Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The book, Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman, focuses on Newman’s intellectual roots and religious formation, culminating in his conversion to Catholicism, and entering the Church of Rome. The first half of the book describes his life, friendships, family and early career path. The second half delves into his life as a Catholic, defending the Catholic Church in Protestant England. The author, Fr. Juan R.Velez, also explores Newman’s role as an educator and founder of the Catholic University of Ireland, and the Oratory School in Birmingham. Both reflect his deep concern for an educated laity.
Throughout the biography are insights into the happenings in Newman’s life leading up to the writing of his major treatises. The Idea of a University, together with his other published works, is shown to reflect Newman’s belief in the harmony of faith and reason, as well as his own Passion for Truth (Faith) in an increasingly secular, non-Catholic 19th century European society.
For this reader, a convert to Catholicism, the ability of Newman to remain true to his beliefs in the face of rejection through most of his working life as an Anglican clergyman, and, later, as s Catholic priest—while refusing to condemn those friends and superiors who abandoned or betrayed him—were personally inspiring. Newman’s final elevation to Cardinal is as emotionally gripping as any novel. “How much more can he take?” I would continuously ask. Yet, not once did Newman complain about his treatment by superiors, neither condemning them, nor their actions. Fr. Velez has spared no detail in revealing the hardships of Blessed Newman. His perseverance in the face of rejection by the Catholic hierarchy in Rome, and growing secularization of his own English society, at times, brought me to tears. In this sense, Passion for Truth offers a life-lesson, and role model, for anyone who feels his beliefs are out of favor, and the system is against him.
Fr. Velez has, has written an engaging biography on this extraordinary man, revealing a saintly humility that is never overpowering in its methods, but always patient and forgiving. The author writes a biography that, by events and actions, shows a man who has a passionate belief in the truth of his ideas, and a tireless willingness to express those ideas and beliefs in reasoned lectures, articles, letters and books. If all this sounds ambitious in scope, the book includes maps and photographs of the buildings where Newman resided and taught, which bring the reader back to that era, allowing one to track the changes in Newman’s life. All in all, you will find a very interesting and enlightening blend of personal history, and Newman theology, in every chapter.
Carol J. Buck, Ford Foundation Scholar, Columbia University, New York
Review on Amazon
Father Juan Velez’s new biography of Blessed John Henry Newman is a very clear, straight-forward account of the remarkable life of the great Victorian religious thinker and convert. It is also timely, as many of us await Cardinal Newman’s canonization in, one hopes, the near future. Two welcome emphases, in particular, separate Passion for Truth: the Life of John Henry Newman from earlier Newman biographies. First, it sustains focus on what is essentially Catholic in Newman’s spiritual and intellectual development from his youthful attraction to evangelical devotion through his many years as an Anglican reformer to his gradual full embrace of the Catholic Church to which, as a result, he brings enormous fresh insight. Second, and following from the Catholic emphasis, Father Juan conveys at every point what is so striking about Newman’s intellectual pilgrimage–an uncompromising, heroic engagement with eternal truth in an age, as he saw so clearly, befogged by sectarianism, “private judgment,” scientism, and the uncritical worship of progress. This is a fine book.
Vesuvio, Boca Raton, Florida
Review on Amazon
This new biography by Fr. Juan Velez is interesting because not only does it give important developments in Newman’s theology and philosophy, but personal insight into his life, friends, and habits. Newman the person is more real to me after reading this excellent biography. Fr. Juan is the perfect biographer for John Henry Newman.
Barbara Wyman, Instructor of English and Latin, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Review on Amazon
As a priest, Fr. Juan is able to connect with Newman on a level inaccessible to most. His biography of Cardinal Newman will be valued not only by Newman experts, but by general readers as well as former Anglicans such as myself.
Bruce C. Wyman, McNeese University, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Review on Amazon
Father Juan Velez’s new biography of John Henry Newman, Passion for Truth, is an elegant contribution to the various portraits of this great and holy man. Fr. Velez has written a long but very readable life, emphasizing the moral integrity and personal sanctity of Newman
Fr. Velez, an Opus Dei priest and trained physician, has previously written on Newman. His 2010 work (with Mike Aquilina), Take Five: Meditations With John Henry Newman, is an excellent short work for spiritual reading and as companion for mental prayer. Passion for Truth is an ambitious book that works carefully through Newman’s correspondence to provide a narrative of a man whose theological concerns with the Anglican church became one of the defining dramas of the entire Victorian period.
Fr. Velez succinctly presents Newman’s youth and education. Moreover, his seminal role in the Oxford Movement is chronicled with care. Fr. Velez emphasizes Newman’s fierce struggle to follow the evidence, wherever it might lead, to find the truth of the faith. And it led, ultimately, to Rome, a move that cost him a great deal in friendships. What is shocking is how poorly treated Newman was by Catholic leaders following his celebrated conversion. After one slipshod challenge to Newman’s orthodoxy, Fr. Velez reports the damage:
“This episode saddened Newman and made him retire from public life. He was more cautious with projects that involved [certain members of the hierarchy], and wished to be left alone. From 1859 to 1864, he did not publish any works . . . . Instead of having his bishop judge, someone would denounce him directly to Rome. It was a time of interior suffering for Newman. He felt he was not using his talents and was thwarted from doing so. This injustice and others, which he experienced years later, helped to purify his intentions and took him to a new height of spiritual life in which he became more detached from others’ opinions. He accepted these injustices as the spiritual Cross that he was asked to bear.”
But accepted or not, there were many injustices. It was as if the Catholic Church in England had no idea what to make of the holy genius who had suddenly become one of her own. Still, Newman restored his reputation with the publication in 1864 of his riveting autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. It was during this period he wrote what many consider his profoundest book, Grammar of Assent (1870). Eventually, Newman enjoyed the full embrace of the Church, which was effected with his being made a cardinal in 1879.
Late in his life, Newman instructed future biographers: “I don’t want a panegyric written of me, which would be sickening, but a real fair downright account of me according to the best ability and judgment of the writer.” Fr. Velez has ably satisfied this requirement. Passion for Truth will not, of course, replace Ian Ker’s magisterial biography, but it certainly deserves a place on the same shelf. This book is a welcome version of the epochal life of a truly great man.
Gregory Sullivan, Holland, Pennsylvania
Review on Amazon
Fr. Velez has given us a timely, personal look at a holy man who persevered to the end. This book makes me appreciate Newman even more than before. Some of the things that struck me the most about him were his calm perseverance, his patience with his enemies, his desire to always be in God’s Will, and his humility. He reminded me a lot of St. Francis de Sales in his demeanor.
As a convert myself, I had come to the same conclusions about Holy Mother Church, but I was not as cautious and reserved as he was. Like he said, it was a 7 year probation! When you get done reading this, you’ll feel as though you were with him on his journey.
I loved reading all the details about his life with his family, friends and colleagues. Also, I found the book very “readable” – geared to a general audience, so much so, that I only put it down once before I finished it! In times like these, Bl. John Henry Newman shows us how to stand for and have a “Passion For Truth”. Thanks to Fr. Juan Velez for writing such an interesting book!
Nancy Larrick, Stow, Ohio