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Heart speaks to heart: the story of Blessed John Newman

15 September, 2010

Pope Benedict will be present in Birmingham at the beatification of Cardinal Newman. Coincidental with this event, Dermot Mansfield SJ has written an excellent and very accessible biography.

224 pp. Veritas Publications. To purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie



  1. The Formative Anglican Years 
  2. Leader of the Oxford Movement 
  3. A Great Revolution of Mind
  4. The Parting of Friends 
  5. Founding the Oratory 
  6. The University in Dublin 
  7. Between Two Worlds 
  8. Dark Days and Faithfulness 
  9. Finding His Voice Again 
  10. Upholding Religious Faith 
  11. And a Cardinal 
    In Retrospect 

Quotations from Selected Writings

  • From Meditations and Devotions 
  • From The Parochial and Plain Sermons
  • From The Dream of Gerontius 



JOHN HENRY NEWMAN, now declared Blessed by the Catholic Church, had one of the most eventful and interesting lives in modern times, spanning the greater part of the nineteenth century. Born in London in 1801, he would spend many years at Oxford and a few at nearby Littlemore. Then apart from a stay in Rome, and some of the 1850s lived in Dublin, he would spend the rest of his long life in Birmingham, dying in that industrial city in 1890. Perhaps at first glance those dates make him seem as belonging to the far distant past — with a whole century intervening between his one and our own — but in important respects Newman can become almost a contemporary figure, speaking directly to us, with a living voice that is still fresh.

For one thing, he was part of a greatly changing environment, as the Industrial Revolution took hold in Britain, with its endless engineering developments, its steam power, leading to an explosion of travel and communication, and out of which the world — certainly the Western world — would evolve into the one we experience now. And Newman himself, like many of his English contemporaries, not only lived through those momentous changes, but also found himself having to change and adapt throughout the whole course of his life.

The earlier and most formative half of his years was spent in the Anglican Church, and the second half was lived in the Catholic Church, all of that containing for him both continuity and upheaval, much searching, and a sifting and weighing of things found. Above all, there was from early on in his life a sense of God; an awareness of the living God before him, calling out to him, and leading him forward, both through dark days and bright ones. That sense of God’s presence was uppermost for him, and it was apparent to his many true friends, who valued him both for his down-to-earth humanity, and for his unique ability to inspire and to guide. Furthermore, it was allied to a greatness of mind, which was courageously won, and was in turn brought to bear on many issues and questions of faith.

For these reasons, and for many more, it can be stated that Newman is worth our attention today. He is one of the great luminaries of the modern era. Any study of him will repay our efforts handsomely, and help our living in what is admittedly a very different world – but one which in some respects he could foresee prophetically in outline. It is because of what I believe is his immense value for us that these chapters are offered to the interested reader. Whether you are looking to Newman for the first time, or wish to refresh your understanding or perhaps gain some further insight into him, it is my hope that you will be enriched by the person whose presence is intended to fill these pages.

I am conscious of many people who have helped me in getting this book together. Mary Sheehy, to whom it is dedicated, constantly encouraged me with her great interest. Thomas Morrissey, in my own Jesuit community, who has been a prolific writer, especially on some notable figures in Irish Church history, provided me with helpful advice and some useful material. Paul Andrews, another Jesuit confrere, especially believed that I could write this book. Teresa Iglesias and Anne McNeill, in the Newman Research Library at Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, generously gave me access to the huge collection there, as did Mary Glennon and her staff at the Milltown Park Jesuit Library. Another library, incidentally, with useful material included our own one here at Manresa House, Dublin. I have to thank, of course, my own Jesuit confreres in allowing me so much time over the past while to read and research and prepare these chapters. As well, many years ago, the late Gerard Tracey, Archivist at the Birmingham Oratory, was kind and welcoming to me when I was preparing a Licentiate dissertation on Newman’s Anglican sermons. And two other figures from the past must be mentioned, Fr Edward Fitzgerald SJ, the best of friends and a keen reader of Newman, and especially Fr Brocard Mansfield ODC, my uncle, who first introduced me to Newman in 1963. To him I am especially grateful. I retain the fondest of memories of my first visit to Newman’s Oxford, and to Littlemore, in 1968, in my uncle’s company. To Donna Doherty, commissioning editor at Veritas Publications, who asked me to write this book, I am of course indebted. I also wish to thank Caitríona Clarke, Manager of Publications of Veritas, for her help.

Dermot Mansfield


Apo      Apologia pro Vita Sua
Ari        Arians of the Fourth Century
AW       Autobiographical Writings
Dev      Development of Christian Doctrine
Diff       Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching
GA        Grammar of Assent
Idea     Idea of a University
Jfc         Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification
LD         Letters and Diaries ofJohn Henry Newman
PS         Parochial and Plain Sermons
SD         Sermons on Subjects of the Day
SVO       Sermons Preached on Various Occasions
US         Fifteen Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford
VM         The Via Media of the Anglican Church

Apart from the Autobiographical Writings and the Letters and Diaries, the references are to the uniform edition of Newman’s works, which he collected between 1869 and 1881. These were published by Longmans, Green and Co. until the stock was destroyed in World War II. Any exceptions, or other references, will be mentioned.



By the standards of the time — and indeed in certain respects those of our own — Newman’s family background and upbringing was quite privileged. Born at 80 Old Broad Street in the City of London on 21 February 1801, John Henry was the eldest of six children, divided equally between boys and girls making up the family of John Newman and Jemima Fourdrinier. His father was the son of a grocer, of humble ancestry in East Anglia, and had managed to do well for himself as a partner in a small banking firm. His mother, however, whose background was French, came from a more prosperous family of paper manufacturers, who were of Protestant Huguenot stock and had come to England via Holland to escape persecution. Soon after their first child’s birth, they moved west to 17 Southampton Street (now Southampton Place), in Bloomsbury, as gradually the family expanded to include Charles, Harriet, Frank, young Jemima and Mary. They also took Grey Court House, at Ham near Richmond, as their country house for a number of years. It was a wonderful place for young John Henry, his ‘Paradise’, where he remembered long after hearing from his crib the soft sound of the scythe cutting the grass outside, the house and setting often being in his dreams.

The Newmans were evidently a happy couple, delighting in their lively and adventurous growing children. As for religion, they were members of the Anglican Established Church, John holding moderate and open-minded views, and suspicious of anything enthusiastic. Jemima however was devoutly religious, and wished in particular to inculcate an attachment to and love of the Bible in her family. With regard to education, they were keen to get the best possible for John Henry, who at the age of seven was sent as a boarder to the flourishing Great Ealing School, run by Dr George Nicholas, a kind and warm family friend. It was an excellent choice, as the school continued the sense of security the boy had found at home, while also providing him with an enlightened and stimulating education, rounded out by the performance of plays, debating and music, as well as boating, bathing and riding. A quick learner, he was also a leader among some of the boys, starting a club and founding school newspapers, while in his spare time devouring the Waverley novels of Sir Walter Scott as they came out. When he was ten, his father bought him a violin, and with the help of his music teacher he was soon accomplished in its use – playing, among other works, sonatas by the contemporary Beethoven, a love for whom stayed with him.

There were however tumultuous distant events in Europe that would impinge upon the relatively enclosed world he knew then. As a small child in bed at Ham in October 1805, John Henry had watched the candles lighting at the windows to honour the naval victory at Trafalgar, which removed the threat of invasion by Napoleon. But early in 1816 his secure school and family existence was shattered when, in the aftermath of the ending of the Napoleonic wars, his father’s bank was among a number that failed. It was a crushing blow. Although managing to pay back all his depositors, the elder Newman’s confidence never recovered, and the family fortunes went steadily downhill. That summer, it was decided that their fifteen-year-old son should remain over the holidays in the school at Ealing because of the upheaval at home, which he did. Lonely and desolate, he fell seriously ill for a time. But then a great change came over him, leading to a deep appreciation of Christian faith, and of a kind that would remain in essence with him over his whole lifetime.

Although brought up as an Anglican, and conventionally observant in his religion, the young Newman in truth was at a critical stage in his development. As would have been the case with some other young enquiring people then, he had been toying to some extent with the sceptical literature of the time, wondering about the immortality of the soul, and thinking that perhaps it would be best ‘to be virtuous but not religious’. But now this unexpected blow to his family, and his own illness, led him into completely new and uncharted territory, where he believed that God ‘mercifully touched his heart’, changing him in a radical way.

Newman always looked back with gratitude to the young clergyman, Walter Mayers, who taught at the school, and who was on hand that summer and into the autumn and winter of 1816 to guide him. Many years later, in 1864, when as a Catholic he wrote the classic account of his religious development in the Apologia pro Vita Sua, he spoke of this experience as an ‘inward conversion’, one that took place over the final five months of 1816. In particular, and reiterating a previous childhood mistrust of material phenomena around him, he was brought to rest ‘in the thought of two and only two absolutely and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator’ (1).

He was greatly helped by the books Mayers lent him, especially The Force of Truth (1779) by Thomas Scott. What made a great impression on him was Scott’s teaching on the Blessed Trinity, allied to what he learned then about the Incarnation and the Redemption. ‘These great central truths of the Christian faith became vividly real for him. Personally, he saw himself now as a sinful but redeemed creature before God, and in consequence drawn in thankfulness to serve God with all he had. In this way there came about what has been described as his earnest quest for holiness, and especially through the influence of Thomas Scott. And in the Apologia he said that ‘for years I used almost as proverbs what I considered to be the scope and issue of his doctrine, “holiness rather than peace”, and “growth the only evidence of life”‘(2).

It is worthy of note that both Newman’s mentor Walter Mayers and the author Thomas Scott were exemplars of the Evangelical Revival in the Church of England. Both of these had undergone the kind of conversion experience considered central to Evangelicalism – and in a way that was what Newman underwent during those months. The Evangelical Revival had begun in the previous century in England as an enthusiastic religious movement, embracing rich and poor, and partly in reaction to what was felt to be the uninspiring mainstream life of the Established Church. A great emphasis was placed on scripture, and on preaching as the means by which the Holy Spirit largely operated in bringing about the salvation of souls. But it was the personal experience of conversion that was considered the mark of salvation, as celebrated for instance in the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ by John Newton, another well-known Evangelical cleric of the time. Powerful in its effects on a great many people, Evangelicalism was responsible for a renewed vitality within the Church of England, while also, through John Wesley and others, leading to the separate and more populist movement of Methodism.

Here was a thoughtful young fifteen-year-old profoundly influenced by Evangelicalism. There were however aspects to his Evangelical outlook that would soon change. Thus he held for a time the belief that the Pope was anti-Christ, as was thought in some Protestant circles to have been predicted in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. And for a short while he considered as true the Calvinist tenet of double predestination: that through God’s mercy some are chosen to eternal life, while others are left unredeemed and therefore ‘predestined’ to eternal loss. More positively, there was the wide theological horizon opened up, centred on the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and which he would keep before him through devotion to the Athanasian Creed. It was filled out by long readings from the Fathers, St Augustine and others, which he found in the Evangelical History of the Church of Christ by Joseph Milner. Also, what he called in the Apologia the ‘main Catholic doctrine of the warfare between the city of God and the powers of darkness’ was impressed upon him from another source. That dramatic and apocalyptic scenario was one that would always be there for him, and a motivation for the concerns engaging him throughout his life.

At the heart of it all was the sense of being personally chosen by God – and so he set out with all he had to live day by day in God’s presence. Moreover, ‘a deep imagination’, as he called it, took hold of him that autumn: that it was God’s will he should live a single life. This was a rare enough ideal in Protestantism, and was much misunderstood when he mentioned it later in the Apologia. But such was the awareness he had of God’s presence and calling, setting him apart, that the notion for him was very real. It was one which would, except for a few times of doubt and testing, remain with him onwards in his Anglican life, and through the Catholic phase beyond.

Life moved on for him quickly. His father, despite his precarious financial situation, was determined to send his eldest son to university. In June 1817, aged just sixteen, John Henry travelled to historic Oxford, with its beautiful surrounds, cradled by the River Isis (as the Thames is known there) and its tributary, the Cherwell. He took up residence in Trinity College, to which he had gained admittance the previous December. A large world began to open out for him from then onward through his studies, which alongside the classics and mathematics were quite wide-ranging, and through meeting new companions. Newman was always someone who made friends, and some of those he made in the early years at Oxford would remain so for life – especially John Bowden, whom he met the very first day he came into residence. Although Bowden was three years older, the two of them became inseparable companions during their years in Trinity.

The following year he won a college scholarship for nine years, which relieved the financial pressure on his father. Although able to enjoy life, he stood back firmly from the drinking culture the gentlemen students tried at times to force upon him, which gained him the respect of some. In 1820 he took his degree examinations, but lost his nerve during them and did badly as a result. At nineteen, he was three years younger than most who took a degree, and had overworked, without adequate supervision. His family were a big support to him afterwards – especially his father, even though he was now heading towards bankruptcy, with the house in Southampton Street and its contents having to be sold, and the family then moving into successively cheaper lodgings in London.

But still John Henry had a degree, and his scholarship, and so could continue. With confidence in his ability, which others shared, he hoped he could eventually become a Fellow of Oriel College, which was pre-eminent in Oxford at that time. He let his enquiring mind roam freely, with serious incursions into music composition and astronomy; also into the natural sciences, philosophy, history, Hebrew and Arabic, and law. Then at Easter 1822 he took the examinations for Oriel, thinking this would be only a trial attempt. But he found himself doing well as the days went on, and felt helped by the words in the stained-glass window in the hall, ‘Pie repone te’, ‘lovingly rest yourself’. On 12 April he learned he had been successful, and joining the names of Fellows which were then among the most prestigious in the university, he was now an equal among the academics making up the community of Oriel, with a place for life if need be, and an income. The day of his election he later called ‘of all days the most memorable. It raised me from obscurity and need to competency and reputation’ (3). It also meant he could support his impoverished family, in their very straitened circumstances, and with his father now irreversibly declining in health.

Intellectually, the time ahead in Oriel was profoundly significant. Its leading lights were around him, including the Provost Edward Copleston, John Keble, Richard Whately, Edward Hawkins and John Davison. From the first, he found himself being challenged and drawn out by them, especially by Richard Whitely, who was later to be Archbishop of Dublin, and Edward Hawkins, Vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. In their company, Newman learned to enter into the views of others, while also to think resolutely for himself and weigh up opinions in a clear-headed way. It was an exciting and liberating atmosphere, not without its temptations, as he put it later, ‘to prefer intellectual excellence to moral’. Yet he had gradually set his sights on seeking Anglican orders, and on 13 June 1824 he was ordained deacon. ‘I am thine, O Lord’, he wrote in his journal that day, as he pondered the idea of ‘giving up all for God’. And the following day he added, ‘I have the responsibility of souls on me to the day of my death'(4). And indeed, the rest of his life could be read in the light of that responsibility.

He took on the curacy of the parish of St Clement across the bridge over the Cherwell at Magdalen College. There, many of the people were poor, and he soon started on rounds of visiting them, especially the sick, and began regular preaching. He also was instrumental in raising substantial money to build a new church, to replace the old one in which he officiated. His first sermon, actually in a distant country church where his former guide Walter Mayers was curate, was on the text: ‘Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening’ (Ps 104). Many years later it was to be the text of his last Anglican sermon.

That September his father died, and he now became the breadwinner for his whole family. He wrote at the time: ‘When I die shall I be followed to the grave by my children? My mother said the other day she hoped to live to see me married, but I think I shall either die within a College walls, or a Missionary in a foreign land —no matter where, so that I die in Christ’ (5).

As he visited his parishioners in their homes, the young pastor came up against hard facts, which ran counter to the simplistic Evangelical way of classifying humanity as either subject to darkness or light. He found himself meeting many different kinds of people, and, inconsistent though he found them to be on aspects of faith, he could not help but admit that grace was at work in their lives. Edward Hawkins too criticised his initial preaching on conversion as naive, in the way he divided people into categories of nominal and real Christianity, and on how he insisted on the process of conversion, with a clear-cut division between those who either had or had not undergone the experience. Soon the narrow mentality of Evangelicalism gave way, as his own good sense and his concern for truth led him to see that it was to an extent an unreal system. ‘What shall I do?’ he exclaimed in his journal after conversation with an argumentative Calvinist couple, ‘I really desire the truth’ (6).

On 25 May 1825 he was ordained priest. In addition he was by now Vice-Principal of St Alban’s Hall, a residence for students, and was occupied as a College Tutor, raising additional money to support his family and get his brother Frank through university. All these demands were such that at Easter 1826 he gave up St Clement’s, feeling his talents at that point lay in tutoring and in what were to him the pastoral responsibilities for the young university men under his charge. With them, especially the gentlemen commoners, he had a reputation for kindness, but steely determination in tackling low standards, especially any dissipation on the few occasions when they were expected to take Holy Communion.

One unusual companion of his for a time at Oriel was the Spaniard Blanco White, of Irish descent, who had been a Roman Catholic priest, Canon of Seville Cathedral, before taking on the Liberal cause and then entering the Anglican ministry. With Newman he shared a love of the violin, and together they were involved in playing Beethoven’s Quartets. But whatever liberal ideas they had in common did not last. And soon Blanco White was to lose his belief in the divinity of Christ, and head via Unitariansim into Pantheism. For Newman, the story of his loss of belief would provide much food for thought.

His own move in a very different direction would be helped by a series of events. In the autumn of 1827 he became quite ill for a time, and suffered a serious loss of confidence, mainly due to overwork. Worse was to come. Over the Christmas and New Year holidays he went home to be with his family, which he had arranged to get settled at Brighton. Suddenly, on the eve of Epiphany, his youngest sister Mary took ill and died. Only nineteen, she had been very close to her eldest brother. Maria Giberne, a friend of the family (and who would have a lifelong loyalty to John Henry), was there at the time, and saw the effect it had on him. He was utterly shocked by what had happened, and often afterwards, even into old age, tears came to his eyes when he thought of Mary. He struggled to believe that it was all within God’s providence, and the blow revived in him his deep sense of the unseen world surrounding our own, and more real than the material one we touch. As he wrote to his sister Jemima months later, after riding out from Oxford in the countryside: Dear Mary seems embodied in every tree and hid behind every hill. What a veil and curtain this world of sense is! Beautiful, but still a veil’ (7). And both his own illness and Mary’s loss shocked him out of a reliance on intellectual prowess and into a deeper dependence in faith on God’s designs.

Much more happened in those early months of 1828. Edward Copleston had departed from Oriel, on becoming Bishop of Llandaff. Hawkins was now elected Provost, and Newman went on to succeed him as vicar of the lovely church of St Mary’s, his institution taking place on 14 March. Centrally situated, with a seventeenth-century statue of the Virgin and Child over its entrance on the High Street, its impressive spire then as now dominated Oxford. But despite its title as the University Church, the normal congregation at St Mary’s was made up largely of the families of shopkeepers, tradesmen and servants in the colleges, and soon Newman was busy teaching catechism to their children. In time, however, and since he was also on occasion official preacher to the university, his sermons there would attract a wider and more learned audience – and when published, would have a profound effect upon many of a whole generation in England and further afield.

Throughout, there was a whole pattern of enquiry and growth going on in Newman’s religious understanding. Already, at the time of his Evangelical conversion, his Trinitarian faith began to provide him with a vision of the great components of revealed truth, centred on the meaning of the Incarnation and our Redemption. Then Hawkins helped to wean him off his emphasis on the experience of conversion itself, and to recognise the efficacy of Baptism. Hawkins too supplemented his reverence for Scripture by pointing to the role of Church tradition in its interpretation. And by his own reading, especially, of Bishop Butler’s Analogy of Religion, he began to acquire a strong sense of the Church as ‘the oracle of truth and pattern of sanctity’, so that even in his early preaching at St Clement’s he was insisting on the visible nature of the Church, and its being ‘Catholic’ and ‘Apostolic’.

And now, other figures at Oriel College began to exercise a decisive influence on him – but from a different standpoint, that of the traditional High Church strand of Anglicanism. Thus he had already come to admire Edward Bouverie Pusey, elected to Oriel in 1823, who went on to pursue further studies in Germany and would become Professor of Hebrew at Oxford. In 1827 Pusey, at his request, brought him back folio editions of the Greek and Latin Fathers from Germany, and starting in the summer of 1828 he began reading them systematically. Already enamoured by his initial reading of excerpts of Augustine and Ambrose and others in 1816, Newman now entered into a long process of assimilating the patristic writings, believing that the early centuries offered the great normative interpretation of Christian revelation and life. He also came close to two other significant people, Hurrell Froude, elected a Fellow in 1826, and John Keble, whom he had known a little but revered greatly since beginning at Oriel. The older and self-effacing Keble, who had never attended school before coming to Oxford, had been the most brilliant student of his generation. He had joined Oriel in 1811, was now Professor of Poetry, and was author of the much-loved collection of hymns and religious poetry, The Christian Year, verses from which Newman’s sister Mary had been repeating by heart as she lay dying.

People like these, and other High Churchmen, whom the formerly Evangelical Newman came to know, paved the way for him to understand their classical predecessors, namely the major Anglican theologians, or ‘divines’, as they were known, from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many of those earlier figures, especially from the Caroline era – the reigns of Charles I and Charles II – had also been patristic scholars, although it would be some time yet before Newman made an intimate acquaintance with their writings. Keble and Pusey in particular, with their learning, represented these for Newman. Hurrell Froude in turn was the disciple of Keble. He said later that ‘the one good thing’ he did in life was to bring Keble and Newman to understand each other.

Froude did more than that, however. Especially, he helped Newman to look beyond even the Reformation itself, and acquire some sympathy with the Church of Rome, especially in its medieval period. This was significant, and would lead to the evaporation of his idea of the Pope as Anti-Christ. He brought him as well to accept the doctrine of the Real Presence and to have devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He also held before him in a new light the ideal of priestly celibacy. This was at a time when Newman witnessed some deeply happy marriages, especially John Bowden’s, which was to Elizabeth Swinburne, from a well-known formerly Catholic family in Northumberland. Pusey also at this time married Maria Barker, who in turn became friendly with Newman. At one point, Newman found himself attracted by Froude’s lovely sisters, when staying at their father’s home in Devon. But while he accepted that marriage and family life suited priests in settled country parsonages, he believed that those like himself who were involved in more missionary situations, whether at home or abroad, should remain single.

In fact, this was how Newman saw himself engaged at this time. He was fast becoming the centre of an active and talented group, and therefore in a situation which required of him a high degree of personal commitment. Among these companions was the future High Church theologian, Robert Wilberforce, who with Froude had become a Fellow of Oriel in 1826. Others came from among Newman’s most talented pupils, such as Frederic Rogers, and Henry Wilberforce, the younger brother of Robert – sons of the great William Wilberforce, the Evangelical slave emancipator. All of them were being brought together in espousing the cause of the Church, which they felt was coming under threat from a variety of sources. There was certainly a widespread alienation from Anglicanism at this time, occurring in the growing industrial cities and towns. And, in the aftermath of the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, a new reforming Whig government had replaced the Tories, who were determined to trim the Established Church’s outmoded privileges and influence. But while ecclesiastical power and prestige were likewise anathema to High Church people like Keble and Newman, in principle they were opposed to government interference. They were also united against what they saw as a growing Liberal spirit in Oxford and elsewhere in England, fuelled by political and philosophical developments in Europe – and which was the enemy of the orthodoxy they were now espousing. For them, the Liberal approach posed a real threat to revealed religion, exalting the independent rational mind as the proud arbiter of truth, and leading to a decay of trust in religious authority.

Hawkins and Whately naturally were alarmed at what was to them the growing reactionary attitude of their young former protege. Whately believed Newman had deserted the Liberal cause and was assuming an orthodox mantle because he was ambitious for advancement in the Church. And Hawkins, as Provost, considering in any case that Newman’s pastoral approach to academic tutoring was out of place, took action by stopping his supply of pupils, so that in 1830 his role as College Tutor was ended, depriving him of much-needed income for his family. He still had the main responsibility for his mother and sisters, who at this time moved close to him, setting up house in the riverside village of Iffley, which was near Littlemore, an outlying district of his parish.

In the spring of 1831 he began work on a study of the Council of Nicea, having been invited to contribute to the proposed publication of a theological library on the early Councils of the Church. ‘It was to launch myself on an ocean with currents innumerable,’ he wrote in the Apologia (8). The outcome was his first book, completed in 1832, and published the following year, not as part of the proposed series, but as a volume on its own entitled The Arians of  the Fourth Century. It dealt with the controversies of the crucial period surrounding the Council of Nicea (325), and especially with the divisions coming in its wake. Among other things, it included what is still a fine outline of the scriptural and theological doctrine of the Trinity (9). Above all, the Church of Alexandria became the focus of Newman’s study, which was then, as he saw it, ‘the natural mediator between East and West’, and personified in the towering figure of its bishop St Athanasius, ‘who, after the Apostles, has been a principal instrument, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world’ (10).

His book was a major historical and theological treatise, therefore, and intended to show in an exemplary light the perennial Catholic dimension of the Church. This was a reality growing powerfully in his mind and heart. He was beginning to see very clearly that ‘there was something greater than the Established Church, and that was the Church Catholic and Apostolic, set up from the beginning, of which she was both the local presence and the organ. She was nothing, unless she was this’ (11). Throughout, his sermons were attracting more and more notice. Two important ones, but preached at Tunbridge Wells, were entitled ‘Knowledge of God’s will without Obedience’ and ‘The Religion of the Day’, where he showed that the ‘religion’ of civilisation was becoming a substitute for authentic Christianity. One interesting group of sermons at St Mary’s presented fascinating moral portraits of key Old Testament personalities: Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon and Jeroboam. He also delivered during 1830-1832 eight official University Sermons, where he set out the principles he was developing for a philosophy of religion. Especially in “The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion’ he treated the subject of conscience – a theme that would occupy him onwards through his life. Conscience for him, as he said then, was really the religious sense within us, pointing to ‘a Supreme Power, claiming our habitual obedience’, and also the moral sense, providing us with ‘the inward law of right and wrong’. It is at the source of Natural Religion, therefore, but needing to be complemented by the great personal object of our devotion and worship given in Revealed Religion (12).

Meanwhile his personal quest continued, as subsequent events led to a spiritual crisis, on which he would often ponder. Froude was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and his father, Archdeacon Froude, who had already lost his wife and another son to the disease, was anxious to take Hurrell to the warmer climate of the Mediterranean in the winter of 1832-1833. The Froudes asked Newman to accompany them, and needing a break after the effort of writing his book on the Arians, he agreed to do so. Setting out from Falmouth on their long sea voyage, they made their way to Corfu, visiting also Malta, Palermo, Naples and finally Rome. Despite his theological Catholic sympathies, much of what Newman saw of contemporary Roman Catholicism did not appeal to him. In Rome itself, they received news that the government at home was moving to abolish some of the Irish Anglican bishoprics, and were incensed, intending to act resolutely when they returned to England. Before leaving, they made personal contact with the Roman church by meeting Dr Nicholas Wiseman, Rector of the English College, a man who was to play an important role in Newman’s life later on. As they parted, Wiseman expressed the hope that they might visit Rome again – to which Newman was moved to reply, ‘We have a work to do in England’.

Clearly, there was a serious challenge awaiting them back in England. As the Froudes started on their journey home, however, Newman decided to leave them, against their advice. The beauty of Sicily had fascinated him when they were there earlier, and now he was determined to make his way back alone, to view once more its relics of antiquity. But while there, and in the middle of all that enthralled him, he became seriously ill with fever and nearly died. Everything became personally dark for him too, as he found himself entering into a state of personal turmoil and self-recrimination.

He recalled that just before leaving Oxford, he had preached the sermon, ‘Wilfulness the Sin of Saul’, linking that Old Testament figure to the indifference and disdain being shown in some quarters to the Church. Now in Sicily, as soon as he felt the illness coming on, he began to dread that it was he himself who had committed that sin of wilfulness, despite having professed to be a spiritual leader of others. He felt that much of what he had been trying to do at home was governed by proud self-will. ‘I seemed to see more and more my utter hollowness.’ He chastised himself in the quarrel with Hawkins over the tutorship: ‘Then I bitterly blamed myself, as disrespectful and insulting to the Provost, my superior.’ He thought too that he had received the Sacrament at that time in malice and resentment.

Yet, when his fever was at its worst, over ten or eleven days, he also had the thought that God had not abandoned him. He kept on saving to himself, ‘I have not sinned against light’, and at one moment, ‘I had a most consoling overpowering thought of God’s electing love, and seemed to feel I was his.’ Recovering a little strength, he set out with the help of the local servant he had hired to get to a ship at Palermo, feeling as he travelled that he must shed reliance on self, and go instead on God’s way, ‘that I must put myself in his path, his way’. Again he fell ill with fever, and was laid up for some weeks – during which he found himself saying over and over to Gennaro, his uncomprehending servant, the words he had said to Wiseman in Rome: ‘I have a work to do in England’ (13).

Finally he set sail from Palermo on the first leg the journey home. Before his illness, throughout the earlier travels he had been writing quite an amount of poetry. And now as he was finally headed home, when the ship was becalmed in the straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia, on 16 June 1833 he wrote ‘The Pillar of the Cloud’. It would later, as a hymn, be best known across the Christian denominations by its opening lines:

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 I 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.


  1. Apo, p. 4.
  2. Ibid., p. 5.
  3. AW, p. 63.
  4. Ibid., pp. 200-1.
  5. Ibid., p. 203.
  6. Ibid., p. 202; italics as elsewhere, in original.
  7. LD, II, p. 61.
  8. Apo, p. z6.
  9. Ari, pp. 151-78.
  10. Ibid., pp. 374–5•
  11. Apo, pp. 31-2.
  12. cf. OUS, pp. 18-25.
  13. cf. AW, pp. 121-38.

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