A Review of Newman’s Apologia

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Finding Newman, it was with great satisfaction that I started reading John Henry Newman‘s Apologia Pro Vita Sua.  I have had a deep interest in Newman for some decades now,  begun by reading Meriol Trevor‘s two-volume biography, Newman: The Pillar of the Cloud, and Newman: Light in Winter.  She takes the time to give the context to Newman’s life; her careful explication of the place of the Catholic Church and of Catholics in England at the time is masterly, and surprised me with details I hadn’t known.

She gives a thorough treatment of the insults and opprobrium suffered by Newman as a result of his conversion to the Church of Rome.  So many old friends broke off with him, relatives refused to understand, and complete strangers scoffed at him in print.  What hurt most were the accusations that he had secretly converted years earlier, while remaining an Anglican priest and tutor at Oxford, just to be able to undermine the Anglican Church from within. 

Newman bore all this stoically, but when Charles Kingsley called him a liar, and moreover said that all the Roman Catholic clergy felt that it was perfectly proper to use equivocation instead of speaking truthfully, he felt that he must respond.  And the result of this is the Apologia.

I have given just a little of the circumstances surrounding this document, but to be able to understand much of what Newman has to say it would be helpful to know his history.  I say this because, in giving his account of the development of his religious beliefs, he is unfailingly kind and attacks no one, including some with whom he had close relationships who later treated him very unfairly.  Thus what he has to say sometimes becomes a little murky if one is not aware of what the real situation had been.

Nevertheless, this book is beautiful to read and very rewarding.  Newman writes simply, but with a thorough command of exposition and logic.  His self-examination is extraordinary and detailed, yet clearly explained.  One sees his determination to search for the truth, and the true Church, even though he is devoted to his Anglican faith and has no wish to leave it.  He explains why his conversion took so long to come about – that he did not want to make the decision on feelings alone, feelings being changeable.  He had to make sure that he was thoroughly convinced to the point where no other action was possible, and for him that took years.

This work is a spiritual autobiography without equal in the English language, and worthy to be listed among the all-time greats.  Take the trouble to seek it out, for you will be touched and inspired.

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