The Mail: Every Englishman should be proud of John Henry Newman’s beatification

From The Mail comes this piece about the Bl. John Henry Newman by Conrad Black.

Why today’s beatification of John Henry Newman is something every Englishman should be proud of, by CONRAD BLACK

By Conrad Black

Pope Benedict XVI’S beatification today of Cardinal John Henry Newman on English soil should underline in the minds of us all that Newman must rank among the very greatest Englishmen of any time or faith.

This process, which is rigorous and laborious, [As someone who has been through the Studium of the Cong. for Causes of Saints, I can attest to that.] and far from the hocus-pocus pop-chart rise the Church’s detractors might imply, would make him the first Englishman born since the 17th century recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint; pretty thin canonical gruel for a country whose Roman Catholics still whisper about it as ‘the Dowry of Mary’, just as France describes itself (with scarcely greater plausibility) as the ‘eldest daughter of the Church’.

Newman’s beatification today rests not just on his accepted possession of saintly and miraculous powers. It rests also on his moral and intellectual courage, his worldwide influence as a writer, educator and theological philosopher, and his personification of many of the most universally admired characteristics of the English people, as perceived by the English themselves and by foreigners, not least of which was stoicism. [As in the "stiff upper lip"? No… his beatification does not rest on those things. If someone is not a martyr, he or she is declared blessed because they possessed heroic virtues. They were holy.  They also, after their deaths, had the fama sanctitatis, they had a strong reputation of holiness.  This needs to be determined before a person is called venerable.  Yes, the miracle moves the Venerable to the next stage, as it were.  But the foundation for beatification is not intelligence, or worldly fame, or "intellectual courage", but holiness.]

He was always seen as an outsider. During the early years he spent as a clergyman in the Church Of England, Newman did his best to justify the Church’s theological claim to be part of the ‘One, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. He understood the Church Of England to be a half-way house between Rome and popular Protestantism, between what Protestants traditionally regard as Rome’s exaggerated claim to authority, and the non-conformist view of spontaneous religiosity.

This Orthodox Anglican view of the Church’s doctrine found little favour in the corridors of power and he was attacked by the Anglican bishops for what was perceived as the Popish tendencies [Sound like many chanceries and seminaries in years past…] in his theological pamphlet, Tract 90 where he challenged the 39 articles, the overriding principles, of the Church Of England. It was an intellectual position that changed his life and, aged 40, he was effectively cast out and violently attacked throughout Protestant Britain as a papist agent.

Four years later, in 1845 at the age of 44, he became a Roman Catholic. But it was a hard conversion and at first he was mistrusted in much of the Roman world. He was seen as an exotic and tempestuous itinerant, from a country that was apostate, and whose Roman Catholic community had endured 300 years of fluctuating but almost unbroken discrimination.

He had gone from the Anglican pulpit at St Mary’s, Oxford, and the high table at Oriel College, to the Spartan obscurity of the church at Littlemore, in Oxford and then, after a sojourn in Rome at the Oratory of St Philip Neri, he moved into relative seclusion in Edgbaston in Birmingham where he established the first order of Oratorians in England.

It was from this base in Birmingham that he sent a detachment of his community to build a house in London, in what was eventually to become the Brompton Oratory, in Knightsbridge. The Brompton Oratory was Newman’s greatest physical monument, though he rarely visited it, died before it was completed, and did not like it. He personally chose, in Italy, the statues of the saints that adorn it, but found Birmingham, and the comparative ordinariness of the Midlands, oddly congenial.

Newman made Catholicism respected in Britain by his refusal to join the ranks of reactionary Catholics or to be less conspicuously English in his attitudes. He [NB] believed in a version of papal infallibility himself (as it is generally defined now, of applying to what has been universally and durably accepted within the Church), but not the version accorded to Pius IX, a dogmatic carte blanche consolation prize for the loss of the papal states to the Italian Risorgimento unification movement.

More than Acton or Ripon (the leading lay Catholics of England at the time), Newman de-fanged the widely believed English caricature of the grasping, insidious, alien papist monster. He changed the widespread impression in England of Catholics from a rag-tag of drunken, priest-ridden, proliferating Irish labourers and a few respectable ancient recusant families, to an intellectually distinguished and patriotic pillar of the nation.

They were no longer seen as aliens by the majority nor as outcasts by themselves. He fought the battle of faith on behalf of all Christians and provided the greatest, most rigorous Christian argument for the existence of God since Thomas Aquinas, and is frequently called ‘the English Aquinas’. Thus our conscience, God speaking to us, he believed, was ‘powerful, peremptory, unargumentative, irrational, minatory and definitive’.

Newman’s version of faith was accessible to everyone.

‘Lead kindly light… lead thou me on… One step enough for me,’ he wrote while still an Anglican in 1833, and becalmed in the Straits Of Bonifacio in the Mediterranean.

I believe that he was, with Abraham Lincoln, the most elegant writer of English non-fiction prose of the 19th century. [!] He wrote not only with burning expressions of faith, surer of God’s existence ‘than that I have hands and feet’.

But also with sudden lurches into the secular, as in the closing pages of Grammar Of Assent when he quoted ‘the great man who so swayed the destiny of the nations of Europe in the early years of this century’ – Napoleon, the defeat of whose navy at Trafalgar Newman well remembered as a boy of four in 1805. (Napoleon effectively was claimed to have held that Christ had to be divine because although he was a mere travelling provocateur and died the death of a ‘miscreant’, he was vastly more renowned than Alexander The Great, Julius Caesar, or Napoleon himself.)

His Idea Of A University and Apologia Pro Vita Sua (A Defence Of One’s Life) were particularly, but not uncharacteristically, brilliant. Though often ill-tempered, Newman was not vain, and his writing, a colossal volume of work spanning 70 years, never sought to dazzle the reader.

Like the greatest 20th-century writers, such as Joseph Conrad or George Orwell, his prose was spare and simple, stirred to adjectival or polysyllabic climaxes only by the gravity or intensity of his thought. His effort to found a Catholic university in Dublin was hampered by the very parties who had most to gain from it, the narrow-minded custodians of insular Irish victim-Catholicism, which are not extinct, even today. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

Yet it produced Newman’s educational concepts, luminously written and a beacon for all subsequent educators in every land. His effort to establish an Oratory at Oxford was sabotaged by his fellow Catholics, whose every declared purpose should have motivated them to support such an initiative.

Cardinal Manning, his talented but devious rival, who tried to prevent his elevation to the College Of Cardinals, obstructed almost everything he did for 30 years, and then eulogised him in the Brompton Oratory as ‘my friend and mentor of 50 years’. (On Newman’s death, Manning privately called him ‘a great hater’, an exaggeration, perhaps motivated by the fact that Newman had prevailed against all Manning’s obstructions.)

For almost an entire century he was the unflagging champion of intellectual and intuitive Christian faith, who revealed the inconsistencies of the Established Church, yet was a force for Christian reconciliation, and always dissented from what was trendy and opportunistic. He was a bridge to the universal and premier church, but always an Englishman. He was as representative of the highest form of the English character as Samuel Johnson or the Duke Of Wellington.

The same man who opposed the Crimean War, as besmirching British integrity by propping up the Ottomans, who rendered unto the Pope what was his, once said he ‘could not imagine being or wanting to be anything but English‘.

When he died in his 90th year, the whole Christian world mourned him. Today, there is a Cardinal Newman school in almost every community in the once-Christian world. [Not far off the mark!  At least in the anglophone world.]

Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest intellects who has held that office in several centuries, a man of great philosophical scholarship, rigour and originality, as well as an accomplished writer, linguist, practical administrator and musician.

His visit to Britain today is to render homage to a man endowed with a character of comparably exceptional quality, which he believes, on the evidence of ecclesiastical scrutiny, has been recognised and amplified by divine blessings. [Benedict XVI did not beatify John Henry Newman because he had "a character of comparably quality".  It was determined that Newman had live a life of holiness, which no doubt shaped that exceptional character.  But this article was written less for Catholics and more for the average English reader.  The writer appeals to those aspects with which they will quickly resonate.]

Those who share his faith are uplifted by Newman’s intelligence and character. Those British who do not should at least be aware that in his lifetime and in the 120 years since his death, Newman has carried the colours of this country in his spheres of endeavour with a brilliance, panache and durability that has put him in, or close to, the company of history’s most distinguished Englishmen.

John Henry Newman is being elevated for a rare fusion of genius and virtue [There it is.] that does great honour to the whole nation.

A good article!  I hope this helps to dispel something of the bilious cant of the blinkered secularists who in recent time have shown their colours.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Saints: Stories & Symbols, The Drill and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Andrew says:

    “This process, […] far from the hocus-pocus …”

    I imagine the author doesn’t know this, but this term (hocus-pocus) is an unfortunate expression found in many languages: it is supposed to be a reference to some secret formula whereby something is accomplished magically, but sadly, and I would say irreverently it is derived from the words “hoc est enim corpus meum”. Once I found out the origin of that expression, I stopped using it.

  2. Legisperitus says:

    Andrew: Yes, and in fact in one of the Jack Chick tracts it takes the longer form of “hocus pocus dominocus,” which presumably is also meant to play on “Corpus Domini nostri.” Happily, we can still use the term “mumbo-jumbo.”

  3. Actually, Newman disagreed with Piux IX’s infallibility idea, but once it was defined infallibly, he believed it and submitted to it. So that part of the article about Newman misses the point of that whole episode.

    You don’t have to agree with something intellectually (yet) to know it must be true because God said so (assuming God did mean that interpretation, He really said it, and so on). One often disagrees strenuously with facts your parents tell you, and yet often they turn out to be right and you wrong. That’s part of how you learn.

  4. Jack Hughes says:

    interesting article; I do think that Lord Black has the wrong idea of Manning though, as Stuart Reid of the Catholic Herald put it earliar this year “Newman was Mary to Mannings Martha”.

    In my view Manning (like myself at times) simply wanted to defend the Church but did so in a way that alienated people and lacked charity; perhaps this was why he was more accepted by the Catholics of his day than Newman was. Also as Ried pointed out Manning was much more into action (epecially on behalf of the london dockers during the strike) than Newman was his actions were not without good fruit.

    To Conclude we KNOW that Bl. Cardinal Newman is in heaven and we HOPE that Card. Manning is as well; hopefully like Ambrose and Jerome they are now the best of friends.

  5. mattwcu says:

    I found this statement very interesting when watching the coverage on EWTN:

    “England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing.”

    (From the Holy Father’s Cardinal Newman beatification homily)

    I haven’t heard in recent times of anyone being newly beatified or canonized and remembered as a “confessor”. The term is sadly out of use in our post-conciliar era. And so is the glorious Iste Confessor hymn.

    Glad to see the Holy Father use it for this new Blessed.

  6. Dave N. says:

    This article isn’t from THAT Conrad Black…surely! Or is it?

  7. irishgirl says:

    Jack Hughes-ah, yes, Ambrose and Jerome. They were quite the antagonists on earth.

    I like your equation of Blessed Newman and Cardinal Manning too.

    I’m reading a book on Newman that I bought back in 1989, before my second trip to England that year. It’s by Brian Martin, and there is a satirical poem from the British magazine ‘Punch’ that poked fun with the names ‘Newman’ and ‘Manning’.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    @Dave N – I’m sure it is THAT Conrad Black; whose case is under review and I for one think that he shall be cleared of any wrong doing.

    @Irish Girl – I can’t take any credit Ma dear, the redoubtable Reid of the Herald deserves all the credit; although I wouldn’t be at all supprised if the Mary Matha equation started in Oratorian dining room :).

    As my PP said today when celebrating a votive Mass in honor of the Church’s most recent Beati; this cause started over 60 years ago- perhaps its time for someone to start a cause for the Seconed Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster?

    Interesting note before I go to bed (need to be at heathrow early for the plane to the states) Manning was married (as an anglican) and after the death of his Wife kept her prayerbook under his pillow and wore a lock of her hair close to his breast. So despite the bickering between Englands 19th Centuary Martha And Mary; let us also remember that this Martha certainly had a soft heart underneath the prickly exterior.

  9. Emilio III says:

    Fr Rutler mentioned in one of his books that Cardinal Manning will probably always be the only Cardinal ever buried holding his late wife’s Book of Common Prayer.

  10. chloesmom says:

    Neither the papal visit to the UK nor the Newman beatification were mentioned at our parish today. Typical, unfortunately — but thankfully I was able to watch some of the events on EWTN. Otherwise, one would never have known that anything was going on.

  11. stpetric says:

    >>This Orthodox [sic] Anglican view of the Church’s doctrine found little favour in the corridors of power and he was attacked by the Anglican bishops for what was perceived as the Popish tendencies in his theological pamphlet, Tract 90 where he challenged the 39 articles, the overriding principles, of the Church Of England. <<

    Tract 90 precisely *didn’t* challenge the 39 Articles. Rather, what Newman attempted was to demonstrate that the Articles of Religion could be read in a way consistent with the teachings of the Council of Trent. It was a last-ditch attempt to justify *assenting* to the Articles. But even in the estimation of sympathetic readers, that exercise required a rather strained exegesis; and the hostile reception that greeted it helped to catalyze Newman’s decision to convert.

    I’m also not sure I agree with Black’s description of the 39 Articles as “the overriding principles of the Church Of England,” but that’s another discussion.

  12. irishgirl says:

    Jack Hughes-quite all right, my friend.

    That’s interesting about Cardinal Manning and his late wife. In the book I have about Blessed Newman (Brian Martin is the author) it’s said that when Manning was an Anglican archdeacon, he used to compose his sermons sitting by his wife’s grave. But when he became a Catholic, he didn’t do that anymore and he allowed the grave site to become run-down.

  13. shane says:

    Some people may be interested in this little booklet published by the CTS back in the 50s:

Comments are closed.