Holy priests: Saint John Henry Newman

The figure and teachings of St. John Henry Newman continue to be extremely relevant and offer Christians the example of a tireless commitment to the truth in spite of the obstacles.

Manuel Belda-November 13, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: Portrait of J. H. Newman by Sir John Everett Millais

Your life

St. John Henry Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801, of Anglican parents. He was the first-born of six children in the family, three boys and three girls.

In 1816, at the age of fifteen, he had a religious and intellectual experience that led him out of skepticism, and from that moment on he set out to become a saint. In 1817 he began his studies at Oxford and in 1825 he was ordained minister of the Anglican Church. From 1828 to 1843 he exercised his ministry in the church. Saint Mary the VirginHe is a professor at the University of Oxford, where he preaches numerous sermons.

In 1833 he began with a group of friends, the so-called Oxford Movementa reform movement in the Anglican Church, and publishes 30 of the 90 pamphlets called Tracts for the Timeson doctrinal issues.

In 1842 he left the university church and retired to Littlemore, a small village near Oxford, to devote himself to study and prayer, where in 1845 he was received into the Catholic Church by the Passionist religious Domenico Barbieri.

In 1846 he traveled to Rome for ecclesiastical studies and was ordained a Catholic priest there on May 30, 1847. He decided to become an Oratorian in order to establish the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England, and founded the first English Oratorian community in Maryvale, near Birmingham.

Newman had to suffer many misunderstandings after his conversion to Catholicism, both from Anglicans and Catholics themselves. Leo XIII created him cardinal in 1879. He died in Edgbaston, on August 11, 1890.

He was beatified by Benedict XVI in Birmingham on September 19, 2010 and canonized in St. Peter's Square by Pope Francis on October 13, 2019.

His works

He wrote numerous works. Without claiming to be exhaustive, the most characteristic ones are presented in chronological order, divided into two periods.

a) Anglican period

- Parochial and Plain Sermons.

- Fifteen Sermons preached before the University of Oxford, 1826-1843.

- Sermons bearing on Subjects of the Day, 1831-1843.

- Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, 1838.

- An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845.

b) Catholic period

- Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert, 1848.

- Discourses addressed to Mixed Congregations, 1849.

- Sermons preached on Various Occasions, 1850-1873.

- Lectures on the Present Position of Catholic in England, 1851.

- The Idea of a University, 1858.

- Apologia pro vita sua, 1864.

- An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, 1870.

- Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman. Posthumous book containing notes taken by Newman in his meditation.

His teachings

For reasons of space we cannot present here his profound philosophical and theological thought, so we will limit ourselves to giving three brushstrokes on his rich spiritual doctrine.

A. Christian holiness

Holiness is a dominant theme in Newman's writings, which he affirms to be the great end of human life. To attain it requires three things: to seek it, to desire it and to love it. It is a dynamic reality that must grow. He gives the example of the seed and the tree: the seed of baptismal grace is destined to grow forever. Holiness is the fruit of divine initiative and human cooperation. On the part of the Christian, ascetic struggle is required. For this reason he affirms: "Struggle is the distinctive sign most proper to the Christian. He is a soldier of Christ".

Newman maintains that it is possible to achieve holiness by living in the midst of the world. He affirms that the Christian should strive to collaborate with Christ in the redemption of this world. He is fully convinced that the world and the duties of the Christian in the midst of the world are the locus The Christian should live out his vocation, not renouncing the world, but renouncing worldliness. According to Newman, this was the pastoral commitment of St. Philip Neri: "To save men, not from, but in the world". Consequently, the Christian does not have to abandon his secular tasks in order to attain holiness. Holiness consists in fulfilling daily duties with perfection: "What is meant by perfection? I suppose it is the power or faculty of fulfilling our duty exactly and completely, whatever it may be, as opposed to a performance that is partial, careless, sluggish, clumsy (...). It is a life of faith, hope and charity, manifested in successive acts according to the calls of the moment and the vocation of the individual (...). He is perfect who fulfills his daily duties perfectly".

B) The continuous prayer

Newman describes a type of prayer that consists in living in the presence of God, at all times and in all places. Commenting on the Gospel text of Luke 18:1: "We must pray always and not lose heart," he teaches: "Here we are explicitly told to pray again and again, to pray constantly (...). So it is not an act of prayer, or two, but a continuous process of prayer". Continuous prayer is a characteristic of the true Christian, because the new life of the Christian is a life of faith, and what is faith, he asks, "but looking to God and thinking of Him continually, keeping habitual company with Him, which is talking with Him in our hearts all day long, praying without ceasing?" In this type of prayer, words are not always necessary, because it is a matter of: "To do everything for the glory of God; that is, to set the presence and will of God before us in such a way and to act consistently in relation to Him, that everything we do becomes a process of obedience, witnessing unceasingly to Him who made us, and whose servants we are. It is, in short, to live under the gaze of God".

C) Mary, model of Christian holiness

Newman teaches that the Virgin Mary is "Mirror of Righteousness," that is, "Mirror of Holiness," because after Jesus she is the most perfect model of holiness, since Mary's virtues reflect the virtues of her divine Son: "Let us imitate the faith of her who received the Angel's message without any doubt; the patience of her who endured Joseph's surprise without uttering a word; the obedience of her who went up to Bethlehem in winter and gave birth to Our Lord in a stable; the meditative spirit of her who pondered in her heart what she had seen and heard about Him; the fortitude of her whose heart pierced the sword; the surrender of her who consented to the death of her Son."

Newman's favorite Marian devotion is the Holy Rosary, which he considers an eminently contemplative prayer, for which he affirms: "The great power of the Rosary is to transform the Creed into prayer". For this reason he advises contemplating the mysteries of the Rosary: "Try to do this, if you do not usually do it now, although perhaps you do; that is, before each mystery, place before you a picture of it, and fix your mind on that picture (for example, the Annunciation, the Agony in the Garden, etc.). while you say the Our Father and the 10 Hail Marys, not thinking about the words, just pronouncing them correctly)".

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