John Henry Newman Essay

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John Henry Newman was a priest, a theologian, and an educator. First an Anglican priest and eventually a Roman Catholic cardinal, Newman wrote on the relationship between faith and reason, and his The Idea of a University continues to be an important work on higher education.

Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801, to John Newman and Jemima Fourdrinier Newman and baptized into the Anglican Church on April 9 of the same year. In 1808, he was sent to the private school at Ealing to begin his education. In 1817, he entered Trinity College, Oxford, and was eventually elected a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, in 1822. Ordained a priest in the Anglican Church, Newman was eventually called in 1828 to serve as the vicar of St. Mary’s Church, the university church for Oxford.

Newman was initially characterized as a young man of equally deep commitment to the learned life and the religious life. However, the early to mid-1800s were times of great theological transition. As a result, some of Newman’s earliest writings reflect how his historically orthodox understanding of Anglicanism called him to question the currents of liberalism he believed were beginning to infiltrate the Church.

Newman’s concern with liberalism led to his involvement in what became known as the Oxford or Tractarian Movement. This movement, and the individuals who helped to guide it, believed the Church was called to pass from one generation to the next the essential components of doctrine that allowed the Church to be of service to the world. They believed that doctrine was not simply an exercise of intellect but one that also led to religious devotion. Initially, these concerns propelled Newman to argue that the Anglican Church was the rightful bearer of Church doctrine. However, his views began to change and he eventually became convinced that the rightful bearer of Church doctrine was actually the Catholic Church.

In 1845, he was received into the Catholic Church and eventually ordained a priest in 1847. Newman’s reputation as an educator led to his appointment in 1851 as the founding rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, a post in which Newman found both success and failure. In addition to his efforts in education, he helped to establish an oratory in Birmingham, England, and was named a cardinal in 1879. He died in 1890 and was declared venerable in 1991. Movements are also underway to recognize Newman as a saint.

Newman continued to write prolifically over the course of his career. Regardless of the particular concern of any given writing, the questions that inspired the Oxford or Tractraian Movement were never far from his mind.

These questions even found their way into Newman’s writings about education. Defenders of the tradition of Western civilization often include Newman’s efforts among their canon of great books. However, a closer reading of Fifteen Sermons, The Idea of a University, and My Campaign in Ireland demonstrates that the relationship shared by doctrine and religious devotion defines Newman’s thinking. Published two years prior to his conversion to Catholicism, Newman’s Fifteen Sermons details his beliefs concerning the rightful relationship shared by faith and reason. Although The Idea of a University was not published under a single cover until 1873, the lectures that led to this volume include an argument for the need for Christian higher education in Ireland. My Campaign in Ireland is essentially a record of the successes and the failures Newman encountered as he sought to establish a place in Ireland for an institution of Christian higher education.


  1. Barr, C. (2003). Paul Cullen, John Henry Newman, and the Catholic University of Ireland, 1845–1865. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  2. Culler, A. D. (1955). The imperial intellect: A study of Newman’s educational ideal. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  3. Ker, I. (1988). John Henry Newman. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. McGrath, F. (1951). Newman’s university: Idea and reality. London: Longman, Green.
  5. McGrath, F. (1962). The consecration of learning: Lectures on Newman’s idea of a university. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Son.
  6. Newman, J. H. (1896). My campaign in Ireland, Part I. Catholic University reports and other papers. Aberdeen, Scotland: A. King.
  7. Newman, J. H. (1986). The idea of a university: Defined and illustrated. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. (Originally published in 1873)
  8. Newman, J. H. (1997). Fifteen sermons preached before the University of Oxford between A.D. 1826 and 1843. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. (Originally published in 1843)

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