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Parochial and Plain Sermons Hardcover – October 1, 1997
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Ignatius Press has given a great gift to the United States by putting 8 volumes of Newman's sermons together in one volume. It is a beautifully bound volume that will stand the years of reading and rereading it will get. My only criticism is the small size of the font used. However, if it was any bigger the number of sermons would shrink considerably.
But, alas, Newman is first and foremost a theologian. Now this may cast aspersions on him to a larger audience, but at considerable distress to all concerned. He wrote as both an Anglican and a Roman Catholic (most of these sermons were written while he was a priest in the Church of England). Most of the sermons were delivered while he served as priest at Oxford. There he had a demanding audience, who wouldn't sit still for such simple ejaculations, such as, "the Bible says so."
Newman revered Holy Scripture, but he saw it through a prism of manifold colors and applications. It was above all else a book of spiritual perfection, dense and more complex than often acknowledged, and he set forth to elucidate many passages with his incisive prose. Some of these sermons address the Christian liturgical year; others address some spiritual issue of the day or of perennial value. But in any event, his use of scripture is devoutly and reverential, even a tad dogmatic, but never in the evangelical sense. For Newman, the Word was a catalyst to self-discovery and illumination, not some sword to cut believer from infidel.
This book is large, and fortunately will take a good deal of time to read. Each sermon is about four pages, which makes for relatively-short meditations upon ideas catholic and universal. While Scripture forms his benchmark, his methodology is atypically in the English Empiricist school. He doesn't pontificate as though an authority, but examines like a scientist; he's heuristic, and we share in his discoveries. And his method allows him to reach the largest possible audience, knowing, as he did, that he was fighting both modernism and scepticism that ravaged the Church of England at the time, and continues to this day.
His method prevents sentimentality, although he is immensely sensitive and spiritual. He appeals to reason, the one thing that distinguishes man from beasts, and he does so with such eloquent prose that the reading alone is itself a delight. His insights have made him the "Father" of Vatican II, and many of his ideas can be found in documents of the Council. He doesn't seem to have a personal agenda, just an unabashed search for revealed truth as it is applied by reason. At times, his Victorian Age comes through loudly and clearly, but even so, his temperament is not one of self-righteousness, but of universal holiness. He's mediating the search for truth and holiness, not making it his own.
Roman and Anglican Catholics will be pleased with the results. Curious non-Christians will find Newman to be more than capable exegete, a rigorous and deft rhetorician, and a charming voice in a wasteland of mediocrity.
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It's a treasure for my whole life to reed the wisdom of this church father of the modern timesParochial and...Read more