28 July 2021

Saint John Henry Newman and the Olympic games: ariston men hudor!

So what would be a really Patrimonial way of partaking ... spiritually, of course ... in the Olympic Games? 

I was once accorded the tremendous privilege of looking at Saint John Henry Newman's personal books at the Birmingham Oratory, in 'the Cardinal's' study (with adjacent chapel). Tiny discoveries can be as personally satisfactory as large ones, and here is such a one that I made. 

We all know that on Monday December 3, 1832, Newman left Oxford for the foreign travels which led him to Sicily, serious illness, and the writing of Lead kindly light. The Sunday before, he preached a University Sermon which has been regarded as the start of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. It concludes with a swipe at the Zeitgeist. This the same Newman as the one who, so many years later, responded to the Biglietto.

But what was he doing on the preceding Saturday? He was shopping ... for books. Devout tomes? Deary me, No. He bought a pocket copy of Thucydides; and one of Pindar! And we know he took them with him, because, in the back, there are lists jotted down of petty expenditures in Sicilian currency.

Isn't it a lovely mental picture; the slender, donnish, Oxonian, very English figure, plodding round the bumps near Syracuse and tracing (Thucydides in hand) the footprints of the ill-fated Athenian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War; then sitting in a hostelry and reading Pindar's mannered encomia (composed for the sumposion?) upon the equestrian victories of Sicilian rulers in the Olympic Games

I think I detected a wine-smudge on one page: so much for those first three words of the First Olympian! I wonder how Sicilian wine compared with contents of the cellars at Oriel.

Newman once said that he could never be a Saint because he loved literature too much. But the Church has over-ruled this apprehension.

After all, Mods dons might in some cases get to heaven!

No comments: