Photographic portrait, John Henry Cardinal Newman, 1880.
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).
“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 is 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
Photographic Portrait of John Henry Cardinal Newman (1880).