Now of all well-known public speakers, Newman possessed a distinct pulpit individuality and personality. It was the very opposite of the magna vox, thunder and lightning, giantlike missionary type of forty or fifty years ago or the stagy Billy Sunday species of recent times. And yet Canon Kingsley spoke of Newman as "the most perfect orator." Matthew Arnold has given us a detailed pen-picture of Newman's preaching personality: 

Who could resist the charm of that spiritual apparition, gliding in the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Mary's, rising into the pulpit, and then, in the most entrancing of voices, breaking the silence with words and thought which were religious music—subtle, sweet and mournful?

Such religious music to live does not depend solely on its author's personality.

The simplicity of oratory, found particularly in the "Parochial Sermons," has become the standard adopted by all prominent speakers of our day. Pope Pius X recalled the Church to the preaching simplicity of apostolic times; he urged priests to preach the catechism. Nowadays an audience, whether in church or in an auditorium or over the radio, desires facts, reasons; logic first, with the manner but second ... 

Newman happily summed up this spirit of his Anglican sermons in the title, "Parochial and Plain Sermons." His personality of a spiritual reformer and rising littérateur was undoubtedly a powerful motive in drawing his comparatively large Sunday afternoon congregation at St. Mary's. But had his printed words no other exceptionally appealing quality, they would long since have gone down into the oblivion labeled "out of print." At most, a few parts would be crystallized in some anthology of "Extracts from Great Preachers." But as the subterfuge of certain Oxford dons in advancing the Sunday evening repast to the time of Newman's preaching did not diminish the size of his audience, so today his sermons, despite their hundredth year, live on; they are read and studied; they can be bought in new printings—a rare centennial tribute to any author or to any book, certainly to any collection of sermons!

Their living appeal, I think, is due to: (1) their religious {vii} sympathy with the human heart; (2) their literary excellence; (3) Newman's personality. And this is the order of their appeal, though I say this as a personal privilege outside the arena of controversy. Newman knew the depths of the human heart. He spoke of its trials, its miseries, its Christian consolations. He spoke a language intelligible to man's spirit. Standing above his audience in the pulpit, he came down to them in simple yet elegant words, in everyday yet exquisite figures; he became one of his audience, as sorely tried as the weakest of them, needing consolation as the frailest of them. If he spoke in the idioms of the human heart, the thoughts he used were not his own, but Holy Scripture's, the thoughts of Jehovah from the Old Testament, the thoughts of the Incarnate Second Person of the Blessed Trinity from the New Testament. The man called Newman disappeared. He would be but the mouthpiece of Almighty God. Spiritually his lips would be cleansed of human pride through the burning coals of Christian humility. The pronoun "I" finds no strictly personal use in Newman's sermons. Few could have spoken or penned so personal an appeal in such an impersonal way as is found in the famous peroration of his last Anglican sermon.

 

FAVORITE NEWMAN SERMONS

DANIEL M. O'CONNELL, S.J. (1932)

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