This story is a significant addition to the plethora of books on Newman. The author provides us with a bibliography that includes works by Ward, Murray, Norris, Dessain, Stange, Trevor, Ker, Holmes, Coulson and Walgrave, with hints of what may be more relevant to the initiate in Newman studies. He realises that reading about Newman is no substitute for reading the man himself. Hence the appositeness of a small selection of excerpts from his work that provide a thumbnail sketch of what preoccupied the great man throughout his long life, recorded here with admirable economy and comprehensiveness. It goes without saying that in Newman we are confronted by a master of English prose.
O'Faoilean found the secret of Newman's genius in his imagination. He has a capacity to move from facet to facet of his subject to give us a synthetic view of what he has in mind. His thought falls to the page with a freshness that is unencumbered by technical vocabularies. With hindsight it was realised that Newman was a prophetic thinker, so that there is an engaging irony in his denial that he was a ‘theologian’. He was contrasting himself with the exponents of theology he found wanting in contemporary Rome. In him we find a freshness and an originality that bear the marks of the classisist, the mathematician, the musician and above all the man of prayer who explored the Christian tradition, and man's equipment to assimilate it, with incomparable connaturality and expressed his findings with an unfaltering lucidity and refreshing originality.
With regard to structure, the book follows the course of Newman's life and thus facilitates the emergence of essential features of his striking personality and the absorbing sequence of events that manifest the profile of a spiritual genius and the history of a single-minded pilgrim of truth, above all of a man of faith annealed in the crucible of life. That life had its demands - with students at Oxford, in the care of his parishioners there and at Littlemore, and later in life in Birmingham. He did not shirk the humdrum of pastoral care, visiting the poor, providing catechesis, forming choirs, listening. There are times in his life that tower Meteora-like above the normal plodding of the terrible daily grind: his contribution to the papers of the Oxford Movement culminating in Tract 90, his conversion to Rome, the imperishable sermons, the founding of the University in Dublin, the writing of Apologia pro Vita Sua, The Grammar of Assent and his vindication by Leo XIII, when in a kind of anticipated apotheosis he received the cardinal's hat.
He knew suffering too. The chapter on `The Parting of Friends' is at times almost unbearable. He ran into a succession of `failures': his involvement in publishing journals; in spite of its achievement, he thought that the experiment to found a Catholic University in Dublin had not the outcome he envisaged; the restriction on the spread of the Oratories and the transformation of the London Oratory. He was beset by heavy colds and bouts of exhaustion. That was tolerable compared with his extended experience of being suspect in the Church to which he had so heroically given his allegiance. He even skirted criminality with the Achilli trial. It would be mistaken to portray those who attempted to thwart him (or who succeeded in doing so) as a gallery of rogues. But their conduct undoubtedly suggests that even great men have flaws and in this case they were the source of much suffering to Newman. Cullen and Manning were outstanding churchmen by any standard, but their limitations blinkered them to his grandeur. Faber, Kingsley and the pathetic Talbot, each in their own way, were blighted with a blindness which cost Newman dearly. But in and through it all, he enjoyed as well the friendship and support of Pusey, Keble, Froude, Ullathorne, Russell and Margaret Mary Hallahan, to name but a few of those who realised his true worth.
Mansfield's book has the Augustinian distinction of being clear, informative and pleasing. It is written with a sustained and scholarly grasp of the mise en scene of his protagonist's life. The author enjoys the advantage of retrospection that discerns the prophetic character of Newman's mind and writings and their bearing on the Second Vatican Council. The publisher's claim - that the book `offers a fresh perspective on Newman's life, with contemporary issues and questions of faith and unbelief never far from mind' - is fully justified, so that it makes for an ideal introduction to the subject as well as giving familiars the opportunity of revisiting an elegant survey of one who, in the words of Pope Paul VI, `traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive, that human thought ever travelled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and peace' (p. 197).
- Nicholas Madden, OCD, Mount Carmel July - September 2012
The Callan school affair lasted from 1868 to 1881 and attracted international attention. Father Robert O'Keeffe came from a respectable Catholic family and his early career, followed conventional lines. After some time teaching, he assigned to a parish and then in 1863 was made parish priest of Callan, his hometown, which must have been unusual although Barr does not make much of this.
O'Keeffe, a firm believer in education, endeavoured to raise the standard of schooling in the parish. He was ex officio manager of the local national schools and also opened a Christian Brothers school. This backfired because their school drew pupils away from the national schools. O'Keeffe's response was to improve his schools by bring in Irish born nuns from a French teaching order. His highhandedness may have already ruffled his bishop's feathers but Bishop Walsh would not countenance the introduction of the nuns and so he and O'Keeffe fell into open confrontation. This dispute was to continue one way or another until 1881, dividing Callan and resulting in violence and rioting there for years.
O'Keeffe resorted to the civil courts, bringing an action of slander against Bishop Walsh. Once he had done this, he became a serial litigant, firing off writs like a drunken cowboy firing off his six-shooter on a Saturday night. His curates, diocesan officials and even Cardinal Cullen all found themselves in court. It might have stayed a strange but local affair had it not been for the fact that once O'Keeffe was suspended as parish priest he was also discharged as the workhouse chaplain and schools manager. Of course O'Keeffe protested against this and appealed to the government for justice.
This turned a local scandal into a national affair and Barr is very good at taking us step by step through the twists and turns of the following years at both local and parliamentary level. He is clearly in command of his material and provides background sketches of the main players and institutions like the national education board. He may be right that events in Europe, most notably the 'kulturkampf' in Germany, created a heightened atmosphere which brought attention to the issue of who actually controlled the state's schools. However Ireland had no kulturkampf because the state acquiesced to denominational education and supported the Catholic church's authority. Victory for O'Keeffe would not have meant a secular, state-run educational system.
Indeed it could be argued that O'Keeffe's personality was the real problem. Again and again he rejected compromise and took out another court case. In England the affair was taken up by anti-clerics and anti-Catholics. O'Keeffe was supported by Protestant evangelicals and even The Times. However this was only on the narrow point that the educational board was wrong to dismiss him because he had been suspended by the church. They would not support bringing in nuns to a school. In contrast, in Ireland the fracture lines had more to do with politics than religion. Many Protestants opposed O'Keeffe and his supporters were variously labelled Fenians or reds. Barr might have made more of the fact that extreme nationalists saw this affair as a way of attacking the pro-Union Cullen.
This is certainly a fascinating study and I can see why writers have been inspired by the Callan affair. Barr manages to take his readers through a complex series of events and to cover all facets of it well. For a time the question of church versus state was seen as the crucial issue, particularly in the light of English Protestant fears of ultramontaine Catholicism. As Barr admits there was no stomach in Britain for a kulturkampf while in Ireland different issues came into play. In the end O'Keeffe's actions did not change the status quo and he died a broken man in 18ffi. However he still had the ability to raise passions and there was a riot at his funeral.
Cardinal Cullen also features in the life of John Henry Newman. Education was the common theme as the recently converted Newman was asked by Cullen in 1851 to come to Dublin to establish a Catholic University in response to the 'godless' colleges set up by Peel's government. It was a relationship that was doomed from the start as the two were both strong-willed men with fixed ideas. Cullen objected to Newman's independence in respect of the new university and was alarmed at the employment of former Young Irelanders on the faculty. Newman's association with Ireland was not an entirely happy one and it was not the most significant sojourn in his life either.
On the face of it Newman was an unlikely convert to Catholicism. He came from a respectable well-off Anglican family. The upheaval following his father's financial difficulties seems to have brought on a spiritual crisis when he was a teenager and this resulted in a vocation. So after studies at Oxford he was ordained a deacon. His early leanings were towards the more evangelical wing of the Church of England and he rose in its ranks. However the simple message and closed attitude of the evangelicals left him unsatisfied and his drift towards Rome began.
By the time he converted in 1845 he was a publicly known Anglican figure and it made an impact. Many of his fellow members of the Oxford Movement joined him and is clear that the Vatican saw in him the opportunity to gain ground in England. He took his conversion seriously and went to Rome to be educated in Catholicism. He had to be persuaded to accept Catholic holy orders but once he did so he embraced his vocation with enthusiasm and commitment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that his rise in the church was meteoric and he was soon a bishop and died a cardinal.
Mansfield has written a straightforward history of Newman. He follows his life from the cradle to the grave, chronicling events rather than interpreting them. After reading his book I know more about Newman and the course of his life. I appreciate his importance to the Catholic church in England and why he is still remembered in the twenty-first century. Yet I am no nearer to understanding Newman as a person but perhaps that is expecting too much from a brief biography.
The purpose of this collection of essays is to examine the polemical nature of Ireland's past or how history has been manipulated and misinterpreted. They were written on the occasion of the retirement from NUI Maynooth of R. V. Comerford as professor of history. It was long a concern of Comerford himself how history was understood and used in Ireland. So the essays are not about past controversies but rather about the controversial nature of history.
The eleven contributors are all former colleagues or students of Comerford and their essays cover the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, focusing on local, regional and national concerns. They vary too in theme, including popular songs, national school text-books and even the country house. They all share the common view that the misunderstanding of history has caused many problems in Ireland and, the otherside of the same coin, that some groups have deliberately exploited particular versions of the past.
Jennifer Kelly's essay on agrarian secret societies in prefamine Leitrim, for example, shows how even the recent past could be disputed and there is often a gap between fact and popular memory. For Leitrim's Rockites and Molly Maguires, events that occurred as recently as twenty or forty years before, like an eviction or wrongful conviction, were used to justify attacks on certain landlords or campaigns to drive people off the land.
Tom Nelson provides a curious example of the interpretation of local history in Kildare County Council after the increased franchise resulted in it being dominated by nationalists. The politics of land reform and home rule led to rival claims about who was truly speaking on behalf of the common people and who was truly Irish, the native Gael or the Norman invader. This in itself was part of a wider debate within Irish nationalism and the creation of a kind of grand myth, often characterised as the Boo-year struggle against foreign rule.
Roy Foster tackles such issues in his chapter on the formation of Irish nationalism. In a wide-ranging essay he discusses the evolution of the nationalist project in Ireland and places it in the broader context of nationalism elsewhere. He tends to view Irish nationalism as a thing of itself and while he acknowledges that it changed and developed overtime, he sees it as a troubling phenomenon.
Taken as a whole this book provides some interesting ideas on Irish history and postulates the idea, perhaps indirectly, that many of Ireland's woes derive from a misunderstanding of the past. There are many thoughtprovoking essays here and Professor Comerford would no doubt approve of the approach and conclusions put forward by his colleagues and former students.
- Tony Cavan, Books Ireland, Dec 2010