Newman 101, by Roderick Strange, is an introduction to the life and thought of John Henry Cardinal Newman. As a Catholic-turned-Anglican-turned-Catholic I have a soft spot in my heart for Newman, the more so as he had the good sense to swim the Tiber once only. At the same time, I’ve not known much about him, and got this book to remedy my lack.
The short version of Newman’s life is that he was an Oxford professor and a devout Anglo-Catholic. In pursuing Anglicanism as a branch of the ancient Catholic (i.e., “universal”) church, he found himself inexorably drawn across the Tiber, noting that “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” He became a member of the Roman Catholic church, and was ordained a priest, at a time when to be a Catholic in England was a very difficult thing. He was a great thinker, and his thoughts on the development of Catholic doctrine were influential on the conciliar fathers of Vatican II.
Much of his Catholic life was difficult; he was balked in many worthwhile projects, and was often misunderstood. He bore up under his misfortunes in a manner that is perhaps best described by the modern “psalm” the Anchoress shared with us today:
We take each day as it comes
Sometimes I hate my life
But mostly things are good
His exterior life was often hard and painful, but inwardly he was always greatly aware of God’s blessings.
The other thing I note about him is that although he was of an intellectual bent, and tirelessly followed the thread of truth like a bloodhound, seeking the truth was not for him a purely intellectual endeavor. The truth is to be sought with the mind and also with the heartâ€”a thing that was also true, though it is easy to forget it, of my beloved St. Thomas Aquinas.
So what about Strange’s book? I dunno. I learned many things about Newman from it, but I don’t feel like I ever really came to grips with the man himself. Certainly I didn’t dislike it; but I had higher hopes for it.
To be fair, I wasn’t reading it under the best of circumstances, so I’m inclined to give the author a bit of slack. I’ll no doubt give it another try at some point in the future…unless I simply go back and make another attempt at Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua.