When news of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s canonisation was first announced earlier this year, some might have recalled what the liberal UK prime minister Lord Rosebery, Gladstone’s protégé, thought of the great convert. When Rosebery met the 79-year-old cardinal in 1880, he was impressed by his “deliciously soft voice” and “courtly” address. Indeed, Newman was surprised and pleased when Rosebery told him that he always kept Newman’s autobiography by his bedside.
Ten years later, when Newman was laid out on the high altar of the Oratory Church in Birmingham, Rosebery wrote in his journal: “This was the end of the young Calvinist, the Oxford don, the austere vicar of St Mary’s. It seemed as if a whole cycle of human thought and life were concentrated in that august repose. That was my overwhelming thought. Kindly light had led and guided Newman to this strange, brilliant end.”
Of course, Rosebery was referring not only to Newman’s lovely poem The Pillar of the Cloud (now a beloved hymn titled Lead Kindly Light), but to the fact that in 1845 he walked away from everything he had known and loved as an Anglican don at Oriel to embrace the Church of Rome. Gladstone, if anything, was even more laudatory about the man with whom he had crossed swords over the First Vatican Council (1869–70), especially its adoption of papal infallibility:
“When the history of Oxford during that time comes to be written, the historian will have to record the extraordinary, the unexampled career of [Newman]… He will have to tell, as I believe, that Dr. Newman exercised for a period of about ten years after 1833 an amount of influence, of absorbing influence, over the highest intellects — over nearly the whole intellect, but certainly over the highest intellect of this University, for which perhaps, there is no parallel in the academical history of Europe, unless you go back to the twelfth century or to the University of Paris.”
What, then, was it about Newman that made him so extraordinary?
Notice how Short pays his readers such a high compliment to their knowledge of Lord Rosebery! Please read the rest there.
I offered my answer to the question what should a beginner read to learn more and more about Newman for The Catholic Herald magazine:
So, which among his many works would help someone who has never read anything written by Newman understand why so many have been devoted to this saint?
Here are my suggestions.
Start with the Meditations and Devotions, a collection of prayers and reflections for students at the Oratory School in Birmingham. It was compiled and published by Fr William Neville in 1893, three years after Newman’s death. The saint’s simple, confident and humble faith is evident on the pages of this work, including his devotion to Our Lady, to his patron saint Philip Neri and to the Stations of the Cross, meditation before the Blessed Sacrament and the holy rosary.
In the “Meditations on Christian Doctrine” the reader will find one of his most famous quotations:
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his – if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still He knows what He is about.Other meditation highlights include his “Short Road to Perfection” and the “Prayer for the Light of Truth”.
The neophyte should continue on the road to understanding Newman as a pastor of souls – that quality of his life that Benedict XVI highlighted at the beatification Mass in September 2010 – with a sampling of his Parochial and Plain Sermons. Newman was preaching in the 19th century to many nominal Christians in the Church of England: they hardly knew what they believed and barely acted on what they thought they believed.
In sermons such as “The Religion of the Day”, “Unreal Words”, “Doing Glory to God in Pursuits of the World” and “Christ’s Privations a Meditation for Christians”, he asked his congregation at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford why they did not – for example, in that last sermon – “have some little gratitude, some little sympathy, some little love, some little awe, some little self-reproach, some little self-abasement, some little repentance, some little desire of amendment” when hearing week after week what God has done for them. He told them exactly why:
But why is this? why do you so little understand the Gospel of your salvation? why are your eyes so dim, and your ears so hard of hearing? why have you so little faith? so little of heaven in your hearts? For this one reason, my brethren, if I must express my meaning in one word, because you so little meditate. You do not meditate, and therefore you are not impressed.Then the offers the solution:
What is meditating on Christ? it is simply this, thinking habitually and constantly of Him and of His deeds and sufferings. It is to have Him before our minds as One whom we may contemplate, worship, and address when we rise up, when we lie down, when we eat and drink, when we are at home and abroad, when we are working, or walking, or at rest, when we are alone, and again when we are in company; this is meditating. And by this, and nothing short of this, will our hearts come to feel as they ought.After the reader has sampled some of Newman’s works, an introductory biography would be helpful, such as Joyce Sugg’s John Henry Newman: Snapdragon in the Wall (Gracewing) or Fr Juan Velez’s Holiness in a Secular Age: The Witness of Cardinal Newman (Scepter Publishers).
Please read the rest there.