Acta Sanctorum: St. John Henry Newman (Oct 9)
October 09, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

October 9

St. John Henry Newman

Life (1801-1890) 

Leader of the Oxford movement, prominent convert to Catholicism, cardinal, and one of the Church’s greatest apologists. He was born in London, the son of a London banker. At the age of seven, he entered the Ealing School and while there became initially attracted to the antireligious writings of Voltaire (1694-1778) and the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), one day announcing his disbelief in God and divine revelation. His master at the school persuaded him to read the writings of John Calvin (1509-1564), and Newman underwent a kind of conversion, reading the Bible with enthusiasm. In 1817, he enrolled at Trinity College, Oxford, and was converted to Anglicanism. In 1822, he became a fellow of Oriel and two years later was ordained a deacon. He was then appointed vice-principal of Alban Hall (1825) and vicar of St. Mary's, Oxford (1828). As a preacher, he attracted a wide following with his superb oratory; the crowds only increased after his resignation in 1832 from his tutorship at Oxford owing to a dispute over religious duties.

From that time, as Newman's belief in Anglicanism declined, he became a leading figure in the Oxford movement and acquired national notoriety for his writings entitled Parochial and Plain Sermons (1834-1842) and his contributions to the Tracts for the Times (1833-1841). He advocated a position for the Anglican Church that he characterized as the via media; this meant that Anglicanism held a middle ground between Romanism (with its papal infallibility) and Protestantism (with its lack of restraint for private judgment). This perspective was more fully developed in the Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (1837) and Lectures on Justification (1838). Finally, he caused a firestorm of controversy in the Anglican Church with “Tract 90” in which he argued that the Thirty-Nine Articles should be interpreted in a manner in keeping with the Council of Trent. To him, the Thirty-Nine Articles were not directed against the leadership of the Catholic Church but the political supremacy of the papacy. Condemned by Anglican authorities, Newman resigned from St. Mary's, ended his association with Oxford, and retired to the village of Littlemore with several friends. His four friends entered the Church over the next several years, largely under Newman's influence, but he did not join himself until 1845. On October 9 of that year he wrote to his sister: “I must tell you what will pain you greatly. This night Father Dominic, the Italian Passionist, sleeps here. . . . I shall ask him to receive me into what I believe to be the One Fold of the Redeemer.” He then issued a defense of his decision, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845).

Newman traveled to Rome after his baptism and was ordained in 1847. He entered the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri and received permission from Pope Pius IX to open an oratory in Birmingham in 1849. From 1851-1858, he served as the first rector of the Catholic University of Dublin, finally resigning in 1858. In 1864, he became embroiled in a controversy with the Protestant clergyman Charlie Kingsley (d. 1875), who had slandered both Newman and the priesthood in an article. After several unsatisfactory exchanges, Newman released his Apologia pro vita sua (1864), a magnificent religious autobiography examining his religious thoughts to the time of his reception into the Church. It is also one of the greatest autobiographical works in the English language, and the primary source for the history of the Oxford movement. In 1870, he wrote A Grammar of Assent, a profound survey on the psychology of faith. Other writings included: Loss and Gain (1848, a novel); Callista (1856, a novel); The Dream of Gerontius (1866, in book form), a poem expressing the departure of a soul to God that was set to music by Edward Elgar (1857-1934); and Idea of a University (1852), containing Newman's vision of a liberal education.

In 1877, Newman was elected an honorary fellow of Trinity College. Two years later, in recognition of his service to the Church, Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal deacon. He chose as his motto, “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem” (“Out of the shadows and images into the truth”). His elevation was greeted with genuine enthusiasm in England and elsewhere, and was considered a significant gesture by the Holy See to the English Catholics. Newman died at Edgebaston, Birmingham, where he had spent his final years, on August 11, 1890.

He was beatified on September 19, 2010 during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to England. 

Pope Francis canonized him on October 13, 2019.


Scriptures (1 Cor. 2:10b-16)

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.  The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,  “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”  But we have the mind of Christ.


(Year A). The Liberal religionists of this day are a very mixed body, and therefore I am not intending to speak against them. There may be, and doubtless is, in the hearts of some or many of them a real antipathy or anger against revealed truth, which it is distressing to think of. Again; in many men of science or literature there may be an animosity arising from almost a personal feeling; it being a matter of party, a point of honour, the excitement of a game, or a consequence of soreness or annoyance occasioned by the acrimony or narrowness of apologists for religion, to prove that Christianity or that Scripture is untrustworthy. Many scientific and literary men, on the other hand, go on, I am confident, in a straightforward impartial way, in their own province and on their own line of thought, without any disturbance from religious opinion in themselves, or any wish at all to give pain to others by the result of their investigations. It would ill become me, as if I were afraid of truth of any kind, to blame those who pursue secular facts, by means of the reason which God has given them, to their logical conclusions: or to be angry with science because religion is bound to take cognizance of its teaching. But putting these particular classes of men aside, as having no special call on the sympathy of the Catholic, of course he does most deeply enter into the feelings of a fourth and large class of men, in the educated portions of society, of religious and sincere minds, who are simply perplexed—frightened or rendered desperate, as the case may be—by the utter confusion into which late discoveries or speculations have thrown their most elementary ideas of religion. Who does not feel for such men? who can have one unkind thought of them? I take up St. Augustine's beautiful words, "Illi in vos sæviant," etc. Let them be fierce with you who have no experience of the difficulty with which error is discriminated from truth, and the way of life is found amid the illusions of the world. How many Catholics have in their thoughts followed such men, many of them so good, so true, so noble! how often has the wish risen in their hearts that some one from among themselves should come forward as the champion of revealed truth against its opponents! Various persons, Catholic and Protestant, have asked me to do so myself; but I had several strong difficulties in the way. One of the greatest is this, that at the moment it is so difficult to say precisely what it is that is to be encountered and overthrown. I am far from denying that scientific knowledge is really growing, but it is by fits and starts; hypotheses rise and fall; it is difficult to anticipate which will keep their ground, and what the state of knowledge in relation to them will be from year to year. In this condition of things, it has seemed to me to be very undignified for a Catholic to commit himself to the work of chasing what might turn out to be phantoms, and in behalf of some special objections, to be ingenious in devising a theory, which, before it was completed, might have to give place to some theory newer still, from the fact that those former objections had already come to nought under the uprising of others. It seemed to be a time of all others, in which Christians had a call to be patient, in which they had no other way of helping those who were alarmed, than that of exhorting them to have a little faith and fortitude, and to "beware," as the poet says, "of dangerous steps." This seemed so clear to me, the more I thought, as to make me surmise, that, if I attempted what had so little promise in it, I should find that the highest Catholic authority was against the attempt, and that I should have spent my time and my thought, in doing what either it would be imprudent to bring before the public at all, or what, did I do so, would only complicate matters further which were already complicated more than enough. And I interpret recent acts of that authority as fulfilling my expectation; I interpret them as tying the hands of a controversialist, such as I should be, and teaching us that true wisdom, which Moses inculcated on his people, when the Egyptians were pursuing them, "Fear ye not, stand still; the Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." And so far from finding a difficulty in obeying in this case, I have cause to be thankful and to rejoice to have so clear a direction in a matter of difficulty. (Apologia pro vita sua)

Musical Selection

LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home— Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene—one step enough for me. 
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou Shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path, but now Lead Thou me on! I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, Pride ruled my will: remember not past years. 
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still Will lead me on, O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till The night is gone; And with the morn those angel faces smile Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.


O God, who bestowed on your Priest John Henry Newman 
the grace to follow your kindly light 
and find peace in your Church; 
graciously grant that, 
through his intercession and example, 
we may be led out of shadows and images 
into the fulness of your truth. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God, for ever and ever. Amen.