Book Review: John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman:  An Expository And Critical Study Of His Mind, Thought, And Art, by Charles Frederick Harrold

This particular book is one that seeks to argue that Newman was a critical scholar whose historicizing of the faith made him a hero to those who held to evolutionary views about Christianity.  In reading this book I was struck by the way that it showed a high degree of divergence between Newman’s thinking and my own.  The author also does not seem to be really passionate about Newman’s influence so much as the way that Newman can be viewed as a particular sort of support for his own views about modernity.  When an author states that few people would take the Bible literally, their ability to provide insight about people of faith is going to be limited at best.  And if the author’s insights are limited because he does not have a sound view of scripture, the author fancies himself to be very insightful, which can create a bit of a disconnect sometimes between the strength of the material and the self-regard of the writer.  Even so, if you are interested in John Henry Newman as a thinker this book at least gives you an idea of what a thinker thinks about him who does not take his faith all that seriously.

This book is between 350 and 400 pages long and it is divided into five parts and fifteen chapters.  The first two chapters of the book look at Newman and his world (I) and provide a short biography that discusses his early life and how he was formed as a leader (1) as well as his experience first in the Oxford Movement, as a leader of the Anglicans, as someone struggling with a crisis of faith, and then as a converted Catholic (2).  After that the author discusses Newman’s three great labors (II), starting with his life in ideas including the early (3) and mature doctrinal developments (4), his idea of a liberal education (5), and his thinking about how it is that people believe (6).  The author looks at Newman’s life in criticism and controversy, which was a rich vein of material to be sure (III), with chapters about liberalism and Anglicanism (7), his defense of Rome (8), his works in history and biography (9) relating to the ancient church fathers, and his writings in literature (10) both as a romantic and non-romantic literary critic.  After that the author explores Newman and his own art (IV), including chapters about Newman’s artistic temperament, poems, and novels (11), Newman’s autobiographical writing in the Apologia (12), and the insight and eloquence of his sermons (13).  Finally, the book ends with a discussion of Newman and our world (V), with a look at Newman’s reputation after his death (14), and a conclusion (15), as well as notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Whether or not it is a good thing to write a book about a theologian when one does not take biblical theology seriously, and whether or not one has an interest in John Henry Newman, one of the more famous converts from Anglican to Roman Catholic practice over the course of the middle of the 19th century, this book is interesting if you like the subject.  Newman is far from a perfect thinker and there are certainly some areas in his thinking where he simply did not follow through his assumptions to their implications, but the same can be said for many of us.  And as a book that is well-structured, this book was not a terrible chore to read even if I wish it would have been a bit less filled with the author’s jargon and more aimed at the reader who should not be assumed to be familiar with the mostly out-of-print writings of someone who had lived a century before this book was written in the middle of the 20th century.  Still, if this is far from a perfect book, it could have been much worse, without a doubt.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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