NEWMAN — bad or good?

Next Sunday, Cardinal Newman will be declared a saint. It would be interesting to know how readers of this site react to him and to his value to the Church. I am aware that some of you know more of Newman than I do. I have confined myself to a brief account, but you will find much more available on the Internet at, for example:

Cardinal Newman 101: An introduction to his life, work, and thought

Newman was born into an Evangelical Anglican family. For a time, he was an Oxford don. As vicar of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, his reputation was initially born from his magnificent sermons. Far from being brief and histrionic, these were lengthy and largely spoken in a monotone voice. But their matter was marvelous. Many of his sermon are available in print.

He was to become very involved with the Oxford Movement — which worked towards restoring to Anglicanism the elements of Christianity which were present in the first millennium. The Movement presented its case in a large number of “tracts” (Tractarianism). Newman was a major contributor. But his deep studies eventually led to his conversion. While being very concerned for his existing Anglican flock, he became a Catholic in 1845.

While he was preparing for ordination, he was asked to consider the Congregation of the Oratory. This could be described as a community of which the members lived a common life based on personal friendship, but without vows or other special regulations. That suited him well.

Notwithstanding his admirers, Newman was often involved in criticism — sourced by both Anglicans and Catholics. The most remembered occasion was the vicious claim of the writer Charles Kingsley. Kingsley had said: “Truth for its own sake has never been a virtue of the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not, to be.” But the eventual grand outcome was Newman’s spiritual autobiography: his Apologia pro Vita Sua

Pius IX deputed him to establish the Oratory in England and to establish what would become The Oratory School. At age 79 he was named a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. He declared “The cloud is lifted from me forever.” And he took that opportunity to emphasize once more his condemnation of liberalism in religion. His motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (heart speaks to heart) reminds us that we are all called to our personal relationship with God and with our neighbour.

We might ask ourselves in what respects Newman’s teachings have influenced the Church and remain effective today. Which, if any, have benefitted, and continue to benefit today? Which, if any, have damaged the Church today?

About Quentin

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21 Responses to NEWMAN — bad or good?

  1. milliganp says:

    Many years ago I read “Loss and Gain”, a quasi-autobiographical novel written by Newman. It is full of conversations which detail the process of conversion which was not, to Newman, the acceptance of another faith, but a development from his own faith and realisation of a more powerful truth.
    There is a defence of the Latin Mass – please excuse this excessive quote and delete if you feel it is too long, but I feel it is one of the most beautiful expressions ever written:

    “to me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever, and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words,–it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth.
    It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and is the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity. Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission. Quickly they go, the whole is quick; for they are all parts of one integral action. Quickly they go; for they are awful words of sacrifice, they are a work too great to delay upon;
    as when it was said in the beginning, ‘What thou doest, do quickly.’
    Quickly they pass; for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first one and then another. Quickly they pass; because as the lightning which shineth from one part of the heaven unto the other, so is the coming of the Son of Man. Quickly they pass; for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord came down in the cloud, calling on the Name of the Lord as He passed by, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.’ And as Moses on the mountain, so we too ‘make haste and bow our heads to the earth, and adore.’ So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, ‘waiting for the moving of the water.’ Each in his place, with his own heart, with his own wants, with his own thoughts, with his own intention, with his own prayers, separate but concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in its consummation;–not painfully and hopelessly following a hard form of prayer from beginning to end, but, like a concert of musical instruments, each different, but concurring in a sweet harmony, we take our part with God’s priest, supporting him, yet guided by him.
    There are little children there, and old men, and simple labourers, and students in seminaries, priests preparing for Mass, priests making their thanksgiving; there are innocent maidens, and there are penitent sinners; but out of these many minds rises one eucharistic hymn, and the great Action is the measure and the scope of it. And oh, my dear Bateman,” he added, turning to him, “you ask me whether this is not a formal, unreasonable service–it is wonderful!” he cried, rising up, “quite wonderful. When will these dear, good people be enlightened? _O Sapientia, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia, O Adonai, O Clavis David et Exspectatio gentium, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster._”

  2. Quentin says:

    You remind me, and so I remind others, that 600 words is the maximum for contributions to this site. In this case you achieve 616. However, what the heck…

  3. ignatius says:

    Here in Birmingham diocese we are all celebrating his canonisation…I didn’t know what all the fuss was about so I have been wading my way through the ‘synthesis’ of his work. He is a very good writer able to discuss things that matter in quite straightforward terms.

  4. David Smith says:

    A snippet from a booklet on Newman written by Ian Ker, author of a full length biography of Newman, for the Catholic Truth Society:

    // his [Newman’s] lifelong opposition to that liberalism which rejects dogma and the objectivity of religious truth //

    This suggests that Newman would be out of place in a church dominated by the present-day Jesuits and like-minded “liberals”. Thus, I would not expect the Vatican of Pope Francis to show more than pro-forma enthusiasm about this canonization.

  5. Nektarios says:

    And what Newman spoke and wrote about, I and many others also today speak with one voice, even on this blog.
    The purpose of God concerning mankind and this world cannot be thwarted, no matter the many voices that would try to drown us out with their PC and the function of PC which is to stop free speech apart from their particular narrative.

  6. Geordie says:

    Quentin, what does the title mean? “NEWMAN – bad or good”? I’ve read quite a lot of Newman over the years and I can’t say any of it has caused the Church harm. Of course he wrote and preached for over seventy years and there is an awful lot to get through but even if I didn’t agree with him, I can’t think he could have done harm to the Church. He struck me as being a saint long before the Church got round to beatifying and canonising him.

  7. G.D says:

    Got to be ‘good’. Such a Pope, sanctifying such a cardinal. The twain shall meet, and accept each other, on common ground!!

    As an adult, was instructed by, and accepted into the church by, an Oratorian at the Birmingham Oratory.
    … Did you know Newman’s room is (or was 40 odd years ago) preserved as it was when he lived there. Was honoured to enter and look; regretted not praying at his small chapel ever since.

  8. galerimo says:

    Sanctity can be a very grim business. At least the way we deal with it.

    The occasion serves to remind me of another distinguished ecclesiastic who rejoiced in the same name of the now, Saint John Henry Newman.

    My friend, despite his prominence in the Church was a shy and retiring man.

    He was always lacking in self-confidence and slow to come forward.

    At one stage in his life, it got so bad, he had to take to being formally trained in the art of gentle self-assertion.

    And quite a bit of money it cost to attend the Dale Carnegie or similar type Course.

    “How to make friends and influence people”.

    Once, as a co-celebrant he noticed among his fellow clergy a strange face. He forced himself to go over and introduce himself.

    Quite an effort for my friend.

    He would often relate afterwards that he had to prove value for money could be obtained from expensive training.

    He walked straight over, looked the strange priest straight in the face, put out his hand and boldly announced.

    “Newman here”.

    “No”, replied the cleric, “I have said mass here before, when the parish priest has been on leave”.

    I am sure that today they are both rejoicing in a place were such barriers are no more.

  9. ignatius says:

    I have for the past six months or so been working my way through this book:

    The Heart of Newman
    A synthesis arranged by Erich Przywara S.J

    It contains much of what is excellent in Newman and is less than £10.00 on Amazon.
    It is my personal conviction that it is the written works of saints which live on as a testament to them. I don’t think Newman, in his life, had a mighty impact either way on the Catholic church but his writings are profound in the depth of their insight and capacity for revelation. I cannot recommend him more highly.

  10. Geordie says:

    It is not the written works of saints that make them saints. Some Catholic writers are clever and their writings are read long after their deaths but they are not saintly. Newman’s writings didn’t make him a saint; it was his humble life and his working for the poor in his parishes, which enabled his sanctity to grow. Even if he hadn’t written a thing, he would still have become holy.
    As for his effect on the Church during his lifetime, it was profound. Many well-educated Anglicans came to the Catholic Church through the example of Newman and he still influences the Church today in many ways. He certainly influences my life and many others; and we are part of the Catholic Church. When he died, thousands of ordinary people lined the streets in Birmingham to bid him farewell. He had a mighty impact on the Church.

  11. ignatius says:


    Of course it is the life of the saint that makes them who they are, thats the whole point of the thing. I meant really that some saints, over the centuries, become remembered primarily BY their written works and what they have said. For example Ignatius, Therese of Liseux, Teresa of Avilla to name only three saints who have powerfully impacted my life. These are known by their writings now because the immediate impact of their works and memory of them, by which they were first renowned, has faded yet their impact remains in the way their experience was encoded in words and then transmitted to others.

    I guess that had I encountered Newman or had my life come close to his in anyway I might have had some impression of the man and it is true that holiness of life does indeed impress; but I haven’t and so am moved mainly by his words.

  12. milliganp says:

    Since no-one else has risen to the challenge of Quentin’s final question, I thought I would chip in. Newman is often referred to as one of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. This is, in part, because Newman went back to the early church fathers in his own faith journey and much of Vatican II is a return to those same fathers.
    Newman also believed that doctrine could develop; he initially used this to defend Catholic tradition which is not purely based on scripture.
    Finally he was a great champion of the absolute primacy of conscience.

    Each of these 3 traits can be used to good or bad effect; a desire to return to apostolic practice can be a source of error as we do not share the same context. Similarly a belief that doctrine can develop could support arguments for contentious issues like gay marriage or women priests.

    Finally a misplaced understanding of conscience could lead to moral relativism and erroneous self justification.

    However I think, if one reads Newman, that he would not hold with many of the positions one might try to defend by extrapolating his thinking in the way of the modern world.

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you for this. I agree with you. I wonder how Newman would have got on with Pope Francis.

      • galerimo says:

        “It is not good for a pope to live 20 years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, and has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it”.

        Saint John Henry Newman commenting on his views on the 31-year papacy of Pius IX.

        From Charles Stephen Dessain’s The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, v. XXVI

        It seems he would have got on well with him, but only for another 14 years.

    • David Smith says:

      Nicely said. Thank you.

      • David Smith says:

        galerimo quotes:

        // “It is not good for a pope to live 20 years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, and has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it”. //

        I wonder whether that may not be less on target now than it was a hundred years ago. Today, popes are much more likely than then to be exposed to plenty of criticism and a wide variety of ideas, at least unless they choose to be surrounded only by yes men. Of course, that happens. It strikes me as curious, to say the least, how so many hierarchs were determined to sweep widespread clerical sexual abuse under the carpet. And Francis’s evident antipathy towards America seems to mirror the anti-Americanism of his South American upbringing and, perhaps, of his Jesuitical training. Both bishops and pope could have broken free of their provincialism, but both chose not to do so.

    • galerimo says:

      If the answer to Quentin’s question is – good and bad

      then his position on Papal Infallability is another one worth mentioning.

      On that question he flip-flopped a lot from outright denial to an acceptance broader even than official church definition.

      So anyone for or against Infallibility will find a Newman position anywhere on that spectrum too.

      • milliganp says:

        We need to remember one of his sayings, after considering the Donatiat crisis “Rome has spoken, the matter is settled”.

  13. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes:

    // On that question he flip-flopped a lot //

    Did he? Or was he simply constantly searching? It seems an unfortunate dogma of our present Western culture that all controversies can be correctly reduced to two simple positions, one true and one false.

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