Authors: John Henry Newman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English theologian

February 21, 1801

London, England

August 11, 1890

Birmingham, England


John Henry Newman, who was to be the outstanding figure in nineteenth century English theology, was born in London on February 21, 1801, the oldest son of John Newman, a banker. After private schooling at Ealing, young Newman entered Trinity College, Oxford University, in 1817. Before this time, however, he had felt, at age fifteen, a strong call to a religious vocation. This force was so great that he changed from a course in law to the study of divinity in 1820. {$I[AN]9810000405} {$I[A]Newman, John Henry} {$I[geo]ENGLAND;Newman, John Henry} {$I[geo]CHRISTIAN;Newman, John Henry} {$I[tim]1801;Newman, John Henry}

John Henry Newman

(Library of Congress)

Graduated in 1820, he was made a fellow of Oriel College the next year. By 1831 Newman was made select preacher before the college, having been ordained an Anglican deacon in 1824 and having met his influential friends John Keble, Edward Rosey, and R. H. Froude. While returning from a visit to Italy in 1832 with Froude, he wrote his most famous hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light.” In July, 1833, he heard John Keble preach his famous sermon on the weaknesses of English government in matters of religion. Profoundly moved by this strong appeal, he and several others prepared and published a series of theological tracts called Tracts for the Times. These publications marked the real beginning of the Oxford Movement, later called Tractarianism from the name of the series. Newman and his friends wanted a more secure and rigorous basis of doctrine for the Church of England; they believed that the church had fallen from the high ideals and disciplines of the past, and they advocated a return to the more authoritative faith of previous eras, stressing the Church of England’s affinities with the Roman Catholic faith.

In 1836 Newman became editor of British Critic and was able to exert considerable influence in his praise of the “middle life” of the Anglican faith as opposed to the extremes of other religions. About the same time he began to see the firmness of the Catholic position and learned to admire its principle of authority. In his last tract, Tract XC, published in 1841, Newman displayed his weakening opposition to Catholicism, and after retiring as editor he wrote An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a work defending the Catholic Church from a historical standpoint. In September of 1843 he resigned his living at St. Mary’s Anglican Church at Oxford; two years later he was admitted into the Catholic Church, much to the dismay of his former friends.

He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1847, and in the next year he returned to England, finally settling at Edgbaston Oratory in Birmingham, where he remained for most of the last forty years of his life. In 1851 he was appointed rector of the newly created Catholic University of Ireland, in Dublin, where he wrote his famous series of lectures, Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University Education, later revised as The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated. He resigned his rectorship and returned to Edgbaston in 1858, having also written two novels: Loss and Gain and Callista.

The great work of Newman’s life resulted from an attack made on his sincerity by Charles Kingsley, who had slanderously attacked Newman’s integrity. In his Apologia pro vita sua, published serially in 1864, Newman answered all attacks, and by his obvious sincerity and brilliant writing in this religious autobiography he turned the tide of public opinion in his favor. With the general approbation of the English people Newman continued setting up religious schools. In 1870 he produced An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, a delicately reasoned defense of religious belief which greatly increased his reputation. This reputation was so favorable that when Pope Leo XIII offered Newman the office of cardinal-deacon in February of 1879, most English people were pleased by the honor conferred. He became Cardinal Newman on May 12, 1879. After his return from Rome he resided at Edgbaston until his death on August 11, 1890.

Since his time Newman has stood for sincerity and devotion in religious matters. The extent to which his works are still published is strong evidence of his influence, and there are many Newman Societies established in his honor, particularly on college campuses. The depth of his religious conviction may also be found in his one great poem, The Dream of Gerontius, written while his health was in a precarious state. This deep and moving poem shows that had Newman chosen, he might have been one of the leading poets of the nineteenth century as well as an outstanding theologian.

Author Works Nonfiction: Arians of the Fourth Century, 1833 Tract XXXVIII, 1834 (theology) Tract XLI, 1834 (theology) Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volumes 1–8, 1834–43 Historical Tracts of St. Athanasius, 1843 Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church, 1837 (theology) Lectures on Justification, 1838 (theology) Tract XC, 1841 (theology) Select Treatises of St. Athanasius, 1842 Lives of the English Saints, 1843–44 Essays on Miracles, 1843 Oxford University Sermons, 1843 Sermons on Subjects of the Day, 1843 An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845 (theology) Retraction of Anti-Catholic Statements, 1845 Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 1849 Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, 1850 Present Position of Catholics in England, 1851 Cathedra Sempiterna, 1852 The Idea of a University, 1852 and 1858 Lectures and Essays on University Subjects, 1859 On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, 1859 Apologia pro vita sua, 1864, 1865 (History of My Religious Opinions, 1870) Letter to Dr. Pusey, 1965 An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, 1870 (theology) Essays Critical and Historical, 1871 Tracts Theological and Ecclesiastical, 1871 Causes of the Rise of Arianism, 1872 (theology) Discussions and Arguments, 1872 Historical Sketches, 1872–73 The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated, 1873 Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, 1874 Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 1875 Five Letters, 1875 On the Inspiration of Scripture, 1884 Development of Religious Error, 1885 Stray Essays on Controversial Points, 1890 (theology) Meditations and Devotions, 1893 Addresses to Cardinal Newman and His Replies, 1879–81, 1905 Sermon Notes 1849–1878, 1913 Faith and Prejudice and Other Unpublished Sermons, 1956 The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Volumes I–XXXII, 1961–2008 Newman the Oratorian: His Unpublished Oratory Papers, 1980, 2004 John Henry Newman, [Unpublished] Sermons, 1824–43, 1991– Long Fiction: Loss and Gain, 1848 Callista: A Sketch of the Third Century, 1856 Poetry: Verses on Religious Subjects, 1853 The Dream of Gerontius, 1866 Verses on Various Occasions, 1868 Bibliography Bouyer, Louis. Newman, His Life and Spirituality. Translated by J. L. May. New York: Meridian Books, 1965. Detailed biography illuminating the complex psychology of its subject. Excellent analysis of Newman’s motives for his conversion, his belief in the importance of the laity, and his insistence on the need for intellectual inquiry for all Catholics. Makes extensive use of Newman’s diaries and letters. Edgecombe, Rodney S. Two Poets of the Oxford Movement: John Keble and John Henry Newman. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. This book offers a history and criticism of Keble and Newman. Included are a bibliography and an index. Goslee, David. Romanticism and the Anglican Newman. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1995. Studies the influence of the Romantic movement on Newman’s conceptualization of religion and on his writings. Hollis, Christopher. Newman and the Modern World. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968. Biographical sketch that examines Newman’s ideas and contributions to religion as they affected his contemporaries and the subsequent actions and pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church. Good source of information about both the major events of Newman’s life and the impact his writings have had on changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. Houghton, Walter E. The Art of Newman’s Apologia. 1945. Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1970. Focuses on the artistic qualities of the work rather than on its historical or theological aspects. It includes an in-depth discussion of Newman’s “principles of biography” and prose style as well as diagrams of stylistic analysis; recommended for the more advanced student. Ker, Ian. The Achievement of John Henry Newman. Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1990. This brief study of Newman’s major works is meant as an introduction to his thought. The author includes many quotations from Newman’s work, looking at Newman as a writer, theologian, and philosopher. Ker, Ian. John Henry Newman: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Ker, Ian, ed. Newman the Theologian. Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1990. Though this work focuses on Newman’s theological writings, it contains a valuable biographical study and a bibliography useful for anyone interested in Newman. McGrath, Francis. John Henry Newman: Universal Revelation. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997. A good treatment of Newman’s contributions to the theology of revelation. Martin, Brian. John Henry Newman: His Life and Work. 1982. Reprint. New York: Continuum, 2001. Brief, highly readable biographical sketch, profusely illustrated. Provides short analyses of Newman’s major works, including his novels. Stresses the difficulties Newman had in dealing with the conservative party within the Catholic Church. Trevor, Meriol. Newman. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. The standard biography. Provides well-documented sources, illustrations, and an extensive index. Turner, Frank. John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002. A revisionist intellectual biography that argues Newman’s conversion to Catholicism stemmed more from his antipathy to evangelism than enchantment with Catholicism.

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