IN distinguishing the charac ter of the loyal son from the Prodigal, Newman describes that infirmity into which "the blessing of peace leads unwary Christians. They become not only overconfident of their knowledge of God's ways, but positive in their over-confidence . .
"They are apt to presume, and so to become irreverent. The elder brother was too familiar with his Father . . . Hence such persons are least fitted to deal with difficult times.
"God works wondrously in the world; and at certain eras His providence puts on a new aspect. Religion seems to be failing, when it is merely changing its form."
Here is one of the rewards in taking up any new book on Newman—the certain expectation of some new or unfamiliar insight from this master of infinite variety. This volume of extracts from the Sermons of John Henry Newman is especially rewarding, since Fr. A. J. Coupet has brought his great and varied pastoral experience to bear upon their selection (Burns and Oates, 42s.).
Noticing that Newman's teaching was based firmly upon the scriptures, Fr. Coupet decided to produce an anthology based entirely on those 232 sermons Newman preached as an Anglican. They serve as a commentary in
Newman's own words and in the proper chronological order on the Gospel Revelation—so that if, for example, Newman had written a life of Christ this might have been its form. Fr. Coupet has added an index which is designed to show the theological pattern implicit in the sermons. He believes that their teaching anticipates much that was said in the second Vatican Council, especially in the Constitution on the Church with its emphasis upon the three offices of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. Of this Council, says Fr. Coupet, Newman was the invisible peritus.
If one has a quibble it is when Fr. Coupet seems to suggest that Newman is difficult to read. This can surely only be true for those who find the double-dutch of Dr. Strabismus (whom God preserve!) more to their taste than that command of our language which, almost alone among modern Roman Catholic writing, is as much part of our literary heritage as are the novels of Jane Austen or the criticism of Dr. Johnson.
Fr. Coupe's anthology is worthy to stand on the shelf next to Newman's own "Meditations and Devotions." Let us hope that it will encourage its readers to venture among those magnificent sermons from which it is taken.