The figure of John Henry Newman remains today a point of reference for Christian thought in general and Catholic thought in particular. The relevance of his teachings and insights for the current religious world has not ceased to be stressed since his death in 1890. His beatification by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 has only helped to raise awareness of this, with the consequent display of his human, spiritual, intellectual and ecclesial features throughout the world.
The present work must be placed in this context. Juan Velez is a Newman scholar living in the United States where, among other writings on the English convert, he has published “Passion for Truth”: The Life of John Henry Newman (Tan Books, Charlotte NC, 2012, 618 pp., See review by J. Morales in: Scripta Theologica 45 (2013) 266-267), as well as A University Education for the 21st Century: The Opening of the American Mind (CreateSpace, 2015, 178 pp.)
Although it contains biographical elements, Holiness in a Secular Age was not conceived with biographical pretensions but rather as a monograph that brings together some of Newman's most important contributions to spirituality and theology. The author analyzes with skill and seriousness various topics that perhaps go unnoticed, or are given little attention in standard biographies of Blessed Newman. His goal is to show the figure of Newman as a person, as a Christian, as a priest and as a thinker; in short, "as a new saint of our time" (p.16).
The book consists of 16 chapters on numerous subject matters. After an initial biographical sketch (chapter 1), it contains topics such as Newman’s teaching on friendship, holiness and Christian life, meditation and the study of Sacred Scripture, hierarchical authority in the Church, celibacy and marriage, the Christian sense of human realities, the moral life, Newman's devotion to the Virgin Mary, etc.
Many pages are given to several chapters on his teachings in the educational field, one of the areas where his insights are today especially valid and of urgent need. The book also addresses specifically philosophical or theological subjects such as doctrinal development, or the relationships between faith, reason and science. In the unfolding of his presentation the author aims to clarify some of the false attributions or misinterpretations that have been given about Newman's thought as, for example, his idea of a “gentleman”, and his notion of "conscience" or the aforementioned question of “doctrinal development”. The agile style, careful selection of texts and balance in the judgments give this work a cohesion and maturity that is always desired in a book.
Fr. Juan Vélez has provided a valuable guide for the life, thought and work of a man who was a point of reference in his time, and continues to be so today, two centuries later. His book shows that Newman is a credible witness of holiness in a secular age, because Newman knew how to respond to the ills of his time - rationalism, materialism, growing estrangement from God - that we also find in a large part of our cultural and social environment today.
The work will be useful both for personal reading, as well as for study and dialogue in work groups or seminars for university students.
~ Fr. Juan Alonso, November 16, 2017