John Henry Newman by Frank Leslie Cross (Librarian of Pusey House, Oxford)
[London] : Philip Allan, 1933
I knew a little about John Newman before I read this book - Newman College at the University of Melbourne, his book The idea of a University, and that he had converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. I picked this book up for nothing a few years ago, with an idea that it would fill out my knowledge somewhat, and that it has.
Frank Cross was an academic and an Anglican priest, and in this work he lays out Newman's life as an Anglican, up to his publication of the notorious Tract 90 and his "secession" to the Roman Church. Cross gives us an outline of Oxford in Newman's time, and shows us how Newman and his fellow Tractarians - or Pusey-ites, as they were called at the time - lit a fire under the somnolent Church of the early 1800s, with their scholarship and activism.
Cross shows us how Newman's study of the Church Fathers drove his ideas of how the Anglican Church could be structured - that tradition and Apostolic succession was a very important part of the Church, and that the Anglican Church was more faithful to that tradition than was the Roman Catholic Church. This attachment to tradition naturally drew Newman to the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church, and to repudiate both the Evangelical and Liberal sections of the Low Church movement.
Cross points out that in Newman's time the writings of the early Church were only beginning to be made available in English, and so Newman was slowly absorbing what they had to say. Eventually he came to see that in his reading of the Fathers, the idea of one Church was important - which obviously caused some problems for Newman, given the challenge that this proposed for the idea of a breakaway Church like the Anglicans. It was also a particular problem for Newman, who had a predilection to obey authority figures almost unquestioningly. This collision of information and belief led Newman to write Tract 90, which was an attempt to read the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church as not being at all in conflict with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. To do this Newman used many tricks of logic and rhetoric, and publication caused a storm in the Church, and at Oxford. Newman seemed genuinely surprised that the Anglican and University hierarchy set themselves against him. This led to a period of seclusion before his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church.
Cross's chapter on Newman's conversion is quite insightful - he points out that much of the reasoning that Newman sets out in his Apologia is post ipso facto. Cross discusses the psychological effect the Tract 90 affair had on Newman - how he felt that his obedience to his Bishop and the Church was almost a contract, that he was devastated by what he saw as abandonment, and that abandonment was the driving force behind his conversion. Cross finishes his work with a chapter dealing with Newman's reaction to the First Vatican Council, where he used the same logical twists he used in Tract 90 to support the outcome of the Council. The book ends with a collection of letters written by Newman discussing the Council.
Once Newman changed over to the Roman Church, he had another 40 years to live, in which he became a stalwart of the English Roman Catholic Church, ending up a Cardinal, and as of today on the path to Sainthood. This book doesn't cover any of that part of what was by any measurement a remarkable life.
As an introduction to Newman, at least the Anglican Newman, this book has done the job. I'm sure it's probably scarce, so I won't recommend it, and I'm sure there are more modern and comprehensive works available.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell