Prophets, Guardians and Saints: Shapers of Modern Catholic History
The history of the Church between the French Revolution and World War I is replete with fascinating personalities—a number of whom could be credibly classified as "Prophets, Guardians, and Saints." The author's principal nominees include three popes (Pius IX, 1792–1878; Leo XIII, 1810–1903; and Pius X, 1835–1914), four priests (Johann Adam Möhler, 1796–1838; Cardinal John Henry Newman, 1801–90; Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844–89; and Isaac Thomas Hecker, 1819–88), one religious woman (Thérèse Martin, 1873–97), one layman (Baron Friedrich von Hügel, 1835–1914), and one laywoman (Maude Petry, 1863–1942). In regard to the category of "saints," Pius X and Thérèse of Lisieux have already been canonized; Pius IX has been beatified; and the causes for beatifications of Newman and Hecker are in process. As for the categories of "guardians," the three popes would surely qualify; but the category of "prophets" seems ambivalent; Newman, for example, might be considered both a prophet and a guardian. Perhaps saints need to be both.
As the author acknowledges, these categories are indebted to Meriol Trevor, whose Prophets and Guardians: Renewal and Tradition in the Church (London, 1969) included some of the same figures, but also treated others such as Pope Benedict XIV (1675–1758) and Felicité de Lamennais (1782–1854). In both books, the basis for inclusion seems discretionary; nonetheless, both works are enjoyable and entertaining, although Trevor seemed more at home in discussing the nineteenth century than Cummings, whose historical narratives seem largely dependent on secondary sources.
As a case in point, Cummings, although an aficionado of Newman, does not display a detailed knowledge of his life nor an in-depth familiarity with his thought. For example, Newman, as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, is described as having many difficulties with "Cardinal Cullen"; while their relationship was certainly strained, Paul Cullen (1803–78), then archbishop of Dublin, was not named cardinal until 1867—a decade after Newman's time in Dublin. In addition, Cummings seemingly identifies "tutors" and "professors"; in fact, their roles were quite distinct: tutors were to live in the student residences and serve as both academic coaches and moral role models; professors were responsible for lectures and research. Also overlooked is the irony in Newman's well-known description of a "gentleman" as one who acquires academic knowledge and refined manners; Newman insisted that real gentlemen need to be virtuous as well as educated and well mannered. Finally, one is surprised that in treating the First Vatican Council (1869–70), ultramontane interpretations of infallibility are duly rejected, but no mention is made of Newman's A Letter to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk (1875), which simultaneously answered Anglican objections and trimmed ultramontane excesses. [End Page 154]
Finally, Cummings seems to have a penchant for factoids; for example, "Thérèse has been the subject of over nine hundred biographies, almost one a month since her death (p. 178); on the other hand, some opinions seem enigmatic: "Thérèse identified with the atheists as a result of this nihilistic experience of utter darkness" (p. 188). Although there is no index, there are ample references at the end of each chapter. Although the author's heavy reliance on secondary literature has resulted in a number of misstatements and a rather routine portrayal of historical events, the popular audience for whom this book seems intended will probably not notice these deficiencies. For such readers, this book will probably be an eye-opener to an era of dramatic interaction between "guardians" and "prophets" who might otherwise be completely forgotten.