Friday, September 3, 2021

Book Review: "The Spiritual Legacy of Newman" by William R. Lamm

Last Wednesday I went to Eighth Day Books in search of a certain book in the Theology section on the second floor. I wanted a copy of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him? which I had started to read in the Adoration Chapel at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. (To the left see a picture of me on the front steps of Eighth Day Books on a chilly, snowy day!)

For those of you who haven't been to Eighth Day Books--which celebrates its 33rd anniversary this year--there are three stories of books in a building that was formerly a china shop and before that at some point a house: the basement is filled with children's books; the main level with a poetry nook, a book shelf back and front dedicated to G.K. Chesterton, George McDonald, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the other Inklings; literature and literary criticism, a room filled with books on liturgy, spirituality, Catholic catechetical and liturgical books, books about saints; a shelf of Holy Bibles in various translations and formats, a wall of books on the Fathers of the Church and the monastic life; a section on Eastern Orthodoxy, many, many icons, books about art, and a display of new arrivals, etc. The shipping counter is behind the register with a tiny office/kitchen for the staff. And there's always free coffee available (and a bathroom). Oh, the coffee is right next to a shelf of Latin and Greek literature in the original and translation. There are also lots of beautiful, curated greeting cards, CDs, journals, and other gift items on the first floor. I need to take a picture of the recently re-arranged front counter which now offers many impulse buys of varied elegance.

You can see the "C.S. Lewis and Friends" shelf to the right in the picture above, and the new, featured releases on the shelf to the left of Jack Korbel, one of our local composers and performers (he's written a new song about Chaplain Emil Kapaun, whose remains are coming home later this month!!) 

The second floor has a room dedicated to Christian theology, church history, Biblical studies, philosophy, and other religions; there's a room with drama, education, psychology, music, modern languages, and reference works; and a third room with history, biography, social studies, etc. Throughout the main and second floors, used and new books are mixed on the shelves and there are special stacks of lovely old editions of books. 

Above is a picture of my late husband Mark standing in front of the Biblical studies section. There's a table with bench seating in front of him (and there's a similar table in the main level, and chairs for seating in other rooms, too).

There is also an attic area third floor where Warren Farha, the Proprietor, has his office. It is often filled with used books waiting to be evaluated, priced, and shelved.

So I went directly to the second floor and the V's in theology section and the book I sought was not there. So I looked in the N's for Newman and found this book: The Spiritual Legacy of Newman by William R. Lamm, S.M., published in 1934 by the Bruce Publishing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in its 4th printing in May, 1948.

Father Lamm's thesis is that in Newman's sermons given as Vicar of the University Church of St. Mary's the Virgin in Oxford, he had a special purpose. He wanted to give general spiritual direction to those students in his congregation who wanted to be REAL Christians, who wanted to pursue holiness and perfection in the spiritual and moral life. Therefore, Father Lamm argues that Newman's spiritual legacy centers around these themes: what keeps us from becoming perfect (not considering grave, mortal sin) and what can help us become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. 

What Newman sees as keeping us from pursuing holiness and the realizing of God's Presence in our souls, according to Lamm, is our hypocrisy as we deceive ourselves about our spiritual state, deceive others, and attempt to deceive God. What will help us pursue holiness and the realizing of God's Presence is Surrender to God's Will through repentance, and the practice of a host of virtues, including love, faith, hope, obedience, and fervour, summed up as sincerity and simplicity--watching for God and developing the habit of prayer.

Contents (and each chapter is preceded by a complete outline):

Preface by the General Editor of the Religion and Culture Series, Joseph Husslein, SJ, PhD

Foreword by William R. Lamm, S.M.

I. Newman's Problem and Purpose

II. Obligation of Tending to Perfection

III. The Divine Indwelling

IV. Obstacles to Perfection: Hypocrisy

V. Hypocrisy as Insincerity: Self-Deceit and Secret Faults

VI. Hypocrisy as Insincerity: Self-Deceit and Relations with Others

VII. Hypocrisy as Insincerity: Self-Deceit and Relations with God

VIII. Hypocrisy as Insincerity: Newman's Method

IX. Surrender: The Way to Perfection: Surrender as Repentance

X. Surrender: The Way to Perfection: Surrender Under Various Other Names

XI. Surrender: The Way to Perfection: Sincerity and Simplicity

XII. Surrender: The Way to Perfection: The Realization of God's Presence

Appendix: The Constitution and History of the Church of England (from the French edition of the Apologia pro Vita Sua)


One of the great things about the book is how much Lamm quotes Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons: extensive quotations to support his thesis, with examples of Newman's explanations of the various forms of hypocrisy in chapters IV through VIII and of the practice of Surrender in chapters IX through XII. (He also quotes several passages from his Meditations and Devotions, written when Newman was a Catholic for the students at the Oratory School in Birmingham.)

One of the less great things about the book is that Lamm does not often give the name of the sermon: he provides footnotes that refer to the pages in the volumes of the Parochial and Plain Sermons, which could make it more difficult for someone who does not have the Longmans, Green, and Co. edition on their shelves. One can, however, access The Newman Reader online volumes of the PPS and find the volume and page number Father Lamm cites to thus identify and read the rest of it if so desired.

Do I agree with his thesis? Certainly the issue of being a real Christian versus being a nominal, cultural Christian is a constant theme in Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons. I think it's unfortunate that Lamm calls this Newman's "problem" because it seems like it was really Newman's "opportunity"--he had the opportunity to offer spiritual guidance to young men, primarily, and others in his congregation who wanted to pursue holiness and were willing to listen to him for guidance. Lamm also does note that Newman offered spiritual direction to individuals, personally and in correspondence. (Peter C. Wilcox wrote a book on Newman as a Spiritual Director during his life as a Catholic which demonstrates that Newman continued to do so, particularly reaching out to prospective converts.)

Newman had other problems or opportunities to address in the PPS, however, as he was generally trying to raise his congregation's realization of what they professed to believe about Jesus, the Bible, the Church, its liturgy and doctrine, the moral life, etc., etc., but if we define the spiritual life narrowly, Lamm has offered us excellent insights into Newman's spiritual legacy.

I recommend this book to readers interested in Newman's spiritual direction and in guidance in growth of the realization of the Presence of God, eliminating spiritual hypocrisy, and pursuing holiness through surrender in simplicity and sincerity. (There are a few copies available online from the usual sources.)

All photos (C) Stephanie A. Mann, 2021

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