Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

I have just completed The Heart of Newman: A Synthesis. First issued in England in 1963, the book was reissued in paper by Ignatius in 2010. I recommend it to any Catholic, or any Anglican who has ever considered converting, as I did in 2008.

Jesuit theologian Erich Przywara edited this collection of short excerpts from Blessed John Henry Newman (1801–1890), an Anglican priest who converted to the Catholic Church in 1845 and was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII eleven years before Newman’s death. It draws from his (Anglican) sermons and other devotional writings, pre- and post-conversion, as well as his longer works, including Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, both written after his conversion, and Essays on the Development of Doctrine, which effectively led to it

All of these books now have been added to my Goodreads reading list. John Henry Newman has been added to my list of categories about which I blog (right sidebar). And I have resolved to study one of Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons (Ignatius, 1997) each morning as part of my regular daily reading and prayer.

I sense the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The 390-page Heart of Newman took me over a month to finish as the selections are as dense as they are brief. (Meanwhile, I have completed the Apologia and launched into Ian Ker’s biography.) I find that reading a couple of paragraphs of Newman is a great mind-tuner-upper before opening the Liturgy of the Hours or beginning any other sort of prayer or devotion.

The old coconut has to be on alert to read paragraphs like the following:

Of the two, I would rather have to maintain that we ought to begin with believing everything that is offered to our acceptance, than that it is our duty to doubt of everything. The former, indeed, seems the true way of learning. In that case, we soon discover and discard what is contradictory to itself, and error having always some portion of truth in it, and the truth having a reality which error has not, we may expect, that when there is an honest purpose and fair talents, we shall somehow make our way forward, the error falling off from the mind, and the truth developing and occupying it. Thus it is that the Catholic religion is reached, as we see, by inquirers from all points of the compass, as if it mattered not where a man began, so that he had an eye and heart for the truth. 

There are four sentences in that paragraph. Only the second (and shortest) would easily submit to the sentence-diagramming skills I learned under sixth-grade grammar master David Griswold in days of very yore.

I mean: Of the two . . . Right away, you are forced to jump ahead and assemble the sense of the sentence as though it were Latin written in any which order. But the message, when you dig for it, is powerful and convincing, overcoming your initial skepticism.

“Believing everything” flies in the face of every ironic, “rational” thought embedded in us by our culture. That believing everything might be the “true way of learning” seems only folly. Yet in that third, impossible sentence is the rationale. In the fourth lies a sneaky bridge to the Catholic faith, to which, in fact, everything, every error, bridges in the end—at least for those with “an eye and heart for the truth.”

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