|St. John Henry Newman.|
The BBC tells St. John Henry Newman's story as How Newman became a saint. The Vatican's report stresses Newman's achievements. We can even see the story of the canonization through the lens of the Newman Society at Oregon State University.
Newman was a thorough Oxonian, having first been a student at Trinity College, Oxford. The current president of Trinity College is in Rome today at the celebration of the new saint. Then Newman became a Fellow at Oriel College, Oxford. He founded the Oxford Movement, which achieved its goal of revitalizing the Church of England. But meanwhile Newman decided to convert to Rome.
The following 1933 lecture on the importance of St. John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement of which he was a leader is by Fr. Hugh Diman, who was himself a convert to Roman Catholicism. Fr. Diman founded St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island, when he was an Anglican (Episcopalian) priest. After his conversion to Roman Catholicism he became the founder of Portsmouth Priory School, one of the earliest private Catholic boarding schools in the United States. He had also founded Diman Vocational in Fall River. He delivered the lecture in Newport and Providence during the first year of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Just one hundred years ago in England and in the University of Oxford, a religious movement had its beginnings that was destined not only to change the whole face of the Anglican Church that gave it birth but also had far-reaching influences on other Christian bodies primarily in England and English speaking lands, but as time went on, in other countries as well.
In spite of the fact that the movement has been distinctly an Anglican one, both in its origin and its progress, it has nevertheless had such close relations with the Catholic Church, whether friendly or hostile, that Catholics must recognize its importance and it is well worthwhile for them to give it close study.
In the first place, the Oxford Movement was the instrument of giving to the Catholic Church undoubtedly the greatest religious figure in the English-speaking world of the 19th century, and a whole stream of converts besides.
On the other hand, it has made a claim to be itself the representative in England and English speaking lands of a true and genuine catholicity, and this claim has undoubtedly been so far successful as to hold many individuals back who otherwise would unquestionably have found their true home in the Catholic Church.
These facts are enough to justify a careful study of the Movement with the sole object of trying to understand just how and why it may be considered a help and an ally to the Catholic Church and how and why in other respects it must be regarded as a hindrance to its progress.
In order to rightly estimate this Movement, we must understand at first its historical genesis and the conditions, religious and political, that prevailed at the time of its birth. In 1833, and the years for some time before that date, religion in England had fallen to a very low ebb. In the established church, the clergy had for the most part ceased to be the real spiritual leaders of the people and, unless for social and political reasons, they were in turn regarded by nearly all classes with very scant respect. The services in parish churches were for the most part formal and perfunctory. Church buildings and furniture were neglected and in a state of scandalous decay.
Many of the incumbents of parishes were nonresident and were quite contented to enjoy the revenues that came in and to reduce their duties to the lowest possible minimum. In large towns, a considerable part of the population was completely aloof from all religious connection and in the country a pall of lethargy and indifference had fallen over pastors and people alike.
That things were not worse and that Christianity was saved at all, was due to two currents in the religious life of the people that stemmed to some extent this outgoing tide. In the first place, the old piety of the nation, fed for the most part on strong Christian convictions that had lived on from Catholic days, still made itself felt amidst the general decay in scattered parsonages and parishes up and down the country. It was generally of the rather high and wholly conservative type. As far as it went, it was a religious force and could be counted on to resist with some success the disintegrating influences everywhere about it.
An excellent type of this robust party, though belonging to the previous century, was Dr. Johnson, whose life and example alone would redeem any place or generation that witnessed them from the charge of being altogether irreligious.
There were besides in the two centuries preceding the birth of the Oxford Movement a succession of religious writers, of Anglican theologians and of high ecclesiastics who by their inherent Catholic convictions on many points were a strong preservative of religious conviction amidst the increasing forces of indifference and unbelief.
The other current in the religious life of the nation to which I have referred was felt most among the part of the population outside the established church. Its origin, however, was wholly Anglican and the revival of piety and enthusiasm, of which it was the source, was felt within the State church as was beyond the range of its influences. I refer to the great [also Oxford-originated] Methodist Revival, as it came to be called. This revival, that did so much in lifting 18th century religion in England and America out of the slough of despond, was due to the zeal of the two Wesleys and a few like-minded friends and undoubtedly it brought to many cold and despairing hearts the warmth and comfort of a great religious awakening.
By the time that the men who were to become the leaders of the Oxford Movement came upon the scene, this revival had by no means spent its force, but it had come to be regarded by them with profound distrust and suspicion. Its emotional character, its neglect of tradition, its indifference even to generally recognized church institutions such as the apostolic succession of bishops, were among the evils that the Oxford reformers were trying their best to resist.
At the same time, the complete individualism of Methodism in making personal experience, generally manifested in sudden conversions, the test of religious truth was especially obnoxious to the men of trained minds, of unostentatious piety and deeply imbued with the historical sense who were thinking and working together in the University of Oxford.
Newman himself had been brought up in these evangelical influences, of course within the pale of the Anglican church, but at the time we are considering, just one hundred years ago, when he himself was 1232 years old, he had come to regard this whole type of religion as fatal to any true conception of Christ’s church.
In the year 1832, the political and social life of England was seething with new ideas. The time bore considerable resemblance to our own. As we are now in the aftermath of the World War, the days we are describing were in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. On one hand, radical and revolutionary tendencies springing from forces that had been released in the general upheaval of Europe, had again taken on new life and were threatening all existing institutions. On the other hand, established interests and customs and privileges were making a desperate effort to retain control and to resist the oncoming tides of change. All serious and right-minded men were trying, as we are trying now, to find a balance between these mutually opposing tendencies.
1832 was the year in which the great Reform Bill was passed, which abolished at a stroke many of the privileges on which the dominance of the upper classes and the conservative life of the nation had hitherto rested. Political radicalism was coming to the fore with threatening speed and power. Secularism and skepticism were undermining many of the old ways of the people and the question was openly and somewhat commonly asked whether in the modern world there was any place left for an institution such as the historic church that based itself on supernatural sanctions. The causes of alarm were not confined to the ventilation of radical opinions.
Besides the passage of the Reform Bill, the government of the day had abolished ten Anglican bishoprics in Ireland. At that time, the Anglican church was legally established in Ireland and this act of doing away with ten bishops was taken as a deliberate and intentional blow at the church by law established. The prime minister of the day replied to the protest against such an act as this on the legally established church by a plain intimation that he was ready to go further if necessary and he told the bishops in rather blunt terms, to put their house in order.
Such was the situation in religion and politics and public opinion in England at and immediately after the close of the first quarter of the 19th century: Slackness and indolence in the established church, unbelief or indifference among the people and growth of radical and even revolutionary forces in social and political life which openly threatened all settled order and every conservative principle or institution.
I have not mentioned among the religious forces of England at this time the Catholic Church. The fact is, that it was so weak and impoverished as hardly, in public opinion at least, to count among the major religious forces of the time. Catholic emancipation did not come until 1829, just four years before the Oxford Movement began. Until then, the church did not finally emerge from the gloom and terror of those days, and it was to be many years yet before Catholics in England learned to breathe freely or to enjoy the new liberty that had been accorded to them.
Now for one to understand the causes and the beginnings of the Oxford Movement, he should put out of his head the idea that it was at first much concerned one way or the other with what afterwards came to be known as the Roman question. It was at first a valiant and determined attempt to save the people of England, and English religion generally, from all the forces of the day that were inimical to them, whether open unbelief, indifference, hostile legislation, radical social changes, or anything else that threatened to undermine them, and had to an alarming degree succeeded in doing so.
The first phase of the Movement was passed in attempting to arouse churchmen from their lethargy, to beget enthusiasm to resist liberalism and erastianism, to deepen learning and devotion and to vindicate, as it was at first believed to be possible, the supernatural and apostolic character of the Church of England. The degree of success that rewarded these efforts was due to the courage, zeal, high character and indefatigable labours of a small group of men who united for this work. They were nearly all, as were many of their successors, connected with the University of Oxford, and hence the name that became attached to the Movement.
Three men above all others were prominently connected with the Movement, especially in its early stages; Keble, Newman and Pusey. To these ought to be added the names of Hurrell Froude, the brother of the historian, James Anthony Froude, Charles Marriott and Isaac Williams. All these men I have mentioned were clergymen of the Church of England and all were for some portion of their lives connected with Oxford.
John Keble had passed through the University as a student and had carried away nearly all the honours that it was possible for any one man to take. He came back as a fellow of Oriel and for many years was Professor of Poetry at the University. He had acquired for himself a very creditable standing as a poet, and his volume The Christian Year which was published in 1827 shows in an attractive poetical guise many of the sentiments and ideals that afterwards shaped the growth of the Movement itself.
Richard Hurrell Froude had been a pupil of Keble and thus also drawn into the new current that was rapidly gaining volume. He seems to have been the only one of the earlier leaders who had almost from the start a genuine admiration for the Roman Church, as they called it. He died before the Movement had reached its climax, and the subsequent publishing of his Literary Remains seems to have been quite as much an embarrassment as a help to the small group of reformers.
Edward Bouverie Pusey did not join the party immediately, but from the time that he did do so he became at once a tower of strength. His early education had been in Germany and, though he was suspected at first a little of liberalism, his scholarship was recognized throughout Europe. By a singular irony of circumstances him name, twisted into Puseyism, became a synonym, especially in this country, for a meticulous and wholly external development of church ritual, though as a matter of fact his interest was slight in that particular phase of the restoration of what he believed to be Catholic life.
The remaining one of the four names I have mentioned belonged to a man who was destined through his long life to exert an influence on the religious thought of his times that has been exceeded by none outside the greatest leaders in the history of the Catholic Church.
John Henry Newman was born in 1801 and died in 1890. His boyhood and youth were passed in protestant and evangelical surroundings. The teachings which he imbibed as a child made such an impression on his sensitive mind that they lingered well along into mature life and even after he had been in Oxford for some years, he had not altogether divested himself of his early Calvinism nor of his belief that the Pope was anti-Christ.
From his early student days, however, in the University he was thrown for the most part either with liberals who had definitely parted company with Calvinism in one direction, or with high churchmen of the old school who were equally opposed to it for quite different reasons. It was the latter group, enlarged by an occasional freelance like Hurrell Froude, which made his milieu from the time that he was elected a fellow of Oriel.
It was Keble and Froude especially who were the most powerful influences in effecting his complete conversion to the definitely high church party. No one in those days thought of calling this group Anglo-Catholic, nor could anyone imagine that there was the least danger of its leading its adherents in the direction of Rome. The guiding thought in the minds of Keble and his small group of friends, the thought that more and more exercised such a potent charm on the receptive nature of Newman, was that the Church of England, unlike the protestant bodies around it, had never done anything to deny its apostolic origin or to break the historical succession that bound it to the primitive church.
The imaginations of all of these highly gifted men were fired with zeal for bringing back the church to the ways of the first four centuries. They admitted the bad days on which the Church had fallen, the low estate to which it had come. They believed, however, that its lineage was one of unbroken descent from Christ and his apostles and all their plans and aspirations and efforts were concentrated on the effort of bringing back their fellow churchmen to the realization of their high mission. They longed for the day when the Anglican church should once more, by the fervor of its people, the beauty of its buildings and services, and zeal and learning of its ministry, become a living witness of the ancient faith as it was held in the first ages.
The reason that we assign 1833 as the beginning of the Movement is that on July of that year Keble preached before the University of Oxford his sermon on National Apostasy. It is perhaps hard to see today just what entitled this sermon to the fame that it acquired, but Newman himself has left it definitely on record that he himself always considered it as the definite beginning of the Oxford Movement.
It is a fact that almost an immediate consequence of its delivery was that definite steps were taken for organization by a few friends who believed that the time for action had arrived. The little gathering was called together by a clergyman who was one of the few early leaders not of Oxford University. The Reverend Hugh James Rose, in whose rectory in Surrey the meeting took place, was a Cambridge man. His initiative at this particular moment was just what was needed to convert what had hitherto been only hopes, aspiration and complaints into the first stages of a definite campaign.
The Movement thus launched gathered force and momentum every day. It was at first a matter of complete uncertainty what its weapons of offence and defense should be. This was largely settled by the influence of Newman, who insisted that definite dogmatic instructions, printed as small leaflets or tracts, would be the most effective method of propagating their common aims and ideals. These tracts were to be clear and bold teachings of the nature of the Church and its divine organization, and they were to keep to the front the uncompromising assertion of the claim of the church to be in England the realization of the apostolic and Catholic church of primitive days. These little leaflets or printed instructions, some of which came to be of considerable length, soon became famous as the Tracts for the Times, and the men who were putting them in circulation were called Tractarians. This name soon became applied to all the adherents of the Oxford Movement.
It should be noted that as contrasted with the earlier Methodist or Wesleyan movement, the object of these so-called Tractarians was to make their appeal only to solid theological and historical principles. They systematically avoided any phrases that simply aimed to arouse piety or any form of emotional excitement. The first stages of the Movement were altogether intellectual and academic.
Once launched in this way the Movement grew like a snowball. Among its friends and superiors, there was unbounded zeal and enthusiasm. For the first few years, the unity of aim and mutual understanding among the leaders was unbroken. The fierce opposition which the Movement met from the outside and especially from the authorities of the University seemed only to add ardor to the faith and zeal of those who were fighting what they believed to be a holy crusade. After some brief hesitation, Dr. Pusey brought himself and his great reputation to aid the work, and by many he was considered to have stepped into the position of chief command.
This, however, was not the case. Almost from the first, Newman was the real leader, and he gradually came to dominate the whole Movement. His name has come to be identified with the Movement to a degree that is true of none others of the leaders. Newman had qualities that are only found in combination in individuals who rarely appear on the world’s stage. In the first place, he was a genius of a high order and that is in itself rare. He was early recognized as a supreme master of the English language. No one could question this as to his prose, but even in his poetry, his Dream of Gerontius, and his “Lead Kindly Light,” to mention only two of his poems, have taken a secure place in English literature.
Besides this, his natural gifts had been trained and embellished by the best education that Oxford could give. Most of all he had a depth and power of spiritual influence that could not fail in a religious movement to win for him an ascendency which in increasing measure came to be felt by all.
In addition to all these qualifications, there was one other that singularly fitted him for command at this particular juncture, and it was the one that a little later became, in the eyes of his followers, the most essential of all. He was known to be absolutely sound in the Tractarian faith. This faith, to state it baldly, was catholicity without the pope.
I said in the beginning of this paper that at the start of the Oxford Movement the distinctly Roman question did not occupy a prominent place. Like the ghost at the feast, however, it could not be kept out. Not only did the necessity of defining their own position with reference to the divine constitution of the church and the source and grounds of ecclesiastical authority compel the Tractarians more and more to take account of this thorny question, but as time went on, the taunts of their enemies, who alleged that the whole thing was leading directly to Rome, Pope and all, was becoming more and more embarrassing.
This threatening cloud, “at first no larger than a man’s hand,” was slowly but steadily taking on such alarming proportions that it was a matter of the first importance to the Movement that its leader should be one whose known views on this particular question would be sufficient to allay all suspicion. It was regarded, accordingly, at least at first, as a singularly happy circumstance that, while a few others were feared to be weak, Mr. Newman was known to be strong. In his Apologia, written many years later, he has put on record what were his views on this question at the time we are discussing.
“In 1832 and 1833,” he says, “I thought the Church of Rome was bound up with the cause of anti-Christ by the Council of Trent.” In the half year previous to the beginning of the Movement, Newman had made a Mediterranean trip with Hurrell Froude and of course visited Rome. The ancient city could not have failed to have deeply stirred and impressed him in many ways, but it did not change the set current of his estimate of what he would describe as Romanism and that had been an obsession in his mind since his evangelical days. He writes at this time, “The city is under a curse.”
He weakens for a moment and asks in one of his letters home, “Is it possible that so serene and lofty a place is the cage of unclear creatures?” From this weakness, however, he soon rallies and pronounces the judgment which his biographer, Mr. Ward, says is his final verdict at the time of this visit. The opening lines are as follows: “As to the Roman Catholic system, I have ever detested it so much that I cannot detest it more by seeing it, but to the Catholic system I am more attached than ever.”
These views and sentiments, it need hardly be said, reached the very heart and marrow of the matter as it was held with deep conviction by the early Tractarians before the days of division arrived. They accurately reflect that peculiar state of mind, somewhat common even today, that is able to express unbounded devotion to Catholic life and liturgy and much else that belongs to true catholicity, and yet to relegate the papacy and all its works to the scrap heap.
In Newman, then, the Movement not only had a great leader but also a safe one. Naturally, his followers feared nothing while fighting their battles under his command. But, we must ask, did this great leader have this perfect confidence in himself? Through the first years of the Movement, and in fact until well into 1839, he does not seem to be troubled as to the strength of the position which he had been called upon to champion and defend.
This may be partly explained by the fact that the attempt to realize what we should call a very mild and diluted type of catholicity in which the Pope has no part, was by no means a new idea in Anglican theology at this time. That redoubtable theologian Henry VIII had done his best to achieve it, as is witnessed by his throwing off his allegiance to the Pope and at the same time making provision for Catholic masses to be said after his death for his own soul.
A succession of learned Anglican theologians in the following two centuries had defended the right of their communion to claim an apostolic origin and in a sense a Catholic inheritance in spite of their state of separation from all the rest of Christendom. However, it is easy to see that the note of Catholicity had to be sounded with a very soft pedal under such circumstances.
In 1836, that is three years after the Movement had got fairly started, Newman delivered a course of lectures at St. Mary’s, Oxford, in which he advanced the theory of the Via Media, the Middle Way. In these lectures, he maintained the thesis that the nature of the Anglican Church must find its explanation in her mission which was to occupy a half way position between Rome and popular Protestantism and thus to be able to bring about ultimate reconciliation between these two extremes. This theory did not for long fully satisfy himself.
He says in the Apologia, “that he had a latent feeling that his mind had not found ultimate rest.” (Wilfred Ward, The Oxford Movement, T. C. and E. C. Jack, 1912, p. 55) It will be seen from this growing preoccupation of Newman’s thoughts with the attempt to define and explain the nature of the church that he at least had left far behind him that confident, aggressive and even exultant mood in which he had at first entered the campaign.
What was true of the leader was even more true of the followers. In the years that had elapsed since the birthday of the movement much had changed. While on the whole the Tractarians had met with an extraordinary degree of success, yet the original complete unity of sentiment and of purpose had given place to disagreements and divergences, and especially on the one absorbing but eternally baffling subject as to what is the nature of the true church and what is the organ of her authoritative teaching. They were accused of being popish agents in disguise, and it was by no means an easy task to persuade their none too sympathetic countrymen, or even their fellow churchmen, that this charge in spite of their known and obvious sympathies for Catholic ways and ceremonies, had really nothing in it.
In such growing misgivings and differences passed what might be called the middle years of the Oxford Movement. In 1838, William George Ward joined the party and a new set of names came to the front as the champions of a definite break with the first ideals of the original leaders. These names include Oakeley, Faber and Dalgairns. Ward was the most aggressive and outspoken of them all but the others were on the whole in the same camp. These Anglican clergymen from the first expressed ardent admiration for the Roman Church, and it was not long before they took the ground that reunion with her was the only logical conclusion of all their efforts.
It is impossible within our limits to trace the various fortunes of the different groups within the party from this time on. Our task must be to continue the story of Mr. Newman as he then was, and to see how he continued to act upon the Movement, and to be acted upon by it until that rainy night at Littlemore, October 8, 1845, when he was received by the Passionist Father Dominic into the Catholic Church.
The most dramatic tales in history, when viewed in their total effects, are not all of wars or adventures amidst the external pageantry of arms or in the perils and hardships on land or sea. The drama we are now describing has its unseen beginnings in the birth of a doubt in a man’s mind. The growth from that minute seed led to a struggle that finally ended in a conversion that, in the words of Lord Beaconsfield, dealt the church that was abandoned a blow from which she is still reeling, and which gave to the Catholic Church an intellectual and spiritual leader, and later a prince of the church, whose name will go down in history as among the greatest of her children in the nineteenth century.
The story as told thus far in bare outline has brought us to 1839. This year is memorable in the fortunes of the party as the one in which their trusted leader himself began to feel doubts as to the strength of his own position. Through previous years, there had been a steady growth in Newman’s mind towards a more favorable judgment of the Church of Rome, as he still called it. His early obsession that it was anti-Christ had lingered on in a strange way long after he had abandoned most of his early evangelical principles or prejudices. However, even on this central point his mind gradually yielded, and we find him in these middle years of the movement referring to the Catholic Church not as anti-Christ but as a branch of the true church, though a corrupt one.
He seemed on the whole to rest content with this view until the summer of 1839, that is, six years after the inception of the Movement. In the spring of that year, he could say, as he himself reports later in the Apologia, “My position in the Anglican Church was at its height. I had a supreme confidence in my controversial status and I had a great and still growing success in recommending it to others” (Apologia, p. 180). In the summer, it was evident to those who knew him intimately that he was wavering. It was at this period that he had that momentary vivid intuition that he expressed to himself by the words, “The Church of Rome will be found right in the end.”
It was while his thoughts were in this state that he read an article by Cardinal Wiseman in the Dublin Review on the Donatists. This ancient heresy, which had flourished in North Africa, called forth the fierce opposition of St. Augustine. Cardinal Wiseman points out that the Donatists in many ways were an ancient counterpart to the Anglicans. Like the Anglicans, they appealed to antiquity. They had much learning and scholarship on their side as well as superiority in their own area in numbers. They looked down with some contempt upon the Catholics who in the region where the heresy prevailed were mostly poor and without the same social or official standing in the world at large.
The Donatists even claimed superior sanctity and, in spite of the fact that they had definitely denied the authority of the Catholic Church, they claimed, like some modern Anglo-Catholics that they were themselves its truest representatives. St. Augustine, besides refuting their positions one by one, clinched the argument as a whole by the uncompromising assertion, based on the actual facts of the case, that as by their own act they had rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and were declared by that Church to be out of communion with it, it was useless for them to claim that they were in it.
The Catholic Church, spreading over the world, the orbis terrarium, had pronounced against them and that world church passes its judgments without fear of error. This article made a deep and lasting impression on Newman’s mind, and he never recovered from it. His language to one of his friends on the subject was more vivid than elegant. He said that it gave him a stomach ache. The cause of this pain was his vivid perception of the impossible logic of the situation as he had come to see it.
The claim made by a party, and at that time a very small party in the Anglican Church, was the same as that made in St. Augustine’s day by the schismatic Donatists. In each case, it was that they and they alone were the true exponents and custodians of the Catholic religion in their respective lands. This position Newman saw that he could not much longer defend. The two great ecclesiastical bodies to which the Tractarians were wont to appear as witnesses of the truth of their position, namely the Church with its center at Rome and the Greek church, knew nothing of the theory of the church the Tractarians were defending and openly repudiated it.
Cardinal Wiseman’s article had put in Newman’s mind the picture of a worldwide supernatural church, apostolic and Catholic, speaking in calm tones and with a voice of authority to all mankind, whether within nor without its own border, and compared with this picture it was beginning to seem to Newman that the little band of enthusiasts with whom he had been working were hardly more than an ecclesiastical group or coterie.
Yet in spite of the effect upon his mind made by this article by Wiseman, and in spite of the other hard blows he had received, he still attempted to maintain his position as leader, and in February 1841 wrote the famous Tract 90. This Tract was an attempt to arrest the progress towards Rome of those who believed that the Church of England had definitely committed itself at the time of the Reformation to Protestant doctrines and formularies.
The Tract took for its subject the Anglican thirty nine articles which to most people certainly seemed Protestant and Calvinistic beyond any question. He tried to prove that they were protests against merely corruptions in the teachings of the Council of Trent and really not an attack on Catholic creeds or Catholic doctrines. The immediate effect of the circulation of the Tract 90 was that the University of Oxford was at once up in arms. The Bishop of Oxford advised that the publication of the tracts should cease, and this was obeyed. One Bishop after another on the Anglican bench condemned Tract 90 as being subversive of the Anglican position and of the principles of the Reformation.
While Newman himself was wrestling more or less in the dark and still striving to hold his followers together, the Movement itself began to clearly reflect the two warring tendencies that were fighting for supremacy in the mind of its chief. The older members, like Keble and Pusey, saw in the progress of this newer development towards the Roman Catholic Church nothing but the frustration of their hopes for the restoration of the Anglican Church to that purity and simplicity of Catholic life which they visualized by their study of the church of the early ages.
On the other hand, the new leaders, lead for the most part by Ward, were impatient of the slow progress that was being made towards reunion with Rome and, more openly than ever, proclaimed that reunion as a definite end of their efforts. The general condemnation of Tract 90 had the effect of opening Newman’s eyes to the true situation. So far as his connection with the Oxford Movement goes, the story now is about told. We have traced in the merest outline the history of his inner convictions from the early days in which he was sure that the Pope was anti-Christ through the years in which he was leading with full assurance and success the Movement that is known by the name of the university which gave it birth. During these years, Rome was great and admirable but nevertheless was corrupt.
In the months following his reading of Cardinal Wiseman’s article, and still more after the publication of Tract 90, he gradually reached the stage in the development of his own thoughts in which he came to see with increasing clearness and conviction that the great communion which he had been in the habit of calling the Roman Church was not only not anti-Christ and was not a corrupt branch of the true church, but was on the contrary the one church in the world that was wholly apostolic and Catholic, the true home for all souls whose destiny was the Heavenly City and the Beatific Vision. Whatever stains and blemishes had gathered, around it in its long warfare on earth, were due to the weaknesses and faults of the poor sinful humanity that its mission was to gather into its own fold and to redeem.
And yet, with this truth firmly lodged in his mind, he was strangely slow in acting. Many of his friends had already taken the step of submission to the Catholic Church, and friends and foes alike regarded it as inevitable, or almost so, in Newman’s case. In April 1842, he definitely withdrew from Oxford to a little cottage at Littlemore which he had acquired sometime earlier and had remade into a suitable home for himself and for a few friends who gradually gathered round him and lived a semi-monastic life. In the following year, he resigned from St. Mary’s, the church which had heard most of his sermons in his Anglican days, and in February 1843, he publicly made a retraction of the severe language he had used against the Catholic Church and the Holy Father.
In September of the same year, he preached at Littlemore the last of the sermons that he was ever to deliver as an Anglican. It was entitled, “A Parting of Friends,” and has become a classic among sermons in the English language. Still he lingered on. The story of these days is rather a grievous one and it is pleasant to find it lightened by at least one touch of humor. Among those who were waiting in anxious impatience for the final act was Cardinal Wiseman, who had himself been such an influence in molding Newman’s thoughts in the latter years of his life at Oxford. Cardinal Wiseman at last determined to send an emissary to Littlemore who would be able to find out and bring back word to him, without asking any indiscreet questions, as to just how things were going there.
The priest who had been sent in the guise of a casual visitor brought back word to the Cardinal that all was going well and that the final step was certainly near. This confident judgment he based upon the following circumstance: Newman had always been a great stickler for ecclesiastical propriety and quite as much in the matter of clerical dress as in anything else. It so happened that when the visitor in question was staying at Littlemore, Newman joined his friends one night for dinner in gray trousers. This to the well-instructed mind of the Cardinal’s emissary was an absolute and convincing proof that he no more regarded himself as a clergyman. The emissary felt sure that his submission could not fail to occur in a very brief time and this he reported to the Cardinal.
In this he was right. Father Dominic, an Italian Passionist priest, was conducting missions in England at this time and Newman sent for him with the request that he might make his submission to him. Father Dominic arrived at Littlemore, and on the rainy night to which we have already referred, on October 8th, 1845, received Mr. Newman into the Catholic Church.
With Newman’s submission his own connection with the Oxford Movement, of course, came to a complete end. Those Catholic controversialists, however, are strangely deceived who assert that the Movement itself came to an end at the same time. As a matter of fact, its period of expansion and influence on a large scale, both in England and America, was still ahead of it. This, however, at the moment could hardly have been foreseen. The defection of the great leader seemed at the time as a defeat and a disaster under which the army that followed him was either crushed or scattered. Several of the more ardent and impatient of the Tractarians, especially those who, like Ward, had become prominent after the Roman question, had swallowed up within itself all other questions, had either preceded Newman into the Catholic Church or soon followed him. This is true of all the names I mentioned as having come to the front in or near 1838; Ward, Oakeley, Faber and Dalgairns all were received into the Church, and all except Ward, who was married, became Catholic priests. There were many others, a few of equal and many of less prominence, who were converted about the same time or shortly after.
It must be admitted, however, that this tide sweeping towards the Catholic Church did not draw along in its current the original leaders. Of those I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, Keble, Newman, Pusey, Froude and Williams, Newman was the only one who left the Church of England. It is true that Froude at the time of his early death seemed much more likely to make his submission than did Newman himself, but no one can tell what he would have done had he lived. Of none of the others can it be said that their loyalty to the church of their birth ever wavered.
The subsequent history of the Movement may be summarized in a few words. It soon ceased to be identified with Oxford and it lost to some extent its academic and intellectual character. On the other hand, it became a great force in rousing the Church of England to religious, missionary and social work among the poor and to a great improvement in the beauty and dignity of its church services. Under the inspiration of the new generation of the Tractarians, the poor of East London, the workers in the docks, the unchurched population scattered throughout the country were made the object of religious zeal and of measures for social reform that have gone on increasing until our own day.
In this country perhaps the Movement has been more confined to ritual and ceremonial development but the other aspects of the work have not been neglected. It has exerted such a strong influence upon the Anglican Church, whether in England or America, that it is not too much to say, as was said in the very beginning of this paper, that the whole face of that communion has been changed.
On the other hand however, the Movement has at its center the same disrupting tendencies that it had ten years after it started, and that have been present ever since. The leaders can no more agree now than in Newman’s time on the questions: What is the Church, and what ought to be their own attitude towards that worldwide communion that the church at-large recognizes as the Catholic Church?
About these two fundamental questions, there is as much disagreement as ever before. It cannot fail to interest Catholics that among those who today may be considered lineal descendants of the men who started the great Movement 100 years ago, there are many who have come almost, if not quite, to the point that Newman himself reached in his own thoughts just before he made his submission. I am quite aware that these are still greatly in the minority, but nevertheless their number is considerable and appears to be growing.
These do not hesitate to accept the whole cycle of doctrine that is taught in the Catholic Church including the Divine institution of the papacy, and they openly declare that the experiences of the past hundred years have taught plainly that union with the Catholic Church in the sense that Catholics themselves use that name is the only logical end of the whole movement. It would be an ungracious and uncharitable, if not an impertinent act, to use an hour such as this in discussing the affairs of a religious communion that is separate from our own, if it were not, as I have said, for the close ties that link this Movement with Catholic as well as Anglican growth during the last century.
I began this paper by asking the question on the whole whether Catholics should consider the Oxford Movement and its continuation until the present day as an ally or a hindrance to the Catholic Church. In my own mind, there is no doubt as to what should be the answer.
It is quite true that the claims that the great majority of so-called Anglo-Catholics make in support of the theory that they are a true branch of the one Catholic Church has unquestionably succeeded in holding many individuals back who ought to find their home in the Catholic Church.
On the other hand, the Movement during the last hundred years has been of great benefit to us in two ways.
- It has been the recruiting camp of a steady stream of individuals who have had their early education in this way and have become later converts to the Catholic Church.
- In another way perhaps, its influence has been greater and even more helpful. It has accelerated and has often been itself perhaps the main cause in changing, in many places, the whole mentality of Protestantism towards the liturgy, the ceremonies and the externals generally of the Catholic religion. It is owing to this influence, to a very appreciable degree at least, that the church is better understood and the prejudices against it have so largely diminished.
The great Movement I have been describing and its developments down to our own day have been the most steady, the most energetic, and the most persuasive expression of this longing, of this desire. For this reason, the men and women who are still leading or being led by it should have our sympathy and our prayers. One should have no other wish for them than that they may surely find the goal that they are so earnestly seeking.