Dan Hitchens recently described Newman as “a literary and theological genius.” That he certainly was. For years, I have told students who want to improve their prose that they need to read three great English writers: William Hazlitt, George Orwell, and Cardinal Newman. No less a connoisseur of literary elegance than James Joyce, speaking through Stephen Dedalus, declared Newman to be the greatest of all English prose stylists.
But for all of the dazzling brilliance of the sermons and the Apologia, his writings do vary dramatically in quality. His novels are mediocre, replete with cardboard characters and dreary, didactic speechifying. Callista has some curiosity value as a Christian novel set in the third century, but only Loss and Gain has remained consistently in print; and that, I suspect, is not because of its literary merit but because of its trite apologetic for Rome. As for Newman’s theology, the Development and the Grammar certainly represent serious and influential contributions to religious thought. Yet Tract XC remains one of the most self-serving and embarrassing pieces of historical and theological tosh ever penned by an otherwise intelligent person. Not even the author found his arguments cogent or persuasive—why should anyone else do so?
Yet Protestants, as I have written elsewhere, should read Newman and take him seriously, particularly his thoughts on doctrinal development and on Christianity as a dogmatic faith. But there are other reasons to study his work. While it may seem paradoxical to say this, his very lack of originality is also one of his great contributions to the Christian faith.
Newman’s doctrine of God and his Christology were unoriginal; but his rhetoric has few equals in the history of the church.https://t.co/fo723VxNVg
— First Things (@firstthingsmag) October 9, 2019