Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Newman and St Athanasius

Earlier this evening I attended the annual Newman Lecture at oriel. This year it was delivered by Rev. Dr Benjamin King of the University of the South at Sewannee in Tennessee and was entitled "John Henry Newman and the Church Fathers: Writing Church History in the First Person". Dr King's book on Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers was published by OUP in 2009.

In his lecture he concentrated on the way in which Newman changed his presentation of St Athanasius between 1844, on the verge of his reception and 1879-81 when, as a Cardinal, he produced a new popular translation of Athanasius' Orations Against the Arians. This was, Dr King thought, very similar to modern computer techniques of using the options of cutting and pasting, word substitution and deletion.


Newman in the 1840s

Image: victorianweb.com

Although relatively minor in nature their effect and meaning was, in Dr King's interpretaion, considerably more significant, and indicated how Newman changed his ideas in the intervening years. Newman had, he thought, adapted phrases so as to suggest St Athanasius was in full conformity with a scholastic theology that was not to come fully into being until long after the fourth century. Furthermore he saw this as indicative of the influences and pressure on Newman himself over this period to follow the lines of the dominant scholasticism in the Church. It was rather as if this was a response to such criticisms as that of Manning in 1866 when he wrote, famously, of Newman's long-standing Oxford, Anglo-Catholic style, which Manning himself now despised.


Newman in the 1870s


At the end I was not sure in my own mind how much the changes effected by Newman in his later translations could be explained as being unconscious - more years reflection on the topic, or the result of thirty years exposure to Catholic ideas and practice. The extent to which this was a conscious adaptation was also I felt uncertain. Newman may perhaps have amended Athanasius to avoid the latter being faulted for not nuancing his ideas in conformity with the understanding of later centuries. Whether he nuanced his own understanding or presentaion of Athanasius to avoid similar doubts about his own position is interesting to reflect upon, but there appeared no clear indicators as to why he had made the changes he did.

Following the lecture there was a reception and the chance to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances, all with a shared interest in Newman. 


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