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The Canonization of John Henry Newman

who is john henry newman

This Sunday, on October 13, Cardinal John Henry Newman will be canonized a Saint.

Newman is one of the most well-known converts to the Catholic Church from Anglicanism. Before his conversion, he was a renowned Anglican theologian who led the Oxford Movement, a movement with the goal of returning the Church of England to the Catholic roots founded before the English Reformation. He wrote forty books and over twenty-thousand letters, with his most famous books being an Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and Essay on the Grammar of Assent.

One of the miracles attributed to Newman is from an American law school graduate who was healed after asking for his intercession while suffering from a life-threatening pregnancy.

How I Came To Know Newman

John Henry Newman is not a man that I became familiar with until I enrolled in a college course on him taught by world-renowned Newman scholar Dr. Don Briel. I bring up this beloved professor because of his particularly lucid explanation of Newman’s vision. In Dr. Briel’s words, in order “to think deeply about the truth of things, requires that a student thinks about his purpose or her purpose in life.” This requires attentiveness and leads us to the fullness of life, which is Christian joy.

Dr. Briel was diagnosed with cancer just over one year ago and has since passed away. When his students learned of his illness they flocked to him to ask for his advice. What he shared with them was Newman’s vision:

Newman’s vision is that we have a great dignity and are meant for a purpose which we can’t fully grasp. If that’s true, then the main purpose in life is to be attentive. Attentive to the working of grace that invites us to understand that work more deeply and participate in it more fully…that’s the real key…God is inviting a transformation of life and its purpose, not simply a work to be done.

 

Transformation Requires Change

One of Newman’s most famous quotations is “To live is to change and to be perfect is to change often.” Prayer can lead us to this change.

Newman wrote “prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles”.

All living things are in the process of change, it is an essential part of life and what enables us to be transformed more fully into the image of God.

“To live is to change and to be perfect is to change often.” -Bl. John Henry Newman #BISblog // Click To Tweet

So Who is This John Henry Newman?

Newman went to Trinity College in Oxford, England. During Newman’s time there, it was known for its “gentleman-commoners,” men who attended elite colleges, not in order to delve into their studies, but rather to prove their high status. Most of the men at this school were ones who abused their freedom and lived their college years as though they were entitled to behave however they pleased.

Newman was of a much different character than these men. Unlike many of the others, he placed his priorities on his studies. While he also found time to enjoy his hobbies of playing music, learning to dance, and writing plays, these pursuits were always secondary to his studies. His diligence paid off, and just four years after he finished his undergraduate at Trinity, he was made a tutor at Oxford’s Oriel College.

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Newman’s Habit of Mind

Newman noticed that the goal of liberal education in a university was becoming disordered. Students were not being challenged beyond their comfort zone and failed to look beyond themselves. Newman aimed to make possible an education which combines intellectual learning, moral discipline and religious devotion. According to Newman, the primary goal of a liberal arts education should be to form a philosophical habit of mind.

In his well-known book, Idea of a University, Newman describes this habit of mind. He talks about how a man who is properly liberally educated is one who will customarily see things in their right order and balanced connectedness to the world around them. Newman wrote, “not to know the relative disposition of things is the state of slaves or children; to have mapped out the universe is the boast, or at least the ambition of Philosophy.”

The endeavor of liberal education should not be the mere acquisition of knowledge, but rather knowledge permeated with reason. Reason is what fleshes out and makes sense of simple facts, allowing us to find our purpose.

Finding Purpose

If you are looking to find more purpose in your life, pray this prayer written by our new Saint, John Henry Newman.

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 may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection 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. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever 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. He does nothing in vain. 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 my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

 

Rest in the knowledge that God knows what He is about. And if you are attentive, you will fulfill the mission He has for you.

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Susanna Parent is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can find out more about her here.

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