The Catholic Culture Podcast: Ep. 73 – St. John Henry Newman’s Aesthetics

Apr 27, 2020

St. John Henry Newman was involved in several art forms
throughout his life. In literature, he was perhaps the greatest
English prose writer of his time, and a highly skilled poet. In
music, he was an accomplished amateur violinist, taught music to
the boys at his school in Littlemore, and oversaw liturgical music
as the head of an Oratorian community. In architecture, he
commissioned a number of church buildings and was involved in
controversies over the role of the Gothic in contemporary English
Catholic church architecture.

Though Newman never wrote a book on the topic of beauty,
comments on beauty and the arts are sprinkled throughout his
writings, sometimes in surprising contexts. In Unearthly
Beauty: The Aesthetic of St. John Henry Newman
, Fr. Guy
Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory draws these comments together
for an overview of the role of beauty in Newman’s life and thought.
For Newman, the true purpose of earthly beauty is to draw us beyond
itself to the higher and more real beauty of God.

Contents

[4:02] Synthesizing Newman’s various comments on beauty into a
coherent whole

[4:57] Unearthly vs. earthly beauty, and the dangers of the
latter according to Newman

[10:49] Real vs unreal

[14:46] A danger of art: severing noble sentiments from
action

[20:43] The problem with making morality a matter of good
taste

[23:18] How people were struck by Newman’s personal beauty

[31:00] Two formative experiences of beauty which Newman
connected with Paradise: his sister Mary’s holiness, and the
Sicilian landscape

[39:09] Newman’s involvement with and views on church
architecture

[46:36] Newman the amateur musician; his views on the power of
music

[57:45] The importance of primitive music and art vs.
“scientific” music and realistic art, especially in liturgy

[1:03:43] The importance of music in the Rule of the Oratory;
St. Philip Neri’s practice of using entertainments to “allure”
people to God

[1:06:55] Difference between devotional and liturgical music;
Newman’s use of popular song and chant

[1:12:58] Music in the Little Oratory under Newman; adapting to
the needs of the local community (esp. the poor)

[1:19:25] The origins of the musical genre “oratorio” with St.
Philip’s Oratory and other oratories of the time

[1:23:13] Comparison and contrast between the experience of
conscience and that of beauty

Links

Unearthly Beauty: The Aesthetic of St. John Henry
Newman
http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page190.html

Fr. Guy Nicholls
https://www.bfriars.ox.ac.uk/people/rev-fr-guy-nicholls-cong-orat/

Newman’s sermon on “The Danger of Accomplishments”:
http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume2/sermon30.html

Image of Newman University Church in Dublin, founded by Newman
for the Catholic University of Ireland and designed by John
Hungerford Pollen
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newman_University_Church#/media/File:Newman_University_Church_Interior,_Dublin,_Ireland_-_Diliff.jpg

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