church". There he states:
Whether indeed, as time goes on, the Pope, in the plenitude of his power, could, with the aid of his theologians, obtain that clearer light, which the Church has not at present, on the whole question of ordination, for which St. Leo IX. so earnestly prayed, and thereby determine what at present is enveloped in such doubtfulness, viz., the validity of heretical ordination, and, what is still more improbable than the abstract proposition, the validity of Anglican Orders in particular, is a subject on which I do not enter. As the matter stands, all we see is a hierarchical body, whose opinions through three hundred years compromise their acts, who do not themselves believe that they have the gifts which their zealous adherents ascribe to them, who in their hearts deny those sacramental formulas which their country's law obliges them to use, who conscientiously shudder at assuming real episcopal or sacerdotal power, who resolve "Receive the Holy Ghost" into a prayer, "Whose sins ye remit are remitted" into a license to preach, and "This is My Body, this is My Blood" into an allegory. [Remember that one of the goals of the Oxford Movement had been to revive the teaching authority of the bishops as successors of the Apostles, but that Newman realized the Anglican bishops did not want to be successors of the Apostles!]

And then, supposing if ever, these great difficulties were overcome, after all would follow the cardinal question, which Benedict XIV. opens, as I have shown, about the sufficiency of their rite itself.

Anyhow, as things now stand, it is clear no Anglican {84} Bishop or Priest can by Catholics be recognized to be such. If indeed earnestness of mind and purity of purpose could ever be a substitute for the formal conditions of a sacrament, which Apostles have instituted and the Church maintains, certainly in that case one might imagine it to be so accepted in many an Anglican ordination. I do believe that, in the case of many men, it is the one great day of their lives, which cannot come twice, the day on which, in their fresh youth, they freely dedicated themselves and all their powers to the service of their Redeemer,—solemn and joyful at the time, and ever after fragrant in their memories:—it is so; but devotion cannot reverse the past, nor can good faith stand in the stead of what is true; and it is because I feel this, and in no temper of party, that I refuse to entertain an imagination which is neither probable in fact, nor Catholic in spirit. . . . 
So a simple search of The Newman Reader of "Anglican Orders", which I did, could have prevented such a misstatement by Cummings. I knew as soon as I read that comment that there was a problem, but not every reader would catch it--because I am not the intended audience I must admit. But if he had carried out that search he could have avoided the unfortunate line about Newman "impugning the sacred ministry of his friends Edward Pusey and John Keble." (21)**

Note: in the advertisement for the 1871 edition of these works, which he dedicated to William Froude, brother of Hurrell and James Anthony Froude, Newman explained why he published them and why he added notes to them:

THESE Essays, with the exception of the last, were written while their author was Fellow of Oriel, and a member of the Established Church. They are now after many years republished, mainly for the following reason:—

He does not hold now, on certain important points, the opinions to which he gave expression then; yet he cannot destroy what he has once put into print: "Litera scripta manet." He might suppress it for a time; but, sooner or later, his power over it will cease. And then, if either in its matter or its drift, it is adapted to benefit the cause, which it was intended to support when it was given to the world, it will be republished in spite of his later disavowal of it. In order to anticipate the chance of its being thus used after his death, the only way open to him is, while living, without making alterations, which would destroy its original character and force, to accompany it with additions calculated to explain why it has ceased to approve itself to his own judgment. . . .

Again, I guess you could say that based on my familiarity of Newman's life and works and of the works written about him, I am not the intended audience for John Henry Newman and His Age--which I did purchase because I wanted to see how Cummings placed Newman in the context of his era--but it also makes me reluctant to suggest this book as an introduction to Newman's life and legacy, especially with the analysis at the end of Chapter 5. I did appreciate the chapters on Newman the Poet and Newman the Preacher, however, especially since the former highlights Sir Edward Elgar's oratorio based on The Dream of Gerontius.

Instead I'd recommend Newman 101 by Roderick Strange from Ave Maria Press as a much better introduction.

**That page 21 set my "spidey senses" tingling as I knew there were some issues with the author's knowledge of Newman.

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