- Newman et le mouvement d’Oxford: Un réexamen critique
Paul Vaiss is the most significant recent French commentator on Cardinal John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement. His previous publications include a major monograph on Newman’s intellectual and spiritual development up to the beginning of the movement and an edited volume of articles by several historians on topics related to Newman’s Anglican career. The present book consists of eleven relatively brief essays written by Vaiss between 1992 and 2006, seven of which are republished here with little or no revision. The topics include Newman’s first conversion, his ecclesiology prior to the Oxford Movement, analyses of his sermons, the Tractarian debate over the identity of the Anglican church, Newman’s understanding of the origins of Arianism, his view of the Anglican via media, and his position in later Roman Catholic thought. Vaiss also includes a helpful, happily even-handed, bibliographic essay on Newman studies just past the turn of the century. [End Page 622]
Vaiss has read more widely than many Newman scholars, but his essays make little or no use of manuscript sources. Several of the essays will seem dated to English readers in that they draw upon older monographs and with little bibliographic updating since the date of the original composition and publication of the essays. Vaiss has a real gift of criticizing Newman while still conveying his considerable admiration of the cardinal. He also challenges in the kindest fashion many of Newman’s earlier interpreters. For example, Vaiss insists persuasively that Newman’s first conversion was a genuinely evangelical conversion. Vaiss’s essay on Newman and the church Fathers is a model of succinct historical analysis pointing to the manner in which the influence of Edward Hawkins, provost of Oriel, and R. H. Froude provided the template to Newman’s reading of patristic sources. Vaiss’s most interesting essay relates to Newman’s return to evangelical positions in his sermons between 1829 and 1832, a period of particular personal and academic stress in his life. Throughout his essays Vaiss has also paid important attention to Newman’s learned contemporary evangelical critics, such as William Goode, whom most scholars ignore. Unlike many Newman scholars, Vaiss understands and appreciates both the learning of such evangelical critics and the validity of much of their criticism. What characterizes all of Vaiss’s analysis is his appreciation of the problematic character of Newman’s intellectual and theological development. Vaiss has a clear eye of the role of contingency in Newman’s thought as well as much of its idiosyncratic character. Vaiss continues the mode of analysis that sees Newman as essentially opposed to erastianism and liberal theologians, while the evidence displays a steady and ever-growing challenge to evangelical religion that informed many supporters of church establishment and of ecumenical relations between Anglican and Protestant nonconformists. Readers will need to assess the evidence here for themselves.
More of Vaiss’s own voice would have been welcome here. He is a far more interesting and sensitive historian than most of the scholars he quotes. To see him challenge more of the works he cites would have been ideal, because his comments would have been invariably interesting. Whenever Vaiss introduces his own opinions and outlook, his views are fresh and present Newman in a light far removed from the all-too-frequent hagiographic treatments that are endlessly repetitive. Vaiss’s essays are well worth reading, less as examples of cutting-edge historical analysis than as thoughtful, well-informed meditations on the most interesting and difficult of all the voices of Victorian religion, theology, and devotion. For those meditations he deserves our thanks. [End Page 623]