J.H.Newman and the Library of the Fathers

I mentioned earlier the possibility of a lost English translation of Chrysostom’s letters.  Today I got hold of Dessain’s edition of the Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. 5.  Sure enough on p.380 it indicated that John Jebb was translating De sacerdotio, not the letters; which seems to dispose finally of the legend.

Reading the surrounding letters brought me into contact with the scheme to translate the Fathers.  Newman said that translators should be paid 20 pounds per hundred pages; revised a day or two later to 25 pounds.  This was in 1838, but if we consider that in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility a curate might live on a salary of 50 pounds a year, we see at once that the fees were not small.  Clearly Newman and Pusey were not poor men.

I only read a selection of the letters, but I was forcefully struck by how clerical they were.  Newman was interested only in the clergy, and the gentry.  The laity, for all I could see, could go hang.  The church for Newman consisted only of the clergy, it seems.

Many years ago I remember reading the Everyman “Century of English Letters” in a punt on the Cherwell at Oxford in a volume which had lost its cover and been replaced with brown paper.  I have it still.  There I came across a couple of the essays of Augustine Birrell. On buying volumes of Birrell’s essays, full of charm and intelligence as they are, I came face to face with Newman.  Birrell had heard the Cardinal preaching at the Birmingham oratory, and gives us a picture of the great standing of the man in the society of his day.  The presence and attractiveness of the man and the preacher in person was clearly considerable; considerable enough to reach us through Birrell, over a century later.  Does snapdragon still grow under Newman’s study window in Trinity, I wonder?

In Ipswich market there used to be a bookstall, where huge numbers of books were offered at a very low price.  The stall vanished years ago, defeated by the determination of the borough council officials to relocate the market to somewhere that customers would not go.  But there I found a tatty paperback of Newman’s Apologia pro sua vita.  Mindful of the charm in Birrell’s essay, I bought it.  The publisher, imprudently, began the volume with two letters of Charles Kingsley to Newman.  In these I learned for the first time that Newman was often accused of being disingenuous, of arguments that were more clever than honest.  Newman’s replies were also printed.  These I read, and I read the Apologia

The end result was that I was convinced — by Kingsley!  Newman’s arguments were precisely as Kingsley represented them.  They seemed to me to exhibit precisely the jesuitry that Newman was accused of.  I placed the book in the pile destined for disposal and never thought of the man again.

Reading the collected letters today reminded me of this.  At one point Newman is asked for his views on the old and evil Act of praemunire, which was invented to subordinate church law to the state.  Newman gives his opinion as to how opposition to the law might be expressed; and follows with his real grounds and intentions.  In another he refers by efforts by the Christians in the Church of England to raise money to build more churches in London, and their natural request to the bishop that these should be served by Christian ministers.  None of this is of interest to him, and he has no interest in building churches himself; let them be served by the Christians who built them, and he would simply attempt to pervert those ministers to High Church views.  It is difficult not to find this cynical.  In yet another he refers to ‘dissent’; that is, those whom the state-appointed and corrupt bishops of Charles II’s reign forced out of the Church under an Act of Parliament which they boasted would damn half the country and starve the other half.  To Newman all this is nothing; let dissent be referred to simply as a “sin” and left there.

Perhaps it is unfair to condemn a man for his private correspondence.  The letters do have interest and charm, more than I expected.  But… I still feel no urge to read his Apologia.  J.H.Newman, unfortunately, remains outside of my sympathies, which is a pity.


2 thoughts on “J.H.Newman and the Library of the Fathers

  1. I think you don’t know enough about Newman, judging by your remarks that he had “no interest in building churches himself” or that for Newman, “the laity could go hang”.

    Facts indicate far otherwise!

    He built churches: As an Anglican minister, John Henry Newman built a church in Littlemore to serve that community, which was part of his responsibility as Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. His family helped him raise the money and the website of the church (St. Mary’s-St. Nicholas) indicates: “The neglected village of Littlemore was a distant part of his parish, and Newman determined to provide it with its own ‘chapel’ and school.” http://www.littlemorechurch.org/?page_id=347 As a Catholic priest and rector of the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin, he founded the university church of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. http://supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com/2011/10/newmans-university-church-in-dublin.html And finally, as the founder of the Oratorian movement in England, he built the Oratory church in Birmingham; his Oratory foundation included a school–in fact, the Oratory movement is all about the clergy working with the laity.

    To say that Newman thought nothing of the laity is to ignore his famous defense of the laity’s role in spreading the Catholic Faith and to have a role in the Church. See: http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/NEWMNLAY.HTM

    Thanks for considering these facts–and overall the fact that his sermons both as an Anglican and as a Catholic were always addressed to the laity to inspire in them true faith, hope, and love. His correspondence, so widespread, was mostly to members of the laity. He wanted to serve as Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin to educate the laity; he wanted to found an Oratory in Oxford to serve the laity.

    I think your selection of reading was too small!

  2. There seems to be a misunderstanding here. You are quite right to say that my knowledge of Newman and his life is limited.

    But I was giving the substance of what Newman himself writes in a particular letter, about new churches to be built in London; or in the letters as a whole that I was reading as regards the laity.

    That the Oxford Movement was concerned almost exclusively with the clergy is no new observation, as I’m sure you know; but I was not concerned to make it, so much as to reflect the impression that Newman’s letters made upon me.

    I’m very sorry if that rubs anyone up the wrong way – that is, as Newman affects me – but of course I am not a catholic, and I have no intrinsic sympathy with him to use as a starting point. It’s sad but every time that I read him he irritates me.

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