12 May 2018

Getting to Know Newman

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. 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 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 special graces which come with Catholic Faith. Newman's own father had been a banker, but he 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.

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.


Amateur Brain Surgeon said...


Anna said...

Father, I know better than to try to "find you out" so this isn't what I'm doing; but I am confused (American, explains everything) about how Bl. Newman could offer the Eucharist as an Anglican? Anglican Orders, as I have been taught, had broken with Apostolic Succession, and therefore weren't valid. That being after Henry VIII took over the Church in England, eventually lost validity as the bishops and priests no longer "having the mind of the Church", which is necessary for conferring the Sacrament. A sincere question, as I don't know how to understand what you said; I hope you understand despite how I asked it. Thank you from Anna in upstate New York.

Grant Milburn said...

As Great English-Language Catholic Novels go, Loss and Gain is not quite as well known as The Power and the Glory or Brideshead Revisited. I only discovered it myself because it was bound together with Apologia pro Vita Sua in the volume I borrowed from the library circa 2000, when I was pondering the move from Anglicanism to Catholicism. I downloaded the Kindle version from gutenberg.org a couple of years ago, and now reread it regularly. I urge you all to read it.

The novel may strike some as a bit too static or sedentary, as we move from one theological discussion to another, but Newman makes it all quite lively, dramatic and amusing. There are many touching moments. Our host has quoted the moving passage in which Charles gazes on the prospect of Oxford for one last time. For some reason, as I read that passage, I have the wistful theme from the Brideshead Revisited TV series playing in my head- Charles Reding and Charles Ryder have a few things in common.

Feed Room Five said...

Thank you for the push in the direction of Loss and Gain. I suppose I dismissed it as a Victorian novel, however much I admired the author. The fact is that this novel, so far as I have read, is a very useful for its spiritual direction. That certainly is part of the patrimony, rigorous theological reflection coupled with love of souls.

Jesse said...

C. S. Lewis read Newman's Loss and Gain as an undergraduate at University College, Oxford, ten years before his 1931 return to Christianity. Here is what he said of it in a letter to his father, dated 29 May 1921:

I have been reading the oddest book lately -- Newman's "Loss and Gain." I never knew that he had written a novel. As fiction or drama it is of course beneath contempt, but it has some real satirical humour. Do you know it? The picture of the then Oxford, with its ecclesiastical controversies etc., is something more remote from my experience whether real or imagined, than ancient Britain or modern Cathay.