Przywara's Case for Newman as Saint and Doctor of the Church

In this year of Newman's canonization, the question of his status as a possible Doctor of the Church arises with ever greater acuity. For most of us, the process for such a proclamation remains even more obscure than what little we may or may not know of the processes of beatification and canonization.

Erich Przywara SJ (1889-1972) is one of the great, though unsung heroes of Catholic theology and philosophy in the twentieth century. Even a cursory glance at the intellectual lineage that flows from personal and/or intellectual connection with him proves the point: Edith Stein, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Karl Barth. The list goes on. Yet quite inexplicably, Przywara remains to most a figure as distant and obscure as the process of becoming a Doctor of the Church.

Many will recognize Przywara's name for his association with John Henry Newman, having compiled excerpts from Newman's texts in the popular work A Newman Synthesis, first published in English in 1930, and reissued under its present title The Heart of Newman. Przywara's association with Newman extends to the great eight-volume German translation of Newman's works: Christentum. Yet of Przywara's published writings—which are many—arguably his most important work is the Analogia Entis (1932; 1962), with which readers may well be familiar due to the recent and masterful English translation of the work by John R. Betz and David Bentley Hart in 2014.

Przywara was not only in possession of the ability to understand philosophical, theological, and historical movements in terms of their broad import and meaning; but could also pick out words and phrases from an author, and expound upon them to a degree which, at first, can seem in excess of their original author's intentions. There are instances of this, for example, if one follows his references to the works of Aquinas. And on an even grander scale, he does this—perhaps maximally—with the very leitmotif of his entire thought: the famous declaration of analogy, against the errors of Joachim of Fiore, at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. This declaration became, as it were, the grounds for Przywara's interpretation of everything. One also sees hints of this in his treatment of Newman's "opposite virtues"—an important theme in Newman, but not one which hinges upon a systematized doctrine under such a heading. Przywara shows how the "opposing virtues" is one of several ways in which Newman takes up the mantle of Augustine, and manifests the principle of the analogia entis,[1] in the specifically personal manner that characterizes Newman's thought: the opposition of virtues as the very essence of the concrete life of sanctity.

This form, so common to Przywara's thought, ought to be seen as a gift of penetrating insight rather than an indulgence. Like the psychoanalyst, it is as though Przywara was able to listen so carefully to the authors he read that, at an opportune moment, he could then pull out a resonant word or phrase which is key to the whole of the person's thought. Or, like the ancient fisherman, stood over the river, he lances the fish with the greatest precision, unperturbed by the flux of the water. Only, Przywara lances not fish but maps of the river—with its sources tributaries, meanderings, and mouths. It is, in fact, in the absolutizing of the precision that he finds the generality—itself an instance of the analogical form that structures creaturely life.

What follows is an English translation of Przywara's 1957 article "Newman—Möglicher Heiliger und Kirchenlehrer der Neuen Zeit?" It is not by any means the only place where Przywara discusses Newman, and I hint at some additional points from his other texts here in the introduction. But this article is particularly timely, given the upcoming canonization, and I offer the translation as a source of future study and in hopeful anticipation that Newman will be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

Przywara was convinced that Newman is key to the Church's confrontation with modernity. This is clear from the way he denominates the "particular" Doctors of the Church in the last three epochs: the "particular" Doctors of the Middle Ages, of the Counter-Reformation, and of the Modern Era (though why he omits any earlier category—especially given the Augustinian stress in his article—is not clear). It is this last category, however, that he suggests (at the time of writing—1956) is empty, and must assume Newman as its own. It is not, therefore, that Newman should be considered merely the first Doctor of the Modern Era (which, at any rate, he would not be); rather, that Newman should be considered one of the exceptional Doctors of the Modern Era, in the way that the other names he lists are the exceptional Doctors of their respective eras.

Newman as Augustinian, Thomist, and Philippine

Earlier in his life, Przywara had suggested that Newman should be understood with Thomas Aquinas, as the way forward for the Church. "[I]n the unity of Thomas and Newman,” Przywara writes, "lies [...] the mission of Catholicism to philosophy: Dico tibi surge! I say to you: stand up!"[2] This should perhaps be seen in the same manner as the 'with' that belongs to Augustine's (and Newman's) cogitare cum assensu: simultaneous and united. Przywara recognizes, in acknowledging the description of Father Whitty in correspondence with Newman in December 1878, that Newman is "rightly claimed" to be "the disciple of Aquinas."[3]

Here in this article, published in 1957, there appears at first to be an implicit criticism of Thomas' position in what Przywara sees as Thomas' "first, ethical principle,” which is to say, an "ethical predisposition.” It is not clear whence Przywara gets this idea in Thomas, for the kind of "ethics" (as morality) which it evokes, does not have any apparent home in Thomas' thought. Yet the point remains true that, by contrast with the mechanical, object-based rhythm of the natural law, Newman expresses a distinct "philosophy of personality.” It is not in fact criticism; rather, that the "peculiarity" of both Thomas and Newman is kept in a necessary complementary tension, following precisely Newman's account of the "opposite virtues."[4]

What is meant by the ideal of the "opposite virtues" in the teaching of the English cardinal, with its anchoring in the "reverence" which oscillates between the polar opposites of love and fear? What can it mean other than the forming of the whole of concrete life according to the law of polarity? It is but the polarity that preserves what is particular to both Thomas and Newman individually, and yet binds them in unity: the polarity of a philosophy of the self-suspended object, and a philosophy of personality.[5]

Newman stands in the Scotist line from Molina and Suarez, insofar as, in apposition to the "scholastic form of the 'eternity of truth'" in Thomism, the Scotist espouses the "scholastic form of the 'mutation in the forms of truth'."[6] Yet Newman is in, as it were, a branch of his own from this development, between the "historical aspect" of the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and the "psychological aspect" of the Grammar of Assent.[7]

Newman thus stands in the two "schools" of Thomism which are exemplified, on the one hand, in the "old antitheses of Thomism and Scotism as well as Bañezianism and Molinism,” as the Augustinian "emphasis on 'God as Truth'," which sees itself expressed in the "deductive logic" of Newman's "notional thought.”[8] And on the other hand, it is exemplified in the opposing system of "an inductive scheme,” which is seen in Newman's "illative sense.”[9] The import of these insights, however, is to see the essentially mysterious nature of human experience as a manifestation of Augustine's "Si comprehendis non est Deus"; human experience as the "unfolding of the infinitude and incomprehensibility of God before the eyes of him who knows how to regard the individual world of essence in all its bewildering richness.”[10]

The form of the truly Christian life is an analogical one: the concrete form of life in which the visible and the concrete meets the invisible and the spiritual. This is the form of life born of the "opposite virtues.” In our relation to God, it is "to see Him, who is alone invisible, and await the immediate [beatific] vision of Him; yet to remain joyful in the visible, and to be active, so long as He wills it."[11]

Far better, Newman thinks, to learn from the confrontation of the opposing virtues as sanctity, than to treat virtues in isolation—such hagiographies, he adds, "do not manifest a Saint, they mince him into spiritual lessons.”[12] It is the challenge of "reconciling [opposite virtues] in our conduct" that is most difficult—"It is not difficult (comparatively speaking) to cultivate single virtues."[13] This is, according to its analogical form, the manifestation of that particularly Philippine sanctity that pervaded Newman as the "simple observer of real life, and the theorist of concrete religiosity.”[14] It is the "fearing love and loving fear"[15] of the saints, made so clear in St Philip Neri: "a fear that springs from love inasmuch as love fears to lose the beloved; and a love that through fear maintains a holy sobriety and a tender reverence.”[16] Because of this dedication to the "real thinking" that belongs to the Oratorian spirit that Przywara identifies as so brilliantly instantiated in Newman, he is to be understood as confounding "Scholasticism, Platonism, Intuitionism, and Phenomenology, equally.”[17] Newman confounds the Scholastic's "philosophy of objective religion"; the Platonist, by emphasizing "the concrete life which is shunned by Platonism"; the Intuitionist, because Newman rejects his "bias in subjective states"; and the Phenomenologist, because of Newman's disregard for the pursuit of "absolute apprehension of essences" in favor of "a slow, limited approach in the way of laborious empiricism.”[18] Yet, although Newman has a "spiritual affinity with Plato and Augustine" because he "shares the contemplative fixation on the 'invisible'," he equally possesses an affinity with "Aristotle and Thomas" in "the soberness of the toilsome pursuit of the knowledge of the 'invisible' under the cloak of the 'visible'."[19]

Newman stands as a towering figure in the Church in the Modern Era—even as the "Augustine of today.” The Augustinian way, which has been catastrophically misunderstood in every which way possible through the preceding 1,500 years, is completed in Newman via an inner unity with Thomas. In this, the sweep of theologies and philosophies—religious or otherwise—that have culminated in the Modern Era, receive the kind of final word one would hope for in a Doctor of the Church. Not a final word that forecloses future possibilities, but which opens out to a new fertility. In Przywara's view, this is precisely the historical moment in which Newman steps forth and takes up this mantle as the "Augustine of today.”

St John Henry Newman and St Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctors for the Modern Era

Przywara could hardly lavish higher praise on St Philip Neri and the Catholic spirit manifest in the Oratory that he founded. Yet in his epoch-dividing analysis of the great Doctors of Christian history, he unites Newman with one who, contrary to the more dogmatic presentation normally offered by a Doctor of the Church, has since found herself named a Doctor for the Modern Era: St Thérèse of Lisieux.

We must note how it signals the subtle and penetrating foresight of Przywara to have recognised, back in 1956, the connection between these two saints, given that in 1997 Thérèse would become the first—and currently only—Doctor of the Church for the Modern Era. In their connection, perhaps, lies the strongest argument of all for the proclamation of Newman as a Doctor of the Church. In Thérèse we do not find, as Pope St John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia makes clear, "a scholarly presentation of the things of God,” "as in other Doctors.”[20] And, in many ways, this is also true of Newman, notwithstanding Przywara's masterful appraisal of his thought in light of the history of philosophy and theology.

In these two saints, therefore, we see emerging a new language (even a musical one, as Przywara says) to confront the struggles of our present time, and present the eternal and unchanging Gospel of Christ. It could be precisely their unity that elicits for us unique insights into the call to holiness in our times. "[W]e must never lose sight,” Pope St John Paul II tells us, "of the continuity which links the Doctors of the Church to each other.”[21]

Newman's "emphatic scriptural theology of the unity of the Old and New Testaments"—as Przywara puts it in the article—finds a parallel in Thérèse's biblically saturated writings.[22] If Newman is to be a Doctor as well, this aspect of his inner, scriptural connection to Augustine, as reawakening the apostolic origins of Christianity, will need to be taken up with earnestness.

Perhaps it is in the 'little way' that Newman finds his strongest point of connection to St Thérèse, as Przywara himself makes clear. It is at once universal,[23] and childlike. The universality of St Thérèse's doctrine of the 'little way' is met in Newman as the "simple observer of real life, and the theorist of concrete religiosity.”[24] But perhaps more importantly, as both Przywara and Pope St John Paul II draw out, the inner pulsation of the 'little way' is its procurement of "spiritual childhood.”[25] This emphasis on being sons and daughters of God receives its glorious parallel in the personal emphasis of Newman's Philippine doctrine of the Christian life: against all legalistic and formulaic starting points, Newman's doctrine of conscience orients us to the personal character of the relationship between God and the self. Away from all aggrandizements of overarching theories, the path of Newman is one of an increasing interiority which leads on, in a self-transcendence, to the infinite and unknown God who is in us and beyond us. Such an interiority finds itself completed and complemented by the 'external' authoritative voice of God in the authority of His Church. This interiority of conscience resonates so deeply with that interior path of St Thérèse by which she "realized her vocation to love"[26]: the "hidden treasures"[27] of the "invisible" manifest in the self-transcending interiority of love for and in the "visible" world.

Przywara completes the picture by uniting Newman and Thérèse in music: Newman's understanding of "thinking" as "music" is to be seen as translating all that is densely philosophical and theological in his thought into the register of the "'singing child' saint" (Przywara's description of St Thérèse, in union with the "singing humour" of St Philip Neri). In these points of unity is to be found both the confounding of errors and the universal call to holiness in the 'musical-eloquence' of these two great saints for our times.

A Short Note on the Translation

In what follows, I have striven to be as faithful as possible to Przywara's original; but as Przywara's thought is extremely compressed, I have in places tried to loosen the translation somewhat to make it more accessible to the reader. All instances of footnotes that I have added are suffixed with "trans." to make it clear that they are not in Przywara's original text. Lest it be missed, I also wish to draw the reader's attention to the long footnote 30, which is a translation of Przywara's original footnote. Where Przywara has quoted Newman, I have not translated the German but, where possible, substituted them for Newman's original texts. I have also relied on an English translation of Goethe in the small passages Przywara cites, in deference to the expertise in Goethe's thought that I lack. I have left the original references to Newman and Augustine within the main body of the text as Przywara gives them.

I am grateful to John Betz, Fr Aaron Pidel SJ, Fr Lewis Berry Cong. Orat. and Fr Philip Cleevely Cong. Orat. for their helpful comments and suggestions. I am also grateful to Artur Rosman for his patient perseverance in obtaining permission to publish the translation.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You can read Fr. Erich Przywara's text for the first time in English here.

[1] See John R. Betz, 'Erich Przywara and the Analogia Entis: A Genealogical Diagnosis and Metaphysical Critique of Modernity', in Kenneth Oakes (ed.), Christian Wisdom Meets Modernity (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2018), 84f.

[2] Erich Przywara, '11. Sendung', in: Ringen der Gegenwart: Gesammelte Aufsätze 1922-1927, vol. 2 (Augsburg: Dr Benno Filser-Verlag, 1929), 962.

[3] Erich Przywara, Polarity. A German Catholic’s Interpretation of Religion, trans. Alan Coates Bouquet (London: Oxford University Press, 1935), 114.

[4] John Henry Newman, 'Sermon 23. Tolerance of Religious Error', in Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 2 (London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908), 282, [accessed 21 August 2019].

[5] Erich Przywara, Gottgeheimnis der Welt in Religionsphilosophische Schriften, Erich Przywara Schriften, vol. 2 (Einsiedeln; Johannes-Verlag, 1962), 239. Inverted commas added.

[6] Przywara, Polarity, 108f.

[7] Ibid., 113. See also Erich Przywara, 'J. H. Newmans Problemstellung', Stimmen der Zeit 14 (February 1927): 432–445, here 432.

[8] Przywara, Polarity, 114.

[9] Ibid.

[10]  Ibid., 115.

[11] Erich Przywara, Einführung in Newmans Wesen und Werk, Christentum: Ein Aufbau, vol. 4 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1922), 79.

[12] John Henry Newman, 'St Chrysostom', Historical Sketches, vol. 2 (London, New York, Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906), Chapter 1, 229, [accessed 21 August 2019].

[13] J.H. Newman, 'Sermon 23. Tolerance of Religious Error', 282.

[14] Erich Przywara, Religionsbegründung: Max Scheler, J. H. Neuman (Freiburg im Breisgau : Herder, 1923), 286.

[15] Przywara, Ringen der Gegenwart, vol. 2, 543 as cited and translated in John R. Betz, 'Erich Przywara and the Analogia Entis' (2018), 84.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Przywara, Religionsbegründung, 286.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Pope St John Paul II, Divini Amoris Scientia (October 19, 1997), §7, [accessed 21 August 2019]. Divini Amoris Scientia is the Apostolic Letter of Pope St John Paul II that declares St Thérèse a Doctor of the Church.

[21] Ibid., §11.

[22] Ibid., §9.

[23] Ibid., §10.

[24] Przywara, Religionsbegründung, 286.

[25] Pope St John Paul II, Divini Amoris Scientia, §8.

[26] Ibid., §9.

[27] Ibid.

Featured Image: Emmeline Deane, Portrait of John Henry Newman, 1889; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Christopher M. Wojtulewicz


Christopher M. Wojtulewicz is a free research associate at KU Leuven. His publications include Meister Eckhart on the Principle.

Read more by Christopher M. Wojtulewicz

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