Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Snapdragon: a Riddle for a Flower Book, Part 2
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In the second half of  “Snapdragon: a Riddle for a Flower Book” Newman continues with a short catalog of “rarer”  or fancier flowers of favour (in contrast to the humble Snapdragon).

Life’s gay gifts and honours rare,

Flowers of favour! win and wear!

Rose of beauty, be the queen

In pleasure’s ring and festive scene.

Ivy, climb and cluster, where

Lordly oaks vouchsafe a stair.

Vaunt, fair Lily, stately dame,

Pride of birth and pomp of name.

Miser Crocus, starved with cold,

Hide in earth thy timid gold.

Travell’d Dahlia, freely boast

Knowledge brought from foreign coast.

Newman describes how roses have beauty and are wreathed in rings, while ivy climbs the trunk of the “lordly” oaks. Lily, symbol of purity, is known as a stately flower, while the gold colored Crocus, which, until it blooms, hides its “gold” flower beneath the snow, is called timid. The Dahlia, newly introduced in England in the 19th C, came from Mexico, hence “travell’d” bringing “Knowledge” from a “foreign coast.”

Newman next lists various earthly goods, which have accompanying floral symbols, or emblems, after which he will return to the Snapdragon.

Pleasure, wealth, birth, knowledge, power,

These have each an emblem flower;

So for me alone remains

Lowly thought and cheerful pains.

Be it mine to set restraint

On roving wish and selfish plaint;

And for man’s drear haunts to leave

Dewy morn and balmy eve.

Be it mine the barren stone

To deck with green life not its own.

So to soften and to grace

Of human works the rugged face.

Mine, the Unseen to display

In the crowded public way,

Where life’s busy arts combine

To shut out the Hand Divine.

Here the barren stone is decked by the Snapdragon, giving it green life … that is, “gracing” the stone, and softening the “rugged face” of the “human works,” the man-made walls. But then Newman has the Snapdragon claim something quite startling – the Snapdragon, while growing in stone walls, is displaying the “Unseen” to anyone who is in a  “crowded public way;” A busy life might keep a person from thinking of God. – This is an important line. The “Unseen” that the Snapdragon is revealing, is God, or God’s will –   Newman believes that Nature can point to the “Unseen” and participates by “beauty, grace, and perfection,” in God’s instrumentality, the dispensation of grace (PPS, 2:364).

Besides weaving in his philosophy of nature, Newman also does something metrically clever here in these lines, to add emphasis to what he is saying. The regular meter of this poem is broken in only one place, in all the over 60 lines – and it is here.  When the Snapdragon says that it can be found in other walls, that is the walls in crowded public places,  places where “life’s busy arts combine/ To SHUT OUT the Hand Divine”

SHUT OUT –  are the only words in the whole poem with two stressed syllables in a row – making them stand out dramatically, since the two stressed syllables, called a spondee,  are surrounded by trochees.

The final 8 line stanza of the poem contains the solution to the “riddle”

Ah! no more a scentless flower,

By approving Heaven’s high power,

Suddenly my leaves exhale

Fragrance of the Syrian gale.

Ah! ’tis timely comfort given

By the answering breath of Heaven!

May it be! then well might I

In College cloister live and die.

(Ulcombe.

October 2, 1827).

To understand  the riddle in the poem,  we must turn to Newman’s autobiography, the Apologia Vita Sua, in which he equates himself to the Snapdragon, when referring to his time at Trinity College:

“Trinity had never been unkind to me. There used to be much snap-dragon growing on the walls opposite my freshman’s rooms there, and I had for years taken it as the emblem of my own perpetual residence even unto death in my University.” (A, 183).

These verses are the expression of Newman’s desire to live and die at Oxford, in the simplicity of the life of a scholar, caring for the souls of his students. He thought for a time he would, since he was appointed a tutor at Oriel in 1826, a year before these verses.  Just as the list of all the flowers were symbols or emblems of something else – the Snapdragon is the emblem of himself. The riddle is solved. But what of the “fragrance of the Syrian gale”? The Snapdragon releases its scent with a passing breeze, which for Newman expresses both humility and the Unseen … an act of submission by nature which will give evidence by fragrance to the Unseen, another metaphor for what John Henry desired for his life, through the emblem of the Snapdragon.

We know Newman did not stay at Oxford; God had other plans. Later developments would take him from this life, to the greater glory of God and the world.

For further study: Newman, the Snapdragon, and Natural Theology Author(s): C. Stephen Finley Source: ELH, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Spring, 1990), pp. 151-173 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

 

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For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

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I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

Prof. Barb H. Wyman

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

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Fr. Peter Conley

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Robert Kirkendall

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Merry Christmas to all! In the following video from Colombia, I send you a warm greetings for Christmas. May God richly bless you and your families, and may St. John Henry Newman continue to be a source of inspiration for