CNS PHOTO/COURTESY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND WALES
CARDINAL JOHN HENRY NEWMAN
(1801-1890), whom Pope Benedict XVI
will beatify September 19 at Cofton
Park near Birmingham, England, was
exceptional in many ways: as a highly
respected Anglican theologian, priest
and leader of the Oxford Movement, then as a Roman
Catholic priest, theologian and spiritual director and,
finally, as a major influence on several key issues at Vatican
II. He will now be the first person beatified by Pope
Benedict XVI, who has designated others to celebrate
Masses during which someone is declared blessed.
This writer was present in Rome's Chiesa Nuova (New Church) on April 28, 1990, when Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger enthusiastically described his 1946 introduction
to Newman's writings. During that symposium
(entitled "John Henry Newman: Lover of Truth"),
Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about his appreciation of
Newman, especially regarding conscience.
Newman was declared Venerable in 1991.
official recognition of Newman's intercession in the
miraculous cure of Deacon Jack Sullivan of Marshfield,
Massachusetts (see "U.S. Deacon Miraculously Cured"), was the
final step for this month's beatification.
Finding a Spiritual Home
Born in London to John and Jemina Newman, John
Henry was the eldest of six children. He studied at
Oxford's Trinity College, was elected a fellow of Oriel
College (1822), was ordained an Anglican priest (1825)
and three years later became vicar of St. Mary the Virgin
Church, the university church. Newman was also
responsible for its parish in nearby Littlemore. Between
1826 and 1845, he tutored at Oriel College. He was
always concerned for students' moral development
and their intellectual growth.
In 1832 he accompanied Richard Hurrell Froude, a
friend, to Italy. Newman became extremely ill in Sicily
and composed the poem "Lead, Kindly Light." (It
eventually became part of his Dream of Gerontius, an
1865 poem that Sir Edward Elgar set to music. Newman,
who played the violin, composed the lyrics for the
hymn "Praise to the Holiest in the Heights.")
On returning to Oxford, Newman heard John Keble
preach "The National Apostasy." That famous sermon
launched the Oxford Movement, which emphasized
the Church of England's debt to the Church Fathers and
challenged some of its liberal ideas, especially its tendency
to assert that truth is completely subjective.
Newman wrote several Tracts for the Times (1833-41),
the movement's pamphlets that were highly praised by
some Church of England members and bitterly
denounced by others. Newman's Tract 90 argued that
the 39 Articles, a foundational document for the Church
of England, could be understood as compatible with
the theology of the Church Fathers, whom Newman
had begun studying intensely. Tract 90 was censured
by the university; the bishop of Oxford requested that
no further tracts be published.
Although these developments complicated Newman's
friendships with leaders of the Oxford Movement,
he remained on good terms with many of them
for the rest of their lives. He prayed for all of them.
By 1843, Newman had published three books and
six volumes of his Parochial and Plain Sermons (preached
at the university church). He would eventually publish
40 books and write 21,000 letters that Oxford University
Press has published in 31 volumes. (See 'Nothing of a Saint About Me')
After Newman resigned his position at St. Mary
Church in 1843, he withdrew to Littlemore with several
friends to consider his future as an Anglican.
While writing his book-length Essay on the Development
of Christian Doctrine, he was received into the Roman
Catholic Church by Blessed Domenico Barberi, an
Italian Passionist, on October 9, 1845.
Newman soon attended the Roman seminary run by
the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, joined the Oratory religious community
and in 1847 was ordained a Catholic
priest. Back in England, he began an
Oratory house in Maryvale, near Birmingham.
In 1849, Newman opened Oratory
houses in Birmingham and in London.
He set up the Catholic University of
Ireland and served as its rector from
1851 to 1858. His book The Idea of a
University dates from this period.
Newman was encouraged in 1859 to
become editor of The Rambler, a
Catholic magazine. His rocky three-month
tenure ended with its July issue,
which contained his essay On Consulting
the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.
During the fourth-century Arian heresy,
he argued, lay Catholics deserved more
credit than their bishops for maintaining
the orthodox faith taught by the
Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
A Catholic bishop in England denounced
Newman to the Holy See's
Sacred Congregation of the Universal
Inquisition. Msgr. George Talbot, an
Englishman at the Vatican, described
Newman as "the most dangerous man
in England." Talbot asked, "What is
the province of the laity?" and smugly
responded: "To hunt, to shoot, to entertain.
These matters they understand,
but to meddle in ecclesiastical affairs
they have no right at all." (This is probably
the basis for the phrase that lay
Catholics must "pray, pay and obey.")
Although Newman founded and
taught in Birmingham's Oratory school,
he was distrusted by many Anglicans
and Roman Catholics.
While reviewing another writer's book,
Charles Kingsley offhandedly remarked,
"Truth, for its own sake, had never been
a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father
Newman informs us that it need not,
and on the whole, ought not to be...."
On July 3, 2009, Catholic News Service
reported that the Holy See
accepted as miraculous the 2001 cure
of Deacon Jack Sullivan of Marshfield,
Massachusetts. Husband, father
of three, once a lawyer and then a
magistrate, Sullivan was a candidate
for the permanent diaconate in the
Archdiocese of Boston. When he
began experiencing severe back pain because lumbar vertebrae and disks
were squeezing his spinal column and affecting the nerves going to his
legs, surgery was advised to avoid complete paralysis.
Sullivan told St. Anthony Messenger that he prayed, "Please, Cardinal
Newman, help me to walk so that I can go back to classes and be
ordained." He was able to walk pain-free.
After the pain returned several months later, Sullivan had surgery yet
was unable to walk. He again prayed to Newman. "And suddenly,
right after I said the end of the prayer, I felt a tremendous heat—very,
very warm and a tingling feeling all over and this lasted quite a long
time. And I was completely absorbed with a tremendous feeling of peace,
tranquillity, of joy and of confidence. And as I say, I was just captured
by this experience, which we've come to realize was a supernatural experience."
Sullivan began walking without medication, was able to finish his
deacon internship and completed his final courses.
Doctors confirmed that there was no medical explanation for Sullivan's
recovery before his 2001 ordination as a deacon. He now serves
in parish and prison ministry.
A five-minute interview with Deacon Sullivan is available at
www.FranciscanRadio.org/AmericanCatholicRadio.asp. Click the
link to Program 1038.
After Kingsley refused to retract that
statement, Newman wrote a seven-part
newspaper response between April and
June of 1864. He vigorously defended
his intellectual integrity—first as an
Anglican and then as a Roman Catholic.
Published as Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Defense of His Life), this spiritual autobiography
brought Newman back to
public attention and remains his most
widely read book.
He recalled that at the age of 15 "a
great change of thought took place in
me. I fell under the influence of a definite
Creed, and received into my intellect
impressions of dogmas, which,
through God's mercy, have never been
effaced or obscured."
Newman's views on papal infallibility
were of great interest before the
First Vatican Council (1869-70), which
defined that doctrine. He accepted the
Council's teaching while noting its limits,
which few people who favored the
definition were quick to do.
In 1878, Newman was elected an
honorary fellow of Oxford's Trinity College
and was very glad to visit that
building and reconnect with old
In 1879, a year after Leo XIII became
pope, John Henry Newman was named
a cardinal. After being assured that he
could continue to live in England, he
accepted the nomination.
"The cloud is lifted," said Newman
on learning of this appointment. He
chose as his motto Cor ad cor loquitur ("Heart speaks to heart"), a phrase from
St. Francis de Sales.
(In the 20th century, Pope Paul VI
and Pope John Paul II would similarly
appoint as cardinals three eminent theologians
who had been officially suspect
in the 1950s but whose work
became crucial at Vatican II [1962-65]:
Jean Danielou, S.J., Henri DeLubac, S.J.,
and Yves Congar, O.P.)
Newman died on August 11, 1890,
and was buried in Rednal. He chose as
his epitaph Ex Umbris et Imaginis in Veritatem ("From Shadows and Images Into
the Truth"). Newman's remains were
exhumed in 2008 and reburied in Birmingham's
The late Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.,
described John Henry Newman as the
most seminal Catholic theologian of
the 19th century. Before Newman,
Catholic theology tended to emphasize
deduction from first principles disconnected
from human history. After
Newman, the lived experience of believers
was recognized as a key part of theological
Immediately after Vatican II ended,
Bishop Robert Dwyer of Reno, Nevada,
described Cardinal John Henry Newman
as the council's "absent father."
Many of Vatican II's bishops ("fathers")
and theological experts, including
Father Joseph Ratzinger, were deeply
indebted to Newman's historical, sacramental
and scriptural approaches to
theology. In an October 1964 speech at
the Council, Archbishop Lawrence
Sheehan of Baltimore quoted Newman.
Last year Father Ian Ker wrote that
Newman's theology, which "seemed so
radical, even dangerous in his own
time, was always deeply historical and
sensitive to the [Church's] Tradition,
as well as respectful of the teaching
authority of the Church.
"In the post-conciliar time in which
we are living, I believe that John Henry
Newman is an invaluable guide to a
true understanding of the Council, free
from distortions and exaggerations, an
understanding that is informed by a
sense of history and the development
of doctrine, as well as by an appreciation
of the limitations of councils and
their relationship to each other"
(L'Osservatore Romano, English edition,
July 22, 2009).
In his address to participants in Rome's
1990 symposium, Pope John Paul II
emphasized four lessons that Newman
"holds out to the Church and to the
world of culture":
• the need for an interior disposition
of loving obedience to God,
• a lifelong quest for holiness and
union with Christ,
• the unity between theology and
science, between the world of faith and
the world of reason, and
• a love for the Church as the continuing
outpouring of God's love for people
in every phase of history.
Anglican Archbishop Robert Runcie
of Canterbury wrote on the same occasion:
"Newman occupies a unique place
in the history of both our traditions. As
an Anglican, he reminded us of our
roots in the Fathers and of our faith
within Catholic Christendom. As a
Catholic, he helped towards a better
understanding of the history of dogma
and prepared for the great developments
this century in the Second Vatican
John Henry Newman's ongoing
influence is reflected in many ways,
including the following:
• A Newman Club for Catholic students
began at the University of Pennsylvania
in 1893, a mere three years
after Newman's death. Five years after
that, the Oxford University Newman
Society opened. As more Catholics attended
public universities in the United
States, Newman Clubs or Centers were
established as places for praying, socializing
and growing into an adult faith.
Although "Catholic Campus Ministry"
is the more common term now, Newman's
influence remains strong.
• The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic
Church cites John Henry Newman four
times, including "Conscience is the aboriginal
Vicar of Christ" (#1778, taken
from Newman's 1876 letter to the Duke
of Norfolk). This is more often than 19
of the Doctors of the Church are quoted.
Several are cited more often than Newman
and others not at all. Some people
have suggested that Newman should
be added to their number.
• In his 1993 encyclical, The Splendor
of Truth, Pope John Paul II wrote: "As
Cardinal John Henry Newman, that
outstanding defender of the rights of
conscience, forcefully puts it: 'Conscience
has rights because it has duties'"
• In his sermon at the Mass opening
the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger denounced today's "dictatorship
of relativism." That echoes
Newman's 1879 declaration, "Liberalism
in religion is the doctrine that there
is no positive truth in religion, but that
one creed is as good as another, and this
is the teaching which is gaining substance
and force daily" (speech on
accepting official notice of his appointment
as a cardinal).
Although John Henry Newman was
controversial during his lifetime, few
then or now would deny that he was "a
lover of truth" or that he placed his
formidable intellectual gifts and great
pastoral sensitivity at the service of the
Good News of Jesus Christ. Perhaps
Newman's greatest legacy is summarized
in this prayer that he composed:
"God has created me to do Him some
definite service. He has committed
some work to me which He has not
committed to another.
"I have a mission; I may never know
it in this life, but I shall be told it in the
next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of
connection between persons; He has
not created me for naught.
"I shall do good—I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace while not
intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust
Many writings by and about John
Henry Newman are available at www.newmanreader.org. The Newman Association
of America can be contacted
through www.newmanassociationofamerica.org. The official beatification
Web site is www.newmancause.co.uk.
The following excerpts are from Newman's letters and
• "I think I see clearly that honour and fame are not
desirable. God is leading me through life in the way best
adapted for His glory and my own salvation." (1821, to
Walter Mayers, his teacher at Ealing School)
• "A union with Rome, while it is what it is, is impossible;
it is a dream. As to the individual members of the
cruel church, who can but love and feel for them?" (1833,
to John Frederick Christie, a friend from Oriel College)
• "It has truly grieved me to hear of the severe trials you
are under, though really such trials are our portion. I think
one may say it without exaggeration, but they who seek
God do (as it were) come for affliction." (1837, to Henry
Edward Manning, whose wife was ill and soon died; Manning
later became cardinal archbishop of Westminster)
• "Faith can make a hero but love makes a saint."
(1839, Parochial and Plain Sermons, IV)
• "In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to
live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed
often." (1845, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,
• "I have nothing of a Saint about me as every one
knows, and it is a severe (and salutary) mortification to be
thought next door to one....I have no tendency to be a
saint—it is a sad thing to say. Saints are not literary men,
they do not love the classics, they do not write Tales."
(1850, to Miss G. Munro, for whom Newman served as
• "The world grows old, but the Church is ever
young....Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this
English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn
out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of
hope and fear, of joy and suffering,—of bright promise
and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold
showers and sudden storms?" (1852, "A Second Spring,"
sermon preached at the first Provincial Synod of Westminster)
• "For years I used almost as proverbs what I considered
to be the scope and issue of [Thomas Scott of Ashton
Sandford's] doctrine, 'Holiness rather than peace' and
'Growth the only evidence of life.' (1864, Apologia Pro
Vita Sua, Chapter I)
• "To write theology is like dancing on the tight rope
some hundred feet above the ground. It is hard to keep
from falling, and the fall is great." (1866, to Emily Bowles,
who became a Catholic in 1843 and often wrote to him)
(The letters are quoted from A Packet of Letters: A
Selection From the Correspondence of John Henry
Newman, edited with an introduction by Joyce Sugg,
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983.)