Appeared in Winter 1989, Vol. XV, No. 4

The many accounts of Newman’s manner, his look, and above all his voice, might make us think that we have read enough. And we certainly know by now that his voice was as silver and his style crystal. But there are those, among whom is anyone of reason, who would want more; and this because, as he stooped somewhat in the pulpit and dimmed the lamp before a sea of undergraduates who were missing their dinner to be there, the silver of the voice mellowed the way gold is meant to; and his pellucidity was less like a sensible equation and more like a sensual form. This is a mystery of Newman, and one should want to learn more about it, for it is the mystery common to all persons: personality.

As a working definition, too slight to fill out a whole system, human personality is the vernacular evidence of the speechless soul, the natural expression of the supernatural endowments in will and intellect, much as graciousness is the declaration of grace. Man is an unfinished being, but he is not mute. A greatness of Newman is the way he represents the personality properly as a spiritual deduction and shows how its development, as any art, attains full worth when it is faithful to a spiritual theme. As every agnostic painting called “mother and child” is a surreptitious Madonna and Christ, so the “real character” begrudgingly respected by the cynic is a clandestine ikon.

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