The Magazine

Cardinal Virtue

Style and substance in the voice of John Henry Newman.

Jun 3, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 36 • By EDWARD SHORT
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Thus, in the section about education, there are brilliant passages from The Idea of a University, demonstrating the perennial appeal of Newman’s educational insights, especially at a time when the incoherence of our own universities could not be plainer. In the philosophy section, there are choice extracts from A Grammar of Assent (1870), which provide a useful key to that otherwise difficult book. Then, Newman’s preaching is nicely epitomized by a generous sampling of his Plain and Parochial Sermons (1868). In the section on his theological writings, there are extracts from both his Anglican and his Roman Catholic periods, showing the striking cohesiveness of his theological work. And the splendid chapter on Newman the writer highlights not only his polemical but his satirical genius. From Newman’s caustic essay “The Anglo-American Church” (1839), for example, Ker includes that wonderful passage where Newman captures the essence of our refined Unitarians: “They want only so much religion as will satisfy their natural perception of the propriety of being religious. Reason teaches them that utter disregard of their Maker is unbecoming, and they determine to be religious, not from love and fear, but from good sense.”  

Ker is to be commended for choosing these selections with such consummate care. There are also terse, shrewd, informative introductions to each of the sections. Regarding the section of extracts devoted to Newman the writer, for example, Ker observes: “Like Cicero, whom Newman greatly admired both as a controversialist and as a master of style, it is hardly possible to imagine Newman without his letters, so integral do they seem to his artistic and intellectual achievement. Not only does the corpus of correspondence provide a detailed and extended commentary on the published works, but it is in itself a marvelous manifestation of Newman’s powers as an ‘occasional writer.’ ” 

Edward Short is the author of the forthcoming Newman and His Family (Bloomsbury).