Secret of Newman as a spiritual writer

Secret of Newman as a spiritual writer

I have compared the reading of Newman to the appreciation of a large church with multiple stained-glass windows. There is an immediacy of light, dancing color, a warmth combined with an upward pull and a sense of the other worldly. Each part of the Church, each window, conveys a new world. The windows are like sacramentals. So too Newman’s spiritual writing. The prose somehow effects the very thing it signifies. Father Louis Bouyer expresses extremely well the achievement of Newman in his style of spiritual writing:

“Newman was endowed with a sort of second-sight which enable him to see the invisible in and beyond the visible, things the most transcendental as well as those most deeply immanent in the human heart.  Moreover, this visionary power was accompanied by a gift for acting on the minds of others which, though partly to be explained by his consummate command of language, derived also from some mysterious power he possessed of entering into their hearts and reading their sentiments.  This latter trait, we must understand, was not merely passive, but active.  Newman understands our experiences as well as—nay, better than—we do ourselves.  He deciphers them for us, so to speak and, so doing, reveals to us the most intimate secrets of his own.  We recognize ourselves in what he tells us and discover what he alone had been able to discern.  But, let us hasten to add, how strict was the control Newman exercised over this faculty, so that it might always remain subservient to the message which it was his mission to deliver.  Sermons such as that entitle The Invisible World, or that other, no less remarkable, on The Individuality of the Soul, bring a new universe to our vision, only to leave us in the immediate presence of Him who fills it, and who seemed to have been absent from the world we knew.  In the exercise of this, perhaps his greatest gift, there is no trace of self-satisfaction.  Newman continually brings before us celestial scenes, just as constantly forbidding us to linger over them.  He reveals them to us only to guide us to the Cross, to which they point the way, and to which it is his purpose to brings us.” Cardinal Newman, his life and Spirituality (1960, p. 181).

To become a student of Newman, one must get a copy of the Parochial and Plain Sermons and enter  the  mansion with many rooms. You will be a constant visitor. Ignatius Press has a very nice hardback edition containing the entire series. As I checked out the Ignatius website I found this endorsement by Fr Bouyer: “These sermons are given here, for the first time in a single volume, as the most lasting expression of Newman’s own gradual discovery of all the fullness of the appeal and the challenge addressed to all men by Catholic truth and Catholic life, inseparable as they are within genuine Christianity. There, above all, he himself will be found, with his intellectual power, his poetical vision, as well as his moral and spiritual integrity. Nothing can constitute for us, still today, and maybe today more than ever, such a powerful introduction to what Christianity may give to and expect from our surrender to its call in the midst of a world no longer pretending to be Christian.” The sermons are available on-line at the The highlighted titles above will take you to the Newman Reader — click on The Invisible World and you will fall under the Newman sway.

No doubt everyone has their favorites. Here are my top ten:

1. The Ventures of Faith
2. The Greatness and Littleness of Human Life
3. The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World
4. Unreal Words
5. The World’s Benefactors
6. The Immortality of the Soul
7. The Religion of the Day
8. The invisible world
9. The Humiliation of the Eternal Son
10. The Mysteriousness of our present Being


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