Realizations: Newman's Selection of His Parochial and Plain Sermons

 
Author:
Blehl, Vincent Ferrand (ed)
Publisher:
Darton, Longman & Todd (2009)
ISBN:
9780232527698
Purchase:
Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

In this year of Newman prominence there will be biographies enough and as most critics allow that his Apologia pro Vita Sua is one of the most engaging pieces of autobiography ever written, it will no doubt enjoy something of a deserved revival. Most critics, however, believe that of all Newman's immense quantity and range of writing, the heart and soul of the man are best found in his eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons given when he was Vicar of St. Mary's, the Oxford University Church (1828-43) which were said to have "beat all other sermons out of the market". It is therefore opportune that Newman's own selection, first published in 1964, should be re-printed now.

For a detailed analysis of Newman's mind the best short book is Owen Chadwick's Newman and so suffice it to say that his method was not generally sequential nor connective but, rather, penetrative; he took a single idea and by degrees went ever deeper into it. His material is largely concerned with comparing reality of the Christian life with conventional religiosity with the ultimate aim of heightening individual and corporate holiness of life.

Some readers may find the utter conviction unnerving - his reading of Scripture is literal, his moral tone is lofty and his doctrinal conviction is comprehensive - and so it might be thought ironic that this great adherent of the early church should, through his notion of organic theological development, turn out to be a father of contemporary theological liberalism when all his life he attempted to characterise himself as just the opposite.

Whatever severity there might be in these texts it is more than offset by a graciousness of style, a trenchancy of social criticism and his unusual penetrative approach whereby he comes at a topic again and again from different angles until as much of it is explained as can be, always allowing for Newman's admission, never used as an excuse, that theology and philosophy can only take us part of the way in our approach to the sacred mysteries.

The book is worth it for Sermon 6 alone in which Newman displays an understanding of the uses of language and the powers of self delusion which substantially pre-date Freud and Russell. A quite remarkable tour de force.

Here are some of the salient points and quotations from the Sermons.

Sermon 1: Romans 6:18. Jesus by his blood has bought us to be his slaves; "The perfect Christian state is that in which our duty and our pleasure are the same, when what is right and true is natural to us, in which God's service is 'perfect freedom'." But when the world and God diverge, man makes exceptions for himself; instead of perfect obedience we opt for easy religion.

Sermons 2/3: Numbers 22:38; 1 Corinthians 13:1. The puzzle of Balaam's permission to travel and punishment for it is resolved because his obedience lacked love. Honourable men do not try to please God but themselves without displeasing God. Balaam 'tempted' God by asking twice. Good conduct is not enough. Our affections do not rest on God as their great object. "He who loves cares little for anything else." Abandon comfort and think of the Cross.

Sermon 4: Matthew 20:22. We must make "ventures for heaven"; "We must give our all to him". What have we invested, let alone sacrificed, in Christ/?

Sermon 5: Matthew 21:30. The Kingdom turns earthly values upside-down: the rich and the poor; the wise and the foolish. These should be the characteristics of the Church. People give their hearts to the world which promises the good then cheats them, making them believe there is no truth. We must be humble; "an afflicting of the soul and body are necessary". We regard poverty not just as evil but as disgrace but heaven is won by poverty. Some must be great but woe to those who seek greatness.

Sermon 6: Isaiah 33:17. Christ brought truth as well as grace and in return we should be true to him who shows himself to us, not as he did to the people of old but more wonderfully through our faith. "We are no longer in the region of shadows: we have the true Saviour set before us, the true reward, and the true means of spiritual renewal." He calls on us to walk in the light as he is in the light. We must therefore be careful of what we profess; the meaning of words matters. Profession without action takes many forms: glib speech; saying the right thing; self consciousness in religion; abstract theology and philosophy: "It takes a long time really to feel and understand things as they are". We must look at things the way God looks at them.

Sermon 7: Genesis 32:10. David, Jacob and St Paul are patterns of thankfulness.

Sermon 8 (Christmas Day): John 1:5. Jesus came in obscurity for he was the light not comprehended by the dark and in low estate which exposed him to contempt; his friends and near relations did not believe in him; and until his mission he looked much like anybody else; and had we been born then our sin would have blinded us to him. The nearest approaches of man to God have been blasphemous; and today: "... often sins are greater, which are less startling; insults more bitter, which are not so loud; and evils deeper, which are more subtle." He is a hidden saviour here in the Spirit and the Church, for all its imperfections, is what his flesh was; and he identified himself with the weak and poor. So in failing to reverence these we blaspheme him.

Sermon 9: Genesis 47:9. Our temporary foray into mortality is to try whether we will serve God or not; this removes our disappointment, notably at the death of saints. Earth is nothing compared with heaven.

Sermon 10 (Ascension): Revelation 22:20. Judged by Scripture we must always be expecting Christ, by the world never; Christ's enemies are forever expecting the downfall of his religion. "Ever since Christianity came into the world it has been, in one sense, going out of it". In the OT we were pointing towards the end, now we are running alongside it; "Christ is ever at our doors". Waiting for Christ becomes a superstition where imagination takes the place of faith. It is better to be wrong in our watching than not watch at all. "God gives us enough to make us inquire and hope; not enough to make us insist and argue." Scripture is the key.

Sermon 11 (Ascension): 2 Corinthians 10:5. "... principle of Christian duty, the subjection of the whole mind to the law of God." We habitually go against reason and in the matter of Christ's coming we should so do. Faith outstrips argument. "... few act upon the truths they utter ... When men realise a truth, it becomes an influential principle within them". The truth of Christ embedded leads men away from the calculation born of self-consciousness.

Sermon 12 (Christmas): Philippians 4:4. Paul and rejoicing seem at odds but it is the attitude of the Christian "living away from home", not settled.

Sermon 13: Isaiah 6:3. God: "... did not bring into being peace and love as part of His creation, but He blesses us by making us partakers of Himself, through the Son, by the Spirit, and He so works in His temporal dispensations that he may bring us to that which is eternal.

KC/20.9.10

In this year of Newman prominence there will be biographies enough and as most critics allow that his Apologia pro Vita Sua is one of the most engaging pieces of autobiography ever written, it will no doubt enjoy something of a deserved revival. Most critics, however, believe that of all Newman's immense quantity and range of writing, the heart and soul of the man are best found in his eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons given when he was Vicar of St. Mary's, the Oxford University Church (1828-43) which were said to have "beat all other sermons out of the market". It is therefore opportune that Newman's own selection, first published in 1964, should be re-printed now.

 

For a detailed analysis of Newman's mind the best short book is Owen Chadwick's Newman and so suffice it to say that his method was not generally sequential nor connective but, rather, penetrative; he took a single idea and by degrees went ever deeper into it. His material is largely concerned with comparing reality of the Christian life with conventional religiosity with the ultimate aim of heightening individual and corporate holiness of life.

 

Some readers may find the utter conviction unnerving - his reading of Scripture is literal, his moral tone is lofty and his doctrinal conviction is comprehensive - and so it might be thought ironic that this great adherent of the early church should, through his notion of organic theological development, turn out to be a father of contemporary theological liberalism when all his life he attempted to characterise himself as just the opposite.

 

Whatever severity there might be in these texts it is more than offset by a graciousness of style, a trenchancy of social criticism and his unusual penetrative approach whereby he comes at a topic again and again from different angles until as much of it is explained as can be, always allowing for Newman's admission, never used as an excuse, that theology and philosophy can only take us part of the way in our approach to the sacred mysteries.

 

The book is worth it for Sermon 6 alone in which Newman displays an understanding of the uses of language and the powers of self delusion which substantially pre-date Freud and Russell. A quite remarkable tour de force.

 

Here are some of the salient points and quotations from the Sermons.

 

Sermon 1: Romans 6.18. Jesus by his blood has bought us to be his slaves; "The perfect Christian state is that in which our duty and our pleasure are the same, when what is right and true is natural to us, in which God's service is 'perfect freedom'." But when the world and God diverge, man makes exceptions for himself; instead of perfect obedience we opt for easy religion.

 

Sermons 2/3: Numbers 22.38/1 Corinthians 13.1. The puzzle of Balaam's permission to travel and punishment for it is resolved because his obedience lacked love. Honourable men do not try to please God but themselves without displeasing God. Balaam 'tempted' God by asking twice. Good conduct is not enough. Our affections do not rest on God as their great object. "He who loves cares little for anything else." Abandon comfort and think of the Cross.

 

Sermon 4: Matthew 20.22. We must make "ventures for heaven"; "We must give our all to him". What have we invested, let alone sacrificed, in Christ/?

 

Sermon 5: Matthew 21.30. The Kingdom turns earthly values upside-down: the rich and the poor; the wise and the foolish. These should be the characteristics of the Church. People give their hearts to the world which promises the good then cheats them, making them believe there is no truth. We must be humble; "an afflicting of the soul and body are necessary". We regard poverty not just as evil but as disgrace but heaven is won by poverty. Some must be great but woe to those who seek greatness.

 

Sermon 6: Isaiah 33.17. Christ brought truth as well as grace and in return we should be true to him who shows himself to us, not as he did to the people of old but more wonderfully through our faith. "We are no longer in the region of shadows: we have the true Saviour set before us, the true reward, and the true means of spiritual renewal." He calls on us to walk in the light as he is in the light. We must therefore be careful of what we profess; the meaning of words matters. Profession without action takes many forms: glib speech; saying the right thing; self consciousness in religion; abstract theology and philosophy: "It takes a long time really to feel and understand things as they are". We must look at things the way God looks at them.

 

Sermon 7: Genesis 32.10. David, Jacob and St Paul are patterns of thankfulness.

 

Sermon 8 (Christmas Day): John 1.5. Jesus came in obscurity for he was the light not comprehended by the dark and in low estate which exposed him to contempt; his friends and near relations did not believe in him; and until his mission he looked much like anybody else; and had we been born then our sin would have blinded us to him. The nearest approaches of man to God have been blasphemous; and today: "... often sins are greater, which are less startling; insults more bitter, which are not so loud; and evils deeper, which are more subtle." He is a hidden saviour here in the Spirit and the Church, for all its imperfections, is what his flesh was; and he identified himself with the weak and poor. So in failing to reverence these we blaspheme him.

 

Sermon 9: Genesis 47.9. Our temporary foray into mortality is to try whether we will serve God or not; this removes our disappointment, notably at the death of saints. Earth is nothing compared with heaven.

 

Sermon 10 (Ascension): Revelation 22.20. Judged by Scripture we must always be expecting Christ, by the world never; Christ's enemies are forever expecting the downfall of his religion. "Ever since Christianity came into the world it has been, in one sense, going out of it". In the OT we were pointing towards the end, now we are running alongside it; "Christ is ever at our doors". Waiting for Christ becomes a superstition where imagination takes the place of faith. It is better to be wrong in our watching than not watch at all. "God gives us enough to make us inquire and hope; not enough to make us insist and argue." Scripture is the key.

 

Sermon 11 (Ascension): 2 Corinthians 10.5. "... principle of Christian duty, the subjection of the whole mind to the law of God." We habitually go against reason and in the matter of Christ's coming we should so do. Faith outstrips argument. "... few act upon the truths they utter ... When men realise a truth, it becomes an influential principle within them". The truth of Christ embedded leads men away from the calculation born of self-consciousness.

 

Sermon 12 (Christmas): Philippians 4.4. Paul and rejoicing seem at odds but it is the attitude of the Christian "living away from home", not settled.

 

Sermon 13: Isaiah 6.3. God: "... did not bring into being peace and love as part of His creation, but He blesses us by making us partakers of Himself, through the Son, by the Spirit, and He so works in His temporal dispensations that he may bring us to that which is eternal.

 

KC/20.9.10