The Life and Times of Blessed Cardinal Newman
Newman the Anglican protagonist and his impact on 19th century English Christianity.
He epitomised through his life the driving force of a properly informed conscience – what he called the dictates of conscience. His life can only be understood in this light. His conscience led him from one life enhancing decision to another.
2. EARLY LIFE
He started at Oxford University in the 1820’s even before then he remembered the candles being put out and lit in the bay windows for the victory at Trafalgar 1805. He began as a driven Anglican Evangelical (Thomas Scott rector of Aston Sandford – a firm believer in the biblical stream – was a great inspiration to Newman in his early Christian years). Through Oxford University he flunked his finals but he became an old fashioned celibate don at Oriel College. His ecclesiastical and religious life took off with his parish priest’s position at St Mary’s, the Oxford University Church – a prized living and a great accolade for Newman in the 1830’s. He had a number of Oxford University Anglican friends e.g. Hurrell Froude and Keble. He and Hurrell made a visit to Italy in early 1830’s. They had more than a passing interest in things ‘Roman’. Hurrell died soon after returning to England much to Newman’s regret – he felt bereft of a great friend and likeminded thinker – irreplaceable he felt. “Lead kindly light” was written on this expedition when Newman was alone with his Italian manservant.
3. THE TRACTARIAN MOVEMENT
This was the product of prodigious analysis and thought. Newman and Keble and others tried to reconcile 19th Century Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism of that time. They did it as Anglicans and very nearly succeeded. It was not Rome who snuffed out their impetus but the Anglican Bishops – the Heads of Houses as they were known.
If the leaders of the Established Church had accepted Tract 90 by Newman (equating the Anglican 39 Articles to Catholicism) then the gulf between Catholicism and Anglicanism would have been bridged forever. Keble backed Tract 90 himself. The result would eventually have been reunion. Newman could work miracles and Tract 90 was a miracle of exposition on the meaning of being an Anglican in the 1830’s. As Newman discovered you are not admired for entering the invisible world. Without doubt in Tract 90 he made that excursion. As Newman used to truly say be bigoted rather that a timeserver. He personified that dictum in his life. He was prepared to go all the way of his line of thinking whatever the consequences.
4. THE CRUNCH
This came with Newman’s realisation his Anglicanism was paper thin – he had practically been thrown out of the Established Church on account of Tract 90 – a highly volatile and explosive work of expostulation and interpretation of the 39 Articles in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) Anglican. Tract 90 either could have reunited the two Churches or the ecclesiastical choices drove Newman to make the final sacrifice in his life and adopt Roman Catholicism in place of his beloved and espoused lifelong Anglicanism. He had spent the best years of his preaching and writing life as an Anglican Priest. His best sermons and religious verses date from his Anglican days. He became a Catholic and priest of the Roman Church in about 1845. He had 45 years in the Church of Rome approximately dying in 1890. The sacrifice of his Anglican heart and soul was a terribly exacting price of his conversion but iron did not enter his soul. Not only was this price paid in this loss of his prestigious Anglican position: St Mary’s, Oxford University Church, it was also paid in the traumatic loss of friendship as so many of his friends turned their back on him for going over to Rome. It was regarded by many as treachery of the highest degree. What a terrible fate for the man who had been regarded as the foremost Anglican thinker pre-1845 in the Established Church and the vast English speaking world. We should not underestimate the cataclysmic loss of face and esteem for Newman.
5. 1845 ONWARDS
Yet he ploughed on into new territory for him in the Roman Catholic Church namely University life in Dublin, the defence of Catholicism against the defaming imposter and defrocked priest Achille, the Ramble Catholic periodical for a short time, running the Oratory School, Egbaston, explaining infallibility and the First Vatican Council to his fellow Roman Catholics, constant attention to his parishioners in Edgbaston and administering the sacraments to them, writing the extremely challenging (to himself) “The Grammar of Assent” and at the beginning of his Roman Catholic life in the late 1840’s securing the institution of the Birmingham Oratory and London Oratory under the Vatican’s imprimatur. Of course he received the Cardinal’s hat in 1880 but by then his job was completed. He could take a more relaxed position.
What is the message of Newman’s life? Never be complacent and always fight for what is right i.e. never hide your light under a bushel. Newman kept on challenging himself and would not rest until the job was done and he was never content to sit back. His inspiring powerful insight and vision came through by his example although his actual writings are complex and difficult to understand and follow: The man is greater than his writings I would argue and his actions speak louder than his words. With Newman what he left behind in 1845 was a massive bereavement and it left its “stigmata” on him. It stayed with him as they say. That is the essence of a life well lived – be changed and thereby permanently marked by your life as Newman was and he believed should happen to all of us. Without doubt we are all “stigmatised” but in the best sense of that word not its derogatory sense. Newman the Doctor teaches acceptance of life changing decisions in our lives whereby we grow close to Heaven itself.
His epitaph in my heart – Newman “A great teacher of life”.