"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Newman and the Fathers

As noted below, Pope Benedict XVI is going to England this week. He is there in part to beatify the greatest man of English letters of the 19th century, John Henry Cardinal Newman.  I have said many times over the years that even if one cannot or will not read Newman for theological reasons, one should nonetheless read him simply for the beauty of his prose style.

Newman has been well studied in the West and by the West, and continues to be, but what is not as well known is just how much he was shaped by the patristic patrimony of Eastern Christianity. In an article in 1976, "Cardinal Newman and the Eastern Tradition" (Downside Review 94: 83-98),  the Oratorian historian and editor of Newman's diaries and letters, C.S. Dessain, first picked up on this. More recently, in a 1995 article in Communio ("The Significance of Newman's Conversion") the greatest Newman scholar alive today, whom I had a long and very profitable conversation with at a conference in 2004, Ian Ker, author of the definitive biography of Newman, also noted the patristic influence. But  perhaps it is most clearly evident in recalling something the Greek Orthodox theologian George Dion Dragas has noted: Newman is alone among all 19th and early 20th-century Western  theologians in being translated into modern Greek for study by Greek theologians. Already by 1890, Newman's work The Arians of the Fourth Century was translated into Greek.  (See Dragas's two studies: "John Henry Newman: A Starting-Point for Rediscovering the Catholicity of the Fathers Today," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 25 [1980]: 273-285; and “Conscience and Tradition: Newman and Athanasios in the Orthodox Church,” Newman-Studien [1980]: 73-84.) 

Now we have a new volume out that documents this patristic influence in wonderful detail:

I am happy that Fr. Dragas is reviewing this for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

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