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The Personalism of John Henry Newman.

The Personalism of John Henry Newman. By John F. Crosby. Washington: Catholic University of America, 2014. Pp. xxv + 227. $59.95.

While one ought never judge a book by its cover, some covers are singularly suited to the book's content. Such is the case here. The cover features a striking photo of the elderly John Henry Newman, pensive and far-seeing, clothed in simple black cassock and coat, the trace of a smile on the sculpted face. Each time one returns to this volume the cover beckons to a renewed personal encounter with Father Newman.

Long-standing students of Newman will welcome Crosby's fine study, while newcomers will find here a winning introduction to the thought of the great precursor of Vatican II. The book, written in an engaging, almost conversational style, develops a careful, cogent argument for Newman as a "personalist" thinker. In making this case, C., professor of philosophy at Franciscan University, suggestively places Newman in relation to thinkers like Kierkegaard and William James, Max Scheler and Rudolf Otto, Romano Guardini and Dietrich von Hildebrand. Like Newman, these thinkers sought to overcome a constricted understanding of human experience, fruit of a too narrowly defined rationalism, and broadened it to encompass the affective and interpersonal realms.

Perhaps the book's crucial chapter is "Heart Speaks to Heart"--the title, of course, taken from Newman's cardinalatial motto. C. highlights Newman's well-known assertion that "the heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination. ... Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us" (47-48). In this chapter, then, C. mounts an argument for a more experiential knowing that engages the affections. He goes so far as to postulate the need, in philosophical anthropology, to speak not only of intellect and will but also of "heart" as the seat of distinctively human affectivity.

In this connection one is reminded of the development in Lonergan's Method in Theology of a new emphasis on feelings and intersubjectivity. Lonergan, who was early influenced by Newman, in his later writing drew upon the very authors important to C.: Scheler and von Hildebrand. Oddly, however, Lonergan receives no mention in the book.

In exploring Newman's "personalism," C. successfully eschews false dichotomies. He does not set heart in opposition to reason, or "real apprehension" to "notional apprehension." He strongly insists that one is not constrained to opt either for anthropocentrism or theocentrism, but that one must affirm both. Indeed, the book's opening chapter underscores the critical importance of "Theocentric Religion." What recommends Newman is precisely his "rare comprehensiveness" (144) and "inexhaustible plenitude" (213).

A further attractive feature of C.'s exposition is his capacity to anticipate objections and address them directly. Thus he asks whether Newman's distinctive appeal to conscience is compromised by Freud's view of the role of the "superego," and provides an adequate philosophical rebuttal of that claim. He also quite rightly defends Newman's stress on interiority and the self-appropriation of the thinking, feeling, and acting subject against the charge of "subjectivism," indeed, of setting the stage for Modernism. C. is not, however, an uncritical apologist for Newman. He concedes that Newman may not have held the material universe in sufficient regard and, on this score, complements Newman by reflections taken from the more articulated sacramental vision of Romano Guardini.

Though the book is primarily a philosophical study, the last chapter on "The Creative Principle of Religion" contains a final section entitled "A Personalist Approach to Revelation." Here we encounter the Newman who anticipated Vatican II's Dei verbum. C. draws on the Oxford University Sermons, especially the great second sermon, "The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion Respectively." Discussing this sermon, C. draws a telling contrast between Newman and Kant. He comments perceptively that Newman "sees God acting as living person in our midst, drawing us into dimensions of interpersonal life with God that could never be reduced to doing our universal duty" (215).

It seems odd then, that C. does not mention a phrase Newman introduces in this very sermon to speak precisely of the personalist nature of revealed religion: "method of personation." The personal God reveals Godself in history through the mediation of human persons, supremely in Jesus Christ. And, in this same sermon, Newman famously declares, "It is the Incarnation of the Son of God ... which is the article of a standing or a falling Church."

Thus the theocentricity and anthropocentricity that C. rightly credits Newman for holding in creative tension find their capstone in Newman's Christocentricity. As a later sermon in the series celebrates, "The divinely-enlightened mind sees in Christ the very Object whom it desires to love and worship--the Object correlative of its own affections" ("Love the Safeguard of Faith against Superstition"). In these splendid Oxford University Sermons we see revealed the christological basis of Newman's personalism: heart truly speaking to heart.

DOI: 10.1177/0040563915574990

Robert Imbelli

Boston College
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Author:Imbelli, Robert
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 31, 2015
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