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NEWMAN STUDIES JOURNAL 60 1 Newman to Jemima Newman,18 May 1863,in Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman,vol.20,ed. Charles Stephen Dessain (London:Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1970), 443. 2 Wilcox, introduction to John Henry Newman: Spiritual Director (1845–1890) (Eugene, OR:Wipf and Stock, 2013), xv–xxii, xix. Hereafter cited:Wilcox,“Introduction.”The larger text is hereafter cited:Wilcox, John Henry Newman. BOOK REVIEW John Henry Newman: Spiritual Director (1845–1890). By Peter C.Wilcox,S.T.D., Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2013. Pages: 362. Softcover, $33.60. ISBN: 9781620322048. Peter C. Wilcox’s John Henry Newman: Spiritual Director (1845–1890), achieves a feat both unique and fruitful: through its attentiveness to a particular aspect of Newman’s life, the book casts light on the whole of his mission and work. Wilcox focuses on Newman’s letters, which he shows are a treasure trove of insights on spiritual direction.Wilcox grants that while Newman did not embrace the title of spiritual director, his letters to many people during his Catholic period (1845–1890) demonstrate that he performed that role with rare aplomb and earnestness. In this sense,Wilcox’s book does for Newman what Wendy M.Wright and Joseph F. Power did for Francis de Sales in their ground-breaking Classics of Western Spirituality volume, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction (1988): illuminate the deeper coherence of a theologian’s ideas by examining the practical advice he or she gives to others about how to pray and discern God’s role in one’s life.Wilcox’s book takes seriously Newman’s own words to his sister Jemima in 1863: “[A] man’s life lies in his letters.”1 With Newman’s own maxim as his guide,Wilcox is a masterful study of the underlying logic of Newman’s theological mind. There are two interwoven theses inWilcox’s book.The first is that we learn some fundamental truths about Newman’s own spirituality by examining the advice he gave to others.The second is that these fundamental truths help us see Newman’s remarkable blending of theological reflection and the concerns of practical,everyday life.Together, they present a picture of Newman as a man whose scholarly interest in the Christian past, particularly the writings of the Greek Church Fathers and the doctrinal tradition closely associated with them, was in a close symbiosis with his own sense of vocation and mission in the present. Wilcox notes in his introduction that Newman recognized an important distinction between his published scholarly works and his letters.Whereas his books would be read with close and often malevolent scrutiny, therefore requiring vigilant caution with regard to what he put on the page, in his letters Newman could afford to be more candid and unguarded;2 they show a side of Newman not on display elsewhere.Yet there is more to this distinction. In the letters Newman corresponds with a wide variety of people, not all of them scholars.The copious letters he wrote tell a story about Newman that deepens what we know about him, and that indeed can function as a hermeneutic lens through which to view his private mind. If Newman’s Apologia is the first sustained effort at interpreting his own life, then his letters must also count as an indispensable part of this self-interpretation project.As 61 Wilcox notes,Newman always maintained that it is the whole person who thinks,not just the intellect.3 In his many letters offering advice on prayer and spiritual discernment, Newman demonstrates what he means by his more abstract statements on this point. For example, after reading Wilcox’s book, I will not read An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent the same way as I had before. One conclusion thatWilcox draws from reading Newman’s letters is that the laity and the unique processes they undergo on their own paths to holiness—or nonholiness , as the case may be—were truly central to Newman’s thinking about the Church and his mission in it. That may seem like a trivial conclusion to those accustomed to thinking of Newman as a precursor...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-6945
Print ISSN
1547-9080
Pages
pp. 60-62
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-22
Open Access
No
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