Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Thursday, 9 September 2010 14:30 UK
John Henry Newman: Biography of a saint in waiting
Biography of John Henry Newman
This biography of Newman was written by Abingdon's Anthony Mockler

The Abingdon-based author Anthony Mockler has written a biography of Oxford's Cardinal John Henry Newman.

In it he examines his life at the University of Oxford and his eventual rejection by the establishment.

There is a careful dissection of his beatification - the penultimate step on the path to full sainthood.

An open-air Mass to complete this process for Newman is the centrepiece of Pope Benedict XVI's four-day UK visit, starting on 16 September.

Mr Mockler also explains something of the great man's character: "I think the main point that I'd like to emphasise is that he was great fun and very witty."


John Henry Newman was a very intelligent young man. He did not come from an established family but remarkably, aged just 16, he managed to get a place at Trinity College in Oxford in 1816.

This achievement was especially notable because at the time there were only about 1200 undergraduates in the whole of Oxford.

Unfortunately for whatever reason he failed his exams and wrote a letter to his parents expressing his disbelief at his failure.

However, this disappointment did not curtail his career in Oxford. "He then managed to get a fellowship at Oriel by simple force of personality," Mr Mockler said.

Cardinal John Henry Newman
Newman became a cardinal when he was 80

His subsequent career as a don was an incredibly successful one.

He was a famous personality in Victorian Britain and as the head of the University Church, St Mary's on the High Street, he delivered hugely popular sermons.

"What the undergraduates liked about him so much was he was completely different to the other dons. He would have tea parties in his rooms and was a great listener."

In Newman's era all the University fellows were members of the Church of England and nearly all of them were ordained.

"At the time Newman was very anti-catholic. Some of his anti-catholic rants at the time would have done justice to Luther," said Mr Mockler.

During this phase of his life he helped to establish The Oxford Movement which was intended to reform the Church of England and make it less concerned with money and liberal ideas.

He was involved in this movement for about ten years, writing long 'Tracts for the Times' with his friends and delivering them all around the country.

After the publication of Tract 90 Newman was condemned by the establishment for going too far and then he resigned from public life and considered his faith.

"Newman became a Catholic in the end because he was intellectually convinced that authority resided with the Roman Catholic Church and only the Roman Catholic Church.

"He spent about four years meditating on this in the little church that he established in Littlemore."

He was 44 years old when he made the change and a new period of his life began.

He did not become a cardinal until he was 80. It was not a job that required him to move to Rome or undertake any specific role.


Despite not playing much of a role in the workings of the church during his life his theological writings have inspired many Catholics including the current Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict will now beatify the Cardinal, the next step on Newman's road to becoming a Saint.

"This is all terribly complicated even speaking as a Catholic myself," said Mr Mockler. "I didn't understand the difference between beatification and canonisation. I've written a chapter about it in my book and I found that the most difficult to write.

"Briefly there are three stages. They decided if he had Heroic Virtues in this life and they decided he did, so Pope John Paul II declared him Venerable.

"He then needed one miracle for him to become beatified and one more to become canonised."

To be beatified means that a person is referred to as Blessed, but one does not become a full Saint until after being canonised.

The miracle that allowed Newman to be beatified was when Jack Sullivan, a lawyer in Boston, recovered quickly from an operation to correct a herniated spinal column.

"The miracle didn't seem to me an immensely great miracle, in the sense that he'd been operated on and cured of his back problems," suggested Mr Mockler.

"The miracle was that the pain stopped when he prayed to Newman."

None the less it was accepted by the church authorities and Newman will soon be one step closer to becoming the first English Saint since the Reformation.

John Henry Newman: Fighter, Convert and Cardinal is written by Anthony Mockler and published by Signal Books

Profile: Pope Benedict XVI
25 Dec 09 |  Europe
Pope Benedict Birmingham visit
14 Jul 10 |  People & Places
How will Pope be received in UK?
01 Sep 10 |  Newsnight
School prepares to meet the Pope
09 Sep 10 |  Religion & Ethics


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific