On 21 February in the Prayer Book Calendar we celebrate the life and work of John Henry Cardinal Newman. For those of us who are of an Anglo-Catholic bent he is our shining star and our patron. He was first and foremost a scholar and a priest as well as a devotee of the literature of the ancient and early Church. Through his research and studies he determined that the Roman Catholic Chruch was doing a much better job of preserving the teachings and practices of the early Church as founded by the apostles than was the Church of England of his day. He was born in 1801 and died in 1890. Much has changed since his time and the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches have moved much closer and seem to be on the verge of inter-communion given recent actions by the present Pope, Pope Francis. However, in Newman’s day the Church of England was in a decaying and corrupted state. Bishops were chosen largely by virtue of family or political connection without regard to their theological credentials, priests neglected the sacraments and the offices and the congregants focused simply on reading the bible to the exclusion of all else.
Newman notes in his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua that “I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible…” And, he noted further ” “…Of course I had a perfect knowledge of my Catechism.” He goes on to note various instances in his life which influenced his thinking and which moved him toward a Catholic” view of things. He notes that when he was fifteen he “fell under the influences of a definite Creed and received…impressions of dogma.” He further recounts his experience of meeting and studying under the Reverend John Keble. With regard to the Christian Year Newman notes that “Keeble struck and original note and woke up in the hearts of thousands a new music…” And through Keble’s writing and teaching he found that two main intellectual truth’s. The first was that “material phenomena are both types and the instruments of things unseen..” a doctrine which embraces what Anglicans and Catholics believe about Sacraments. Second that to meet the argument that “probability is the guide of life we must respond that “In matters of religion it is not merely probability which makes us intellectually certain, but probability as it is put to account by faith and love. It is faith and love which give probability a force which it does not have in itself.”
Newman progressed further after reading the works of the Reverend Hurrell Froude who was also a pupil of Kebles. Unlike most Anglicans Froude spoke openly of his admiration for the Roman Chruch . He delighted in the notion of a hierarchical system, of sacerdotal power, and of ecclesiastical liberty. And, he expressed scorn for the maxim that “The Bible and the Bible only is the religion of the Protestants and gloried in accepting Tradition as a main instrument of religious teaching.
From his experiences with Keble and Froude Newman continued to develop his ideas about Anglican Catholicism. As he developed he eventually came to blows with the Church of England establishment which viewed his ideas as heretical to “Anglican tradition.” After the publication of Tract 90 of the Tracts for the Times Newman found it difficult to withstand the furor of the Church’s infighting. He therefore became a Roman Catholic being received into that church in 1845. He was later ordained and became a Roman Catholic priest. He established a house of Oratory ( a religious Order or house emphasizing the practice of prayers and the sacraments) near Birmingham.
Newman details his difficulties with both the Anglican and Roman Church establishments in his autobiography. However, despite his problematic relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in England Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal in 1877.
Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Penguin Group London 1994
Keble, Christian Year first published 1827 made be downloaded as an ebook here: Christian Year – Project Gutenberg
Holy Women, Holy Men, Church Publishing Incorporated New York 2010