The Wisdom of John Henry Newman

A few insights from the great English Christian on his birthday

By David Mills Published on February 21, 2015

Today is the birthday of John Henry Newman, the greatest of Catholic theologians writing in English, who was born on this day in 1801 and died in 1890. He was made a cardinal in 1879 and was one of the major influences upon the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. His Apologia pro vita sua is one of the most famous autobiographies in English.

Here is a good quick biography, here a good long one. His works can be found here. And here are a few of his insights.

♦ If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards.

♦ We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.

♦ To holy people the very name of Jesus is a name to feed upon, a name to transport. His name can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living.

♦ We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.

♦ God has created all things for good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good. . . . God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

♦ A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.

♦ In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

♦ Growth is the only evidence of life.

♦ Good is never accomplished except at the cost of those who do it, truth never breaks through except through the sacrifice of those who spread it.

♦ Without self-knowledge you have no root in yourselves personally; you may endure for a time, but under affliction or persecution your faith will not last.

♦ They cast off the form of truth, because it never has been to them more than a form. They endure not, because they never have tasted that the Lord is gracious; and they never have had experience of His power and love, because they have never known their own weakness and need.

♦ Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.

♦ If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards.

♦ Let us act on what we have, since we have not what we wish.

♦ Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another.

♦ The world is content with setting right the surface of things.

♦ Everyone who breathes, high and low, educated and ignorant, young and old, man and woman, has a mission, has a work. We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random; we are not here, that we may go to bed at night, and get up in the morning, toil for our bread, eat and drink, laugh and joke, sin when we have a mind, and reform when we are tired of sinning, rear a family and die. God sees every one of us; He creates every soul . . . He has an end for each of us; we are all equal in His sight, and we are placed in our different ranks and stations, not to get what we can out of them for ourselves, but to labor in them for Him. As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also.

♦ I sought to hear the voice of God And climbed the topmost steeple, But God declared: “Go down again — I dwell among the people.

♦ Courage does not consist in calculation, but in fighting against chances.

♦ Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.

♦ The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.

♦ The glory of the Gospel is, not that it destroys the law, but that it makes it cease to be a bondage; not that it gives us freedom from it, but in it.

♦ To take up the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all; it consists in the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.

♦ It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.

♦ Regarding Christianity, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.

♦ 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.

And finally, a prayer:

♦ May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.

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