Today, 9th October 2010, sees the first feast day of Blessed John Henry Newman. It seems an appropriate time to share a review of the official beatification biography which was launched at the beatification conference: Newman by his Biographers.
Unlike some of the more weighty tomes about Newman this is a rather thinner book of around a hundred pages, which I would describe as a ‘coffee table' volume. I do not mean that to sound at all negative, indeed it is meant as a compliment. It is glossy, printed in full colour to a very high standard and well designed. My impression is that publishers and author have tried to create something that one can dip into for a few minutes as easily as sit down and read throughout.
The book is lavishly illustrated, with pictures drawn from a wide variety of sources making up perhaps half of its content. There are many depictions of Newman and others, not only in the form of paintings and drawings but also other works of arts including some less commonly used images and a few photographs. It contains modern and archive photographs of places from Newman’s life and also included are maps, documents and other items. This breadth of images add to the pleasing look and feel of this book into which as much care has gone into the illustration as into the writing, rather than its being something that was ‘tacked on’ afterwards.
At the launch of the book Father Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, made reference to the fact that its author, Father Keith Beaumont, had allowed Newman to speak for himself. Indeed this is very accurate and there are a substantial amount of quotes and excerpts scattered throughout. In his preface Father Duffield states "Fr Beaumont’s biography gives a clear account of all the major themes of Newman’s life and work". Certainly it seems to me that it would give a good introduction to Newman although it may be considered a little brief for the more accomplished scholar.
The book tells us a little of Newman’s early life and "The Experience of 1816" which he described as his first conversion. It then moves on to his time at "Oxford" with some beautiful pictures, both contemporary and older, of the Colleges. Next we learn of Newman’s "Discovery of the Church Fathers" and his time as a "Preacher at St Mary’s," where he gave most of his sermons as an Anglican minister.
Next the book covers "Faith, Reason, Ethics and Spiritual Life: The University Sermons," a series of fifteen official sermons preached at Oxford. This is followed by "The Trip to Sicily in 1833," the journey which lead to the poem that become the hymn well know in all branches of Christianity, Lead, Kindly Light. Next comes a commentary on "The Oxford Movement" then "Growing Doubts about the Church of England," which covers Newman’s time at Littlemore.
The next section is the "Concept of Development," which includes a photograph of Newman’s clearly extensive and impressive library at the Birmingham Oratory. This is followed by "The Conversion of 1845" where we learn that Newman’s first confession lasted so long that Blessed Dominic Barberi suggested they both went to bed and continued in the morning. "Newman’s Early years as a Catholic and the Choice of the Oratory" then follows, in which comment is made on the resemblance of the Oratory of St Philip Neri to an College.
The next section is "The Catholic University of Ireland" which references Newman’s commitment to liberal education and the series of Dublin lectures which become the first part of The Idea of a University. It then moves on to talk about the trials and tribulations of "The Rambler Affair" followed by "The Triumph of the Apologia." The swing is continued by "Controversy Again: Conscience and Authority."
The next section is about Newman "The Cardinal" and his struggle against theological and philosophical "liberalism." "Newman as Spiritual Director" tells us of his exercise of ministry through extensive correspondence and the need for self-knowledge. Following this we have "The Final Years" of Newman’s life at the Birmingham Oratory and his death. The book closes with "The Beatification Miracle" recounting the story of Jack Sullivan and the impact of his prayers to Newman.
The author of the book is Father Keith Beaumont of the French Oratorians. Having heard Father Beaumont speak at the beatification conference I was looking forward to reading it. As a presenter I found his style to be most engaging. He conveyed the the reader a sense of a subject in which he has considerable expertise, in a way that avoided the 'bookish' and made it both accessible and interesting. This approach was reflected in his style of writing throughout.
I feel the book would be ideal for someone interested in knowing a little more of Newman and it certainly added to what I had learned when I researched my post The Life of John Henry Newman. The book’s layout and the illustrations make it a pleasant and easy book to read and its overall presentation would make it a nice choice for a gift for a wide variety of readers. It is published by Ignatius Press and the Catholic Truth Society.
If you have seen or read the book then please comment and share your impressions; it would be great to hear other peoples’ perspectives.
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