Anglican Notables – St. John Henry Newman (Tractarians) – 9 October

Anglican Notables – St. John Henry Newman (Tractarians) – 9 October

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

Saint John Henry Newman

1801 – 1890

So many excellent books and essays have been written about Newman that there is no need for me to write more than a few words on this his feast day.  And even more importantly, so many excellent books, essays, poems, and even a couple of novels have been written by Newman himself that the few words I write should be fewer still.

One point worth making for the edification of the St. Benet Biscop Oblates is that Newman is venerated by both Anglicans and Catholics.  In the days leading up to Newman’s canonization on 13 October 2019, the Anglican bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Reverend Christopher Foster, made this statement:

“The canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman is very good news for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and we give thanks with them for this recognition of a holy life formed in both our communions that continues to be an inspiration for us all.  Both as an Anglican and as a Catholic, his contribution to theology, to education and to the modelling of holiness resonates to this day around the world and across the churches.”[1]

Another point worth making—and one that seems to have gone largely un-noticed—is that Newman understood the value of distinguishing between religious charisms.  He did not write extensively on this topic, alas, but his essay “The Mission of St. Benedict” provides helpful distinctions between the charisms of monastics, mendicants, and clerks regular.[2]  Also, though Newman, as a historian, knew well the importance of Benedictine monasticism in England’s religious history, he understood his own gifts well enough to become an Oratorian of St. Philip Neri rather than a Benedictine or a Cistercian. 

Pope Saint Paul VI identified the Second Vatican Council as “Newman’s hour” because Newman’s writings had their influence in such Vatican-II discussions as “the question of ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and the world, the emphasis on the role of the laity in the Church and the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.”[3]  But briefly though Newman treated of the topic of differences between religious charisms, might he nonetheless have had some little influence on Perfectae Caritatis’s appeal for religious institutes to return to their original spirits?[4]

Newman’s entrance into eternal life was on 11 August.  His feast day is celebrated on 9 October, however, which was the day, in 1845, that he knocked on the door of now-Blessed Domenic Barberi, a Passionist working and living in Littlemore, England, to request to be received into full communion in the Catholic Church.

A prayer of St. John Henry Newman for Christian Unity:

“O Lord Jesus Christ, when you were about to suffer, you prayed for your disciples that they might all be one, as you are in the Father and the Father in you.  Look down in pity on the many divisions among those who profess your faith.  Heal the wounds which the pride of man and the craft of Satan have inflicted on your people.  Break down the walls of separation which divide Christians.  Look with compassion on all souls and bring them together under the Holy Catholic Church.”

And there is this famous prayer:

“May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.”

Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.


[1] https://www.newmancanonisation.com/press-releases/the-church-of-england-press-release-010719 – accessed 7 October 2020.

[2] http://www.newmanreader.org/works/historical/volume2/benedictine/mission.html – accessed 7 October 2020.

[3] http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/speeches/1975/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19750407_symposium-newman.html – accessed 7 October 2020.

[4] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651028_perfectae-caritatis_en.html – accessed 7 October 2020.

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