FEATURE image: chalk drawing of John Newman, 1844, by George Richmond, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London.
Introduction by John P. Walsh
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was a theologian and poet who was first an Anglican priest and later a Roman Catholic priest and cardinal. In the 1830’s and until his conversion to Catholicism in 1845, Newman was a leading figure in the Oxford Movement. They were a group of Anglicans who looked to create a bridge between the Church of England and the Catholic Church by adopting many Catholic beliefs and liturgical rituals from before the English Reformation. Newman eventually came to believe for himself that these religious efforts proved insufficient and he left the Anglican Communion for the Catholic Church in 1845. Already an articulate and influential religious leader in Britain, Newman’s decision brought with it the burden of having upset his friends as well as being challenged by them and others for his changed religious opinions on polemical grounds. Newman, a longtime writer and speaker, responded after a while with his now-celebrated Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–1866), which served as a defense of his religious opinions after he quit his position as Anglican vicar at Oxford. Newman, a 19th-century master of English prose and poetry, had already published The Idea of a University (1852) and went on to publish Grammar of Assent (1870) as well as several poems, some of which were set to music or served as hymns. In 1879, at the age of 78 years old, Pope Leo XIII named Newman a cardinal for his work on behalf of the Catholic Church in England as well as his having co-founded the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854, which today as University College Dublin is Ireland’s largest institution of higher learning. On October 13, 2019, John Henry Newman was canonized a Catholic saint at the Vatican by Pope Francis. St. John Henry Newman became the first saint canonized from Britain since 1976. In remarks by Prince Charles who led the British delegation to the Vatican for Newman’s canonization, the Prince of Wales said: “In the age in which he [Newman] attains sainthood, his example is needed more than ever – for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.” London-born Cardinal Newman died in England in 1890 at 89 years old. He founded the Oratory at Birmingham in 1848 and through his writings spoke to many about the issues of faith, education, and conscience.
A given opinion, as held by several individuals, even when of the most congenial views, is as distinct as are their faces. Oxford University sermons, 1843.
It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing. Oxford University sermon, December 11, 1831.
From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know of no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery. Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1864.
I used to wish the Arabian Tales were true; my imagination ran on unknown influences, on magical powers, and talismans. I thought life might be a dream, or I an Angel, and all this world a deception, my fellow-angels by a playful device concealing themselves from me, and deceiving me from the semblance of a material world. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Up to 1833).
I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible; but I had formed no religious convictions till I was fifteen. Of course I had perfect knowledge of my Catechism. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Up to 1833).
I read Joseph Milner’s Church History, and was nothing short of enamoured of the long extracts from St. Augustine and the other Fathers which I found there. I read them as being the religion of the primitive Christians. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part III).
I read Newton on the Prophecies, and in consequence became most firmly convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist predicted by Daniel, St. Paul and St. John. My imagination was stained by the effects of this doctrine up to the year 1843. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part III).
There are virtues indeed, which the world is not fitted to judge about or to uphold, such as faith, hope and charity; but it can judge about Truthfulness; it can judge about the natural virtues, and truthfulness is one of them. Natural virtues may also become supernatural; Truthfulness is such… Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part II).
John Newman, 1841, Thomas Robinson Green?, collotype, 7 5/8 in. x 10 in. (195 mm x 255 mm). National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw39717/John-Newman?LinkID=mp03281&wPage=1&role=sit&rNo=21
Catholics on the other hand shade and soften the awful antagonism between good and evil, which is one of their dogmas, by holding that there are different degrees of justification, that there is a great difference in point of gravity between sin and sin, that there is a possibility and the danger of falling away, and that there is no certain knowledge given to anyone that he is simply in a state of grace, and much less that he is to persevere to the end. Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Part III).
Let us seek the grace of a cheerful heart, an even temper, sweetness, gentleness, and brightness of mind, as well as walking in His light, and by His grace. Let us pray to Him to give us the ever-abundant, ever-springing love, which overpowers and sweeps away the vexations of life by its own richness and strength, and which above all unites us to Him, Who is the fountain and center of all mercy, loving kindness and joy. 17, Religious Joy (Sermon for Christmas Day), 1868.
Ex Umbris et Imaginibus in Veritatem! (From shadows and symbols into the truth!) Epitaph at Edgbaston.
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; Lead thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet: I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me. The Pillar of the Cloud, 1833.
Lead, Kindly Light is a hymn with words written in 1833 by Saint John Henry Newman as a poem titled “The Pillar of the Cloud.” The impetus for the poem was that young Newman, traveling in Italy, became ill and found himself stranded in Palermo, Sicily, without any passage out for almost a month.
To occupy his time, the 32-year-old Newman visited the many churches in Palermo but only when they were dark, abandoned and silent. Newman, then still an Anglican, didn’t attend any services.
Newman finally got a ship to England that sailed direct for Marseilles yet, between Corsica and Sardinia, the ship lay idle for a week from lack of wind. It was just at that point in his far-flung journey that the words, Lead Kindly Light, articulated themselves in Newman’s mind as he ached to go home.
This is what the Church is said to want, not party men, but sensible, temperate, sober, well-judging persons, to guide it through the channel of no-meaning, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Aye and no. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
John Henry Cardinal Newman, 1881, Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, President Royal Academy of Arts (1829-1896). National Portrait Gallery, London: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07727/John-Newman
Nature was a parable: Scripture was an allegory: pagan literature, philosophy, and mythology, properly understood, were but a preparation for the Gospel. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
The Greek poets and sages were in a certain sense prophets; for “thoughts beyond their thought to those high bards were given.” St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
Holy Church in her sacraments and her hierarchical appointments, will remain even to the end of the world. Her mysteries are but expressions in human language of truths to which the human mind is unequal. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “History of My Religious Opinions from 1839-1841” (1864).
We may not speak of [Jesus] as we speak of any individual man, acting from and governed by a human intelligence within Him, but He was God, acting not only as God, but now through the flesh also, when He would. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Parochial and Plain Sermons, volume 6.
[Prophetic tradition] permeates the Church like an atmosphere, irregular in shape from its very profusion and exuberance. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (1837).
John Newman by George Richmond, chalk, 1844, 16 1/4 in. x 13 1/4 in. (413 mm x 337 mm), National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw04655/John-Newman
The more claim an idea has to be considered living, the more various will be its aspects; and the more social and political is its nature, the more complicated and subtle will be its issues. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
And such mainly is the way in which all men, gifted or not gifted, commonly reason – not by rule, but by an inward faculty. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford.
If we insist upon being as sure as is conceivable, in every step of our course, we must be content to creep along the ground, and can never soar. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford.
If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards; and, whereas we are given absolute certainty in nothing, we must in all things choose between doubt and inactivity. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford.
I am what I am, or I am nothing. I cannot think, reflect, or judge about my being, without starting from the very point which I am concluding…I cannot avoid being sufficient for myself, for I cannot make myself anything else, and to change me is to destroy me. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), The Grammar of Assent (1870).
John Newman, 1864, McLean & Haes, albumen carte-de-visite, 3 5/8 in. x 2 1/4 in. (93 mm x 57 mm). National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw125777/John-Newman?LinkID=mp03281&role=sit&rNo=10
A man who said “I cannot trust a cable, I must have an iron bar,” would, in certain given cases, be irrational and unreasonable: so too is a man who says I must have a rigid demonstration, not moral demonstration, of religious truth. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letters & Diaries, volume 21.
We differ in our sense and use of the word “certain.” I use it of minds, you of propositions. I fully grant the uncertainty of all conclusions in your sense of the word, but I maintain that minds may in my sense be certain of conclusions which are uncertain in yours. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to William Froude, April 29, 1879.
There is a great attempt to bring a new theory of Papal Infallibility, which would make it a mortal sin not to hold the Temporal Power necessary to the papacy. No one answers them and multitudes are being carried away. The pope gives ear to them and the consequence is there is a very extreme prejudice in the highest quarters at Rome against such as me. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to James Hope Scott, April 11, 1867.
Really and truly I am NOT a theologian. A theologian is one who has mastered theology…and a hundred things besides. And this I am not and never shall be. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Maria Giberne, February 10, 1869.
To write theology is like dancing on the tight-rope some hundred feet above ground: it is hard to keep from falling, and the fall is great. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Emily Bowles, April 16, 1866.
Cardinal Henry Edward Manning is not a theologian, the pope is not a theologian, and therefore theology has gone out of fashion. I don’t profess to be a theologian, but at all events I should have been able to show a side of the Catholic religion more theological, more exact, than theirs. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Lord Blatchford, February 5, 1875.
There was true private judgment in the primitive and medieval schools. There are no schools now, no private judgment (in the religious sense of the phrase), no freedom of opinion. That is, no exercise of the intellect. This is a way of things which in God’s own time, will work its own cure of necessity. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Emily Bowles, May 19, 1863.
John Newman, c. 1845, Richard Woodman, after Sir William Charles Ross, stipple engraving, 11 1/2 in. x 9 1/2 in. (291 mm x 241 mm) plate size, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw198540/John-Newman?LinkID=mp03281&wPage=1&role=sit&rNo=24
This age of the Church is peculiar. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Emily Bowles, May 19, 1863.
Everything is good which brings matters to a crisis. It is not the matter of the document, but the animus of its authors, and their mode of doing it, which is so trying. Will not the next century demand Popes who are no Italians? St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to William Monsell, January 12, 1865.
The Fathers made me a Catholic, and I am not going to kick down the ladder by which I ascended into the Church. It is a ladder quite as serviceable for that purpose now, as it was twenty years ago. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D.
We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a Pope to live 20 years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Lady Simeon, November 18, 1870.
There is no evil without its alleviation. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Bishop David Moriarty, November 14, 1866.
To be at once infallible in religion and a despot in temporals is perhaps too great for mortal man. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Letter to Mrs. William Frounde, January 2, 1871.
Truth is the guiding principle of theology and theological inquiries; devotion and edification, of worship; and of government, expedience. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), The Via Media of the Anglican Church Illustrated in Lectures, Letters and Tracts written between 1830 and 1841.
The instrument of theology is reasoning; of worship, our emotional nature; of rule, command and coercion. Further, as man is, reasoning tends to rationalism; devotion to superstition and enthusiasm; and power to ambition and tyranny. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), The Via Media of the Anglican Church Illustrated in Lectures, Letters and Tracts written between 1830 and 1841.
Now all of us are sinners, all of us have need to come to God as the Publican did; every one, if he does but search his heart, and watch his conduct, and try to do his duty, will find himself to be full of sins which provoke God’s wrath. I do not mean to say that all men are equally sinners; some are wilful sinners, and of them there is no hope, till they repent; others sin, but they try to avoid sinning, pray to God to make them better, and come to church to be made better; but all men are quite sinners enough to make it their duty to behave as the Publican. Every one ought to come into Church as the Publican did, to say in his heart, “Lord, I am not worthy to enter this sacred place; my only plea for coming is the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour.” St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Sermon, Reverence in Worship, October 30, 1836 (PPS-8).