Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Newman and Dulles

In my senior year in college, when I discovered and recovered dogmatic Catholicism, there were a handful of authors who influenced me greatly. The big three during my fall semester were Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman, St. Bonaventure, and [okay, a little offbeat] Robert Pirsig. It was a reading of A Grammar of Ascent in my Ways of Knowing tutorial (taught by the great Stephen Rogers) that helped me see the necessity and force of dogma. Pirsig (with Newman) helped me see the limits of discursive reason in the discovery of truth. Bonaventure helped me see the unity of all truth in Christ. Later The Mass, Thomas Merton and the Liturgy of the Hours would help me develop a personal spirituality that corresponded to my intellectual discoveries.

I've read a little Newman since then, the Apologia, some of Development of Doctrine, a sermon or two, but have not explored him systematically. I think his personality grates me too much for me to simply enjoy reading him, like I enjoy reading, for instance Lewis or Tolkien. He is too much a controversialist (which I am not, though I have strong opinions) and a little too sensitive to injury (which I am also, and therefore don't like to see or hear in others--and try to keep it out of my own writing).

One of the gifts I received this Christmas, from my daughter, was Avery Cardinal Dulles's book on Newman. I have been reading it on and off recently and am enjoying it thoroughly. Dulles, though not particularly artful in his writing, is quite insightful, and an excellent sifter and digester. In fact, Dulles is one of my theological heroes. If I were a priest, I would want to be one like him. He's kind of the priest version of McInerny for me, I guess (although not a literary).

Reading Dulles's book on Newman has born a significant amount of fruit in my own thinking. I am therefore going to be posting in the next few days a series of notes on the reading I am doing.

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