5 June 2021

Getting to Know Newman

I venture to make a constructive suggestion. In 1848 Saint John Henry 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. You can venerate in nearby cases the red silk MA hood that Newman wore when celebrating the Eucharist as an Anglican, and the alb he wore at his first Eucharist in full Communion with the See of S Peter. But if it is Newman's mind you are after, this novel will be your key.

It is full of the most wonderful satire (as a satirist, Newman left Dean Swift many parasangs behind): of sweet young 'Catholic' things who think that they are discussing becoming monks and nuns when really they are falling in love with 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 it contains some of Newman's most moving purple passages - not least Willis's famous eulogy of the (authentic form of the) Mass; and the description of worship in the unfinished Passionist Church.

Newman also describes the emotional hold of the Anglican Prayer Book upon those who know and love it, and its capacity to be a comfort in bad times as well as good. And the picture of the hero's father describes him as a decent, pious, generous, devout, popular, gentlemanly High Tory parson of the old school. This was Newman's tribute to all that was good and lovely in the Anglicanism which he had left; but my understanding of it is that Newman is praising, in Anglicanism, those good and wholesome things which were natural goods but which preceded the divine graces which come with Catholic Faith. Newman's own father had been a banker, but JHN gave Charles Reding a gentlemanly clerical father who was generous to the poor and whose manners made him welcome in the greatest houses ... but whose sermons were undoctrinal, moral, 'manly'.

Little known because of anti-Catholic prejudice, this book is, I am convinced, one of the greatest, most cleverly and most sharply yet beautifully written pieces of fiction produced by the nineteenth century.


Compton Pauncefoot said...

NEITHER of the friends had what are called 'views' in religion; by which expression we do not here signify that neither had taken up a certain line of opinion, though this was the case also; but that neither of them-how could they at their age?-had placed his religion on an intellectual basis. It may be as well to state more distinctly what a 'view' is, what it is to be viewy,'and what is the state of those who have no 'views.' When, then, men for the first time look upon the world of politics or religion, all that they find there meets their mind's eye as a landscape addresses itself for the first time to a person who has just gained his bodily sight.One thing is as far off as another; there is no perspective. The connection of fact with fact, truth with truth, bearing of fact upon truth, and truth upon fact, what leads to what, what are points primary and what secondary,-all this they have yet to learn. It is all a new science to them, and they do not even know their ignorance of it. Moreover, the world of to-day has no connection in their minds with the world of yesterday; time is not a stream, but stands before them round and full, like the moon. They do not know what happened ten years ago, much less the annals of a century; the past does not live to them in the present; they do not understand the worth of contested points; names have no associations for them, and persons kindle no recollections. They hear of men, and things, and projects, and struggles, and principles; but everything comes and goes like the wind, nothing makes an impression, nothing penetrates, nothing nas its place in their minds. They locate nothing: they have no system. They hear and they forget; or they just recollect what they have once heard, they can't tell where. Thus they have no consistency in their arguments; that is, they argue one way to-day, and not exactly the other way to-morrow, but indirectly the other way, at random. Their lines of argument diverge; nothing comes to a point; there is no one centre in which their mind sits, on which their judgement of men and things proceeds. This is the state of many men all through life; and miserable politicians or Churchmen they make, unless by good luck they are in safe hands, and ruled by others, or are pledged to a course. Else they are at the mercy of the winds and waves; and, without being Radical, Whig, Tory, or Conservative, High Church or Low Church, they do Whig acts, Tory acts, Catholic acts, and heretical acts, as the fit takes them, or as events or parties drive them. And sometimes, when their self importance is hurt, they take refuge in the idea that all this is a proof that they are unfettered, moderate, dispassionate, that they observe the mean, that they are 'no party men; when they are, in fact, the most helpless of slaves; for our strength in this world is, to be the subjects of the reason, and our liberty, to be captives of the truth.

Grant Milburn said...

Some of the most delicious satire comes towards the end of the novel. Charles is in London, intending to visit the Passionist House and be received into the Catholic Church. The news of his intentions has got around England in a fashion remarkable for an age without devices in your pocket that afford you instant communication with everyone else. Charles spends the whole day in futile conversation with six or seven visitors (he loses count), most of whom attempt to sell him some tertium quid as an alternative to the English and Roman churches.
The satire takes a more serious tone when he is visited by an old friend of his late father. I suspect that most converts, even today, will have heard some variation on the speech that Mr Malcolm makes.

frjustin said...

"Loss and Gain" is not even known by those who might be expected to know something about it. A Canadian Anglican priest once came on retreat before his reception into full communion with the Catholic Church, to be followed by his ordination. He asked me what he should read. I suggested Newman's "Loss and Gain". He had never heard of it.

dunstan said...

An American Anglican priest who was trained at Staggers (the Anglo-Catholic seminary in Oxford) and has spent the whole of his ministry in this country similarly had never heard of Loss and Gain when I suggested he read it in preparation for his reception into full communion.
I read it as I was packing up to depart my Brighton curacy to become vicar of St Barnabas, Beckenham. It hit me with the force of revelation and had me repeating to myself, 'Wrong St Barnabas!' (St Barnabas for non-English readers is the current name of what used to be called The Converts Aid Society.)