John Henry Newman Biography, Life Story, Writings and Thoughts of Cardinal


Who is John Henry Newman? Information on cardinal John Henry Newman biography, life story, writings and thoughts.

John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman; English religious leader and cardinal: b. London, England, Feb. 21, 1801; d. Edgbaston, Birmingham, Aug. 11, 1890. He was the eldest of six children born to John Newman, a London banker of Cambridgeshire stock, and his wife Jemima Fourdrinier, who was descended from a French Huguenot family that had come to England in the 18th century. Francis William Newman was his brother.

John Henry Newman

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Newman’s father suffered financial reverses in the depression following the Napoleonic wars, but it remained possible for John to receive a good education. He was first educated at home, and at the age of seven was sent to Ealing School, conducted by the Rev. George Nicholas. The Newmans were “moderate Church of England” in their religion, but young Newman came under Calvinistic influences in his early years at school. He was both intellectually and religiously precocious, and at school, in August 1816, he experienced a religious conversion with deep and lasting effects.

On Dec. 14, 1816, he matriculated as a commoner of Trinity College, Oxford. Planning at first on a legal career, he decided in 1821 to take holy orders and in 1822 he became a fellow of Oriel College, where he remained until 1843. In the following decade he was ordained an Anglican deacon in 1824 and a priest in 1825. Between 1824 and 1826 Newman served as a curate in St. Clement’s Church, Oxford, and in 1828 he was appointed vicar of St. Mary’s, the university church. He was made vice principal of St. Alban Hall in March 1825, and public examiner in classics for 1827-1828, and at various times he carried out other university duties. As a result of intense study and heavy work, Newman suffered a serious illness in 1826-1827.

For a time Newman was closely associated with Richard Whately, the future Protestant archbishop of Dublin, and aided him in writing his famous Elements of Logic. Newman’s incipient religious liberalism of this period came to an end for various reasons, among them his study of the fathers of the church and his association with R. Hurrell Froude, who was to become a principal figure in the Oxford Movement. Newman has been described as moving in his early manhood in religion from a mild Evangelicism to liberal or latitudinarian Anglicanism, and thence to high Anglicanism.


In December 1832, Newman started on a voyage to the Mediterranean in the company of Hurrell Froude and his father, on which they visited Gibraltar, Malta, Corfu, Naples, and Rome. After the Froudes returned to England, Newman made a visit to the interior of Sicily, where he contracted a fever from which he almost died.

During his three weeks of illness at Leonforte he reviewed his past life, kept repeating to himself, “I have not sinned against the light,” and felt that he would recover, as God had some work in store for him in England. On his way from Sicily to France, his boat was becalmed for several days in the Strait of Bonifacio, and it was then that he wrote his famous poem Lead, Kindly Light, which reflects his state of mind at that time.


Hurrying across France, Newman arrived in London on July 9, 1833, a few days before the Rev. John Keble preached his sermon on “National Apostasy,” which was to inaugurate the Oxford Movement. This may be described as an effort to rescue the Church of England from dangers that threatened it from without, such as the possibility of its disestablishment as the state church, and from internal errors and defects. For Newman the Church of England was a via media between what he held to be the excesses of the Church of Rome and the errors of Protestantism. Among the movement’s adherents were Keble, Hurrell Froude, Hugh James Rose, Arthur Philip Perceval, Edward Bouverie Pusey, and William George Ward. Newman quickly emerged as their intellectual and moral leader.

As a means of putting their program before the English people, Newman and his associates began a series of Tracts for the Times, to which Newman contributed Tract I (1833) and Tract XC, among others. In Tract XC he maintained the thesis that the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England are political rather than religious in character, that is, that they reject papal political supremacy rather than the religious supremacy of the Church of Rome. Doctrinally, he maintained, the Articles are Catholic and not Protestant. Published on Feb. 27, 1841, Tract XC met with a nationwide protest, during which Newman was commanded by Richard Bagot, bishop of Oxford, to discontinue the tracts. During the next four years various influences and events drew Newman slowly but steadily toward entrance into the Catholic Church.

On Feb. 2, 1843, Newman preached his last sermon before the University of Oxford, and on September 18 he resigned as vicar of St. Mary’s. A week later he preached his famous farewell sermon, “The Parting of Friends,” in Littlemore, near Oxford, where he had built a chapel in 1836. For the next two years he lived as a layman in Littlemore with a small group of associates, engaged in study and in writing one of his chief theological works, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. By then he had become the object of international interest and discussion. On Oct. 9, 1845, he was received into the Catholic Church by Father Dominic Bar-beri, an Italian Passionist priest. Newman was then 44 years old. Behind him lay a career filled with great trials and with great achievements as the unchallenged intellectual and moral leader in the Church of England; before him lay 45 years of life in the Catholic Church. The future would have more than its share of difficulties, but it would be marked by great works in many fields and be crowned with lofty honors.


Newman went to Rome in 1846, and after completing a course of theological studies, he was ordained a priest there on May 30, 1847. On his return to England his first work was to establish in Birmingham a house of the religious  community known as the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Later he founded at Edgbaston the Oratory School for boys, and for many years he took a personal part in its work. He established the London oratory in 1848; twice he tried to found an oratory in Oxford, but had to give up the plan because of opposition within the Catholic group. In 1851 he accepted the position of rector of a proposed national Catholic university in Ireland and devoted four years of his life to the project before it was abandoned.

In 1851-1853, Newman was sued for libel by a lapsed Italian Dominican, G. G. Achilli, and although events justified the charges against Achilli, Newman was fined £100 and required to pay court costs in addition to meeting other heavy expenses. Friends in England and America raised more than enough to meet these costs of ¿12,000, but the Achilli affair was a severe ordeal.


In 1857, Newman was requested by the Catholic bishops to prepare a new translation of the Scriptures into English, but this work too was abortive. He became editor of The Rambler in 1860, but after a few months was compelled to resign. Persistent rumors, some from Catholic and some from Protestant sources, that he was about to return to the Church of England finally had to be answered with a strong public denial.

It appeared that Newman was to be made a bishop when he was named rector of the proposed Irish university, but if such a decision had been made in Rome it was not carried out. Lack of appreciation of his character and abilities on the part of some Catholics, joined with lack of understanding and with suspicion and opposition among many of his former coreligionists, tended to depress his spirits and to give him something of a feeling of frustration and failure.

Newman’s position before the English public underwent a dramatic change in the events that followed an attack made on his veracity by the Rev. Charles Kingsley in 1864. In a series of pamphlets Newman completely answered Kings-ley, lifted the discussion to a higher level, and produced the great spiritual and intellectual autobiography known as Apologia pro Vita Sua, in which he gives an account of how he came to enter the Catholic Church.

At the close of the Kingsley controversy in May 1864, Newman stood vindicated before the British people and with a prestige that was only to grow in the 26 years of life that remained before him. He continued to preach and write; unwisely took part in the discussion concerning the dogma of papal infallibility, the promulgation of which in 1870 he considered inopportune; wrote answers on doctrinal matters to his early associate, E. B. Pusey, and to William Gladstone; and undertook a complete revision of his works.

John Henry Newman

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Honors came to him

in 1877, Trinity College, which he had entered as an undergraduate 61 years before, made him an honorary fellow, and in 1878 he visited Oxford for the first time since 1846. His greatest honor came in 1879 when Pope Leo XIII created him a cardinal, naming San Giorgio (St. George) in Velabro as his titular church in Rome. So great had been Newman’s conquest of the minds and hearts of the mass of Englishmen that his cardinalate was widely regarded as a national honor as well as the final tribute to Newman’s greatness.- The years following his elevation to the cardinalate were spent quietly at the Birmingham oratory, where he died.

Few men of letters have been as variously and richly gifted as was John Henry Newman. His many portraits show him to have been fine-featured, ascetic, sensitive, and serious in appearance. His health throughout his long life was never vigorous, but he was able to accomplish prodigies of labor. He had a voice of great sweetness, which he used with striking effect as a conversationalist, lecturer, and preacher. The eloquence and persuasive power of his sermons at Oxford made him famous, as did those delivered after he had become a Catholic priest. Reserved and introspective in character, he yet drew men to him and deeply influenced their lives. This unique personal influence still continues to be felt through his writings and through books written about him. He was a man of deeds as well as of thought and writing, as may be seen from the institutions he founded, the works he directed, and the movements he inspired. The first steps have been taken in England toward his possible canonization as a saint.

Writings and Thought

Newman ranks as one of the very greatest masters of English prose. His style derives from Cicero and from 18th century English models. Clearness and flexibility are its primary marks. In his hands the English language was a supple tool that could be put to many uses, and he adapted it to the subject at hand and to the readers whom he addressed. His way of writing could range from simple exposition to sonorous eloquence; it could be used in rigorous argument and for careful analysis; it could express lyrical moods and dramatic effects; it could display playful humor, subtle irony, and cutting satire. At times Newman wrote as a philosopher and theologian; at times as an historian; at times as a poet o* novelist ; at times as a controversialist; at times as a journalist. It has been rightly said that Newman had not one style but many. His chief monuments are found in the more than 40 volumes of his Collected Works (London 1874-1921) and correspondence, and in the vast literature that has been produced in English and other languages on his life and thought.

Newman’s published sermons are found in the eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons (1868) ; Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford (1843) ; Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day (1843) ; Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (1849) ; and Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (1858). For range of subject matter, depth of thought, and beauty of expression they stand unrivaled in English literature. Notable among them are “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion,” “The Second Spring,” and “The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son.”

His patristic and historical studies are found in the two volumes of his annotated translation, Select Treatises of St. Athanasius (1842-1844) ; Essays Critical and Historical (1872) ; The Arians of the Fourth Century (1833) ; and the three volumes of Historical Sketches (1872).

Newman’s Lectures on the Present

Position of Catholics in England (1851) is a brilliant apologetic work that has not lost its effect with the passage of a century. The Idea of a University (1852) is his greatest contribution to educational theory and practice.

Newman’s principal work in philosophy is An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), which is, all things considered, the most original and important 19th century contribution to the theory of knowledge. In it he makes his famous distinction between real and notional assent, discusses probability and certitude, and advances his doctrine of the illative sense.


In Verses on Various Occasions (1868) are collected his early poems, which include some fine sonnets, such as Substance and Shadow, some graceful but little-known light verse, and his masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius (1866), in which Newman describes the thoughts and emotions of the soul of an aged man just before death and immediately afterward. He wrote two novels, Callista; a Sketch of the Third Century (1856), a beautifully written account of a young Christian girl who suffered martyrdom in northern Africa, and Loss and Gain (1848), a story set in Oxford at the time of the Tractarian Movement. Throughout his life Newman was a constant and candid letter writer, and his correspondence and autobiographical fragments throw light on his thought and on the events of his life. Original prayers are found in the posthumous volume. Meditations and Devotions (1893).

Newman’s most important writings in the area of theology are An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) and the Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864), but his theology is found in many other works and throughout the entire body of his writing. He was not a scientific or systematic theologian, and he belonged to none of the traditional schools of theology. A few of his statements are not altogether accurate and have been subjected to criticism. The attempt of certain adherents of Modernism to link Newman’s name with theirs, and thus to acquire something of his prestige, would have horrified him if he had lived to see it. For Newman, orthodoxy of doctrine, recognition of objective truth, adherence to historical fact, and submission to rightful authority were basic principles.

Newman’s mind was before all else religious in character. In its formation various, sometimes conflicting, influences had their parts; in its final constitution it must be described as Catholic in every sense. Before and after his conversion to the Catholic Church, he stood for the primacy of the spiritual. Like St. Augustine, all his thought centered on God and the human soul. Like Plato, he asserted the supremacy of the ideal and emphasized its abiding reality in contrast to the impermanence of the material. He stood for authority as against anarchic individualism in belief and conduct; for faith as against doubt; for reason as against sophism; for defined doctrine as against feeling and emotion; for devotion to truth as against expedience and indifference ; for the things of the mind as against material goods and the things of sense. In the variety and richness of his gifts as a thinker and artist, in his character and career as a man, and in the extent and depth of his influence, Cardinal Newman occupies a unique place among the great figures of the Victorian era. Two mottoes that Newman chose for himself reveal much as to the source of his continuing appeal. The first is the motto on his cardinalitial coat of arms: Cor ad cor loquitur: “Heart Speaketh to Heart.” The second is that which he composed for his tomb: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem: “Out of Shadows and Phantasms into Truth.”

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