am 3. Juni 2004
"Apologia Pro Vita Sua" is John Henry Cardinal Newman's explanation of his religious views and actions from 1833 to the time of his writing in 1864. In order to understand this work, it must be understood that "Apologia" is translated more precisely as an explanation, rather than as an apology. Newman apologizes for nothing. He explains everything.
John Henry Cardinal Newman was a major British religious figure of the Nineteenth Century. A prominent Anglican priest, leader of the Oxford Movement and proponent of the "Via Media", Newman's conversion to Catholicism created many hard feelings among his Anglican friends.
This book was written as an answer to specific charges brought against him by particular people at various times. Much of the book involves references to actions and words of those with whom he collaborated, corresponded or met. At times it is difficult to maintain interest in charge-counter charges which make up much of the book. Although some of the charge-counter charges seem of little import today, I cannot say that the book ever becomes boring.
In some sections, particularly in his footnotes, Newman explains theological issues, although that is not the main thrust of the work.
This book gave me a deeper understanding of Newman individually and of the religious environment in England during his time than I had had previously. This book reveals the Anglican Church as a "Big Tent", so to speak, including a "High Church" which valued hierarchy and formal liturgy and a "Low Church" which more resembled the Methodist and other Protestant churches.
Newman viewed the Anglican Church as a branch of Catholicism in England. He was troubled by various steps taken by the Anglican Church, particularly the establishment of a Bishop in Jerusalem. Newman's position was that there were virtually no Anglicans in Jerusalem and that the plan for the bishop to have authority over Protestants, a group with which Newman did not identify, was unjustified. If the Anglican Church was a branch of the Catholic Church in England, what business did it have establishing a bishop in Jerusalem, a non-British territory, as a cooperative venture with German Protestants? He regarded this attempt to use the Anglican Church to promote British prestige and national interests as another unjustified interference of politics in ecclesiastical matters.
I had always thought that Newman's conversion and rise in the Catholic hierarchy were unusual. In this book I learned that Newman was one of several Anglican clergymen who converted to Catholicism around his time, including another who became a Cardinal. The Catholic hierarchy was restored in England during Newman's day so his rapid rise may not have been as surprising as it would have been under more stable circumstances.
One might think that Newman's conversion from the Church of England to the Church of Rome and his subsequent treatment by some Englishmen may have dampened his patriotic enthusiasm. Nothing could be further from the truth. Newman's status as a proud Englishman remains obvious throughout this book.
In summation, this book is readable, interesting and gives the reader a taste of history and theology. I recommend it for anyone interested in Newman in particular and the history of the Church in general.