Günter Biemer: Die Wahrheit wird stärker sein.

Das Leben Kardinal Newmans (Truth will prevail. The Life of Cardinal Newman).

Frankfurt a.M.- Berlin – Bern et al. (Peter Lang) 2000, 568 p; hard cover: 98,- DM (= Internationale Cardinal Newman-Studien, vol. XVII).

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A Summary in: English and American Studies in German 200. Summaries of Theses and Monographs – A Supplement to Anglia, ed. by Horst Weinstock, Tübingen 2001, 80f.

The year 2001 is the bicentenary of John Henry Newman’s birth (1801 – 1890), a special occasion to commemorate a man of whom The Times wrote in its obituary: “Whether Rome canonises him or not, he will be canonised in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England”. Numerous translations of his spiritual sermons and theological, philosophical and educational works made him known also to the German public, though larger editions lie now several years back. That is why the present biography makes use of copious quotations from the rich sources of Newman’s life and work.- Newman’s life is considered in eight chapters beginning with an introduction to the religious genius of the young man who at the age of fifteen arrived at an indestructable certitude of God’s existence, established his academic career as Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and became Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin’s church there. A second chapter pursues Newman’s  successful endeavour of reforming the Church of England after the model of the Church of Antiquity of which he had made himself an expert (the history of Tractarianism, the Via Media theology, and the early Oxford Movement with J.Keble, R.H.Froude, E.B.Pusey).  Newman’s central and decisive time in the fourties when he created the Theory of Development in Religion is called “Years of Transition” (ch. 3) which include his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church and a sequence of sermons and lectures analysing the religious situation of the English people in the middle of the century. -    

For Newman the scholar who aimed at “improving the condition of the Catholic body … by education” (JHN) his foundation of the Catholic university in Dublin and his theory of “liberal education” could have been his greatest achievement.


And it can be shown that his lectures there remain “the most important treatise on the idea of a university ever written” (J. Pelikan). Yet it is the sad advantage of the historian to demonstrate in which sense Newman’s feelings of being instrumentalized in his work by some bishop(s) had a realistic background (research of V.F.Blehl). – A fifth chapter is dealing with the events around Newman’s perhaps most famous book, the “Apologia pro Vita sua” (1864). It is presented as showing for the first time, so to speak, the read thread of Newman’s most personal development, of his religious convictions, to the public: the hidden history of his conscience with his God. I plead that in order to become a completely credible witness for God’s cause in this world Newman hands over to the man in the street the key to his life. – Another culmination in the history of his philosophical mind can be seen toward the end of the sixties, when Newman is absorbed in writing the “Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent”. The essay sums up the author’s lifelong interest in and coping with the problems of faith and reason and opens a new road to the proof of Theism which has scarcely been entered so far in fundamental theology (ch. 6). – Though Newman found himself in a certain tension with the promoters of papal infallibility during the 1st Vatican Council it is easy to demonstrate his impressive explanation of this dogmatic definition including the defence of the individual conscience (ch. 7). Finally it is my intention to show a kind of paschal splendour which those last honours bestowed upon Newman in high age: Honorary Fellow of Trinity College and Cardinal Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae. – Short remarks about the Newman-reception in Germany bring the reader to present time events: Pope John Paul II. proclaiming Newman as “the Venerable Servant of God” (cf. a thorough analysis by Roman Siebenrock: Wahrheit, Gewissen und Geschichte. Eine systematisch-theologische Rekonstruktion des Wirkens J.H Newmans, Sigmaringendorf 1996, = Newman-Studien, vol XV).

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Further publications by the author on the subject in English: