John Henry Newman

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John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman (February 21 1801August 11 1890) was an English convert to Catholicism, later made a cardinal. In early life he was a major figure in the Oxford Movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots. Eventually his studies in history convinced him to become a Roman Catholic. Both before and after his conversion he wrote a number of influential books, including Via Media, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and the Grammar of Assent.



John Henry Newman was born in London, the eldest son of John Newman, banker, of the firm of Ramsbottom, Newman and Co. The Newman family was understood to be of Dutch extraction, and the name itself, spelt "Newmann" in an earlier generation, further suggests Hebrew origin. His mother, Jemima Fourdrinier, was of a Huguenot family, long established in London as engravers and paper manufacturers. John Henry was the eldest of six children. The second son, Charles Robert, a man of ability but of impracticable temper, a professed atheist and a recluse, died in 1884. The youngest son, Francis William, was for many years professor of Latin in University College, London. Two of the three daughters, Harriett Elizabeth and Jemima Charlotte, married brothers, Thomas and John Mozley; and Anne Mozley, a daughter of the latter, edited in 1892 Newman’s Anglican Life and Correspondence, having been entrusted by him in 1885 with an autobiography written in the third person to form the basis of a narrative of the first thirty years of his life. The third daughter, Mary Sophia, died unmarried in 1828.


At the age of seven Newman was sent to a private school conducted by Dr. Nicholas at Ealing, where he was distinguished by diligence and good conduct, as also by a certain shyness and aloofness, taking no part in the school games. He speaks of himself as having been "very superstitious" in these early years. He took great delight in reading the Bible, and also the novels of Walter Scott, then in course of publication. Later, he read some skeptical works by Paine, Hume, and perhaps Voltaire, and was for a time influenced by them. At the age of fifteen, during his last year at school, he was converted, an incident of which he wrote in his Apologia that it was "more certain than that I have hands or feet." It was in the autumn of 1816 that he thus "fell under the influence of a definite creed," and received into his intellect "impressions of dogma, which, through God's mercy, have never been effaced or obscured" (Apologia, part 3 [1] (

The tone of his mind was at this date evangelical and Calvinistic, and he held that the pope was Antichrist. Matriculating at Trinity College, Oxford on December 4 1816, he went into residence there in June the following year, and in 1818 he gained a scholarship of £60, tenable for nine years. But for this he would have been unable to remain at the university, as in 1819 his father’s bank suspended payment. In that year his name was entered at Lincoln's Inn. Anxiety to do well in the final schools produced the opposite result; he broke down in the examination, and so graduated with third-class honours in 1821. Desiring to remain in Oxford, he took private pupils and read for a fellowship at Oriel, then "the acknowledged centre of Oxford intellectualism." To his intense relief and delight he was elected on April 12 1822. Edward Bouverie Pusey was elected a fellow of the same society in 1823.

Anglican priest

On Trinity Sunday, June 13 1824, Newman was ordained, and became, at Pusey’s suggestion, curate of St Clement’s, Oxford. Here for two years he was busily engaged in parochial work, but he found time to write articles on Apollonius of Tyana,on Cicero and on Miracles for the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana. In 1825, at Richard Whately's request, he became vice-principal of St Alban’s Hall, but this post he held for one year only. To his association with Whately at this time he attributed much of his "mental improvement" and a partial conquest of his shyness. He assisted Whately in his popular work on logic, and from him he gained his first definite idea of the Christian Church. He broke with him in 1827 on the occasion of the re-election of Robert Peel for the University, Newman opposing this on personal grounds. In 1826 he became tutor of Oriel, and the same year Richard Hurrell Froude, described by Newman as "one of the acutest, cleverest and deepest men" he ever met, was elected fellow. The two formed a high ideal of the tutorial office as clerical and pastoral rather than secular. In 1827 he was a preacher at Whitehall.

The Oxford Movement

The year following, Newman supported and secured the election of Hawkins as provost of Oriel in preference to John Keble, a choice which he later defended or apologized for as having in effect produced the Oxford Movement with all its consequences. In the same year he was appointed vicar of St Mary’s, to which the chapelry of Littlemore was attached, and Pusey was made regius professor of Hebrew.

At this date, though still nominally associated with the Evangelicals, Newman’s views were gradually assuming a higher ecclesiastical tone, and while local secretary of the Church Missionary Society he circulated an anonymous letter suggesting a method by which Churchmen might practically oust Nonconformists from all control of the society. This resulted in his being dismissed from the post, March 8 1830; and three months later he withdrew from the Bible Society, thus completing his severance from the Low Church party. In 1831—1832 he was select preacher before the University. In 1832, his difference with Hawkins as to the "substantially religious nature" of a college tutorship becoming acute, he resigned that post.

Mediterranean travels

In December he went with Hurrell Froude, on account of the latter's health, for a tour in South Europe. On board the mail steamship Hermes they visited Gibraltar, Malta and the Ionian Islands, and subsequently Sicily, Naples and Rome, where Newman made the acquaintance of Nicholas Wiseman. In a letter home he described Rome as "the most wonderful place on earth," but the Roman Catholic religion as "polytheistic, degrading and idolatrous." It was during the course of this tour that he wrote most of the short poems which a year later were printed in the Lyra Apostolica. From Rome Newman returned to Sicily alone, and was dangerously ill with fever at Leonforte, recovering from it with the conviction that he had a work to do in England. In June 1833 he left Palermo for Marseilles in an orange boat, which was becalmed in the Strait of Bonifacio, and here he wrote the verses, "Lead, kindly Light", which later became popular as a hymn.

The Tracts for the Times

He was at home again in Oxford on the July 9 and on the 14th Keble preached at St Mary’s an assize sermon on "National Apostasy," which Newman afterwards regarded as the inauguration of the Oxford Movement. In the words of Richard William Church, it was "Keble who inspired, Froude who gave the impetus and Newman who took up the work"; but the first organization of it was due to H. J. Rose, editor of the British Magazine, who has been styled "the Cambridge originator of the Oxford Movement." It was in his rectory house at Hadleigh, Suffolk, that a meeting of High Church clergymen was held, 25th to 26th of July (Newman was not present), at which it was resolved to fight for "the apostolical succession and the integrity of the Prayer-Book."

A few weeks later Newman started, apparently on his own initiative, the Tracts for the Times, from which the movement was subsequently named "Tractarian." Its aim was to secure for the Church of England a definite basis of doctrine and discipline, in case either of disestablishment or of a determination of High Churchmen to quit the establishment, an eventuality that was thought not impossible in view of the state's recent high-handed dealings with the sister established Church of Ireland. The teaching of the tracts was supplemented by Newman's Sunday afternoon sermons at St Mary's, the influence of which, especially over the junior members of the university, was increasingly marked during a period of eight years. In 1835 Pusey joined the movement, which, so far as concerned ritual observances, was later called "Puseyite"; and in 1836 its supporters secured further coherence by their united opposition to the appointment of Hampden as regius professor of divinity. His Bampton Lectures (in the preparation of which Blanco White had assisted him) were suspected of heresy, and this suspicion was accentuated by a pamphlet put forth by Newman, Elucidations of Dr Hampden's Theological Statements.

At this date Newman became editor of the British Critic, and he also gave courses of lectures in a side-chapel of St Mary's in defence of the via media ("middle way") of the Anglican Church as between Catholicism and popular Protestantism.

His influence in Oxford was supreme about the year 1839, when, however, his study of the monophysite heresy first raised in his mind a doubt as to whether the Anglican position was really tenable on those principles of ecclesiastical authority which he had accepted. This doubt returned when he read, in Wiseman's article in the Dublin Review on "The Anglican Claim," the words of Augustine of Hippo against the Donatists, "securus judicat orbis terrarum" ("the verdict of the world is conclusive"), words which suggested a simpler authoritative rule than that of the teaching of antiquity. He said of his reaction,

For a mere sentence, the words of St. Augustine, struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words before ..... they were like the 'Tolle, lege, — Tolle, lege,' of the child, which converted St Augustine himself. 'Securus judicat orbis terrarum!' By those great words of the ancient Father, interpreting and summing up the long and varied course of ecclesiastical history, the theology of the Via Media was absolutely pulverised. (Apologia, part 5)

He continued his work, however, as a High Anglican controversialist until he had published, in 1841, Tract 90, the last of the series, in which be put forth, as a kind of proof charge, to test the tenability of all Catholic doctrine within the Church of England, a detailed examination of the 39 Articles, suggesting that their negations were not directed against the authorized creed of Roman Catholics, but only against popular errors and exaggerations.

This theory, though not altogether new, aroused much indignation in Oxford, and Archibald Campbell Tait (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury), with three other senior tutors, denounced it as "suggesting and opening a way by which men might violate their solemn engagements to the university." The alarm was shared by the heads of houses and by others in authority; and, at the request of the bishop of Oxford, the publication of the Tracts came to an end.

Last years as an Anglican

At this date Newman also resigned the editorship of the British Critic, and was thenceforth, as he himself later described it, "on his deathbed as regards membership with the Anglican Church." He now recognized that the position of Anglicans was similar to that of the semi-Arians in the Arian controversy; and the arrangement made at this time that an Anglican bishopric should be established in Jerusalem, the appointment to lie alternately with the British and Prussian governments, was to him further evidence that the Church of England was not apostolic.

In 1842 he withdrew to Littlemore, and lived there under monastic conditions with a small band of followers, their life being one of great physical austerity as well as of anxiety and suspense. To his disciples there he assigned the task of writing lives of the English saints, while his own time was largely devoted to the completion of an Essay on the development of Christian doctrine, by which principle he sought to reconcile himself to the more complex creed and the practical system of the Roman Catholic Church. In February 1843 he published, as an advertisement in the Oxford Conservative Journal, an anonymous but otherwise formal retractation of all the hard things he had said against Rome; and in September, after the secession of one of the inmates of the house, he preached his last Anglican sermon at Littlemore and resigned the living of St Mary’s.

Going Over to Rome

An interval of two years elapsed before he was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church (October 9 1845) by Father Dominic, an Italian Passionist. In February 1846 he left Oxford for Oscott, where Bishop Wiseman, then vicar-apostolic of the Midland district, resided; and in October he proceeded to Rome, where he was ordained priest by Giacomo Filippo Cardinal Fransoni and was given the degree of D.D. by Pope Pius IX. At the close of 1847 he returned to England as an Oratorian, and resided first at Maryvale (near Oscott); then at St Wilfrid’s College, Cheadle; then at St Ann’s, Alcester Street, Birmingham; and finally at Edgbaston, where spacious premises were built for the community, and where (except for four years in Ireland) he lived a secluded life for nearly forty years. An Oratory School was associated with this establishment.Before the house at Edgbaston was occupied he had established the London Oratory, with Father Faber as its superior, and there (in King William Street, Strand) he delivered a course of lectures on "The Present Position of Catholics in England," in the fifth of which he protested against the anti-Catholic utterances of Dr Achilli, an ex-Dominican friar, whom he accused in detail of numerous acts of immorality.

Popular Protestant feeling ran very high at the time, partly in consequence of the recent establishment of a Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy by Pius IX, and criminal proceedings against Newman for libel resulted in an acknowledged gross miscarriage of justice. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to pay a fine of £100, while his expenses as defendant amounted to about £14,000, a sum that was at once raised by public subscription, a surplus being spent on the purchase of Rednall, a small property picturesquely situated on the Lickey Hills, with a chapel and cemetery, where Newman now lies buried. In 1854, at the request of the Irish bishops, Newman went to Dublin as rector of the newly-established Catholic University of Ireland there, now University College Dublin. But practical organization was not among his gifts, and the bishops became jealous of his influence, so that after four years he retired, the best outcome of his stay there being a volume of lectures entitled The Idea of a University, containing some of his most effective writing:

"...the high protecting power of all knowledge and science, of fact and principle, of inquiry and discovery of experiment and speculation..."

In 1858 he projected a branch house of the Oratory at Oxford; but this was opposed by Cardinal Manning and others, as likely to induce Catholics to send their sons to that university, and the scheme was abandoned. In 1859 he established, in connection with the Birmingham Oratory, a school for the education of the sons of gentlemen on lines similar to those of the English public schools, an important work in which he never ceased to take the greatest interest.

The Apologia

All this time (since 1841) Newman had been under a cloud, so far as concerned the great mass of cultivated Englishmen, and he was now awaiting an opportunity to vindicate his career; and in 1862 he began to prepare autobiographical and other memoranda for the purpose. The occasion -came when, in January 1864, Charles Kingsley, reviewing J.A. Froude’s History of England in Macmillan’s Magazine, incidentally asserted that "Father Newman informs us that truth for its own sake need not be, and on the whole ought not to be, a virtue of the Roman clergy." After some preliminary sparring between the two—Newman’s pamphlet, Mr Kingsley and Dr Newman: a Correspondence on the Question whether Dr Newman teaches that Truth is no Virtue, published in 1864 and not reprinted until 1913, is unsurpassed in the English language for the vigour of its satire: the anger displayed was later, in a letter to Sir William Cope, admitted to have been largely feigned—Newman published in bi-monthly parts his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, a religious autobiography of unsurpassed interest, the simple confidential tone of which "revolutionized the popular estimate of its author," establishing the strength and sincerity of the convictions which had led him into the Roman Catholic Church. Kingsley’s accusation indeed, in so far as it concerned the Roman clergy generally, was not precisely dealt with; only a passing sentence, in an appendix on lying and equivocation, maintained that English Catholic priests are as truthful as English Catholic laymen; but of the author’s own personal rectitude no room for doubt was left. Newman published a revision of the series of pamphlets in book form in 1865; in 1913 a combined critical edition, edited by Wilfrid Ward, was published.

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Newman near the end of his life

Later years

In 1870 he put forth his Grammar of Assent, the most closely reasoned of his works, in which the case for religious belief is maintained by arguments differing somewhat from those commonly used by Roman Catholic theologians; and in 1877, in the republication of his Anglican works, he added to the two volumes containing his defence of the via media a long preface and numerous notes in which he criticized and replied to sundry anti-Catholic arguments of his own in the original issues. At the time of the First Vatican Council (1869—1870) he was known to be opposed to the definition of Papal infallibility, and in a private letter to his bishop (Ullathorne), surreptitiously published, he denounced the "insolent and aggressive faction" that had pushed the matter forward.

But he made no sign of disapproval when the doctrine was defined, and subsequently, in a letter nominally addressed to the duke of Norfolk on the occasion of Mr William Ewart Gladstone’s accusing the Roman Church of having "equally repudiated modern thought and ancient history," Newman affirmed that he had always believed the doctrine, and had only feared the deterrent effect of its definition on conversions on account of acknowledged historical difficulties. In this letter, and especially in the postscript to the second edition of it, Newman finally silenced all cavaillers as to his not being really at ease within the Roman Church. In 1878 his old college, to his great delight, elected him an honorary fellow, and he revisited Oxford after an interval of thirty-two years. At the same date died Pope Pius IX., who had long mistrusted him; and Pope Leo XIII was encouraged by the duke of Norfolk and other distinguished Roman Catholic laymen to make Newman a cardinal, the distinction being a marked one, because he was a simple priest and not resident in Rome. The offer was made in February 1879, and the announcement of it was received with universal applause throughout the English-speaking world. The "creation" took place on May 12, with the title of St George in Velabro, Newman taking occasion while in Rome to insist on the lifelong consistency of his opposition to "liberalism in religion."

After an illness that excited apprehension he returned to England, and thenceforward resided at the Oratory until his death, making occasional visits to London, and chiefly to his old friend, R. W. Church, dean of St Paul’s, who as proctor had vetoed the condemnation of Tract 90 in 1841. As cardinal Newman published nothing beyond a preface to a work by A. W. Hutton on the Anglican Ministry (1879) and an article "On the Inspiration of Scripture" in The Nineteenth Century (February 1884).


Newman’s influence as controversialist and preacher was very great. (He wrote his sermons out beforehand and read them aloud; he was never an extempore speaker.) For the Catholic Church his conversion secured great prestige and the dissipation of many prejudices. Within it his influence was mainly in the direction of a broader spirit and of a recognition of the important part played by development both in doctrine and in Church government. And although he never called himself a mystic, he showed that in his judgment spiritual truth is apprehended by direct intuition, as an antecedent necessity to the professedly purely rational basis of the Roman Catholic creed. Within the Anglican Church, and even within the more strictly Protestant Churches, his influence was greater, but in a different direction, viz, in showing the necessity of dogma and the indispensableness of the austere, ascetic, chastened and graver side of the Christian religion.

If his teaching as to the Church was less widely followed, it was because of doubts as to the thoroughness of his knowledge of history and as to his freedom from bias as a critic. Some hundreds of clergymen, influenced by the movement of which for ten or twelve years he was the acknowledged leader, made their submission to the Church of Rome; but a very much larger number, who also came under its influence, failed to learn from him that belief in the Church involves belief in the pope. The natural tendency of his mind is often (and correctly) spoken of as sceptical.

He held that, apart from an interior and unreasoned conviction, there is no cogent proof of the existence of God; and in Tract 85 he dealt with the difficulties of the Creed and of the canon of Scripture, with the apparent implication that they are insurmountable unless overridden by the authority of an infallible Church. In his own case these views did not lead to scepticism, because he had always possessed the necessary interior conviction; and in writing Tract 85 his only doubt would have been where the true Church is to be found. But, so far as the rest of the world is concerned, his teaching amounts to this: that the man who has not this interior conviction has no choice but to remain an agnostic, while the man who has it is bound sooner or later to become a Catholic.


He was a man of magnetic personality, with an intense belief in the significance of his own career; and his character had strengths as well as weaknesses. As a poet he had inspiration and genuine power. Some of his short and earlier poems, in spite of a characteristic element of fierceness and intolerance in one or two cases, are described by R. H. Hutton as "unequalled for grandeur of outline, purity of taste and radiance of total effect"; while his latest and longest, The Dream of Gerontius, is generally recognized as the happiest effort to represent the unseen world that has been made since the time of Dante. His prose style, especially in his Catholic days, is fresh and vigorous, and is attractive to many who do not sympathize with his conclusions, from the apparent candour with which difficulties are admitted and grappled with, while in his private correspondence there is a charm that places it at the head of that branch of English literature.

He was too sensitive and self-conscious to be altogether successful as a leader of men, and too impetuous to take part in public affairs; but he had many of the gifts that go to make a first-rate journalist, for, "with all his love for and his profound study of antiquity, there was something about him that was conspicuously modern." Nevertheless, with the scientific and critical literature of the years 1850—1890 he was barely acquainted, and he knew no German. There are a few passages in his writings in which he seems to show some sympathy with a broader theology. Thus he admitted that there was "something true and divinely revealed in every religion" (Arians of the Fourth Century, 1.3 [2] ( He held that "freedom from symbols and articles is abstractedly the highest state of Christian communion," but was "the peculiar privilege of the primitive Church." (Ibid, 1.2 [3] (

Even in 1877 he allowed that "in a religion that embraces large and separate classes of adherents there always is of necessity to a certain extent an exoteric and an esoteric doctrine." (Prophetical Office, preface to third edition[4] ( These admissions, together with his elucidation of the idea of doctrinal development and his eloquent assertion of the supremacy of conscience, have led some critics to hold that, in spite of all his protests to the contrary, he was himself somewhat of a Liberal. But it is certain that he explained to his own satisfaction and accepted every item of the Roman Catholic creed, even going beyond it, as in holding the pope to be infallible in canonization; and while expressing his preference for English as compared with Italian devotional forms, he was himself one of the first to introduce such into England, together with the ritual peculiarities of the local Roman Church. The motto that he adopted for use with the arms emblazoned for him as cardinal—Cor ad cor loquitur, and that which he directed to be engraved on his memorial tablet at Edgbaston—Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem—together seem to disclose as much as can be disclosed of the secret of a life which, both to contempolaries and to later students, has been one of almost fascinating interest, at once devout and inquiring, affectionate and yet sternly self-restrained.

From the 1911 Encyclopedia

Newman and Manning

The two great figures of the late nineteenth century Roman Catholic Church in England were both cardinals and former Anglican clergymen. Yet there was little sympathy between them. Perhaps it was inevitable they should have been rivals, two luminaries in a such a small world. But there was more.

There was added to the natural rivalry of a St. Jerome and a St. Augustine, the lack of sympathy between a theologian and a practical pastor, between a scholar and a man of affairs. Newman's nature was, as seen above, somewhat feminine, while Henry Edward Cardinal Manning was an outdoorsman, once married to a much beloved wife. One was a university don, the other a champion of the working man, one a recluse, the other a great figure of late Victorian society, one of Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians.

It is difficult to place such labels as liberal and conservative on Newman and Manning. The very act of becoming Catholic in mid ninteenth century England caused them to be seen as arch-reactionaries in contemporary circles. But within the Catholic context, Newman is theologically the more liberal because of his reservations about the declaration of papal infallibility. Manning was totally in line with the Vatican on this issue. However, it is Manning who has the modern approach to social justice. Indeed, he may be seen as the great pioneer of modern Catholic social justice teaching.He had a major role in shaping the famous encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum. This makes him rather more left than Newman.

They were both remarkable men. Some believe Newman to be the greatest master of prose nonfiction ever. His influence made many notable converts for the English Roman Catholic Church and his definition of liberal education has not been surpassed.

Manning changed history. Without his new ideas on social justice, most of the working people of Europe and America may have been lost to the Catholic Church. His credibility and popularity made the Catholic Church in England respectable and influential, after years of persecution.

Cause for his canonization

In 1991 he was proclaimed venerable. The cause for his canonization is ongoing.

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