Blessed John Henry Newman: Catholic Convert
by Jean M. Heimann
Today, October 9, is the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman, one of the great intellectuals of the 19th century. Newman was a theologian, philosopher, teacher, preacher, writer, and spiritual guide.
Born on February 1, 1801 in London, the oldest of six children in a middle class family of three boys and three girls. His father, John Henry Newman, was a moderately successful banker; his mother, Jemima Fourdrinier, was the daughter of a paper manufacturer.
Raised as an Anglican, Newman began his religious quest as an adolescent, which continued throughout his life. When Newman was 15 years old, he read Force of Truth by Thomas Scott (1747-1821), an influential preacher, which made a strong impression on him. Consequently, he experienced a profound conversion, which granted him a strong sense of God’s presence in His life. From that time on, God was at the center of his life. Scott’s writings also inspired Newman with a strong faith in the Trinity and the importance of holiness.
At the age of 16, Newman enrolled in Trinity College, Oxford, beginning an association with Oxford University that would last for twenty-eight years – nearly a third of his life. Newman studied theology, then went on to decided to enter the ministry and applied to Oriel College. Subsequently, he was accepted at Oriel and was elected a Fellow there. He was later ordained as an Anglican priest, who was known to be a great preacher.
Newman became the leader of the Oxford movement, which sought to reform the Anglican Church. Newman and his cohorts spread the ideas of the Oxford Movement via a series of polemical pamphlets known as the Tracts of the Times. There were 90 tracts and Newman published approximately one-third of those.
In Tract 90, the final tract, Newman argued that the Thirty-Nine Articles, which supported the doctrine of “justification by faith alone”, were susceptible to a Catholic interpretation. In this last tract, Newman appeared to defend the teaching of the Council of Trent on the Mass as a sacrifice (though he continued to differ from Rome on other Catholic issues). This resulted in an outpouring of criticism from students, clergy, and heads of colleges. For three years afterward, Anglican Bishops condemned Newman’s ideas. Thus, in 1843, Newman resigned his position as an Anglican pastor and began living as a monastic.
At the end of 1844, Newman began a historical investigation on the doctrines of the Catholic faith, including: the invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, the doctrine of transubstantiation, the “sacrificial” character of the Mass, the doctrine of purgatory, and the doctrine of papal supremacy. The fruit of the investigation was his book, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which was published at the end of 1845.
On October 3, 1845, Newman wrote to the Provost of Oriel, resigning his Fellowship. On October 8, 1845, Newman made his Confession to Fr. Dominic Barberi (a Passionist priest who was doing missionary work in England) and the following day, October 9, he was received into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church. Following this event, there was a wave of conversion in England, with several hundred Oxford and Cambridge men leaving the Anglican Church to become members of the Roman Catholic Church.
In April 1846, Newman was sent to Rome to continue his theological studies. He attended the Roman seminary run by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri community, and in 1847 was ordained a Catholic priest.
In 1849, Newman opened Oratory houses in Birmingham and in London. In 1851, the Bishops of Ireland decided that a separate University should be established for Catholics, and invited Newman to become its founder and first Rector. He set up the Catholic University of Ireland and served as its rector from 1851 to 1858. His book The Idea of a University which deals with the nature and scope of education, and the role of the Church in the context of a university, dates from this period.
On May 12, 1879, John Henry Newman was named cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. He died at the age of 89 in Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands, England on August 11, 1890. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010.
Newman faced numerous struggles and sufferings in his life, some of which included: his personal faith struggle, his opposition against theological and philosophical liberalism, being misrepresented and mistrusted by others — both Catholics and Anglicans alike, the loss of friends, family, and his position in the Anglican Church, and finally, becoming an outcast to England for twenty years. However, none of this kept him from searching for the truth, speaking out for the truth, or living out the truth in his life. Praise God for Cardinal Newman — his holiness, his courage, and his perseverance. May we always seek to imitate him in these virtues.
~ Copyright 2012 Jean M. Heimann.
Blessed John Henry Newman Quote
“I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity – I wish [them] to enlarge [their] knowledge, to cultivate [their] reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism.”