Cardinal Newman in His Age [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 27 (1):164-165 (1973)
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In this very readable and interesting book Mr. Weatherby explores the thesis that Newman, while remaining true to Catholic doctrinal orthodoxy, nevertheless, compromised philosophically with the subjectivism, relativism, and individualism inherent in modern thought. Mr. Weatherby further claims that Newman treated these premises of modern thought as though "they were capable of synthesis with Catholic dogma." In coming to this position, Newman rejected the fifteen hundred-year old idea of a unified Christian society and accepted instead the fragmentation on which modern culture is based. To develop his main point, Weatherby divides his book into four parts. Part One, "Newman and the Old Orthodoxy," reveals Newman’s divergence philosophically from the Caroline theological tradition and the Metaphysical poets. Newman did not deny that the Creation reflects the mind of God, but he personally could not find it. He was forced, therefore, to look for the "Paradise within" since he was unable to find God’s Paradise without. In Part Two, "The Spirit Afloat," after examining Newman’s Idealism and his relation to the Alexandrian Fathers, who were essentially mystic and idealist, Weatherby shows that Newman was a man of his times in that he had a much greater affinity with the Romantic poets than with the Metaphysical poets or those of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. These latter expressed metaphorically their full accord with the Thomist and Caroline outlook that God’s operations were visible in every detail of nature and that man by reason can proceed from the order and beauty of the visible world to a knowledge of God. The Romantics, on the other hand, with their more subjective view of life and nature, stressed not so much the external reality as man’s individual apprehension of it. The Romantics’ dominant impulse was their search for the "Paradise within." In Part Three, "Newman’s Modernism: A Theology of Safeguards," a study of Newman’s orthodox subjectivism, individualism, and relativism is presented, and Weatherby uses William R. Ingel’s words on Newman to point out that "one side of religion was based on principles which, when logically drawn out, must lead away from Catholicism in the direction of an individualistic religion of experience, and a substitution of history for dogma which makes all truth relative and all values fluid." Weatherby in Part Four, "The Consequences," articulates his criticism of Newman’s stand. It is, he claims, too radical one. Although Weatherby takes care not to call Newman a revolutionary—only a radical in his thinking—he points out that had Newman followed his anti-traditional mode of thought to its logical conclusion, political and social revolution could have resulted. Weatherby claims that Newman attempts to escape from the revolutionary consequences of his philosophy in that his "radicalism is never translated into religious or political activism." One of the strengths of Mr. Weatherby’s book is the great thoroughness with which he supports his stand. He gives specific and numerous examples and quotations from Newman’s works and from those of the other writers and philosophers he is using to make his point. This method, while admirable on the whole, occasionally results in repetition since Weatherby makes certain to give a summary after each comparison that is made.—M. L. F.



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