*Newman, John Henry

John Henry Cardinal Newman

John Henry Cardinal Newman



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Newman, John Henry

British, 1801–1890
It is a curious paradox that, while John Henry Newman was essentially an “occasional” writer who wrote comparatively few books as such, nevertheless two of his most famous booklength works contain the word “essay” in their titles: An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870). In fact, the Development of Christian Doctrine was never finished, so in that sense it remains an “essay” or attempt at a larger work; while the dry and abstract opening of the Grammar of Assent is so unlike Newman’s usual personal manner as to remind us that the intention to sit down to write a treatise was far from his normal method of proceeding. This can be seen by comparing it with his other chief philosophical work, the Oxford University Sermons (1843), where he adumbrates some of his most original ideas in the form of some brilliantly stimulating essays, albeit ostensibly sermons on Scripture texts. Indeed, the concluding sermon, “The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrine,” which took an hour and a half to deliver, is based on simple and familiar words from the New Testament (“Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”), but is in fact a theological essay that is arguably a better and clearer exposition of his views than the full-length book which it anticipated.
It is hardly a cause for surprise that Newman never wrote, or even contemplated writing, a work of spirituality. Rather, it is to his sermons, preached for specific occasions and to specific congregations, that we must turn for the most concentrated expression of his thoughts on the spiritual life. As well as the more intellectual Oxford University Sermons, there were nine volumes of Anglican sermons published, as opposed to only two volumes for the Catholic period, when, except on more formal occasions, he preached extempore from notes rather than read from a prepared text as he had done as the Vicar of the University Church of St. Mary’s in Oxford. There, Sunday by Sunday, his eyes fixed on his manuscript, he had read out those expositions of the Scripture readings which made such a profound impression on those who heard him, although they were delivered without any attempt at oratorical effect: apart from the legendary low, musical voice and lengthy pregnant pauses, the effect came totally from the words.
Again, the style was conversational rather than rhetorical as the preacher, on the one hand, drew out the thought of the Greek Fathers which had so influenced him but which sounded so unfamiliar a note in the context of Victorian Protestantism; and, on the other hand, seemed to look into the very souls of his hearers with his extraordinarily keen insight into the nature of fallen humanity.
The Oxford University Sermons remain Newman’s most seminal writings, where he not only sketched out some of his most important philosophical and theological ideas, but where he also, in the course of his explorations of the human mind, anticipated the essays and lectures that constitute The Idea of a University (1873), which is still the classic work on a liberal education, but which, far from being a systematic treatise, bears all the marks of its “occasional” genesis. The first part of the book consists of the Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University Education (1852), only half of which were actually delivered, that were commissioned by the church authorities to justify a Catholic university. The second part comprises the Lectures and Essays on University Subjects (1859), which Newman wrote in the course of establishing and presiding over the new Catholic University of Ireland. Nowhere better than in The Idea of a University do we see the force of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ comment that when Newman wrote, what he was essentially doing was to think aloud, so that his prose is really that of cultured conversation—and therefore, one might add, admirably fitted to the literary form of the essay.
Newman has been called the greatest controversialist in English literature—a point which relates not only to the “occasional” nature of so many of his writings but also to the fact that he is never more himself than when he is arguing and debating with real or imagined opponents. This enables him in his Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans (1850) and even more in his Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England (1851) to display his considerable powers as a satirist, powers which had first flowered in print in the letters he had written as an Anglican to the Times on The Tamworth Reading Room (1841).
Again, when we look at his theological work, we can see why his brother Francis thought Newman could have been a formidable barrister, for in so many of his writings, which take the form of tracts, review articles, or lengthy letters intended for publication, he is either attacking or defending a thesis. Thus the three most important of his Catholic works are the article “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” (1859), the Letter to the Rev. E.B.Pusey (1866) on Mariology, and the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1875) on papal infallibility. Similarly, in his Anglican period his two principal theological works were first delivered as Lectures on the Prophetical Offtce of the Church (1837) and as Lectures on Justification (1838) before they were published as books. His own contribution to the Oxford or Tractarian Movement had begun with some historical, polemical articles for the British Magazine on The Church of the Fathers (1840), which began appearing in October 1833, a month before the first of the Tracts for the Times, some of which Newman also wrote. His other more important Tractarian writings include: the essay “On the Introduction of Rationalistic Principles into Revealed Religion,” first published as Tract 73 (1835); “Holy Scripture in Its Relation to the Catholic Creed,” first given as lectures and then mostly published as Tract 85 (1838); and the article “Prospects of the Anglican Church,” originally “The State of Religious Parties” (1839).
Voluminous as Newman’s writings are, it is remarkable how few of the volumes were first written as full-length books. Instead, the vast majority consist of collections of articles, essays, lectures, letters, sermons, and tracts. It is indeed as though Newman required the stimulus of a particular occasion, a particular point of view to advocate or attack, or a particular opponent, before he could put pen to paper.


Born 21 February 1801 in London. Studied at Ealing School, London, 1808–16; Trinity College, Oxford, 1817–22, B.A., 1820. Fellow, Oriel College, Oxford, 1822–45.
Ordained in the Anglican church, 1824; curate, St. Clement’s, Oxford, 1824–26; vicar, St. Mary’s, Oxford, 1828–43. Began the Oxford (Tractarian) Movement, with John Keble and E.B.Pusey, 1833: left it, 1842. Editor and contributor, Tracts for the Times, 1833–41; coeditor, A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church series, from 1838. Joined the Roman Catholic Church, 1845; ordained priest, 1847. Established the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, Birmingham, 1848, and founded the attached boys’ school. Rector, Catholic University of Ireland, Dublin, 1851–58. Editor, the Rambler Catholic journal, 1859.
Made a Cardinal, 1879. Doctor of Divinity, Rome, 1850. Honorary Fellow, Trinity College, Oxford, 1878. Declared Venerable, 1991. Died in Birmingham, n August 1890.

Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
Tracts for the Times, anonymously published by Newman and others, 1833–41
Parochial Sermons, 6 vols., 1834–42; edited by W.J.Copeland, 6 vols., 1868; vol. 2 as Sermons for the Festivals, edited by Vernon Stanley, 1904
Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church, 1837
Lectures on Justification, 1838
The Church of the Fathers, 1840
The Tamworth Reading Room: Letters on an Address by Sir Robert Peel, 1841
Sermons, Bearing on Subjects of the Day, 1843; edited by W.J. Copeland, 1869
Sermons, Chiefly on the Theory of Religious Belief Preached Before the University of Oxford, 1843; enlarged edition, as Fifteen Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, Between A.D. 1826 and 1843, 1872
Plain Sermons by Contributors to Tracts for the Times, vol. 5, 1843; edited by W.J.Copeland, 2 vols., 1808
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845; edited by G.Wiegel, 1960
Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations, 1849
Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church, 1850; revised edition, 1857
Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England, 1851; edited by J.J.Daly, 1942
Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University Education, 1852; revised edition, 1859
The Office and Work of Universities, 1856; as University Sketches, edited by G.Sampson,
1902.; edited by Michael Tierney, 1964
Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, 1857
Lectures and Essays on University Subjects, 1859
Letter to the Rev. E.B.Pusey, D.D. on His Recent Eirenicon, 1866
An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, 1870; edited by Ian Ker, 1985
Miscellanies from the Oxford Sermons and Other Writings, 1870
Two Essays on Scripture Miracles and on Ecclesiastical, 1870
Essays Critical and Historical, 2 vols., 1872,
Historical Sketches, 3 vols., 1872–73
The Idea of a University (includes Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University
Education and Lectures and Essays on University Subjects), 1873; edited by Ian Ker, 1976, and Frank M.Turner, 1996
Tracts Theological and Ecclesiastical, 1874
A Letter to the Duke of Norfolk on the Occasion of Mr. Gladstone’s Recent
Expostulations, 1875
Stray Essays and Controversial Points, 1890
Essays and Sketches, edited by C.F.Harrold, 1948
Sermons and Discourses, edited by C.F.Harrold, 2. vols., 1949
Faith and Prejudice and Other Unpublished Sermons, edited byC. S.Dessain, 1956; as Catholic Sertnons, 1957
A Newman Companion to the Gospels: Sermons, edited by Armel J. Coupet, 1966
The Genius of John Henry Newman: Selections from His Writings, edited by Ian Ker, 1989
Sermons, 1824–1843, edited by Vincent Ferrer Blehl, 2 vols., 1991–93
Selected Sermons, edited by Ian Ker, 1994

Other writings: the autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865), poetry, and over 30 volumes of correspondence.
Collected works edition: Works (Uniform Edition), 41 vols., 1908–18.

Blehl, Vincent Ferrer, John Henry Newman: A Bibliographical Catalogue of His Writings, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978
Griffin, John R., John Henry Newman: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Publications, 1980

Further Reading
Gilley, Sheridan, Newman and His Age, London: Darton Longman and Todd, 1990
Helmling, Steven, The Esoteric Comedies of Carlyle, Newman, and Yeats, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988
Holloway, John, The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument, London: Macmillan, 1953;
New York: Norton, 1965
Houghton, Walter E., The Art of Neivman’s “Apologia”, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, and London: Oxford University Press, 1945
Ker, Ian, John Henry Newman: A Biography, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988
Ker, Ian, The Achievement of John Henry Newman, London: Collins, and Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990
Levine, George, The Boundaries of Fiction: Carlyle, Macaulay, Newman, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1968
Peterson, Linda H., Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of SelfInterpretation, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1986: Chapter 4
Prickett, Stephen, Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Victorian Church, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976: Chapters 6 and 7
Tillotson, Geoffrey, and Kathleen Tillotson, Mid-Victorian Studies, London: Athlone Press, 1965

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