“Passion for Truth: The Life of John Henry Newman” – Review
by Fr. Juan R. Velez
TAN Books, 618 pages, paperback
How did a timid young scholar become one of the most influential teachers and writers of the 19th century? And what inspired the prominent Oxford don to convert to the Catholic faith? A new biography by Fr. Juan R. Velez titled, Passion for Truth: The Life of John Henry Newman covers the life and thought of one of the Church's true giants, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
The field of Newman biography is vast and varied. People have been writing about him for years and his recent beatification provoked even more titles. What I like about Fr. Velez's entry, and what really sets it apart, is that it's balanced through and through. He carefully swings between Newman the philosopher and Newman the priest; Newman the courageous truth-seeker and Newman the delicate soul; Newman the elite intellect and Newman the faithful friend.
The book also stands out because of its popular style, which Fr. Velez maintains without being too shallow or simplistic. The Newman field is notoriously thick with dense, academic tomes. However this book is much breezier. Writing as a priest also allows Fr. Velez a unique perspective on Newman's own priesthood, which he covers well throughout.
Before his death Newman instructed writers not to exaggerate his life with praise, but to produce "a real, fair, downright account of me according to the best ability and judgment of the writer." In showcasing Newman the man, and balancing his weaknesses and fears with his courage and genius, Fr. Velez accomplishes that in Passion for Truth.
(For a more advanced biography I'd recommend Ian Ker's definitive book, John Henry Newman. And for a broader introduction to Newman's writings, check out Fr. Barron's 3-CD set titled, John Henry Newman: A Prophet for Our Time.)