A Kindly Light
Yesterday, August 11, was the anniversary of the death of a great Christian leader, apologist, poet, historian, homilist, controversialist, and soon to be saint (October 13), Cardinal John Henry Newman.
We’ll carry more about him here in coming weeks, but today I’ll focus on one facet of his genius: his greatness as a Catholic writing in English. Newman was not only brilliant himself. He was involved in the conversion and later vocation of the great Gerard Manley Hopkins. And he opened doors for later English converts such as Robert Hugh Benson, Ronald Knox, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, and even the great G. K. Chesterton – what is sometimes called the English Catholic Literary Revival.
It’s not easy to say why Newman’s writing is so great. Books such as The Idea of the University, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and A Grammar of Assent, make incisive arguments, of course, and major contributions to Catholicism on multiple fronts. Newman’s views on liberal learning, doctrine, conscience, etc., are inexhaustible sources of clear and deep thinking on crucial questions.
But there’s a certain spirit to Newman that encompasses all the elaborations of thought.