Why Did John Henry Newman Convert to Catholicism?


Reasons for Newman’s Conversion to Rome

Statue of Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman by Donny MacManus

Young John Henry Newman (painting at Keble College, Oxford)

Reblogged from John Henry Newman with permission from Fr. Velez

Also, Fr. Velez and Mike Aquilina have a new devotional using the writings of Cardinal Newman:

Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman

May 4, 1843 … At present I fear, as far as I can analyze my own convictions, I consider the Roman Catholic Communion to be the Church of the Apostles, and that what grace is among us (which, through God’s mercy, is not little) is extraordinary, and from the overflowings of His dispensation. I am very far more sure that England is in schism, than that the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith.” Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 300-301

Newman sought truth in religion at all cost. From an early age he made it a point to examine the truth claims of his religious beliefs and leave behind beliefs that he did not think were true. As he became a college Tutor at Oxford, he studied religious truths with particular attention to the content of Biblical revelation, study of the Church Fathers and logical reasoning.

From his youth, Newman adopted a doctrinal principle in religion. This principle holds that religion has set truths and rules inspired by God or derived from the former. These beliefs do not admit of subjective changes. Newman resisted changes in religion for any reason such as personal comfort, an easy agreement with other religious groups or political expediency.

Newman dedicated his life to discern which Christian beliefs were orthodox and which were not.  As an Anglican Newman believed that the Catholic Church had three Branches: Anglicanism, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism. He thought that each of the branches are true members of the Catholic Church. Initially he thought that Antiquity in religious beliefs was the proof of the orthodoxy of beliefs and evidence that a given Church was the one established by Jesus Christ. He later came to realize that Antiquity was not sufficient proof; it required additional proofs.

Newman accepted the teaching that Apostolic Succession or the direct connection with the Apostles was a requirement for doctrinal orthodoxy. Studying the early Church history, Newman realized that the doctrinal disputes of the 4th-6th centuries were eventually settled by the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. The Anglican Church was lacking in this important source of doctrinal and spiritual unity provided by the Bishop of Rome.

The Oxford Tutor also came to realize that the Anglican Church had removed itself, like other Christian bodies in the first centuries, from the communion with the Church. The Anglican Church lacked in Catholicity, the sacramental and ecclesial unity with Christians throughout the world. Furthermore, the Anglican Church failed to act as a divinely instituted body independent of civil government. Newman was appalled by the usurpation of episcopal authority by the English government.

The voice of the Church Fathers, whom Newman had studied extensively urged him to follow the Church of Rome which possessed all the notes of the Church established by Christ: Antiquity, Apostolic Succession, Catholicity and Holiness. For some time, due to the errors and abuses of Catholics, Newman thought that the Roman Catholic Church lacked the note of Holiness, but he finally overcame this prejudice by which he had unjustly looked at the Church.

After six years of prayerful consideration, Newman decided to be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. On October 9, 1845, Fr. Dominic Barberi heard Newman’s confession at Littlemore and received him in the Church. Newman was 43 years old.

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6 Responses

  1. Dear whoever may be concerned:

    I wonder what Mr. Newman would say to the question of why, if the Roman Catholic Church is so faithful to God’s Word, and if “the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith.” Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 300-301,” would they decide to compell men to swear an oath of celibacy before allowing them to be bishops, when the Bible clearly tells us that Jesus said that swearing oaths is from the Evil One, and Paul commanded that a man must be the HUSBAND OF ONE before being qualified for the office of a bishop (Matthew 5: 33-37; 1 Timothy 3: 1-2). Especially if one considers the fact that Paul also said that no man, not any of the Apostles, not even he himself, and not even an Angel from God, has authorization to preach any other thing than that which had already been preached to them. If anyone, even these mentioned, did preach any other thing to them different or beyond that which had already been preached, that one was to be accursed (Galatians 1: 6-9).

    Sincerely,

    Sources cited

    (Matthew 5: 33-37; NKJV) “33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is FROM THE EVIL ONE.”

    (1 Timothy 3: 1-2; NKJV) “1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop,[a] he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then MUST BE blameless, THE HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;…”

    (Galatians 1: 6-9; NKJV) “6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”

    • Dear Joseph,

      Jesus Christ gave Peter and the Apostles the authority to bind and to loose on earth. The early Christians understood this to mean more than sins in the confessional. The Hebrew idiom means “Authority to govern”.

      The Apostles were appointed as the heads of the Church and early on they realized that celibacy, like the celibacy of Jesus himself, was good for priests, even though it was not mandatory. As the Church grew it became evident, also to the Christians of the East that bishops should remain celibate. The rule of celibacy is a prudential one that like other norms Christ left to his Church to decide.

      The New Testament completes the Old Testament and abrogates some OT laws and statutes. For example, today we do not stone adulterers; we do not abstain from pork; we celebrate Sunday not Saturday, etc. Likewise we are allowed to take oaths as elected officials do and persons on a jury. What God wishes for us to do is not to call him a liar by making Him a witness to our lies. When taking an oath one must tell the truth and one must only take oaths for serious reasons.

      Fr. Juan

    • Your argument is very crooked. Jesus said it was better to be eunuch for the kingdom of God. Paul himself did not remarri according to tradition. Making a vow is not like swearing to deceive. Swearing in the name of God to deceive was what Jesus was talking about

  2. Dear Fr. Juan,

    Yes, the Apostles had authority to govern. Jesus promised them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into ALL TRUTH, which He did. They governed within the bounds set forth by God. Paul could not save one Jew contrary to God’s plan of salvation, though he expressly said that he would be willing to be cut off from Christ if it could help them to be saved. Paul also told us that no one could change the doctrines of the faith, not he himself, not an apostle, and not an angel from heaven. Keys may only open or lock the locks that the maker designed them to open or lock. Christ is the maker of those keys.

    The rest of what you said may sound good, but it simply does not match the facts. No man had the authrity to change what Paul commanded Timothy. He said, this is a faithful saying, if a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then MUST BE blamesless, the husband of one wife,…(1 Timothy 3: 1-2). This was not a suggestion. Just as the bishop Must be all of the other things in the list, he must also be the husband of one wife. How can a man suddenly command that a man MUST SWEAR AN OATH OF CELIBACY, in order to be a bishop. Especially when Christ himself said, “33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 BUT I SAY TO YOU, DO NOT SWEAR AT ALL: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ FOR WHATEVER IS MORE THAN THESE IS FROM THE EVIL ONE (Matthew 5: 33-37).”

    Please, notice that Jesus says that men were already teaching what you just claimed about the way we are to handle oaths, “33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” However, Jesus makes if very clear that this is not what He is saying. He is saying, do not swear an oath at all, for whatever is more than simply saying yes or no is from the evil one. I quote again, “”33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 BUT I SAY TO YOU, DO NOT SWEAR AT ALL:..37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ FOR WHATEVER IS MORE THAN THESE IS FROM THE EVIL ONE (Matthew 5: 33-37)

    Men may indeed practice the use of swearing oaths, but I do not look to the practice of men as my standard of truth and goodness. I do not read the Holy Scriptures breathed by God in the Light of the Revelation of Man’s Wisdom. This would be an erroneous practice.

    Concerning the Old and New Testament, it is evident that there has been a complete change of the law. We are not under the Old Testament Covenant. We are under the New Covenant purchase by Christ’s blood. The Old Testament Covenant has passed away (Please read Hebrews).

    The author of Hebrews wrote:

    12 For the priesthood being changed, OF NECESSITY THERE IS ALSO A CHANGE OF THE LAW. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
    14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.[a] 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies:[b]

    “ You are a priest forever
    According to the order of Melchizedek.”[c]”

    Notice especially verse 14, he says that because the Scriptures spoke nothing about the tribe of Judah concerning priesthood, that was proof that those from the tribe of Judah were excluded from the priesthood established by Moses’ law. It was not necessary for Moses to explicitly state that those of another tribe were not allowed to be priests. He wrote from which tribe the priests should come, all others left unmentioned are automatically excluded. This is an important principle. His neglect to mention the other tribes does not authorize us to establish whatever priesthood we like. Unfortunately, this is how men approach religion. I believe that you are making similar errors.

    I am sorry if this is sloppy, I am in a hurry. I have to run. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    May God bless your continued study.

    Joe

  3. Hello Joseph,
    Thank you for your reply. I prefer not to enter into a long discussion, but will only state that I think you fail to see the need for interpretation of the Scriptures and the development of Tradition in the Church which was ordained by Christ who sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles.

    Christians need an authentic interpretation which is the teaching of the the Successor of Peter with the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, and a body of teaching or Tradition developed by successive generations of teachers in the Church.

    Below are examples of subjects that have changed or are not contemplated in the Scriptures:

    1. Christians no longer share everything in common as the first small Christian community did.
    2. Christians do not abstain from meat of strangled animals.
    3. Younger widows are not necessarily encouraged to marry (1 Tm 5:14)
    4. The Scriptures do not us tell us about which surgeries are good.
    5. The Scriptures do not us teach us about the death penalty
    6. The Scriptures do not teach about oral contraceptives
    Etc, etc.

    As you can see this is a big question: Authentic Interpretation of the Scriptures, the Teaching Office of the Church, the Primacy of Peter and Tradition guided by the Holy Spirit.

    We have to read many books and study them to understand this well and I think it would not do us well to engage in a longer discussion.

    May God also richly bless you,
    Fr. Juan

  4. Newmans clear insights needed more than ever today.

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