Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Ep. 73—St. John Henry Newman’s Aesthetics—Fr. Guy Nicholls, Cong. Orat.

By Catholic Culture Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 27, 2020 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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St. John Henry Newman was involved in several art forms throughout his life. In literature, he was perhaps the greatest English prose writer of his time, and a highly skilled poet. In music, he was an accomplished amateur violinist, taught music to the boys at his school in Littlemore, and oversaw liturgical music as the head of an Oratorian community. In architecture, he commissioned a number of church buildings and was involved in controversies over the role of the Gothic in contemporary English Catholic church architecture.

Though Newman never wrote a book on the topic of beauty, comments on beauty and the arts are sprinkled throughout his writings, sometimes in surprising contexts. In Unearthly Beauty: The Aesthetic of St. John Henry Newman, Fr. Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory draws these comments together for an overview of the role of beauty in Newman’s life and thought. For Newman, the true purpose of earthly beauty is to draw us beyond itself to the higher and more real beauty of God.


[4:02] Synthesizing Newman’s various comments on beauty into a coherent whole

[4:57] Unearthly vs. earthly beauty, and the dangers of the latter according to Newman

[10:49] Real vs unreal

[14:46] A danger of art: severing noble sentiments from action

[20:43] The problem with making morality a matter of good taste

[23:18] How people were struck by Newman’s personal beauty

[31:00] Two formative experiences of beauty which Newman connected with Paradise: his sister Mary’s holiness, and the Sicilian landscape

[39:09] Newman’s involvement with and views on church architecture

[46:36] Newman the amateur musician; his views on the power of music

[57:45] The importance of primitive music and art vs. “scientific” music and realistic art, especially in liturgy

[1:03:43] The importance of music in the Rule of the Oratory; St. Philip Neri’s practice of using entertainments to “allure” people to God

[1:06:55] Difference between devotional and liturgical music; Newman’s use of popular song and chant

[1:12:58] Music in the Little Oratory under Newman; adapting to the needs of the local community (esp. the poor)

[1:19:25] The origins of the musical genre “oratorio” with St. Philip’s Oratory and other oratories of the time

[1:23:13] Comparison and contrast between the experience of conscience and that of beauty


Unearthly Beauty: The Aesthetic of St. John Henry Newman

Fr. Guy Nicholls

Newman’s sermon on “The Danger of Accomplishments”:

Image of Newman University Church in Dublin, founded by Newman for the Catholic University of Ireland and designed by John Hungerford Pollen,_Dublin,_Ireland_-_Diliff.jpg

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Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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