Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Newman suffered three "spiritual illnesses" that completely transformed his life from Anglican intellectual to cardinal and saint of the Catholic Church.

Pedro Estaún-May 10, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

John Henry Cardinal Newman

John Henry Newman was born on February 21, 1801 in London, into an Anglican family of bankers. He was the first-born of six siblings. At the age of seven he began attending school in Ealing, where he distinguished himself by his diligence and good conduct. There he manifested a certain shyness and marginality, for he took no part in school games. He himself said to have been in these early years "very superstitious".

From a young age he showed a great interest in reading the Bible, and also in the novels of Walter Scott, which were then in the process of publication. Later he read some works of skeptics such as Paine, Hume, Voltaire and was probably influenced by their ideas.

First conversion

At the age of fifteen, during his last year at school, he had a first "conversion", which marked his life from then on. Apart from his studies in which he always excelled, he acted in plays, played the violin, won oratory prizes and wrote articles in periodicals.

His happy childhood came to an abrupt end in March 1816. There was a financial collapse brought on by the Napoleonic wars and his father's bank was forced to close. Newman stayed at school during the vacations that summer because of the family crisis. The period from early August to December 21, 1816, Newman always regarded as the turning point in his life. Alone at school and shocked by the family disaster, he fell ill in August. He later came to see this time as one of the three great providential illnesses of his life, for it was in the autumn of that year that he had a religious conversion under the influence of one of his teachers, the Reverend Walter Mayers. 

Up to this point, Newman had had a conventional upbringing in a Church of England household, where the emphasis was on the Bible instead of dogmas or sacraments, and a kind of evangelical "enthusiasm" would have been frowned upon. His faith was then identified as evangelical and Calvinist and he came to hold that the Pope was the Antichrist. He enrolled in Theology at Trinity College, Oxford, and in 1819 he joined Lincoln's Inn. Wishing to remain at Oxford, he gave private lessons at Oriel, "the acknowledged center of intellectualism at Oxford."

Work in the Anglican church

At the celebration of the Holy TrinityOn Sunday, May 29, 1825, Newman was ordained a priest of the Church of England and was later appointed parish priest of St. Clement's, Oxford. For two years, he was actively engaged in parish work, but also found time to write articles for the Encyclopædia Metropolitana. In 1825, he became vice-principal of St Alban's Hall, and there he had his first clear idea of the Catholic Church. In 1826 he became professor-tutor at Oriel. At the end of 1827, Newman suffered a kind of nervous breakdown caused by overwork and the family's financial problems, adding to this the sudden death of his younger sister. 

From 1833 onwards, he led the Oxford Movementa religious current within the Anglican Church that attempted a "middle way", a third way, between Protestantism and the Catholic Church and that tried, in turn, to demonstrate that the Church of England was the direct descendant of that of the apostles. Newman argued, however, that the doctrine of the Church as defined at the Council of Trent was totally incompatible with the Articles of the Anglican Church.

The second providential disease

In 1842 he retired to Littlemore where he lived under monastic conditions with a small group of followers. Years earlier, since 1816, he had begun to read to the Fathers of the Churchwhich he considered his second providential illness.

His life was one of great physical austerity, as well as anxiety, and little by little he became reconciled with the creed and liturgy of the Roman Church, although he was not yet determined to become a Catholic because he found obstacles such as devotion to the Virgin and the saints. It was then that he wrote: "In 1843 I took two very important steps: 1) In February I made a formal retraction of all the harsh things I had said against the Church of Rome. 2) In September I renounced my benefice of St. Mary, Littlemore".

Conversion to Catholicism

Two years later, in 1845, he clearly realized that his arguments about the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church with that of England were stronger than he thought. Surrendering to the authority of his own argument, he converted to Catholicism and was ordained a Catholic priest on June 1, 1847, in Rome. He celebrated his first Mass on June 5, 1847. At the encouragement of Pope Pius IX, he founded the first Oratory of San Felipe Neri Faber as his superior. There he gave courses and lectures on "The Present Position of Catholics in England". In 1877, when his works from the Anglican period were republished, he added to the two volumes a long preface and numerous notes in which he criticized and counter-argued his anti-Catholic assertions from the original version.

In 1889, at the age of 88, he received from Pope Leo XIII the dignity of cardinal and became a member of the College of Cardinals. He died the following year, on August 11, 1890. More than a century later, in 1991, Cardinal Newman was proclaimed venerable after a thorough investigation of his life and works by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In July 2009, the Holy See promulgated the decree attributing a miracle to his intercession. On September 19, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal Newman in the United Kingdom, in a solemn and multitudinous Mass. In 2019, Pope Francis canonized the Englishman.

The authorPedro Estaún

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