Online and in Person Symposium

Newman, Poetics, and Mysticism

Spring 2024 Newman Symposium

National Institute for Newman Studies

Attend in Person or via Zoom Internet

  • Attend in person at the Gailliot Center for Newman Studies, 211 N. Dithridge St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213
  • Or attend via Zoom Internet from anywhere in the world. A Zoom link will be emailed to registrants prior to the event. For security reasons, all participants will be required to login using the exact name they used during registration. 
Zoom Internet

Newman, Poetics, and Mysticism

This symposium explores St. John Henry Newman’s worldview and its reception. It will probe the dynamic interrelationship between his worldview and writings, both in his context and in consideration of its value for believers. Newman’s commitment to revealed truth and dogma was unshakeable, as was his respect for divine transcendence and the abiding presence of mystery, despite the church’s increasing doctrinal knowledge. He reflected at length on these themes, with particular emphasis on the way ideas inhabit the minds of believers and how these believers come to realize divine truth. Newman was shaped by English Romanticism, which became part of his efforts to further the cause of revealed religion. In doing so, he left a rich legacy that inspired other literary figures. His thought is fruitful today for those engaging revealed truth claims with “clear heads and holy hearts."

Time (Eastern Time, UTC −05)

FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 2024
Welcome and Introduction: Chris Cimorelli, 18:45 ET
Keynote: Ono Ekeh, 19:00-20:00 ET

Lecture: Jake Grefenstette and Q&A, 9:30-10:15 ET
Lecture: Peter Gorday and Q&A 10:15-11:00 ET
Break: 11:00 - 11:30 ET
Roundtable Discussion and Closing Remarks
, 11:30-12:00 ET
Lunch: 12:00 ET (in-person attendees will receive a separate email about lunch registration)

Ono Ekeh
Keynote Lecture - Friday, 15 March, 19:00-20:00 ET

The Unmysterious God: Journey to and Encounter with God in St. John Henry Newman and St. Bonaventure

Ono Ekeh

Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, CT)

Both John Henry Newman and Bonaventure present the spiritual life as a journey to God. The reward and end of the ascent of the soul in Bonaventure is the transcendent experience of God’s divine darkness. Bonaventure’s ascent of the soul entails stages that engage all aspects of our being: body, mind, and spirit. Newman’s own idea of the journey shares some features with Bonaventure’s approach; however, he strikes a distinct tone, bringing an interesting concreteness to the spiritual journey. Newman’s process of the journey draws us into a contemplation of the “messiness” of our experiences.

Unlike Bonaventure, Newman seems to resist directly describing the manner in which God is the fulfillment or reward of our spiritual striving. God, in himself, is not a mystery according to Newman. However, our encounter with God’s sacredness, manifested in Christ, turns the soul from gazing directly into God’s presence, invoking a sense of divine mysteriousness in us even though God is not a mystery. Thus, the soul is content to remain in its journey of spiritual growth until it feels worthy of experiencing God directly and capable of seeing a God without mystery. To explore these features of Newman’s idea of the journey to God, particular attention will be given to his poem The Dream of Gerontius to present it as an analog of and complement to Bonaventure’s spiritual classic, Ascent of the Mind to God.

Ono Ekeh is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT. Dr. Ekeh received a BS in Business Administration from Daemen College in Amherst, NY. His master's and doctorate degrees in historical and systematic theology are from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. His dissertation was a comparative study of John Henry Newman and Edmund Husserl. Dr. Ekeh and his wife Amy live in Connecticut with their four children.

Jake Grefenstette
Lecture - Saturday, 16 March, 9:30-10:15 ET

Calamity and Grace: Geoffrey Hill on John Henry Newman

Jake Grefenstette

President and Executive Director of the International Poetry Forum

During his lifetime, Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016) was hailed by several prominent critics as the greatest living poet in the language. A famously difficult and densely philosophical writer, Hill saw his art as a working-through of the fundamental human tension between sin and grace, a model he traced to his "strong attachment to Newman's 'terrible aboriginal calamity.'" This talk introduces Hill's creative reading of John Henry Newman, particularly his understanding of poetic language as a unique mode of fallen theological speech.

Jake Grefenstette received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge after completing studies in theology and philosophy at Notre Dame, Chicago, Oxford, and Beijing. A scholar of Romantic literature and theology, Jake has instructed undergraduates at Cambridge and Saint Vincent College (PA). He is president and executive director of the International Poetry Forum, a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Peter Gorday
Lecture - Saturday, 16 March, 10:15-11:00 ET

John Henry Newman as Poet-Mystic: Bremond’s Newman Once Again

Peter Gorday

Pastoral Counseling, Columbia Presbyterian

Between 1897 and 1906 Henri Bremond authored a series of works that helped introduce John Henry Newman to a French readership. In the culminating volume, Newman: essai de biographie psychologique, he constructed a complex, multi-faceted portrait of Newman as a “disquieted” soul who thought and wrote as a poet with the interior life of an “intellectual mystic.” As a poet Newman was committed to the work of the religious imagination and its glimpses of a “higher world,” and as a mystic he came to believe that the interior life, faithfully lived, leads to the “encircling gloom” of struggle and darkness, finally to the “silence of God.” His portraiture having received ecclesiastical censure for its Modernist overtones, Bremond’s insights into Newman as poet and mystic have been ignored, while his psychological exploration of Newman’s personality has raised critical eyebrows. This paper argues, however, that Bremond’s insights deserve to be revisited.

Peter J. Gorday, Th.M. (Pastoral Counseling, Columbia Presbyterian), Ph.D. (Religion, Vanderbilt), is a priest of the Episcopal Church, with experience in parish ministry, marriage and family therapy practice, and adjunct university teaching. Early publications focus on the patristic interpretation of Scripture and on psychoanalytic theory. He is the author of François Fénelon: the Apostle of Pure Love; A Biography (Paraclete, 2012), and Pure Love, Pure Poetry, Pure Prayer: The Life and Work of Henri Bremond (Wipf & Stock, 2018), as well as essays in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, and the Revue de l’histoire des Religions.

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