John Henry Newman. Part One – The Man

Cardinal John Henry Newman

In a matter of weeks the Holy Father will come to Birmingham to beatify the Ven. Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Views on this saintly man are varied with many Catholics knowing very little about him. To non-Catholics his authorship of the Dream of Gerontius set to music by Sir Edward Elgar seems to be his main glory! In three parts  let us look at at Cardinal Newman, as the man, as the priest and as the saint.

John Henry Newman was  born in London in 1801 and was the eldest son of a banker. His family were nominally members of the Church of England, but are not thought to have had any particular religious tendancies! Aged 7 the young John was sent to Ealing School where, at the age of 16yrs he talks of ‘a profound religious conversion’ which he described as setting him on the path to find ‘spiritual perfection’. Quite an aspiration for a 16yr old do you not think?

Newman was as you might imagine, a scholarly boy, and went up to Oxford (Trinity) where he would later be elected a Fellow of Oriel College. His chosen path was in the Anglican Church, and after ordination he became a curate and later vicar at St. Mary’s Oxford. It was during this period that he became known for the eloquence of his sermons (as shown in ‘Parochial and Plain Sermons’). At the same time he also worked as a college tutor which gave him the opportunity to research his own work ‘The Arians of the 4th century. Whilst on holiday in the Mediteranean he became seriously ill, and it could be said that this illness altered the course of his life. He became certain that God had spared him for some special purpose. I am sure you will remember the words of Newman:

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 my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told in the next.

On his return to Oxford he founded the Oxford Movement which was intended to combat the spiritual stagnation, interferance from the state, and doctrinal unorthodoxy within the Church of England.

As time went on, and after studying the early Church Fathers,during his studies at Oxford, John Henry began to realize that the position of the Church of England bore a close resemblance to that of the early heretics and that only the Roman Catholic Church was ‘One Fold of Christ’.You might imagine – this did not endear him to the religious authorities and he subsequently retired from Oxford and spent some years living a strict religious life with some companions, and his path to Rome had begun. It was whilst working on his ‘Essays on the Development of Christian Doctrine’ that he was received into the Holy Catholic Church at Littlemore by Father Dominic Barberi (now Blessed Dominic Barberi).

Whilst studying for the Sacred Priesthood in Rome,  a move that had resulted in him being ostracized by both relatives and friends, he became interested in the idea of the Oratory Congregation of Priests founded by St. Philip Neri in the 16th Century, and on his return to England did indeed found the first English Oratory in Birmingham.

Both an academic and a pastoral life engaged Fr. Newman for many years, and we shall look at his ministry in the next part.

Newman was also instrumental in the founding of what is now University College Dublin. this being done at the behest of the Irish Bishops, but his life was far from easy during these years. Some of his literary projects resulted in condemnation and criticism, whilst others – particularly his Apologia pro Vita (the story of his conversion, and in which he vindicated his honesty in the Church of England, and defended the Church of Rome) were very well received.

At the age of 78yrs Pope Leo XIII made the unprecedented gesture of making Fr. Newman a Cardinal – a position he held for the following 11 years until his death in 1890.

Very briefly – this is Newman the man. There is much more that could be written about the saintly progression of this man, and there are many books on the Cardinal that I would encourage you to seek. In the next part we will look at Fr. Newman – the Priest.

About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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26 Responses to John Henry Newman. Part One – The Man

  1. toadspittle says:

    ”Aged 7 the young John was sent to Ealing School ”

    Extraordinary. I did not know that. If it is, in fact, the same school that I am thinking of I lived virtually next door to it for several years.
    Even more strange, it was the school where the father of Thomas Henry Huxley was headmaster and where ‘Darwin’s Bulldog.’ was born. Huxley senior might have been Newman’s teacher! The great T.H.H. was, however, born in 1825, several years after Newman must have left.
    No playground fights, then. Shame!

    More research will be done by Toad!


  2. Gertrude says:

    That’s interesting Toad. I wonder what Newman would have made of Huxley’s Darwinian sympathies? Interestingly, wasn’t it Huxley who sailed off in the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, and spent his time studying Invertebrates? (Those blessed snakes!)


  3. swissguard says:

    As a Darwinist and a Catholic ? Darwinism proposes creation without a creator, Intelligent Design proposes a God who used evolution to design the world. To say you are a Catholic and Darwinist is illogical.The two sides are incompatible.

    God help the young people you teach.


  4. teresa says:

    Swissguard, God help your pupils instead, where does Darwinism speak from “Creation” my dear?


  5. teresa says:

    The Pontifical Academy hold once a conference on the Evolution theory. And I remember reading about a papal document saying that the evolution theory is not in conflict with Catholicism. I don’t know which one exactly, but one of us here can certainly help to find out the source.


  6. teresa says:

    Swissguard, for your information:

    “In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points.”

    ON EVOLUTION, Pope John Paul II


  7. Brother Burrito says:

    Darwinism is an unthinking process, but it does well explain the massive variety of sub-sentient life, and its fitness for function.
    Darwinism ceases to work at the dawning of sentience, of reason, of problem solving behaviour. When the first sick person was nursed through their childhood illness, thus surviving to reproduce, Darwinism ceased to be an effector of human biology.

    When human society first organised itself along lines not based on survival of the strongest, Darwinism ceased to have any validity as an explanation of human history.

    We live on the cusp of a movement in human collective thought, a birthing, where HUMAN LIFE itself, whatever its physical deficiencies, becomes the highest value of all.

    There will be all the perils of childbirth, wicked midwives trying to snatch away the neonate and throttle it, dragons seeking to consume it, and power hungry men trying to slaughter the infant.

    Two thousand years are but a picosecond to God. The star of Bethlehem, (the House of Bread), the Star of Truth, this battlefield flare reveals all those enemies for what they are. There are legions of Saints and holy Angels on our side, His side

    The GOD-WITH-US, (‘us’ humans), will lead us to the End, for He is both the Alpha, the universe’s origin, and the Omega, its Culmination. Amen.


  8. omvendt says:

    Darwinism and Catholicism are utterly incompatible.

    I’ll have a little more to say about that later. :-0


  9. toadspittle says:

    ‘Are people still saying there is some fault line between Catholicism and Darwinism? Is that what you are suggesting here? ‘ says Rabit.


    (However, it does give Toad a cozy feeling to be consigned, along with everyone else to Frere Rabit’s bollocking bay.)


  10. toadspittle says:

    ‘How very old fashioned! You missed the whole Teilhard de Chardin period then? ‘

    RABIT: You say you find it hard to get worked up about this, when it is clear, to even the dumbest of us, (that will be me) that ‘worked up’ is exactly what you have got.

    How very old fashioned! squeaks Rabit.

    Matter of opinion, Rabit. You, for example, clearly think that concerning oneself with miraculous swords dropping out of the sky into the hands of a hysterical, hallucinating teenage girl in 1428 to be employed in killing Englishmen is the dernier cri, as Joan might just have said.
    Others may not.


  11. toadspittle says:

    … to blog-hog once more, but on re -reading Rabit’s post, I have to ask the question that must be on all our minds. What the hell is he talking about?

    I merely expressed pleasant surprise about the early schooldays of Newman, to which Gertrude, replied, lucidly and politely, as always.

    All of a sudden we have a maddened Rabit in our midst, invoking Teilhard De Chardin, (possibly brandishing a magic meteoric sword of his own) gibbering about ‘The Lost World,’ and castigating us all for not being intellectual enough!

    What can it all mean? Lettuce poisoning?


  12. toadspittle says:

    STOP me before I blog again! (This is it, before Mass, I promise.)

    ‘If we are to attract anyone to this blog..’ fulminates Rabit.

    Well, if the criterion is simply attracting people, I urge pictures of Britney Spears in her underwear.
    I can guarantee the efficacy of this.


  13. teresa says:

    Now I am confused, after having written thoughtlessly my (a little too sharp comments) to Swissguard, without having read the previous discussion first. And now I just wonder how come that this thread under a post on the early life of Cardinal Newman morphed into a debate on Darwinism? Or is it meant to be an anticipation of the post about Toad’s blog entry which will appear this afternoon?


  14. omvendt says:

    There is a fault line between Darwinism and Catholicism.

    It’s not for nothing that Dawkins said that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

    Darwinism posits that life arose spontaneously and developed via an unguided process of mutation and natural selection.

    There is no place for a creator in this scheme.

    Now the Church may have said that evolution may be reconciled with Catholicism – if by evolution is meant ‘change over time’ – and that’s fine.

    Darwinism, on the other hand, is a full frontal assault on the Catholic faith.

    I understand that Gertrude didn’t intend her post to develop into a debate on Darwin – so I’ll stop banging on about it, although there is a great deal to be on this contentious topic (‘theistic evolution’, etc; and I’m a little sceptical about that too, btw.)

    Perhaps we’ll find a way of continuing the discussion another time.

    Oh, and as an aside to Toad: Did you know that Anne Rice has dumped the Catholic Church again?

    This time she did it on ‘Facebook’.



  15. Gertrude says:

    Thankyou Omvendt. I had penned a further reply, but it seemed to have ‘got lost’ in some technical hiccup. I was trying to bring the post back to its original, but having said that, following the publication of Darwins ‘On Origin of Species’ a series of Essays by leading Anglican churchmen was published in ‘Essays and Reviews’ (1860). One of the authors – Mark Pattison describes a chance meeting with Newman, which is worth a line or two. It reads thus:
    “Happening to come down from town in the train with Father Newman, who I had not seen for a long time, I was in terror as to how he would regard me in consequence of what I had written. My fears were quickly relieved. He blamed severely the throwing of such speculations broadcast upon the general public. It was, he said, unsettling their faith without offering them anything else to rest upon. But he had no word of censure for the latitude of theological speculation assumed by the essay, provided it had been addressed ad clerum, or put out, not as a public appeal, but as a scholastic dissertation addressed to learned theologians”
    I think this beautifully illustrates Newman’s pastoral concerns for the faithful ahead of his academic interests.
    One last referal to Huxley – the wonderful conversation when Bishop Wilberforce asked him (at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) whether he claimed descent from an ape on his grandmother or his grandfather’s side!


  16. omvendt says:


    Apparently ‘Soapy Sam’ won the debate too.

    Although that’s not the ‘popular’ version of the event.


  17. toadspittle says:

    “It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.”

    – John Henry Cardinal Newman

    Now there’s a thought.


  18. mmvc says:

    Toad, I couldn’t agree more with JHN.
    The quote reminds me of the somewhat mis-used saying attributed to St Francis:
    “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” Isn’t this their real message: that charity, good example and prayer(the lived Gospel)are considerably more effective than mere words/arguments, which without these can ring so hollow?
    It seems that your lovely sounding pp is a great example of one who’s got it right.


  19. toadspittle says:


    What a wodnerful thought from Saint Francis.


  20. omvendt says:

    “It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.”

    Argued Cardinal Newman.


  21. omvendt says:

    C.S. Lewis put it rather well when he said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”


  22. omvendt says:

    Atheists and agnostics, and so on, often ask good questions. They ask questions that cut to the very heart of the Catholic faith. The good questions asked by those who do not believe merit good answers.

    That’s why St Peter enjoined us to, “Be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you.”

    St Paul, as recounted in Acts 17:16-24, seemed to find “mere words/arguments” very appropriate in evangelising “the Men of Athens”.

    He found it so appropriate that he again used “mere words/arguments” as recounted in Acts 26:1-29.

    And then there’s the Great Commission given to the Apostles ( Matthew 28:18-2o.)

    I also thought that the primary purpose of this blog was to use words and arguments to defend the Catholic faith and to reach out to seekers after truth.

    I love that quotation from St Francis by the way, and have cited it myself on this blog.

    I get it that ‘mmcv’ is stressing that we need to live our faith; in other words, that words which are not backed up with actions can kinda lack credibility.

    St James addresses that brilliantly in his Epistle.

    But let’s not underestimate the power and importance of apologetics.

    It’s a ‘one-two punch combo’ isn’t it?

    We defend the faith, and one of the best ways of doing that is through our example, trying to live the faith.


  23. teresa says:

    omvendt, I agree with you, but I also agree with Maryla that a life out of love for Christ has an immense force of persuasion.

    I think you represent the more argumentative, apologetic tradition of our Church, perhaps the Dominican-Jesuit-line (if Father Cumanus were not abroad for so long, he would certainly be able to write more about it), and Maryla represents the Franciscan spirituality. I read in the Jesus book of Pope Benedict recently (Volume I), where he writes about the Sermon on the Mountain he stresses especially the Christian love in its absoluteness as that what is central for Christianity. And that is no wonder as Pope Benedict is a great scholar on Bonaventure, who was an admirer of St. Francis.

    But I think on the other hand, St. Thomas Aquinas would be more on your line. I think we need both. That is what is really wonderful of our Church, like I quoted on the DT’s blog yesterday, that we are so different but we are one in spirit, please allow me to quote I Corinthian 12, 4-11 for a second time, it belongs to my favourite passages from the Holy Scripture:

    “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”


  24. omvendt says:


    Very apposite words.

    What a kindly soul you are!


  25. Frere Rabit says:

    I have only returned to post this because I want to make something absolutely clear before I finally leave you all to it. It would appear that Gerturude is under the impression I was directing my remarks to her post about Newman. Wrong. As Toad himself seems to understand very clearly, I was directing my criticism at Toad.

    In fact, the smug self-satisfaction of Toad at the final despair of Rabit, and the disappointing remarks of his other half, neither of whom played any part in the hard work of setting up this blog, once again add to Rabit’s general amazement at the way people behave. As one who put up the main defence of Moratinos – against others who thought him no friend at all – it was I who kept asking for him to be invited to contribute. As I have left (and as I say only returned to clarify things with Gertrude) I find it ironic that Toad seems to be crowing over my departure.

    Farewell Moratinos. We will not meet again.


  26. Pingback: John Henry Newman Part II – The Priest | Catholicism Pure and Simple

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