With his customary lucidity and concision, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University in New York, has written a most useful introduction to the life and thought of John Henry Newman. Newman, a 19th century convert to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism, is considered one of the most original and creative religious thinkers in the modern era. This thematic study meets the need for a compact presentation of major themes that are scattered throughout Newman's voluminous writings. The first chapter of Dulles's book is a quick sketch of the central events of Newman's life and his major writings. The titles of the next eight chapters indicate the themes that are treated: 'redemption, justification, and sanctification'; 'faith and reason'; 'the proof of Christianity'; 'revelation, doctrine, development'; 'the Church as organ of revelation'; 'the roles of theologians and the laity'; 'the Church and the Churches'; and 'the University.' The tenth and final chapter recapitulates these themes in view of a comparison with the teachings of Vatican II. Dulles cites Pope Paul VI that Vatican II could be called "Newman's hour."
Dulles, also a convert to Roman Catholicism and elevated to the cardinalate like Newman late in life, has spent decades reading, teaching, and writing about Newman. This study draws upon the full range of Newman's writings, including Newman's sermons, novels, and the more than 30 volumes of letters and diaries. It also takes account of a judicious selection of secondary literature, including differing assessments. Dulles stresses that Newman is a highly complex thinker whose theological views developed throughout his life. Dulles highlights both continuities and changes in Newman's thought, especially from his Anglican years as a leader in the Oxford movement to his mature positions as a Roman Catholic apologist. Newman's writings often were sparked by controversy. He disclaimed being a theologian, declining on those grounds to accept an invitation to attend Vatican I. Theologians of quite differing stripes have been able to quote Newman "to support their preferred theses." Dulles cautions against simplistic appropriations of Newman's thought. Newman's "most enduring contributions were in the realm of what we today call fundamental theology."(150) Notably, his University Sermons elaborate a balanced approach to the problematic relationship of faith and reason; the Essay on Development of Doctrine establishes that dogma evolves in history and provides a set of tests to distinguish authentic developments from corruptions; and the Grammar of Assent is a highly original exploration of theological epistemology. Dulles does an admirable job of succinctly expounding Newman's primary insights and showing how Newman's thought may or may not have contemporary relevance. "No contemporary theologian can afford to neglect either Newman or the Council."(164)
This volume is an excellent text that could be used in a variety of university courses that deal with modern Christian thought and apologetics. One of its virtues is to indicate resonances between contemporary ecclesial concerns and Newman's creative insights. One creative insight of Newman—not exactly echoed by Vatican II—is the importance of maintaining a healthy balance among three principal eccesial roles: the governing responsibility of the hierarchy, the prophetic vocation of the theologians, and the priestly role of the laity and pastors. For those who have read Newman, this volume in the "Outstanding Christian Thinkers" series provides a helpful thematic survey of key themes; for those unfamiliar with Newman, it will serve as a highly readable introduction that will stimulate the reading of Newman's works composed in Newman's incomparable style. Finally, Dulles's volume is equipped with informative endnotes and an excellent index.