7 November 2022

Ian Ker

The death has been announced of Fr Ian Ker, cuius animae propitietur Deus.

An acute obituarist recalls the description of Fr Ian as the greatest biographer of England's greatest Saint. I believe that is remarkably true. I do not think we have ever had a greater Saint than S John Henry Newman. And all the woffle we used to hear about his influence on, or relevance to, Vatican II, completely missed the point.

And the point about Newman is not that he was a brave liberal heroically witnessing to unpopular liberal truths which, only in the years after 1962, have received due recognition.

If anything, the diametrical opposite is the Truth. Saint John Henry bore witness, even when he received a 'calvinist' conversion, to the heretical nature of indifferentist liberalism; in effect, of our current Bergoglianity.

Reviewing Ker's book, Henry Chadwick wrote "[Newman] is an unsurpassed master of English prose. Deeply sensitive and subtle (some of his contemporaries thought too much so), stamped with high culture so as to give the lie to the venerable myth that unreformed Oxford was intellectually torpid, he was a formidable controversialist, as supreme a master of irony and satire as any in our literature."

I would add to that an appreciation of Newman's precision. In his treatment of the Syllabus of Errors, he beautifully demonstrates the necessity for painstaking accuracy necessary in the analysis of Magisterial documents and their status. 

Is Fr Ker's book still in print? The paper-back copy on my shelves has practically fallen apart. 

Its glory rests in the utterly tolerant way Ker permitted Newman to speak for himself.


Fr. David Evans said...

Ian Ker was/is a gentleman, enough said.

May he rest in peace

Bill Murphy said...

I do not think we have had a greater Saint than S John H Newman..... er, er, apart from Thomas More, John Fisher, Edmund Campion, Thomas Becket....plus all the rest of the English Martyrs, formally canonised or not. Perhaps we ought to have a readers' poll on the "greatest". Sorry, but any canonisation since 1983 has to be extremely dodgy. Abolition of the Promoter of the Faith cleared the way for the mass production of saints. I suspect that any Promoter would have focused on Newman's burial in the same grave as his close associate and demolished the cause in record time.

Matthew Briel said...

does anyone know anything about funeral arrangements?

william arthurs said...

The paperback is listed on OUP's website. It is described as a special edition to celebrate Newman's canonisation in 2019 but it's not clear whether this is a genuinely new edition.

I recently saw the original hardback in a second-hand bookshop in York, in VG condition (I think from the library of Archbishop John Habgood), for £25 (which seems about right), but when I looked again it had gone. I'd recommend the hardback for durability. The copy in the London Library has been issued scores of times, including to me, but the binding is still intact.

coradcorloquitur said...

Ian Kerr's Newman biography is still one of the best. May this great scholar priest rest in the peace of the Lord he served.

Fr. Brian O'Donnell said...

Swift called More “the person of the greatest virtue these islands ever produced.” I can’t believe that Newman, great as he was, surpassed him.

Bill Murphy said...

Plus the fact that John 15:13 applies to More, John Fisher, Edmund Campion, etc. Newman was never in danger of martyrdom. As for scholarship (as well as general sanctity), I suspect that St Bede would give Newman a run for his money. Which is why he was made a Doctor of the Church in 1899.

Michael Ortiz said...

Bill Murphy: Will you call for the revocation of St. Paul's sainthood? I mean, Timothy, and all that?

Moritz Gruber said...

I'd almost have commented myself that I think that among the many great saints the English nation produced, I'd myself not have picked St. John Henry first and foremost. I'd probably have said St. Thomas More, not least (in frankness) because he is the sort of Saint we not only should but actually do long to be (other than those of the kind of, say, St. Peter of Alcantara, whom I hereby beg to pray for me poor sinner). A great scholar, a really and quite naturally pious man, a great politician, a just judge, an at least notable author, someone who really did know to enjoy the pleasures of the world but in their right order (at least largely and on the whole that is; I'll quite happily leave the details to God, him and his confessors), someone who knew the fine line between saving his neck by not saying dangerous things and saving his faith by not saying sinful things, and someone who was nevertheless quite unafraid to accept the crown of martyrdom when it actually came to the point. And it did come to the point. Wow.

Also, while St. John Henry obviously beat, if we have to set up these rankings, Gilbert Chesterton in the area of "the obviously saintly stuff" (I'm imprecise but you'll know what I mean)... well, if we pose the question as "who was the yet greater faithful Christian", hm. If we do have to have these rankings.

But that's a pity to say because he really was great, and also because he apparently receives such comments as those by Bill Murphy here. It is a substantial error to mix up the real horror of things sinful, something St. John Henry quite certainly shared (in other matters perhaps even a bit too much, considering what he thought about the quite traditional Catholic festival of Carnival), with a philistine horror of things outlandish. Of course even the philistines, to give them credit, only have that horror now because the widespreadness of sinful things causes them to make a mental association.

St. David the King is, no doubt, a prominent case of the faithful sinner who gets his sins forgiven, see Bathseba, Uriah, the unlawful counting of the people of Lord, and perhaps other things. However, if the tone of the Bible can be trusted at all, his friendship with (apparently also St.) Jonathan the son of Saul as not one of these sins, but something he rightly deserves praise for. Case closed.