Few men of letters in this nineteenth century of Christianity and Christian civilization have attracted more attention than John Henry Newman, Priest of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, and now Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. His name and fame have gone wherever the English language is spoken, and even beyond, for his works have been translated into more than one of the modern languages. To Americans, and especially to the Catholics of America, he is well known and his name is most dear. Indued, he is fully as well known and as highly appreciated by all classes in this couutry as in England.
John Henry Newman was born in London on 21 February 1801. His father was a banker of that city, and a Protestant. The family was a pious one, and Mrs. Newman was a woman of culture; from her the boy received his first lessons in piety.
He entered Trinity College, Oxford, at fifteen, and graduated at nineteen. He was elected a fellow of Oriel College in 1822, and there assisted Dr. Whately in preparing for publication the Dialogues on Logic. In 1824 he was ordained minister of the Church of England, and devoted himself for a time to his clerical avocations as a curate. He became vice-principal of Alban Hall under Dr. Whately in 1826, and a tutor of Oriel, which at once gave him the standing of a university celebrity. He was appointed public examiner in 1827, and Vicar of Saint Mary’s in 1828. In 1829 ho opposed the election of Sir Robert Peel, as member for the University of Oxford because that statesman advocated Catholic emancipation. Whately led the emancipationists, and this action seemed to separate Newman and Whately for ever.
In 1830 Dr. Newman was chosen one of the select university preachers, and at the invitation of Hugh Rose, of the British Critic, began to write a history of the principal church councils, the first portion of which was published in 1833, as The History of the Arians of the Fourth Century. In gathering the materials for this publication the vicar of Saint Mary’s was fascinated with the subtle philosophy and profound theology of Clement and Origen. Iu his sermons about this time the Catholic influence of the Fathers of the Alexandrine school defined in his mind the purely Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints. The dreams of his boyhood became realities, and in one of his sermons he said of the heavenly hosts that “every breath of air and ray of light and heat, every beautiful prospect, is, as it were, the skirts of their garments, the weaving of the robes of those whose faces see God.”
In December, 1832, he went to Italy with Hurrell Froude, the brother of James Anthony Froude, the historian, and with him began in Rome the Lyra Aposlolica, which appeared monthly in the British Magazine. In Rome he met with Dr. Wiseman (afterward Cardinal). Falling sick in Sicily, he returned to England in July 1833. Soon after his return what is known as the “Oxford movement” was inaugurated by John Keble’s sermon entitled “National Apostasy.” Dr Newman, finding a difference of opinion among his associates as to the way of opposing liberalism and neutralizing the tendencies toward Rome, began the se ries called Tracts for the Times, and a series of letters in the Record on “Church Reform.” He now wrote the historical sketches that appeared in the British Magazine, and were afterwards printed as The Church of the Fathers.
In 1835 Dr Pusey openly joined the Oxford movement and founded the Library of the Fathers. Dr Newman aided in editing the Library and contributed regularly to the British Critic, of which he became editor in 1838, and remained so till July 1841. He also supervised the publica tion of the Tracts. He now poured volume upon volume from the press, dealing with every phase of the controversies which had been provoked by the movement. Thus appeared his Plain and Parochial Sermons; Essays upon Miracles; his famous Prophetical Office of the Church; his Essay on Justification; his Via Media; University Sermons; and a pamphlet on the Real Presence. He could meet and vanquish all his Protestant opponents; but with the appearance of that great soldier of the Church, Dr. Wiseman, in the field, his sword fell from his hand, and, as far as Newman was concerned, the Anglican battle was at an end. Dr. Wiseman’s sermons On the Anglican Claims destroyed the whole argument of the Via Media. There was no middle path, Dr Newman had to acknowledge. With this conviction he gave up the contest with Catholicity, but he still held himself ready for the Protestant tires of the Anglican movement.
In 1838 the Bishop of Oxford denounced the Tracts for the Times. The opposition emboldened the tractarian writers, and Dr. Newman defined more and more clearly the relative position of Anglicanism and Catholicism, till his attempt to reconcile the Anglican teaching of the Thirty-nine Articles with Catholic dogma culminated in “Tract 90,” in February, 1841. He was called upon to withdraw the tract, but refused.
In 1841 the British and Prussian Governments created a bishopric in Jerusalem, and the English bishops consecrated an uneducated converted Jew as bishop. Dr. Newman protested against this action, and denounced the alliance about to be contracted in the East with Nestorians and other heretics. It was his last act of interference with the destinies of the Church of England.
He now entered into a correspondence with Rev. Dr. Russell, of Maynooth, and in 1843 he made a formal retraction of the charges he had uttered against the Church of Rome. In September of that year he gave up his living and resigned his office as clergyman. He retired to his home at Littlemore, and invited several of his friends in trouble like himself to visit him there. Here he began his Translations from Athanasius and the Lives of the English Saints, in order, as it was expressed, to give the writers “an interest in the English soil and the English Church, and keep them from seeking sympathy with Rome.” About thirty writers were engaged in this work, and the lives were to form a periodical series with Dr. Newman as editor. The first two numbers only, containing the “Life of Saint Stephen Harding “and “The Family of Saint Richard,” were edited by him; the others were published by their authors. He also began his Essay on Development about this time. But at last the weary struggle was at an end. Dr. Newman himself says: “All this time I was hard at my Essay on Doctrinal Development. As I advanced my view so cleared that, instead of speaking any more of ‘ the Roman Catholics,’ I boldly called them Catholics. Before I got to the end I resolved to be received, and the book remains in the state in which it was then, unfinished.” He writes from Littlemore, 8 October 1845, as follows:
“I am this night expecting Father Dominic, the Passionist, who from his youth has been led to have distinct and direct thoughts, first of the countries of the North, then of England. After thirty years’ waiting he was, without his own act, sent here. But he has had little to do with conversions…. He is a simple, holy man, and withal gifted with remarkable powers. He does not know my intention; but I mean to ask of him admission to the One Fold of Christ. … I have so many letters to write that this must do for all who choose to ask about me.”
He was received into the Church the next day. There were no more doctrinal difficulties – all was clear as day. Soon afterwards Dr. Wiseman called him to Oscott, and thence sent him to Rome. There he was ordained by Cardinal Franzoni, and, returning to England in 1848, established two houses of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, at Brompton and Birmingham, becoming superior of the latter, which was in a few years transferred to Edgbaston. A special brief of Pius IX constituted Dr. Newman superior of the first English Congregation of Saint Philip.
Since his conversion lie has published several works: Loss and Gain; Sermons to Mixed Congregations; Anglican Difficulties; Present Position of Catholics; Lectures on the Turks; Sermons on Various Occasions; Callista; Apologia pro Vita sua; Verses on Various Occasions; Grammar of Assent; and his reply to Gladstone’s pamphlet. Besides these, during the last twelve years he has been busily engaged revising and annotating all his former works, new editions of which have appeared during that time.
The evenness of Dr. Newman’s life was disturbed by the advent in England in 1851 of an unfortunate Italian priest named Achilli. He was an apostate friar, of Italian birth and unedifying proclivities. He appeared in England and lectured in various towns. He made the most revolting charges against the Catholic clergy, and his language was a tirade of blasphemy against the Church. The gentle nature of Dr. A:ewinan was moved by this mountebank, and he spoke in the plainest manner possible of Achilli’s infamous conduct. Aided by Exeter Hall, the apostate Achilli brought an action for libel against Burns and Lambert as publishers of the pamphlet entitled “Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England. Lecture V. Logical Inconsistency of the Protestant View.” Dr. Newman admitted that he was the author of the pamphlet, and his name was substituted for that of the publishers. We wish we could quote the entire paragraph which was called libelous, and which has been ever since left out of the English edition of his works, but we have space only for a short extract:
“And in the midst of outrages such as these, my brothers of the Oratory, wiping its mouth, and clasping its hands, and turning up its eyes, it trudges to the Town Hall to hear Dr. Achilli expose the Inquisition. Ah! Dr. Achilli – I might have spoken of him lust week, had time admitted of it. The Protestant world flocks to hoar him because he has something to tell of the Catholic Church. He has something to tell, it is true; he has a scandal to reveal; he has an. argument to exhibit. It is a simple one and a powerful one, as far as it goes – and it is one. That one argument is himself; it is his presence which is the triumph of Protestants; it is the sight of him which is a Catholic’s confusion. It is indeed our confusion that our holy mother could have had a priest like him. He feels the force of the argument, and he shows himself to the multitude that is gazing on him. ‘Mothers of families,’ he seems to say, ‘gentle maidens, innocent children, look at me, for I am worth looking at. You do not see such a sight every day. Can any Church live over the imputation of such a production as I am? I have been a Roman priest and a hypocrite; I have been a profligate under a cowl. I am the Father Achilli who, as early as 1826, was deprived of my faculty to lecture for an offence which my superiors did their best to conceal, and who in 1827 had already earned the reputation of a scandalous friar’… (Here he gave a list of Achilli’s crimes). He continues: You speak truly, O Achilli! and we cannot answer you a word. You are a priest; you have been a friar; you are, it is undeniable, the scandal of Catholicism and the palmary argument of Protestants by your extraordinary depravity. You have been, it is true, a profligate, an unbeliever, and a hypocrite…. You were deprived of your professorship, we own it; you were prohibited from preaching and hearing confessions…. Yes, you are an incontrovertible proof that priests may fall and friars break their vows. You are your own witness; but while you need not go out of yourself for your argument, neither are you abte. With you the argument begins; with you, too, it ends; the beginning and the ending you are both. When you have shown yourself you have done your worst and your all; you are your best argument and your sole. Your witness against others is utterly invalidated by your witness against yourself. You leave your sting in the wound; you cannot lay the golden eggs, for you are already dead.”
This language told, and the result was the suit. The trial took place on 21 June 1852, and lasted four days. Lord Campbell presided as judge. Dr. Newman was defended by Sir A. G. Cockburn (the present Chief-Justice of England), as well as by four other able advocates. After the witnesses were examined – all of whom proved, beyond question, the truth of Dr. Newman’s charges – and the lawyers had made their speeches, Lord Campbell charged the jury dead against Dr. Newman; and of course, as the jury was composed of true and loyal Protestants, they returned a verdict against him. Even the London Times, alluding to the decision, said: “We consider that a great blow has been given to the administration of justice in this country, and that Roman Catholics will have henceforth only too good reason for asserting that there is no justice for them in cases tending to arouse the Protestant feeling of judges and juries.” A new trial was refused, and on 31 January 1853, sentence was pronounced. After argument in favor of a mitigation of sentence was delivered Dr. Newman came forward and asked to be allowed to speak, but Lord Campbell refused. Justice Coleridge then pronounced sentence, and imposed a fine of £100, which was instantly paid. The trial cost Dr. Newman £10,000, but a subscription had been opened in France, England, Ireland, and the United States, and £13,500 were realized. The remainder, after paying the costs of the trial, Dr. Newman devoted to charitable purposes.
In 1854 Dr. Newman was appointed rector of the newly-founded Catholic University of Ireland. While there he tendered a professorship to the late Dr. Brownson, who for various reasons was unable to accept. Besides conducting the Atlantis at this time, he delivered several lectures. He resigned the rectorship in 1859, and devoted himself to the duties of the Oratory. Canon Kingsley having, in Macmillan’s Magazine, January, 1804, accused Dr. Newman and the Roman Catholic priesthood generally of thinking lightly of the virtue of veracity, a correspondence on the subject ensued. Kiugsley renewed and aggravated the imputation; Dr. Newman replied, and the result is his Apologia pro Vita sua, one of the finest specimens of controversial writing in the English language.
Well-merited honors were bestowed on Dr. Newman by our present Holy Father, Leo XIII, who, in consistory of 12 May 1879, was pleased to preconize John Henry Newman as Cardinal Deacon of the Holy Roman Chinch. In doing this His Holiness, who had at the same time preconized nine other cardinals, declared he had been actuated in this creation of cardinals by a wish to reward men who had by their virtues, consummate learning, and eminent services to the Church shown themselves truly worthy of the purple. On the 13th he received the berretta, and on the 15th the hat was conferred and his title of Saint George in Velabro, a church situated in the lower town of Rome, on the left bank of the Tiber, near the foot of the Palatine. Thus in his old age comes to him one of the greatest honors of the Catholic Church, or, as he said when replying to an address delivered to him in Rome:
“Most men, if they do any good, die without knowing it; but I call it strange that I should be kept to my present age – an age beyond the age of most men – as if in order that in this great city, where I am personally almost unknown, I might find kind friends to meet me with an affectionate welcome and to claim me as their spiritual benefactor.”
- “Cardinal Newman”. , 1880. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 January 2017. Web. 23 April 2017. <>