14 September 2008

Getting to Know Newman

For those who Think With The Church, the run-up to the Beatification of John Henry Newman should surely be a time for getting to know him better. And because he is an Oxford Man ... and because an eminent authority has summoned us Catholic Anglicans to a New Oxford Movement ... I venture to make a constructive suggestion. In 1848 Newman published Loss and Gain; a partly autobiographical novel about the life, the currents of thought, the characteristic personages of the Oxford that he left in 1845. Of course we can (and should) go to Littlemore; how evocative it is, how welcoming the Sisters. But for Newman's mind, this novel is the key.

It is full of the most wonderful satire: of sweet young 'Catholic' things who think that they are discussing becoming monks and nuns when really they are falling in love which each other; of dons who use the XXXIX Articles to bully undergraduates but turn out not to know the actual text terribly well; of silly young ritualists who think that Catholicism is a matter of piscinas which will never drain an actual chalice and tabernacles which will never contain an actual Host; of the bizarre figures in the religious underworld of the day. And moving purple Passages - not only Willis's famous eulogy of the Mass and the description of worship in the unfinished Redemptorist Church, but also the emotional hold of the Prayer Book in bad times as well as good; the description, after his death, of the hero's father, a decent, pious generous, devout, popular, gentlemanly Tory parson of the old school. It was Newman's tribute to that was good and lovely in the Anglicanism which he had left as well as to the Faith he had newly found.

Little known because of anti-Catholic prejudice, it is, I am convimced, one of the greatest, most cleverly and most beautifully written pieces of fiction produced by the nineteenth century.

1 comment:

johnf said...

Having read your post some weeks ago now Father I was inspired to buy a copy of Loss and Gain from Echo Library. I had not heard before about Willis' explanation of why he loved the Mass, but now having read it, I can relate to it enormously; it hearkens back to what I was taught as a child.

But I wonder whether Newman would recognise the Mass as it is celebrated today in Catholic Churches. The transcendence has gone.

When Newman is canonised, let us hope and pray that it inspires the Roman Catholic Church in England to reclaim the liturgy that it has so wantonly discarded.