John Henry Newman’s Defence of the Virgin Mary in Catholic Doctrine- Book Review

statue-our-lady-5a151f5296211685df72cd496f2fe3861b933c1f1a0b3a106c9d07609a0cf2eeThe life and work of John Henry Newman (1801-90), the main leader of the Oxford Movement who later turned Catholic convert in 1845, is back in the spotlight with his recent canonisation. This recent book shines light on an often overlooked aspect of Newman’s thought: his Mariology.

Robert M. Andrews Apologia Pro Beata Maria Virgine: John Henry Newman’s Defence of the Virgin Mary in Catholic Doctrine and Piety (Academica, 2017) not only shows the development of Newman’s Marian thought, but also offers this discussion within the historic context of the Oxford Movement and the Church of England during the period. The book contains a foreword from one of the foremost experts on the Oxford Movement, the Reverend Professor Austin Cooper.

As someone who has a deep interest in the Oxford Movement, I deeply respect the acknowledgment Andrews shows to the role of Edward Bouverie Pusey and how his contributions are “Unfairly hidden—along with John Keble—in the shadow of Newman scholarship for much of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries”.

The essence of Newman’s most well known work An Essay on Development of Christian Doctrine is seen in Apologia Pro Beata Maria Virgine with Andrews showing not only Newman’s personal journey, but the development of Newman’s apologetic thought regarding the role of the Mother of God in Salvation History. As Andrews writes:

“Not only does Newman’s Anglican Mariology contain theological ideas that Newman would carry over into his Roman Catholic ministry, there is at the same time a tension in Newman’s balance between his discerning notion of the need for a more patristic ecclesial hermeneutic, and his need to maintain faithfulness to the Protestant foundations of his Church… this tension eventually became delicate and, in time, unworkable…”

The book is not only engaging, its accessible format makes it a great introductory text, with many meaningful quotes from Newman that tempt you into a further, deeper, reading of his works.

Andrews’ book reminds us how we take so many of Newman’s developed conclusions for granted, without properly understanding the complex history of those ideas and the personal struggle that went into reaching their conclusions. Indeed, Andrews highlights the ‘development of doctrine’ in his case study of Newman’s Marian thought—from “implied and not denied” in Early Christianity, to ‘the abuse does not take away the rightful use’ when it comes to some Catholics overdoing Marian devotion (which was always sensitive to English Protestant sensibilities).

Developing his Marian Theology as a public figure in a proudly Protestant nation hostile to his work, following were he believed the Holy Spirit was guiding him, took the heroic courage of a saint. Apologia Pro Beata Maria Virgine is not just a case study in the development of modern theology, it is part of a life story that the Catholic Church has honoured with Newman’s canonisation.

Dr Robert M. Andrews is Lecturer in Church History at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Australia, and a member of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross- you can purchase his book here.

The Original Article, which has been updated, first appeared in The Portal Magazine

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