The Spanish Edition of Newman’s Letter to Pusey

By Rubén Peretó Rivas
November 24, 2021
11 min read
The Spanish Edition of Newman’s Letter to Pusey

Newman’s influence is not relegated to the English-speaking world only; rather, it can be seen in the Spanish-speaking world as well. It is true that Newman was known during his life and shortly after, which is demonstrated by translations and studies carried out in Spain and Argentina. As early as April 1843, Jaime Balmes, a well-known Spanish philosopher, published news of Newman’s conversion to the Catholic Church in the fortnightly magazine La Sociedad of Barcelona, and reflected on the importance of Newman’s conversion for English Catholicism. The first work translated into Spanish was The Essay on Development of the Christian Doctrine, which was translated as Desenvolvimiento del Dogma in 1907, in Barcelona, thanks to the encouragement of Miqel d'Esplugues. This translation began an uninterrupted series of translations, mainly selections from his sermons or other writings. From 1990 and still today, however, the bibliographical production has increased considerably and intensified after Newman’s beatification in 2010.[1]

 Complete translations of Newman’s works began to be published, as well as biographical studies and studies on Newman’s doctrines. One such biography is Víctor García Ruiz’s recent John Henry Newman. Ensayo biográfico (San Pablo, Madrid-Buenos Aires, 2020). All this activity has also led to the emergence of a group of scholars of Newman's thought dedicated to the study, translation, and dissemination of Newman’s work. Alongside Víctor García Ruíz—who is the translator, among other titles, of the eight volumes of the Parochial and Plain Sermons—is Aurelio Boix and José Morales, both from Spain. In 1991 in Argentina, Fernando María Cavaller founded the journal Newmaniana, which he still edits and which has now published ninety-one issues. Newmaniana includes original translations and academic studies, including several poems by Newman translated by Jorge Ferro, a scholar of the finest poetic ability.

This quick overview demonstrates the relevance of and interest in Newman's work within the Spanish-speaking world. Newman’s Mariology, however, has been given practically no attention in Hispanic countries. The English-speaking world, on the other hand, has seen the appearance of numerous studies on John Henry Newman's theological reflection on the Virgin Mary. From Friedel in the 1920s to Gregoris or Andrews in recent years.[2] In all cases, the analysis of these specialists shows the importance that Newman gave to Mary in the history of salvation and in the life of every Christian, while at the same time pointing out the limits and frameworks that had to be respected in the devotion to her. The Spanish literature on Newman, inexplicably, has remained silent on the subject.

The first step in remedying the lack of attention to Newman’s Mariology should be the translation of Newman's work dealing directly with his theological reflection on the Virgin Mary into Spanish, the most prominent work being Newman’s Letter to Pusey. It is a short piece of writing, in a similar style as the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk or On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrines (both of which have several Spanish editions). In this letter, Newman responds to Edward Pusey, his great friend from the Oxonian period, concerning Pusey’s opinions expressed in An Eirenicon published in 1865. Pusey’s Eirenicon discussed the sometimes-contentious opinion of Cardinal Manning, and it was intended as a kind of “peace offering,” which is the meaning of the term “eirenicon.” The problem was that, as Newman rightly points out towards the end of his letter, Pusey's book did little to calm the waters between Catholics and Anglicans. “I really marvel that he should have dreamed of calling it an Irenicon,” Newman said.[3] Pusey, in the specific case of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, often resorted to unsubstantiated and biased views that caricatured some expressions of popular piety. It is true, on the other hand, that Pusey's attacks were not so much on the doctrine of Catholic Mariology as on Fr. Faber's exaggerations about the Virgin and the extremisms about the doctrine of papal infallibility that Cardenal Manning and William G. Ward spread in the pages of the Tablet and the Dublin Review. For example, Newman wrote to Keble: “As to Faber, I have not read his books; he is no authority.”[4]

 Newman showed Pusey the legitimacy of Mary's place within Catholic theology and the consequent devotion due to her. He does so in the way he knew, and which was also the way Pusey would have no choice but to accept: by turning to the fathers of the church. It is precisely in the patristic sources that Newman explored—in order to justify—that while devotion to the Virgin grew over the centuries, though the substance of the doctrine concerning her did not. Newman writes, for example, “I believe that it has been in substance one and the same from the beginning.”[5] Here Newman applies his theory of doctrinal development to Mariology. This point alone merits the translation of the Letter to Pusey into Spanish, for it is a very concrete, and probably the best, example of Newman’s brilliant intuition—the theory of doctrinal development—which is one of his most important contributions to Catholic theology.

 One of the Marian doctrines which, for Newman, is most strongly rooted in patristic antiquity and from which later Mariological reflection develops, is that of Mary as the second Eve.[6] The teaching of the early church fathers, especially St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian, is that the Virgin Mary was not only a “physical instrument” of the Incarnation—this was Pusey's view—but also an active participant in it or, in other words, a cause.[7] Mary is thus not just an “accident” that could have been replaced by any other, but an indispensable protagonist of the Christ’s redemption.

 The concept of Mary as the second Eve led Newman to make a defense of the Immaculate Conception. While there was no serious theological objection on Pusey's part, he nevertheless considered that in the Catholic sphere Mary was appropriating the honor due to Jesus, and the proclamation of the dogma by Pius IX, which had occurred only a few years earlier, represented a serious threat in this respect. Newman explains that the grace Eve possessed in paradise should also have been in Mary's possession since, otherwise, Mary’s obedience would not have been able to overcome what Eve’s disobedience had lost. Newman asks:

 “[T]hat she, who was to co-operate in the redemption of the world, at least was not less endowed with power from on high, than she who, given as a help-mate to her husband, did in the event but cooperate with him for its ruin? If Eve was raised above human nature by that indwelling moral gift which we call grace, is it rash to say that Mary had even a greater grace?”[8]

 This was clearly a logical inference. The culmination of patristic thought on the Virgin Mary is her title of Theotokos, or Mother of God. This is the “highest view of her prerogatives, which the Fathers have taught us.”[9] With this title—“awful title,” as in full of awe—Mary's holiness and greatness are fully recognized.[10]

What may be considered the second part of the Letter to Pusey—which is actually the fourth point—discusses aspects of a balanced devotion to the Virgin Mary, which was not always found in the Catholic world, and in this respect Pusey was right. The Mariological doctrine, according to Newman, can be defended with recourse to the church fathers. Newman, however, claims that Marian devotion is a different story, since, as we have seen, unlike substance of the Mariological doctrine, devotion to the Blessed Virgin has changed a great deal according to time and location. This explains why, necessarily, there are cases of exaggerated or corrupt Marian devotion. The importance of Newman’s distinction lies in the fact that what is essential in Marian theology can be defended without having to defend also the various manifestations of devotion to Mary.

Newman explains that Marian devotions occupy a natural place in the realm of the human affections, and these affections must be accepted because they are natural and, as such, cannot be avoided. Of all the affections, the most important is love, and if lovers naturally respond with an excess of emotion, which, to any outside observer, may seem exaggerated or outlandish, the same must be expected of the ways in which Catholics manifest their devotion to Mary. The extreme cases, which so horrify Pusey, must be read from this hermeneutic.

Newman’s Letter to Pusey is precisely that—a letter—written to a friend with whom he had shared both scholarly activity at Oxford and, above all, the shared authorship the Tracts of the Times. In fact, Pusey, Newman, and Keble were key players of the Oxford Movement, which led to the important reformation that the Church of England during the first half of the nineteenth century. A significant detail that must be taken into account when translating or studying the Letter to Pusey is that shortly before its composition these three friends had just met again after twenty years. After Newman's conversion they had not seen each other again, and this would also be the last time they would meet.

The meeting took place in Hursley (Hampshire), where Keble’s vicarage was located. The meeting, though brief and marked by the illness of Keble's wife, who died a few days later, was an emotional one. For Newman it was in part a way to regain his friendship with those who had left him when he converted to the Church of Rome.[11] He wrote few days later to Ambrose St. John:

“Keble was at the door, he did not know me, nor I him. How mysterious that first sight of friends is! for when I came to contemplate him, it was the old face and manner, but the first effect and impression was different. … and at a first moment he, I think, and certainly I, wished myself away.”[12]

 Víctor García Ruíz ventures that this wish was due to the fact that Pusey was also unexpectedly visiting Keble's house and had just published his Eirenicon. The situation, therefore, could not have been more awkward.[13] Indeed, Newman relates that “Pusey, as being passive, was evidently shrinking back into the corner of the room.” The meeting was brief and did not occur under the best circumstances: “I took an early dinner with them, and when the bell chimes for evensong at 4 o'clock, I got into my gig, an so from Bishopstoke to Ryde.”[14] Newman reflected: “There were three old men, who had worked together vigorously in their prime. This is what they have come to—poor human nature- after 20 years they meet together round a table, but without a common cause, or free outspoken thoughts.”[15]

 The circumstances at the time of the letter’s composition, together with the agitated Catholic environment in which various groups holding different opinions were confronted, merit an introduction to aid in contextualizing the Letter to Pusey. Those approaching Newman for the first time can properly appreciate what the author wanted to express through the aid of an introduction. Cardinal Newman himself wrote of the importance of knowing one’s audience: “To address men, you must know their principles. … I know the so-called Anglo-Catholics, but none else.”[16] Newman clarifies that what moved him to write the letter to Pusey was “to remove his alarm about any encroachment on the part of the Holy See on the rights of the Church—and state what Catholics hold, and what the do not hold here.”[17] The letter was therefore written for the Anglo-Catholics of the second half of the nineteenth century. In order to be properly understood by a twenty-first-century reader, appropriate contextualization is necessary.

 A first translation to Spanish of the Letter to Pusey was made by Fernando María Cavaller and published in Newmaniana.[18] The generous invitation I received from the National Institute for Newman Studies has allowed me to enjoy a stay in their amazing library and to be able to complete a new translation of Newman’s Letter to Pusey, which will include an extensive introduction and notes. It will be published in 2022 by Editorial Encuentro from Madrid, which for several years has been systematically publishing the complete works of John Henry Newman on an annual basis. I am confident that this first step will serve to extend and deepen the influence of John Henry Newman's theology on the Virgin Mary in the Spanish-speaking world.

[1] Cf. Ramón Mas, “Traducir a Newman: perspectiva desde España,” Isidorianum 10 (2001), 391–401.

[2] Cf., Francis J. Friedel, The Mariology of Cardinal Newman (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1928); Nicholas L. Gregoris, The daughter of Eve Unfallen: Mary in the Theology and Spirituality of John Henry Newman (Mount Pocono, Penn: Newman House Press, 2003); and Robert M. Andrews, Apologia pro Beata Maria Virgine: John Henry Newman’s Defence of the Virgin Mary in Catholic Doctrine and Piety (Bethesda: Academica Press, 2017).

[3] Newman, LD xx, 67.

[4] Newman, LD xx, 68.

[5] Newman, A Letter to the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D. on His Recent Eirenicon (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866), 28.

[6] Newman, Letter to Pusey, 33.

[7] Newman, Letter to Pusey, 37–39.

[8] Newman, Letter to Pusey, 48.

[9] Newman, Letter to Pusey, 66.

[10] Newman, Letter to Pusey, 67.

[11] It is appropriate to recall here one of Newman's most moving sermons and pages: The Parting of Friends, which he preached at Littlemore on 25 September 1843. There he gathered in the little church with his neighbors, with those who had followed him and shared his life, and with some old friends of the Oxford Movement. This was to be Newman's last Anglican sermon. Two years later he was received into the Catholic Church. Cf., Newman, SD (London: J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1844), 447–62.

[12] Newman, LD xx, 52.

[13] Cf., Victor García Ruiz, San John Henry Newman. Un ensayo biográfico (San Pablo, Madrid-Buenos Aires, 2020), 286.

[14] Newman, LD xx, 52–53.

[15] Newman, LD xx, 52.

[16] Newman, LD xx, 168.

[17] Newman, LD xx, 168.

[18] Newmaniana 70 (2017): 11–72.

Previous Article
Ecclesiology in Newman’s Sermons, 1825–1835
Rubén Peretó Rivas

Rubén Peretó Rivas

Professor of Medieval Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (Mendoza, Argentina)

Rubén Peretó Rivas is Professor of Medieval Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (Mendoza, Argentina). He completed his doctorate at the Pontificia Università S. Tommaso, Angelicum, in Rome, on Alcuin of York. Rubén Peretó Rivas has devoted himself to the study of the philosophy and theology of Early Christianity, focusing in recent years on Evagrius Ponticus, on whom he has written, among other titles: “Evagrio Póntico y la Acedia" (Peter Lang, New York, 2018), and “Tratado de las réplicas" (Rialp, Madrid, 2021).  He is visiting scholar at the University of Oxford and the University of Notre Dame (Indiana).


Newman Today
New and Noteworthy
© 2024, All Rights Reserved.
National Institute for Newman Studies